Reading the Psalms: Griffiths, Lewis & Merton

Reading the Psalms:
Thomas Merton, C.S. Lewis and Bede Griffiths

( by Ron Dart)

I

Thomas Merton (1915-1968), C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) and Bede Griffiths
(1906-1993) are, probably, three of the most significant Christian
writers of the 20th century. Lewis held Merton in high regard and Lewis-
Griffiths had a decades long friendship. Merton thought Lewis was a
superb writer and many were his affinities with Griffiths. Each of these
men have their loyal followers and, sadly so, some of the disciples know
little of how each of the men respected one another. Lewis was a lay
Anglican, but he would have read the Psalms once a month as a result
of living through Anglican Morning and Evening Prayers, whereas
Griffiths and Merton were monks, hence each would have read the
Psalms once a week in the Divine Offices. This means that each of the
men was thoroughly acquainted with the Psalms and the dilemmas
raised by their confessional nature.

The fact that Lewis, Griffiths and Merton meditatively internalized the
Psalms meant that they had to, in their faith journey, ponder how to
read the Psalter, some psalms being quite uplifting in their vision and
description of the inner journey, others being quite graphic in their
vindictive attitudes, some being quite noble in their political vision,
others being quite warrior like and tribal. It was, therefore, in the
reading of the Psalms, in a regular way, that Lewis, Griffiths and
Merton, as they attempted to interpret and make sense of their faith
journey, struggled with how to read the Psalms. It was in this inner
pondering of faith experience of the various writers of the Psalms and
Lewis’, Griffiths’ and Merton’s understanding of their Christian journey
that, inevitably so, nudged each of the men to write a book on the
Psalms.

Merton was the first to write a book on the Psalms, dedicated to Jean
Danielou (who he considered a spiritual father of sorts). Bread in the
Wilderness was published in 1953, and although Merton, wrongly so, I
think, thought it one of his “fair” books (it should, perhaps, be in the
category of “good” or “better”), the missive reflects the younger
Merton engaging the Psalms in a nuanced manner. Lewis published
Reflections on the Psalms in 1961, and it is dedicated to one of the
finest 20th century Anglican theologians, Austin Farrer, and his wife,
Katharine Farrer. Roland Ropers edited for Griffiths his more
controversial Psalms for Christian Prayer that was published after
Griffiths’ death in 1995, although there is a fine “Introduction” by
Griffiths written, obviously, before his death in 1993.

Lewis, Griffiths and Merton each approached and read the Psalms in
different ways, and the purpose of this short essay is to examine how
their approach is different and the difference it makes.

II

Merton and the Psalms

Merton was younger than Lewis and Griffiths, but his commitment to
the Cistercian journey in 1941 and the fact his initial Abbot encouraged
him to write meant that Merton threaded together, throughout all his
monastic life, the external structure of the monastic journey (which
meant reading the Psalms once a week), his internal appropriation of
the Psalms and his attempt to articulate the relationship between the
Psalms, personal experience and contemplation. The sheer success of
Merton’s Seven Story Mountain in 1948 made it abundantly clear that
Merton had writing gifts that needed to be encouraged (both for
Merton’s sake and the monastery). Merton had lived the Divine Office
for almost ten years before he wrote Bread in the Wilderness. The book
was ready to go to print in 1950, but because of contractual conflicts, it
did not leave the publishing tarmac until 1953. But, Bread in the
Wilderness reflects and embodies significant aspects of the monastic
and contemplative approach to reading the Psalms. The book does
have its limitations and weak points, but, for the most part, there is
much substance and depth in it that is worth the heeding. There is a
regrettable tendency, amongst some Merton scholars, of the more
liberal left bent, to see the Merton of the 1960s as the real and mature
Merton—this approach tends to negate the fact that Merton had
significant commitments to the traditional monastic way of seeing and
being, and his read of the Psalms in Bread in the Wilderness has
something quite perennial about it (at the core). Merton lived with
many a tension, and one of the tensions was between the classical and
modern, and he had the judicious wisdom to say sic et non to both.
The original publication by New Directions publishing in 1953 of Bread
in the Wilderness had, on the front cover, the graphic and not to be
forgotten head of “this terrible masterpiece” of the Le Devot Christ that
hangs in the chapel beside the Cathedral of Perpignan in Southern
France. It is a gruesome carving of the suffering Christ still on the cross,
and each section of Bread in the Wilderness highlights different parts of
the crucifix. The 1954 edition of Bread in the Wilderness (London: Hollis
& Carter) has a more benign front cover with seeds in the soil rising to
mature form, but Le Devot Christ is included in the main content of the
book. Merton had, obviously, wanted to make it clear that the Psalms
were not meant to be merely literature, but, as his introductory
passage from Mark 8:4 indicates, “bread in the wilderness”– -Le Devot
Christ is the Christ ever on the cross, then and now, the cross and the
wilderness being at one. It was then, for Merton, the intimate
connection between the daily readings of the Psalms, Le Devot Christ,
various notions of wilderness in soul and society from which the Psalms
as bread in the wilderness had to be set and seen. In short, wilderness
and a being still on the cross are the context within which the Psalms
could be best read.

Bread in the Wilderness is divided into five main sections with a
“Prologue” and “Epilogue” acting as bookends to the substance of the
text. There is a sense in which Merton is offering the reader a literary
and literate way to read the Psalms that nourishes the soul and society
in the wilderness of time. The five sections clarify, in an incisive
manner, how to read the Psalms from within a classical monastic
context that also has a perennial and non-monastic appeal to it. Each of
the five sections walk the attentive read deeper into ways and means
of, in a more mature manner, internalizing the Psalms: 1) Psalms and
Contemplation, 2) Poetry, Symbolism and Typology, 3) Sacramenta
Scripturarum, 4) The Perfect Law of Liberty and 5) The Shadow of Thy
Wings. Each of these five main sections are then broken down into
smaller areas worth the pondering. Merton does not flinch from facing
into the difficult psalms and offering interpretations of them, but he is
equally committed to understand how to read them in a meditative and
contemplative manner, given the fact monks recite the full Psalter once
a week. Needless to say, such a formal approach within the monastic
tradition can, if not careful, become merely formality and the
existential meaning of the Psalms can be missed. Bread in the
Wilderness is, in its unique and uncanny way, a contemplative
exegetical, philosophical, theological, ecclesial and public
hermeneutical portal into the Psalms beginning with tragedy and
suffering as a given in the all too human journey. Needless to say, such
an approach, when rightly understood, avoids the pitfalls of a sort of
thin devotionalism and deadening formalism. The task of knowing how
to read religious literature is, probably, more important than, simply,
just reading it. Bread in the Wilderness offers a wise and discerning
“how”, hence, in some ways, the reason this packed missive is more
than a “Fair” book in Merton’s ranking of his published writings.
Bread in the Wilderness, as I mentioned above, is, in some senses,
Merton’s layered summing up of his nuanced approach, drawn from
the classical Christian and monastic ethos, of how to read the Psalms,
now almost ten years being a monk and living what he is writing about.

There can be no doubt that the themes of wilderness, the crucified and
suffering Christ, the Christ who is still, in some ways, still on the cross
will remain with Merton throughout the 1950s until his death in 1968.
There is, then, the obvious sense that Merton reads the Psalms in a
Christocentric manner that is immersed in the most painful aspects of
the human journey but in which hope and healing, transformation and
liberty are essential to such a pilgrimage.

