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M. Robert Mulholland Jr. exposes the false selves that you may be tempted to hide behind and helps you to instead discover the true self that comes from being hidden with Christ in God. If the goal of the...
M. Robert Mulholland Jr. exposes the false selves that you may be tempted to hide behind and helps you to instead discover the true self that comes from being hidden with Christ in God. If the goal of the Christian journey is Christlikeness, then you must reckon with the unhealthy ways that you root your sense of being in things other than God. Along the way, you will discover a growing sense of intimacy and abandonment to God. Not only will you encounter the joy of discovering your own self, you will also find a greater love for others and compassion for the world.
Gracious and loving God, in love you spoke me into being before the foundation of the world. Your love has enfolded and indwelled me through all the winding paths of my life, and your love has prepared me for this book. Help me so to open myself to your indwelling love that this book may be a place of transforming encounter with you. Amen.
I suspect you are reading this book because the idea of a "deeper journey" touched a chord within you. You may have been on the Christian journey for some time or perhaps you are a newcomer to life in Christ. Whichever the case, you may have reached a point in your walk with God where your relationship with God has become somewhat stale. The things that excited and stimulated you at the first stages of your journey have become routine. You hunger for a deeper, richer, fuller life with God.
Once I asked the pastor of a large, vigorous, dynamic, growing church with a strong emphasis on the deeper life in Christ-and a church that confirmed fifty to seventy-five new members each week-where these people were coming from. His response surprised me. He told me that almost all of these people had begun theirjourney in Christ in an even larger, more vigorous, more dynamic church whose worship was leading-edge contemporary, whose focus was strongly charismatic and whose corporate life centered in highly emotional expressions of faith in God. These people would stay in this church for about two to three years and then the novelty and excitement would become ritualized and dry for them. They began to hunger, in his words, "for something deeper." They began to sense that there was more to the Christian life.
You may have asked yourself, Isn't there more to the Christian life than being active in a Christian community, affirming a certain set of beliefs, adopting a particular behavior pattern? You may have wondered about the purpose of the Christian life. As you probably know well, this line of questions brings forth a multitude of answers. This multiplicity itself reveals a great lack of clarity on the nature of the Christian life.
The biblical answer to the question is: To be like Jesus. You may be thinking that this is pretty ambiguous, and given the diversity of ideas of what being like Jesus entails, you would be right. For instance, is the recent fad of "What Would Jesus Do?" with its jewelry, clothing, Bible covers and bracelets the way to be like Jesus? Or is there much more to it than this? Just what does it mean to be like Jesus? Let's investigate some of the biblical indicators.
If the purpose of the Christian life is to be like Jesus, it might be a good idea to first get some idea of who Jesus is. Paul describes Jesus in this way: "In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell" (Col 1:19 NRSV). I doubt that you have difficulty with this idea. The Word, which is God, became flesh in Jesus (Jn 1:1, 14). You may also remember some of Paul's other affirmations such as "God was in Christ" (2 Cor 5:19) and "Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor 4:4 NRSV). Jesus himself said, "The one who has seen me has seen the Father" (Jn 14:9), "I and the Father are one" (Jn 10:30) and "The Father is in me and I am in the Father" (Jn 10:38 NRSV). The writer of Hebrews tells us Jesus is "the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being" (Heb 1:3 NRSV). So when Paul tells us that all the fullness of God was in Jesus, he is simply summarizing what these and other New Testament passages convey-God and Jesus are in a profound and mysterious union with each other.
Now here is something remarkable. Alongside Paul's claim that all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Christ, have you ever noticed Paul's prayer for believers in Ephesians 3:19? Paul prays "that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (NRSV)! Paul seems to be praying that we would be like Jesus! We are to have something of the same profound and mysterious union with God that Jesus has as the revelation of our true humanness in the image of God.
Paul demonstrates this amazing perspective for us in a number of ways. "Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Eph 4:15 NRSV). Two verses earlier Paul writes that we are all to achieve "maturity, ... the measure of the full stature of Christ" (NRSV). Paul tells the Corinthians that we, "beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness" (2 Cor 3:18), and he urges the Philippians to have the same way of being that Jesus had (Phil 2:5-8).
We should note, however, Paul is not alone in this understanding of the purpose of the Christian life being Christlikeness. Peter, after telling us that God has called us to his own glory, writes that God has given us "his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants of the divine nature" (2 Pet 1:4 NRSV). John says, "When he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is" (1 Jn 3:2 NRSV).
