Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Wisdom Jesus

This is my fourth blog site. Each one is designated by me for a certain topic or material. This one came about because sometimes when I read a book I want to share some of the highlights with others. I choose to send the blog announcements to persons whom I think might have some interest in the topic and the ideas presented. Feel free when you receive an announcement of a blog on a certain book, for example, in which you have no interest -- to email me and let me know not to send any more blog announcements for the book in question. bob h

Although I see myself as more of some kind of a Buddhist (Shin) more than anything else, I still am interested in other religions, including and, especially, perhaps, Christianity. I must have read so far at least eight books centering around the historical Jesus or the Jesus before the Church had molded the great teacher into Christ and came to see this Christ as God, the Second Person of the Christian Trinity.
Lately, I have been fascinated by another aspect of some Christian paths: the mystical and the contemplative ones.
Eastern Orthodoxy has retained the mystical, and there are movements within Western Christianity to re-discover some of the mysticism and contemplative approaches of the early church.

Cynthia Bourgeault, is an Episcopal priest, teacher and retreat and conference leader. She is author of other books besides the one focused on here: "Chanting the Psalms," "Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening". She is a friend with Fr. Thomas Keating, the best known proponent of "Centering Prayer," and other contemplative practices.

In my digest or overview of the two chapters of her book, The Wisdom Jesus, I may not have gotten everything "right". So I issue a disclaimer to the reader of this blog.

(The words in italics are direct quotes from this book.)

Jesus As a Recognition Event, the title of the first chapter, refers to the great importance of a heart to heart experiential happening. To "know" Jesus is not to be able to recite the Nicene Creed and then say --- Amen. It is to experience and be drawn to Jesus in the manner of the first disciples and followers of the Master --- before the Resurrection. People say the Resurrection is important because it proves that Jesus is Christ and God. Well, setting this aside because I don't think all Christians necessarily believe in the divinity of Christ. And, for that matter, the majority of those who do have taken only a very first step towards really knowing and loving Jesus in an intimate manner. And this makes all the difference.

Saying "Yes," to Jesus is a lot more than declaring a belief in a set of dogmas. It a matter of the
quality and energy of the heart connection

In the gospels, all the people who encountered Jesus only by hearsay, by what somebody else believed about him,, by what they'd been told, by what they hoped to get out of him: all those people left. They still leave today. The ones that remained --- and still remain --- are the ones who have met him in the moment: in the instantaneous, mutual recognition of hearts and in the ultimate energy that is always pouring from this encounter. It is indeed the wellspring.
The second chapter, Jesus in Context, the author makes this point: Jesus was a Near Eastern event. We need to keep reminding ourselves of this. Her point being that the "good news" of Jesus with which we are familiar was carried to "the West," by Paul. Much of the "Jesus energy" stayed in its homeland, the Near or Middle East. Other routes were to Africa, then Brittany and Ireland. Another travelled to Persia, India and, perhaps, China. We only received one tradition with its special emphases.

We in Western Christianity tend to equate our knowledge and received impressions as the only authenitic ones. However -- we view Christianity almost exclusively through a Western filter or, more exactly a Roman filter.

...a lot of Christians assume the word "orthodox" means right belief. Non-Roman Christianity was not so focused on nailing down conceptual definitions of dogma, but of finding ways to praise God -- to offer glory and thanksgiving to the Master whose life transforms the human heart.

Because of our Western or Roman filter -- we struggle to comprehend (yet alone accept) the vibrancy, breadth, diversity, and inclusiveness of early Christianity. We need to do this before we can entertain the notion of Jesus as a wisdom master.

However, "Western" Christianity has been affected whether gratefully or not by a number of events that have occurred in the last sixty years -- and "these events" have opened the eyes and hearts of many sincere and devout followers of Jesus to some "hidden" riches --- both beneficial and authentic.

This is the name given to "lost" Christian scriptures found in Egypt in 1945. These writings were in sealed urns hidden in the desert, probably by early Christian monks and hermits to safeguard them. The most powerful segment of the Church as that time was narrowing down acceptable scriptures to an approve canon. The monks wanted to preserve important sacred writings from destruction. The most well known of these is The Gospel of Thomas. Some of these scriptures, and especially The Gospel of Thomas highlight the "Wisdom Jesus".

