Monday, February 27, 2012

Relational Christianity and the Indwelling Christ

Cover of "Jesus Manifesto: Restoring the ...Cover via Amazon

L.D. Turner

If you desire to truly walk the path of Christian spiritual formation, the concept of “relationship” is inherent every step of the way. Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, in their recent book entitled, Jesus Manifesto, speak directly to this reality:

In all the religions and philosophies of the world, a follower can follow the teachings of its founder without having a relationship with that founder. Not so with Jesus Christ. The teachings of Jesus cannot be separated from Jesus Himself. Christ is still alive, and He embodies His teachings. This is what separates Him from every great teacher and moral philosopher in history.

I find this aspect of the Christian faith to be one of the most edifying on many levels. The “personal” aspect of life with Christ is something I discounted, minimized, and misunderstood for years. I have come to see things differently now and, as stated, find great comfort and satisfaction in the personalized reality that is part and parcel of authentic Christianity.

The fusion of the individual Christ-follower and the Indwelling Christ is a mystery that can never be fully understood, only experienced. Personally, I find any attempt to analyze and dissect this sublime intimacy, the kind of divine intimacy Christ mentions in his moving prayer recorded in John 17, to be both futile and arrogant. Any notion that we can contain, harness, or otherwise corral such a sublime fusion of persons is filled with hubris and akin to a dog chasing its tail.

Still, it is helpful to have at least a rough sketch of the parameters of this divine dance of spiritual intimacy, offered with the caveat that it is just that, a blurred outline of a mystery beyond human comprehension. Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola speak of these themes with proper humility when they say:

“ …….the incarnate Christ in you is God’s person for your situation. Consequently, the question is not ‘What would Jesus do?’ but ‘What does Jesus want to do now through me. . . through us?’”

“Being Jesus for the world does not mean that Christ has come to obliterate you. It rather means that Christ has come to complete you and live His resurrection life through you. Granted, Jesus Christ has crucified your flesh and the old fallen humanity that gave birth to it. But you have been resurrected with Christ, and you are a new creature, part of the new humanity of which Jesus is the firstborn son.”

As you can see, Sweet and Viola rightly insist that the fusion of the Indwelling Christ – complete with his resurrected life – and the individual does not negate the individual. Instead, Christ enables the believer to become more complete, and by becoming so, better able to serve as an open channel through which Christ can live his resurrected life. In our new, reborn state we, are in a very real sense, siblings with Christ, the firstborn of many. The authors go on to liken this sublime fusion to a dance of intimacy:

Perichoresis is a composite Greek word that every Christian should know. It means ‘move about’ or ‘dance around’. The Cappadocian Fathers used it to define the communion of the Trinity as the ‘Great Dance.’ Father, Son, and Holy Spirit flow and frame their lives in a dance of perfect love, and we are invited to add our moves to this dance of the divine. A perichoretic relationship is one where we draw life and energy from this dance with the divine life. Christians have a perichoretic relationship with Christ. That relationship makes you more fully yourself than you could have ever been apart from Him.”

From these realities we can see that our relationship with the Indwelling Christ contains both mystery and paradox. The metaphor of the “dance” is an attempt to describe by analogy the mystery of the fusion of the individual and the Risen Christ, but it remains just that – a metaphor – an analogical approximation. And the paradox becomes obvious: by becoming one with Christ through this perichoretic relationship, we become more authentic. As Christ said, “...he who loses his life for my sake shall gain it.”

Rather than the complete negation of the old self, the divine dance of perichoretic relationship gives birth to a reconfigured self that is a reflection of God’s original intention for humankind. Christ, the firstborn, is the divine human prototype and as the divine dance continues, the dividing line between the human and the divine becomes increasingly transparent. Sweet and Viola continue:

“…..the Lord helps us become more ‘rounded’ human beings – not more straight-edged, straightlaced, straight-backed, straight-faced, straightjacketed human copies, but more ‘rounded,’ more complete and whole humans. Jesus is God’s original thought for humanity. He is the paragon of humanness, and all who are in Him and share His life are part of the new humanity that He has brought into existence through His resurrection.”

And what is the result of this divine-human merger? Sweet and Viola conclude by saying:

“This will lead each of us to do life differently, even from other followers of Christ. Can the same Christ allow one person to be a Calvinist while permitting another to be an Arminian? The answer is yes. This is why the life of Christ has a freedom, a specificity, a range of reach that truly takes the breath away as it girdles the globe.”

