Spiritual Virginity & Mystical Meanings of Christmas Pt.5

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After the Magnificat, Mary took to keyboards and let Joseph take the vocals.

Virgin Religion

The call that Mary received to be a virgin is for the whole of creation, which includes religion itself. The womb of Mary does not represent the ‘womb’ of divisive ideological traditions, but represents virgin religion. Religion is ‘virgin religion’ where human life and dignity –that is, where people are recognised as more important than religion itself. “Human beings, as manifested in the image of and likeness of God, are greater than religions”.i Indeed, the principle behind Jesus’ statement “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath”, (Mark 2:27) is that good religion has evolved as cultural technology for people to use, and not for using people. Virgin religion is not immune to abuses taking place within –as is a risk in all families– but it does not put the reputation and popularity of its institutions and officials above the value of its children (which is what would result in clericalism and cover-ups). Read the rest of this entry

Spiritual Virginity & Mystical Meanings of Christmas Pt.4

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Jesus and Mary adorn an interspiritual ashram in India.

From History to Eternity

In the previous parts of this essay I said how the traditional Christian theology of mystical birthing makes the Christmas story more immediate and personal:

“Firstly, in its message of God coming to dwell, not just among humanity in the past, but in our very own self now, through mystical union with Christ. Secondly, in our connection to Mary, enriching our imitation of her, and fostering a renewed reverence for femininity and for the roles of bride, wife, and mother in all people. Then ultimately, that we may have the honour of participating in the life of the Trinity by becoming a temple in which the ‘Father ceaselessly brings his eternal Son to birth.'” 

All this may be inspiring as a spiritual message of Christmas, but difficulties remain. How possible is it that an ordinary person, even an experienced meditator, may realise their potential for the birth of God within? Sadly, Meister Eckhart regarded this as an esoteric experience, with a requisite degree of detachment that is accessible only to a few who live a monastic life in silence.i So in these last two parts of the essay, we shall look at an alternative mystical interpretation of Christmas. Read the rest of this entry

Spiritual Virginity & Mystical Meanings of Christmas Pt.3

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Clipboard01Images and Spiritual Virginity

Meister Eckhart elaborates the detachment most characteristic of the spiritual virgin as a ‘freedom from images’. As mentioned at the outset, Eckhart commended detachment not just from that which is immoral, but a total detachment from everything. This may seem extreme, so Eckhart compares union with God to writing on a tablet:

it does not matter how fine the words may be that are written on the tablet, they still hinder me from writing on it. If I really want to write something, I must erase and eliminate everything that is already there; and the tablet is never so good for me to write on as when there is nothing on it at all.”i

Read the rest of this entry

Spiritual Virginity & Mystical Meanings of Christmas Pt.2

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11-amazon-com-dammit-alexa-i-said-cheeses-60000011Eckhart and the Depth of the Soul

At Christmas we hear of the Father sending the Son into the world, and for Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1327 CE), this not only meant into the physical world, but also to the inner world of the soul.i Not to be confused with his modern-day namesake Eckhart Tolle (though, as with most spiritual teachers, there are perennial teachings shared by both), Eckhart was a monk of the Dominican order like his elder contemporary St. Thomas Aquinas, and likely studied under Albert the Great, who had known and instructed Aquinas.ii Unusually for a medieval mystic, Eckhart shunned sentimental religiosity in favour of Scholastic intellectual seriousness.iii Despite this, similarities with Aquinas’ thought are unlikely to be apparent in our glimpse into Eckhart’s philosophy. Read the rest of this entry

Spiritual Virginity & Mystical Meanings of Christmas

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How the meaning of Christmas today can be revitalised from an unexpected source: the symbolism of virgin birth.