Jesus spoke Aramaic which is related to Hebrew but a separate language. The relatively new area of scholarship is examining manuscripts used by Syrian speaking Christians -- especially liturgical texts -- and finding "below the surface" indications of the oral traditions of Christianity which existed before "The Church" -- 300+ years after Jesus' death -- solidified and codified what it considered "orthodox" doctrine and teachings.

Tapping into this Syrian/Aramaic stream of early Christianity is connecting to the very stream identified with Jesus when he lived.

These scrolls are not Christian texts, but those of a mystical/ascetic type of Judaism which was one of the main influences on the Judaism of Jesus' time -- others were the mindsets paths of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Zealots.

Many scholars believe Jesus was influenced by the mystical expectation and millennialist fervor stemming from the Essenes.

In the last forty years or so interest has been shown among many Christians to engage in contemplation. The "Centering Prayer" has been popularized by Father Thomas Keating, and Christian meditation approaches by Dom John Main. These two men are not the only figures influential in this movement as witness the author of this book itself.

For the first four centuries of Christian experience, this is the way it was done; Christians connected with their living Master present in their hearts (the name for this practice was anamnesis, or 'living remembrance'). Sixteen centuries later we're learning the process all over again.

Savior or Life-Giver is the heading of the next section in Chapter 2.

The Christianity of the West has been savior-oriented. I.e. the death of Jesus was necessary for mankind which had alienated itself so completely from God that it required the death sacrifice of the Father's Son in order to pay the price of for the "re-acceptance" of humanity into the good graces of the Divinity. This perspective was fostered especially by St. Paul. Four centuries later St. Augustine further developed and emphasized this theology when he expressed the doctrine of "original sin".

Eastern Christianity had a very different perspective: Jesus was a teacher of wisdom (sophia) which when absorbed and acted upon provided "life". Salvation was understood as a bestowal of life, and to be saved was 'to be made alive'. Jesus disciples saw Jesus as a teacher and an exemplar of wisdom and following Jesus was to follow this path.

To Western Christians this "wisdom" path may seem heretical, but as we discover more and more about early Christianity througn discovered scripture, teaching and perspectives from other sections of the Christian tradition, e.g. Gospel of Thomas, Syriac liturgies, from the African desert fathers and mothers, from the Celtic tradition .... Whatever theological premises you may or may not choose to believe about Jesus, the primary task of a Christian is not to believe theological premises, but to put on the mind of Christ.

There is a brief but somewhat complex discussion of gnosticism. The gist of this section is that gnosis basically means a direct, holistic knowing involving one's whole being. St. Paul uses the term this way many times in describing knowing Christ intimately. However, Gnosticism with the capital letter was a late Greek heresy which is quite different and rightfully condemned by the Church.
In Judaism there were basically two types of religious authorities: priest or prophet. Jesus was really neither of these but belonged to a not as well known third category: moshel moshelim or teacher of wisdom. These teachers used many forms to impart 'sophia': sacred poetry, stories, proverbs, riddles, dialogues.... A favorite genre of moshel moshelim (wisdom teachers) was the parable. And Jesus excelled at these and used them frequently.

Jesus' mission could be said to be the transformation of human consciousness.

To find an example today of the type of wisdom teacher Jesus was --- look into the mystical branch of Islam: Sufism. In this spiritual path the 'sheik' comes very close to the role Jesus played in his time. The sheik is a distinctly Near Eastern category of spiritual elder and it probably best preserves the mantle that Jesus himself once wore.
To end the second chapter the author states her belief that we have a strong tendency to sentimentalize Jesus as an uneducated tradesman. She points out that he spent most of his life in Galilee which was much more cosmopolitan than Jerusalem due to the fact that the Silk Road, a trade route from west to the east passed throught there --- going right through the city of Capernaum. Jesus was highly intelligent and probably soaked up spiritual teachings and wisdom from other spiritual traditions. Second, Jesus could read. This can be seen from the scriptures. He spoke Aramaic, and, likely, and was acquainted several other languages: Hebrew, Greek and Latin.

Within his authentic Near Eastern context he emerges as a sophisticated, fully attuned and even cosmopolitan teacher, working in a genre that is recognized by his audience but teaching it so much more powerfully and boldly that he pulls people right up with a start.
(I have attempted to give some of the "gist" of the first two chapters in Part One, which is titled "The Teachings of Jesus". Part Two is "The Mysteries of Jesus". Part Three is "Christian Wisdom Practices". This last section has five chapters each describing five different wisdom practices for Christians today.)