As stated at the outset, it is this very relational aspect of the Christian path that sets it apart from other spiritual journeys. And this relational context is far from static. Our relationship with Christ is truly a transformational intimacy – a fusion whereby the resurrected, living Christ, in all His power and glory, revives, reconstructs, and regenerates us into the beings God intended in the first place. On a practical, day-to-day, where the rubber meets the road level, this divine mystery is summed up quite nicely by the Great Apostle when he says:

Not I, but Christ……

© L.D. Turner 2012/All Rights Reserved
Enhanced by Zemanta

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Today's Encouraging Word

Deutsch: Schloss Solitude bei Stuttgart. Blick...Image via Wikipedia

Solitude is as indispensable to man’s spiritual welfare as sleep is to his bodily well-being; and pure thought, or meditation, which is evoked in solitude, is to the spirit what activity is to the body. As the body breaks down when deprived of the needful rest and sleep, so do the spirits of men break down when deprived of the necessary silence and solitude. Man, as a spiritual being, cannot be maintained in strength, uprightness, and peace except he periodically withdraw himself from the outer world of perishable things and reach inwardly towards the abiding and imperishable realities.

While a man is absorbed in the contemplation of inward realities he is receiving knowledge and power; he opens himself, like a flower, to the universal light of Truth, and receives and drinks in its life-imparting rays; he also goes to the eternal foundation of knowledge and quenches his thirst in its inspiring waters. Such a man gains, in one hour of concentrated thought, more essential knowledge than a whole year’s reading could impart. Being is infinite and knowledge is illimitable and its source inexhaustible, and he who draws upon the innermost depths of his being drinks from the spring of divine wisdom which can never run dry, and quaffs the waters of immortality…Man’s true Home is the Great Silence – this is the source of all that is real and abiding within him.

James Allen

(from Byways to Blessedness)
Enhanced by Zemanta

Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Sublime Whisper

Pavilion of Vital EnergyImage via Wikipedia

L.D. Turner

I am convinced that one of the most critical tasks facing humankind in this age of rapid-fire change and shifting cultural landscapes is the rebirth of what I like to call cosmic mysticism – a way of looking at the world through eyes of wonder, awe, pristine innocence, and above all, an innate sense of the interconnectivity of all that is, all that ever was, and yes, all that ever will be. Some may call it an exaggeration but I think otherwise. Unless we rediscover this vital sense of cosmic mysticism, an increasing number of species, humanity included, are headed for extinction.

This cosmic mysticism I am speaking of is a natural mysticism, built upon the experiential foundation of the existence of a divine presence that permeates and suffuses all of creation. Known by countless names by myriad cultures across the span of the ages, this sublime presence is that which animates and gives life to all things. Nature is imbued with this power, this divine energy, and all that exists owes its being to this force.
Throughout history this force has been called by many names. The name, however, is not important. What is important is that we learn how to contact, harness, and direct this divine energy for the development of ourselves, our brothers and sisters, all sentient beings, and our world. This is the essence of the meaning and purpose of life at its most fundamental level. We are here to grow and in order to grow we must learn to use divine energy efficiently and purposefully. Just as a plant needs the sun to develop and reach maturity, we need this celestial energy in order to truly become what we were intended to be.

What is the origin of this energy? What is its purpose? Is it intelligent and purposeful? Or, is it random and impersonal? Humankind has answered these questions in myriad ways, some more accurate than others, since the dawn of time. For our present purpose, it is unnecessary to speculate on these issues. In fact, such speculation may pose an obstacle to the task at hand, which is to deal with this flowing, vibrant, and vital energy in terms of its practical application to living each day with personal excellence.
Further, it is through the kinship of this universal divine energy that all humankind, in fact, all creation is related in one giant organized family.

Although many things in the modern world conspire to deafen us to the subtle voice of the Father, rest assured that his voice is indeed there. God calls to us continually, asking us to put down our nets and, like the fishermen disciples of old, come and follow. Jesus tells us in John 6:44 that no one comes to him unless the Father first draws him. What this means in highly practical terms is that we not only have a God, we have a proactive God that seeks relationship with us. Our end of the bargain is to put ourselves into a position of deepening receptivity, so that we might hear his voice more clearly and experience his love more intensely.
There are others who hear God’s voice and respond, accepting his offer of grace, forgiveness, and acceptance into his blessed family. These are generally sincere disciples and are often quite active in their local church fellowship. They also involve themselves in service work and serve the Master to the best of their ability. Yet it is these very people – these sincere followers of the Lord – who, in their heart of hearts, often find themselves asking, “Isn’t there something more to the Christian life? I feel like something is missing. I can’t put my finger on it, but there is a vague emptiness…”

It is to these genuine disciples that the still, small voice comes beckoning in the silence of a sleepless night, or drifting in on the golden leaves of an autumn wind. That irresistible, persistent voice that repeatedly whispers:

Come, follow me….

