Saturday, October 20, 2018

Re-Fire-Ment, To Move Beyond Being Human

“The Order of the Sacred Earth (OSE) is a self-organizing, emergent movement—a network of individuals and communities who are committing to the pledge “to be the best lover and defender of the Earth I can be.” Author, activist, and priest, Matthew Fox, has a vision and he has cast that vision in this one concise sentence. To contemplate the action necessary for his dream of the salvation of humankind and planet Earth, he has invited two young adult visionaries, Skylar Wilson and Jennifer Listug, to join him in his latest book, “Order of the Sacred Earth: An Intergenerational Vision of Love and Action.”

Fox has committed his life to reimagining the way Christians “live, move, and have their being” in the world. In the asking of the deepest questions of faith, Fox has touched millions through his wisdom, which has been manifested in his books, talks, and school. By asking the questions of himself, his readers, and the divine, Fox has evolved over the years. His ideas have taken him beyond the reimagination of Christianity into the more pressuring need of imagining a future world where humans still exist. His vision calls for the creation of new type of “order” where we can work together for the benefit of Earth, our island home.

Like many of us, Fox has witnessed the ravaging of our planet and the devasting effects that now confront us. He, like others, have called for immediate action. And he, like a few others, have asked the question about how might global warming (and the denial of its reality), be related to other global issues like racism, sexism, anti-LGBTQ rights, xenophobia, tribalism, nationalism, religious intolerance, and sectarianism. He and his co-visionaries have wisely deduced that the way we treat each other is the also the way we treat the Earth—without regard. Simply put, if we truly loved our neighbors as ourselves, we would love Mother Earth equally as well. The single premise of love is the glue that holds his proposal together.

The OSE is in the stage of emergence. It was birthed at a Solstice ceremony in the Winter of 2017. The event was attended by eighty people and witnessed by hundreds via the internet and at satellite locations. The founder’s intent is that the new order will be built on flexible principles, practiced by individuals who meet in OSE Pods (small bioregional communities). The only expectation is that everyone will take the same vow, “to be the best lover and defender of the Earth I can be.” There will be not be a central location, nor a centralized group driving any agenda—truly the order will be self-organizing and in a perpetual state of emergence (evolution).

In the opening chapter, Fox provides the non-religious groundwork for the OSE using his Creation Spirituality. While the religious are welcome, spirituality, particularly eco-spirituality, is the underlying ethos of the order. His vision relies on the ancient wisdom of intergenerational relationships, where the young lead and the elders are sages. And his dream is that those who align themselves with the OSE will live, move, and have their being in the world as mystic-warriors. Mystics as lovers of Mother Earth and the mystery of our inter-wovenness within all of creation; and warriors as prophets, willing to take risks in order to ensure not only the healthy survival of all, but the emergence of something new.

That something new appears in chapters two and three written by his young co-authors. These two chapters are imaginative and bold. While developing a new community on Earth, they are willing to call out what must be left behind, outgrown religion and crumbling institutions. Wilson and Listug are envisioning the next evolution of humanity; “a new ecological postmodernism,” an “Earth-human symbiosis,” so that “we may become more than human.” The first concept is verily well developed, the other two are simply postulates without form that are left to our imagination. I would guess such wonderings are for future conversations as the OSE evolves.

I, too, that humanity and the earth we live on are in a perilous state. My only burning question for the authors, however, would be, “I wonder if Mother Earth is the one who needs saving?” Much like the divine, the Earth (though they may be one and the same) may be quite capable of taking care of themselves. Humanity, however, is another matter. We do need saving. For Mother Earth and the Divine “universal life intelligence” may well have had enough of our unwillingness “to be in sacred service to the Earth.” And thus, they may call an end to the human experiment. Such is the allure of the Order of the Sacred Earth—here may a network of people who take seriously the need for all humanity to work together our salvation and subsequently that of the earth on which we live. Found within the OSE may lie the secret of life beyond human.

The “Order of the Sacred Earth” moved me to consider my own action. This book has given some structure, a house, an order, if you will, about how I live, move, and have my being in the world. I would love to be involved in a sustained conversation with Fox, Wilson, and Listug—all fascinating and imaginative people whose dream is captivating. This book and its ideas have caused me to enter into a period of discernment. To consider what Fox calls “reFIREment” instead of retirement. I wonder what that could look like—to move beyond a life of being human.

