Imagination And The Womb of God…

Posted: May 23, 2017 in Uncategorized

Easter 7A, 2017 John 17:1-11

Imagination And The Womb of God…

Here we are at the end of the Season of Easter. After some 50 days, following an agenda primarily set by the storyteller Matthew, even though the majority of gospel stories have been told by the theologian/storyteller we call John, we have run out of Easter type stories, and not only that we have run slap-bang into a one-day Season, called Ascension Sunday. Ascension Sunday is a season which uses lots of ‘up there’ mythical language “as naively as any passage in the New Testament” to quote 1960s ‘Honest to God’ John Robinson (Robinson 1967:76). So what are we now to make of the Ascension story in 2017?

Well! I thought we might explore what mythical language might offer us in an age when perception is truth, life is probability and purpose is creative imagining. And I want to start with the Gospel of Mary that we have been touching into the last few weeks As you will know the gospel of Mary is what is known as gnostic literature, it is about knowing and until recently not considered as worthy of being in the canon. At the core of this is the idea that every spiritual teaching sounds a call from above. But, as the present text announces and demonstrates, the central aim of the teaching of Jesus is to sensitize us to the above that calls to us from within ourselves. Gnostic literature invite us to consider that the immensity of Christianity takes its interior meaning as a sign of an immensity within the self of every human being. As a path of inner awakening, as a path of deep self-knowledge (in other words, gnosis), it invites and supports the inner struggle to attend, to “hear and obey” one’s own Self, God in oneself. As Jean-Yves Leloup suggests, this is the intimate meaning of Anthropos: to be fully human oneself, the incarnation of God. This is an unknown teaching in recent Christian teaching — not in the philosophical or theological sense, nor in the sense that it has never been said before, but in the sense that our ordinary thoughts and feelings can never really penetrate it. It seems too complex and new agie. And it is unknown in the sense that we live our lives on the surface of ourselves, not knowing the one thing about our own being that it is necessary for us to know and that would bring us every good we could seriously wish for. The fitness industry says get fit and find it, the business industry says plan for it and know it, the personalization says believe in yourself and know it as success. But in the end we are speaking of an unknown part of ourselves, which is at the same time the essential part of ourselves: the Teacher within, our genuine identity. The way — and it is surely the way that is offered by all the spiritual traditions of the world— it is the practice, and the community supporting the practice, that opens a relationship between our everyday sense of self and the Self, or Spirit. This interior relationship between self and Spirit, we are told, is made possible through the inner cultivation of a specific quality of conscious attention and intelligence that in this tradition is referred to by the Greek term nous, or higher mind. It is the realm of intermediate attention and of mediating conscious forces in the cosmos that are mythologized as the angelic realms in the esoteric traditions of the world’s religions. It is in this miraculous yet lawful mediating contact between the higher and the lower within ourselves that the deeper, intimate experience of conscious love is given— a conscious love for our starved and confused self that is at the same time love for our neighbour whose inner condition of metaphysical poverty is identical to our own.

As Jean-Yves Leloup shows us, this is the love that is spoken of in the words of Jesus, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” It is a love that cannot be commanded, but that we are obliged to recognize as the defining attribute of our essential Self.

One of the most remarkable aspects of The Gospel of Mary Magdalene is that the more it shows us about the meaning of Christianity, the more the mystery deepens. This paradox is due, surely, to the fact that, like every truly spiritual communication, it speaks to us both on the surface and at deep unconscious levels at the same time. While at the intellectual level it points to the resolution of apparent contradictions that sometimes drive us away from belief in the objective existence of the Good, it at the same time opens the heart to a silent recognition of homecoming— the joy of what we knew without words all along, but had all but given up hope of finding.

No mystery is greater or more welcome than this— that above our minds, in the depths of silence, we may be given to know ourselves as Being and as created to serve the good both for God and our neighbour.

Applying this thinking to our John text we have to acknowledge with Bruce Epperly that there is every possibility that some of those who first heard or read the story of Jesus being ‘raised in glory’ (like one of the ancient Greek heroes) 70 -90 years after the life of Jesus, could have actually believed he ascended to a literal heaven and would return from God’s throne ‘someplace up there’ at the end of time  (Epperly P&F Web site 2005).

