Godtalk: Coming Alive in Christ

POST BY PKnott

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prayer
Christ the King of Life
Christ the King of Life by Lawrence Lew OP at Flickr

For many today there is a split between the reality that we experience in daily life and the meaning of life as it is expressed in religious language. It is as though we have been introduced to two very different worlds. One is intangible, invisible, pure spirit; the other is the physical world, our bodily existence in a visible, material world, with which we are continuously interacting. This part is considered of less importance, 'purely natural’ as distinct from the higher world of the 'supernatural'.

The manner in which we are trained to think of language illustrates the split. For example, take a modern dictionary description of spiritual:  ‘relating to the spirit or soul and not to physical nature or matter; intangible, characteristic of sacred things, the Church, religion etc.’

Defining spiritual in this way throws new light on our modern crises. By separating God, religion etc. from everything material, people believe that we are now relieved of a heavy and dangerous burden in our post-Christian, post-religion, post-modern world. Again, by the way we’ve become accustomed to distinguish 'spiritual' from 'material', this can be interpreted as a reduction of everything to materialism, denying God and the supernatural.

But by breaking through this notion of inert matter in which we have been educated, we can begin to understand religious language in a quite different way. This breakthrough leads to a new understanding of our present condition and of God, who sustains us in it at every moment of our existence. This God is not a remote, impersonal figure.

This God is manifesting Godself to us in and through our material existence, not in spite of it. In Christian understanding, God did so uniquely in Christ Jesus, 'the first-born of all creation', as St Paul tells us: 'He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation.’ (Col 1.15)  The Good News (Gospel) is that incarnation is not a gift exclusively given to Jesus, but also God's sharing of God's very Self with each one of us.

This manifestation continues throughout the ages: it is happening now in every human being without exception. We are already living the life of God. ‘May your inner selves grow strong, so that Christ may live in your hearts through faith, so that grounded in love and based on love, you may with all the saints have strength to grasp the breadth and the length, the height and the depth until, knowing the love of Christ, which is beyond all knowledge, you are filled with the utter fullness of God. Glory be to God, whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can think or imagine.’ (Eph. 3.14-21)

This gives a glimpse of the miracle in which we are living at this moment. We are not solitary beings struggling to survive in a hostile world. We’re caught up in something infinitely greater than ourselves. In this something, we all live and move and have our being. We’re so interconnected with each other, in ways we are only beginning to understand, that it is through our connectedness that we become persons. We cannot exist as independent units. At every moment, whether we are aware of it or not, our existence depends upon others and others' existence depends on us.

This way of seeing the reality in which we live does not change the world,  but it does begin to change the core of our being, upsetting our habitual ways of seeing - a painful process at first perhaps, but becoming more attractive as we adapt to this new way of seeing. Our universe is expanding and within this expanding universe our minds are also expanding. We are being invited into a new relationship with all creation, with all living things, with our own self.

Wonder begins to take hold of us; fear and guilt grow less and lose their grip. And we catch glimpses of this strange ability to delight in being and in feeling free to be the unique persons we are created to be. We now know we can never be alone. This 'something, greater than I am', in whom I live and move and have my being can never leave us.

We are identified with this something greater, and this something greater identifies with ourselves. Our mind and our heart may not grasp it, but we can allow ourselves to be grasped by this truth. We call this something greater, 'God'. It is shorthand, used throughout the ages, to put us in touch with this mysterious reality which is nearer to each of us than we are to ourselves, beckoning us beyond ourselves. 

The only place we can find God at first hand is within our own experience. God is to be found in the earthiness and messiness, the chaos and strife of everyday living. ‘We are to work for peace (harmony, at home, at work, wherever we may be), and bring happiness to others.’ (Childrens’Eucharistic Prayer) This is the fullness of life Christ promised:  ‘I came that you might have life to the full.’ (Jn 10.10)  He’s shown us the Way. 

Peter Knott SJ