living a life in and as Christ
My Dear One,
We have made it to the final step of the Universal Transformative Journey!
Having heard the call to transformation,
crossing the threshold from an old way of being to a new,
looking with complete honesty at all that holds us back from the change we long for,
noticing who and what is helping and hindering us,
making peace with our dragons,
grasping our reward,
even though it means something of our old way of being must die,
and then rising into a new and resurrected life,
we now stand firmly within the flow of The Way,
that place wherein we are finally able to live a life of freedom,
both in and as Christ.
We still have some ground to cover, three more strides to cover, before we rest back into our own places of being.
First we will recap the necessity of death in order to live, the second birth out of the womb of the Spirit that Jesus so clearly urged us to undertake.
Second we will speak of life what life is like on the other side of this death, living into The Way that leads us to the Sacred Center.
Third we will look at how this drawing to the Sacred Center confirms that we are invited to live not only in Christ but as Christ in the world.
And finally, I will give a brief note about what’s next for following The Way over this summer and beyond as I shift gears and work to re-birth fTW itself as the guide for the spiritual life it once was and I trust God desires it to be again.
Step 1. Life leads not to death but rather death leads to Life
In our usual way of conceiving our story, we speak of being born, living and then dying. But Jesus reveals that in the Kingdom of God this pattern is shown to backwards, or at least incomplete. The pattern of the spiritual life is not birth-life-death but rather birth-living-death-resurrection-eternal life. The living we do prior to death is learning to walk, but the life we live after death is actually walking The Way. As Jesus puts it,
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14
On the other side of resurrection is where true freedom resides. This is why we risk all we do in taking this universal transformative journey. Only from this post-death vantage point can we at last clearly see that on the front side of death is where our actual death resides, not on the backside. Because on the front side of death is where all our fear lives: fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, fear of being wrong, fear that God may not be real, fear of death. But once we’ve gone through it, once we’ve made the journey, faced our dragons, become transformed, died to the old self and then, like Christ, willingly commended our spirit to God, THEN we are finally ready for true transformation. Transformation requires the sacrifice that we take up our own cross, not running from but rather turning to embrace with love and compassion the grief that comes from something of the old self dying.
And here, at long last, is the hardest and most precise thing we must die to if we are to truly live: our selves. We are our own worst enemy when it comes to our soul’s journey into freedom. We art That which stood in our own way all along. It was not some exterior obstacle, some outwardly-focused physical journey that actually leads to liberation, but instead all the interior journeys we refused to take that truly held us back. If only it were so easy as to travel to Jerusalem/Rome/Santiago/Iona/Bodh Gaya/Ganges River/etc. to receive life, then we’d all just book our “pilgrimage” flights and go to get it (as soon as this pandemic is over). But it’s not there, but rather here, wherever here is for you. Journeying to some holy site may well be necessary to awaken you into being, (and often does if we let it), but truth be told we carried the instrument of liberation in our pocket from the first to the final step.
It was our Illusion of or Desire for Control that was our golden calf, our idol, the false god that we worshiped. And parting ways with it, as painful as that might be, is required to fully embrace this new life. Our chief guide through this Journey, Joseph Campbell, put it this way:
“[As Jesus said,] ’Whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.’ The meaning is very clear; it is the meaning of all religious practice. The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment. His personal ambitions being dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in him; he becomes, that is to say, an anonymity. The Law lives in him with his unreserved consent.” THWATF, p. 204-5 (pardon the gender exclusive language, elsewhere Campbell uses her instead).
Jesus himself says over and over again in the gospels it is necessary to die in order to live. Take just these few verses as inspiration:
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. Matthew 16:24-25
“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:27
“Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born anew.” John 3:3.
“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26
“Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.” John 12:24-25 (The Message)
Death leads to Life, Jesus says, not the other way around. This simple message, as hopefully we have realized at some point along The Way, transforms everything.
2. Life in The Way, freed from fear and anxiety
How then do we live? Think for a moment about the fact that we cannot know at the start of any given day what that day will hold. We presume we can predict what will happen based on what happened the day before, but this is a new day with its own rules and its own surprises. It will offer its own gifts and pain. And yet, we go through our entire lives acting as if we are somehow in control, charting our own course. When in reality, the best we can do is put ourselves on a solid path, walked by the saints before us, and follow in their Way, trusting that God’s sense of direction is surely much better than our own.
One of my favorite poets, David Whyte, speaks beautifully about this in his poem “What to Remember When Waking” which begins:
In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake, coming back to this life from the other more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world where everything began, there is a small opening into the day that closes the moment you begin your plans.
What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep …
And again, Joseph Campbell also puts it well:
“The hero is the champion of things becoming, not of things become, because he is. ‘Before Abraham was, I AM.’[Jesus in John 8:58]” THWATF, p. 209
Our biblical model for this is the chief composer of the New Testament. In describing the Christian life, the apostle Paul very much understood that he was living out not his own life, to which he died on the Road to Damascus, but instead now lives the continuing life of Christ:
“For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:19-20a.) And again, “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14).
This is the post-resurrection shift within our concept of the cosmos. It is no longer us who lives (and therefore must be fearfully protected) but rather Christ who lives in us (who is eternal, each new death leading only to greater life). The temporal has made way for the eternal to take up residence within the halls of our hearts.