If Merton embraced and accepted all the Psalms and offered a nuanced
way to read them, how was Lewis’ approach similar yet different?

III

C.S. Lewis: Reading the Psalms

There has been a historic tendency to ignore Lewis’ admiration for
Merton and Merton’s respect for Lewis. I have touched on their mutual
honouring of one another in my article, “C.S. Lewis and Thomas
Merton: Soul Friends” (Crux: A Quarterly Journal of Christian Thought
and Opinion published by Regent College: Summer 2014, Vol. 50, No.2)
—if only the followers of Lewis and Merton were as gracious and
generous as their teachers. Lewis was a catholic Anglican who, true to
the Prayer Book, would have traversed the Psalms once a month in
Morning and Evening Prayers. This means, in Lewis’ many reads of the
Psalms (12 times a years) he would have had to make sense of both the
appeal of the finest and most contemplative psalms and some of the
most vindictive, violent and war like psalms Were all of the psalms to
be read and inwardly digested with equal authority or was there a more
complex way of reading the psalms? Obviously, Merton and Lewis
leaned towards the latter approach, both being literary men with
contemplative bents and leanings (Merton more focused in such a
path and vocation than Lewis) yet their method in making sense of the
Psalms somewhat different. The turn and publication by Lewis in his
read of the Psalms emerges in Reflections on the Psalms, published in
1961 (reflecting, in some ways, Lewis’ decades long ponderings on how
to read the Psalms. The fact Reflections on the Psalms is dedicated to
Austin and Katharine Farrer (Austin being a significant Anglican Divine
and theologian who only in the last few years is being given his rightful
due) speaks much about the Lewis-Farrer relationship that delved deep
and deeper into exegesis, theology, philosophy, ecclesiology and public
life. Needless to say, Farrer held Lewis in high regard as a theologian
and exegete (something that is often ignored in Lewis studies).

Reflections on the Psalms is divided in twelve short chapters with
Appendix I– Selected Psalms and Appendix II—Psalms discussed or
mentioned as a finale of sorts. Each chapter tends to be more
discursive than Merton’s approach, but the major theses are reflected
upon is suggestive detail. There is a sense in which each chapter needs
to be read a few times and meditatively reflected upon at various
levels. The chapter headings speak for themselves: 1) Introduction, 2)
“Judgement” in the Psalms, 3) The Cursings, 4) Death in the Psalms, 5)
“The Fair Beauty of the Lord”, 6) “Sweeter than Honey”, 7) Connivance,
8) Nature, 9) A Word about Praising, 10) Second Meanings, 11)
Scripture, 12) Second Meanings in the Psalms.

Lewis, like Merton, and unlike Griffiths, accepted the fullness of the
Psalter. This meant Lewis and Merton had to deal with many of the
vindictive, enemy, battle cry, nationalist psalms which seemed so
contrary to the teachings of Christ in the New Testament. Merton
tended to look into some psalms but, true to form (which I will discuss
later) gave them a Christological, allegorical or typological
interpretation (rather than a merely literal). Lewis, being a Medieval-
Renaissance scholar, acknowledged these reads, but he was also
interested on understanding the literal, historic and root experiences of
such psalms. “Judgment” in the Psalms (II) and “The Cursings” (III)
probes the reasons why such psalms are in Scripture. What were the
varied historic experiences of the Jewish writers that would legitimate
some of the ethnic and nationalist, vindictive and judgmental psalms
that are included in the Psalms? It is these questions raised by Lewis
(not, of course, legitimating such attitudes or actions) that makes Lewis’
more layered historic literalism worth many a read: II-III are must reads
in Reflections on the Psalms on an approach to the problematic psalms
that both embraces all the psalms and does so without, initially, going
down the allegorical, typological or Christological route. This does not
mean, though, that Lewis ignores this approach. But, in II-III, he
ponders, ways of why some psalmists had such a dualistic worldview
(something which Griffiths engages in quite a different way).

Bread in the Wilderness is, in many ways, committed to understanding
the relationship between the contemplative, poetry, symbolism,
typology and the Sacramenta Scripturarum. Such an approach to
reading the Psalms is, obviously, quite different from a literal,
grammatical, historic and linguistic approach. The final section of
Reflections on the Psalms has many an affinity with Merton. Lewis and
Merton were both immersed in the classical catholic vision. Lewis calls
his approach, “Second Meanings” (X), “Scripture” (XI) and “Second
Meanings in the Psalms” (XII). Needless to say, Lewis, like Merton,
attempted to avoid the reductionism of, on the one hand, the reading
of the Psalms, to the literal and historical, and, on the other hand, an
irresponsible allegorizing of the Psalms. This more nuanced and refined
via media of sorts, recognized the Psalms could be read at a variety of
levels, and the second meanings could illuminate the journey of the
soul in a way the first order meanings could not (which did not mean
the literal-historic approach should be denied at a certain level). Lewis
delves into more depth and detail in chapters X-XII on how and why
second meanings are more significant than does Merton, although
both, from different angles, reach some similar conclusions (Merton
somewhat more, obviously, monastic and Roman Catholic than Lewis
might be). But, both men, drawing from a Classical and Medieval
approach to Scripture (Lewis more grounded the Renaissance tradition
than Merton) hold high the integration and prioritizing of the literal,
allegorical, typological and Christological read of the Psalms, Lewis,
perhaps, more willing to engage some of the higher-lower criticism and
historic reasons for the nationalist and battle cry psalms. It was this
ongoing tension that needed to be held together for a more
appropriate reading of the Psalms that Lewis and Merton, from
different approaches, agreed upon. It is in this sense that Bread in the
Wilderness and Reflections on the Psalms need to be read together, the
former more contemplative and monastic in focus, the latter more
discursive and analytical in tendency, although both books share much
in common. It should be noted that chapters in X-XII in Reflections on
the Psalms reveals, in many ways, Lewis’ broader Biblical and exegetical
hermeneutic.

Bede Griffiths’ had a more controversial approach to reading the
Psalms (more selective than comprehensive) that separates his
approach from Merton and Lewis.

IV

Bede Griffiths: Reading the Psalms

Griffiths, like Merton and Lewis, was acutely aware of the various ways
of reading the Psalms. There was, of course, the literal and historic
level, then, in ascending order, the allegorical culminating in the
Christological. But, Griffiths was enough of a modern person to linger at
the literal and historic level of the Psalms, and he was taken by the
beauty and suggestive wisdom of some psalms and appalled by many
other psalms. How were the 150 psalms to be read through a
Christocentric lens, given the fact Christ could be generous to the other,
called for forgiveness, a loving of the enemy, chose to suffer violence
than inflict it and he certainly leaned in a more dovish than hawkish
direction, whereas many psalms which were about war, violence, a
destroying of the enemy, God blessing the slaughter of other nations
and the Jews being God’s chosen and elect people? Griffiths approach
to dealing with these obvious disparities was quite different from that
of Merton and Lewis.

Griffiths in the “Introduction” to Psalms for Christian Prayer suggested
there were two at odds traditions within the Jewish heritage. There was
the “dualist” heritage in which the Jews were a special and holy people
(set apart by a holy God) and anything which threatened to undermine
such a unique position was seen as the opponent, enemy and had to be
destroyed. In short, there was a right-wrong mentality and some of the
Jewish psalmist saw themselves, their nation and God as in the right
and those who differed with them as in the wrong. Such a simplistic
“dualism” played quite nicely into the aggressive and violent psalms
that led, in practice, to a tragic treatment of the other. But, within the
Biblical tradition, there was the “universalist” tendency. Such a pathway
led to justice, peacemaking, reconciliation, forgiveness and grace towards
the other. There are, of course, many psalms that embody and reflect this
more “universalist” and, in many ways, prophetic and Christological approach.

