Many of us began in a tradition that filled us with awe. In time, we found ourselves conflicted. We began to wrestle, ignorantly thinking that no question is a bad question – only to discover some questions are off-limits. Why? we wondered. Isn’t God big enough to take any question? If we posed this one aloud, we may have drawn out special aggravation, as the answer is clear and implies the next question: Sure, but is the church?
Some of my own questions stemmed from the discord between the God I had discovered within my own heart and spirit and the one described by my tradition, as well as the one described by the scriptures, as interpreted by the religious. Why, I wondered, did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Why would Jesus have prayed for Peter, but not for Judas, when Satan was “sifting” all the disciples as “wheat”? ("Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail." ~ Lk. 22:31-32) And, the stumper for me: why would God command Joshua to commit genocide?
Posing the big questions can be dangerous, not only for the persecution it might bring from external forces, but even more for the internal persecution it can bring from our own internal forces. Hence, we hear Dumbledore’s wise admonishment: “Curiosity is no sin, Harry, but one must exercise caution.” According to the Gospel of Thoma, Jesus blessed those who were willing to persevere in this trial: “Blessed are they who have been persecuted within themselves. It is they who have truly come to know the father” (69).
For a time, we wrestled on our own, posed our questions to the Lord in private, and pretended conformity within our tradition – only to betray our non-conformity from time to time. We did not yet know we were mystics. We were like “mystics in the womb”: yet to birth what was inside. So in this season of Advent, we can celebrate not only the Birth of the Christ, but also the birth of the mystic. This is the moment when the long nights of wrestling and struggling birth themselves into the daylight. We awaken out of our human construct and into our identity as children who have discovered the great mystery: Christ in us. We begin to trust the Light within, follow it, celebrate it, and live into it.
But as newly birthed mystics, we face a new question: as we follow the Light within, do we remain with our tradition as well? Our tradition, after all, did point us to this Light. Our tradition taught us the sacred, hinted at the mysteries, and directed us to the scriptures. Meanwhile, our tradition had also set itself up like a boat with the mission of carrying both the sacred contents and the sacred souls into eternal life. But once the mystic in the womb is birthed, he discovers holes in the boat.
Upon such a discovery, many leave the tradition entirely – not only the boat, but everything in it. Even those of us who haven’t done this ourselves know many who have. When some of my friends ask my opinion about those among our mutual tradition who have left, I sometimes return their question with another: Is it better to embrace or reject a false Christ? Oops, a clearly “off-limits” question, which is usually followed by the more gentle, more deeply felt, critical question: who is the true Christ?
Most of us here are attempting that challenging, narrow, center path: embracing the sacred within the boat, releasing our need for the boat, and expressing love for the boat in spite of its holes.
I am reminded of St. Paul who foresaw the sinking of the boat he was in and received a promise from an angel that while the ship would be lost, all lives on the boat would be saved. Regardless of the future of each religious tradition in its outer form, the contents within – the worshipers and the mysteries: found within the worshipers, the scriptures, and the sacred rites – will forever live on and ultimately harmonize into a radiant Bride.
While we celebrate the birth of Christ during this Advent season, may we also celebrate our own birthing as mystics in the womb into mystics awakening into the Light.