Over-the-horizon

“All the greatest and most important problems of life are fundamentally insoluble. They can never be solved, but only outgrown. This “outgrowing” proved on further investigation to require a new level of consciousness. Some higher or wider interest appeared on the patient’s horizon, and through this broadening of his or her outlook the insoluble problem lost its urgency. It was not solved logically in its own terms but faded when confronted with a new and stronger life urge.  – Carl Jung

 

 

Christmass Eve 2015

Black hole warping space-time, computer artwork.

Black hole warping space-time, computer artwork.

We live inside a box formed by time & space. Standing at the edge of that reality, peering beyond, we see, as the Apostle wrote, through a glass darkly and our mind fills with haze and vapor. We just can’t go there as nothing inside compares with the outside (so far as we know). Carl Jung posits the need for a point of reference outside the conditions of present reality.

Carl Jung, “It is possible to have an attitude to the external conditions of life when there is a point of reference outside them.”

Andreas Wagner, “All we know and experience is mediated through matter. If we step on a sharp object, the material known to us as a foot, begins to phone home: pain, pain, puncture, puncture, what is it? Pull it out right now. The change in message from my foot requires a change in the matter of my foot. Wagner concludes by saying, “Matter impacts meaning.”

Andreas Wagner, “we overlook that there is no conversation without matter, and similarly, that any change in the meaning of a signal requires a change in matter. Matter impacts meaning.”

We need two things to make sense of anything and everything.

1. What we must have then, is a point of reference beyond the time & space container in which we live.
2. And that reference point will be experienced through matter which is the only way we know how to know anything.

Before the foundation of the world, The Holy Trinity promulgated the incarnation.  The Second Person of the Trinity, coming from eternity into time and space fully material to promulgate salvation.  Matter impacts meaning and Divine matter imparts ultimate meaning.

 

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Christ in the flesh is the reference point beyond time and space. image by Spalinka

Nativity story begins with an enrollment. The early enrollment that precedes the birth of Christ alludes to the “enrollment in heaven” that is his birth’s consequence. As he said to his disciples, “Rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you but rather rejoice, because you names are written in heaven.”

The Christ-child is born and laid in a manager because there was no room for them in the inn. Like the birth of this child the origin of this son of God is outside the inn of the world and laid in a MANGER.

Interesting word, MANGER The Greek Old Testament uses the same word Kibotos (kib-o-tos)

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Noah’s Ark floated in the waters of the deep carrying the pioneers of the restored the world. Noah believed God, built the ark, filled it with beasts, went aboard and God, it says, Closed the day.

Princess plucks Moses from Nile

Moses, in his ark, floated out of the bulrushes into the life of Pharaoh’s daughter.

The Ark in the Jordon

The Ark of the Covenant – The box containing the Law – through the desert toward the promised land.

 The manger in the Bethlehem stable.

manger

The Ark/Manger: This Kigotos is a sign of Christ coming as servant as well as a king.

The manger signifies emptiness that is to be filled. The container available and waiting to be filled with the precious gift of God, the gift of the Son.

In this box, we live in time and space. To this ark, this Manger of time and space, is born a material reference point: Jesus the Christ.

Now, let me string together reflections by the Church Father on this great night.

In this manger Mary puts Jesus wrapped in swaddling bands (KJV). As Gregory of Nazianzus puts it, He was wrapped in swaddling bands, but at the resurrection he released the swaddling bands of grace. He was laid in a manger but was praised by angels, disclosed by a star and adored by magi.”

manger animals
Inmost crèches and art of the nativity you find animals around the manger, always an ox and always an ass, why because of the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib.”

 

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NO PIG!!!

On a humorous aside.  Last night (Christmas Eve) at the family service performed the traditional Christmas Pageant. Children were dressed as all the usual suspects. I  did have to intervene when one little girl announced she wanted to be a pig at the manager scene.  “No pigs,” I pronounced!  Even though Memphians revere all things porcine, especially in its myriad of eatable forms,  there was still no pig at the manager.

After the Church Fathers, the Venerable Bede, whose tomb lies at one end of Durham Cathedral, wrote in the 7th century,   “He who sits at the right hand of the Father goes without shelter from the inn, that he may for us prepare many mansions in the house of his heavenly Father. Hence we have ‘because there was no room for him in the inn.’ He was born not in the house of his parents but at the inn, by the wayside, because through the mystery of the incarnation be is become the Way by which he guides us to our home, where we shall also enjoy the Truth and the Life.”

The Angels and the Shepherds

James J.J. Tissot

Luke ends the nativity gospel in fields near Bethlehem where the angel of the Lord proclaims, this day is born to you a savior who is Christ, The Lord, Savior = God’s activity come to earth, Christ/Messiah/the anointed one, the Lord, the prince of peace.

So there you have it. The story that begins this night with this Mass in the mid-night, ends on Easter Eve after the fall of darkness, but in that darkness has come a great light.

manger & cross

A latter day Church Father, C.S. Lewis, once wrote, “What a terrible place the world would be if it were always winter and never Christmas.” Unfortunately there is not much winter (70 degrees but thank God for 30 ton air-conditioners) but it is Christmass!

