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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Three Mysteries

Bernie and I love English mysteries--whodunits where unknown killers are revealed by clever (but usually flawed) detectives.

Mystery originally meant "secret"; and in the mystery religions of Roman times, mysteries were secret rites, key doctrines, unknown at least by rational means, that opened the door to human meaning and salvation.

Christianity has three central mysteries, each leading to a special "spirituality" or existential stance towards reality.  Each also has a dark side or distortion. They are: creation, incarnation, and resurrection. Simularities I think can be found in other spiritual traditions.


Creation is the doctrine of why there is something rather than not nothing; how we got here and why; the purpose and meaning of the universe, our earth, and us. The latest edition of our creation story includes the big bang, cooling inflation, separation of elements in dense gasses, development of large structures galaxies, stars, planets, including the sun and earth, carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen and the evolution of life, mammals, homo, homo sapiens, development of culture, economics, and politics.

When I consider creation spirituality, I think of St. Francis Assisi, Meister Ekhardt, Thoreau, Thomas Berry, Marion Zimmer Bradley, and indigious religion.  Some of its marks are: a sense of unity with the universe, reaffirmation of the feminine principle, relationship with all living beings, a respect for the earth, assumption of the role as caregiver and gardener, and original blessing. The Christian writings that embody a creation spirituality are found in Matthew and Mark.

But the creation story and its spirit also has its distortions: humanity as dominator of nature, original sin and sacrifice, mastery over the woman and the earth, foundation and authority by a male architect and ruler. This is loss of a sense of comedy in tragedy.


Incarnation is the doctrine of the incorporation of divinity in humanity, spirit in matter, transcendence as immanence.  This doctrine runs contrary to the Platonism of ancient times and the Cartesianism of modern times. Scholarship indicates that Jesus probably did not teach incarnation, he was more of a creationist.  And he certainly did not teach it about himself. But that is what he meant to his earliest followers. He became a direct way to encounter the Transcendent without the need of middle men, whether kings or priests. The latest nuance in this doctrine is the discernment of the sacred in the secular. Action with others for the just city is where we are linked to the divine act of creation.

Some of the marks of incarnationism are: engaging in the world, immersion into the messiness, chaos, indeterminacy of matter, holy sexuality, respect for science, transcendence in, not apart from, material reality.

St Ignatius Loyola promoting contemplation in action, affirming the importance of liberal education in the humanities, and daring to intervene in politics of church and society is an incarnationist. Kierkegaard, the discoverer of the religious in human existence, consider the Incarnation as the central doctrine. We also think of Thomas Aquinas, Gallileo, Teilhard de Chardin, Gabriel Marcel, Reinhold Niebuhr, Harvey Cox, Riane Eisler, Luce Irigaray. In Christianity, the Johanine writings best illustrate this doctrine and spirituality.

The distortions: incarnation as a dropping out of and back to another place and time, separation of matter and spirit, Machiavellian politics, suffering/matter/flesh as evil, utilitarian ethics, disenchantment of nature, the one dimensionality of consumerism, personal self-interest over or constituting the public sphere, material gain as divine favor. I think this is the loss of a sense of contingency.


Resurrection is the doctrine of salvation and redemption and also of hope. In the face of death which all creation undergoes and which is encountered in the incarnation, persons and communities and nations can achieve life. This is the doctrine of radical transformation symbolized by the caterpillar, the cocoon, and the butterfly. It is the desire for justice in a situation of injustice.

Some of the marks of resurrection are hope in a desperate situation, commitment to liberation in an oppressive social order, action with others in the work of transformation, organization of publics--spaces of freedom and actualization.

In Christian writings, it is Luke and Paul that emphasize resurrection. I think of the great reformers Luther, DiFiori, John XXIII, the liberation theologians from Boff to Cone, feminist and civil rights advocates.

But there are distortions of a resurrection spirituality.  A discontinuation in time, revolution as an engineered force, a morally superior vanguard, judgment by a new order of higher beings, apocalyptic thinking that denies history and the material universe. I think this is a loss of the sense of irony.

These three mysteries and their spiritualities complement and correct the distortions or idols of each other. I explain next.