Merton and Lewis accepted the 150 Psalms as a canonical and
integrated whole, whereas Griffiths, in a way that set him at odds with
others, argued that the psalms that reflected a more “dualistic”
worldview were dated– -psalms that legitimated war and violence were
not worth the reading or meditating upon. This meant a sort of purging
had to take place within the Psalms that would, when complete, reflect
the more “universalist” ethos of both Jewish prophetic thought and a
more Christological read. Psalms for Christian Prayer, to the chagrin of
many, deletes 55 psalms and presents to the reader the more perennial
psalms that are, obviously, of a more “universalist” bent.
Was this the best way to deal with the layered and complex nature of
the Psalms? Obviously, this was not the path taken by Merton and
Lewis, although both men shared Griffiths’ concerns about the more
“dualistic” psalms. Lewis attempted to explain why such a way of
thinking emerged and occurred in the psalms, critiqued such a way of
doing confessional poetry but retained the 150 Psalms. Merton did not
go to the same lengths as Lewis in dissecting and differing with the
“dualistic” psalms, but Bread in the Wilderness would certainly have
many an affinity with Lewis and Griffiths. The question, then, became
how to interpret and what should be done with the Zeus, Odin and
Jupiter like psalms? There could be no doubt that each of the psalms
were not to be held with the same reverence and dignity. And, many
did not reflect a more enlightened notion of God, the faith journey and
nationhood. Were all psalms, in a sense, equally inspired, or were many
psalms included as a way of seeing how the faith journey could go
askew and others aright? Such an approach, necessarily, even at the
literal and historic level, raises needful questions about higher and
lower texts and higher and lower ways of reading such poetry.

The fact Griffiths in Psalms for Christian Prayer chose to delete what he
thought “dualistic” psalms and create a psalter of “universalist” psalms
has its boosters and knockers. Was this sanitizing of the text the best
and most appropriate path to take or was the Merton-Lewis approach
the more mature? I suspect, in time, Griffiths’ well intentioned
approach will wane while the more comprehensive read of Merton and
Lewis will wax well and survive the test of the decades. Needless to say,
the sensitive reader need not embrace the “dualistic” psalms but in the
reading of them insights can be offered on how many interpret their
faith journey with God and in community. The nationalist and dualist
attitude does ever linger and such psalms do reflect a way of seeing
faith. The more prophetic Jewish way and Christian Christocentric
approach, though, does take the reader through a different world and
into a starkly different ethos of faith, community and politics. There is a
sense in the Psalms that two different types of faith can take hold and
root, and depending on the seeds planted, a different tree and fruit will
appear. This is, perhaps, the genius of the Psalms– -we are offered two
paths– — dualism or universalism– -both paths take the committed to
different destinations and graphically different consequences. Each
must choose and, in the end, each must live with the consequences of
such choices.

V

Reading the Psalms:

Merton, Lewis and Griffiths

Bede Griffiths, drawing from St. Benedict, in his “Introduction” to
Psalms for Christian Prayer, stated that although Benedict arranged for
the Psalms to be meditatively chanted in a week, he felt this was a
compromise– — the “holy fathers were wont to recite in a single day
what we tepid monks may only sing in a week”. There can be no doubt,
within the monastic and Anglican Prayer Book, the Psalms were read
more often and consistently than any other book in the Bible. The
question then became, in such frequent reading, given the diverse
nature of the Psalms, was this: how are the Psalms to be read? Should
the more vindictive, enemy oriented, war like psalms be included in the
Psalter? If so, what did this say about the nature of God and the
spirituality of the Jews (as the chosen people)? Should many of the
more graphic and raw psalms be viewed in a more descriptive rather
than prescriptive manner, hence more a reflection of the varied
seasons of the faith journey? Merton recognized that the literal
approach had some merit, but he was quick to read the psalms in a
more literary, typological, allegorical and Christological manner. Lewis
probed the literal read deeper and further than Merton, but in his
chapters in “Second Meanings”, he has much affinity with Merton.

Merton and Lewis did, though, accept the 150 Psalms as the
confessional tradition that they faithfully used, although their
exegetical approach was layered and nuanced. Griffiths, Merton and
Lewis all agreed there were troubling psalms, but their approach was
different. Griffiths lingered longer at the literal level (he was, obviously,
aware of the allegorical sense), but he thought the more descriptive
and “dualist” psalms did not reflect a mature and healthy spirituality,
hence they needed to be weeded from the Psalms– -only 95 of the 150
Psalms remained after Griffith’s pruning.

Which approach to reading the Psalms is the best? Merton, Lewis and
Griffiths equally agreed that there were many ennobling and laudatory
psalms. They equally agreed there were troubling psalms. The question
then was what was to be done with the troubling psalms? Griffiths took
the more extreme approach, Lewis and Merton the more moderate
pathway. How would Griffiths, if he had entered into dialogue with
Merton and Lewis on this issue have engaged them? Why would Lewis
and Merton differ with Griffiths’ approach and would Griffiths’ have
heeded, heard them and changed his mind? There can be no doubt,
though, knowing how to read the Psalms is, probably, more important
than merely reading the Psalms.

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Bede’s mahasamadhi

24 years ago today, 13 May, Fr. Bede entered mahasamadhi. We give thanks for his goodness and grace, his light and his love.

bedeblue

(From Return to the Center)

Where then is this eternal religion––the sanatana dharma…––to be found?  It is to be found in every religion as its ground or source, but it is beyond all formulation.  It is the reality behind all rites, the truth behind all dogmas, the justice behind all laws.  But it is also to be found in the heart of every [person].  It is they law ‘written on their hearts.’  It is not known by sense or reason but by the experience of the soul in its depths.  Of this it has been said:

Thy natural senses cannot possess God or unite thee to him; nay, thy inward faculties of understanding, will, and memory, can only reach after God, but cannot be the place of his habitation in thee.  But there is a root or depth in thee from whence all these faculties come forth, as lines from a center or as branches from the body of the tree.  This depth s called the Center, the Fund or Bottom of the soul.  This depth is the unity, the eternity, I had almost said the infinity of thy soul; for it is so infinite that nothing can satisfy it or give it any rest but the infinity of God.[1]

It is in this depth that all true religion is to be found.  It is the source from which all religion springs, the goal to which it aspires, and it is present in the heart of every [person].  It was from this Center that man fell and it is to this Center that he must return.  Every religion seeks to make this known and to map out the path of return.[2]

bedemaha

 

[1] William Law, The Spirit of Prayer, ch 11.

[2] Bede Griffiths, Return to the Center, p. 99ff

 

 

Holy Thursday & Good Friday

MAUNDY THURSDAY – INSTITUTION OF THE EUCHARIST AND THE WASHING OF THE FEET
(Brother Martin)


Christ said to Pilate ‘ I came to bear witness to the Truth’. The truth that Jesus bore witness to was the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the fullness of the love of God manifesting in the fullness of the love of neighbour. It is the transformation of our normal day life into actions of God, into the life of God. The Eucharist represents this truth of the kingdom of God. Jesus took the bread and wine, the symbols of finite and ordinary life and elevated them into divine, into the manifestation of God, into the body and blood of God. He shared that manifestation of God to his disciples. Transformation of bread and wine is the fullness of the love of God. Sharing that manifestation with our neighbours is the love of neighbour. In this sense our whole life becomes a continuous Eucharistic celebration, twenty four hours of the day. Every human being, both male and female, become priests. To become priests is the universal call of all human beings.

