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Are we ignoring the real message of Jesus?
on 13 November 2012
What is wrong with modern Christianity? Did Christianity get off on the wrong foot almost from its inception? That is the thesis of this thought provoking and challenging book, a fascinating new take on the Jesus Christ we thought we were familiar with.
The starting point of the book is the Gospel of Thomas, restored to us when it was found among the Nag Hammadi scrolls in the Egyptian desert in 1945. These scrolls date back to early Christianity, being at least as old as the four canonical gospels, now widely regarded as the authentic teachings of Jesus, and give us a radical new take on Jesus and the metaphysics of his teaching.
Referring also to the 1960s Syriac studies, the Qumran Dead Sea Scrolls, Celtic poetry, Chinese Jesus Sutras, the African desert fathers, and so on, the author convincingly argues that the familiar Christian creeds and doctrines put together in the fourth century get in the way of understanding Jesus as a master in ancient spiritual wisdom, who was teaching the meltdown and recasting, the transformation, of human consciousness. This is the Eastern-like wisdom path of Jesus the life giver, a Jesus who is like us, calling us to put on the mind of Christ, telling us that the Kingdom of Heaven is a metaphor for a state of consciousness, a transformed awareness, a nondual or unitive consciousness, of divine abundance. There is then no separation between God and human, between human and human, all dwelling together in mutual loving reciprocity. The Kingdom of Heaven is within us and at hand, here and now, something we awaken into, not die into. This contrasts with the Pauline image of Jesus as Savior, who died for our sins, who is different from us, and has come to atone for mankind's depravity.
Today in Western Christian tradition we rely too much on logic, and doctrine and dogma. The author challenges these Western assumptions about Christianity and Christ, as she reminds us that whilst Christians take the events surrounding the resurrection as basic to their faith, the apostles who chose to follow Jesus knew nothing of what the future held. They had to see something else in this man, and we are long overdue, she writes, for a re-evaluation of how we understand the Jesus events and our religion based thereon, and of us understanding Christianity as a spiritual contemplative tradition. Indeed we see the first hopeful signs of this transformation.
The author examines our familiar Christian stories in this new light, as radical calls for the transformation of our consciousness; indeed shows how some of them become more readily understood within this new context. Jesus came to transform our brain led egoic operating system into a non-dual unitive system that is led by the heart, an organ of spiritual perception. In this light "repent" means to "go beyond the mind", or "into the larger mind", which is somewhat different from our classic understanding of repentance.
The book's thesis is lucidly explained step by step through Parts 1 and 2, respectively the Teachings of Jesus, and the Mysteries (Incarnation, Passion, Crucifixion, and the Great Easter Fast (not a spelling error!). It concludes in Part Three with core Christian wisdom practices available to us all; Centering Prayer Meditation, Lectio Divina, Chanting and Psalmody, and the Welcoming Prayer, the last being a pathway of vibrant spiritual strength and creativity connecting us to our energetic fields. The author takes us through these practices in detail, step by step. If we are diligent with these practices she tells us that we will find, as Jesus promised for ears who could hear, that the spirit lies within each one if us, connecting with reality and with each other.
The core Christian practice of the Eucharist can then be seen as more than a cultic ritual, experienced within the lower mythic or rational ranges of consciousness (as per Ken Wilber). It can instead be recognized as being at heart a wisdom practice originating from a non dual level of consciousness, when the celebration comes into its own.
I loved this book. I have already read it twice! As a Christian who has thought much and written something myself about the possible interface between new ideas on consciousness and the spirituality within religion, especially Christianity, this book is a breath of fresh air. Mainstream Christianity is losing ground, losing sight of the real gospel message of Jesus, the Jesus who came first and foremost as a teacher of the path of inner transformation, the deep level of consciousness he was trying to tell us about, a spiritual path that is found through self-emptying kenosis.
Christianity is either destined to change and grow into a proper form to match the consciousness of the twenty first century: or it will disappear as an institution and we shall then be left face to face with the naked presence of Christ.