Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year

Yesterday I finished reading "The Active Life" by Parker Palmer. He ends the book talking about resurrection. His words resonate with me deeply in light of our putting a decade to bed and embarking upon a new one. The timing is also good in the way his words show me how to make more real in a personal way my pledge-of-allegiance dream...

From The Active Life, pp. 149-157

“A basic fact of physics is that nothing in the universe is ever lost. This is poetry at its best, constantly illustrated, though rarely appreciated, in everyday life. When a log burns in the fireplace it does not disappear, but only changes form. Its basic particles change from seemingly solid matter to invisible waves of energy; they leave one constellation of manifestation only to be woven into another.

As the burning log lives on in the form of energy, so also do those who die for truth and justice live on. The question is whether we, the living, can understand that transformation and gather round the fire, allowing it to warm and energize our lives so that we can participate in resurrection and in the new life it brings.

Some of us in North America will not understand this vision of resurrection, or be able to participate in it, until we overcome the separation between God and nature that we have been taught. Our theology often puts God over and against nature and opposes anything that smacks of ‘nature worship.’ The intent of this theology is to honor the otherness of God, as contrasted with the fallenness of the natural world. But it has often functioned merely to buttress the notion that we humans, with God on our side, have the authority to dominate nature and bring it under our control.

Theological debate aside, we are learning today on the most practical of levels, how disastrous our ‘stewardship’ of nature has been. We are beginning to recover a sense of nature’s holiness, of God within nature as well as God beyond nature, of the need to show the reverence to land, water, and air that we show to God. Only as this recovery continues will we be inspired to participate in the healing of the Earth, and in so doing able to participate in the great cycle of death and resurrection.

Do not avoid the places where a dead loved one once walked, the places where you knew life together with that person. Go there and be there; allow yourself to feel the anguish of utter loss. Only as you do so will you have a chance of being touched by the spirit of the dead one. Only so will you begin to understand that physical absence may yield a sense of presence more palpable than the body itself. Only so may you learn that life is never finally lost, only transformed.

Resurrection is not the arising of the individual from the dead as we, in our individualism, have so often imagined it to be. Resurrection involves an entire people arising as one and becoming a community in which injustice is no more. If we do our grieving deeply and well, we become participants in a communal uprising, a resurrection in which the dead live on through the commitment of the survivors. Through the bonds of community, death is transformed into energy for life. Ultimately our losses are overcome.

Each of us is resurrected only as we enter the network of relationships called community, a network that embraces not only living persons but people who have died, and nonhuman creatures as well. Resurrection has personal significance when we understand the person as a communal being. Resurrection is a social and political event, an event in which love and truth and justice come to fruition.

The root meaning of the word apocalypse is to uncover, to reveal. Apocalyptic language refers to the contemplative process in which illusion is stripped away and reality revealed. This is what an earthquake does; it uncovers the illusion that we are standing on solid ground and reveals the reality of hidden strains and faults. Though an earthquake damages the surface structures of our lives, its power is generated by misalignments within the Earth that must be returned to right order.

A resurrected order of community between nature, persons, nations and God is an order in which the stresses of injustice have been relieved.

A vigil is a watch kept during the night, a steady scanning of the horizon for the first hints of light. In keeping vigil we peer into the darkness, seeking signs of the new day that will bring an end to injustice and gather us into the beloved community.

The threat of resurrection to people like me is clear. It is a threat aimed at those of us who have some measure of power by virtue of the simple facts that we are alive, that we have food and clothing and housing, and that we are therefore capable of acting on behalf of the millions of people who are unjustly deprived of these blessings. If we…people like me and perhaps you…really believe in resurrection, believe it not just in theory but in our bones, we will have no choice but to risk all that we have by taking action for justice.

Bone-deep knowledge of resurrection would take away the fear that provides motivation for our cautious, self-protective living. Death-dealing fear would be replaced by life-giving faith, and we would be called to do God-knows-what for God-knows-who. Perhaps we would be compelled to take in a homeless person; to go to prison in protest of nuclear madness; to leave jobs that contribute to violence; to ‘speak truth to power’ in a hundred risky ways. In the process, we might lose much that we have, perhaps even our lives. This, then, is the threat of resurrection.

