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July 25, 2012

Excerpt from Val Webb’s Stepping Out With the Sacred – Human Attempts to Engage the Divine Continuum Publishing Group, 2010. Chapter 16, “Engaging the Sacred in the World” pp. 208-10, 219-20.

“Jesus shows us how to live abundantly in this world. Some people are so caught up with the idea that Jesus died for our sins (something Jesus did not spell out in the forms it takes in traditional Christianity) that they weigh Jesus’ worth only in terms of his death. The theological question becomes, did Jesus, and those who followed him to death for a cause, live in order to die, or did they die because they chose to live abundantly. When Jesus is valued only as a man born to die as a Divine pawn, we have totally missed the way he lived.

“Sally McFague calls for a whole new way of living in this world and engaging the Sacred here and now. It is not about longing for our “real” home in heaven as if we are somehow trapped in this earthly home, the Gnostic idea the early Church rejected. It is not about wallowing in our sinfulness and fretting about our personal salvation in order to keep our name on the heavenly list and ensure that as many others as possible get on that list, even when ignoring their sufferings in real life. “We have a place and a vocation: our place is planet earth, and our vocation is working with God toward the flourishing of all life in our home”, McFague says. “If salvation is living appropriately on our planet, living as the one creature who can consciously help bring about God’s beloved community, then sin is living in way opposed to that goal. Living a lie is living a selfish life; living the truth is living a deified life. The first assumes that life is found in the self; the second, that life is found in God.” [McFague Life Abundant, p. 20]

“Such thinking presupposes that the Sacred is within the world, rather that located off somewhere else. It focuses on the Divine Energy, infilling and energizing everything as its Ground of Being. “There is not a single place in all the corners of the world”, Shinto teaching says, “where God is absent.” [Omoto Kyo, Michi-no-Shiori, quoted in Krishna, One Earth, One Sky, One Humankind, p. 20] “Heaven” – where God’s realm is – is here and now, the Divine is within us as John’s Gospel says. Every crevice, every person, and every event is filled with the Divine-at work in what Thomas Merton described as “the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it or not.” [quoted in King, The Search for Spirituality, p. 78] Religious scholar Ursula King prefers this metaphor of the”cosmic dance animated by the life-giving breath of the Spirit” to that of ‘journey’, the more common description for the spiritual life. Dance is not solitary, and it is also accompanied by music and rhythm, making it more dynamic:
While we dance, we also touch each other closely. We enjoy the sheer presence of another person, grow closer physically and emotionally, feel the sense of energy, delight, and fun that accompany the exuberance of dancing. Thus it seems an appropriate metaphor to speak about the dance of life that involves body, mind, and soul – our whole being. And life’s dance is always interwoven with the dance of the Spirit. [King The Search for Spirituality p. 79]
This move from the solitary journey to the intense, colorful, involvement with others in the dance switches on lights in our minds and turns us from contemplating ourselves in our solitary corner to facing a world that demands our presence and invites us into the action.
The largest setting for life’s dance is the vast web of life, the continually ongoing process of universal becoming. We are a part of the immense rhythm of being born and dying, integral to the evolutionary history of the cosmos itself. [King p. 79]
The answer to where and how we engage the Divine unfolds before us, free of sacred props, idols, saints, and institutions. ‘The one who is more awesome than all the galaxies in the universe and nearer to us than our own breath” is inescapably part of this dance in which we all whirl and laugh. [King p.79]

“In contemporary cosmology, where everything is engaged in the universe’s interconnected dance of life, we can no longer name evil as the work of an extraneous Devil or something “acquired” by humans through some ancient fruit-eating story, and thus avoid taking full responsibility for it. We can no longer shrug off injustice here and now by saying there will be justice in heaven. We need to enter into the messiness of the world as co-workers with the Sacred for transformation, choosing, in each moment, wholeness for everything in the universe rather than alienation that leads to destruction and violence. If we believe in something we call the Sacred, contemporary cosmology tells us that It has to be part of this one indivisible, dynamic whole where there are no dancers, only the dance.

“As to what happens beyond death, this too must be described within this cosmic whole. The Hebrew creation story said that we came from dust and return to dust, something they observed in real life. The new cosmology tells us that we came, like everything else, from stardust. If that is where we return, we will remain part of the cosmic whole, whatever that might mean. As Albert Einstein said, “I feel myself so much a part of everything living that I am not the least concerned with the beginning or ending of the concrete existence of any one person in this eternal flow.” [Spong Eternal Life p 29] To me speculation about life beyond this world is unfruitful because we cannot know what is beyond death, just as we cannot imagine what “before birth” was like. This is not lack of faith – it is reality. It is not a denial of anything but openness to that which we cannot know. . . Those who long for death wish to be “with God”, but that is already the reality for those who see the Sacred in this world.

“In his book on eternal life, Bishop Spong says:  “I prepare for death by living. My commitment is to live as completely as I can and to drink in the sweetness which that particular day has to offer. While I am alive, I will plumb life’s depths, scale life’s heights, and share my life and my love with those who are fellow pilgrims with me in my time and space. When I die, I will rest my case in the “being” of which I am a part. That is where faith has taken me”  [Spong Eternal Life p 211].”

February 12, 2011

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