Herein lies the lasting key to the alleviation of our fears and anxieties, with longer effect than any pill we could ever take or any serene vista we could ever behold, themselves only temporary measures. The more we live into our Christ-nature, the less we have to defend our Self, until finally worry itself dies and out of it joy is born. We learn to trust in the miraculous unfolding of life which, as Revelation promises, draws each one of us towards the seeds of hidden wholeness planted in creation from the very beginning, a new Jerusalem where every tear is dried by our loving God.
I will leave this point with four passages which I hope will serve you as continuing food for further reflection:
Paul writes in his letter to the Philippians:
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7
Joseph Campbell paraphrases the Bhagavad Gita:
“Man in the world of action loses his centering in the principle of eternity if he is anxious for the outcome of his deeds, but resting them and their fruits on the knees of the Living God he is released by them, as by a sacrifice, from the bondages of the sea of death. ‘Do without attachment the work you have to do … Surrendering all action to Me, with mind intent on the Self, freeing yourself from longing and selfishness, fight - unperturbed by grief.” THWATF, p. 206
One of the great classics in religious writings, the Tao Te Ching, which translates as The Book of The Way and its Virtue, speaks to this repeatedly. Here are two different translations of Chapter 50:
Stephen Mitchell rendering
The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and he has nothing left to hold on to:
no illusions in his mind,
no resistances in his body.
He doesn't think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day's work.
Addiss and Lombardo rendering
Emerge into life, enter death,
Life is only the thirteen body parts,
Death is only the thirteen body parts.
Human life, moving towards death,
Is the same thirteen.
Why is this?
Because life gives life to substance.
You have heard of people
Good at holding on to life.
Walking overland they don't avoid
Rhinos and tigers.
In battle they don't arm themselves.
The rhino's horn finds nothing to gore,
The tiger's claws find nothing to flay,
Weapons find nothing to pierce.
Why is this?
They have no mortal spot.
And the master Jesus himself says it best:
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Matthew 6:25-34
3. The Sacred Center, living both in and as Christ
Just as God planted the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge in the middle of Eden, so God planted the Tree of the Cross in the middle of the Sacred Center. Jesus urges us to take up our cross so that we too might journey with him from death to life. He did this out of love, knowing we would never choose to go there unless he invited us and proved to us it is The Way.
In larger mythology and religion, Campbell calls the Sacred Center the World Navel, a beautiful image which can both connect us to our motherly God or cut us off from our source. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin calls it the Omega Point, which he believed to be the final destination for evolution and all of creation. About the path to this place he writes, “Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge.”
And this is the unexplored miracle of Easter which lies at the heart of the Christian understanding of the Universal Transformative Journey. Christ is risen and everything that rises must converge. All who seek after Christ are drawing not only nearer to him but nearer to unification with him. Though not nearly as central in the message of western Christian traditions, in the Eastern Orthodox churches this process, called theosis, is the absolute purpose of human life and the life of Jesus Christ in particular. Of it the great patriarch Athanasius of Alexandria said, “God became human so that humans might become gods.” Jesus continually reminded us that we too are daughters and sons of God and even went so far as to say we would eventually do “greater things” than he did:
“Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.” John 14:12
(For more on theosis, see Psalm 82:6, John 10:34-36, much of the book of Ephesians, and 2 Peter 1:4, as well as this article from the Antiochan Orthodox Christian Archdiocese in North America).
All who seek faithfully after The Way, whatever path we choose to get there and whatever faith tradition that path has been made upon, we are seeking a God who also seeks us. We are all beloved, wandering children whom God seeks to both find and be found by, to love and to be loved.
There is no great mystery or controversy in all of this. It is what life in the Kingdom of God is like for all who have been transformed. Keep an open mind to this notion. Christ came not simply to show us he knew The Way himself (which leads us to belief) but more precisely to show us how to walk The Way ourselves (which leads us to faith). And it is faith, Jesus says, which has the power to save us.
The spiritual journey is to complete and repeat this process of transformation, step by step centering all four of our centers, Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength, in the love of God and of one another.
We are called to transform our Heart path, our vocational self, into a ministry of continued-Christ, serving and healing the world.
We are called to transform our Soul path, our relational self, into a ministry of continued-Christ, loving and forgiving the world.
We are called to transform our Mind path, our intellectual self, into a ministry of continued-Christ, revealing the Kingdom of God to the world.
We are called to transform our Strength path, our incarnational self, into a ministry of continue-Christ, walking in flesh the presence of the Spirit.
This, my Dear One, is The Way. May you ever be drawn deeper and further into this path. May you ever more bravely die so you may experience the true joys to be found in living.
Thank you to all of you who have joined me these last few months in the Universal Transformative Journey. I have been encouraged by those of you who wrote to let me know this has been a meaningful journey for you.
At this point, I hear God calling me to again focus on the work of re-creating the entire following The Way spiritual journey, which includes the Universal Transformative Journey, the fTW Spiritual Types indicator, a deeper dive into the Great Commandment, much more about The Way in Christianity and all the major world religions, and more resources for following The Way as a personal and small group journey. And I intend for it to be more fun than I’ve sometimes allowed it to be. It is serious work, serious enough we must remember to laugh lest we cry. :-)
As I do that work, following The Way will return for a time to being a semi-regular blog about my personal thoughts and experiences living into The Way. You will hear from me a little less regularly than you have lately but know I am simply taking time to rest, reflect and re-create. When the full journey is again ready, you will be the first to hear about it.
I hope, by that time, this world will be well on the road to healing, we may venture out of from behind our locked doors once more, and that you will be ready for new adventures as together we go…
following The Way,