Theme:
Christ Means "Anointed"

Christ Means “Anointed”

Anointing with Love
Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Cynthia Bourgeault has spent years studying Mary Magdalene, one of Jesus’ closest apostles, often conflated with a prostitute. Cynthia reclaims Magdalene’s significance as Jesus’ beloved companion and a model of authentic love.

Christ is not Jesus’s last name—an obvious but so-often overlooked truism. It means “the anointed one.” And however much his followers may have wished for the ceremonial anointing that would have proclaimed him the Davidic Messiah, the fact is that he became “the Anointed One” at the hands of an unidentified woman who appeared out of nowhere at a private dinner bearing a jar of precious perfume and sealed him with the unction of her love. . . .

I believe that the traditional memory of Mary Magdalene as Jesus’s anointer . . . holds the key to . . . understanding . . . the Passion as an act of substituted love. It also . . . offers a powerful ritual access point to the Christian pathway toward singleness and “restoration to fullness of being.” If we are fully to avail ourselves of Mary Magdalene’s wisdom presence today, it will be, I believe, primarily through recovering a wisdom relationship with the ritual of anointing—that is, coming to understand it . . . as an act of conscious love marking the passageway into both physical and spiritual wholeness.

Her passion has transformed her into one of the initiated ones. And in The Cloud of Unknowing, the author recognizes this same quality of passion as the key element that not only frees Mary from her sins but catapults her into unitive consciousness and a state of continuous beatific communion:

When our Lord spoke to Mary as a representative of all sinners who are called to the contemplative life and said, “Thy sins be forgiven thee,” it was not only because of her great sorrow, nor because of her remembering her sins, nor even because of the meekness with which she regarded her sinfulness. Why then? It was surely because she loved much.

. . . Even though she may not have felt a deep and strong sorrow for her sins . . . she languished more for lack of love than for any remembrance of her sins. . . .

. . . Instead [rather than sorrowing and weeping], she hung up her love and her longing desire in this cloud of unknowing and she learned to love a thing that she might never see clearly in this life, neither by the light of understanding of her reason nor by a true feeling of sweet love in her affection. Very often, in fact, she had hardly any special remembrance of whether she had been a sinner or not. Yes, and I hope that she was often so deeply immersed in the love of His Godhead that she hardly saw the details of the beauty of His precious and His blessed body in which He sat speaking and preaching before her with such great love. [1]

References:
[1] The Cloud of Unknowing, ed. Ira Progoff (Delta Books: 1957), 100-102.

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala: 2010), 28, 181-183. Cynthia goes into great depth explaining the various Mary characters portrayed throughout the Gospels. For more detail, see her book, particularly appendix 2.

Image credit: Mary Magdalene’s Box of Very Precious Ointment (detail), James Tissot, 1886-1994, Brooklyn Museum, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If we are fully to avail ourselves of Mary Magdalene’s wisdom presence today, it will be, I believe, primarily through recovering a wisdom relationship with the ritual of anointing—that is, coming to understand it . . . as an act of conscious love marking the passageway into both physical and spiritual wholeness. —Cynthia Bourgeault
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Christ Means “Anointed”

The Sacrament of Anointing
Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The human need for physical, embodied practices seems universal. Across Christian history, the “Sacraments,” as Orthodox and Catholics call them, have always been with us. Before the age of literacy started to spread in Europe in the sixteenth century, things like pilgrimage, prayer beads, body prostrations, bows and genuflections, “blessing oneself” with the sign of the cross, statues, sprinkling things with holy water, theatrical plays and liturgies, incense and candles all allowed the soul to know itself through the outer world—which we are daring to call “Christ.” These outer images serve as mirrors of the Absolute, which can often bypass the mind. Anything is a sacrament if it serves as a Shortcut to the Infinite, hidden in something that is very finite.

