I remind myself that, as I sit here now,
God is gazing on me with love and holding me in being.
I pause for a moment and think of this.
www.sacredspace.ie, site of Irish Jesuits
Scripture: St. John 4.16-26 (NRSV)
16 Jesus said to her [a Samaritan woman], ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ 17The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ 19The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you* say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ 21Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ 25The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ 26Jesus said to her, ‘I am he [i.e., I am, or I AM], the one who is speaking to you.’
The Body of Christ is not the embodiment of another cause or movement or religion. The Body of Christ is a spiritual Reality transcending even religion, and that is part of Jesus Christ’s radical message to our day and every age. As Christ cannot be defined or contained in religion, even the Christian religion, likewise, the true Christian, as Christ, for being part of the earthy and celestial Body of Christ, has transcended religion in Christ and, thus, validates and participates in religion as it points to Christ. Therefore, religion-pointing-to-Christ is his or her means of moving toward the full realization of what it means to be in Christ and to be Christ. This fullness is called Christian Perfection. Therefore, the truly holy man or woman looks at religion as Christ looks at it, rather than defining Christ by religion. Religion, then, can signify Christ, but religion cannot define Christ or the person and community in Christ and as Christ. Paradise, then, likewise, being Christlike, transcends religion, for Paradise is being in Christ, with all its implications for the life now and to come. This teaching is clear in the Eucharist, for the Holy Communion, through the elements of Creation, contains within itself the Presence and Witness of that which defines it and transcends it. Eucharist is, then, a sign of the unity of immanence and transcendence, and such places Paradise now as potentially the lived Reality of every person who chooses to follow Christ. The actualization of this lived experience is a contemplative experience and, therefore, cannot be lived mentally but only beyond the mental and only within community with other persons in Christ.
A rabbi had a dream of paradise. He entered by being dunked into a deep well. When he came out, he saw only a few truly holy persons sitting at tables and studying the Torah, or Jewish Law. The rabbi asked the guiding angel, “It this all there is to paradise?” The angel replied, “You seem to think truly holy ones are in paradise. You have it backwards. Paradise is in them!”
Paradise is thought of as a future place that is like a lost first place. But, what if there is no lost first place? What if the longing for a first place of perfect bliss is Grace operating through Creation to move Creation toward a destination the Creator wills for every person and all Nature to experience? What if this eschatological pull is itself part of the divine inspiration within Creation, not simply a God acting outside and upon Creation? What if you and I are part of that divine inspiration: divinely inspired and destined persons? What if images and stories of places like the Garden of Eden are not historical first places but eschatological and teleological inspired images of a future destination? What if the longing for a first place is not a first place, but, rather, the longing is for the Creator to be fully realized, as the Creator realizes meaning within Its Triune Being, through a togetherness renewed in the full Image of the Source of Creation: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Then, Paradise is not just a place or destination, but an image of the Divine Itself. Then, essentially, what if our longing is not for a place or state, as much as for God? Then, is it not possible the full enjoyment of God and God’s full enjoyment of you, now and always, would be Paradise? What if you could enjoy Paradise right now? You can, and that is part of Jesus’ radical message.
The Jewish tale above points out that the externals of religion do not make Paradise. And, so, the externals of a past or future place will not make Paradise Paradise. Paradise is a Relational Event of communion, togetherness, respect, essentially Love, and imaged in the Image of the God-in-Three.
Whether you study the Bible, Torah, Dammapada, Bhagavad Gita, the Koran: that is not Paradise. One can join a church or sangha or live in a monastery: that is not Paradise. Associating with a religion, even devoutly: that is not Paradise. Jesus preached the Kingdom of Heaven: that is Paradise. Kingdom of Heaven is a sign of a spiritual-but historically embedded-Reality, and Jesus made that clear, and it was made clear in the Incarnation of Christ, the Son of God. The Message of the Kingdom of Heaven is not a radical pluralism or a Gnostic divorcing of matter and spirit or history and some special knowledge reserved for a select few. You cannot find the Kingdom of Heaven, for it is not a place: it is everywhere.
The open secret, what the New Testament calls “mystery,” about Paradise, then, is Paradise is not only everywhere, Paradise is within some persons in a vital and emerging manner. Paradise, then, is not in some persons in such a way. An open secret about Paradise, then, is Paradise is not a religious place or state. Paradise is a Reality prior to, within, and beyond all places and states. Religion leads some persons to the experience of Paradise and now, while the same religion leads some persons farther from Paradise.
The Contemplative Life, which engages spiritual practices to experience Heaven in Silence, is a path to nurture within the growth of Paradise. Therefore, essentially, contemplation is not religious, but contemplation, while using the path of religion, takes religion into the immediate and faithful encounter with Paradise, with God. Few persons, if anyone, will enjoy a consistent experience and sharing of Paradise apart from devotion, in some way, to spiritual disciplines that lead into, through, and outside the cultural boundaries and aspects of religion. Christ Jesus is, indeed, the Person leading us to transcend the limitations of religion, to find ourselves truly holy. He spoke of transcendence of religion to a woman at the well of Jacob, as we see in the Scripture for today: St. John 4.14-26.
This holiness or Paradise is not essentially religious or moral, rather, this holiness is the embodiment of a Love that itself is able to embrace a diversity within the oneness of Love, even as the Holy Trinity is a Three experiencing Itself as One, and a One experiencing Itself as Three. Be assured, the man or woman who transcends the boundaries of culture and religion in the Love of Christ is growing into holiness and is sharing the fullness of Paradise through the witness of Grace within.
What is holiness? How does it differ from religion, morality, and much that goes under the label spirituality?
What is Paradise? Do you sense Paradise within you? Within someone else you know?
Keep spending at least twenty to thirty minutes daily in Silence, resting in the Lord of Love.
Explore the website www.sacredspace.ie offered by the Irish Jesuits and do some of the meditation exercises offered at the site.
Consider, if you are not already, sponsoring a child through Compassion International. You can find out more about Compassion International by going to www.compassion.net to read about sponsoring, in the name of Jesus, children living in poverty. Thanks! Brian K. Wilcox
To contact Brian, write firstname.lastname@example.org .