It's a beautiful day - colored leaves – blue sky – gentle breezes. Yet I know this weather won't last. It's autumn, a time of change. One day is warm with the sun shining. The following is cold with rain. We don't know what to expect from one day to the next. We are moving toward winter.
Life is like that, changeable and unpredictable. We live the best we can, loving, fearing and hoping. Yet we know we will die.
When I was younger, I feared death. God was a punishing Father who would send me to hell if I didn't follow His rules. As I grew older, this image fueled a fury at the cruelty in the world and a passion for justice. I spent years in Madison Urban Ministry, trying to make things right. Yet deep down, I knew the odds were stacked against the powerless, as powerful people and unjust institutions dominated the scene. I continued on until I burned out with chronic fatigue.
I resigned from the urban ministry and retreated, like a wounded animal, into a cave of my own making. I had little energy. My drive for justice and thirst for life evaporated in fatigue and depression.
As I regained strength, I perceived a different energy around me. It was like a friend sitting with me before a fire. I basked in this presence for several years before it too faded, leaving me with a belief, or was it a hope, that the 'yes' of the universe was stronger than its 'no.'
In my case, the life and teachings of Jesus kept hope alive. Jesus was in touch with a source of Life. He allowed me to hope that we humans are more than we think we are. Walter Wink, in his book, The Human Being, proposed that Jesus offers us the opportunity to go on the journey that he charted rather than just worshipping him or his journey1. Wink said: "... Jesus incarnated God in his own person in order to show all of us how to incarnate God. And to incarnate God is what it means to be fully human.” This implies that each one of us can embody the mystery that is God in our own being just as Jesus did.
Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry make this point in more contemporary language in The Universe Story2. They trace humanity's presence back to the Big Bang when time and space came into being in a burst of energy. This explosion of creativity has continued for more than thirteen billion years giving birth to stars, planets and life forms, including humans. With humans came the evolution of religion, societies and higher levels of consciousness. In a real sense, we humans are part of that originating pulse that created the universe. That energizing power lives in us. We are part of that which produces the growing diversity, complexity and interconnectedness of the creation.
Yet all is not simplicity and light. Both of these stories acknowledge that there are destructive as well as creative dynamics in the cosmos.
The first century story relates Jesus' experience of God as a loving parent in his baptism3. It then tells of his temptation to follow the path of self aggrandizement as the savior of Israel4. It recounts Jesus' sense of total abandonment as he prays prior to his execution at the hands of the Romans5. If we are to embody the mystery of God in our own beings, we too will experience God as a loving parent while also facing our own temptations, abandonments and death.
The twenty-first century story tells how elements of the creation diversify and multiply as they coexist in mutually beneficial, interdependent relationships. It then states that the finite energy of the universe and its physical laws limit the growth and diversification of life forms. Animals prey on one another in a struggle for survival. Ecosystems flourish and die dependent on ideal temperatures, air, water and adequate amounts of nutrients. The history of planet earth is replete with cycles of mass extinction of living species.6 We humans are part of this process, for we are just another life form. If our evolution is inconsistent with the creative dynamics of the cosmos, we too will become extinct.
Still, we are more than just another life form. We are conscious, and our consciousness is evolving. We are more than we think we are, because we embody that creative force that energizes the universe.
Putting this in the language of the first century story: We are more than subjects responding to the commands of God. Using Walter Wink's language, "... Jesus incarnated God in his own person in order to show all of us how to incarnate God. And to incarnate God is what it means to be fully human1." We humans, like Jesus, can enflesh God who is Love, in our daily lives.7
How can I put this in contemporary terms? What might it be to live as part of the creativity that is energizing the Universe? This is much more than hedging our bets to preserve our species. This kind of living means risking our lives, and even the existence of our species, in the trust that the Life that flows in us promotes wholeness at it's deepest level. It involves engaging our fear of suffering and death for the sake of Life. For me, the phrase “living in Love” says it best.
Let me share two events in my life which help me to understand “living in Love.”
- The first involves my “little sister Sue” who died a couple of years ago from ovarian cancer. I spent six weeks with her during the last six months of her life. Although it was incredibly painful to be with her as she suffered and fought to live, it was also a tremendous blessing. Sue and I loved each other. There was no questioning that. The events of each day, the trips to the hospital, the special drugs, even feeding her through a tube in her stomach, deepened our bonds of love. After she died, I spent a couple of days in her house. In a strange sense she was powerfully present there in her absence. I experienced “living in Love” through Sue's dying.
- The second involves my grandson, little Gus, who was born nineteen months ago. Little Gus is simply precious. His giggles of delight cause me to “smile all over.” When he runs toward me, my cynicism evaporates and my world lights up. I would risk my life for him. Being with little Gus is “living in Love.”
I wonder what it might be like to live every moment of my life as I did when I was with sister Sue and as I do when I am with little Gus. I wonder what it might it be like to relate to the whole creation this way – with every person on earth including my enemies – with animals, trees, mountains and rivers. What it might be like to stare at the moon and stars on a cloudless night “living in Love?”
We are challenged today:
- To have the creativity and courage to live into our full humanity
- To translate the insights of ancient wisdom into more contemporary understandings
- To explore living in Love in a more cosmic sense
- To let go of old patterns for the sake of Life
I can describe this journey by paraphrasing the introduction to the old Star Trek episodes:
Future: The final frontier
To explore strange new worlds
To seek out new life and new ways of being
To boldly go where humanity has never gone before.
Like the crew of the Starship Enterprise, we are being challenged to travel into the unknown, motivated by Life and living in Love.
As the new life of spring emerges from the death of winter, we are challenged to allow new life to spring from us in the midst of our dying age.
Whatever your world view, your values or your life practices and experiences, I invite you to join me in this endeavor8.
I will continue this exploration in my next post
- The Human Being: Jesus and the Enigma of the Son of the Man by Walter Wink - book review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat - http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/books/books.php?id=3602
- The Universe Story by Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry book review by Bob Nichols, https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/202229491
- See the baptism account where Jesus is affirmed as a beloved son of God. Mark 1:9-11, Matthew 3:13-17, Luke 3:21-22
- See the wilderness temptations of Jesus in Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13 and Mark 1:12-13
- See Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane before his execution by Roman authorities in Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:39-46
- History of extinctions - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extinction_event
- See 1 John 4:7-21 for the phrase “God is love"
- The link below connects to a video, the second half of which resonates for me with what I am trying to describe in this post. http://www.upworthy.com/hes-speaking-shes-playing-and-im-just-over-here-trying-to-pick-my-jaw-up-off-the-floor?g=6