In St. John’s gospel we have the washing of the feet. This is also another version of celebrating the Eucharist. To raise our consciousness to the level of the Son of God or the Daughter of God is the fullness of the love of God. This transformed consciousness lives for the welfare of the others, washing the feet, the love of neighbour. Hence the washing of the feet is also bearing witness to the Truth, the kingdom of God. Jesus invited everyone to do the same: do this in memory of me.
These two rituals reveal also a God, who is humble, who comes to serve humanity, a saviour who comes to serve his fellow human beings. We are all invited to grow into the fullness of the love of God and into the fullness of the love of neighbour and bear witness to that truth by making our daily life into a continuous Eucharistic celebrations and washing the feet of our brothers and sisters and allowing them to wash our feet. Jesus said, just as I have washed your feet so also you must wash one another feet. Relate with one another from the fullness of the love of God. This is the message we receive today for Maundy Thursday.

Good Friday: the day when Jesus Christ was crucified.


One day I was travelling from France to Spain in a train. There was a french lady who was sitting in front of me going for holidays in Spain. I told her that I am a catholic monk travelling giving some seminars on spiritual life. She told me that she cannot enter the church because of Christ hanging on the cross and blood flowing. It is a very disturbing scene, she said. This might be the expression of many people today. How do we understand the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ?  Shall we remove crucifixions from the churches?

The Crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the Crucifixion of the Truth. This is not only an historical event which happened two thousand years ago but a cosmic event which is happening all the time, before Jesus Christ and after Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ represents the fullness of Truth. The fullness of Truth means unity. The fullness of Truth breaks down all the artificial boundaries made by the human mind and brings unity, peace and non-violence in the world. There are four levels of truth: individual truth, which makes individual boundaries; collective truth which makes collective boundaries, universal truth which makes a universal boundary between God and creation and finally divine truth which creates harmony among all these. In Hindu tradition, the first truth is called Kali Yuga, the second truth is Dwapara Yuga, the third one is Tretha Yuga and the fourth one Sathya Yuga. In the first three yugas there will be good and evil but in the fourth yuga there will be only absolute good without evil. Jesus Christ lived in Sathya yuga, the fullness of Truth. He invited everyone to grow into the fullness of Truth, which he described as the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the one hundred percent love of God manifesting in the one hundred percent love of neighbour. It is the transformation of our life into God’s life and transformation of our actions into God’s actions.

The crucifixion of Jesus is the consequence of the refusal on the part of Jesus’ listeners to grow from the relative truths into the fullness of Truth, into Sathya Yuga. His listeners were in the collective truth and Jesus invited them to grow into the divine truth. To the persons who lived in the collective truths the fullness of truth appeared to be blasphemy.

There are two ways we can crucify the truth: one by refusing to grow from the relative truths into the fullness of truth; second by reducing the fullness of truth into the fragmentary belief systems. These crucifixions were happening before Jesus Christ and they are happening after Jesus Christ. The fact that humanity was divided in the name of truth before Jesus Christ was the sign of the Crucifixion of Truth and the fact that today humanity is divided after Jesus Christ is the sign of the Crucifixion of Truth. Truth means unity. Where there is unity there is peace and non-violence. Where there is division there is the crucifixion of truth. Unfortunately Christians have crucified Truth/Christ by creating thousands of divisions in the name of Truth of Christ. Division brings violence. Wherever people are killed in the name of nationality, in the name of ethnic groups, in the name of race, in the name of religions there Truth is crucified, there Christ is crucified. Wherever there is bloodshed in the name of the things mentioned above there is the crucifixion of Truth, there is the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, there the blood of Christ is flowing. Christ or Truth is still being crucified. Everyone who suffers for the sake of unity, who sheds his/her blood for the sake of unity is participating in the crucifixion of Truth/Christ. Jesus Christ died for unity, for peace and for non-violence. As we remember the death of Jesus on the cross, the Good Friday, as we look at the crucifixion where the body of Jesus is hanging with blood flowing, we need to reflect whether we are living from the fullness of the Truth of Christ or we have crucified the Truth into fragmented belief systems,whether we are living in unity or in divisions, whether we contribute for peace or for violence, whether we live in wisdom or in ignorance?

It is very disturbing to see some one hanging on the cross but when we realise that we are crucifying the Truth within us and that crucifixion manifests in the blood shed in the world outside then the crucifixion invites us all to break down all the artificial boundaries that we have created in the name of God, in the name of religions, in the name of scriptures, in the name of nationalities, in the name of race, in the name of colour, in the name of ethnic groups and enter into the fullness of Truth,the kingdom of God, where we find unity, peace and non-violence. May this Good Friday be a day of repentance from divisions to Unity, from violence to Peace, from ignorance to wisdom.
(Crucifixion is not an end itself. It opens the door to the victory of Truth or Unity or peace over relative truths, over divisions and violence. This we shall see tomorrow.)

thoughts about meditation

MEDITATION
(Br. Martin)

The ultimate purpose of meditation is to go beyond the positive and the negative projections of our mind and to discover our true self. It is then we see God as ‘I am’, without any mental projections. The categories of the mind are like the clothes we put on, covering our true self. When we are free of the mental images, we have a much deeper relationship with God. God is within us. In silencing the mind, we go beyond the images and the non-images and we unite with God. We see reality.

According to the sages, our identification with ourselves is so strong, and our minds are so conditioned, that we cannot be free from self-identification without certain processes of purification, such as meditation. Inner silence takes place when we go beyond self-identification and projections and when our mind is free of all personal desires and ambitions. As long as we are preoccupied with our own projects, we are not open to listen to the projects of God. Only when I am empty of all my projects, will I be able to ask God ‘What can I do for you? ‘The will of God manifests according to God’s plan. We shouldn’t be violent within ourselves by asking this question of God before we feel ready. It is normal that at the beginning of our spiritual growth we have our own goals and projects. God allows that. But the day will come when I have realized all I want to realize and I don’t see any projects before me anymore, and then I can surrender myself completely to God.

The purpose of spiritual exercise, such as meditation, is nothing more than to purify this sense of separation and individuality, and to bring us to unity with God through discovering our true self. It can happen that when we find our true self, we find great fulfilment there. Saint Paul said ‘I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain’ (Phil. 1:24-25). When we find our true self, it is as though our journey has ended and there is nothing more to achieve, but then we discover that that is the point at which God’s work begins.

(EXTRACT FROM THE FOUR O’CLOCK TALKS Discussions with John Martin Sahajananda compiled by Carrie Lock P.202)

remembering Sr. Mary Louise

Sister Mary Louise Cutinha (1933-2017)

Having entered the Franciscan Servants of Mary in 1953, Sister Mary Louise Cutinha served long years as a Franciscan in the rule of the Third Order Regular of Saint Francis. She eventually followed Father Bede and joined the Camaldolese congregation in 1994. She did her monastic formation with the FSM sisters (est. 1852) in Blois, France, just south of Paris where she trained as a nurse and served for ten years. When she returned to India in the mid-1960s, she was put in charge of the FSM novitiate at Salem, Tamil Nadu. It was here that she discovered an element of spiritual dissatisfaction in her monastic life. But unable to identify the problem, a breakthrough came only when an English monk-priest, unknown to her then, came to give a day of reflection at the novitiate. Later, speaking of this day when she met Father Bede Griffiths, she exclaimed, “I felt an energy, like that of a gazelle passing through me”.