Friday, September 07, 2018

This Guy Poops in a Bucket

“We are at the end of the world as we know it,” writes Marcus Peter Rempel in Life at the End of Us vs Them. He is a contemplative farmer and activist, who has written his observations of the culture from which he cannot escape. Rempel speaks as a twenty-first century Thomas Merton, who in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, challenged his readers to accept their complicity in the emerging chaos of the 1960’s. Rempel confronts his contemporary readers with no less a warning against the demise of the Earth and her inhabitants. And unless we happen to live on a small farm or a monastery, Rempel, like Merton, forces us to stretch our individualist imagination out of its particular circumstance and into the broader commonwealth of collective citizenship.

With forthright courage, Rempel, who is a Mennonite, takes on Interfaith relations, Inter-cultural dialogue, eco-spirituality, the spirituality of sex, biblical interpretation, the role of government, the importance of friendship, and living a life together. His spiritual wisdom is nourished from the “lament of the dead;” learning from the voices of Rene Girard and Ivan Illich. Rempel’s work is no less prophetic than his mentors.

Like Girard and Illich, Rempel writes from the borderlands of the Christian tradition, though there is never a doubt he is a disciple of Christ and a follower of Jesus’ teachings. His book is written “as encouragement to see how far out ahead of us Jesus has gone into the world, working in mysterious ways.” At times he seems to speak from the realm of the ancient Jewish prophets. He suffers not the theologically illiterate, nor a contemporary traditional mis-reading of scripture. Rempel’s work ripples the surface of Christian complacency with an apocalyptic critique of Western Culture and the Church universal.

I am afraid, though, that Rempel may, at times, be a bit too optimistic. His hopefulness could stem from the aroma of his homemade fertilizer strewn on his luscious pasture or from living in Canada. Whatever the root of his vision, it could be understood as homegrown Resurrection naiveté. “Things truly are coming together in our time, even as the risk grows, more than ever, of things flying apart…(there) are intimations of that harmony surprising peace where endless strife has been presumed.” I would pray his prophecy of light outshines my dark cynicism.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Jody has Seen the Light of God

Life is filled with magical moments. If we keep our senses, our mind, and our heart open to the possibility of the miraculous, we can anticipate the appearance of the mystical. But, we must constantly aware, because these mysterious events can happen in the most unexpected places. This summer, I had the opportunity to visit my extended family in Oklahoma. We spent three wonderful days immersed in old pictures and family stories. Every moment felt like a new breath in a familiar setting; vital and precious. Amidst the laughter and tears, there plenty of holy moments. One instance, I would say, I even sat in the presence of the one holy living God—and we weren’t anywhere near a church.

John and I are cousins. He and Kathie live on several acres east of Tulsa. John is a musician, artist, craftsman, and a holy man, though he would never admit to the latter. Adjacent to the house John and Kathie built, sits Jody’s Little House. Jody is Kathie’s brother. He will tell you he is forty-six and that he has Down’s Syndrome. Jody is friendly, but not effusive. He laughs shyly, covering his mouth. And his stories often flow between his words, actions, and sign language. Jody makes me happy just being in his presence, like the laughing Buddha that sits in my office. John wrote a song about his brother-in-law. “No one has more friends than Jody, except God; well maybe Jody has more.”

On her visit, John was telling me about his mother, Jessie, who is very ill. Jody said he had been praying for her. He showed me how he prays. He sits on the floor in yoga pose; the back of his hands resting on his knees, thumb to middle finger, in mudra. He places his opened bible on the floor in front of him while he is surrounded by several small candles in a semi-circle.

Jody said he sits there in meditation. Pointing to his head then his heart, he said, “And I move my thoughts from here to here. When I get all my thoughts from here to here.” He repeated the motion of pointing to his head then his heart. “Then I ask God whatever I’m praying for…over and over again…Be with Jessie. Be with Jessie. Be with Jessie.”

I asked Jody if he ever sees anything while he’s praying. Pointing again. “When I move all my thoughts from my head to my heart. Then I pray over and over and over again…I see angels. And when I keep praying, the angels will open the gates of heaven and then I can go into heaven and pray to God.”

