"Captivated by the Mystery of Christ" or "Christ Wrestler"?

My brother Paul read my blog entry titled “Am I a Christian?” and asked, “So Gary, I know what you are not (i.e., you are not a Christian Fundamentalist) when you say you are a Christian, but what are you, then, when you say you are a Christian?

I paused. What do I mean when I say I am a Christian? The answer that came up spontaneously was, “I am one who is captivated by the Mystery of Christ.” I do not see all my critical looking into Christianity as stubbornly rebelling against Christianity or rejecting Christ, though I do rebel against some of the teachings of some of the Christian Churches and do not “accept” Jesus Christ in the way some churches would say is necessary for my “salvation.” Perhaps I would be more honest if I said, “I wrestle with the Mystery of Christ,” or simply, I’m a “Christ Wrestler.”

Who is the Jesus Christ that captivates me or with whom I wrestle? Well, this “Who is this Jesus Christ?” is the very question or Mystery with which I wrestle – a Mystery that is beyond my capacity to understand fully and perhaps experience fully. Or perhaps “Who is Jesus Christ” is not beyond my capacity to understand and experience, and my wrestling is simply a result of my stubbornness and resistance – all needing to be healed.

Let me consider some Pathwork perspectives on this question of Christ. Pathwork has been my spiritual path for 14 years. In the matter of the Mystery of Jesus Christ I notice that I am first and foremost attracted and open to what the 258 Pathwork Lectures have to say about Jesus Christ.  For example, See the Pathwork perspective on the nature of true faith and Evangelical Christianity from Question and Answers #63.

Pathwork Lecture 19 says, “Since Christ represents such an important part of your returning to God, he deserves your personal gratefulness and some contact from you:  you will not be able to reach God without him in the very last analysis.  He is indeed the best friend you could ever have and he is your strongest helper.  The answer to the question whether you can reach God only through him is “Yes.”  For the constant denial of these facts would imply a stubbornness of your heart that is a symptom of imperfection; and as long as any imperfection is alive within you, you cannot unite with God.

Pathwork Lecture 22 says,This is the way Christ has opened the door.  You may now understand why it is said that Christ saved you from your sins.  This is accurate only in the sense that your great sin of falling, of not remaining faithful to God, and of becoming at one time part of the world of darkness does not have as a consequence eternal exclusion from the divine worlds.  From this Christ has indeed saved you, and for this you certainly have all the reason in the world to be grateful to Him.  Through Him you now have the possibility by your own efforts and development to cross the threshold.  In that sense, it is correct to say that Christ died for your sins.  However, the interpretation that Christ died for all your sins and all your faults is very wrong.

I also notice that if Pathwork would not have had a strong central foundation built on Christ I realize I would not have been attracted to Pathwork. This draw of Christ for me in Pathwork is important for me to realize. I am truly drawn to what Pathwork says about Christ, his identity, his role (savior per above), his relationship to God (created son of God, and given the greatest amount of divinity of all created beings) and his relationship to me (“my greatest friend and helper” in some Mysterious sense, a way-shower for my life, suffering, and death on planet earth, and as part of the Mystery, saved me from my decision to separate from God).

What else informs me about Jesus Christ? I have enjoyed several authors’ writings concerning the nature of the Christian faith journey. I appreciate Reza Aslan’s personal testimony given in the Author’s Note of his popular 2013 book Zealot: Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. His book focuses on the historical Jesus, stripping away the divine nature of Christ, and then develops what this means for his own relationship to Jesus. For me this controversial argument, controversial even with Pathwork, is all part of the Mystery of Jesus Christ that I need to engage honestly and wrestle with.

Similarly I have enjoyed and related to historian Bart Ehrman (Did Jesus Exist? – The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth and its sequel, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee). Ehrman, a now a Professor and prolific author and speaker, shares his personal journey from his teen-age years as an Evangelical Christian to today labeling himself an agnostic.

A year or two ago I was also helped by author and speaker Peter Rollins (Insurrection: To Believe Is Human, To Doubt, Divine and its sequel, The Idolatry of God: Breaking Our Addiction to Certainty and Satisfaction). All of these, though controversial to many orthodox Christians, and to aspects of Pathwork, help me immensely in challenging and refining my own evolution of faith. I trust and pray that this is part of an evolving adult faith and not a rebellion against earlier Christian authority.

Again I was deeply helped by the views of Beth Hedva in her book Betrayal, Trust and Forgiveness where she writes (page 91 – betrayal of the Father):

Betrayal of the father is essential. In that moment of being forsaken on the cross, Jesus was forced to discover and master resurrection for himself. He became the Master, Creator of Life. Resurrection, the personal creation of life from that which is dead, is the message of Jesus. It is also the mystery teaching of the betrayal-to-trust initiation. Like Jesus on the cross, we, too, experience betrayal to discover and master resurrection for ourselves. We must become potent enough to inseminate ourselves with new life.

