Coming in Glory

Chapter 6

The Marks of Christ
(2) Commitment and Reconciliation

As the living Christ establishes himself more completely in the soul, so does a measure of self-confidence show itself that is of another order to the self-inflation that worldly powers confer. While our self-awareness is limited to money, social position (or the lack of it), intellectual brilliance or artistic gifts, it will continue to be in a state of flux. It will balance uneasily in the world of changing values, of vogue attachments that disappear as suddenly as they first arose. When we retire from the active demands of the world and can rest in our own being, we can begin to assess what we have really made of our lives. If this assessment is linked to outer achievements, we will soon discover how vain our course has been. Others who succeed us seem to supplant our efforts, and even if we achieve renown at one time, soon our contribution becomes a mere footnote in the annals of history, if indeed it is remembered at all. Montaigne says, "Fame and tranquillity can never be bedfellows", and he is right on a number of different levels. Fame brings with it unease lest we are superseded by others on the same ladder that we have ascended. It also brings many inquirers and would-be followers, even disciples to the master, and most of these disturb his peace with their problems of personality. Reading between the lines of the Gospels, one can see how often the incomprehension and self-seeking of the apostles must have irritated Jesus. Their obtuseness was exposed all too starkly at the time of his passion, when they ran away from the one who had nourished them spiritually at great cost to himself. While fame seeks for itself, it can know no peace. But when it gives itself to God, it becomes a bastion that can afford support - albeit temporarily - to many people. Finally they have to relinquish that protection and venture on into the world alone, but now the influence of their master acts as a spur to their further efforts. Thus when the resurrected Christ finally ascends in mystical union to the Father, he sends down the Holy Spirit to inspire the disciples to continue in the work that he initiated while with them in the flesh.

The confirmation of the self, which is the essence of authentic self-confidence, that Christ bestows inculcates a scale of values and indicates a way of life that lead the disciple beyond concern for his prestige to a commitment in love to the whole world. He no longer is interested in his own safety, for he knows dimly yet incontestably that his authentic nature is eternal. The statement of Christ, reiterated in the mystical tradition generally, that the man who seeks his life will lose it, but he who gives up his very life for God, will find eternal life, is proved in the experience of those who tread the spiritual path. This path, as has already been noted, is not one of unimpeded, glorious ascent to the Deity in which all conflicting elements in the personality are conveniently shed. It is one that traverses the darkness of the unconscious, both personal and collective (the two are in fact facets of the same modality, just as the microcosm mirrors the macrocosm), so that the total darkness may be infused with light and enter transfigured into the divine realm. In the divine economy nothing is too mean for salvation, no element of creation is wasted. This is the self-confidence that can never be shaken for it knows that the person is loved for himself alone as part of the love God has for all his creatures. This self confidence is conferred by the presence of Christ within, so that, as St Paul puts it so concisely in Galatians 2:20, after we have been crucified with him the life we live is no longer our own life, but the life that Christ lives in us. The necessity for prior crucifixion is important: until the past selfish existence is repudiated, a circumstance that usually follows dramatic misfortune of one type or another, Christ cannot get near us - or, to put it another way, his seed cannot germinate in the soul.

When we know Christ in the soul as both a principle and a personal presence that directs us to an encounter with God, our allegiance to him cannot fail to be total. When Peter on three occasions during the period of the betrayal denied so much as knowing Jesus, he was speaking more truly than he knew. To be sure he knew the man well enough, though fear for his own life bade him disclaim any relationship with Jesus. But of the deeper Christ in the heart, who both directs our life and fills it with universal compassion, he knew nothing. The crucifixion and all that followed it up to his own eventual martyrdom were to bring the true knowledge of Christ as a living presence within him. When we are committed to Christ, the life of Christ is our pattern and our hope. For the truth we are prepared to give up our very life, since there can be no compromise with ultimate values. We read in Deuteronomy 30:19, "I summon heaven and earth to witness against you this day: I offer you the choice of life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life . . . " There can be no double set of values in creation: the way of God leads to life abundant, whereas its antithesis produces a general deterioration that ends in chaos, a state of negation that returns to the non-existence before God created the cosmos.