In 1969, I was sent as a deacon to work at Acoma Pueblo, a Native American community in western New Mexico. When I got there, I was amazed to discover that many Catholic practices had direct Indigenous counterparts. I saw altars in the middle of the mesas covered with bundles of prayer sticks. I noted how the people of Acoma Pueblo sprinkled corn pollen at funerals just as priests did holy water, how what we were newly calling “liturgical dance” was the norm for them on every feast day. I observed how mothers would show their children to silently wave the morning sunshine toward their faces, just as we learn to “bless ourselves” with the sign of the cross, and how anointing people with smoldering sage was similar to waving incense at our Catholic High Masses.

All these practices have one thing in common: they are acted out, mimed, embodied expressions of spirit. The soul remembers them at an almost preconscious level because they are lodged in our muscle memory and make a visual impact. The later forms of more rational Protestantism had a hard time understanding this.

My colleague and Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault writes about this in her book The Meaning of Mary Magdalene:

Today, within the mainstream of Christian sacramental practice we have indeed forgotten much of what our wisdom forebears once knew. Most Christians are still familiar with anointing only in its most stark and literal form, as the sacrament of “extreme unction,” administered shortly before physical death. While the ceremonial use of anointing for healing is on the increase (and this is a positive trend), even within these healing circles most people are unaware of the tightly interwoven threads that connect this action, through Mary Magdalene, to redemptive love and rebirth into fullness of being. They would be astonished to discover that anointing has not only something but everything to do with bridal mysticism and that it is not physical death but “dying before you die” that is its primary field of reference. To reclaim anointing in its original context would make it the sacramental centerpiece of a whole new vision of Christianity based on spiritual transformation and the alchemy of love. [1]

For the remainder of this week, Cynthia will help us rediscover the potent ritual of anointing through Mary Magdalene’s story.

References:
[1] Cynthia Bourgeault, The Meaning of Mary Magdalene: Discovering the Woman at the Heart of Christianity (Shambhala: 2010), 187.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 223.

Image credit: Mary Magdalene’s Box of Very Precious Ointment (detail), James Tissot, 1886-1994, Brooklyn Museum, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If we are fully to avail ourselves of Mary Magdalene’s wisdom presence today, it will be, I believe, primarily through recovering a wisdom relationship with the ritual of anointing—that is, coming to understand it . . . as an act of conscious love marking the passageway into both physical and spiritual wholeness. —Cynthia Bourgeault
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Christ Means “Anointed”

We Are All Anointed by Spirit
Monday, April 8, 2019

Remember that it is God who assures us all, and you, of our sure place in Christ and has anointed us, marked us with God’s seal, giving us the pledge, the Spirit, that we carry in our hearts. —2 Corinthians 1:21-22

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. —Luke 4:18-19

We all know respect when we see it (re-spect = to see a second time). We all know reverence because it softens our gaze. Any object that calls forth respect or reverence is the “Christ” or the anointed one for us at that moment, even though the conduit might just look like a committed research scientist, an old man cleaning up the beach, a woman going the extra mile for her neighbor, an earnest, eager dog licking your face, or an ascent of pigeons across the plaza.

All people who see with that second kind of contemplative gaze, all who look at the world with respect, even if they are not formally religious, are en Cristo, or in Christ. For them, as Thomas Merton says, “the gate of heaven is everywhere” [1] because of their freedom to respect what is right in front of them—all the time.

The Christ Mystery anoints all physical matter with eternal purpose from the very beginning. We should not be surprised that the word translated from the Greek as “Christ” comes from the Hebrew word mesach, meaning “the anointed” one or Messiah. Christ reveals that all is anointed, not just him.

Many Christians are still praying and waiting for something that has already been given to us three times: first in creation; second in Jesus, “so that we could hear him, see him with our eyes, watch him, and touch him with our hands, the Word who is life” (see 1 John 1–2); and third, in the ongoing beloved community (what Christians call the unfolding Body of Christ or the Parousia—Growing Fullness), which is slowly evolving throughout all of human history (Romans 8:18). How can we participate in this Flow?

