The following insightful and challenging essay was written by Fr. John-Julian Swanson, founder of the Order of Julian of Norwich. I reprint it here with John-Julian's permission:
What has been eroding in the Church for the last two generations has been the denial of its central and primal mystical dimensions. We keep seeing Jesus as some historical personage, delimited by time and space. We keep seeing “church” as institutional. We keep seeing the Word as a collection of black scribbles on a page. We keep seeing the core of our ecclesial nature as either canonical or biblical or organizational. We keep refusing the ineffable, immeasurable, and unimaginable dimensions of our Christ, and the universal utter Presence of the Holy Spirit.
Why are young people these days talking about wanting “spirituality” without “religion”? Because religion has been shrunken and withered into law, measurement, emotion, and/or overt certainty about those things we cannot even vaguely comprehend. Why do people turn to New Age religion? Because it recognizes the mystical dimension, albeit in a sad, weak, and occult way.
Meister Eckhardt, Dame Julian, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, and dozens of other Christian mystics through the centuries all speak of the “divine” in each human being – something of the Creator God, some image of Divinity, implanted or inherent in our very creation. And that is not dependent upon any specific creeds or canons. The Creator Christ dwells no less in the Muslim or the Jew than in the Christian. We are each a “mini-incarnation”. When the Muslim bows down in his five daily prayers, it is Christ bowing down. When the Jew lights the candles for her Sabbath meal, it is Christ who brings light to that table. When the Buddhist seeks for union with the Eternal, it is the Christ who is both seeking and sought.
John’s plain and unadorned theological statement that “God is love” was extended in our antiphon for the Maundy: “Ubi amor, ibi deus” “Where love is, there is God!” And we can say with the same certainty: “Where love is, there is Jesus Christ.” That same Jesus Christ died not for some, but for all, and he has brought the potential for the fullness of salvation to every human soul – even those who because of some accidental historical or sociological or prejudicial circumstance don’t happen to call him “Jesus” as we do. He is the Way – that is, any human way to God is Christ. He is the Truth – that is, every truth is Christ. He is the Life – that is, every life is Christ. There is no way to the Father except through the Christ, so all ways to the Father are also Christ, even when that is not overtly stated.
The difference is that the Christian sees all this more clearly, understands it more deeply (though no less incomprehensibly), calls him by his name, and worships accordingly. And the Christian is joyously eager to share that insight, that comprehension, and that worship – not as triumphantly righteous or rigidly exclusive or narrowly judgmental, but as eagerly generous and utterly unselfish, so glad that the joy can be shared lovingly (as is the very nature of all true joy and love). Our evangelism cannot be “You are wrong, and we are right” but, your “unknown God”, your Allah, your Yahweh, your Manitou, is also the generous Father whose Son sacrificially cancelled all ideas of divine wrath or judgment.
None of this “demotes” Jesus Christ in any way, nor dismisses him as merely-one-among-many, nor by-passes the Atonement. What it does is to recognize Christ’s infinite ubiquity, his universal mystical incidence, his unlimited enfolding presence, and our own weak inadequacy in comprehending the spiritually immeasurable vastness that is the true Jesus Christ.
And if this is true between religious traditions, it is thrice true within the Mystical Body that is Jesus Christ. Whatever words you may use, you, oh eye, simply cannot cancel me who am a foot. You may curse me or despise me or refuse me a place at table, but you cannot evade the fact that whether you like it or not, we are and will always be one – inside the mystical Christ. And since we are one, you simply cannot live the Christ life without me, no matter how much you may wish it. The Blood of Christ flows out copiously and floods and drowns and washes all of us, forgiving all our sins, enfolding all of us in divine grace. And we are already one, just as the Christ and the Father are one. And may whatever bogus falsehood gives the lie to that cosmic truth shrivel and die.
And so may we go out and allow the Christ in us to serve the Christ in every one of those others who differ from us, who suffer, and who stand in want.
- John-Julian, OJN firstname.lastname@example.org