She was then sent to Switzerland for a two-year course on spirituality and there read something Father Monchanin had written about Shantivanam. Once back in India, she contacted Father Bede and in 1975, visited Shantivanam. She came again for a follow-up visit but when the agreed-upon time expired, she found herself unable to take leave of the forest Ashram she had already come to love. Thus, instead of returning to the relatively comfortable life of the FSM sisters in Bangalore, she chose a life of poverty on the banks of the Kaveri. Fr. Bede blessed her simple kutir made from Shantivanam earth on Easter Sunday in the Eucalyptus grove adjacent to the Ashram. In the months that followed, she gathered firewood from the surrounding forest and brought water from the river to cook her modest meals. Friends that came from France to visit were astounded at the severity of her meager living conditions. When the river broke bank in 1977 and her mud-hut was completely inundated, Father Bede turned up with a torch at 5am in the morning. Word reached well-wishers in France that she had fallen on hard times and offers were made to purchase the land to establish a small Ashram with proper living quarters. On 10th October, 1977, Father Bede laid the foundation stone, and on 26th March, 1978, Ananda Ashram was formally established.

Mary Louise cleared the brush and removed non-productive mango trees, planted coconut palms and banana trees, and registered and fenced the new parcel of land. The endowment from France allowed her to build a cowshed, more substantial living quarters and simple huts for visitors. A budding retreat ministry brought visitors from Europe and elsewhere. Together with the modest income her 8.5-acre plantation generated, she engaged in social outreach among local villagers. She hired those desperate for work out of concern for their well-being. The material aid she rendered was greatly enhanced by a loving heart and the personal concern she showed those who sought her help including the many pilgrims who came from around the world in search of a deeper encounter with their faith.

Her retreat ministry and outreach thrived for nearly four decades until the spring of 2012 when she suffered a heart attack. Cardiologists in Trichy said the condition (myocardial infarction) was serious and that beyond bedrest, no viable treatment protocol could be recommended. After several months of rest, at the end of 2012 she resumed some of her former duties. In April 2016, however, she suffered another medical setback and was bedridden.

The final year of her life was spent principally in her quarters under the care of Sister Neethi, Sister Mercy and Sister Sanjeevani where she received occasional visitors. On Friday, 10th March, Sister Marie Louise, affectionately called by all who knew her ‘Amma’, became very weak. On 11th March, when her close friend Fr. X. D. Selvaraj celebrated Mass in her room together with Sr. Neethi and Sr. Mercy, Amma received communion and managed to swallow a few drops of water. But this was the last she ate or drank. The next day, on Sunday, 12th March around 8.45 pm, she peacefully breathed her last.

The funeral mass took place in the chapel at Shantivanam on Tuesday, 14th March with most Rev. Anthony Devotta, Bishop of Trichy presiding and Fr. Selvaraj giving the homily. Br. Martin offered an introduction and Sr. Neethi presented the eulogy. Gathered were 150 friends, monastic sisters and brothers and family members. Her remains were interred at a site in Ananda Ashram, just opposite the entrance to the chapel at Shativanam.

Born Carmin Cecelia to a devout Catholic family in Mangalore, Karnataka on 12th July, 1933, Sister Mary Louise was the third of four children. She is survived by her younger brother, Edward Cutinha, and is mourned by the many who came to know and love her over the years of her long monastic career.

[The foregoing is based on the eulogy delivered by Sr. Neethi (and other sharings from the funeral Mass) on 14th March, 2017 as well as on anecdotes from community members, family and friends; compiled and edited by Michael Highburger]
Black/white photo taken by New York photographer James Nicholls, Jan 2009

Sr. Mary Louise

Sister Mary Louise passed away on Sunday March 12, 2017.
She will always be lovingly remembered by all the friends and oblates of Shantivanam.
We send our condolences to the community of Ananda Ashram and Shantivanam.
May God continue to shower his Love on her and her community.

Bede Griffiths & C.S. Lewis

rons-lewis-griffiths-book-cover

                           C.S. Lewis and Bede Griffiths: Spiritual Friendship

           It was through him (Lewis) that I really discovered the
meaning of friendship….When we last met, a month
before his death, he reminded me that we had been
friends for nearly forty years. There are not many things
more precious to me than that friendship.
–Bede Griffiths
“The Adventure of Faith”
_________________________________________

           A man should keep his friendship in constant repair.
–Samuel Johnson

(Ron Dart)

C.S. Lewis was one of the most prominent Medieval and Renaissance scholars at, initially, Oxford then Cambridge, from the 1930s until 1963 (when he died). Bede Griffiths was, as a young man, a student of Lewis, and, both men came to Christianity together from about 1929-1932. The relationship, as time unfolded, changed from teacher-student to, through many a trying moment, pure gold friends. It is somewhat significant that Bede Griffiths gave Lewis a copy of Aelrid of Rievaulx’s Spiritual Friendship (acknowledged by Lewis in a letter to Griffiths: May 26 1943). Aelrid was the much loved Abbot of Rievaulx and his missive on “spiritual friendship” is a classic in western spirituality. It is quite appropriate that Lewis and Griffiths (both immersed in the mother lode of the classical and western tradition with a generous openness to the East and Orient) would have held high the notion of friendship and Aelrid’s beauty of a text on the subject.

I have, for many a decade and for different reasons, been attracted to both Lewis and Griffiths, and my small book, C.S. Lewis and Bede Griffiths: Chief Companions (2016) highlights the layered friendship between Lewis and Griffiths over many a decade. Griffiths, after the death of Lewis in 1963, often came to the defence of Lewis in The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal. The fact that few Griffiths keeners know much about the many letters by Griffiths to The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal means a significant aspect of both Griffiths’ and Lewis’ friendship is not known about. The more the letters by Griffiths about Lewis to the Journal are read and pondered, the richer becomes our understanding of Lewis and Griffiths (and their friendship). And, as Griffiths noted, “There are not many things more precious to me than that friendship”.

It is somewhat interesting that many a fan of Lewis knows little about the Lewis-Griffiths friendship and, equally so, many who have the highest admiration for Griffiths know little about Griffiths’ close friendship with Lewis. Why is this the case? There are tendencies, of course, to freeze thinkers and activists within certain time frames, then reduce their complexity and nimbleness to simplistic categories. Creative, thoughtful and innovative thinkers can rarely be cabin’d, cribb’d and confin’d in such a way, but often followers and interpreters do this for the purpose of comparing and contrasting, highlighting who best reflects their agendas. Lewis and Griffiths, decidedly so, elude such caging and embalming. Lewis certainly cannot be reduced to an apologist for reformed and evangelical Christianity no more than he can be defined as a conservative/republican in politics—sadly so, this has often been done. Lewis is much more catholic and spacious than his followers and adherents make him out to be. The same can be said about Griffiths. How is Griffiths to be interpreted? Was he, at day’s end, a sophisticated syncretist or a Roman Catholic with an achingly high view of common grace? Was Griffiths merely a post-Vatican II progressive or more of a patristic contemplative theologian that applied Classical Christian meditative thought to comparative religions? How are we to read and interpret the nuanced and subtle insights and wisdom of Lewis and Griffiths? The danger, as mentioned above, is to simplify their thinking for the purpose of too easy categorization.