That is how they could have made sense of their world. But that is not how we understand our world and that invites us to see the Ascension story as a bit of a test case of our ability to cope with strange language, and primitive cosmology. As Rex Hunt says, “The challenge for us is to find new ways and new phrases of contemporary significance beyond the traditional literal images of ancient knowledge for the telling of both the Jesus stories and the God story. It also says that story and poetry and imagination and image are important in this journey.

In light of the ‘otherworldly’ interpretations many congregations will hear today, we need to be quite clear that the heart of this particular Jesus story is not about some pre-scientific form of space travel… Neither is it about a past moment in time, nor about some possible future event, usually called the Second Coming. It is a story about our calling as Christians to heal and transform the world. This world. To live faithfully in this life on the journey that Jesus chartered. Likewise, when we are engaged in our God-talk it too needs to go beyond our traditional literal images.

Two people who have attempted this are Shirley Murray and Richard Bruxvoort-Colligan. Both are contemporary composers whose work invites us to imagine God or the sacred, differently, and to experience faith with some different accents.

We know of some of Shirley’s creativity as we have sung a number of here contemporary hymns in our services. But Richard’s work is likely to be new to many of us, and it is one of his songs, “Ground And Source Of All That Is“, that I want to focus on today. I want to read three verses of the song that I think invites us to imagine.

The first verse invites us to see that there is a possible big picture and it proposes a shape to all things interconnected and offers a meta-narrative to approach. The second verse invites us to see that this picture is not about sameness, or a bland oneness but rather one that is rich in its diversity and one that explores the mystery of beauty. The third verse invites us to see that while human life has some constants to it these constants are about the nature of life within this big picture.

Ground and source of all that is, one that anchors all our roots, Being of all ways and forms, deepest home and final truth. We live and move in you We live and move in you…

Lover of ten thousand names, holy presence all have known, Beauty ever welcoming, Mystery to stir the soul.  We live and move in you We live and move in you…

Nature by whose laws we live, author of our DNA, All compelling call to life, drawing one and all the same. We live and move in you We live and move in you… 

We might also be reminded of the creative work of Miriam Therese Winter, a Catholic sister and theologian. Her continuing invitation like the Gospel of Mary to us all is to consider the feminine image of God. Not in some cheap Hallmark Mother’s Day card theology, but addressing God in relational ways. In one of her many reflections she offers this:

The God of history, The God of the Bible. is One who carries us in Her arms after carrying us in Her womb, breastfeeds us, nurtures us, teaches us how to walk, teaches us how to soar upward just as the eagle teaches its young to stretch their wings and fly, makes fruitful, brings to birth, clothes the lilies of the field, clothes Eve and Adam with garments newmade, clothes you and me with skin and flesh and a whole new level of meaning with the putting on of Christ… (Winter 1987:20).

These are different ways of thinking theologically and imagining God? Yet they do not contain everything new, because the feminine image of God, has been around for generations; it was just successfully buried by church patriarchy as ‘pagan’. When we think theologically about the biblical stories of the Ascension as we are required to do, we see that this means more than just interpreting our given orthodox biblical tradition and creedal statements. It also means as Sallie McFague has said, about being willing to think differently now than in the past!  And let’s not be naïve here, this can and very likely will be dangerous stuff. Jesus proclaimed good news yet this was in the main, rejected. Not because it was good, or bad, but because it was new!

So this day, as the season which celebrates new or changed life comes to a close, maybe we could imagine the ‘womb’ of God birthing us to be wonderful, creative, and caring human beings… As Jacob Needleman, from the Department of Philosophy, San Francisco State University, says; it is in the miraculous yet lawful mediating contact between the higher and the lower within ourselves that the deeper, intimate experience of conscious love is given— a conscious love for our starved and confused self that is at the same time love for our neighbour whose inner condition of metaphysical poverty is identical to our own. Or as Rex hunt says; We are born in the image of the One who has borne us. Pilgrims along the way – on a not-so-easy journey which Jesus first chartered.

Notes: Robinson, J. A. T. But That I Can’t Believe! London. Fontana Book, 1967. Winter, M. T. Woman Prayer Woman Song. Resources for Ritual. Oak Park. Meyer Stone, 1987.

Leloup, Jean-Yves. The Gospel of Mary Magdalene Inner Traditions/Bear & Company.


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