Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

Knowing

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

Kevin made a great comment on my “Knowing Christ” post, and my reply burst the bounds, so here it is as a new post.

I just recently had a discussion about whether the gospels are objective fact or ‘just stories’. Well I’m sure there was a reality which the gospels refer to, but it’s a big question how I would receive it if it weren’t clad in human language, in images – if it weren’t ‘story’. So Jesus tells the story about God – in fact you could say as God’s Word he is the story about God. Some theologians go from this to concluding that there is nothing more than story – asking ‘what do Christians believe?’ is the same as asking ‘what stories do they tell?’ Then it’s as unreal to ask what God is ‘really like’, beyond the stories, as it is to ask where the father of the prodigal son lived. The prodigal is true, even though no-one thinks it was historical fact.

Stanley Hauerwas says the moment you claim more, that your tradition is in possession of some kind of objective or absolute truth, you are on a path that leads to war.
But – but – but… I’m reminded of the title of Steiner’s first work about Christianity, Christianity as mystical fact. Somehow we have to encompass a reality that is at once mystical, ie inner and fact.
So there’s also a question of the kind of knowing. Kevin brought me a step further with his Eckhardt quote – thanks for that! (incidentally, a quick websearch to find the source took me to this lovely post of a homily on the Prodigal Son) The kind of knowing we’re talking about here is not reductive – in the sense of saying: if we’ve understood the story, we’ve got to the essence, and we can throw away the packaging. People sometimes – understandably – speak like that about the Act of Consecration of Man: Why seven candles? as if it were all an elaborate code. It’s a knowing that changes the knower and the known, like Adam knowing Eve. It’s not knowing about, but truly knowing. And such knowing is creative – it bears fruit in a new reality, just like procreation. And that’s how I understand Meister Eckardt – God has bound up his further fruitfulness with our journey. The homily above reminds us that the prophets bring the beautiful image of God looking for faithless Israel like a husband seeking his faithless wife. And of course the imagery of the wedding as a figure for the love of God for man, which runs through the whole Bible, implies a union and the birth of something new.
So we could think of coming from church to have tea with our atheist friend, who challenges us – why do you bother doing that? can you know that God exists? – which is actually a question about God. And if we’ve taken communion, and we’re feeling up to the challenge, we might answer: no, but I do know him!

Wednesday of Holy Week

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

Accepting Mark’s chronology. The temple authorities are conspiring; the woman anoints Jesus; Judas goes and arranges the betrayal.

Borg & Crossan have the nameless woman as the only one who understands Jesus’ prediction of passion and death, and therefore gives away everything to perform a sacramental act, as opposed to the disciples who just bicker about who’s the greatest whenever Jesus brings the subject up.

It’s interesting in the light of what I mentioned in the Ludlow post, the unanswered temptation of stones into bread, that if we accept the legendary identification of the woman with Mary Magdalene, she has transformed her mercurial quality, that involved her in inappropriate ‘encounter’, with the element of money, into a sacramental quality. Judas on the other hand cannot find enough stillness to understand the truly revolutionary – but utterly nonviolent – nature of Jesus. Borg & Crossan are dismissive of John’s polemic about him, that he was a thief; but that also belongs to Mercury. Maybe John is only characterising Judas’ grasping impatience with process.

In any case from a systems point of view, Judas is only acting out what the group as a whole hasn’t managed – really to comprehend Jesus. And amazing: the trigger is given by the one who really has comprehended him – it’s the ‘waste’ of the oil that makes him boil over.

Look at the experience of the woman. When did she decide to buy the oil? it must have been long prepared! Which saying of Jesus made her realise what was going to happen – the one about selling all you have and giving all to the poor? – after all, Jesus is ‘poor’ in this moment – he is in need. And how free she is! She does this deed – tricky, as a woman in that society, even to come close to him, let alone to perform a priestly service to the master, surrounded by his male disciples. And how typical of groups that are struggling: they turn on her. In Mark’s story it’s the group, not just Judas, that grumbles. What goes on in her meanwhile?

Who did the ‘right thing’? It’s an anticipation repares of the yet deeper mystery of the commission: what you have to do, do it!

Palm Sunday

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

We’ve all lived through times when a leader – whether it be a political leader, sportsperson, or some other public figure – has been elevated to the status of saviour. And we have experienced when the media – in this case merely the mouthpiece for the collective consciousness – has cast such people down once it became clear that they too were subject to the same compromises and disappointments that we all have to cope with.
In our own lives we might know such moments too – when we encounter a new friend, or a direction of learning, or even a book – and we are seized by hope that it will make everything different. And later we know the bitterness that comes when we realize that this didn’t happen.
What we hope for in such moments is that something or someone will change reality for us, relieving us of the responsibility of changing it ourselves. And the bitterness that follows comes when this hope dies.
The Week of Weeks – the Holy Week – starts with the ecstatic acclamation by the crowd. Is it the same crowd that shouts on Good Friday “crucify him”? Their hope on Palm Sunday must have been for the national deliverer who would cast off the hated Roman yoke. Underlying this was the assumption that the Romans were responsible for their reality. But there was more they must have hoped for – after all, the religious authorities were compromised and perhaps corrupt – so they needed changing too. And then perhaps they wished that they would be changed, so that they wouldn’t have to struggle to be honest, to be kind to their children, to notice where their love was needed and where love was offered to them. How wonderful to be made perfect and released from the burden of being limited – of being human!
Christ rides in silence through the ecstatic crowd on Palm Sunday, just as he will stand silent on Good Friday. He shows where true leadership begins – in self-leadership, unswayed by acclamation, undeterred by opposition. Does Pilate have an inkling of that when he says “behold the man!”? – does he see the future human being, who has found the inner principle of leadership, the Christ-filled ego?
The hope for a different reality has to die before new hope can be born in the soul. This is hope not to be liberated from reality by an external leader, but to find the strength in myself to transform reality from within.