As Reverend Jacqui Lewis asks:

What if every human being is anointed, Messiahed, Christ? What if the most fundamental aspect of our identity is that we are each anointed and appointed by The Holy One, by Spirit—to preach good news to the poor, liberty to the captive, and sight to the blind? What if we take seriously being the Body of the Christ—that we are the hands, feet, and heartbeat of the Living God? What if we are Word made flesh, Love made flesh, Light made flesh? [2]

References:
[1] Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Doubleday:1966), 142.

[2] Jacqui Lewis, The Universal Christ conference description, https://cac.org/another-name-for-every-thing-the-universal-christ/.

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 20, 119-120.

Image credit: Mary Magdalene’s Box of Very Precious Ointment (detail), James Tissot, 1886-1994, Brooklyn Museum, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If we are fully to avail ourselves of Mary Magdalene’s wisdom presence today, it will be, I believe, primarily through recovering a wisdom relationship with the ritual of anointing—that is, coming to understand it . . . as an act of conscious love marking the passageway into both physical and spiritual wholeness. —Cynthia Bourgeault
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Christ Means “Anointed”

Christened Reality
Sunday, April 7, 2019

Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he had reached a certain place he passed the night there, since the sun had set. Taking one of the stones to be found at that place, he made it his pillow and lay down where he was. He had a dream: a ladder was there, standing on the ground with its top reaching to heaven; and there were angels of God going up it and coming down. And YHWH was there, standing over him, saying,

“I am YHWH, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. I will give to you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. . . . Be sure that I am with you; I will keep you safe wherever you go, and bring you back to this land, for I will not desert you before I have done all that I have promised you.”

Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Truly, God is in this place and I, I did not know.” He was afraid and said, “How awe-inspiring this place is! This is nothing less than a house of God, this is the gate of heaven!”

Rising early in the morning, Jacob took the stone he had used for his pillow, and set it up as a monument, pouring oil over the top of it. He named the place Bethel. —Genesis 28:10-19

I believe the Scriptures say that reality was christened or anointed from the very beginning, from the first moment of its inception. The Hebrew text describes the ritual of anointing, pouring oil over something to reveal its sacredness, starting with the Stone of Jacob, Beth El: “This is the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” Throughout the Bible we see a growing recognition of God’s all- pervasive, ever-invading Presence. Reality is soaked with Presence from the first meeting of Spirit and matter in the first line of the Bible (Genesis 1:1). The anointing oil doesn’t make anything sacred as such; it simply reminds both the anointer and the anointed of what was already the case.

The trouble is that many Christians have limited that anointing to the unique person of Jesus. Saying God’s presence is only here and not there, deciding what is anointed and what is not, is not our call to make. This entire world is soaked through and through with Christ, with divinity, like an electron planted in every atom. As Paul writes, “Creation retains the hope of being freed . . . to enjoy the same freedom and glory as the children of God. . . . We are all groaning in one great act of giving birth” (Romans 8:21-22). Unfortunately, most of us were not taught to see it that way. We thought we could torture animals, pollute the earth, kill people who we deemed not Christ-soaked because we thought it was up to us to decide: “She’s got the anointing and he doesn’t.” Only God decides what to anoint—which, thank God, is all of creation and all of humanity from the beginning. No exceptions. Our Christian word for all anointed reality is “Christ.”

Reference:
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Another Name for Every Thing podcast, episode 1 (February 24, 2019), https://cac.org/.

Image credit: Mary Magdalene’s Box of Very Precious Ointment (detail), James Tissot, 1886-1994, Brooklyn Museum, New York City, New York.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: If we are fully to avail ourselves of Mary Magdalene’s wisdom presence today, it will be, I believe, primarily through recovering a wisdom relationship with the ritual of anointing—that is, coming to understand it . . . as an act of conscious love marking the passageway into both physical and spiritual wholeness. —Cynthia Bourgeault
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