What does God look like, I asked Jody. “Light,” he said. We sat in the still silence of Jody’s glowing light for a long time. Resting in Jody’s aura, I could feel the warmth of the Light of the Divine.

At times, I have found myself praying to God to meet my needs; to meet the needs of the starving masses; and at times asking God to prove Divine existence by granting us a miracle. I have asked God all these things in the name of Jesus the Christ – thinking that Jesus might be the one who would perform the miracle.

But the scriptures teach us that Jesus didn’t walk on the earth preforming miracles, in the name of God, for the sake of those he healed. The miracles were to teach his earthly followers, including us, that they too could perform miracles for the sake of others. Jesus told his followers that they would do even greater miracles than he had done. (John 14:12)

Jesus taught us the key to the magic. But it’s so subtle, I have often overlooked it. Between the miracle of feeding the masses and walking on water, Jesus revealed his secret. “When Jesus realized they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (John 6:1-21) Repeatedly, throughout Jesus’ life, he sought solitude—in the closet, in the garden, in the desert, in the mountains. He needed to get away from the swirl of the world so that he could be alone with God. In his meditation and prayer, he found the resources that he needed to fulfill the needs of others.

What Jesus discovered, however, was that he didn’t need God to “give” him those resources—whatever he needed, God had already given him. And that is what Jesus was trying to teach us. We already have the resources within our Self. We were created in the image of God. Therefore, in our godly DNA, we already possess the energy, the power, and the grace we need to be a miracle in some else’s life.

On the surface, though, it seems hard, if not impossible, to believe that we can bring about miracles in other’s lives. But, whether we believe it or not, we can be like Jody and we can pray for others. We can sit in stillness before the Word and the light of God. We can move our thoughts from our head to our heart. And when we can move all our thoughts from our head into our heart, there, in that place we can wait for the angels of God—who will open the gates of heaven—allowing us to walk into the Light and be heard by the one holy living God. And that’s probably miracle enough to change the world.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Changing the World without Words

I’m working on a new book, “Blue Jesus.” I’ve been trying to discover my sister’s silent inner world. Dinah has Prader-Willi Syndrome. She’s mentally and physically disabled and has a vocabulary of about forty-five words. Dinah speaks in sentences of one, two, maybe three words. What lies behind her blue eyes is a mystery. The paradox is that I think she’s a visible icon of the unseen inner world; the world where God resides. In her visible world that is silent, Dinah is a mirror of God—a God who is also a silent mystery.

To begin to understand Dinah as a total person—mind, body, psyche, and spirit—I started with her name. What’s in a name? I think Dinah, and I, and everyone would be a different person if we had been given some other name. A name can be a key to understanding who we are, our history, our psychic DNA—our name can give us clues to understanding our inner world, our soul, our unconscious if you will. “Dinah” a Hebrew name found in the Bible, which means, “one who knows and discerns.” That’s a pretty fair description of my sister. From out of her silence, at moments least expected, she can deliver a magical word of wisdom. For several years now, I’ve been on a quest to discover more than these few slivers of wisdom. I want to uncover her God given wisdom and I think that wisdom is hidden in her art.

Twenty years ago, Dinah created a linocut she titled, “Blue Jesus.” I’ve come to believe that “Blue Jesus” is Dinah’s self-portrait; it’s a picture of her soul. Dinah’s Blue Jesus is what Carl Jung called a mandala, a revelation from the inner world, the unconscious. Jung said that the mandala can reveal things hidden within our ancient unknown mysteries; even when we may not be able to articulate or even understand the meaning of the art we created. Dinah’s art, seen as a mandala, can reveal what’s happening in her silent world.

Along with Blue Jesus, at least three other pieces of Dinah’s artwork could be considered mandalas. In particular: The Rooster, The Stars, and The Sunrise. These four mandalas contain multiple layers of ancient hidden symbols and meanings that are windows into her inner world.

“The Rooster” is a sun-animal, a god of time, a symbol equated with resurrection. Dinah’s rooster has a blue heart—like Blue Jesus—blue often represents wisdom and clarity of thought. The Rooster is crowing at the sun. In the center of the sun, Dinah pained a green eye. These colors and images all have rich meanings.

