But often we turn it into a mental story of something out there. We think of it mechanically in a sense, it’s something that happened and if I respond thus and so it means I don’t have to die or go to hell when I die or however we conceive of that. It’s as if a fact we either accept or reject, and that determines our afterlife.
But deepening our understanding of the value of a living myth can help here. We usually think of myth as something that isn’t true, just a story we tell. Instead, a living myth shifts the emphasis to the power of the story, independent of the underlying historical events.
It reframes the question from “did this happen?” to “what does this mean?”
The value of a living myth is that this mysteriously translates to relevance for our own life, path, and spiritual trajectories. This opens the door for personal transformation in a far more radical way than accepting a set of facts.
In the conceptual structure the ego creates, believing that this happened (among other things) is a token redeemable for celestial access in perpetuity when the physical body dies. We often don’t think of the model of suffering, death, and resurrection as a way to live.
Most of us have some form of lingering fear, resentment, pettiness, desire, lack of fulfillment, depression, and so on, that constitute less than full lives, less than kingdom awareness, less than joy and peace of full presence and awareness. We are less than whole, and even if we embrace a faith tradition, we conceive of wholeness as something for the afterlife only, if we do and believe according to the right set of propositions.
The emphasis on divine union in the contemplative tradition tells of a different experience, of living in light of the resurrection. We shift from “resurrection as fact” to “resurrection as path.”
Just like in AA where participants take a “searching and fearless moral inventory” of themselves, contemplatives consider all the obstacles to resurrection, or a life of complete fullness and manifest union. The question becomes “what needs to die for my true self to live in fullness?”
When we consciously consider this question, our answers stay fairly superficial. On the contemplative path, even our unconscious assumptions come to light. We expose the root of our mental-emotional obstacles that prevent full awakening.
[wp-svg-icons icon=”checkbox-checked” wrap=”i”] Wound
Wound determines our mental patterns, determines who we gravitate toward, determines patterns of thought, emotion, and behavior. It determines how we think of ourselves, how we shape our personality to fit social situations, determines friendships, determines our relationship partners, determines how we relate to those partners. Wound determines what we cling to for comfort, determines addictive patterns, Learning to see the wound and its effects without judging gradually saps its power. It feeds both on indulgence and resistance, and always, when laid bare, becomes a means of communion and healing.
[wp-svg-icons icon=”checkbox-checked” wrap=”i”] Memory
Memory can be source of pleasure and pain. Memory is a story selected from the source material of our lives. It can be a place of monsters we flee from or a security blanket we cling to. Depending on the story we tell, memory can be an ideal world we want to re-create or the corrupt world we want to change. From the contemplative perspective, both are a distraction from the ever-present peace of resurrection, which is always alive to the present moment.
[wp-svg-icons icon=”checkbox-checked” wrap=”i”] Identity
Both wound and memory are connected to identity. It’s who we think we are. It’s how we differentiate ourselves from others, the ego’s favorite pastime. We perceive and evaluate automatically, to situate ourselves over against, or beneath, or above. We find a thousand ways on a daily basis to reinforce our ego-identity, which prevents us from that place of openness, acceptance, presence, and agape that characterize resurrected awareness. Our identity keeps us on the surface and we are only able to see the surface identities of others, rather than seeing through to their animating source and their distorting wound – our point of communion. But instead we want to keep our primary identities as mother, or child, or victim, or thinker, or artist, and be recognized for them, not realizing the obstacle they represent.
[wp-svg-icons icon=”checkbox-checked” wrap=”i”] Conditioning
From the age of roughly 4-8 absorb more or less unquestioningly the values of our parents, authority figures, and peer groups. We get a sense of self-worth from praise or punishment in these contexts. We learn to adapt to social situations for approval. We develop dependencies, and learn the labels of our social identity, our school, neighborhood, church, denomination, city, nationality, political affiliation, or whatever extended ego-identity it is that reinforced. We learn group identification and ego extension. This is another distortion and obstacle to our ability to see others through resurrected lenses. We can’t love what we can’t see.
[wp-svg-icons icon=”checkbox-checked” wrap=”i”] Language
More deeply, we are bound by the constructs and categories in our heads and the values we assign to them. Protestants good, Catholics bad, New Agers even worse is one such set of mental categories. Americans good, Middle Easterners bad is another one. But our ideas and thoughts emerge from a symbolic system, a language that frames our thinking, one with its own history, development, emphases, suppressions, assumptions, and limitations. Even subtle changes in diction and pronunciation can change the mental landscape within which we operate. It filters our perception. Resurrected awareness understands that language, concept, and my own mental landscape are transitory, ephemeral, and can never participate fully in naked truth, it can only ever point toward it. Contemplatives understand “silence is God’s first language, everything else is a poor translation.”
[wp-svg-icons icon=”checkbox-checked” wrap=”i”] Presence
What are the obstacles to presence? Are we alert and attentive with others or entangled in our emotional programs for happiness? Are we alive to the moment or entangled in past and future? Are we assigning labels and judgment or introducing the grace of presence where we are.
Resurrected being is a state we are invited into. But we understand there are things we need to let go of if we are to die into life as Christ does. We fear these deaths because we assume the loss of our emotional programs for happiness to be pure misery. But when this whole system is laid bare in the context of ever-present love, what is lost? And what remains?
Richard Rohr on Dying Into Life
Thomas Keating on Easter from “The Mystery of Christ”
Carl McColman on the Danger of Easter