Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Sin, fear & evils close me in and cut me off, but trust & faith connect me to God's power all around me - "Spir Dev &Gospel Narratives 7" by John Shea

The one significant idea I retain from the readings this week is that fullness of life and vitality is objectively all around us, because God the Creator is the living Source of all life, and He is ever radiating, creating, and sustaining life in myriad forms. It is at the level of human consciousness that it is possible to not see or be in touch with all this life and vitality or with God or both. Our openness and expansiveness requires our free participation, but there are many obstacles that can and do hinder openness and tend to enclose us upon ourselves, so that we can not see or participate in the energy of life, or refuse to accept what frightens us or threatens our comfort zone.

Roberto Assagioli wrote “Obstacles to Spiritual Development: Fear,” in Transpersonal Development (Crucible, 1991), pp. 169-172, declaring that intellectual obstacles to spiritual development such as skepticism and doubts are often symptoms of deeper emotional obstacles such as fears, which are “based on ignorance or error,” and these require spiritual solutions. He categorizes 5 main forms of fear and relates them to instincts: fear of death from the instinct of self-preservation; fear of loneliness from a sense of incompleteness and the sexual drive; fear of isolation, weakness, and insecurity going to the herd instinct; fear of not being recognized leading to excessive self-affirmation; and fear of the unknown leading to curiosity.

Sufficient psychological development lets the mind exert control over the emotions and transform them, and therapists use several techniques to help the mind to this. Psychoanalysis explores our experience, seeks out and brings the roots of fear to our present consciousness, which diminishes their power and hold on us as present fear. Physical activities and sport, directing the imagination elsewhere, use of humor, cultivating positive emotions, affirmation, and training the imagination to go through the feared event over and over in our mind before it happens until we no longer feel afraid of it, are various simple ways to help resolve fears.

Spiritual solutions to fears are more permanent because they deal with the root causes. The resurrection robs death of its finality and lessens or evaporates fear of it. Becoming aware of participating in the life flowing from God reveals isolation as the illusion it is, and deliberate acceptance of communion with God, others, life, and one’s own inner self, evaporates loneliness. This growing awareness of one’s “true spiritual nature” and of one’s inner strengths disintegrates fear of failure and inadequacy. Seeing that ills we fear often don’t happen is a help, and knowing that the energy to overcome them will come to us when we need it mitigates our fear of the unknown. Wisdom, true spiritual awareness as intimate, direct intuition of life and identifying our being with it “overcomes the limitations of separate consciousness” and replaces fear of the future with joy and freedom.

In pages 88-92 of The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels Year A, John Shea interprets the text as Jesus drawing us away from anxiety to gift consciousness. Realizing we are gifted by God, anxiety will diminish. I agree, but sense the text is opening us a further possibility, which doesn’t seem practical. The more we dedicate ourselves to the kingdom of God, the more the Lord does provide for our needs. I believe this is a true working principle, but it is best understood by observing how Jesus lived it. St. Francis of Assisi is another example, as is Teresa of Avila, and all the saints. A life of trust in God in “reckless abandon” to divine providence requires a willingness to be hungry, cold, naked, and abandoned as well as be full, warm, clothed, and well loved, with indifference or equanimity about which comes to us at any given moment. This, I think, is also the truth taught by Jesus in the beatitudes. This is based in an understanding that this present life is simply a set up for eternity.

C.F.D. Moule in “Punishment and Retribution: An Attempt to Delimit Their Scope in New Testament Thought.” in Essays in New Testament Interpretation (Cambridge University Press, 1982) argues that these two terms, as well as reward, sacrifice, and atonement, are really leftovers from the Old Testament Law. I don’t agree, on the grounds of Jesus’ statement that He came not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it. Depending on how we live our lives, we either come under the effects of the law, or under the effects of Jesus new law of love. For an unhealthy person to "deny themselves and follow Jesus", they probably need to get more sleep, exercise, and proper diet, rather than do all kinds of fasting and penances. For a healthy person to "deny themselves and follow Jesus", they will probably progress by judicious practice of fasting and penances. The first has to pay better attention to the law (of nature), while the second is ready to go beyond to the law of love and self-denial.