There is a Creator of Life, a supremely dynamic, inspirational Source of energy, within the human soul. This inner authority guides the soul toward its right fulfillment. This is part of the secret teaching of the patriarchy and betrayal of the father. Patriarchal tradition says that authority is external to one’s self and that this external authority will betray you. Paradox is the gateway to higher consciousness. Our fathers must betray us so that we break from the patriarchal tradition of looking to external authority to tell us what is right.”

Where are doors opening for me in my faith? As shared in my blog, Am I a Christian?, I was greatly helped by John Shelby Spong’s opening chapter of A New Christianity for a New World in which he made it fully “OK”  for me to leave any residue of Christian Fundamentalism behind and seek my own relationship to Christ, “allowing” me and “freeing” me to wrestle with and enter the Mystery I find Christ to be for me. I am not sure that my relationship with Christ will follow Spong’s, however, and I find myself not yet drawn to finishing this first of his books I have begun reading, or his The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic, a book he will be covering in his lectures Pat and I shall be attending next month in Cincinnati.

If the preceding resources challenge and appropriately refine my faith, “freeing me from Fundamentalism,” where, in addition to Pathwork (and Pathwork seems enough!), do I find sources that guide and inspire me forward in my faith journey? I am attracted and open to Adyashanti and his Resurrecting Jesus: Embodying the Spirit of a Revolutionary Mystic. I am attracted and open to James Finley’s Meister Eckhart’s Living Wisdom: Indestructible Joy and the Path of Letting Go and  Finley’s Christian Meditation: Entering the Mind of Christ. I am open and attracted as well to Cynthia Bourgeault’s Encountering the Wisdom Jesus: Quickening the Kingdom of Heaven Within. I am attracted to and inspired by Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life in which he shares his experience of his own changing Christian experiences as he, like I, enters his eighth decade. All of these, taken alongside Pathwork, seem to inspire me into spiritual adulthood.

Where does Pat’s and my current exploration and participation at St. Thomas Episcopal Church fit in? I notice we are not yet fully connecting to St. Thomas Episcopal Church’s teachings or services, which of course are built on their understanding of Christ. But Pat and I intend to attend for a while to see what arises.

One of the troubling pieces for me at St. Thomas are the “worshiping of scriptures” in a way – making all teachings, liturgies, and practices come back to compliance with this specific and unique “Word of God.”  As I get more into the Bible in their Adult Formation class I struggle to relate to the texts, all of which are familiar to me from my decades of Lutheranism. The texts now, however, unlike 20 years ago, do not hold the meaning they did in the various Bible studies in which I was involved and often led. I recognize that for years of teaching bible classes I forced interpretations onto paradoxical and confusing bible passages simply because they were, after all, “The Word of God.” If I take this “The Word of God” assumption away, the “sola scriptura” of Luther, then I no longer have to force myself to extract meaning from scriptures I do not understand simply because these passages were to be the basis of my life and therefore I had to apply in some way. Now I can loosen up and ask, “How else could I read these texts so that would not be so constricting? Can I let go of texts altogether that do not make sense to me or that seem related to other situations and other times?” Would St. Thomas welcome such openness? If not, is that OK?

I am also troubled at St. Thomas by what seems to me to be the centrality of the Christ’s work of redemption. This doctrine (common in Fundamentalist Protestant Christian circles) speaks to Jesus dying on the cross in atonement for ALL my sins and ALL the sins of the whole world. The key to Luther and the other reformers was “sola fide” (faith alone, not works) and “sola gratia” (grace alone, not works). In this doctrine, to maintain God’s righteousness, Jesus’ death was the price required by God in payment for all our sins so that we can go to heaven and not hell when we die.

Pathwork says “Yes” and “No” to this. The quotes from Pathwork given earlier in this blog entry say first, “Yes, Jesus died for your sins,” hence redemption. But this was the sin of our participating in the Fall by choosing to reject God at some point before our incarnation. Jesus did not die for all of our other many faults that resulted from our choice to reject God and tackle life on our own. I think Pathwork has a very rich description of “grace” and “faith,” they just “are”  and as such are aspects of God, aspects of God that emerge in us as we participate in our purification and development. So the “No, Jesus did not die for our sins,” comes in from the self responsibility we have for purification and coming to a point of transformation, actions made possible by Christ having redeemed us from the initial Fall. So salvation is a BOTH Christ AND us – Christ makes self-development and purification possible AND we have the self-responsibility to do the work of self-development and purification that Christ made possible for us. Both Christ and we ourselves are to participate in this process of returning to  and reuniting with God.