“The Stars” depict heavenly images as squares, divided into four spaces, each surrounded by triangles. Such symbolism is alchemical and provides a profound opportunity to explore Dinah’s personal process of maturation; what Jung called individuation.

“The Sunrise,” I believe, is an expression of her journey into higher levels of consciousness. The sun rises out of a sea of mysterious faces. The brilliant yellow sun, the symbol of the philosopher’s stone, of higher consciousness, radiates with the multiple colors of the peacock’s tail—a symbol of the development of Dinah’s inner world.

I have yet to scratch the surface of the meaning hidden within these pieces of art. This is just a glimpse into the process of what it’s like for any of us to uncover our own inner, unconscious world.

Such inner work is vitally important for all of us. If we are willing to dive deep into our interior world, our psychic DNA, through dream work, exploring our own mandalas, meditation, and having a spiritual companion, we can expand our personal consciousness and deepen our relationship with the Divine.

The goal is to integrate our inner life with our outer life. By doing this work of the soul, we can begin to understand who we really are and who we can become. This work also gives us the chance to change those things about our lives that we don’t like. Those unwanted behaviors we repeat over and over again. Those things we hate about ourselves, but we feel like we are stuck with and can’t change. Instead of fighting against the things we fear the most, we can actually see those things transform. In other words, we might find a way to not repeat our personal history. Instead we can strike out in a new direction, into a higher plane of consciousness, into the realm of God, and into the life that Jesus the Cosmic Christ said would be “abundant.” A world where the sun rises out of the abyss.

According to Jung, what’s critically important for us as individuals is also important for our community. He says that if we are willing to do our personal work, it will, in turn, impact our community, our nation, even the world. This is so, he says, because our soul is connected to the soul of the community, the soul of the world, and, of course, the soul work of Divine. We are interconnected with all of the cosmic creation.

Carl Jung lived through two World Wars. He struggled in his attempt to explain how a country like Germany, enlightened, wealthy, and strong could fall prey to the mass hysteria of Nazism. His found his answer is the unexplored world of the personal and collective unconscious.
Jung found that if people are unwilling to do their personal work toward a level of higher consciousness, then they are doomed to follow the loudest voice, even if it’s not a rational voice. And eventually, he says, they will repeat history because they have not done the work to unite the inner world with the outer world.

How do we bring these things out of the shadows of the inner world and into the light of consciousness so that we don’t repeat our individual or communal history?

First, we must identify what’s hiding in the shadows of our community and then we must accept some responsibility for our work on these denials and repressions. Second, we have to look into our own shadow. What do we have in our personal DNA that feeds into this corporate shadow? Third, we must ask ourselves how we are going to work on our own stuff in a way that will positively affect the collective? In other words, how do we share our inner world with the outer world in ways that are not “all about me,” but instead for the collective health.

Such is my sister’s work. She can’t tell you what she’s thinking, but she can show you. Her art is sacred because it not only reflects her inner world, but the world of the Divine. She is an artist of the holy. Not because she is simple, or naïve, or untouched by the evil of the world. Actually, the opposite is true. She has suffered the fears that disturb us all, trauma, anger at injustice, death. Yet, by doing the hard work of revealing her inner world, she has moved her outer world onto a higher plane for all to see. And this level of consciousness has brought to her a place where she can hold power accountable by exhibiting unconditional love. She can hold the opposites of power and love in the tension of her own vulnerability. Those who have the ears and heart to hear Dinah are transformed, changed in ways they may not be able to articulate any better than she can. She is doing her part to change the world without using words.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The World between the Living and the Dead

It’s not uncommon for Trinity Sunday and Memorial Day weekend to intersect. It’s tempting for the preacher to focus either on the Trinity or Memorial Day. To tie these two days together, would seem, at best, a rather strained attempt to cover too much unconnected territory. But, I think these two are linked together for reasons we often want to avoid—that of the mystical connections between the living and the dead.