Commitment to Christ is the ultimate purpose of life. It should be envisaged primarily as allegiance to the values that Jesus inculcated and bore witness to in his ministry among us. Later on, the knowledge of a divine saviour becomes more insistent in the soul. This path of unfolding is preferable to one of great personal devotion to Jesus without a growth in sanctity and love of the whole person. It might be argued that the general spiritualization of the person is impossible without a prior dedication of oneself to Christ, but as Jesus himself remarked to the woman who praised him rapturously, blessing the womb that had carried him and the breasts that had suckled him, "No, happy are those who hear the word of God and keep it" (Luke 11:27-28). The true Christ illuminates the soul and transforms the personality; his presence is known by its effect not by its claim for recognition. The personal saviour points the way to the Father, a way illuminated by the Holy Spirit. "I am the way; I am the truth and I am life; no one comes to the Father except by me" (John 14:6). He is the light of the universe as well as the light of the individual soul; by his light we too become the light of our little world. Ultimately the collective witness of a sanctified humanity acts as a transfiguring light of the world, so that it passes beyond corruption to eternal life.

That light, which shows itself in our personal lives as the peak of conscience which will never allow us to rest until we have fulfilled its extreme demand, is the focus of our commitment to God. This ultimate demand is summed up in the law of holiness: "You shall be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy" (Leviticus 19:2): As long as we evade that ultimate charge, we will have betrayed the high calling of humanity, a calling definitively obeyed and manifested in the life of Jesus. It is in that life that we can identify the man with the principle of holiness that inhabits the peak of the soul. This sacred point is known as the apex of the soul, alternatively as its ground (base) or its centre; in mystical psychology all words with a spatial connotation must be seen as metaphors pointing to a reality as ineffable as God himself. As we read in Hebrews 10:31, it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God. This applies especially after we have been shown the definitive truth and have deliberately turned away from it to follow a lesser path. It is not the grandeur of our work in the world that counts; what forms the basis of our future judgement is how we respond to the demands of integrity in the course of that work.

Commitment therefore follows the categorical command of Christ in the soul to fulfil the responsibilities that our humanity, as evidenced in the life of Jesus, imposes on us. We may be tempted by the prince of this world, as Jesus was throughout his life from the moment of his baptism until he breathed his last on the cross, but we will never be seduced from our high calling. The first part of Jesus' temptation was towards self-aggrandizement because of the magnitude of his spiritual gifts; the last part moved towards despair in the face of impenetrable psychic darkness. It was his closeness to his Father, especially near, paradoxically, when God seemed most remote to him on the cross and he cried out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" that determined his victory over darkness and his unique resurrection from the dead. That closeness to God was effected on a practical level by unfailing prayer, as much when all was going well as when he was suffering in inarticulate agony. A person who knows Christ intimately as a soul presence throughout the vicissitudes of this mortal life can never be seduced by worldly things or competing spiritual philosophies. Indeed, in his presence all the apparatus of the intellect is stunned into silence: "But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be hushed in his presence" (Habakkuk 2:20).

True commitment, again paradoxically, brings with it tolerance, moderation in our relationship with all people, and an ecumenism that is of a different order to a rootless, spineless syncretism that sees all forms as virtually the same and can therefore borrow indiscriminately from them to fashion a hybrid religion. St Paul writes in Philippians 4:4-7, "I wish you all joy in the Lord. I will say it again: all joy be yours. Let your magnanimity be manifest to all. The Lord is near; have no anxiety, but in everything make your requests known to God in prayer and petition with thanksgiving. Then the peace of God, which is beyond our utmost understanding, will keep guard over your hearts and your thoughts, in Christ Jesus." When we are rooted in God, and Christ has grown in the soul to the stature of a mighty tree, we can flow out in disinterested love to the whole creation. This includes especially our fellow human beings who may have opinions and religious views very different from our own and whose lifestyle may likewise contravene the canons of propriety that we had long accepted without deliberation. This love accepts people for what they are, so that they cease to threaten us by their own cultural background and mode of religious observance. Jesus speaks about the person who hears his words and acts upon them as one who can resist all the threats and hazards of the world, because the foundation of his spiritual edifice is composed of rock, indeed the rock of ages who is God himself. Such a person is so secure in his own identity that he can listen with courtesy to all he hears from alien sources. Some he will reject because it contravenes the law of Christ within, which is love; some he will accept with gratitude inasmuch as it sheds light on obscure areas of his own traditions so that he can understand it better; some he will retain tentatively in the back of his mind for future consideration when he may be more competent to judge the validity of the propositions propounded. The essential strength, however, is that the free person can inspect all assertions and philosophies with a warmth of regard that will tend to bring their numerous protagonists into his loving presence where they may experience the living Christ. They will know him in his daily work of healing reconciliation.