The fact that Lewis and Griffiths had a decades long friendship should caution one and all about studying one to the exclusion of the other. There are more than forty letters between 1929 and 1960 that Lewis wrote about Griffiths or to Griffiths. Most of these letters cover the main themes of faith, contemplation, literature, politics, war/peace, ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, Biblical criticism and church life. After Lewis died in the autumn of 1963 (Griffiths was in India by that time), Griffiths wrote two articles on Lewis (“The Adventure of Faith: 1979” and “Forty Years’ Retrospective: 2001”) that described and discussed their ever deepening friendship. “The Adventure of Faith” is a much longer, in depth and detailed article, whereas “Forty Years’ Retrospective” (originally published in The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal, Summer 1984) is shorter and more poignant. I’m quite fortunate to have the only hard bound editions of The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal that Stephen Scofield started in 1979 and passed onto Roger Stronstad in 1993. I also have the letters by Griffiths to Scofield in a file, including his final letter to the Journal (April 21 1990) in which Griffiths defends Lewis against unnecessary remarks by both the Bishop of Oxford (Richard Harries) and the Archbishop of Canterbury (Robert Runcie). The friendship of Griffiths towards Lewis did extend until near the end of Griffiths’ all too human journey in 1993.

It is somewhat significant that when Lewis published his first rather abstract faith autobiography, The Pilgrim’s Regress, in 1933, Griffiths charged into the book review fray and attempted to correct his former teacher on his use of “mother kirk”. Lewis, in a couple of letters to Griffiths in 1936, cautioned the too triumphalistic Griffiths to be less confrontational and more ecumenic and irenic—their friendship was sorely tested by Griffiths’ review but Lewis made it clear that friendships that cannot weather the storms of ecclesial schism need much pondering. There can be no doubt that the young Griffiths (then in his late twenties) learned much from the gracious mentoring of Lewis. It is understandable, therefore, near the end of Griffiths’ life why he came to Lewis’ defence in The Canadian C.S. Lewis Journal. 

The publication in 1948 of Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain sold well and in haste. Both Lewis and Griffiths were ripe to tell their tales given the success of Merton’s autobiography. The publication of The Golden String and Surprised by Joy (which was dedicated to Bede Griffiths) were both published in the early years of the 1950s. Lewis was much better known than Griffiths at the time, but Griffiths was definitely emerging into his vocation. India was yet before him, the seeds were in the soil and within a decade Griffiths would leave England and settle in India. But, both men in their sensitive and probing autobiographies made it abundantly clear that their pilgrimages to Christianity took place together between 1929-1932 —-Lewis, in fact, called Griffiths his “chief companion” on his pathway to Christianity. Needless to say, their faith journeys would take them on many an unanticipated trail after 1932, but it was their friendship that knit them together. Probably, one of the most significant issues for Lewis and Griffiths after their conversions was the needful pondering of contemplative interfaith dialogue. Griffiths would take the lead on this in the 1940s and 1950s (and, in time, become a definite elder, abba and pioneer in the area). But, in the 1930s and 1940s, the seed was still in the soil awaiting the appropriate season to break through its constricting skin and, in time, bear much fruit.

It should probably be noted at this point that as Griffiths was deepening his contemplative journey the leading lady in England of the mystical and meditative way was Evelyn Underhill. It is somewhat interesting that Underhill is never mentioned by Griffiths in his autobiography given her prominence in unearthing both the breadth of the Christian contemplative way and her interest in Indian thought. Underhill, in her waning years, did correspond with Lewis from 1938-1941. I suspect some work needs yet to be done on Griffiths-Underhill and Baron Von Hugel (Underhill’s Roman Catholic spiritual director).

It is valuable to note that Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888-1975) was the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford from 1936-1952. Both Griffiths and Lewis have been well aware of his significant position and interpretations of Hinduism and Indian philosophical and religious thought. Radhakrishnan served two terms as President of India. It is equally import to not that when Radhakrishnan left for India, R.C. Zaehner replaced Radhakrishnan as the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics from 1952 until the time of his death in 1974. Radhakrishnan and Zaehner were both highly qualified scholars, but they could not be more different in their reads of Indian thought and culture. Lewis was the point person in the Socratic Club at Oxford in the 1940s-early 1950s (when he was left for Cambridge), but he had Zaehner lecture to the Socratic Club. When Griffiths left for India, and year after year wrote more articles on Christianity and Hinduism, he sent them to Lewis who cheered him onwards. Lewis, as I mentioned above, died in 1963, but he had read most of Griffiths’ articles with much keen interest that were eventually published as Christian Ashram or in 1966, in the American edition as Christ in India: Essays Towards A Hindu-Christian Dialogue. Those who are unaware of Lewis’s interest in interfaith issues do need to reflect on his journey with Griffiths, his friendship with Zaehner and the fact of the presence of Radhakrishnan at Oxford in Lewis’ prime years there. There are a variety of leads in Lewis’ writings that point to his commitment to the larger interfaith issues, and there can be no doubt his friendship with Griffiths contributed significantly to such a commitment.

I had much interest in the early 1980s, when doing an MA in Religious Studies at University of British Columbia, in studying Zaehner. In fact, I did my graduating essay on Zaehner. My interest in Griffiths was very much front and centre in such years also. It was in the late 1980s that I corresponded with Bede Griffiths about Zaehner and many other issues—he was quite generous in his reponses. I was quite gratified to read, a few years ago, a PHD by Albano Fernandes called The Hindu Mystical Experience: A Comparative Philosophical Study of the Approaches of R.C. Zaehner and Bede Griffiths (2004). There tend to be those who pit Zaehner against Griffiths and Griffiths against Zaehner, but both men need to be read and pondered together to get a good fix and feel for the layered level of contemplative interfaith dialogue. Fernandes, in his meticulous thesis, does such a deed well and wisely.

Bede Griffiths, as monk, would have lived through and internalized the Psalms once a week. C.S. Lewis, ever faithful to the Prayer Book and morning, midday and evening prayers, would have, in a lectio divina manner, have meditatively walked through the confessional nature of the Psalms once a month. Both men were drawn to the deeper and more perennial theses of the Psalms but both were concerned with some of the more war like, vindictive and violent psalms. Lewis and Griffiths published, for different reasons and from different angles, books on the Psalms. Reflections on the Psalms and Psalms for Christian Prayer are Lewis and Griffiths at their insightful and probing best and must reads. It is easy to see, when reading these missives, how their souls were knit together in a friendship on the deeper issues.

There have been many biographies, articles and booklets published on Lewis and Griffiths (more on Lewis than Griffiths), but none have yet dealt with, in any serious or substantive way, the many letters that passed between Lewis and Griffiths and their endearing friendship. My book, C.S. Lewis and Bede Griffiths: Chief Companions (2016), is the first missive of sorts to deal with this much neglected topic, and I will be doing a four part “Preached Retreat” at New Camaldoli Monastery from April 21-23 2017 on the topic. I’m quite grateful and gratified that I will have the honor and privilege of staying in Bruno Barnhart’s cell when at New Camaldoli. New Camaldoli has been at the forefront of holding high Bede Griffiths significance for 20th century and 21st century spirituality, and Bruno’s tome, The One Light: Bede Griffiths’ Principal Writings (2001) is a must read in such a contribution as has the writings of Thomas Matus, Robert Hale and Cyprian Consiglio. I anticipate my conversations with Thomas, Robert and Cyprian when I remain at New Camaldoli until April 30, Bruno’s cell being an obvious inspiration and ikon of sorts.