We are not alone, the Christ Child, the only Son of God, has come to be born in us. To Him be honor and glory now and forever. Amen.

©John W. Sewell
The Feast of the Incarnation
December 25, 2015

The True Believer

Those with a death wish have an advantage over those who have a life.

The term “True Believer” is a common expression in American speech.  What most people do not reaize is that the turm comes from a book of that titile.  Eric Hoffer published this study of the nature of mass movements in 1951 (the year of my birth).

t b 2Given the rise of increasingly violent groups fueled by pathological ideology, Hoffer tells us that the content of the ideology is less important than the process of fanaticism.  This is a distinction that we really must learn.  It is not really about Islam, though the ideology in this case is Islamic. ISIS’s fighters, having sucumbed to ideology do not fear death. Actually dying is martyrdom for these young men.  Their opponents fight to protect their families.  Those with a death wish have an advantage over those who have a life. Thus in the short run evil has an edge.  In time, God willing, the rest of us will rise up and put an end to this most recent eruption of a chronic infection of a will to power.

Fundamentalism longs for a golden age that in fact never existed. Deep belief in fantasy promotes delusian. Delusion demands not faith, but rather a kind of “sccumbing” that produces fanatics.  I also recommend Carl Jung’s insights in the last chapter of his book,  Memories, Dreams and Reflections, where he lays out the dangers of succumbing to or being addicted to anything.

I highly recomend Eric Hoffer’s classic and  the insights of Carl Jung on fanaticsim.

So you want to live a life of faith?

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The Monkey Mind

Suppose one day you decided to intentionally live a Christian life.  Where would you begin? What is the first small turning of mind that begins the adventure of following Jesus?

A first step is to notice the process of your mind, the Buddhists call the unconscious and undisciplined mind, “the monkey mind” meaning that our mind is a tree full of monkeys with chattering, swinging to and fro and competing thoughts. Notice how the mind flits from thought to thought. Know that focus is the goal and also know that this is easy to wish and hard to achieve and when achieved is of short duration.  What to do?

The very first thing to do is “decide” to follow Jesus.  Immediately, the thought erupts, “You can’t do that!” I say, “Yes you can,” however, avoid vain battles and take the posture of “as if.”  Begin to act “as if” you can live the Christian life. Give up the pressure of doing it right and just act as if it were true.  Later on if it isn’t working you can climb again into the simian tree.   Now that you are acting as if it were true, now what?

The next thing to do is to cultivate inner peace & serenity. How? Let’s explore.

Inner serenity is gained by balance.  Balance is gained by moving beyond contradiction to paradox. What you ask?  Just listen.  We learn to be good boys and girls at our mother’s knee.  There is a right and wrong.  If we choose the right and avoid the wrong all will be well and of course that is true as far as that goes.  Contradiction is only a place on the journey not its end.

“I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light,” a hymn in the 1979 Hymnal sums up this stage, however, if we assume this is all that isImage required we will lose our way.  The opposite of faith is not doubt!  The opposite of faith is certainty.   Certainty is seductive.  We choose the light. Done, we think. All that is required is to set our autopilot and get on with other demands of life.  Choosing the light is of course the right choice and if that choice put paid on sin all would be well. This is not the case.

The boundary between light and dark is not between us and someone else, no, unfortunately this boundary is in the core of our being. When we realize this is uncomfortable, so we find someone and focus on them and their failings and thus avoiding our own we find our “certainty” again, lapsing again into comfortable unconsciousness.  What is called for is honesty, ruthless honesty.

  •  We keep before us our brokenness self-centeredness
  • We withdraw our projections (more about that in a bit)
  •  When tempted to project we look instead at our own shadow
  •  We adopt what Richard Rohr calls “non-dual” thinking. What is this?

 Non-dual thinking is the origin of this blogs name: Beyond Contradiction.  We must leave behind the either or thinking and embrace paradox. Yes there are two points of view.

In fact one of these points of view is right and the other wrong. One option is chosen and the other avoided.  We do all this without losing our objectivity and serenity.  In this quandary, I found a passage from the writings of Carl Jung very illuminating.  This portion of the last chapter of his work, Memories, Dreams and Reflections speaks to me as deeply as it ever has.

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Carl Jung

I quote it in its entirety.  “In any case, we stand in need of a reorientation, a metanoia. Touching evil brings with the grave peril of succumbing to it. We must, therefore, no longer succumb to anything at all, even the good. A so-called good, to which we succumb, loses it ethical character.  Not that there is anything bad in it on that score, but to have succumbed to it may breed trouble. Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism. We must be aware of thinking of good and evil as absolute opposites. The criterion of ethical action can no longer consist in the simple view that good has the force of a categorical imperative, while the so-called evil can be resolutely shunned.  Recognition of the reality of evil necessarily relativizes the good, and the evil likewise, converting both into halves of a paradoxical whole.”