I’ve watched preachers attempt to explain the mystery of the Trinity by using rational ideas. But the Trinity is an experience, a relationship, a feeling that defies the rational. The Trinity is our webbed connection with the divine, the Other. The Trinity can be our path to become One with God. A path that demands the suspension of reality—it requires our willingness to delve into the unknown, the non-rational, the non-linear, the world in-between the living and the dead. The in-between world where God, the angels, and the dead work together. The world of the unseen—a world the living can enter only through active and creative imagination.

There is a mystical otherness of living into the relationship found within the Trinity. The irrational world of the in-between, where the intersection of celebrating the mysteries of the Trinity and honoring the war dead become possible.

On Memorial Day we remember our relationships with the dead. On this day, we turn our minds to honoring those who have died serving their country. Yet today, we live in a constant sea of violence and war. And still, we ache to experience a lasting peace

Forty-two years ago, my mother woke up from a deep sleep to see her younger brother standing at the foot of her bed. She thought she was dreaming, but he spoke audibly to her. “I love you.” She felt warm and comforted, while at the same time, alarmed. She spent the rest of the night dropping in and out of a dreamy, disturbing, and exhausting sleep. In the morning she received a phone call from her sister with the news that their brother had been killed in a helicopter crash.

Captain Eular M. Young had survived an extended tour of duty in Vietnam, which had caused a lot of anxiety in our family. When he returned, all seemed well because we thought he was out of danger. Then one stormy night at Fort Hood, Texas, he was sent out on maneuvers. Something went wrong during the storm and the helicopter he was piloting crashed, killing him and two other soldiers. To this day, no one knows what caused the tragedy.

My family, like yours, has had men and women serve in the military. To the best of my knowledge, my family members have served during the Civil War, World War I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and Desert Storm—and family lives have been lost along the way.

But the one person I want to remember today, the one I want to connect with to today, is my uncle Eular. We were close, he was the older brother I didn’t have—a confidant, a friend, a mentor. Like many relationships, ours was beautiful, complex, and hard to explain. And, the relationship seems to continue now as he lives in the world of the dead.

A relationship with the Trinity, the One Holy Living God—God the Parent, God the Child, and God the Spirit—can only be imagined in the world of the unseen, the unknown, the in-between. Except for the relationship with Jesus the Christ, the child. His experience transcends this world and the other. He lived as one of us and he died as one of us. It is through Jesus the Christ where our relationships with the living and the dead intersect.

We hear Jesus speak of these mysteries when he says to Nicodemus, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter of the Spirit World, without being born of water and the Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, what is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:1-17).

Nicodemus, was himself a teacher, a spiritual guide for his people. But even in his own wisdom, he went to Jesus, a younger man, to learn more about the ways of wisdom and the mysteries of the Spirt. As we know so well, Jesus rarely told cute stories with a simple moral. Jesus’ teachings were more often complicated and confusing, even for the wise. And Nicodemus, even in his wisdom, wrestled with Jesus’ complex mysteries of the seen and the unseen, the world of the Spirit.

To live in the world of the Spirit, Jesus told Nicodemus, he would have to become like Jesus himself—Nicodemus would have to be reborn into a life of the Spirit. This life of the Spirit would require following the teachings of Jesus about selfless love and sacrifice. This life of the Spirit meant that Nicodemus would forever be striving to be at One with God the parent. The life of the Spirit would demand that Nicodemus had to walk the path of wisdom. He would have to learn how to become a healer. He would have to be a servant leader for his people, teaching them that in the violent world in which they lived, they would have to be peacemakers.

If Nicodemus wanted to live in the world of the Spirit, he could no longer live in the world that others called “reality.” Instead, Nicodemus would have to become a Christ for others by living a life that would be lifted up for the sake of a peace that passes all understanding—a world that seems impossible to imagine.

For years, I’ve wondered what life would have been like for my uncle if he hadn’t been killed that stormy night. I’ve wondered what life would have been for his wife and his four young children. I’ve wondered how best to remember him and his service to his country on this Memorial Day. I struggle with the impossible complexity of it all—it seems beyond imagination.

I feel like the prophet Isaiah (6:1-8). “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

I have seen the work of the One Holy Living God; the One we call the Trinity. I hear Jesus’ teaching about how to live into the wisdom and peace of God. And I still find myself saying, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.”