You would be wise to ask at this point, where do these men get this outlandish idea that we are to be like Jesus? I suspect that its origins lie with Jesus himself. Look at this radical statement of what the Christian life is all about in Jesus' prayer in John 17:
I ask not only on behalf of these [the eleven disciples], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word [that is us!], that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (Jn 17:20-23 NRSV)
We should note that when Jesus prays that we may all be one, he is not praying for some kind of sociological or theological or ecclesiological or liturgical unity. He is not asking for a homogeneity that levels all diversity and brings plurality into a single "authorized" manifestation of the Christian life or community. The unity, the oneness Jesus prays for, is illustrated by his own relationship with God: "As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us." Jesus is praying that you and I would live in a similar kind of relationship with God that he has as the revelation of true humanness in the image of God. Jesus is indicating that the purpose of the Christian life is a life of loving union with God at the depths of our being.
We see the profound nature of Jesus' prayer when he says, "The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one." To understand what is going on here we need to have a little lesson in Greek. (Don't worry, it won't hurt.) "Glory" is the translation of a Greek word that represents the essential characteristics or nature of a person or thing that makes them who they are. Thus the "glory" of God is God's very nature, the essence of who God is.
Let's look at some places in the New Testament where this meaning of "glory" opens up a verse to much deeper dimensions. For instance, Peter writes, "the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you" (1 Pet 4:14 NRSV). Note that in the parallelism of the text, glory = God. Peter also says that we have been called to God's "glory" (1 Pet 5:10), that is, to be partakers of God's own nature (2 Pet 1:3-4). Paul indicates that as a result of our sin, we have fallen short of the "glory" of God (Rom 3:23), but now that we have been restored in our relationship with God through Christ, we hope to share the "glory" of God (Rom 5:2).
Do you remember the passage we looked at a few pages back, "We all, ... beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness" (2 Cor 3:18)? Here again, the parallelism of the passage reveals that glory = "likeness." The rest of the verse is "from glory into glory." When Paul says we are being changed from glory into glory, he means that we are being changed from what we are in our unlikeness to Christ into his likeness. All this suggests that when Jesus says that he has given to us the "glory" that God has given to him, he is indicating that he has made it possible for us to once again be formed in the image of God, to share God's nature as we were intended. Jesus is saying that he has imparted to us God's nature that dwells in him. He has made possible the restoration of union with God.
At this point we might be tempted to think that this union with God is a private "possession" for our individual benefit. Jesus disabuses us of this temptation. He indicates there is yet a larger purpose for our union with God: "That the world may believe.... [S]o that the world may know that you have sent me" (Jn 17:21, 23 NRSV). Union with God results in our being a person through whom God's presence touches the world with forgiving, cleansing, healing, liberating and transforming grace. John saw this clearly: "As he is, so are we in this world" (1 Jn 4:17 NRSV). The world will not believe in Christ because of our sound theology, our correct creed, our well de- fined dogma, our rigorous religiosity. The world will believe when it sees Christlikeness manifested in our life. The world will know that God has sent Christ not simply because we pronounce it to be so but when they see Christlikeness lived out in their midst in our lives in the world.
Such Christlikeness, however, is the consequence of a loving union with God. This is why Jesus finishes his prayer for us with the words "that the world may know that you ... have loved them even as you have loved me" (Jn 17:23 NRSV). The source of a loving union with God lies in God's unfathomable love for us. Think of it-Jesus says that God loves you in exactly the same way that God loves him! To respond to such love with the love of your total being draws you into that loving union with God for which Jesus prays.
To be like Jesus, then, as it is portrayed in the New Testament, is a matter of both "being" and "doing." It is being in a relationship of loving union with God that manifests itself in Christlike living in the world.
It is to this life of deep, loving union with God that the mothers and fathers of our spiritual tradition call us. Let's look at a few examples from across the centuries. Archbishop Demetrios, writing of Ignatius of Antioch, one of the earliest church fathers (late first to early second century), says, "The absolute priority of God, the vital need for a real, existential connection with Him, the urgency of focusing on Him and entering into an advanced, total relationship with Him, seems to be the Ignatian message reaching our present." We can see here that the second generation of believers had entered into the loving union with God that Jesus, Paul, Peter and John described.