Is this a dogma of “redemption” that the Episcopal priests at St. Thomas hold as true? It is hard to say. I infer that this may not be their belief, but I infer this only indirectly through the words spoken in the mass on Sunday morning, and the sermons, hymns, creeds, confession and absolution of sins, etc. that make up the service. So again, Pat and I shall see how this all plays out.

I was struck by an article in Thursday morning’s New York Times by Reza Aslan (the author of Zealot mentioned previously) where he notes that often the meaning of various Scriptures (Torah, Bible, Koran, etc.) are through the lens of culture. Hence, he notes, What a member of a suburban megachurch in Texas calls Christianity may be radically different from what an impoverished coffee picker in the hills of Guatemala calls Christianity.”  I find this helpful here – what are our respective lenses on various doctrines. This allows the Episcopal Bishop Spong to reject certain Christian Fundamentalist doctrines and still claim identity with Christianity. And it allows Richard Rohr the flexibility to interpret Scriptures in the second half of life differently from how he may have interpreted them in the first half of life without having to leave the Roman Catholic Church. And maybe here Pat and I can do the same with St. Thomas Episcopal Church.

As an aside, I am reading The Pious One’s – The World of Hasidim and Their Battles with America by Joseph Berger. Here I am struck by the extreme emphasis on literal interpretation of the Torah.  The Hasidim (a growing branch of ultra-orthodox Judaism) find all meaning for life in living their lives in exact accord with all the Levitical laws affecting every aspect of life.  Questioning the Levitical laws would be out of the question for the Hasidim, for the literal interpretation of the Torah is the basis of their identity. While this seems extreme to me, never questioning, never asking why or never asking, “Is this really the way to God?” it is good for me to see that people do find meaning in following this kind of literalism unquestioningly. I also see how I, too, for years treated the teachings of the Lutheran Church and the Bible this same literal way. So, no, I do not want to go back to a  purple-blue meme, as Beck and Wilber would categorize such a level of consciousness. But what level of consciousness is St. Thomas offering Pat and me?  Of course they have to include all levels of consciousness in their congregation, not just ours!  But if, say, Pat and I are in or going into a Tier 2 unitive state of consciousness, how can we effectively be giving and receiving in a mostly Tier 1 church, if this is, in fact, what St. Thomas is? We want to be very open here and see.

From a previous blog entry recall that aspects of this Tier 2 Unitive Both/And consciousness (here yellow) holds the value: “Accept the inevitability of nature’s flows and forms, find natural mix of conflicting “truths” and “uncertainties,” discovering personal freedom without harm to others or excesses of self-interest, experience fullness of living on an Earth of such diversity in multiple dimensions, demand integrative and open systems, etc.” In this Tier 2 realm of consciousness, Mystery seems the norm. There is no need to tie down truths that “merely and utterly humans” cannot yet fully grasp. So there is no need for precise creeds and dogma in matters that are clearly beyond our capacity for certainty.  I find relief in this. Here in Tier 2 Unitive Both/And Consciousness I can give up the wrestling and stick with the Mystery of who Christ really is.

I note that this discernment process regarding St. Thomas Church is not central to Pat’s and my faith journey. Let me elaborate. Pat and I continue our various spiritual practices, including our morning practice/coffee time, our readings (mine focused on Pathwork as I develop the Devotional Version of the Pathwork Lectures and all the application/study that arises from this), keeping abreast of the world (through our practice of reading the Sunday New York Times as well as reading a broad set of books on philosophy, religion, music, and sociology), writing these blogs, and having engaging discussions with several people who are also on their respective journeys – including, in addition to daily engagements with Pat, engagements with my brother Paul, Pathwork colleagues, former church friends, and deep thinkers and seekers of every variety. Finally I have my sessions with my Pathwork Helper (Moira Shaw), the four annual sessions of the Pathwork graduate programThe Sacred Dimensions of the Pathwork – led by Erena Bramos, and our enlivening and growing times in our annual intensives and biweekly Reverent Relating sessions with Sage and Anthony. Yes, our cup overflows with love! We find this a rich life indeed!

I see that all of this is included in the phrase: “I am a Christian, one who is captivated by the Mystery of Christ.” Yes, “Christ wrestler” may be closer to the truth at times, but I am a comfortable curious wrestler, not a fearful anxious one – the difference perhaps between Tier 1 (dualistic either/or) consciousness with its fear, self-will and pride, and Tier 2 (non-dual, unitive, both/and) consciousness with its NOW acceptance of What Is.

Shared in love, Gary