I am very much enjoying sharing with nine others a Lenten study of the book, “The Wisdom Jesus” by Cynthia Bourgeault. This book examines the teachings of Jesus, as well as certain doctrines and events (ex. Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection) through a ‘Wisdom lens’. Without denigrating other ‘lenses’ by which we understand these matters of faith, Bourgeault deepens, enriches, and transforms traditional understandings. Briefly, I want to examine this holy season of Lent from a Wisdom perspective, a perspective that Christian Mystics of old, and those of today, proclaim.
Catholic priest and contemporary Mystic Richard Rohr states that “Catholicism is the ‘one true church’ only when it points beyond itself to the ‘one true Mystery’, and offers itself as a training ground for both human liberation and divine union. Many other religious groups do the same, however, and sometimes much better.” (Falling Upward – A Spirtuality for the Two Halves of Life, p.76).
The Christian Wisdom tradition guides us along a specific path that as we travel along it, leads us more deeply into the ‘one true Mystery’ and inspires us toward being active in training for and enacting ‘human liberation’. Church, at its best, helps us commune with the divine and be active agents of the divine in the world. Church, as a community of those wanting to live faithful lives, should foster ways and means to be both contemplative and active.
Lent marks a period of deep and sincere reflection of the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. It’s 40 day duration symbolizes Jesus’ 40 day prayer fast in the desert in preparation for his ministry afterward. Traditionally, for Christians, it’s a time of reflection on how we are missing the mark (Greek – ‘harmatia’ meaning missing the mark, translated ‘sin’) Individually and collectively, with the ‘mark’ being the will of God and known to Christians through the example and teachings of Jesus. It’s a time of repentance, turning to go in the right direction to hit the ‘mark’ or getting back on track in our commitment to the way of Jesus.
In the mystical dimension, however, Jesus’ death and resurrection take on additional meaning beyond traditional themes of ‘forgiveness’, ‘salvation’, ‘atonement’, ‘eternal life’ etc. We, too, are to die to the self-serving egotistical self, and be ‘raised’ to our true, authentic, Christ-like self. Consider the words of these well known Christian writers. Paraphrasing what Jesus might say, C. S. Lewis writes, “Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires you think innocent as well as ones you think wicked – the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.”
Thomas Keating puts it this way. “Lent is not about doing a few practices like fasting, giving to charities, or doing vigils. We are called by God to enter into a change of heart, to open to a new reality that is our True Self and beyond…the image and likeness of God. The discovery of ourselves is always a losing of ourselves….a death and a resurrection.
In the words of John Robinson, a clinical psychologist and an ordained interfaith minister, “Here is the mystical purpose of Lent. We surrender our everyday self and worldly life in exchange for the awakening of Christ Consciousness”.
And Jesus himself is reported in the gospels as saying, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them, if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” Through a Mystic Wisdom lens those words relate to the choice we have to live out of an egoic operating system that is self-centred and divisive or to die to such a way of life and live out of a Christ consciousness that is in harmony with the divine will and expressive of God’s inclusive love toward all creation.
John Robinson writes: “Lent is a perfect opportunity to experience this transformation of consciousness by leaving the ‘chronos’ time of clocks, calendars, schedules, roles, identities, and appointments, and entering ‘kairos’ time – or time outside time, sacred time, time in God, in other words, mystical consciousness.” That’s the goal of mysticism and it’s our destination in the Lenten season. Easter represents the possibility of dying into spirit”.
The season of Lent culminating in the Passion, Crucifixion, and the Resurrection of Christ is rich in meaning and experience. Indeed, as Richard Rohr declares, may the Church, in this season of Lent and in all the liturgical seasons, point beyond itself to the ‘one true Mystery’ and offer itself as the training ground for both human liberation and divine union.
Blessings to you all as you journey with Jesus, and with one another, through Lent into Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter!!