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Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Jesus put himself on display to draw us into his faith experience - "Spir Dev &Gospel Narratives 2" by John Shea

This Gospel Narratives course with John Shea is continuing to have a big impact on me, and on the other students as well, I believe. I will search the web to see whether I can find any of the articles he has given us to read, and if I do, I will hot link them into my post, but if not, I can at least give the references so you can find them if you really want to.

Just from memory, one article talks about how Jesus came so that we might be saved, we believe this, but the Father's will and Jesus' intention is that we should enter into his own faith. He lived his life on display, as it were, at least to his disciples, and the Holy Spirit inspired the Gospels in order that in every generation, time, and place, all who hear the Good News might be drawn into Jesus' life and faith. To put it differently, Jesus wants us to enter into his Baptism experience and know as He knows that the Father loves us, loves me, and wants to find his pleasure in us/me. The Father's pleasure is that the world might enter into the union He intended human beings to have with Him when He first created us in Adam and Eve - the first man and woman - the first ones to have within them as their constituting identity a spirit, a soul in the image and likeness of God.

Jesus lived constantly in the insight of his Sonship in his Father, whereas we find it more difficult to abide in that insight, which is one important purpose of prayer for us - to dispose ourselves to be brought back into that insight. At times, we need help, the help and love of others, and especially their forgiveness. That was the whole point of Jesus' parable of the prodigal son. He came back to his father because he was starving, but had forgotten who he was. He had become identified with his failure, with his sin. He had become his sin and had lost who he was in his family and in his family's love.

So the father immediately called to the servants to rush out with the finest robe and put in on him as well as sandals, that these external signs of his dignity and place in the father's heart and in his family might jolt him back to the reality and insight that he was the beloved son of his father. At his Baptism, Jesus disindentified with sin, even though He was without sin, He affirmed his awareness and will of wanting to have nothing to do with sin and remain in his Father's love and will. The gates of heaven opened then not just for Him, but for all of us and for all time. The Father affirmed his love for Jesus and his pleasure in Him come to do his will and restore humanity to the Father's love.

The Father affirms his love for us as well. So the question is, have we fallen into identifying ourselves with our sin and failure, or do we enter wholeheartedly into our Baptism and disidentify ourselves with sin and identify ourselves with Jesus as sons and daughters of our loving Eternal Father? We have only to listen in prayer for his voice affirming his love for us, and like Jesus, be driven into the desert by the Spirit so that we can be tempted and see clearly all the things that we are not - that's what temptations are - things that we are not. Once we reject our temptations, the Spirit leads us back to the society of people, filled with his power. As Jesus said, those who believe in Him and are united to Him will do even greater things than He did, because it's really not about results or external manifestations, rather, it's about the Father finding pleasure in our union with Him in Jesus and then being able to think in us, speak through us, and act in us. As St. Paul said, it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us.

From a Catholic point of view, this is the kind of insight that we want to bring to our celebrations of Penance and Reconciliation, so that everyone there would really want to disidentify with their sin and failure and be reaffirmed in their identity and dignity and freedom to love as sons and daughers of God.

To be continued.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

The spiritual is not an object, but a process - "Spir Dev &Gospel Narratives 1" by John Shea

Have you ever heard of John Shea, Roman Catholic priest, professor, and storyteller? Among others, he published the books "Stories of God." and "Stories of Faith." I attended the first lecture ten days ago in the course quoted in the title of this post. He skipped this past Wednesday, and I'll resume attending his lectures this week. I was very deeply touched by his first lecture, as he sat in simplicity on a chair before the class and just spoke, using stories at times to help us make some remarkable connections.

An internal echo of recognition resounded within me at the Professor’s statement that “we can never see the spiritual dimension; it is not an object, but a process.” Instantly, these words gathered together all I’ve ever heard and experienced about how important it is for the person on the spiritual journey not to be preoccupied by their own progress or even faith walk, nor by our experience of God. We are to attend to the divine Guest rather than to how we feel in his presence; just as we are to attend to our neighbor more than to how we feel about him or her. We are not to entirely ignore our experience; on the contrary, awareness of what we experience allows us to be and to relate to others in truth. It is healthy periodically to take note of where we are on the journey, to take stock of our condition, and to be aware of our relationship with God – as we do on retreat or during a sabbatical experience such as the one I have just begun – so that this realization can in turn elevate us with gratitude to the Lord and bring us back filled with gratitude to the company, intercourse and service of community and society.

The phrase “transcendent interiority” he quoted from Van Kaam clarifies the ineffable quality of the spiritual dimension as a living process, and the realization that the soul, which is created capable of and intended for communion with both God and other human beings in the Spirit, transcends our soul’s earthly ability to be aware of itself. The journey to true encounter with others – who are different and outside of myself – is most fully realized by a true encounter with the Living God, who is completely Other than me and beyond me, which in turn begins with the journey inwards beyond what I know and control about myself. There is within each of us a transcendent interiority, which is our own spirit that by its nature is capable of knowing the One who is the Transcendent Being beyond all knowing.

This knowing is not that with which our mind continually busies itself. Many have taught that the mind can hinder the spiritual dimension of our lives, that it tends to draw all things to itself, and all I know about what has been said and written about this can and has left the impression that the mind is more trouble than it is useful. On the other hand, we also know and believe, as St. Ambrose said, that our faith seeks understanding, and in this it is the mind which engages our soul in its search. The Professor calls
the mind, antechamber of the psyche, the gatekeeper of the soul. The mind is the key player in opening the soul to Spirit, where it can drink deeply “from the well of the Spirit and bring back spirit into the world.” Conversely, a closed mind causes a hard heart, “frozen, cut off, stuck in ideas closed to life.”

Again, it rang true and I found it so enlightening to hear that “the mind clings to ideas that keep it from life…. Sometimes we cling so much to what we think is the truth that when truth comes knocking we refuse to open the door. The mind does this without our permission.” I’ve never heard it put so strongly or clearly that “the mind” - that is, the mind without love, without the guidance and wisdom of the Spirit - tends to remain closed and narrow, lulls us to sleep to miss life and encounter with the Living God and our neighbor. “It only becomes ‘my mind’ once I love it from deeper within and soften it with spirit I receive” and functions in my awareness.

That sheds so much light on the Gospels “as spiritual wisdom that can open the mind to Spirit and then … release spirit into the world.” I’ve always been amazed at Jesus preaching or denouncing, but leaving everyone free to draw their own conclusions and act upon them. Appealing to their minds, he preached that they might open themselves through the wisdom He offered to the source of Spirit, and wasted no time “going after what was wrong…. We don’t occasionally repent; we are repentance, because our mind is in a constant state of needing to be changed.” When the heart softens the mind and it opens up to wisdom, it allows us to go in and drink from the wellspring of Spirit Jesus said wells up to eternal life within those who worship in spirit and truth. We must cling to the Gospel, to wisdom.

So far these impressions are formed in abstract language, and it probably reads as pretty dry, well, in many ways it is. As I continue to relate what's happening in this course, it will become more practical and concrete, and I'm really excited about the possibilities. The point of this course is to try to learn how to preach and teach the Gospels in the same way Jesus did, that is, to invite the mind to open the soul up to the Spirit. To be continued.