Tuesday, January 24, 2017
In the early 1960s, Jesuit Karl Rahner (1904-1984) stated that if Western Christianity did not rediscover its mystical foundations, we might as well close the doors of the churches because we had lost the primary reason for our existence. Now don’t let the word “mystic” scare you. It simply means one who has moved from mere belief systems or belonging systems to actual inner experience. All spiritual traditions at their mature levels agree that such a movement is possible, desirable, and even available to everyone.
Until someone has had some level of inner religious experience, there is no point in asking them to follow the ethical ideals of Jesus or to really understand Christian doctrines beyond the formulaic level. In fact, moral mandates and doctrinal affirmations only become the source of deeper anxiety and more contentiousness! And then that very anxiety will usually take the form of denial, pretension, and projection of our evil elsewhere.
You quite simply don’t have the power to obey the law or follow any ideal—such as loving others, forgiving enemies, nonviolence, or humble use of power—except in and through union with God. Nor do doctrines like the Trinity, the Real Presence, salvation, or the mystery of Incarnation have any meaning that actually changes your life. They are merely books on shelves. Without some inner experience of the Divine, what Bill Wilson of Alcoholics Anonymous called “a vital spiritual experience,” nothing authentically new or life-giving happens.
Christians speak of the “paschal mystery,” the process of loss and renewal that was lived and personified in the death and raising up of Jesus, as the pattern of transformation. We can affirm that belief in lovely song and ritual, as many Christians do in the Eucharist. However, until we have personally lost our own foundation and then experienced God upholding us so that we come out even more alive on the other side, the theological affirmation of the paschal mystery is little understood and not essentially transformative. It is a mere liturgical acclamation.
“Cross and resurrection,” or loss and renewal if you prefer, is a doctrine to which most Christians might intellectually assent; but we worshiped it in Jesus, thanked him for it, and rarely transferred it to our own lives. This mystery of transformation must become the very cornerstone of our own life philosophy. We move into this mystery through actual encounter, surrender, trust, and the infilling of a new and larger life that proceeds from it. This is the experience of an inner movement and presence, not a mere belief or moral position.
Gateway to Silence:
Awaken me to Love this day.