I remember an occasion…a university near my home invites a colonel in the Army of the Philippines to speak on campus. After the invitation is extended, it becomes known that Amnesty International has evidence that this colonel frequently participated in the torture of civilians during the Marcos regime. Several of us decide to conduct a nonviolent protest at the site of the lecture, so we stand silently at the back of the hall with posters naming this man’s crimes against humanity. In the process, we draw the attention of the media to the issue and to ourselves.

I was on my turf, not his; I was in an American academic hall, not the interrogation shack of a Filipino army post; I was protected by the Bill of Rights, not subject to the whims of the colonel’s cruelty. But still I was afraid. It was frightening to hear this man blithely deny torture one moment, then say that ‘it sometimes happens,’ then admit that his unit had ‘borrowed’ a woman activist for a day of ‘questioning,’ then brush off a question about electric shock torture with the mumbled aside, ‘I have more sophisticated methods than that.’ I was well-protected from him, and yet I felt from him the threat of resurrection. How much more threatening resurrection would have been if I had been vulnerable to his malicious power.

Death is our constant companion. We live while dying. Every minute of life brings us a minute closer to death. Our encounter with this truth is painful at first. There is much in us that seeks to evade the pain by denying death as long as we can.

When we live in illusion, denying reality, resisting the inevitable, we live in a tension that drains us of energy without our even knowing it. So if we try to gain life by denying death, the paradoxical result is that we become lifeless. This is why ‘disillusionment’ is so important, for by losing our illusions, we can access the energy of the reality that lies beyond them.

Sooner or later, all that we have will be taken from us by death. But if we can live with the threat of resurrection in our bones, then we will live truly and well. By accepting death, we can know true life. Or, to put it into words that cannot be improved upon, when we lose our lives, we will find them.

When Jesus spoke these words, he was not exhorting people towards something they ‘ought’ to do. He was articulating a basic truth of life. As long as we cling to life as it is ordinarily understood, we cling to a pinched and deadly image of things, an image heavily conditioned by ego, social programming, and an extremely limited understanding of options. But when we are willing to let go of life as we want it to be and allow the larger reality to live in and through us instead, then, in our dying we become alive.

For many of us, the life we need to lose is life lived in the image of the so-called autonomous self, and the life we shall then find is that of the self embedded in community…a community that connects us not only to other people but to the natural world as well. No wonder resurrection is so threatening; it forces us to abandon any illusion we may have that we are in charge of our own lives, able to do whatever we want, accountable to no one but ourselves, and free of responsibility to others. Resurrection requires that we replace that illusion with the reality that we rise and fall together, that we have no choice but to live in and with and for the entire community of creation.

As we abandon our cherished individualism and accept our membership in community, we become less afraid and more at home on Earth, because we no longer stand alone. Resurrection into community saves us from the secret fear of the autonomous self that he or she is doomed to be forever alone.

Paradoxically, as we enter more deeply into the true community of our lives, we are relieved of those fears that keep us from becoming the authentic people we were born to be. Community and individuality are not an either/or choice, any more than life and death are. Instead, they are poles of a whole.

A culture of isolated individualism produces mass conformity because people who think they must bear life alone are too fearful to take the necessary risks for growth to occur. But people who know that they are embedded in an eternal community are freed and empowered to become who they were born to be.

In the active life of work, creativity, and caring we are provided with endless opportunities to lose ourselves so that we may find ourselves, to join with others in the great community so that, freed from the fear of isolation, we may become who we are. By joyfully embracing the threat of resurrection we can work, create, and care in ways that take us not towards the futility of death but towards the fullness of new life for ourselves and for the whole of creation.”

John 10: 11-18

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. I know my own, and I'm known by my own; even as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. I lay down my life for the sheep. Therefore the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again. No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down by myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. I received this commandment from my Father."

1 comment:

Lukas said...

That was awesome, thanks. It's good to be in touch with you, if only through cyberspace (and spiritual reality).

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