The only place I can find peace, is the in-between world; the world of visions, imagination, and prayer. The world in-between the living and the dead—Isaiah’s visional world.

“Then of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

I find myself praying, O God, send me into the world where the dead speak to us in visions and imaginations. The world where I can hear the lament of the dead. Where the sacramental bread and wine feel like burning coals in my mouth. A world where the Eucharist transmutes me into a living Christ for others. Take me into that world where I can imagine a different reality—a world where my response to fear and violence are words of peace and love.

For my uncle Eular, for all of your loved ones, and for all who have died while serving the in the military, I offer this visional prayer for peace written by Leslie D. Weatherhead (with my adaptation).

We give you thanks, O God, for all who have died that we may live; for all who endured pain that we might know joy; for all who made sacrifices that we might have plenty; for all who suffered imprisonment that we may know freedom. Now, O God, turn our deep feelings into determination, and our determination into action. That as we honor the men and women of our country who died for peace—help us, O God, that we may live for peace, for the sake of the Prince of Peace, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

A Four-Fold Method of Bible Study

A review of Alexander John Shaia's Heart and Mind: The Four Gospel Journey for Radical Transformation

Alexander John Shaia has been interviewed several times on Rob Bell’s podcast. On each occasion, he spoken about his brainchild, “Quadratos, a poetic word referring to the sequential fourfold journey of growth and radical transformation.” For Shaia, Quadratos is a psychological map for understanding life as a follower of “The Way of Jesus the Christ.” Indeed, every facet of life could be understood and mysteries revealed through a four-fold alchemical psychology.

“Heart and Mind” takes on the formidable task of pilgrimaging through the gospels of the New Testament looking through the Quadratos lens. Shaia sees the journey of the early church’s cycle of reading the gospels as transformative. His method attempts to take us back to the original intent of the gospel writers and the cycle through which the early church read those texts. He presents the possibility of living the Christian life with this ancient/future perspective. Even deeper, though, he presents a method in which to imagine the gospels as an integrated story. Keep in mind, this is not an attempt to bring synthesis to the four stories of Jesus; much less bring a unified version of the three synoptic texts with the disparate nature of the Gospel of John. Shaia uses the church lectionary as the method of integrating the four-fold natures of each story in a wholistic vision. In a sense, he is studying the text through the lens of God’s passionate love for Israel/Church in such a way as to be personally transformative. This method does not dismiss the historical context. It, however, does not give it primacy either.

The focus of “Heart and Mind” is an in-depth exploration of each gospel, through the lectionary cycle—a cycle which brings the story of Jesus the Christ into an integrated thread. Each chapter would make an excellent standalone Bible study, possibly for six to eight weeks. I would imagine studying the entire book would be on a yearlong project. (As suggested by Bishop Mark Andrus in the Foreword.) Shaia’s work would be an excellent follow up material for those who found Rob Bell’s “What is the Bible?” helpful in their understanding of Christian’s scripture. Shaia’s book provides approachable resources and expands possible practices in his final chapter.

Readers who come from a Christian tradition who do not use the lectionary cycle or follow the seasons of the church, however, may find Shaia’s premise a bit challenging. Especially those traditions that are steeped in Pauline theology, who might question Shaia’s statement that, “Paul’s impact is the most significantly unrecognized factor in gospel interpretation.”

I found Shaia’s book an excellent resource to consider for congregational Bible study. Particularly those churches who use the lectionary as their labyrinthine reading of the story of Jesus the Christ.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Jesus, Go to Hell, Please

Several years ago, I created a program entitled, “Resurrection, So What?” I invited guest speakers to make a case for the various theories about Jesus’ resurrection. Was it bodily resurrection? Was it a spiritual resurrection? A resurrection of the soul? A metaphoric resurrection? And more importantly, I asked each speaker to address The Book of Common Prayer’s question, “What is the significance of Jesus’ resurrection?”

Of course, the Prayer Book has an answer to its own question. “By his resurrection, Jesus overcame death and opened for us the way of eternal life.” That sounds traditional and comforting, while somewhat vague, which was probably the intention of the writers. But, honestly, what does that statement really mean?