In personal development there is a threshold between the psyche and the spirit which can most clearly be described as what separates preoccupation with the self from solicitude for others, or struggle for health from the quest for holiness or transcendence. The neurotic confuses the quest and needs help to see and live it in terms of health. You can't give your life out of love if you don't have a life to begin with. For a neurotic person spending too much time running after supernatural “goodies” while neglecting family duties, self denial could be to cut back on the running and be more attentive to family; while self denial for a healthy person could very well include ascetical pious practices in the church.

I believe that is why Jesus denounced sin strongly when He preached but was so compassionate to those sinners who came to Him. Those who are neglecting the basics need to begin at the beginning; whereas those who have progressed enough to know they need forgiveness and come to Jesus are beyond the minimal requirements of the law. There is a basic truth as lowest common denominator; so the Law remains – with its rewards and punishments – for all who have yet to rise above the threshold of self-preoccupation to solicitude for others. In the realm of love, all takes on a different perspective intended by Jesus: those who leave preoccupation with self, worry, fear, and anxiety behind, are free to look at Jesus and see - perhaps for the first time - their neighbor, and discover that all is gift in the Father’s love, in the new life of the Spirit.

In “On Being Open and Closed,” in Spirituality and Human Nature (Suny), Donald Evans notes that a closed person, unlike the open person in touch with the limitless abundance of life and energy of which he is a part in creation, suffers impressions of scarcity and so becomes preoccupied with power and status and is closed even from the self. The open person is in touch with self at all levels, even the body, with others, all creatures, and with God, with a deep sense of participating intimately in the flow of life energies within and all around and even feels a kinship with living things, free to face sins and limits, to grow, and enjoy life with expansiveness.

The closed person tends to focus on its activity and interests as though there are no others, whereas the open person intensely commits to personal projects but recognizes the value of other people’s projects in a way that increases their own abundance. As the Gospel says, to the one who has even more will be given, but the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. The closed person needs to put the self at the center of the universe, whereas the open person is simply glad to be part of it. During our vulnerable and closed times we tend to inflate ourselves to fill in our vacant sense of self, and it takes compassion, forgiveness, and kindness to our self to ease out of that darkness back into the light, where we are part of the abundance of life in all creation and can draw from it, as well as share it with others. There is value to my presence and participation, to my life. When closed, out of fear of emptiness and irrelevance, we imagine illusions of expansiveness and limitations, but when open, we enter into true expansiveness and know our real limitations.

Closed, I aim for self-sufficiency, but open, I am able and willing to be “parented” by others and in my turn to “parent” still others. Closed, my altruism is motivated by my own need to matter and be recognized, but open, I am able and willing to empty myself, to pour myself out for others, like Christ. Closed, I do for others to exhaustion and then retreat in utter selfishness to take care of myself or “lick my wounds”; but when open, I enter into communion with others through my serving, able to receive as well as give, and find my life energies renewed. In openness, my solitude is not an escape from others, but a “participatory solitude” in expansiveness and awareness of others and all living things as “transfigured” or radiant with the life and power of God who is ever sustaining them and me. I sense within me that God’s divine life is the radiant energy of love flowing and radiating through us all, transforming all who are open and receptive. Fear, self-deception, and not having ever experienced in the body the radiance and vitality of life and energy in God, are so many obstacles to overcome, by God's grace.

I can be closed by fascination or obsession with my own experience and feelings, as though there are no other ways of seeing; so that I only see my view, my feelings, and no one else’s, or only see those feelings and views in others that are like mine, or not perceive anything at all of what other people see or feel. At the other extreme, I can hold everyone and everything at a distance and refuse to feel anything at all. In order to really be in touch with reality and experience life fully, we/I need “a sensitive and realistic responsiveness.” There will be shadows and obstacles of closedness, but I need only acknowledge these, with kindness and understanding for myself and others, and I will continue to grow and develop. The key is to notice, sometimes with the help of others, whatever tends to close me in on myself, and go out in the opposite direction, and open up to others and the real life that is all around me and within my depths, where, in faith, I can contemplate this life as God and recognize Him simultaneously in every other human being.

to be continued....

Unlike finished objects, we are "happenings of being" made up of love we give and receive in communion - "Spir Dev &Gospel Narratives 6" by John Shea

It very challenging for us to live in both the physical/flesh world and the spirit world all at the same time. We suffer a lot because of what is happening in our psyche and flesh, as a social, emotional, and physical being, and wonder what has become of our soul/spirit, but we realize that we were really identifying ourselves with our psyche and body – mind, emotions, and flesh - as though this were all that we are. We want and need to see clearly the difference between "me" and "I".