The highest point in the religious vocation is this work of reconciliation. Reconciliation is indeed even more holy than ecumenism, because it follows the clauses in the prayer of St Francis, "Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon". The one who repents of the sins he or his group have committed in the past by now offering himself as a sacrifice to those who have been hurt has surmounted one rung of the ladder of reconciliation. An even higher rung is attained by those who have been fearfully hurt in the past, then visiting their erstwhile despoilers in love and forgiveness. Those who, for instance, suffered terribly under the Nazi cruelty, but could, after hostilities had ended, go back to the countries where they had been tortured and spread the light of Christ - a light that far transcends denominational barriers, being as radiant in Jews like Martin Buber and Leo Baeck or Hindus like Mahatma Gandhi or Sri Ramana Maharshi as in any contemporary Christian saint - are among the ultimate instruments of human reconciliation. In Jesus, in whom the human and divine natures coinhere in equality, both these rungs of reconciliation are attained and integrated; he gave up his life for the world, and he reappeared in love at the time of his resurrection to those who had repudiated him when he lay tortured and disfigured by those who hated him. St Paul saw truly when he wrote, "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Ecumenism works towards the breaking-down of denominational barriers, but it tends to be limited by theological considerations. As far as it goes it is admirable, but by its very nature it is cautious and tentative. Reconciliation, on the other hand, is headstrong and self-sacrificing - indeed, the only self it recognizes is the spirit of love which gives up its life impetuously for its friend, who is every man. This reconciliation is possible only for the person whose soul is unreservedly open to love. Alternatively we might say that he has greatness of heart, that the centre of his personality has moved inwards from the head with its cool, discriminatory acquiescence to the heart with its warmth and impulsive acceptance. This passionate welcome finds its paradigm in the response of the father to the return home of his penitent son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. This parable assures us of God's unreserved acceptance whether in this world or the life after death when we come to him in penitence and faith. The growth of Christ in the soul leads to the development and unfolding of the heart; the heart can accommodate all things provisionally. The magnanimity that Paul speaks about in the Letter to the Philippians follows a resting of the entire personality in the providence of God, in the abundant love of Christ.

This movement of the seat of spiritual consciousness from the head with its intellectual analysis to the heart with its glowing welcome, "Come to me, all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy; and I will give you relief" (Matthew 11:28), is effected not so much by prayer techniques as by the passionate response of the soul to the many and varied episodes of common life. When Jesus saw the people around him with their diseases and emotional burdens, he was moved with compassion. That compassion opened him wide to his Father as well as to the people in their need. He could take the suffering multitude into his heart and heal them when they were willing. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often have I longed to gather your children, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings; but you would not let me" (Matthew 23:37).

When one is in the company of such a person of the heart, one's own heart opens in sympathy that culminates in a response of trust and dedication to the Most High. I personally have known a number of such heart-directed people in my life. One was a Russian Orthodox ecumenist of radiant love who was shortly to die. His sight was so defective that he could not see me directly, but we saw, clearly into the depths of each other's souls. We exchanged individual insights about the phenomenon of death and the principle within us that proceeds into the life of the world to come. When he died he was closer to me even than when he was still in the flesh. Another man of the heart was an Anglican monk whose apparent eccentricity caused him to be regarded with some irritation, even derision, by some members of his community. His heart was so capacious that he had room in it not only for people of various denominations but also for those involved in approaches to healing other than medical and ecclesiastical, orthodoxy. These included many psychic individuals who frequented spiritualistic societies because their gifts could not be accommodated within the ambience of the Church. Having been turned out of a living, albeit barely alive, tradition of true spirituality, they sought refuge among those who welcomed them from the realm of the occult. But this saintly monk could rejoice in their company and learn from them even as Jesus learned from the mass of humanity that he encountered and served day by day. The way of the heart is the culmination of humility, for it can imbibe knowledge from the lowliest of those its master meets in his unprentious work. Those who were befriended by this man were able to remain in the Church and not jettison everything on the waves of psychic phenomena.

