Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Wounded God 3: “He broke the bars of the prison”

Whatever else happened to those ardent but bewildered disciples during the resurrection appearances of Jesus, the transformed Presence of the Man they had known was real to them—unmistakably familiar, palpably convincing. “We have seen the Lord,” they say. And by that they mean, among other things, that the same soul-liberating power they had experienced around him in the days of his flesh had returned in an unmistakably familiar but transformed mode.

What was this unmistakable Presence like? The stories speak of a suffusive breath of Spirit that brought joy, forgiveness, and peace to men and women wallowing in despair and self-loathing; of a series of Illuminations that broke the fetters of their limited understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ life; and of the spiritual Fire that burned away illusion and opened new doorways to the future.

“We have seen the Lord,” yes; “but now we see him—and ourselves—quite differently.” The Jesus of their past memory—and their own memory of themselves—is now set into the radiant spaciousness of God’s compassionate mind and expansive purposes. They go forth with the message that the “mind of Christ,” the all-pervasive Spirit of God, is available to all who will access it to liberate humanity from the powers of sin and death which underlie and support all the oppressive systems of this world’s life.

A Presence that "takes away the sin of the world"

“Christians believe that they can still meet this human being,” the historian Diarmaid McColloch says, in ways not unlike “the experience of the disciples....They are convinced this meeting transforms lives, as has been evident in the experience of other Christians across the centuries.” (Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years). I would add that this experience of the divine power that was in Jesus is not limited to Christians, but appears in other guises and other names. As Jesus says “I have other sheep who are not of this fold.” (John 10:16)

I’ve seen this Presence at work often. I remember sitting in an Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) meeting for the first time and being amazed at the palpable atmosphere of compassion in the room as people shared a variety of frustrating experiences, painful wounds from the past, and scary challenges. As each difficult situation was shared, no one offered “helpful advice” or burbled “O poor baby.”

The receptivity of the Silence was profound. Every word and feeling was taken into a cleansing, loving, accepting atmosphere that welcomed and embraced both the words and the soul that uttered them. The sense of empathy, of interconnection deepened. Hearing so much pain was not depressing, because the spirit—and Spirit—in the room was not only healing but oddly invigorating. As I left the meeting, I realized I had been experiencing the "sin of the world" being "taken away" that the New Testament speaks of. The power of the past to hold us in its grip was being broken by sharing, confession, and welcome into a larger space that imparted a sense of connection with others, a sense that life is bigger than the wounds, and a Love that poured through, not just from, the group.

Witness from treating trauma

My brother-in-law, an M.D. with training in “Somatic Experiencing” a disciple that addresses the psychological dimensions of trauma, sees in this a parallel to his work with trauma victims. “In trauma, whether physical or psychological” David says, “too much happens too quickly. Neither psyche nor body can cope, and everything gets compacted in a dense, painful, interlocking mass. Whatever reminds you of the trauma sets this compacted mass off again. You’re stuck inside the prison of the memory, which leads to all kinds of avoidance behavior.”

What can unlock this prison? All the “sympathy” in the world won’t do it, and standard talk therapy runs the risk of simply re-traumatizing the patient by hauling up memories that he can’t cope with. David’s complementary medical method involves a form of Vipassana meditation—a way of simply being fully present to your experience, and welcoming whatever occurs or comes up from within. Through focus on relaxation, breathing, and centered focus (the ABCs of meditation), with the presence and guidance of a compassionate guide to support and reassure, bits and pieces of the traumatic memory unfold themselves at their own pace, piecemeal, without being forced. “The psyche knows how to heal itself, given breathing room, and surrounded by an atmosphere of compassionate receptivity to hear what wants to speak itself,” David says. “Eventually the ‘it-was-all-too-much-to-cope-with’ story the person is trapped in dissolves and is replaced by a new narrative connected with the rest of life. The person is no longer crippled by the deadening grip of the past.”

A Presence available throughout time and space

Now you may say, ‘Do you really mean that’s there no more to the Resurrection than that?” Not at all—though that would be quite a lot. Rather, experiences like this give me a clue to what at least one aspect of Presence of Christ must have been like for the original witnesses, for it certainly had a similar result: their entire story of Jesus and themselves, a story that had ended in failure, fear, shame and hopelessness was re-visioned and redeemed. They were "ransom, healed, restored, forgiven" and given a new energy and aim in life.

As a believer, I’m sure that the Dazzling Presence was so real it was as if they could touch the wounds in its side—the signs of Jesus’ own trauma transformed. As they ate and drank it he sat among them. But they simply stood closer to the source of the Presence that surrounded me at the ACOA meeting. It has come to me again and again kneeling at the altar rail to commune with Real Presence, and I’ve felt It in spiritual direction sessions where someone’s imprisoning past gets miraculously re-set in a new framework, and energies are released that will create a new future.

So, even though there's a lot more to Jesus' resurrection than this aspect, what I have "seen and heard and touched" of the "Word of life" (1 John 1:1) looks a lot like resurrection to me. Quite enough to bring forth yet another soul out of the tomb.

Next week: Was it really "finished" on the Cross?

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