Beware, life may be lost in the living!

Everyone had had such high hopes. Ten years ago Cyrus, the King of Persia had set them free to return to their beloved Jerusalem. Jerusalem, that treasured memory, embellished in their hearts during the long 50 years of captivity in Babylon. 50 years of mourning and repentance pouring out in the voice of psalm 137:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill .
May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.

50 years of waiting during which the Levites, the priestly scholars of the Law, turned their undivided attention to the scrolls of the Torah, which had been carried into exile. The Torah comprised the history of Israel’s relationship with Yahweh-God. With the passion of repentant zeal the Levites  edited the record of the nation’s history, a history that had recorded the ups and downs between Yahweh- God and a stiff-necked people – struggling to remain in relationship together. 50 years, during which the great task of editing the sacred texts was an attempt to find meaning in the face of the disaster of defeat and exile. This process initiated religious reforms as a sign of repentance. Once again the Children of Israel were called to return to the covenant with Yahweh-God. After 50 years, God finally answered them. Cyrus, his instrument – set them free to return to Jerusalem, city of cherished memory.

The returnees had had such high hopes. Yet within a space of years we hear God’s complaint renewed against them in the words of Isaiah, the third of that name. The third Isaiah raises his voice in protest:

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift your voice like a trumpet and announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins.

The old dynamic had reasserted itself. The people complain against God :

Look we fast and you do not see, we follow the rules, humble ourselves, and you do not notice.

They are attention-seeking, self-preoccupied , their humility a mask for their arrogant complacency.Through the voice of the prophet God blasts them for their complicity in the structural sins of injustice and oppression, which had so quickly corrupted the society of the restored Jerusalem community. Look, Yahweh cries:

you serve your own interests on your fast day, and oppress all your workers …. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. … Is this not the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not hide yourself from your own kin.

The hopes of the returnees, the 50-year task of reform and repentance had given way to the human propensity to retreat from a dream of something new, back into business-as-usual. Human-centered ways of seeing obscure the clarity of a new God-inspired perspective. A perspective grasped only in moments of crisis when the edifice of human self-interest cracks and the resulting fear makes them receptive once more to God’s words. Like Isaiah and the Hebrew prophets before him, Jesus sounded the same call to repentance and change. Christians have come to recognize the echo of Isaiah’s words in Jesus’ proclamation of the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.

The Apostle Paul reminds the Christians at Corinth that:

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  

In such tones Paul confronts the Corinthians with the error of their ways.

As it was with the Jews in 583BC, so with the Corinthians in around 60AD. The French have an expression: plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose- the more things change the more they stay the same. The Corinthians rested their new-found faith upon the foundations of human wisdom, rather than on the power of God. The problem with human wisdom is that it degrades into business-as-usual. By this I mean that human behaviour both individual, and societal inevitably gravitates to what is known, to what is familiar. What we know is the need to scramble for the exercise of power. Power is necessary to protect self-interest. Self-interest always results in a severing of the connections between people and groups in society. Paul tells the Corinthians:

What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who trust in him. 

The problem, Paul explains is that if human society is driven only by what we already know how to do, the familiar ways and means, business-as-usual – he refers to this as knowing only what the human spirit within tells us – we close-off to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. So then, how are the promptings of the Holy Spirit to be discerned?

Transpersonal psychology, is the psychology that understands that the ordering of the emotions, i.e. the personal life, is only the first phase of psychological work. The ordering of our relationship to the spiritual, i.e.the transpersonal life, remains the second phase of work. Transpersonal psychology makes a distinction between the lesser and greater self. The lesser self is shaped by the experiences of our personal autobiography, i.e. the events and experiences of our individual lives. Our experience of life is given particular meaning through the way we remember our personal history. Memory is a region of smoke and mirrors, which conditions our perception of experience. The memory of the lesser self is only ever partial. Its conclusions drawn for living life are consequently distorted by the emotion of fear.

The greater self is the lesser self, placed within a larger frame of collective and spiritual reference. This larger frame of reference connects us to our collective memories. Connected to collective consciousness society remembers how in the past our tendency towards business-as-usual has always produced unfortunate results. How quickly the exiles returning to Jerusalem forgot the lessons of their collective past. How short the collective memory span of the American public is. Disconnected from our collective consciousness, we remain destined to endlessly repeat the mistakes of the past.

The greater self opens us also to the promptings of the Spirit. Here we are continually refashioned by an encounter with life that reveals to us how interdependent we are upon one another and how dependant we are upon God. Living from the greater self reveals to us that individual prospering is intertwined with the individual wellbeing of others. My prosperity is dependant because it is interconnected with your wellbeing.

The voice of the Prophet Isaiah sounds to us across 2500 years of life lost in the living. Similarly, the words of the Apostle Paul confront us across 1900 years of wisdom lost in knowledge. T.S.Eliot concludes:

The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust[1].

Jesus had a pithy and somewhat enigmatic way of talking at times. He says: You are the salt of the earth, you are the light of the world. Note, he does not say you are to be the salt of the earth nor does he say you are to become the light of the world. He says, you are! We are the salt of the earth and the light of the world when we live lives of love that unite us within a connection to both our collective memory and the prompting of the Spirit.

Love is expressed interpersonally through compassion and collectively through justice. At the personal level love includes self-acceptance, mutual-acceptance, toleration, forgiveness, self-giving service, humility. Collectively, the expression of love means agitating for justice, fighting inequity, embracing inclusion, practicing tolerance and extending mercy. Living lives of love is no sentimental project.

God called the Jewish exiles to return to the covenant he made with them as a people.  God continues to call us to also live in a covenant. Ours is not the covenant God made with Moses, but the New Covenant initiated by Jesus on the cross, and confirmed by God in the resurrection. It is a New Covenant in my blood reaffirmed each time we celebrate Eucharist together. This is a covenant into which we have all been baptized. Being salty and illuminated, we continue to be those who live the promises of our baptismal covenant.[2]


[1] Choruses from the Rock T.S Eliot.
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Brings us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

[2]  Celebrant    Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
People         I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant    Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
People         I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant   Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
People         I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant   Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People        I will, with God’s help.
Celebrant   Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
People        I will, with God’s help.
(Book of Common Prayer, pp. 304-305)


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