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Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Holy Saturday 2016

We are in the center of "The Christian Mystery," the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. For those of us bred within the Catholic tradition, these are the high holy days, celebrating the foundation of existence, the core of meaning, the very reason for being.

Like most religious and cultural traditions, the foundation of faith is expressed in stories using symbolic language that arises from previous traditions. The main story is that of the Jew, Jesus of Nazareth, who lived some 2000 years ago in a province of Imperial Rome, who was branded a revolutionary and sentenced to death, and whose followers developed a movement and organization in his name that took over the Empire assimilating its language and many of its institutions. The foundational belief of that movement is that Jesus lives and is the Christ: the holy one, the anointed one, the one we are awaiting for our liberation.

The story has been told in many diverse forms, each arising from different communities, having their own points to make adjusting the telling to the audience and times. But again the core is that Jesus the man who suffered and died now lives. As the chief organizer of the Jesus movement is quoted: "if Christ is not resurrected, your faith is in vain."

How can those of us who value this tradition and its stories align this core belief with our acceptance of the Enlightenment, modern science, democratic republicanism, postmodern philosophy and art, inclusive culture, new economy and technology. Today we no longer speak the language of supernatural entities and places. We have closed the Cartesian gap between body and spirit. We have rejected tribalism for a more universal culture. We have dispelled the superstitions of witches, devils, ghosts, and gods. We are confronting (but have not yet overcome) the illusions of a permanent self and an independent reality, of the uninterpreted past or utopian future, of absolutes in truth and of relativism in behavior.

In my last reflection, I tried to articulate what I believe using the language that is compatible with our postmodern times. My formulation, like all expressions, is inadequate. My faith transcends my beliefs. Yet it is through the sharing, interaction, and fusion of those beliefs that we continue to exercise our faith. We stop time to understand and express it. But time does not stop and can never be fully understandable or expressed.

Let me reappropriate the Christian story using my new language of social psychology, theoretical physics, cognitive science, and postmodern philosophy. I do not need to be superstitious or live in two worlds, one of truth, the other of fantasy, to appreciate the Christian story and the values it teaches. And I can be honest with myself and good to others without pretending in Santa or the tooth fairy or the Great Pumpkin as literal events. While at the same time I appreciate metaphor and images, even fantastic ones, to spice up life and to lift up a reality that is inaccessible by science and philosophy.

We postmoderns realize that the Resurrection of Christ is a symbol--a figure of speech, an analogy or metaphor. But that is because we recognize that all our speech and expressions are symbols. Note: we do not say "mere" symbols. Symbols are the media through which we inquire into and achieve reality. I have spend numerous pages, drawing on many scientific thinkers and writers, demonstrating the symbolic character of human existence and our world. We can conceive of our fundamental activity of being in the world through symbols as being present--to things and people, to past and future, to other persons and to our selves.

Christianity is a very personal religion: Jesus is a human person who interacted with other human persons to invite them into a community of persons who spoke of their ultimate meaning in personal terms, not just in a god, but "Abba" Father, to affirm the supreme value of all persons whatever their position or station or race or sex. What is a person? We know from social psychology that a person is not an entity inside the embrained body. The person is the style of life, the behavioral function, the character developing from the birth through death of the human body. Persona (coming from the word for the "mask" actors wore) means the habitual role of a human being in the drama of life.

There are many scholarly studies on and personal encounters with the Jesus persona. They developed in a community of those who are inspired by, taken with, and trying to share with one another that persona. I am one of those who is so inspired, taken, and who share in this style of being in the world that we call "Jesus." I have my own definition and list of categories to describe the Jesus person (published elsewhere), shaped of course by my own studies, experiences, interactions, interpretations, and intentions. When Jesus was killed by the authorities of Rome and Jerusalem, his person, his way of being in the world, his approach to others, his style of life, his way of existing was taken up by others through their memories, their stories, and especially by their way of acting.

When the body dies, the life-style or character or role, can live on in others who have adopted that style, assumed that character, and play that role. The body dies, the persona lives. As every person is presence so the person of Jesus is present. He lived, died, but is present. In other words, his consciousness is part of our universal consciousness. No need for an empty tomb--though that's a good story. No need for the appearance of a ghost. No need for some supernatural force. And no need for an individual "I" consciousness.

When the community celebrates his life and death, when they recall his way of being in the world, when they gather at the table in his name, he is present. "Really present?" you ask. Or "symbolically present?" That is a false dichotomy, I respond. Reality is always present through symbols. Yes, Jesus is really and symbolically present when people live out his way and take on his role in the world. That is the meaning of the Christian Mystery.

Jesus is a point in time that does not end. He is a special relationship to the world, to others, and to the universe. When we put ourselves in that point of time, that is, relating that point to our point in time and live out the Jesus way of being as we can best know it, we discover and create the Jesus persona in our world. We encounter and become his conscious activity towards others and towards all that there is. Our spirits are joined.

Especially important in the reliving of the story is the sharing of the passion not just of Jesus but of all humans and all living beings. For it is only by undergoing the sufferings of others and sharing in sufferings that we can experience our solidarity with them. It is only in accepting our ultimate and essential contingency, of our being-to-death, that we fully enter into the human community and live. This is the source of happiness, meaning, and universal consciousness--in the present.

My expression is not acceptable to those who think in classical terms of autonomous beings out there apart from consciousness. I think that they are caught in a passing worldview in which time is a dimension of space--i.e. space-time. But I suggest that we are passing into a worldview in which space is a dimension of time--i.e. time-space.  (See my earlier blogs on time.) But again postmodernity and all its formulas are passing as well.

Also as I believe that the Jesus consciousness or spirit or persona is very special, so I believe is the Buddha consciousness, the Dao consciousness, the Jewish consciousness, the Socrates consciousness, the revolutionary consciousness, but only insofar as these ways of acting in the world are paths to a transcending consciousness and a relational world or what Christians call "eternal life" and the "kingdom of God."