Monday, July 21, 2014

Preaching the Mystic Vision of Saint Paul



Last Sunday the Revised Common Lectionary reading from the epistles was Romans 8:12-25. I picked it up at 8:9. I wanted to share with my congregation the importance of having a mystic vision. I began my sermon by saying:

“I would describe what we just read as part of a mystic vision. I believe Paul was a Jewish mystic. What I mean by that is that he put a priority on direct experience of God. Mystical awareness is an awareness of the Divine pervading all reality that is generated through direct encounter with God. Later in this letter at the conclusion of a section where Paul expounds on redemptive history he exclaims, “For from God and through God and to God are all things" (11:36). That is a mystic vision of reality. He didn’t get this simply through the Hebrew Scriptures, though there are hints of it there, but he came to this through his own direct experience of the Divine.”

I think most Christians today have very inadequate conceptions of God, which make it difficult for them to think of God in such an all-inclusive, universal, non-dual sense. Many Christians, I think, imagine God as a person much like themselves only bigger and greater—all-powerful and all-knowledgeable.

A mystic vision does not deny that God relates to us personally, but God cannot simply be designated a person. At the very least God functions as a person in the way God relates to human persons, but God is certainly more than what we mean when we use the word. Unfortunately, much Christian language and hymnology contributes to the confusion. For example, when we sing, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

But if we take Paul’s mystical vision seriously, then besides exercising the qualities or attributes of personhood, God is also the very source of life that interacts, intersects, and pervades all reality. Everything is connected and everything participates in the ebb and flow of the Divine Life.

I said to my congregation on Sunday,

"We might even think of the universe in all its dimensions being the body of God. That analogy breaks down, however, because God is conscious within that body at all points and in all parts. The Divine consciousness is always present. As the Franciscan mystic Richard Rohr likes to say, there is no circumference, there is only the center and God is at the center. Every point is a center point where God is, where God dwells in full consciousness. If you could somehow magically travel to the farthest reaches of the universe which is still expanding by the way, God would be consciously present there in God’s fullness.
My sense is that all consciousness from the consciousness of a dolphin to the consciousness of an infant to the consciousness of an Albert Einstein is all connected to the Divine consciousness. In Psalm 139 the psalmist expresses this sense of God’s inescapable presence. God is everywhere anyone and anything will ever be.

The Divine indwells each of us. As Christians, we (along with Paul) identify the Divine with the Christ, because this is the way we know God—through the Christ image. You may have noticed in this passage that Paul uses the terms “Spirit of God” and “Spirit of Christ” interchangeably. As Christians we know God through the Christ, and we know the Christ through the historical Jesus, or more accurately through the sacred tradition of Jesus that has been passed on to us.
Sisters and brothers, this is where language simply breaks down. Language can’t carry all the meaning. This is why God language is always symbolical language. We have to use symbols and metaphors and images to speak of God and even then we can only approach a particular aspect of God through the symbol, metaphor, or image. God of course is so much more.”

So much of the spiritual life is about awareness—becoming consciously aware of what already is—so that we can live into that reality, so that we can become who we already are, namely, the beloved daughters and sons of God. I pointed out to my congregation that this is all gift,  

“Did you do anything to earn your place in life? Your very existence and your emergence as a human being from development in the womb to birth to infancy to childhood and even to where you are now has been pure grace. There were many factors over which you had no control whatsoever: your place in history, your genetic constitution, your parents or care givers, etc. At some point you began to exercise some responsibility for your personal development, but you didn’t earn your place in the world. Life has been given to you. 
It’s the same in our connection with God. You are a child of God not because you believed or did certain things. It’s pure grace. But once you become aware of who you are and how connected you are to everything else, you become responsible to participate in the process of becoming like the Christ within you.”
I went on to contrast “life in the Spirit” with “life in the flesh” as two different ways to live rooted in awareness and unawareness. I also emphasized that life in the Spirit engenders hope that this world can be transformed (8:18-25).

I said,  
“The Divine within will never lead us to withdraw from this world into our own exclusive tribe or colony or group where we care only about our kind of people, and where we just wait for God to take us out of the world. This is why Rapture Christianity is so toxic, because those who embrace it tend to abandon care and compassion and a sense of responsibility to this world which God loves and wants to transform.
God loves this world and is at work in this world and we are called to participate with God. If Jesus and Paul and the early Christians were right about how much God loves and cares for this world, then the Spirit will always lead us into this world with all its suffering and injustice and oppression where we can be the body of Christ, where the Spirit can flow through us to touch and minister and heal and care for this creation.”
I am convinced that a mystic vision is the hope of our planet. I hope more Christian ministers will proclaim it and Christians will embrace it.


 


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