Fare Forward
Amor Vincit Omnia
Ron Dart

Meister Eckhart according to Bede

 

bede-image-2

Bede Griffiths with Cardinal Basil Hume and Roland Ropers

Meister Eckhart
The great master of mystical theology, who is a model for the church today
(Bede Griffiths O.S.B., Kreuth 1st April 1992)

Meister Eckhart is coming to be recognized to-day as the most
important spiritual master of the Middle Ages. In his lifetime he
was involved in controversy, which led to the condemnation of
some of his writings, but to-day, as we see him in the wider
context of the medieval world as a whole and the spirituality
which is emerging through contact with Eastern spirituality, we
can see that he is not only fundamentally orthodox as a catholic
theologian, but is also a pioneer in opening the church to a deeper
understanding of the Christian Mystery.

Eckhart was a Dominican Prior, a disciple of St. Thomas Aquinas,
and a leading figure in his order. His genius lay in his profound
insight into the deeper levels of human consciousness. He
expressed these insights not only in his Latin sermons, but in his
German sermons, preached before simple people, which were
actually an important stage in the development of the German
language. But he expressed himself with great freedom and often
in paradoxical language, which could easily lead to confusion. But
behind his paradoxes lay an extraordinary insight into the
working of the human mind.

One of these insights was his distinction between GOD and the
GODHEAD. He saw that most people in their prayer project an
image of God, which, though it may be a useful aid to prayer, falls
immeasurably short of the divine reality. This divine reality
beyond name and form, beyond word and thought, he called
GODHEAD. The Godhead is known not by the rational mind with
its concepts and judgments, but by the scintilla animae, the spark
of the soul, where the human being encounters the divine reality
in its eternal ground. Eckhart was thus able to lead the church
beyond the conceptual understanding of a personal God to a
mystical experience in which the Godhead itself is encountered in
its infinite, transcendent reality.

He thus remains the great master of mystical theology,
who is a model for the church to-day in its encounter with
the mystical traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam
and other religions of the world.”

(Used with permission from Roland Ropers)

Giving Birth to God- Fr. Cyprian’s Christmas homily

Giving Birth to God
(Part I)

(Cyprian Consiglio)

I remember back in 2012, after the massacre of the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School, people were wondering if it was okay to still celebrate Christmas. Fr. Raniero mentioned the other day that some folks were wondering the same thing this year, is it okay to celebrate Christmas with all the rotten things that have happened lately, including even just this week. I have this wonderful group of friends up in Santa Cruz and besides meditation and music the two biggest things we were involved in were interreligious dialogue and environmental issues, two issues whose stocks have plummeted drastically in this current cultural political atmosphere. I wrote to one friend who was a little dismayed by all this that our new mantra should be, “Now More Than Ever!” And I think the same thing about Christmas. Now more than ever is it important for us to understand the implications of this great mystery, the manifestation of God in human form, and to understand the dignity of what it means to be a human being in the light of that.

Vigils, our prayer at 5:30 AM, is a liturgy at which it can sometimes be hard to pay attention. As our Br. Bede likes to say, Vigils can be rather “prolix.” (I used to think that that word meant that it had a lot of words, but I looked it up. It actually means “lengthy and tedious”!) But every now and then a line will really pop out at me, and I’ll want to elbow the guy next to me or whisper to someone as we’re taking our robes off right afterward, “Did you hear that?!” And one morning recently one line stuck out to me. It’s from the Discourses of St. Anselm. He wrote: “All nature was created by God, and now God was born of Mary! God had created all, and Mary gave birth to God!”[i]

Now this is language that we are somewhat used to hearing, but somehow it sounded brand new and shocking to me. I saw this great cycle revolving around the word “nature”––nature created by God, and God born of Mary. If you’ll excuse me dabbling for a moment into evolutionary theory: All of nature is created by God––you might even could say it pours out from the God who is the ground of being, the womb of possibility. And nature gets set in motion, and the minerals and chemicals become life, teeming with life––single-cell creatures, organisms, then plants and fish, amphibians, birds, mammals. And then that life takes another leap and gives birth to thought and self-reflexive consciousness, and this glorious creature called the human being emerges, in God’s own image, we are told. And then in the fullness of time (as Paul says[ii]), this one particular human being––Mary, this woman, who herself is nature reaching a certain level of perfection––returns the favor, completes the cycle and gives birth to God.

God gives birth to nature, nature gives birth to Mary, and, by giving birth to Jesus, Mary gives birth to God.

One of the things that is interesting about this is that––did you ever notice?––we normally don’t refer to Jesus as “God” in the Christian tradition. Normally we say Jesus is “Lord” but not “Jesus is God.” It’s almost as if we’re embarrassed to say it. Fr. Bede Griffiths wrote about a rare instance in the Syriac tradition where Jesus is actually referred to as “God,” but the exception proves the rule. We usually reserve the word “God” for the transcendent godhead that we, following Jesus, traditionally have called the Father. God is the name we give to “the absolute, eternal, infinite, transcendent Being”; God is the one who is above all thought and word; God is “the Holy Mystery beyond human conception.” Jesus, on the other hand, is the manifestation of that absolute, eternal, infinite, transcendent Being, above thought and word. If God is an incomprehensible mystery, then Jesus is “the manifestation of [that] incomprehensible mystery, the self-revelation of this incomprehensible mystery.” [iii] Paul writes several times in his epistles, Jesus is the “mystery hidden for ages,”[iv] as if God is saying, “This is what I meant all along.” Jesus is the human being “who makes known what this ineffable God is like.” In other words you might say that we don’t usually say, “Jesus is God” because it’s not enough to call Jesus God; Jesus is not simply God. Jesus is God-In-A-Human-Being; God is the Human-Person-in-God. Jesus is God-the-Word-Made-Flesh. That’s what we celebrate in marking Jesus’ birth.

For Christians this is the completion of revelation, in Jesus revelation is brought to perfection, and so to see Jesus is to see the Mystery of God as far as it can be seen. But to see Jesus is also to see humanity, humanity brought to its perfection. As Thomas Aquinas taught, Gratia perfecit natura––“Grace perfects nature,” grace brings nature to its perfection. That’s why Jesus is referred to as the “Second Adam.” As Adam, the first human being, was the archetype of humanity, so this child is the blueprint for a new humanity. But just as it’s not enough to call Jesus “God,” it’s also not enough to just call Jesus a human being: Jesus is the Human-Being-Totally-Open-to-God; Jesus is the Human-Person-Totally-Transparent-to-the-Divine-Reality, which the rest of us, unfortunately, are not––at least not yet. In order to understand the mystery of Jesus, in order to understand the majesty of the Incarnation, we have to hold this tension together. It’s not enough to call Jesus God––he is always God-made-flesh. It’s not also enough to call Jesus a human being: he is never not also always divine.

God gave birth to nature. And Mother Nature, with God’s inspiration (literally), gave birth to humanity. And now humanity completes the cycle in Mary and gives birth to God. What I’m trying to say is that maybe this is supposed to be the norm now. If Jesus is the final revelation of what God is like, then from now on we should always think of God as God-With-Us, as God-Made-Manifest. We’re never supposed to think of the Divine One, we’re never supposed to think of God, without thinking of God-the Word-Made-Flesh. And we’re never supposed to think of humanity without assuming that it is and we are meant for perfection in divinity. We’re supposed to assume from now on that there is no breach between heaven and earth, or between God and creation, no gap between the Creator and the Created, except in our own mistaken skewed clouded view of Reality––the breach, the gap, has been overcome by God’s own initiative, by God’s own incarnation. But, you see, that was the plan all along, and this is its fulfillment, if only we have the eyes of our hearts enlightened by the mystery––the shock, the scandal, the majesty––of this God-the Word-Made Flesh.

