Jesus practically begs for some trust from his disciples, even after they’ve witnessed his miracles and heard his profound teaching. He eventually puts this question to them: “Who do you say that I am?” Don’t give me your theologies. Who is the Jesus you know? That’s the only Jesus that can really touch you and liberate you. Finally, Peter responds, “You are the Christ!” and Jesus gives him strict orders not to tell anyone (Mark 8:29-30). Why? Because each one of us has to walk the same journey of death and doubt for ourselves and come out the other side, enlarged by love.
No one can do this homework for us. Every generation has to be converted anew and the Gospel has to always be preached in new contexts and cultures in ways that are good news to that time and people. Yes, institutions and denominations are necessary and somehow inevitable, but when they imagine that they can prepackage the message in eternal formulas and half-believed (half-experienced?) doctrines and Scriptures, they often become their own worst enemy. Too many people join a club instead of going on a journey toward God, love, or truth.
Brian McLaren understands Jesus’ mother Mary as an example for all of us to find a larger hope by surrendering our lives to God. Here he comments on Luke’s Gospel and offers an Advent practice inspired by Mary:
All of us experience this sense of frustration, disappointment, impatience, and despair at times. We all feel that we have the capacity to give birth to something beautiful and good and needed and wonderful in the world. But our potential goes unfulfilled, or our promising hopes miscarry. So we live on one side and then on the other of the border of despair.
And then the impossible happens. . . .
In Luke’s telling of the birth of Jesus, God aligns with the creative feminine power of womanhood rather than the violent masculine power of statehood. The doctrine of the virgin birth, it turns out, isn’t about bypassing sex but about subverting violence. The violent power of top-down patriarchy is subverted not by counter-violence but by the creative power of pregnancy. It is through what proud men have considered “the weaker sex” that God’s true power enters and changes the world. That, it turns out, is exactly what Mary understood the messenger to be saying: [read her Magnificat, especially Luke 1:48, 51, 52, 53]. . . .
So Mary presents herself to the Holy Spirit to receive and cooperate with God’s creative power. She surrenders and receives, she nurtures and gives her all, because she dares to believe the impossible is possible. Her son Jesus will consistently model her self-surrender and receptivity to God, and he will consistently prefer the insightful kindness of motherhood to the violent blindness of statehood.
That’s what it means to be alive in the adventure of Jesus. We present ourselves to God—our bodies, our stories, our futures, our possibilities, even our limitations. “Here I am,” we say with Mary, “the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me according to your will.”
So in this Advent season—this season of awaiting and pondering the coming of God in Christ—let us light a candle for Mary. And let us, in our own hearts, dare to believe the impossible by surrendering ourselves to God, courageously cooperating with God’s creative, pregnant power—in us, for us, and through us. If we do, then we, like Mary, will become pregnant with holy aliveness. . . .
Activate: Start each day this week putting Mary’s prayer of commitment and surrender, “Let it be to me according to your will,” into your own words. Let this be a week of presenting your life to God so that “holy aliveness” grows in you.
Meditate: After lighting a candle, hold the words, “Here I am, the Lord’s servant,” in your heart for a few minutes in silence. Try to return to those words many times in the week ahead.
Explore Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations archive at cac.org.
Father Richard Rohr elaborates on Carl Jung’s teaching on the importance of inner experience as the only pathway to transformation.
Carl Jung wanted to bring externalized religion back to its internal foundations. He saw how religion kept emphasizing the unbridgeable distance between the Creator and creation, God and humanity, inner and outer, the one and the many. In spite of creation’s ecological unity (Genesis 1:9–31), Christianity too often began by emphasizing the problem of separation (“original sin”) instead of beginning with the wonderful unity between creation and Creator.
Except for the experience of many saints and mystics, religion has greatly underemphasized any internal, natural resonance between humans and God. This gives us clergy an almost impossible job! First, we must remind everyone that they are “intrinsically disordered” or sinful—which then allows us to just happen to have the perfect solution. It is like a vacuum cleaner seller first pouring dirt on the floor to show how well this model works. As if the meaning of this beautiful universe could start with a foundational problem!
Christianity rarely emphasized the plausibility or power of inner spiritual experience. Catholics were told to believe the pope, the bishops, and the priests. Protestants were told to believe the Bible. The Catholic version has fallen apart with the pedophilia crisis worldwide; Protestantism’s total reliance on preaching the Bible has been undone by postmodern worldviews. But both Catholics and Protestants made the same initial mistake, I’m sorry to say. It’s all about trusting something outside of ourselves. We gave people answers that were extrinsic to the soul and dismissed anything known from the inside out. “Holiness” largely became a matter of intellect and will, instead of a deep inner trust with an inner dialogue of Love. It made us think that the one with the most willpower wins, and the one who understands things the best is the beloved of God—the opposite of most biblical heroes. We’ve been gazing at our own “performance” instead of searching for the Divine in us and in all things.
We must begin with a foundational “yes” to who we are and to what is (Reality). This is mature religion’s primary function. It creates the bedrock foundation for all effective faith. If we begin with a problem, the whole journey remains largely a negative problem-solving exercise that never ends. We’re left with inherently argumentative and competitive Christianity.
If we begin with the positive, and get the issue of core identity absolutely clear, the rest of the journey—even though it isn’t always easy—is by far more natural, more beautiful, more joyful and all-inclusive. What else should the spiritual journey be? When we start in the basement, most people never believe they can even get to the first floor, and they just opt out. Isn’t this obvious at this point in Christian history? Sadly, we clergy became angry guards instead of joyful guides, policing dogma instead of proclaiming the Great Gift which is perfectly hidden and perfectly revealed at the heart of all creation from the very beginning.
All creeds are human attempts to capture in human words the experience of the divine. The words we use to describe the divine will differ in every generation. There is no such thing as an unchanging universal language. No one can be bound by the words of a generation that no longer exists and that includes the words of our creeds. God is a living experience and talking about that experience will take different forms in every generation. None of those forms will ever be ultimate nor will any of them ever capture truth for all time. Words like infallible and inerrant have no place in the Christian vocabulary. – Bishop John Shelby Spong