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Life as Participation in a Bigger Mystery

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Paul: Week 1

Life as Participation
Sunday, March 6, 2016

Saint Paul has always been a hero of mine. Unfortunately, Christians have often misunderstood Paul, seeing him as a moralist rather than a mystic. Yet Paul has so much to teach us. He never knew Jesus in the flesh, so Paul’s experience of the Risen Christ is much closer to what our own could be. For the next two weeks we are going to focus especially on Paul’s teachings on love, which is the theme for this year’s Daily Meditations.

The entire biblical revelation is gradually developing a very different consciousness, a recreated self, and eventually a full “identity transplant” or identity realization, as we see in both Jesus and Paul. The sacred text is inviting you slowly, little by little, into a very different sense of who you are: You are not your own. Your life is not about you; you are about Life! You are gradually “pruned” as a separate vine and re-grafted to the Great Vine of life and love and God. Once you are consciously reconnected to the Source, your life will bear much fruit for the world (John 15:1-5).

Saint Paul seems to understand this well because it happened rather dramatically to him. He writes, “I live no longer not I, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). In the spiritual journey you come to the day when you know you’re not just living your own life by yourself. You realize that Someone Else is living in you and through you, and that you are part of a much Bigger Mystery. You realize that you’re a mere drop in a Much Bigger Ocean, an ocean of Love. You are a recipient, a conduit, a participant.

No biblical writer had yet named what we now call “Trinity,” but Paul has a deep intuitive conviction about the Trinitarian flow passing through him. This will become his profound understanding of love. He comes to know that he is hardly “initiating” anything, but instead it is all happening to him. This is the same transition we all must make. Like the divine conception in Mary, you will eventually realize it is being done to you much more than you are doing anything. All God needs is your “yes,” it seems, which tends to emerge progressively as you grow in inner freedom.

This understanding gives you an utterly different sense of yourself as a person; this person is truly a “sounding through” (per-sonare) much more than an autonomous anything. That is what I mean by an identity transplant, and what we foundationally mean by conversion. It is not about joining a new group or church, but it is coming to know a new and essential self. Just as in Paul’s conversion, it takes quite a while for the scales to fall from our eyes (see Acts 9:18), plenty of help from strangers like Ananias (Acts 9:10 ff.), and long quiet retreats in “Arabia” (see Galatians 1:17).

Afterward, though, nothing could stop Paul. Read the full two chapters of 2 Corinthians 11-12 if you want to see a big human ego (Paul’s “I am”) that has now surrendered all of its autonomy to the one divine life (the Great “I AM”). Paul is almost giddy to tell you about it, jumping from one idea to the next with incomplete ideas, run-on sentences, and even a bit of bragging. He still has a big ego, but it is now being used for non-egoic purposes.

Gateway to Silence:
My life is not about me. I am about Life.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (Franciscan Media: 2008), 49-50.

Image Credit: Conversion on the Way to Damascus (detail), Caravaggio, 1601.  Santa Maria del Popolo, Rome, Italy.
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