My pain is legitimate, as legitimate as yours or any other sentient being who has ever lived. This is the message of the crucifixion. It is the message bullies do not want to hear, yet victims need to say and in saying, be heard. This, our existential equality, is what the fear of our own vulnerability drives us to deny. Our vulnerability terrifies us and we lash out against it when we see it in the eyes of the suffering poor, the abused child, the victims of war brutalities, and the homeless refugees and migrants wandering the earth without a protector. In the eyes of sentient beings there is a judgment as well as a reflection of the events they witness. Our profoundly complex biochemistry kindles this dual light in our eyes as the light of self awareness. The inescapable teaching about human authenticity and integrity is wrapped up in this mystery related to pain and suffering and reflected in the eyes, the windows of the soul. In the dead eyes of the severely traumatized we, and the universe reflecting on itself through those eyes, stand condemned. It needs to be torn down in fire and made anew as a new heaven and a new earth.
That which we call ‘God’ is the ‘eye’ at the center of it all – an awareness that sees and records everything that really happens. Call it the morphic field of physical memory, if you will. Reality is the true molecular configurations of elements and biochemistries shaped by the accumulation of all past events. The fantasies, the rationalizations, the spin, the deceptions, and the lies we tell, they alter the balance of these scales not one whit. It is not fooled; it records only what reality has hosted. There is another way to put this: no one gets away with anything.
The cross is the conscience of the one body catholic. There hangs the human being betrayed by human machinations, suffering the results of human evil, not of God. As creatures our love will die; we will watch it die when loved ones pass away and one day we will die ourselves. This is the suffering inherent in our nature, suffering we could say is directly from the hand of our creator. Death is not evil in itself anymore than reproduction is. That inherent suffering comes from the same hand that created the clouds, the mountains, the bubbling mountain stream, and the lamb. . . Seen aright we understand a precious goodness has come to us from that hand. It has given us our very existence and the beauty and truth that surrounds it. This hand we can trust, and learn to trust all the more as our faith in the goodness of creation increases. However, human evil adds another level of suffering that reaches above and beyond that which nature has created for us.
Our form of consciousness can be turned away from its natural propensity for thanks and praise when it is spiritually injured. The more serious the injury, the more serious this reorientation of the understanding can become. When this happens human consciousness turns all its skills against itself, hating its mortal vulnerability. If we do not voluntarily take up our limitations, we will be haunted by reminders of them everywhere. Then the eyes of the poor in spirit, all those who are victimized, show reminders of the vulnerability inherent in the flesh. Such people have come to hate reminders of that vulnerability. That hatred drives them to target the least among us; they want to destroy the innocent and the vulnerable. This is what the old way of talking about the human condition called the demonic. It is a hate that can posses people, pushing out the personality that was once there. That is, it can replace who they were as children and the normal path of character development they would have followed which could hold a basic trust in the goodness of the world and the people in it, with a secondary personality centered around hatred and revenge. Here is the tricky part: more often than not this secondary personality will claim it is on a mission to save others, crushing the light in the eyes of their victims “for their own good.”
The symbol of the Church Catholic is of one body. All the members of the human race share in this body, this mystical body, for it is a reflection in symbol of the flesh and blood (DNA and biochemical makeup) we all share – regardless of race, politics, socioeconomic class, religion, or gender. For this Church we pray. Only those who have committed crimes against the Holy Spirit, the mortal sins, the vicious violent cruelty of the 10% of evil done for evil’s sake to slake this hatred of our creature-hood, remain outside the communion as long as they remain unrepentant. This is the definition of the communion. If the abuses we have been discussing are in fact attacks on the Holy Temple among us, the body of flesh and blood by which we bare the image of God through human consciousness, then as long as they remain unrepentant those who have committed such atrocities are, by definition, at war with the body. These are, as we say today, crimes against humanity.
Such people are in a sorry state. They are a house divided against itself.
What is real and true about being a creature is rooted in the evolutionary development (evo-devo) of the embryo as it is manifest through the child and on throughout the life stages. There is a continuity of identity gifted from the mystery from which all things are brought forth. Identity, and its map of the world by which it navigates, both arise from the biochemical matrix of our awareness interacting with our experiences, each experience etching themselves on our skin (the emotional body of our musculature and nervous systems) and the brain’s memory processing capacity. In this way the moment by moment miracle of human experience forms our characters as we are shaped and molded by the incarnation of our stories.
This is THE miracle. There is no other. This is THE magic. There is no other.
Humans can fool themselves into believing otherwise, tripping up their own minds. They risk coming to the end of their lives only to find out that they have been living out caricatures of the life they could have potentially had. It is a high price to pay for the self-deception that you have somehow magically escaped death and the attendant vulnerability of the shared human condition. Tragedy is the fate of those who insist the world must conform to their fantasy and proceed to act on such delusions. Such folly does not change the reality of the situations their incantations are addressing. On those shores, the stubborn firm foundations of what is and what is not in our molecular world, many a shipwreck of strange religious, political, and economic cults have crashed.