A third person who works from the heart and who it is my privilege to know is a Benedictine monk who has an ashram in India and has played a notable part in bringing the deeper spirituality of Hinduism into harmony with the Catholic faith. The West needs desperately to understand aspects of the human spiritual anatomy and physiology that are an integral part of the Eastern tradition. This is not syncretism; it is a broadening of basic knowledge about the human condition, comparable in its way to an understanding of alternative therapies to complement the deficiencies of orthodox allopathic medicine. This man has been able to accommodate Hindu insights in the context of the Christian faith, not primarily by his intellectual gifts but by his all-embracing love which allows people to be themselves without in any way trying to influence them according to a preconceived plan. In such a welcoming presence the person can be authentically himself without any pressure to conform, but the presence of the spiritual master leads the seeker onwards to the actualization of his full potential. This was the way of Christ among the common people: acceptance, spiritual transformation effected by his very presence, and the intuitive groping towards a new life. The only influence that may have a lasting effect on our fellows is a love that comes from the heart and opens the person to the full impact of the Holy Spirit.

The way of reconciliation has soon to confront the presence of darkness, the force of evil, in the world, and this is where it may appear to be inadequate. To assimilate it unconsciously is as dangerous as ingesting a poisonous substance in one's food. Our goodwill can no more detoxify a poison than neutralize evil, destructive forces in the world, forces which, if given free rein, would lead to a total dissolution of all civilized values and bring impenetrable darkness upon the world. On the other hand, the evil of the world which finds its reflection in the shadow side of our own personality, cannot be summarily excluded from our gaze, let alone outlawed from our inner life. Reconciliation may tend to underestimate the destructive element in life - which also finds its expression in the cruel perversions of all the higher religions - and in this respect its advocates, despite their openness of heart, may inadvertently allow the entry into the world of much that would have better remained excluded. But, on the other hand, the way of the heart is finally the only direction we know that can lead to universal healing. The wise man fears the spirit of evil but is not overwhelmed by its threat. Christ has shown us the way forward: submission to God in prayer, naked confrontation even to the extent of self-sacrifice, supernatural faith that comes from God even in the extremity of our own darkness, and a releasing of all worldly ties. The end is death of one type or another, but the sequel is resurrection.

Commitment strengthens our personal witness in the world in the face of all subversion and distraction. It develops the will and strengthens our spiritual potential. It leads to an uprightness that can easily proceed to a rigidity, which precludes any spontaneous response to a matter of emergency. It can produce a determined, humourless type of person who does good in the world and practises virtue in his private life without any love of his neighbour; his actions are determined by an obsessive obedience to a higher power identified as God, but who instils fear without inculcating love. Such are the attributes of the great persecutors when they are not balanced by the flexibility that comes with tolerance. But without these firm attributes nothing positive can be done in the world, let alone the dimensions of the spirit. This follows the establishment of the centre within, where Christ has his eternal abode.

Once, however, commitment is fertilized by the spirit of love, our fear fades as we are able to contain conflicting ideologies no less than rebellious people in our hearts. The most inveterate conflicts arise from the contents of our own unconscious, which in turn are magnified by the dark forces that so often seem to be in control of the universe. But once the darkness within us is accepted, even welcomed, the way to reconciliation and healing becomes established. Christ then reigns in the soul; he transfigures all that we may encounter in our daily work. In this way the divine presence in the soul leads us patiently onwards towards the future advent of Christ in the world.

Chapter 7
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