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.

1 comment:

  1. Enlightenment is powerful shit. The very simple ambush as I stumble along in darkness thinking that I am in the light. And it never is final. I am part of the unfolding. And the contours of my own complexity are stunningly beautiful valleys and peaks precisely because of the play of shadow and light. I am reminded by this beautiful post of yours that it is in persons. Usually the anonymous ones, the unexpected ones. The fleeting nature of these encounters add somehow to their power.