Ludlow

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

Lovely to be here and experience the texture that comes from the local. Ludlow is a fair trade, local sourced, transition town – and it shows! You don’t have to buy anything in the market to appreciate it being there. And it shows us what is lost through the more ‘efficient’ local economy – or lack of it – in other places. It turns out that qualia (see Wikipedia!) comes from all the texture that seems so old-fashioned – seeing the person who grew your food; smelling the cheese before you eat it. And so on. There’s a huge literature on all of this of course.

The ‘normal’ economy is reductive, standardising – and it doesn’t just do that with goods, but it looks at human beings like that. It’s the kind of thinking that started with David’s census.

Ray Kroc, early CEO of McDonalds seems to have summed this up in a quote that’s everywhere on the internet but whose source I can’t find:

We have found out… that we cannot trust some people who are nonconformists… We will make conformists out of them… The organization cannot trust the individual; the individual must trust the organization.
– Ray Kroc

See “just in time” strawberries with their human consequences; pallet and shrink-wrap. Once everything is reduced to a unit, no other logic can apply. And this logic has its own illogic, eg the shrink wrap round a fuse that’s the same size as one around a radio – because that way they fit on the same sorting machine, etc etc. So we could see an explosive development taking place over the last hundred or so years, starting in the Chicago stockyards, gathering in the oil economy, industrialized agriculture, information technology and media – all of which have many aspects, some of them liberating – but which all exhibit a tendency, a direction towards a soulless, lifeless, reduced world.

Of course one could think this is all a coincidence. But there’s too much that works in the same direction for this to seem a good hypothesis. Then you could wonder if it’s a ‘conspiracy’ – ie people consciously plotting towards a defined end. But it seems much too diffuse for that. And remember how the pioneers of the internet – those hobbyists who subverted the military’s purposes in ARPANET – believed that they were creating a power for liberation – as indeed they were! So a third hypothesis could be that there is an intelligence at work behind the actions of countless human beings, whose motives are as mixed as human motives always are.

In the film Fast Food Nation, the old rancher, who represents the sage in the film, talks about this intelligence that drivesĀ  the heartless, destructive meat packing plant:

This isn’t about good people versus bad people. It’s about the machine that’s taken over this country. It’s like something out of science fiction. The land, the cattle, human beings – this machine don’t give a shit – penny’s a pound, penny’s a pound – that’s all it cares about.

Fast Food Nation, Richard Linklater 2006

What’s amazing is how clearly he describes the intelligence that Rudolf Steiner called Ahriman, the adversary power who seeks to ensnare us in physical existence, divorcing us from our spiritual being – the machine, who reduces everything to units of production, and monetary value.

The intelligence in this system doesn’t want to get rich – it wants what money does to us. And it is amazing to see that the attack comes in precisely the place where we are so vulnerable – in our need for food, which is linked to our dependence on the money economy. Rudolf Steiner describes this in relation to the story of the temptation of Christ after the baptism in the Jordan, where he is unable to complete his struggle with Ahriman:

So Ahriman sent Lucifer away and carried out the last attack as Ahriman alone and said the words which resonate in the Gospel of Matthew: Turn minerals into bread! Turn stones to bread if you claim to have divine powers. And the Christ-Being said: Men do not live by bread alone, but by the spiritual which comes from the spiritual world. The Christ-Being knew that well, for he had recently descended from the spiritual world. Ahriman replied: You may be right. But that you are right and insofar as you are right does not stop me from stopping you in a certain way. You only know what the spirit does which descends from the heights. You were not yet in the human world. Below, in the human world, there are completely different people; they truly need to turn stones to bread, they cannot nourish themselves by the spirit alone. That was the moment when Ahriman told Christ what one could know on the earth; which, however, the god who had just stepped upon the earth for the first time could not yet know. He did not know that it was necessary below to turn the mineral, metal to money, to bread. So Ahriman said that the people below are forced to nourish themselves with money. That was where Ahriman still had power. And, said Ahriman, I will use this power!
The Fifth Gospel, Rudolf Steiner see RSArchive)

And Ahriman is only too pleased to see the nihilism that lurks in the collective psyche of the death culture (Macey), which he can hand on to Sorat – the negator, the annihilator. Ahriman’s logic is constructive, even if it’s a destructive construction (!). But the corrosion of the soul is embodied negativity. That’s the final issue of our death culture. That’s the obscenity of an industrial slaughterhouse, the glimpse it gives into a world where death is everyday, standardised, even sanitized.

And yet – there is the dearest freshness deep down things (Hopkins). We are witnessing an incredible growth in global concern – even using Ahriman’s own tools of internet and mobile communications. We need to identify the dynamic between nostalgia for lost worlds and a truly achieved, new culture of awakened selves. When this culture comes about – which comes about through communion, through our eating each other’s soul and spiritual substance, as represented in the eucharist – redemption of the temptation with the bread -, then the adversaries have served their purpose – they have given us the chance to come to ourselves and find the way forward into the future. This is both a return and something quite new:

The proffered gift and the shared meal are probably the most ancient forms of human interaction…”
The Last Week, Borg & Crossan

Using modern technology with care and filling it with meaning, we can have communion with each other that reaches beyond divides that previously meant we would not have even know of each other.