We could look to the Bible for answers to questions about Jesus’ resurrection. The Gospel of Mark leaves the tomb empty with no sighting of Jesus. Matthew reports that Jesus’ appearance was “like lightening, and his clothes white as snow.” Luke tells us Jesus appeared like a ghost. John tells us that Mary Magdalene did not recognize him. St Paul and St Peter both write that Christ “died in the flesh and was raised in the spirit.”

Personally, I’m pretty comfortable with former Anglican Archbishop Rowan William’s answer from his book, “Resurrection.” He says simply that “Something happened.” (Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel) I don’t know what happened, but something pretty spectacular and even unbelievable must have happened at Jesus’ resurrection.

But I’m still left with the more important question, “So what does Jesus’ resurrection really mean for us, today?”

That is the question I’m often confronted with when someone faces the end of their life and then as the family grieves their death. And the two most popular scriptural texts chosen for funeral services are the 23rd Psalm and John 10:11-18 (which are the readings for the fourth week of Easter).

The 23rd Psalm is the poetic version of John’s mystical text about the good shepherd; the one who protects and guides his flock. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death (better translated “the dark shadows”), I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod (symbol of the shepherd’s protection) and your staff (symbol of the shepherd’s guidance), they comfort me. Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (better translated, “as long as I live.)”

Both the psalmist and the writer of John were using symbolic, metaphoric, mystical language to talk about the earthly experience of living in the emotional dark shadows—depression, fear, anxiety, paranoia. Most mystics, like Jesus, have suffered their share of the dark shadows of life. And like most mystics, some of Jesus’ followers thought he was out of his mind. (John 10:19)

But because Jesus had experienced the shadows of life he promised his followers he would be there with them in their times of darkness. He said he loved them and that he would search all of creation to find them, even into the darkest hell of their lives. And Jesus made those same promises to us.
The apostle Peter wrote that, “(Christ) was put to death in the flesh, but was resurrected in the spirit, (where) he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison (the dead in hell.) (I Peter 3:18-20, 4:6) In other words, Christ in the spirit will be present with us in the very hell of our life.

But what about life after death? Is there is a spiritual life after our physical death. Is there a resurrection into an afterlife?

One idea that some early Christians, like the theologian Origen, wrote about was the idea of the transmigration of souls (metempsychosis or reincarnation). Transmigration of souls is the eternal spiritual formation, or maturation, of the soul. You’ve probably heard of the term, “old soul.” That comes from the idea that the soul spiritually migrates through timelessness, constantly in a state of being molded, formed, into its true divine nature. Metaphorically, we could think of the soul as a drop of water in the ocean. The drop of salty water evaporates, rises into the sky to become part of a cloud. It travels over dry land and rains as fresh water on the earth. The drop evaporates again, rises into the clouds, and continues the cycle. We know that our bodies are made of star dust from eons past. That’s a nice idea to consider. And we know we are breathing the air dinosaur’s exhaled millennia ago. We are the sum of the spirits of ancient past. We are the dead. While the philosophy of the migration of souls was not popularized in later Christianity, it has continued through the ages. Seventeenth century Anglican priest, John Donne wrote poems about the transmigration of souls. And today, these ideas are still maintained in some corners of Christianity.

Still, we’re still left with the haunting question, “So what does this all mean? Here’s something to consider. Are your beliefs about life, death, and the afterlife congruent with the way you live your life? For example, if you believe that your beloved dog will be in heaven, why did you have a hamburger for dinner last night? Do you believe that there’s an afterlife? Then, where are the dead? And can you talk to them? Charting our religious beliefs against how we live can be a challenging but worthwhile exercise. And it could lead to some answers to the question, “Resurrection, So What?”

Try this experiment: make four columns on a piece of paper. In column one, make a list of the top ten things you believe are most important to your faith. In column two write why think each of these items are so important. In column three, write about how you came to believe these things. In the fourth column, answer these two questions: Is this one belief I hold congruent with the other nine on this list? Is this belief I hold so dear, congruent with how I live my life?

I tried this exercise and it was challenging. I won’t share my entire list, but here’s one of my top ten tenets.

There is a God.
Why? For me, this tenet is existentially more satisfying than true atheism.
Where? I have experienced God in the dark hell of my life.
Congruent? Indeed, the experience transmuted my life.