Friday, July 29, 2016

The Acknowledged Christ

I hope you’ve had the experience, at least once in your life, of being blindsided by Somebody showing up where you’d least expect.

Mountains in a sudden flash of sunlight across a harbor.
An impulse at a Hare Krishna parade to join the chanting from the sidelines, good Methodist that you’ve always been.
The eye contact between you and the unknown woman who’s just pulled you back onto the curb out of traffic you didn’t see coming.
The desire to kneel down at the back of a church, when you haven’t darkened the door of such a place since you were sixteen.
The realization, in the middle of a random sexual encounter, that both of you (or all of you) are in the Presence of something vastly bigger and more important than a short spell of uncomplicated pleasure--that your trick is looking back at you with the face of God.
The sacred, grace-filled letting go in the last days of a lover’s life that Mark Doty describes with such heart-opening clarity and vulnerability in Heaven’s Coast.
The flash of lightening across the night sky of a quiet mind in the meditation hall, nice Jewish boy from Dallas that you are.
The kind of experience that leaves you stammering something like, “Oh--it’s You again.”
From my own perspective grounded in the Christian tradition, these experiences are already foreshadowed in the vagueness of biblical accounts of the Resurrection. No two Gospel accounts tell the same stories. Mark, the earliest of the four Jesus narratives that eventually got included in the Bible, doesn’t have a resurrection account at all, just an inexplicably empty tomb from which two women flee in terror at dawn. My favorite is the story from Luke of two disciples on the road to Emmaus, who fall in with a stranger to whom they tell the news of Jesus’ death. The stranger starts laying out for them everything in Scripture that predicted the Passion. That evening, they sit down with him to a meal, from which he vanishes, in the same moment that they recognize the risen Lord “in the breaking of the bread.”
There’s plenty of space in that story for me: I don’t know what the fuck would show up in the Polaroids that nobody took, and I don't much care. I just know that the encounter broke their lives open, as it breaks mine open.
This isn’t about a resuscitated corpse. In Christian terms, this is about the Second Person of the Trinity taking flesh at times and in places you never saw coming, setting ablaze the ordinary world of our material existence. After all, it was God’s flesh all along, before we were given a life lease on it. “He comes to us as one unknown,” wrote Albert Schweitzer in The Quest of the Historical Jesus. It’s about “the acknowledged Christ” (the phrase belongs to Indian theologian M.M. Thomas), ever present in the world, shoring it up from below as well as drawing it down from above, known across cultures by a thousand different names, though none can ever comprehend him/her. The One who vanishes from sight most completely in the dogmatism of those who think they have sole possession of the truth.

Friday, July 8, 2016

On Buddhas and Buttholes

The tattoo I added to my left shoulder twelve years ago needs some retouching. As well as I can judge. I’ve never seen it. At least not right side around. The mirror is the best I can do.

Without telling you the whole story of how the design came to me, my  ink reads, “Destroyer of Illusion.”  The script looks sufficiently Indo-Himalayan, the pattern sufficiently abstract, that lots of people curious enough to ask me about it assume it’s not in English. The letters striate from the perimeter into a tightly described circle, a part of my body visible to others but not to me. I take it on faith that it’s there.
Well, maybe you get the idea...
“Destroyer of Illusion” can mean a lot of things. When the phrase started running incessantly through my mind, I pictured Keanu Reeves in The Matrix as vividly as the warrior boddhisattvas of Tibetan Buddhism. Only later did I get it that those three words, and the design I’d made of them, were teaching me a lesson about acknowledging my First Chakra. Big surprise--embodied wisdom isn’t always a matter of cognition, or of self-awareness in a dominantly intellectual sense. Sometimes it’s a matter of going down into the earth and into the silent, unseen roots of our life, rather than up into the clarity of an elevated realm of light. It’s a matter of trust that it’s not only safe, it’s even essential, to be seen from another perspective than that of our own ego.
“We go down, like moles, claws scrabbling in the soil,” sing The Hidden Cameras. “The journey goes down, not up,” writes Pema Chödrön. “A man walks upright, and the food in his body is shut in, as if in a well-made purse,” says Julian of Norwich. “When the time of his necessity comes, the purse is opened and then shut again, in most seemly fashion.  And it is God who does this, as it is shown when he says that he comes down to us in our humblest needs.”