Sunday, December 06, 2009

God Without the Wardrobe

Wynn McGregor leads off with two stories, one about her grandson asking his father if “God sleeps naked,” and the other about a scene from Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” where the celebrant smashes the chalice and is stripped of his clerical vestments.

Think of Transcendent Reality as God Without The Wardrobe. Think of religion as clusters of clothiers. We bring God down to our fitting rooms and begin to measure and cut and sew, dressing God in our ideas of how God ought to look. Draping God with our best stab at godliness. “Oh yes! The Holy Trinity! Doesn’t that look just perfect, though? My, my. And Omniscient. Omnipotent. Omnipresent. Stunning! Almighty! All Knowing! All Powerful! Immortal, Invisible, God-Only-Wise! Oh, indeed! And THIS: There Is No God But The God WE Say Is God! By all means! Perfect! As perfect as God should be! Just right, Your Holiness!”, we say, bowing to our creation.

The deeper truth is spoken by the child, and by the composer/conductor (Leonard Bernstein): God sleeps naked and has no need of holy garb. Transcendent Reality has no wardrobe. Transcendent Reality is the Underlying Reality, the Grounding Reality, upholding our lives. The visible world rests on the invisible world. The Christ is where the invisible becomes visible. Incarnation, you know. Human being becoming God (without the wardrobe). Christmas.

Mary gave birth to Jesus. Jesus gave birth to the Christ. There is nothing automatic and natural about the Christ coming forth into the world, either then or now. You think a virgin birth is hard. Just try being who you are! This is the hardest thing, the greatest work, bringing forth the Christ by being who we are. And, it has nothing to do with getting the Out There In Here, as though we have to mold ourselves into some external model of right living. The Christ does not exist Out There, Up There, Over There, somewhere beyond us, external to us. The work involves getting the In Here Out There, bringing forth the Christ within and making the invisible visible. Christmas. Every day.

The problem is that we stand in our own way, block our own path. We are of two minds, or three, or four, or, how many of them are there really? WE are Legion, don’t you know? In league with ourselves against ourselves. We want what we have no business having. This is as succinct a definition of sin as you will ever stumble upon: Wanting what we have no business having. Wanting what we want and not what we ought to want. Just try to want what you don’t want, or to un-want what you want! We can pretend, but we cannot comply. We can fake it, but we cannot make it. Unfazed lives the want-er within.

And so, the war of the wills. We strain to be morally pure and pleasing to someone’s (perhaps our own) idea of God, and white-knuckle it past temptation only to be ambushed by symptoms and circumstances we cannot control and do not foresee. The Christ we produce is a plastic prototype with robotic movements and delayed reactions following a programmed script written to be in accord with some church council’s decree of how it ought to be done. The Out There is squeezed without regard for style or fit In Here. The Christ is prefabricated and slapped, perhaps literally, into place.

We are directed to put on the Christ as we might put on “the full armor of God,” to use a scriptural metaphor. Told to wrap ourselves in a wardrobe cut out in the fitting rooms of ancient religion, and required to project an image that has come to us from Those Who Know Best And Must Be Pleased. But Bernstein invites us to see through the posing and the posturing, the draping and the strutting about. Crash goes the chalice! Gone are the clothes! Now what?

We are as naked as God, and have nothing but ourselves in the work to be the Christ, here and now, in the lives that are our lives to live, today. On one hand, there is nothing to it. It is simply a matter of finding our way back to ourselves, to “the face that was ours before we were born.” On the other hand, it is the hardest thing, the greatest work, because we stand in our own way, wanting 10,000 things more than we want to be who we are.

Carl Jung says we spend our lives walking around ourselves, around the Self we are born to be, circling closer, perhaps, over the years, but never arriving at the one we are. Jung spent his life working to help us close the distance between the life we are living and the life we are called to live, between the self we are and the self we are born to be. His term for becoming who we are is “individuation.” The Zen and Taoist term is “True Human Being.” The Buddhist term is “Buddha” or “Buddha-mind.” The New Testament’s term for becoming who we are is “Christ.” The Christ is the Anointed One, anointed to bring Transcendent Reality forth into the world of space and time by simply being who we are in the moment of our living.

In the wilderness, Jesus is stripped of all of the trappings—the wardrobe—of family and culture and stands naked before that which has need of him. Think of the wilderness experience as the birthplace of the Christ. When Jesus steps back into society he is following the path with his name on it, and is obedient to a will that is, and is not, his own. He speaks to this when he says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and accomplish his work,” and, “The Father and I are one,” and, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” And he prays that his followers “may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us.” Paul reflects this when he says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

But, again, this is not an External, Out There, Model of Holiness that is being hawked. Jesus and Paul are simply exhibiting “the face that was theirs before they were born” in their lives, and, in so doing, bringing Transcendent Reality forth into the world. Here is the formula from a couple of weeks ago: The numinous (that which moves us, resonates with us, catches our eye) leads us straight, not counting all the detours and asides, twists, spins and round-a-bouts that compose the path—the beam—with our name on it, to the heart of Transcendent Reality and, interestingly enough, to the heart of our very own heart as well. Which is to say that the other side of you, the other side of me, is God. This means that the numinous which leads us to God leads us to us. So that oneness-of-being is our source and our goal.

In order to be the Christ, we have to be who we are, following the path with our name on it, which is not the same thing as the life we have in mind for ourselves. And we are back to standing in our own way, blocking the path to Transcendent Reality, to “the face that was ours before we were born.” Birthing the Christ within means getting ourselves out of the way and getting on the way that is our way.

This is not easy, but there is a guide within. We know when our lives are resonating with us and when they are not. We know when, and where, we are alive, and when, and where, we are mostly dead. We know, as Joseph Campbell says, “when we are on the beam and when we are off of it.” The path to God Without The Wardrobe, to Transcendent Reality, to birthing the Christ within is found in finding our way to that which is life for us, which brings us to life and enables us to be fully alive.

Yet, here is the tricky part. We cannot close ourselves off from the voice of opposition! Always the tension, the counterweight, the contrary! Life is not a quick sprint to glory along the path we love. As we got ourselves out of the way, so we have to get ourselves back in the way! Jung says “Life can flow forward only along the path of the gradient,” and, “In order to be balanced, there must be opposition.” Dialogue is as necessary for our spiritual life as air, light, food and water are for our physical life. And the necessary dialogue is both internal and external. In other words, we work it out with ourselves and one another!

We are always working it out! Within ourselves and among ourselves! What to do. How to do it. Who to be. What is needed. How to proceed. We figure it out anew in every moment! There is no formula, no recipe, no rule book, no black footprints, no wardrobe! Only the dialogue! Only the conversation! We find our way forward along the path of the gradient. We do not run up the mountain. We take our time, listening our way along. We circle the self over the course of our life, narrowing the distance (we hope) yet never settling into the center. And the community of sojourners helps us listen, helps us hear, engages us in dialogue, and keeps us in contact with all that has to be taken into account as we think through what is next, what needs to be done and how best to do it.

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