Whether we are given many days to live or too few, we don’t often stop to consider why we are Christians, where we have seen God at work in our own lives—or even where we still aren’t sure! Why are you a Christian? What is the meaning of your life and how do you make sense of the challenges that are so clearly a part of living? What real difference does it make in your experience of living?
We are called an Easter people—those who have journeyed with Jesus through death and into resurrection. Too often people today think of resurrection as what happens after we physically die. This concept emerged only after the Roman Empire co-opted Christianity in the 4th century. The Empire had no interest in the ongoing transformation of human beings, for that would have challenged the status quo of power and stability—which of course was exactly what Jesus himself did. So in order to maintain the benefits of State protection, the Church began shifting its understanding of resurrection to something that we hope for after we die, assuming we follow the rules of those in power in the meantime.
That was a far cry from the way Jesus lived and the way the early followers understood resurrection. For roughly three hundred years, Christians understood that following Jesus meant embracing a new way of living this life. It meant continually letting go of things they thought were essential in order to experience the freedom to live this life—in the midst of persecution and hardship or even every day ordinary challenges—free from fear. And their joy was infectious as many embraced this way of transformation here and now. Through the millennia mystics and saints have continually lifted up this understanding of what it means to be faithful: to follow Jesus’ way means making a commitment to die to our old ways of seeing, and learning to see and understand how to live in new ways.
As Richard Rohr reminds us:
Some form of suffering or death—psychological, spiritual, relational, or physical—is the only way we will loosen our ties to our small and separate false self. Only then does the larger Self appear, which we would call the Risen Christ, the soul, or perhaps the True Self…The overly defended ego is where we reside before these much needed deaths. The True Self (or “soul”) becomes real to us only after we have walked through death and come out much larger and wiser on the other side. This is what we mean by transformation, conversion, or enlightenment.
This process of ongoing transformation is the search for, or awakening to, our True Self. It takes extraordinary courage to let go of our false self and all that it works to protect. Rather than ask, Why is this happening to me? What would happen if we asked, What is happening to me and how do I participate in it as fully as I can? The central question becomes whether we trust in the goodness of God to bring about something life-giving—some resurrection—out of every hardship, every pressure, every failure, every ending. Therein we experience, abide in, Joy that is both larger and stronger than our particular circumstances.
My desire to become a more active partner with God in this process within my own life prompted me to enter a two-year program called the Living School, an offering of the Center for Action and Contemplation initiated by Richard Rohr. During the remaining Wednesday evenings in May, I will be offering Learnings from the Living School and inviting participants to become more active partners with God in their own lives, not only during the four weeks but beyond, and to consider how we might be a school for living here at St. Simon’s. Please let me know if you are planning to attend, by replying to this email, and if you cannot attend but are interesting in exploring more, please let me know that too.
Hope to see you Sunday,