We think that we are a living thing that is already created, finished, done, but that is not what we are. Oh yes, the body is here, but who I really am emerges from within and is composed of the meaning I give to my life through my decisions, words, and actions, how I live out and order my thoughts and feelings.
Who I am can’t come under my own observation, because it’s the transcendent “happening of being” where God breathes life into me and where I am one with God, from whom I flow and to whom I am returning. It is from this transcendent level of being that I can observe the rest of me in all its levels and parts, none of which really constitute who I am of themselves, either separately or together.

Those other levels and parts have a lot happening in them, they all have their own structures and ways of operating, and their interconnectedness is very complex, but in terms of spiritual development – my own and that of others – how do I identify myself? How does my identity truly come into being? The spiritual realm constitutes our identity as surely as the other realms do, (physical, emotional, psychological, social, intellectual, etc.) because we are related to a transcendent Source, but it also has the capacity to unify all the others in an integrated sense of who I am. Actually realizing this is a long (life time), difficult process, and a crucial factor is what my treasure is: that to which I give most of my attention, where my heart invests itself, and how it distributes my life force and energy.

Giving all our attention to sin – temptation, actually sinning, and torment over having sinned – is how we come to identify with sin and constitute our identity around sin. This only tends to lock us into producing more fruit of sin and injury as we get caught up with networks of social reinforcement. Jesus refused to take part in the complicities around sin, judging, and retribution but instead gave all his attention to his Father and the Father’s love, forgiving people in order to set them free from the traps of sin for the freedom of the children of God; so that they/we might freely receive love and in turn give ourselves in love like Jesus. Still, we struggle to accept God’s forgiveness and to then in turn offer it to others, in part because we are so invested in keeping track of our hurts and the offences of others.

Like the Pharisees, a fair amount of our identity has formed around distinguishing ourselves as different from or better than others. The Pharisees had a lot invested around the rituals of purification from sin and ritual uncleanness. Without sinners, the Temple economy would collapse. For my part, if I can’t sit in judgment over others, then I will have to look at my own sins, and I may not want to. A formidable obstacle to forgiveness is that holding a grudge and seeking revenge can make me feel powerful and be quite intoxicating, which makes other practices necessary for coming to freedom.

Restitution can give a sense of the damage caused by sin, penance can purify or burn away my sense of identification with my sin, and seeking a firm purpose of amendment brings me to face the decision to turn my attention away from sin and give it to God, others, and spirit. God’s love lets me face the fear of being exposed by his light of truth as a sinner, and in forgiving me, shares with me his power to turn to others with forgiveness. God’s limitless mercy and grace frees me from Pharisee stingy impulses to control and ration forgiveness.

In life, God’s Word opens up this territory of forgiveness, theology and theological reflection - like the pondering in the heart that Mary was always doing - maps the territory of forgiveness out, and spirituality walks the path and practices forgiveness. These three - God's Word, theological reflection or pondering, and practical spirituality - are three essential disciplines for the Christian life. We cannot live our faith in Christ as Lord and follow Him as his disciples without practicing these. God is always there and is always lovingly bent over us, like a loving and doting parent, but like children, we are not always or constantly aware of or appreciative of this loving presence and attention of our Father.

Although I don’t recall ever articulating that every human being is at a certain level always in union with God; as I reflect on it, I sense that I have always believed that this is so, but could not say it in clear terms. Over time, I have gone from a static view of creation (like the universe, we were created all at once and are a finished product) to a dynamic one, where we are ever growing and developing and God is constantly holding us in being by his will and breathing his own Spirit into us. Jesus brought home to us the intimacy of this relation and the gratuity of the freedom with which the Father calls us to enter into this life more deliberately through love for God and of every other human person. In sin we cease breathing in and out the life and love offered us by God, and stop receiving and giving ourselves in love - we begin to die. The great joy of reconciliation wells up from our restoration to being loved and loving. So, am I filled with joy today?

to be continued....

Monday, October 04, 2004

Unselfconscious gratuitous acts of love make us most ourselves and unite us to all and to God - "Spir Dev &Gospel Narratives 5" by John Shea

Beatrice Bruteau, in her book The Grand Option, inspired especially by Teilhard de Chardin, expresses a vision of human evolution that would have us be willing and conscious elements that will evolve into a higher order of being all together as a collective human organism. I like it though as a fresh way of looking at the Body of Chirst, the Communion of Saints, and our willing and conscious participation as active members. She explores the distinction between our human nature ridden life and the loftier human/divine transcendence to which Jesus calls us in the Gospels and which the saints obviously attained in their lifetimes.

