The Body of Christ
In my last post I explained how everything is interconnected, and how each of us is actually, in essence, the universe experiencing itself. Some might think that this message does not fit with Christian teaching. Perhaps, some would say, it fits with Buddhism, Hinduism, or Taoism, but certainly not Christianity. In this post I want to show why I think it actually fits with Christianity really well.
When I was growing up I mostly thought of God as transcendent. I thought of God as being "out there" somewhere. I saw God as all powerful, and therefore capable of being near to me, but really God existed in some other dimension altogether. Then I read the book Conversations with God by Neale Donald Walsch. In some ways it's a little new agey, but I have to give it credit for giving me what felt like a profound spiritual epiphany. He argues that if, in the beginning, nothing existed except God, then God had no way of knowing God's self for the same reason that I explained in my last post, you cannot know black without white or white without black. You cannot know self without other. There would have been no contrast. Therefore, in order for God to have the experience of being God, God would have to have the experience of NOT being God. As Walsch wrote: "you cannot experience yourself as what you are until you’ve encountered what you are not.” So then, God had to create a "reference point" outside of God, where God could stand outside of God's self and look back and see God's own magnificence.
Immediately when I read that it made me think of Jesus. God becoming human is central to Christianity. It occurred to me that maybe God became human for this purpose, to be able to experience not being God.
"Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death -
even death on a cross.
Except I got this powerful sense that this is not just talking about Jesus, but that Jesus symbolizes all of us. God decided to experience life not through just one person, but every person and every creature. That's why we are here: God experiencing the dance of life through us and with us and as us forever and ever.
Where is the one place that we don't think to look for God? I think it is in ourselves. In the Bible we see God being found and expressed in these places and ways that people least expect. Where is the All Powerful Creator of the Universe? In a manger, as an innocent and vulnerable baby. Then he grows up to be a carpenter, riding not on a king's stallion but on a donkey, and gets executed between two thieves. The whole thing is about defying our expectations. It's about shattering our preconceived ideas about God. It's about finding God in the mundane and the ordinary, just like your ordinary old self. Each one of us is God in disguise.
"for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’" (Matthew 25:35-40).
Somehow we have become fixated on the idea that God is this single being, separate from and far from us, but we see in the scriptures, right from the very beginning verses that contradict that idea:
"Then God said, "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness..." (Genesis 1:26)
This is suggesting that God is not a single individual entity, but rather that God is somehow many. God exists in community, in relationship. What if God is relationship itself? Could that be part of the reason why we say God is love? We don't love in isolation. There is always someone or something that we love. To me this is the inner meaning of the Trinity. God is relationship, is community, is love and yet totally unified at the same time...just like we all are. Unity in diversity.
So it would make sense that Jesus would claim to be "one with the Father," and at the same time pray as though God were also in some ways different or separate from him. This is the paradox, but it is clear that in the same way Jesus saw himself as connected to God he also saw himself connected to everyone and that we are all connected to one another. He says "I am the vine, you are the branches." He says to love your neighbor as yourself. He prayed "That they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us," John 17:21.
Of course, some people who came after Jesus followed suit. Saint Paul writes in Galatians 2:20 "It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." This is a way of saying that your individual self is not your true identity. The real you is what Paul and Jesus called Christ. To me Christ means the eternal nature within us. It is the spirit that animates us, the soul of the universe. Christ expressed itself powerfully through Jesus, and it is Christ that continues to live on through us.
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” - Teresa of Avila
The theme of interconnection is even evident in the sacrament of communion. Jesus lifts up the bread and the wine and proclaims "This is my body." Bread and wine were the staple foods people consumed each day. In the ritual we recognize that these elements become us and we become them. Really this gets into a kind of re-framing of death, that God gives God's self away eternally through these material forms. Because God is always doing this life is eternally renewed. The wheat must be ground into bread and grapes crushed into wine. By their sacrifice we are sustained and live. And so instead of being seen as tragic, death is given a new meaning: the eternal outpouring of love. It's the idea that God doesn't hang onto any fixed identity but is always getting lost in an eternal adventure, playing with an endless variety of forms.
I could probably go on and on about this for a very long time, but these are just a few of the ways that I see interconnectedness as central to Christianity. To me Christianity is about waking up to our divinity, our sacredness, and our unity with God right here, right now.