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Center for Action and Contemplation

Jesus and the Universal Christ

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Unveiling the Universal Christ

Jesus and the Universal Christ
Thursday, August 26, 2021

Today Barbara Holmes shares the benefits of believing in a God who is both personal (Jesus) and universal (Christ).

[As an African American woman,] I grew up with a preference for the flesh and blood divinity of Jesus because of the suffering, rejection, [and] redemption of my own people and kindred spirits oppressed around the world. Other theologians have pointed out that enslaved or marginalized people need a flesh and blood and suffering Jesus. The Christ, as depicted by dominant culture, was too polite to intervene on our behalf and too far from reach to help us.

What this meant during slavery was that the master’s wife could ground her faith in a God far, far away without any concern about attending a lynching with a picnic basket. If we take seriously the notion of a faraway, unconcerned God, there are terrible consequences. What this means today is that unarmed Black and brown children could be shot by the police, [at the southern border, immigrant and migrant] babies can be caged, and African American Bible studies, Muslim mosques, and Jewish temples can be attacked with assault rifles while the majority of folks remain largely silent. . . .

The trouble for me was making the transition from suffering Savior to cosmic Christ. Before reading The Universal Christ, I had a hard time translating the personal Jesus upon whom I depend with the everythingness of Christ.

Sure, I accepted it by faith, but curious-minded people like me always want to connect as many dots as possible. . . . After reading The Universal Christ, I understand that the tropes of overcoming that we clung to during the Civil Rights movement are being fulfilled through the embodiment and rise of the Universal Christ in us. Father Rohr says we find God simultaneously in ourselves and in the outer world beyond ourselves.

After I read The Universal Christ, the first dot that I connected was that the particularity of Jesus does not obliterate the universality or the everythingness of Christ. Moreover, the cosmic scope of the Christ is not light-years away, but in every cell of our star-born bodies. The Universal Christ offers the reality that I carry the same divine spark in me that is in every living thing. This spark is seen in the resurrecting power that transformed Jesus into the Universal Christ. That same force can resurrect and transform me and every living person and thing in creation. Father Rohr reminds us that while Jesus is described as the light of world in John 8:12, Jesus also describes us as having that same light. He says, “You are the light of the world” in Matthew 5:14. . . .

Father Rohr agrees that light is not something you necessarily see; it is something that allows you to see other things. The Universal Christ helps us to see that we can follow the embodied Jesus, accept the suffering fact that “in this life, you will have trouble” [John 16:33], [while also] knowing that all creation is moving and evolving toward more diversity, creativity, and wholeness.

“Rev. Dr. Barbara A. Holmes on The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr” (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), faculty presentation, April 10, 2020, YouTube video.

Story from Our Community:
My book club and I have studied The Universal Christ this past year. Listening to Fr. Richard explain how he communes with the Lord has been very encouraging. As a 70-year-old I love to sit on my porch and listen to the owls. They sound like God’s voice saying I love you. I said thank you out loud and my daughter said who are you talking to? I sheepishly said God. Thank you, Richard and the CAC for the hope you give us. —Fran H.

Image credit: Charles O’Rear, Grasses After Spring Rain (detail), 1973, photograph, Nebraska, National Archives.
Image inspiration: Each blade of dew-graced grass is part of a larger braided design, just as each person is part of a larger whole. The extraordinary glistens in the most ordinary.
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