Happy New Year everyone! My prayers are that you experience many moments of spontaneous joy in the coming days.
In the next weeks, our Lectionary calls for Scriptural readings of the Gospel of John. Unlike the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, the Gospel of John melds theology and poetry. It is really prose with the soul of poetry – poetry that packs layers of meaning in a word or phrase. The first line of our scripture has inspired theologians to write books – and musicians to compose music – and artists to paint masterpieces. These words inspire all of us to understand Jesus in a profoundly larger way.
Just as a beautiful poem, song or piece of art can expand our understanding of its subject very deeply AND can affect us in emotional and spiritual ways… so can our study and reflection on the Gospel of John – if we open ourselves up to the possibilities.
Let’s just take that first line: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. There’s a few things that strike me with just this one line. First, it is totally different than the other Gospels. Matthew and Luke trace their accounts of Jesus back to Joseph and Mary and the patriarchs. But the gospel writer of John traces Jesus the Christ all the way back to before God created anything. – Hmmmm… very confusing. How can this be? We know when Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth. The answer lies in how the gospel writer defines “Christ.”
The second thing that strikes me about this first line, is its parallel with Genesis 1: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” So, God had to exist already because it was God who was and is the Creator. Now, whether you believe in creationism, science, the big bang theory, whatever… the point is that God came first. God is the first cause.
The gospel writer of John uses the Greek word ‘logos’ (which means Word) for Jesus the Christ. Logos is a brilliant choice of words to bridge the gap between the Jewish and Greek worlds at the time. The first Christians were Jewish, but the Gospel spread quickly to Greeks, who knew nothing of the Jewish belief in the messiah or the fulfillment of prophecy. The Gospel writer’s task was to couch this Gospel in language that the Greeks could understand and appreciate. Logos is a common word in Greek philosophy. At the time, Greeks believed that the world was highly volatile, but was under the control of Logos. The gospel writer is saying that Jesus the Christ is that Logos. (Sidebar: the feminine equivalent of Logos is Sophia, which means Wisdom. Read the psalms for much more about Wisdom!)
The Scripture’s first line then distinguishes between God and the Word while, at the same time, emphasizes their unity. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” These might all seem like opposing ideas – individuality and unity – but can be seen as highly compatible. If you have a partner, for example, think about your relationship. In marriage and committed partnership, two people who retain their individual identities become, in some sense, one. We can become “one” with nature… “one” with God during meditation and prayer… “one” with a community.
The gospel writer of John is saying that the Word (or Christ) existed in the beginning… was with God, and was God. So, while this poetic Scripture is saying Jesus is God, it is also saying that the Christ existed before Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth.
The idea of this inter-relationality and the ever-existence of Christ has been termed Christ-consciousness. This Christ-consciousness is an awareness of our higher selves as part of a universal system… a Universal Spirit… a Universal Energy. It is the spiritual elevation Jesus achieved during his mortal life.
This type of thinking goes beyond the “either/or – dualistic” thinking to a “both/and” type of perspective. It’s a Yes and Yes worldview.
It means that God and Christ are “in” and “around” everything. … that God/Christ connects all beings and is enfolding and unfolding in and through every “thing” in our world. God/Christ is incarnate in everything that ‘is’ – materially and intangibly.
And, if God and Christ are “in” everything, then God is present in each of us, all the creatures, in joy and beauty… even in evil and suffering. If we open ourselves
to that “both/and” possibility, we move away from a dualistic mindset whereby something is either “good” or “bad,” to a place of curiosity, acceptance and wonder. We respect and value ALL of God’s creation whether “we” as humans label these things “good” or “evil.”
The idea is to experience one’s own possibilities (or God-like nature… the divine within, if you will) along the path of love and peace, and with those we encounter along the way. For it is those people who break open our hearts and keep us faithful.
The Gospel of John opens us up to this concept: that Christ is present as the embodied Logos or Word in the world of creation – even before Jesus of Nazareth walked the earth. The Christ-consciousness eclipses Jesus of Nazareth as the incarnation of God. Instead, the Christ-consciousness extends – from a Christian perspective – infinitely outward, and in all directions.
On a more human level, we know that Jesus goes before us. Jesus mastered and nurtured an intimate connection with the Divine. He moves through ‘evil and suffering’ to the resurrection. This man of God confronted every person he met with a vision of his/her future as the highest possibility available to that individual. Likewise, individuals saw in and through Jesus another possible future for themselves – a future in which their humanity was deepened, liberated and more aligned with their true nature.
Jesus presented images and stories (the parables) that required listeners to expand their own image of God – in many respects, challenging them and us to free ourselves from the image of God as judge and rule-maker, way up in a heaven filled with clouds. Jesus was and is a creative and loving power.
Father Richard Rohr recently wrote a piece on prayer. An excerpt says “Contemplative prayer allows us to build our own house. To pray is to discover that someone else is within our house and to recognize that it is not our house at all. To keep praying is to have no house to protect, because there is only One house. And that One House is Everybody’s Home. In other words, those who pray from the heart actually live in a very different world. I like to say it’s a Christ-soaked world, a world where matter is inspirited and spirit is embodied. In this world, everything is sacred.”
I really resonate with that statement: Everything is sacred.
For us, Jesus becomes a living light… the Christ consciousness… that always has been, is present now, and always will be. In that, there is safety. There is hope. There is love. There is peace.
Our faith then is not only ‘in’ Jesus, per se, but in trying to emulate the faith ‘of’ Jesus… as a way of seeing… a way of being… a way of manifesting the Wholeness that is both present and always waiting to be realized as future possibility… for each of us and for all humanity.
Today’s scripture introduces us to the poetry of Jesus as Light of the World. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all humanity. The light shines in the darkness…” These are beautiful words for reflection… this is not an either/or situation of light or darkness, but the light that leads the way in the darkness.
In walking to the cross willingly, Jesus lights the way on the path for each of our own journeys – our own experiences of embracing change and the newness of life once again, especially in this New Year. As followers of Christ, immersed in the Christ-consciousness, we can embrace the reality of God’s creation in relationship, as we evolve into a human experience that is like Jesus.
Let me repeat that: Because we have opened our minds and our hearts to Jesus, and because we are immersed in the Christ-consciousness, we evolve into a human experience that is like Jesus.
In opening our own minds and hearts to this reality, we can also companion others in trusting the path and pushing aside our fears…
By walking alongside and with Christ, we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, befriend the lonely. We stand alongside Christ for Justice… for Joy… for Beauty… for Peace.
Thomas Keating writes: “The power of the stars is nothing compared to the energy of a person whose will has been freed . . . and who is thus enabled to co-create the cosmos together with God. God’s top priority is the creation of a world in which the goods of the earth are equitably distributed, where no one is forgotten or left out, and where no one can rest until everyone has enough to eat, the oppressed have been liberated, and justice and peace are the norm among the nations and religions of the world. Until then, even the joy of transforming union is incomplete. The commitment to the spiritual journey is not a commitment to pure joy, but to taking responsibility for the whole human family, its needs and destiny. We are not our own; we belong to everyone else.”