She says it’s really up to us to move towards a collective awakening that as human beings we are really all united and all responsible together for our collective outcome on this planet. She goes to the root of the Gospel message to seek for an understanding of the giftedness in us and our potential as human beings that can include all of humanity, irrespective of religion or other distinguishing attributes. Christians have been entrusted with the revelation of how we are connected to our Source and with each other; so we have the responsibility to make this good news known. In addition, Jesus has given us as his Church means to remain in communion with Him and be transformed into Him by the Spirit as we accept to love, obey, and follow Him.

As Gandhi took Jesus and his good news to heart and put his approach into practice; so we must follow Jesus literally and actually live the familiar and comforting revelation that we are children of God and in our practice renounce privilege, titles, and influence in exchange for the truth and the solidarity to which it calls us. These are the very same things Jesus formally renounced in the desert as He was tempted, and then continued to renounce until the end. Like Jesus at his Baptism and temptations, we must hear God the Father call us his beloved children, and go discover all that we are not – no magic, no miracles, no domination for the sake of our own interest – and what we are – regarding all as equal, impartial as God is, loving our enemies, pure in fact as well as in ritual, and considering ourselves blessed even in misfortune. Against the entrenched “routine assumption that we are all separate, isolated, but comparable units” we are children of God who do “inherit the nature of our parent” – an integration of the metaphysics of a global spirituality uniting East and West.

As children of God we are incomparable – just as there can be no adequate description of God, so there can be no adequate description of who we are – mysterious and indefinable as God. Any description of our self remains limiting, and points to only a part of who we are. Our true self is mysterious, flowing with life from our Source. We are “transcendent of all descriptions” as God is. Like our Father, we are love, that is, we are most fully ourselves in the very act of loving the other with no interest for or awareness of ourselves, not responding to external stimulation, request, or need, but creatively going out to another – especially those unworthy of our love – such as enemies. God’s love, ever creative and original, is unexpected from the world’s point of view. Loving like God, I become a lover, distinguishing myself from my beloved at the same time that I unite myself to the one I love. The more I love, the more I become who I am, a lover, in the image of God.

When we creatively and freely love another, our distinctiveness as persons is clarified at the same time our love joins us to the other, and our loving them actually brings us into them, and them into us. This is what happens between the contemplative and God. God loves us first, and as we contemplate God we become aware of his love and surrender to it, loving our Lover back. In self-giving love, “each subject sees through the other’s eyes, feels with the other’s heart, wills in conjunction with the other’s will, and flows together with the other’s action.” The more distinct and free the person is, the more perfect their love can be. The original paradigm for such total union is the “perichoresis”, the union of love among the three Divine Persons in the Blessed Trinity, an essential doctrine of Orthodox and Eastern Rite Churches which is at the heart of how they understand and deliberately intend to live their lives of faith in love in following Jesus.

This love truly creates and gives life, enabling the newly beloved to in turn become filled with life and overflow with love to others. God in Jesus visibly pours himself out to give us life; we too become conscious of the deep desire to pour ourselves out into others in love. Inhabited by God’s active love, like Jesus we become “incarnate as creative process” as we too learn to pour ourselves out in love for others. Our “central self is full, luminous life, safe from all injury, and is most itself when it is most giving itself.” It is at the level of person, not of nature, that we pour our love and forgiveness towards others for their future good, whether they accept it or not.

What is
evil in our lives and our suffering both fall in the “order of reaction and choice freedom” within the confines of this physical world and life, but we transcend it by loving impartially like God, simply for the good of the “I am” in the other, ignoring attributes of nature. We are the activity of the Trinity drawing us into their perichoresis – as we live it most deliberately in Holy Communion – uniting with our activity in a moment of self-realization that we are loved and lover, and God unites with us as we love another and in turn unite with their self-realization and outreach of love to a third. This is how we are in the image of the Trinity, persons in union with all other persons, and loving in God’s love, rising above our nature. We can force none to this love, but can
<>freely love others, as Jesus did.