Memories, Dreams, Reflections – Carl Jung pg. 329

THE TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST

A family was driving in the car on a trip.  The little girl, who I will call Sally, insisted on standing up right behind her father’s head.  Finding this distracting he asked her to sit down.  And she did for a few minutes but then she forgot and hopped up behind his head.   Finally he stopped the car and turned around, sat her down and told her to stay there.   He resumed driving.   In a little while a little voice was heard from the back seat.  It said, “I may be sitting down on the outside, but I’m standing up on the inside.”

Sally points to the dilemma in which all human beings live – that our insides and our outsides do not match up all that well. We can put on a good front (in public) but under our facade – there is pain and brokenness.  That is the human condition.

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus tells a parable. A parable, by its’ very nature, is a story which contradicts and brings into question a commonly held belief.  Jesus says, “What do you think? A man had two sons.  He said to the first – go and work today.  The son said, ‘No,’ but later he went and worked.  The man said to his second son, go and work today. The son said, ‘Yes, I’ll go.’ But he never go there.  Which one did the will of the father.”  “The first one.”  “I tell you that harlots and tax-collectors will go into the Kingdom of God before you.” That harlots and tax-collectors would make it into the Kingdom at all was a shock. But that they would get in before the good religious folk was a deeply contradictory thought for them.

2 sonsGod’s call to us, as it was to them, is a call to attentive consciousness.  Religious people are qualitatively no different from sinners.  Nobody’s insides really match their outsides. The difference was that the sinners were conscious of their brokenness and the religious folk were not. Frederick Beuchner says that, “the Gospel is always bad news before it is good news.”  The bad news is that the Kingdom of God is not ours on our terms.  The Good News is that the Kingdom’s terms are better. What does this say to us?  We Christians find it fairly easy to make our outsides look good (at least when we think folks are looking).  But that is the easy part.  In our honest moments we admit that each of us is broken – that in us are deep contradictions – the dark and the light, good and evil, sin and virtue.  In the midst of our very best intentions we find the shadow.

St Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians, “ 5 Let the same mind be in you that was  in Christ Jesus,  6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,  7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.

Now, to our way of thinking, when we hear the word, “form” we think in terms of shape.  The form of something is the shape it takes.  This was not so for the Greeks.  To their way of thinking, the word, “form” refers to the outward expression a person gives to his or her innermost nature.  This is not assumed or varnished on the outside but proceeds from the inside, so that the outward form is a genuine expression of the inner reality.  What Paul is saying is that the glory of the Father is a genuine expression of Jesus’ nature but that he put aside the outward expression of glory and by his birth as a human being he put on the outward expression of servant hood.  He was not pretending to be a servant, but rather servant-hood was as much a genuine expression of Jesus’ inner nature as glory.

For example, what Paul describes in his letter to the Church at Philippi is the opposite of what happened to Jesus on the Mountain of Transfiguration. Jesus and three disciples went up the mountain.  There as Jesus prayed he was transfigured.  For a moment the outward expression of a servant was replace by glory. In this computer age we might say, his outward form of servant defaulted to the outward form of glory.  The account says that his face and clothing were brilliantly bright. Both glory and servant-hood are genuine expressions of who God is in Christ Jesus.  Jesus was consistent all the way through his being – without contradiction.

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

How do we have this mind? The most basic and continuing step is to become conscious of who we are and who we are not. Then the process of integration begins and continues. We must be conscious of our inner contradiction.  This is painful and our natural reaction is to avoid such a state of being.

The story is told by Carl Jung of a pastor who came to see him.  The man was overworked and burned out. Jung told him to work eight hours a day and then spend the evenings alone by himself.  In a couple of weeks the pastor returned no better and perhaps worse off than before.  Jung said he was surprised that there was no improvement and inquired about the man’s following his instructions.  The man said that he had worked eight hours and that in the evenings he had listened to Mozart and read Shakespeare.  Jung replied that the man had misunderstood his instructions.  He was not to spend the evenings with Mozart and Shakespeare but to spend the evening alone with HIMSELF.  The man said that he couldn’t imagine anything worse that that.  To which Jung said, “The very person you can not stand to be with is the very person you are inflicting on everyone else every day!”

When faced with our inner brokenness we often do one of two things:  We ignore or deny our condition. Grace comes not by denial or ignoring. Graces comes when we face our brokenness, acknowledge our shadow.  The tension of facing our contradictions opens a crack in the shell of our ego and grace seeps in. We bring ourselves, the good and bad, to the Holy One and ask for healing.  The process of healing/salvation is that over time our insides and outsides can both reflect the new life that is ours in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

That is what happens at this Eucharist. We come bringing all our stuff with us and present the gift of our lives at the altar.  We, all the parts of us, meet the risen Christ, here in this bread and wine – and we go from here a little more whole than we arrived. The Gospel is always bad news before it is good news. The bad news is we all will die.  The good news is that we don’t have to die sick.  Come risen Lord and be known to us in the breaking of the bread.      Amen