John Eldredge and the late Brent Curtis, in their book entitled The Sacred Romance, describe the various ways, both vivid and subtle, that the Divine calls to us in his relentless pursuit of relationship:
Someone or something has romanced us from the beginning with creek-side singers and pastel sunsets, with the austere majesty of snowcapped mountains and the poignant flames of autumn colors telling us of something – or someone – leaving, with a promise to return. These things can, in an unguarded moment, bring us to our knees with longing for this something or someone who is lost; someone or something only our heart recognizes.

When we find ourselves in earshot of such a calling, we need to recognize that we are both blessed and vulnerable. We are blessed in that the divine source, the creative power that put this awe-inspiring universe together, seeks relationship with us. The incomprehensible intelligence that maintains all that we see and even more remarkably, the mysterious quantum realm that we don’t see, together in harmonious balance desires intimacy with us – intimacy beyond anything we have ever known.

Yes, friend, God calls to us in a gentle voice that only the mystic can truly hear. And in that persistent calling, the Creator invites us to join in the mysterious dance of spiritual transformation. Unfortunately, far too few of us truly comprehend the critical importance of this divine calling, which often rides in softly on the fragrant breeze of an early summer evening or conversely, in the absolute silence of moonlit midnight in the depth of January. Of those who do hear the sublime calling, even fewer respond and this a tragedy beyond measure, as it often leaves those desperate souls with an incessant pondering of what might have been. C.S. Lewis speaks of this holy pursuit and its profound significance:

Even in your hobbies, has there not always been some secret attraction which the others are curiously ignorant of – something, not to be identified with, but always on the verge of breaking through, the smell of cut wood in the workshop or the clap-clap of water against the boat’s side? Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when at last you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something you were born desiring, and which, beneath the flux of other desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for, watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have ever deeply possessed your soul have been hints of it – tantalizing glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest – if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself – you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say, “Here at last is the thing I was made for.” We cannot tell each other about it. It is the secret signature of each soul, the incommunicable and unappeasable want, the thing we desired before we met our wives or made our friends or chose our work, which we shall still desire on our deathbeds, when the mind no longer knows wife or friend or work. While we are, this is. If we lose this, we lose all.

Lewis is describing that universal “something,” that existential empty spot that Augustine said could only be filled by God. It is, indeed, the call of the sublime lover, the Creator himself, beckoning us to turn and face our true home. It is the baying call of the Hound of Heaven, which is paradoxically both a blessing and an irritant.

Most amazingly, he is not calling us to go into a monastic hideaway or a hermit’s cave, but to stay put right where we are. And if we stay and we become open and discerning, he will use the mundane events of our daily round as his methodology of instruction. More often than not, God’s classroom is characterized by the pedagogy of the ordinary and it is precisely in the realm of the unremarkable that true divine alchemy occurs. Sue Monk Kidd, a woman who knows this process through personal experience, describes it this way:

It seems to me that Christ continually calls us through the daily events of our lives…In moments like these God stirs the waters of our lives and beckons us beyond where we are to a new dimension of closeness with Him…God desires to transform certain experiences of ours into awakening events. These may be our most common moments, but if we let them they can become doorways to a deeper encounter with Him. Who knows at what moment we may begin to wake up to the astonishing fact that Emmanuel (God with us) is still God’s name, that every moment the Word of God, Jesus Christ, is coming to us.

I know that in my experience, God calls me in ways I never expected. I have discerned his voice in the sacred silence of meditative stillness and his message has often slapped me to my senses as it spoke from the pages of Holy Scripture. I have also learned to be increasingly sensitive to his call as manifest in the choreographic harmony of the natural world and especially when it dances in the eyes of a child.

© L.D. Turner 2012/All Rights Reserved
Enhanced by Zemanta

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Today's Encouraging Word

HOLY SPIRIT - FOIXImage via Wikipedia

You need to ask this simple question to get yourself properly adjusted and in focus: What should I be doing? Every one of us has a unique and important role in human history. All of us have been created by God to bring him honor through serving humanity and doing something that makes a difference in the world. There is a hero within you waiting to be awakened. Some were born to be the hero of a story of epic proportions, others perhaps the hero for one small child sponsored across an ocean. Both require a hero’s soul and have a hero’s call. While you can’t do everything, you were created to do something of incredible importance. The tragedy is if you try to be everything and do everything, you may so diffuse your effect that you will not optimize who God made you to be and what he created you to accomplish. This is why you need convergence. You need to bring together all of your talents, gifts, passions, intellect, energy, time, and resources and harness them in such a way that you focus on the mission God has given you for your life.

Erwin Raphael McManus
(from Wide Awake)
Enhanced by Zemanta