Virgil Elizondo’s “I Forgive but I Do Not Forget” seems to bypass or at least ignore traditional teaching on the 7 capital sins as the root cause of human sinfulness and misery, but it’s only that he makes a very good point, namely, that much of our human misery comes from our originally sinful inclination to cry out for justice when we feel wronged and to secretly desire, if not demand or exact, punishment or vengeance for those who offend us. We just can’t forget wrongs, because our memory of them continues to stimulate feelings like anger, resentment, and desire for revenge or at least to see the offender punished.

He makes a very good case for wanting to be free of these destructive feelings and desires, which I agree eat away at our “innards” until we become free of them, and the only way to do that is to forgive the offender as though we had never been offended at all. I like his conclusion that this means “uncreating” the offense, but as only God can create and uncreate; only God can effectively forgive. We lost our God-given ability to do that in the original sin, and what has now become natural is a deep-seated desire for retribution justice. This enlightens what it means to be enslaved by the law, and why God himself had to come in Jesus to clear a new path, make a new humanity possible, through forgiveness of offenders, which only divine love makes possible.

This text too, like the others we have been reading, affirms that it’s our condition to live in both the flesh and the spirit at the same time. While our remembrance of offenses continues to generate feelings of hurt, anger and desire for retribution justice; our own experience of God’s inexhaustible and undeserved forgiveness, mercy and love set us free to manifest the same superabundant love and mercy to others. This is the new man, the new life in the Spirit which is the freedom of the children of God and such good news. Like Jesus and his Father, we refuse to allow offenses against us to become the basis of our relationships with our offenders or anyone else.

In chapter 8 “The Living One’ of Beatrice Bruteau’s The Grand Option, she seems to pick this up when she states that forgiveness is not directed to the corpse of the past offense, but rather “unites with the other’s creative act of stepping forward into the next moment… is an act of making the future.” Forgiveness is just one dimension of self-giving love that emerges not from the psyche and other elements of my personality, but from the spirit which is profoundly centered in union with God and shares in God’s “sense of sheer ‘I am’… (and) is radiating in all directions the intention ‘May you be!’” The self that we give to others in love is not the self we are normally conscious of, our living soul, but the deeper self, which, united to God, is also a life giving spirit. Agape is more than contemplative or appreciative love, is active, bursting “with energetic desire that there be more being.” Creative, free self-giving desires to bring into being what does not yet exist for the other’s good.

It is this transcendent spirit in us which is our true self – in union with God and flowing from God as its Source – and the new life revealed in Jesus and shared with us since his Resurrection. It is a challenge for us to be aware of this spirit and creative freedom, unpredictable and bringing forth life that is ever new, as our true self and to deliberately live out of it from moment to moment, and to be further aware of pouring ourselves out in love into the same fluid spirit self in others and of all others pouring themselves out in love into us. At this level, we realize that the boundaries of our selfhood are interpersonal to the limits of the Body of Christ, rather than the narrow limits of our psyche and physical traits and awareness. We are so familiar in the confines and comfort of our body/psyche self, that we require spiritual disciplines to cultivate the ongoing awareness of our spiritual self in communion with God and with all the others like ourselves.

In “The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels…” John Shea demonstrates how Jesus provided us with means to live out of this sense of communion with all others through ongoing reconciliation: talking it out one to one, then including a few other people, only then finally appealing to authority, and finally considering the offender as one needing ministry or work. At every stage, relational skills and the willingness to dialogue and be open to other possibilities are necessary for reconciliation to occur.

More importantly, we need to bridge the disparity between the psycho-social level within us and Spirit. Prayerful attention to Spirit can help all those involved get in touch with their deep desire for peace and enter into the process of reconciliation from the deeper spirit self from which radiates the love of God, which makes the process infinitely more fruitful and life giving for all. Our psycho-social self tends to keep a record of wrongs and hurts, so that forgiveness tends to put pressure on letting go of the score keeping; whereas our spirit self is aware of receiving itself from God and more willing to give itself in forgiveness in order to see the future life of the other come to pass in peace and love.

to be continued....

Sunday, October 03, 2004

Thérèse de Lisieux - A new classic film - a must see!

It doesn't happen too often that we can enjoy a film production that is not only beautiful art, but really entertaining, and profoundly meaningful. Well, I had the privilege of seeing one today at an AMC movie theatre here in Chicago - Therese - you'll find a good review at National Review Online. I don't know why, but I wasn't expecting such a powerful production, but I guess I should have known better, and certainly would have if I'd known it was directed by Leonardo Defilippis, whom I first met at Madonna House I think it was in September 1992 or 1993, when I was delighted to watch his one-man performance of John of the Cross. You can find out more about Leonardo, the many great productions that are the fruit of his foundaional work and that of the company he started - St. Luke Productions - they have a fine repertoire of live plays they are glad to perform for smaller or larger audiences and with more or less elaborate sets. You can even order their audio and video productions online. We have several of both in our lending library at Becket.

