Like the rings on a tree, once again, Holy Week came upon us, marking another cycle of remembrance and entering into the Life that culminated in the mysterious events that shook the world 2000 years ago in a small, out-of-way province of the Roman empire. The reverberations continue to be felt down to and, doubtless, way beyond the present time. The most sacred week in the year for Christians poses a time to reflect upon Holy Week’s essential message and its meaning for us, for me.
This year I led a Centering Prayer retreat on Holy Saturday, itself the most mysterious of day of Holy Week, the day of the Great Silence. We have the vantage of Resurrection; at the time, the Apostles did not. This was the day when hope vanished, all dreams quelled, the Loved One gone, nothing – or so it seemed, remained. Violence, the madness of the crowd, death, shock, helplessness, nothing. Silence.
During our retreat, our circle gathered in the wake of more religious violence — attacks against Christians in Sri Lanka, following attacks against Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, attacks against Jews in Pittsburgh, and on, and on, and on. Even in our desensitized world, killing in a place of sanctuary still has the power to shock. The nature and frequency of these attacks are raising urgent questions about how to confront extremism in a time of polarization, largely unregulated social media and diminished trust in community organizations, including religious and political institutions.
Violence, polarization, helplessness, nothing. Silence. This is the world we live in and the time we inhabit.
I took three readings for us to reflect on that Holy Saturday morning:
“As we approach this most mysterious and luminous feast of Easter … we move into this abyss of light, not as solitary ones, but as deeply connected in the one cosmic emerging Body of Christ. Life and death are bound up in one inextricable flow of energy that seeks to be liberated within each of us. Our task is to be liberated from the illusions of our partial lives, the necessary deaths we often reject; the saving deaths we resist; the life-giving deaths we cannot understand — all are bound up in this feast of Passover. We too must say ‘yes’ to death so that we may be carried over into God, the God of our heart, our future and fullness of life forever.”
– Ilia Delio, a personal letter, Holy Week 2017
“We are entering the cosmotheandric mystery of God’s eternal love. Through suffering and death we are being created unto new life. Who could possibly understand this logic of love? The whole event is destabilizing – but then again isn’t this the core of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection?”
– Ilia Delio, Holy Week 2018
“For sure, we need to fall on our knees every morning and beseech our mother Earth to help carry us through this latest dark time of human greed and destructiveness. But our real task at this evolutionary cusp is not to lose sight of what is coming to us from the future, the vision of our common humanity that is indeed ‘groaning and travailing’ to be born.”
– Cynthia Bourgeault, Omega Center blog, April 3, 2017
-the saving deaths we resist
-through suffering and death … unto new life
-keeping in sight of what is coming to us from the future
Finding the cosmic view of Christ’s continuing Passion, Death and Resurrection and our place in it, our particular place in it, amid all. I feelt this to be the urgent call particularly coming out of this Holy Week. Ilia Delio expressed it so well in one of her books, “The evolutionary process is moving toward evolution of consciousness and … what took place in the life of Jesus must take place in our lives as well, if creation is to move toward completion and transformation in God. … healing divisions and forming relationships that promote greater unity.”
Thomas Keating asserted that Jesus is the paradigm of humanity, the universal human being – God’s idea of human nature with its enormous potentialities. Christ as Jesus emptied himself of his divine purgatives and came into the world and identified with our weakness, blindness, developmental processes, and all the harm that our limited ways of functioning manifest. And his living Presence today offers us love, opening us wide in total vulnerability, embracing all creation, all suffering, all weakness, all life.
We too are invited into this consciousness – beyond self and its limited ideas of security, esteem and control and into the very life of the divine. How? Through – rather than inspite of – our faults and blindness, ignorance and weakness of will, our own violence and unreasonable demands. And enter into a life-changing evolutionary process ourselves. From there we will know how we are to meet the injustices of the world and to do so in the divine way, rather than ““my way.””
You might say that the Divine- becoming which is the revelation of Jesus’ life goes something like this:* The spiritual life is a consent to the divine plan. The first step is to become aware that there is this Other. That is, there is a Presence, an Ultimate Mystery, an Ultimate Reality or Something beyond being or non-being, the great “I am”’ that simply is. This awareness alerts us to the fact that we are not alone, that humanity is not alone, the cosmos is not alone; , penetrated, though hidden, in the greatest and the highest and in the lowest and the infinitesimal by a vast divine Mystery that is absolutely unlimited.
To become aware that there is an “Other” starts us off a searching for some kind of guide, religion, teaching, nature, or profound human experience. Here is when a discipline, a practice, or set of practices, is very useful. To be vulnerable, to enter into, the Great Silence and be in-formed by it.
What will happen if we continue to pursue our knowledge of the Other? Well, the next step is to come to union with the Other. This is the meaning of the imitation of Christ –the being of Christ.
Then you are participating in the becoming process, evolving as Christ. As Thomas Keating noted: You receive the sacraments to being the sacraments. In other words, you receive the Eucharist to be the Eucharist so that at some point you are the Eucharist radiating the Divine Presence wherever you go without even thinking about it, just by being what level of yourself you are becoming.
And what does this look like when divine transcendence and immanence become a kind of transfigured life? No fanfare. No extraordinary experiences. An ordinary Jane, an ordinary Joe, you are – living out of extraordinary love.
… And there is another final stage in the becoming process. We will talk about this another time.
*This discussion of becoming the Other is based upon the teachings of Thomas Keating.
Please join Mary Anne Best July 5 – July 7, 2019, at the Garrison Institute “Centering Prayer: A Summer Intensive,” where she will lead a retreat with fellow-teacher Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler, please click here.