Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Review: The Wisdom Jesus
I am not a god, nor do I claim to fully know God and His ways. I am a man made of dirt; in many ways I am far from God. But, I listen for Him, I listen, but often (I suspect) I only hear what my heart wants to hear. And it wants to hear that He loves me. Amidst all the billions of people He created, my heart wishes to hear that He loves me.
I suspect that is the longing in the heart of the Episcopal priest, Cynthia Bourgeault, also.
We have a Divine likeness, the Image of God. But we are not God. We have been promised we will be one with Him in eternity. But we will not become Him. St. Hippolytus, a priest, wrote these words in a treatise about our eternal dwelling place:
When we have come to know the true God, both our bodies and our souls will be immortal and incorruptible. We shall be subject to no evil desires or inclinations, or to any affliction of body or soul, for we shall have become divine … when we have been deified and made immortal, God has promised us a share in His own attributes. If we obey His holy commands and learn to imitate His goodness, we shall be like Him and He will honor us. God is not beggarly, and for the sake of His own glory He has given us a share of His divinity.
For people of longing, for people wanting to be loved, for people who seek God, words like these can be comforting --- but they can also cause much confusion. One confusion centers around what “I” want for me, and what “God” wants for me, and the question: if we are to “become divine” isn’t that the same thing?
It is not.
It is so very tempting to attribute to God the things which I desire. I want to be close to Him; I want the affirmation that I know His ways, and it is so very hard to be humble enough to admit that I am but a man, not God, and I cannot fully perceive His ways, and it would be infinitely unlikely that all I yearn for is exactly as He yearns for me, for I am not God, and I cannot fully understand His yearnings.
And yet I yearn.
I perceive that is the confusion which is conveyed in the book “The Wisdom Jesus,” by Cynthia Bourgeault. I read the above words from the Office and saw the truths of the Catholic Church. I suspect Ms Bourgeault could read those same words and see the truths she believes. But her thoughts would not be those of the Catholic Church. Her thoughts would be the truths that her heart so strongly desires to hear: that God loves her, as she “knows herself.” In “knowing herself” she is confident she knows Him, and He loves her. And she wants everyone to know of His love, as she does.
Early in her book, Ms Bourgeault notes that “if you’re of the fundamentalist or evangelical persuasion, you’ll know that (in the Bible is) everything needed for your personal salvation. But what I’m about to suggest as the starting point for our explorations is that all this knowing about Jesus actually gets in the way.” Based on the teachings of the Spiritual Paths Institute, “I’ve been reaffirmed in my sense that Jesus came first and foremost as a teacher of the path of inner transformation.” “Jesus was not a priest; nor was he a prophet, nor would he accept the role of Messiah.” Ms Bourgeault quotes heavily from “great philosophers of our time,” like Jim Marion, Ken Wilbur, and Sufi teacher Kabir Helminski, all of whom have written and spoken about “Putting on the Mind of Christ,” “Integral Theory,” and “spiritual psychology” as taught by various Eastern religions and/or sects. She attempts to tie these teacher’s beliefs to those of Jesus: “Giving is receiving is the energetic frequency upon which our universe is aligned. All other approaches to energy exchange immediately cause dissonance and disharmony in our life experience. Surely Jesus knew this.” Right. “Jesus is talking about a radical transformation of consciousness … not unlike the teaching you would hear today from the Dalai Lama.”
“Some of the ideas I will be presenting are slightly unorthodox,” says Ms Bourgeault. To say the least!! In Ms Bourgeault’s ideas, there are no miracles, no Resurrection (“When a certain level of spiritual luminosity has been attained, it’s not in fact all that difficult to regenerate physical form”), no Eucharist, and no original sin, as we know those things, nor any need for a church to guide us. It’s all part of recognizing our “psychic force” that “sooner or later science will also discover.”