Why then, in the written material the Western cultural tradition insists is a valid guide through wisdom and folly, namely the Gospels, are we confronted with a miracle worker? If these materials are to be our gateway into the truth, why set up these guardians at the threshold? If a person came up to you today and claimed that their guru walks on water, was born of a virgin, multiplies loaves of bread, and raises the dead to life, well that person would be a liar. That is the way the world is right now, today. We have every reason to believe that is how the world was 2,000 years ago, or 5,000 years ago, or as long back as we might care to speculate. What is this all about? Why include the lies and liars?
The Gospel stories did not introduce miracle stories to the world, the world was already full of them. What the Gospels did was link those types of stories with Jesus as a teacher of compassion. This is new. Most miracle stories are power stories, magicians battling it out as we discussed when we looked at Moses in Pharaoh’s court. The question was not about whether or not to include miracles alongside the teachings, the question was whether or not miracle tales would have teachings attached to them! The Christ was unique, the one case in which miracles indeed occurred, that is the teaching. Ever since, for the most part, it has been the miracles of healing that have been given through the Holy Spirit, addressing a need within us much more penetrating than seeing the miraculous. Today it is an unholy spirit that seeks after the weird in Wizardly magic. The God of life is everywhere manifest, in truth not in symbol. God is in the simple things, among the poor because he chooses to be there, and in beauty and charity there radiates a glory that so deeply touches our hearts we tremble. So what does that mean for us today?
Miracle stories are only lies if read literally. That is the epistemological truth, I believe, these tales are meant to teach. They are a lure, or a trap, for those with mistaken ideas of god; they defeat Simon Magus’ (Acts 8) desire to harness such divine power in every age, including ours. The great fisherman uses them to bring us to healing. He is the “truth, the light, and the way” for the wounded who are willing to endure their own death of god on their own cross. We need to be willing to give up our mistaken ideas. We need to courageously and honestly face the meaninglessness of the universe for a mind dominated by human cruelty. Nothing less recognizes humankind’s true freedom of will and the power it manifests. This is the price of our freedom; that being free to say yes to love entails the chance to say no as well. In the dark night, the desert, the abyss – here one finds He who is greater than human weaknesses within the human experience. The Lord of the Dance prevails just when things seem darkest. There is a real power in forgiveness that is real. “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Miracle stories are only lies if read literally. The emotional truth they convey is on the order of metaphor, poetry. They serve the real ongoing miracle of the Christ, the recreation of the universe in a new heaven and a new earth by which we are healed. Nothing less dramatic than the miraculous can capture the awe and power involved in our most defining subjective experiences as embodied rational souls.
In the hunt for a meaningful life we are bound to come across people and institutions making claims to supernatural power and wisdom. Human beings are born gullible and it is no small feat to properly enthrone rationality. What to do? It is interesting that the Church Fathers who put together this material insisted that there were multiple ways of reading scripture. The idea that the Gospels are providing documentary evidence of modern historical fact is foreign to the spirit of what was very clearly being explained by those who were initially involved in the formation of the written materials and the accompanying traditions.
What miracles do convey is a picture of a universe ruled by personalized forces. In such a universe our own subjectivity is at home. It paints a picture of a world that responds to the needs of humans and animals, that cares about each individual alive within it, and that watches over them to protect and guide them. This is a world in which angelic messengers can accomplish missions unaware, perhaps as strangers visiting for an evening meal or asking for a handout by the side of the road. It is a world where certain images, and certain places and times, can be made sacred and special by their dedication to the intellectual and emotional, yet invisible, “powers” we encounter in our psyches. It is to convey some sense of the most powerful of these “inner powers” that the Gospels were written.
Written materials without the traditions in which they were designed to be used can be very dangerous. The tradition involved with the Gospels taught then, and continues to teach, a very mystical Christianity centered on Eucharistic devotion. This is quite different than Bible thumping in any number of ways. Catholic sensibilities elevate the sacraments and the sacramental in a calendar punctuated by sacred memorial. Worship is an act of the body as well as the mind, with smells and bells and ritual movements. Religion is presented as a celebration of sacred creation and the possibility of redemption in its midst. Religion is not an intellectual battle ground, it is a place of peace. The light of the candle of faith is easily blown out by the cold winds of the evil that men do, but this is why there is a Church where the light of faith can be passed from one candle to another, rekindled when needed by another person’s strength when we are weak. The altar, the heart of religion, is a place where those moved by the needs of the heart seek the heart of God, the Christ light. It is a light characterized by the soft warm glow of the tabernacle candle, a warm light the body is comfortable with.
The alternative altar is that of magic and miracles. Here all is lightening and flash, human hands seem to wield the power of the gods. Here, ultimately, the sacrifice of the divine lamb will not be enough and so another sacrifice will be taken from the poor and vulnerable among us human beings.