We always have to think of divinity and humanity together. Our most ancient mystics and writers understood this. I was so astonished the first time I read what Saint Basil wrote, that, like Jesus, “through the Spirit … we attain what is beyond our most sublime aspirations––we become God”![v] But that’s just to affirm what Saint Augustine taught: that God became a human being so that human beings might become God.[vi] And as soon as we wrap our heads around that we have to hold on to another seeming contradiction, because Irenaeus of Lyons also chides us, in case we think we’re gonna escape this whole messy thing called humanity: but “how could you be God,” he says, “when you have not yet become human?” Christmas is all about gratia perfecit natura––grace bringing nature to its perfection.

From now on, this is the norm. The birth of Jesus, the Word-Made Flesh, the Manifestation of the Mystery of God in this tiny child means God is with us, God became one of us, so that humanity can share in divinity.

That’s why Mary is not simply called the mother of Jesus, but the Mother of God. Maybe we need to be more specific there too: the Mother of the God-Made-Flesh in the Word-Made-Flesh.

One more step: Augustine wrote, “Do you wonder how you can be the mother of Christ?” and “shall I not dare to call you his mother?”[vii] God is born in us through revelation, through the Word sown in the garden of the deepest part of our inmost being. Well, then, shall we not go all the way and say that we are called to be mothers of God, to give birth to God in the world? I understood that first of all when I heard the German mystic Meister Eckhart’s famous aphorisms that speak of the “eternal birth of God in the soul.” But somehow it’s not enough for God to be born in us; we have to give birth to God, too!

And, remember, this is now the norm: God is always God-with-us, God manifest, Word-Made-Flesh. So that doesn’t mean that we become totally spiritual; it means that our flesh becomes totally divinized. God is born in us, and we give birth to God. How do we give birth to God? By being God-like, by reflecting the image of God in whose image we are made. May as well bring the last person of the Trinity in here too. How do we give birth to God: by manifesting the fruits of the Spirit, which Paul lists in the Letter to the Galatians: every time we manifest love, joy, peace, or patience, God is not just born in us, but we are bearing God to the world. Every time we are kind, generous, faithful and gentle, self-controlled, God is not only born in us, but we are giving birth to God.

[i] From the Discourses of St. Anselm, BDP, 1690.
[ii] Gal 4:4.
[iii] Quoted in Wayne Teasdale “In What Sense is Jesus Called God?”, 12.
iv] Eph 3:9; Col 1:26.
[v] “Treatise on the Holy Spirit,” Cap. 9, Office of Readings, 632.
[vi] Sermo 13, Office of Readings, 125.
[vii] Sermo 25; Office of Readings for Feast of the Presentation, 1641.

Radical Love- Eucharist

RADICAL LOVE – EUCHARIST: THE LOVE OF GOD extract taken from THE FOUR O’CLOCK TALKS Discussions with JOHN MARTIN SAHAJANANDA compiled by Carrie Lock (pg. 171)

by Brother Martin

‘How can we understand the Eucharist?’

The most important symbol that Christ left is the Eucharist. He said, ‘Do this in memory of me’. The Eucharist explains Jesus Christ and it explains Christianity. The essential teaching of the Eucharist is the radical love of God and the radical love of neighbor. Through the Eucharistic celebration, the human grows into the Divine and the Divine becomes human. The bread and wine of the Eucharist is the sign of Jesus who died to himself and then ascended to God and became one with God, the body and blood of God. Jesus has to descend again in the form of love of neighbor: “’Take and eat; this is my body. Then he took the cup gave thanks and offered it to them saying, ‘Drink from it, all of you …’”(Matt.26: 26-27). The Eucharist is about giving and receiving and that is the essence of Christianity. We have to grow into God radically through 100% love of God and 100% love of neighbor. Jesus is the archetype of that radical love of God and neighbor, and this is what we see in the Eucharist.

I remember a short story I read in school which contained a very powerful symbol and which can assist us to understand the Eucharist. It has stayed with me my whole life. The story is about a father who was about to die. He had four children. He called his children to him and he said ‘Go and collect a stick each and bring them back to me’. When the children returned, the father told them to each break the stick they had collected. They broke the sticks and then the father told them to each bring one more stick. This time he told them to tie all the sticks together in a bundle and then to break the bundle, but they were unable to do so. Then the father said, ‘Do this in memory of me.’ I’m adding that last bit; he didn’t really say that in the story. Then the father died. Suppose every morning these four collect a stick, break it, and then go and collect another stick and tie the sticks into a bundle and try to break the sticks again. What message would this bring? What was the message of the father to his children? Yes, where there is unity there is strength. He was telling them, ‘be united’. If you are divided, you can be broken very easily but if you are united, nobody can break you. Do this in memory of me.

In the same way, Jesus knew that he was about to die and he wanted to say something to his disciples, something very important about how he lived his life. He was worried that they would forget his message so he showed them through a symbol, a ritual. He took the bread and said ‘Take and eat’, and then he took the wine, ‘Take and drink.’ He then said, ‘Do this in memory of me.’ What does it mean? For me this image has two aspects: the ascending and the descending aspect. To understand this, we need to go deeply into the relationship between God and creation. Every scripture, every great person and every ritual reveals one important message that we have to discover: who we are and how we have to live our life. To understand what the Eucharist is telling us about who we are and how we are to live our life, let us consider the nature of God and creation.

In the Hindu tradition, it is said that creation is the manifestation of God. Creation comes into being by the performance of a sacrifice: maha yagna. This sacrifice is the infinite becoming finite, one becoming many, the unlimited becoming limited. This sacrifice is not a painful act; it is the abundance of God’s love. In Hinduism, they say creation is the divine manifestation of God.

In the life of Jesus, we can say that creation is the body and blood of God; it is the manifestation of God, but creation is not aware of the origin. In order to discover that origin, what do we have to do? We have to perform a sacrifice We have to do yagna. And what is that yagna? It is sacrificing the lower so that we discover the higher. We have to sacrifice our limited identity for the sake of the infinite identity, for the sake of the Divine.

The way to God is to know our true self and to renounce or expand our ego. One aspect of the Eucharist is this aspect of renouncing. The bread and the wine, the finite, are elevated to the level of the Divine so that they become the body and blood of God, the infinite. This is possible through sacrifice. Sacrifice means renouncing oneself so that the lower becomes the higher, humanity becomes the Divine. This is the ascending aspect. But of course, as long as we live in this world, we need other identities also in order to relate to one another, and for that reason we have to come down again and that is the descending aspect of the Eucharist. That is the second yagna, the second sacrifice that we need to make in order to relate, to give and receive: ‘This is my body, take and eat. This is my blood, take and drink’. It is only in giving and receiving that we are fully alive.

The true self needs to use the limited self as the door through which to go out to others through relationships. Without the body, God cannot manifest. The body, the finite, is the door of the infinite. We need both the finite and the infinite; without one, we cannot have the other. God is both. The two sacrifices we have to make are to sacrifice the higher for the sake of the lower and to sacrifice the lower for the sake of the higher. This is really the meaning of the Eucharist.