A couple of centuries later Athanasius of Alexandria wrote, "He became man that we might be made god." Now you might think this is a rather bold and extreme affirmation, and it certainly is. But isn't this simply another way to express Peter's contention that we are to become partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4)?
I suspect you might be thinking at this point that all this seems rather theoretical and esoteric. So let's look at some testimonies of people who have experienced this loving union with God. Simeon the New Theologian (A.D. 949-1022) describes in third person his experience of union with God:
A divine radiance suddenly appeared in abundance from above and filled the whole room. When this happened, the young man lost all awareness of his surroundings and forgot whether he was in a house or under a roof. He saw nothing but light on every side, and did not even know if he was standing on the ground.... He was wholly united to non-material light and, so it seemed, he had himself been turned into light.
This is, of course, an ecstatic instance of profound union with God and not a normal everyday experience. You might liken it to those moments of ecstatic union in a marriage relationship (and the mothers and fathers of our spiritual tradition often use marriage as an analogy for our relationship with God). Such moments are not the norm of the marriage relationship, but they can serve to bond the couple ever deeper in their love for one another. As a couple's love relationship grows and deepens, their union begins to become the primary context of their life in the world.
Here is another example using the image of light. Gregory Palamas (d. 1359) writes: "Participating in that light which surpasses them they are themselves transformed into it.... [T]he light alone shines through them and it alone is what they see ... and in this way God is all in all." I heard or read once a famous conductor's experience in leading a world-class orchestra in a performance of a great composer's masterpiece. On this occasion the orchestra became so united with the music that the conductor simply stopped leading them and stood and listened in awe as the orchestra became the incarnation of the composer's masterpiece. Writing of Francis of Assisi, Bonaventura (d. A.D. 1274) said, "He seemed to be totally absorbed in the flame of divine love ... and he longed to be totally transformed into him [Christ] by the fire of ecstatic love." You say, "But these are the great saints of our tradition." True, but aren't they the illustrations of what we are all created to become? After all, if Jesus prayed for you that you might have the same loving union with God that he has, should you be surprised that some of our sisters and brothers in the faith have actually lived in this reality?
Let's pick up the marriage image again. In his Spiritual Canticle, John of the Cross (A.D. 1542-1591) focuses on the soul's "espousal" and union with God: "Love never reaches perfection until the lovers are so alike that one is transfigured in the other." He then amplifies this:
This spiritual marriage is incomparably greater than the spiritual espousal, for it is a total transformation in the beloved in which each surrenders the entire possession of the self to the other with a certain consummation of the union of love. The soul thereby becomes divine, becomes God through participation, insofar as is possible in this life.... It is accordingly the highest state attainable in this life.
Also speaking of this spiritual marriage-the union of the soul with God-John's spiritual director, Teresa of Ávila (A.D. 1515-1582) writes: "One can say no more-insofar as can be understood-than that the soul, I mean the spirit, is made one with God."
I hope you are beginning to see that the Christian life in its fullness is far more than being active in a Christian community, affirming a certain set of beliefs or adopting a particular behavior pattern. These are a secondary result of the primary reality of a life engaged in an ever deepening union with God in love.
Kallistos Ware puts it like this, "Christianity is not merely a philosophical theory or a moral code, but involves a direct sharing in divine life and glory, a transforming union with God 'face to face.'" One of the ways in which this sharing in divine life restructures our journey is a decentering of our experience of prayer. Writing of the prayer of the heart in the Eastern tradition, Ware says, "'Prayer of the heart,' therefore, means not just 'affective prayer' but prayer of the entire person.... [A] state of reintegration, in which the one who prays is totally united with the prayer itself and with the Divine Companion to whom the prayer is addressed." Prayer itself becomes the experience of loving union with God. Doesn't this provide you with a whole new perspective on Paul's injunction to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess 5:17 NRSV)?
Finally, let me conclude this brief historical excursion of life in loving union with God with the insight of Thomas Merton (A.D. 1915-1968): "This Spirit of God, dwelling in us, given to us, to be as it were our own Spirit, enables us to know and experience, in a mysterious manner, the reality and presence of the divine mercy in ourselves. So the Holy Spirit is intimately united to our own inmost self, and His presence in us makes our 'I' the 'I' of God." This is but a small sample of the theme of union with God in love that runs strong and deep through two millennia of Christian life and experience. It is to this reality that I hope to introduce you in the chapters that follow.
Excerpted from The Deeper Journey by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr. Copyright © 2006 by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr.. Excerpted by permission.
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