I wrote in a recent posting of how no one thinks they are evil; everyone justifies their actions, even before God, I suspect: “I only want to do what is right or good,” they would say. And for some, that yearning to know and do God’s will --- and to be loved --- is all consuming. And this yearning is a good thing; certainly I have it also. But …, and there is a huge “but” here, we have to very seriously consider the first words I used above to describe that yearning: “I want.” The yearning can be what “I want,” but the answer to our yearnings cannot be “what I want.” And if we see the answers as being exactly what we want, we should strongly question, or even reject, those answers. If the perfect answer to my deepest wants is what I receive and understand totally, then I understand exactly why God created me, individually and uniquely: I know the mind of God; indeed, I am as God.
Ms Bourgeault would read those above words of the Office and that last statement and say they are in agreement. We are meant to be as God, and we can be, even here on earth. “’Yes’, says Jesus, ‘as I am, you, too, can and must become. I will be here to help you. But you must do the work yourself.’” That is the focus of her book, The Wisdom Jesus: we can obtain all of His wisdom, all of it, all by ourselves. Having a Catholic background and having later been appointed one of the first Episcopal women priests, Ms Bourgeault (I believe) seeks justification for her yearnings for God, and she struggled with finding Scriptural justifications. So when she began to read “the long lost Gospels” of St. Thomas, Judas, Philip, and Mary Magdalene, she was both surprised and delighted at what she read, for they affirmed the yearnings of her heart --- from a “Scriptural” basis. They allowed her to receive just what she wanted. They said that Jesus loved her and all the choices she had made in life, and she could continue to live her life doing exactly what He wanted, because it is really what her heart wants also. For He is one with her, literally.
I disagree: we can have a Divine likeness, the image of God, without being God.
These long lost gospels, she explains, tell how Mary Magdalene was really the apostle closest to Jesus, and Peter and the others envied her. She, a woman, understood Jesus, not these men. “Mary caught the incredible subtlety of what Jesus was teaching, … and that was absolutely galling to the other apostles.” She was the real head of His church, following His teachings. Like Ms Bourgeault, she was His real priest. And Mary Magdalene’s authority rested not on some hierarchy of church or rules made by men, but by what her heart knew to be true, even as Ms Bourgeault now knows what her heart believes is true.
And so, in the book of The Wisdom Jesus, Ms Bourgeault goes on to explain to the reader what Jesus REALLY taught, as the gospels of St. Thomas, Judas, and Mary Magdalene explain so perfectly. She doesn’t bluntly say the Catholic Church --- and all Christian churches --- have been wrong for 2000 years, but she often says that we must “re-think” these things.
Starting from a new definition of “God is in you,” Ms Bourgeault goes on to explain a new religion. In her religion, Jesus is not God, but a Zen guru, a teacher of wisdom. The lost gospels and related excerpts of the New Testament are used to back her claims for this new mystical church. She doesn’t use the term “Body of Christ” as the Catholic Church does, because she knows that term “in our confused thinking” states that Jesus is the head of the body. No, her religion says there is no head; we are all one with creation. (I suspect that Ms Bourgeault would have many converts among the children of the 60’s and 70’s, using weed and LSD to see their inner selves more clearly, swaying in the smoke to their mantra, “Oooommmmmmmmm.” And stealing from the gurus of that era (and Eastern religions), she does promote centering prayer and mantras, and other ways of getting in touch with your inner self.)
In a way, I almost found it somewhat amusing how Ms Bourgeault early on states how we must get beyond our ego-centric yearnings, uniting our “dualistic self” into one. Right-wrong, up-down, you-me, all these dualistic views must be united as one good thing in us. This is why Jesus died on the cross, she explains, to show us how to unite this bad thing with its good result. If I can understand these things, she explains, this will be what I really want. All is good, all is love, in what I want. So, she explains, don’t be ego-centric, just get what you want. And as she walks you through her selective logic, it is believable --- if you ignore your past beliefs and the beliefs of billions of others, starting with the apostles. No, she explains, all those were wrong, but you (and she) and selected teachers of wisdom are right.
I’m reminded of how Fr. Benedict Groeschel used to describe the faith of the old Jewish women in his poor Bronx neighborhood. “They had faith,” he’d say. “And if their faith was challenged, and someone told them how the Scriptures didn’t really describe what happened, these old Jewish women would listen politely to the speaker, and when he was done, they’d look him in the eye: ‘You were there?’ they’d ask.”