The grace of the afternoon is that I didn't go alone but went with another priest and three sisters. We were able to share some of our thoughts and emotions afterwards - I had thoroughly drenched my hankie - this is the kind of movie that can really clear your sinuses, unless something inhibits it. It's only as we were chatting afterwards that I found myself saying to some of the teenage theatre crew that the story might actually leave you cold in the sense that it might seem so foreign to what we have come to know and experience of life today in this culture of ours. This occurred to me because of a comment by the homilist at Mass at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish here in Hyde Park this morning - he said that the movie was a little "sweet", but still had a good message.

As I stood there initiating a chat with the teens, I saw in a flash that I deeply desired to invite them to see it - neither of them had, a boy and a girl - and they seemed indifferent. In the same instant, I realized they might find the film a huge disconnect from the world that they have known until now - both at home and in their society of school, friends, and work, not to mention the marketplace. Then I remembered it - the Martin family was unusual even for its own day. Thérèse's parents Louis and Zélie Martin had an incredibly profound spiritual grasp of their faith, relationship with God, and of their Christian vocation. They very deliberately entered into Marriage, so that they attended with exquisite love and tenderness to their children - 5 girls. That's what I told the teens - this was an incredibly sensitive family - perhaps quite different from what we've known, but very precious all the same. They seemed intrigued.

The movie actually does justice to the kind of home the Martins kept - without the time to also portray the austerity of the era and the relative poverty of the family in comparison to our own lifestyles in the West today - so that in the end, when we watch the movie at face value, we get a fairly good impression of how this family would translate into our own time. That's where the gap can hit pretty hard. We could find - if not a disconnect then perhaps a disturbing realization - that our lives are a far cry from this deeply genuine personal love and attentiveness.

In the real historical life of the Martin family, the relationships between the parents, between the parents and their girls, and of course among the girls, were characterized by such tenderness and chaste affections that we could find them "sweet" or even unreal. Sadly, our "real" world is far from chaste, so far in fact, that we run the risk of becoming jaded, cynical, or at the opposite extreme, so obsessed with pleasures of the flesh as to become almost if not quite incapable of genuine personal intercourse or, if you prefer, authentic personal exchange, honest sharing, trusting openness, and chaste intimacy. This family had all these character strengths, modelled and mentored by the parents; so it is not surprising that all 5 girls took their own vocations seriously and pursued what for each of them was the highest ideal of their spirits - religious life.

Four entered Carmelite Convent of Lisieux and one entered a convent of the Poor Clares - all contemplatives. They wanted to live the life of a spouse of Christ, literally. How could such a thing happen? Were they forced to it by their parents? Not at all. In fact, their parents would have been happy to see them married, as they had done. Simply put, this couple took God so seriously and lived such intense and loving relationships with God and each other as spouses, that their girls learned to discover their own interior life, where God is pleased to dwell with every human being. The art of faith is learning from others, such as parents, how to nurture the desire and gratitude for the gift of faith, and how to discern the presence of God within, and how to respond with honesty, trust, love, and hope.

This is a movie that would be appropriate even for little children, though they may find it long at points - simply because they may be used to much more action-oriented fare - and there are so many touching scenes that they may also want to cuddle up to their parent or older siblings. By all means, plan to have time before and after to set up the viewing and then be able to share all the feelings, thoughts, and questions that it will have evoked. It would also be very wise to pray in advance of planning to go and actually inviting others to go see the movie. This film was made at all points by Christians of deep faith, and I believe that it can easily become a powerful instrument of God's grace, particularly as we entrust ourselves and others to the action of the Holy Spirit in an ongoing way. As the review linked above, this film may be a powerful and very meaningful follow-up for the family to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ! May you have a blessed viewing!