I would ask the same question of Ms Bourgeault, as she dismisses the early Scriptures in favor of the newly found Gospels, saying: “No, that’s not true. This is how it happened.” “You were there?” I'd want to ask.
This is the first book review I have written for a book I’d not recommend. This one won’t be on my Christmas list of books to give. I read this book because it was recommended by a Catholic friend of mine, a very knowledgeable man. He is reading this book and finds it very compelling, he told me. And indeed it is. I am sure the followers of David Koresh found his words very compelling also, as they felt perfectly justified that in committing suicide they were following God’s will. The terrorist bombers of Islam think so also. We may be tempted to believe these people are somewhat insane or stupid, but many of these people had extremely high IQ’s, and they would think you are the stupid one. I am sure they followed a path they thought was right, one which is just as they wanted it to be, to justify their existence as they believed it to be, as they wanted.
And they got what they wanted.
I don’t judge those people, or even Ms Bourgeault. I’ve learned (and have written here) that there are many roads to heaven. Who am I to say they won’t get there. But equally so, who am I to say I know the only way, or even the best way – the “true Gospel”? It would be very “ego-centric” for me to say that I even know, for sure, the best way for me, and perhaps very sinful for me to presume to say that I know the best way for you.
So what CAN I say, about this journey through life?
I’ve written that we should have Jesus as our guide. Ms Bourgeault would agree, although she would call Him our “Wisdom Guru.” I’ve written that Jesus alone knows the Way, and indeed has said: “I AM the Way.” Here Ms Bourgeault and I would differ. I’d describe Jesus as the head of the Body of Christ; she’d describe us more aptly, it seems, as a blob --- no parts of the body with different functions, no unique purposes, and certainly no head. And certainly no unique God.
I would seek to follow the Scriptures and the Church as guides to how Jesus would want me to live my life. Ms Bourgeault would say that the Bible and the Church, as I know them, are wrong. I would say how witnesses said that Jesus died and rose from the dead. He was God. Ms Bourgeault explains how even we could choose to rise again from the dead --- no assistance from a God needed. She knows; she is sure.
I’d ask her to prove it.
What do we believe, and why? How much proof is proof enough? Some have said they have heard the voice of God; some have said they’ve seen Him. Some have seen miracles --- I have too --- and some know in their hearts with confidence they are right. What are you to believe?
What if Jesus appeared right now in front of you, and you could touch His wounds. All your senses would say He is there. Would you believe? What if He gave you a gun and said: “Kill all those people.” Would you? We’ve seen television programs where people did evils just like that, and said: “God told me to do that” to the police. They were sent to jail anyway, or to the insane asylum.
The bottom line is, I believe, that all of our beliefs must have some underlying basis, a foundation beyond what I want. With the foundation I have, if Jesus appeared before me and told me to kill a bunch of people, I’d fall to the ground and exclaim: “Lord, help me,” but I’d kill no one. My foundation says Jesus would never ask that of me, and I would assume any such vision was false, even if I thought those people were evil and I wanted them dead.
Many a Protestant has “found a personal relationship with Jesus,” as has many a Catholic. But when his church says something he doesn’t like, the Protestant finds another Protestant church more to his liking. When his church says something he doesn’t like, the Catholic assumes he must be confused; he prays and he seeks wisdom. Some don’t, but they think more like the Protestant: “The Church must be wrong.” (Certainly, I can’t be.)
They seek the truth in themselves and their feelings, or selected words of Scripture, or those of “wise men.” They seek to have justified what they want, and have declared wrong what they don’t like. Perhaps I shall one day see them in heaven, but my foundation and path I choose to get there shall be guided by the Catholic Church. It claims, justifiably from all my unbiased research, to have the authority to do so.
I will not lead my life thinking that what I want is always best for me. That is the logic of a little child: “But I want it.” I pray that I have, and will, continue to gain some wisdom in my life.
And “not my will, but Thy will be done.”