See the spiritual and live, or ignore it and turn to stone - "Spir Dev &Gospel Narratives 4" by John Shea

John’s Gospel is always contrasting darkness and light, and he shows us how all-encompassing and important is the world of difference between the human and the divine, the flesh and the spirit. In varying degrees all the Gospels show us that Jesus has no time for the flesh, He doesn’t want to give himself to those who want to remain in the flesh and are content, for example, to take delight in their amazement over the works that Jesus does. John calls them signs rather than miracles or wonders in order to take our attention away from the wonder of it and look rather at what is truly important, the spiritual life, life God offers us to live in union with the Divine Persons, which wants to erupt into the visible and social world and take form as love in presence and service.

It’s not necessary for those who study and interpret the Scriptures to hold that the events retold are only literary fictions in order for there to be masterful artifice in the retelling. Over the years, I've read commentators and exegetes give the impression - at least I was left with the impression - that the only artifice in the Sacred Scriptures was that of the writers and that they exercised literary license at the level of the historicity of the events themselves. I've glad to discover in this course that of course there is also artistry in the telling of the event, the telling of the story if you will, and the story can be a true and historical event as much as it can be a literary creation. What distinguishes the evangelists is that they present themselves as eye witnesses and interviewers or reporters of eye witnesses to Jesus and what He said and did until the time of his passion, death and resurrection.

So, we can consider Nicodemus real, as we find him in John chapter 3, but John shows him in such a way as to demonstrate to us what we are to avoid, the incapacity or unwillingness to grasp the spiritual; so that we might understand Jesus’ teaching and call. We are all capable like the Pharisees of reducing spirituality to a religion of accounting, keeping track of pious practices and condemnable sins, reducing God to the One who rewards and punishes. A true spiritual teacher, Jesus turns that view on its head and declares that God has no interest in keeping accounts and judging, but rather in bestowing Himself in love.

Jesus says of himself and those seized by the Spirit, as John says of his community “we speak of what we know.” Jesus brought about an awakening experience of the Spirit in all who received Him. John – under the impulse of the same Spirit – retells the experience to allow us to enter into it ourselves today. At that time as now, there are those who claim to be able to "go into spiritual realms to consult with spirits, particularly of the dead" and John - as all Scripture writers and prophets - conveys God's deep distaste for this practice. He is our loving Father, and He knows that the only spirits we can get in touch with in such ways are the rebellious spirits or angels - devils or demons - which are not to be trusted. Jesus is the true Gate to Heaven – we must give up trying to manipulate God or Spirit through mediums – we are rather to come to Jesus and let the Spirit lead us where He wills, as He did for Jesus. When our mind is stuck in the flesh, we are like the Israelites who got into trouble with fiery serpents, and Jesus is the One on whom we are to look, because He is the life and healing of God offered to us.

In Jesus’ death He revealed to us that He was born of God not to judge the world but to give life. When we are born of God, we also do what God does; we do not judge but pour ourselves out in love. In Nicodemus, John shows that the judgment happens in our refusal to enter into Spirit. John relates Jesus’ teaching that those who prefer their evil deeds and life in the flesh stay in the dark out of fear of being exposed by the light; so they reject Jesus. The flesh is afraid of the light and considers the spirit dangerous and false – its view is wrong side down and needs to be turned over. It uses the religion of keeping accounts to try to tame or put in a box the frightening mystery of the spiritual. Out of fear and insecurity, out of touch with its own spiritual hunger and incapable of compassion for the spiritual hunger of others, it grabs control of religious practices and keeps others outside the circle of the elect.

Calling to Jesus, believing in his Name, we become open to the power of the Spirit filling Him, and like the apostles in the boat who immediately found themselves on the shore from the storm, we become grounded in Jesus, no longer react to the world out of fear, and are ready to pour love into it. Like Jesus first did, the Gospels call us to realize we are borderland beings living in both the physical and spiritual realms simultaneously, called to live in both but lifted by the Spirit above the constraints and misgivings of the flesh. We are manifestations of God’s love, loved by Him and destined to freely be his instruments and willing servants of his passion to transform creation.

Entering within, we are to go out into the world aware of our union with God and radiant of his life, love and power for the world, always resting in Jesus as John rested in Him and He rested in the Father, drawing upon his grace and seeing the world through his eyes. Union with God is what sustains creation in being. We are called to become Jesus and say with Him to others, “Don’t be afraid.” Moral transformation can come to the world only through those who are transformed in this metaphysical way, becoming new persons, born again of the Spirit. The Gospels and other Scriptures point out this way, theology tries to map it out, but we must walk the path and find our own way, because no one can really do it for us.

to be continued.....