T+Rex+or+Nativity 2We can count on two things every time the Christmas season comes around: non-Christians dismissing the Christian story as laughable myth, and Christians displaying hypocrisy –that most characteristic vice– with regard to the place of Christmas in the public square. Most commonly, we hear certain Christians complaining both that Christmas has become too commercial and, at the same time, that it is being banned. Meanwhile the atheist’s favourite is to mock St. Joseph’s gullibility in believing Mary became pregnant without another man involved. Each of these views have inconsistencies: if you want Christmas to be prominent in the public square, you are going to have to accept it being commercialised, and likewise, if you want to criticise the biblical story then you must acknowledge that God telling Joseph that Mary remained a virgin in conceiving Jesus (Matt. 1:20-21) is an equal part of that story. (Because of issues this raised by this theme, here is a footnote defending women’s sexuality.1)

Popularised and demythologised though Christmas is, can the meaning of our holiday today still be informed by the Bible story? Read the rest of this entry

Securing the Future for All

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At the time of writing, Pope Francis has been making the news for his visit to Egypt, a 90% Muslim country, and the message of peace he has made with Islamic leaders. But he has also just given a secular TED talk which is very worthy of our reflection.

Solidarity

His first message is about solidarity (which not only means unity, but in the register of Catholicism, also connotes the social aspect of morality as a whole):

“How wonderful would it be if solidarity, this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word, were not simply reduced to social work, and became, instead, the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries.”

So as Francis said elsewhere this week, we need to resist our cultural dichotomy that gives efficiency free reign over the economy and consigns solidarity to our social lives. But I love how he phrases this in this talk, bringing to my mind the idea of transposing what social work strives to do into all other contexts of human life. That is, the idea of the attention and care given to people in social work becoming the paradigm for how we relate to other persons generally. And as I’ve said before I think almost everyone should be involved in some kind of social work whether it’s with children, the elderly, or the disabled etc. (See related posts here.) But the important part is the spirit in which you connect with others, not whether you work with helping people directly. Francis continues by linking this to what have become the core messages of his papacy:

“Only by educating people to a true solidarity will we be able to overcome the ‘culture of waste,’ which doesn’t concern only food and goods but, first and foremost, the people who are cast aside by our techno-economic systems which, without even realising it, are now putting products at their core, instead of people.”

The challenges of our time, including but not limited to the environmental crisis, demand that we equip people with the skills and mindset to tackle them. Education –life-long education– must promote a ‘culture of care’ for all people, and prioritise the value of connecting with others on a personal level, as subjects rather than as objects. (See an article where I discuss this in more detail.) Fostering such a culture allows associations comprised of mutual assistance to evolve into fraternal communities comprised of ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’.

Tenderness

Building on this theme, the Pope speaks about the need for a “revolution of tenderness”, not a political revolution, but a revolution in how we relate to one another. Tenderness he says, is giving attention to the other in a heartfelt way, but not only engaging and listening with one’s heart but through the senses, often including touch.

What tenderness means is “to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need” – including nature. Tenderness is “being on the same level as the other”, co-creating a shared space of communication, a space of relationship for souls to be touched.

Francis adds humility to tenderness as another ingredient we need for our works of solidarity to be a service to others, rather than power which we impose on them. Elsewhere he has said that solidarity with the poor and with our endangered environment requires the courage to live what, by comparison to worldly expectations, are lives of simplicity. To do this is the gift of humility.

Hope

Francis says that “the future does have a name, and its name is Hope.” Hopefulness is the virtue of focusing, not on the past -or even the present- but on a positive future. With this essential role, “hope is the humble, hidden seed of life” and it is a final ingredient for a solidarity that can secure a just future for all:

“Does hope begin when we have an ‘us?’ No. Hope began with one ‘you.’ [But] when there is an ‘us,’ there begins a revolution.” Therefore “the future of humankind isn’t exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold enormous responsibility, but the future is most of all in the hands of those people who recognise the other as ‘you’ and themselves as part of an ‘us’.  We all need each other.”

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Watch the full talk here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=36zrJfAFcuc

Mobile Principles

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As Benjamin Gibbard sang, “The glove compartment isn’t accurately named, and everybody knows it.”

Phone Compartment

It’s good to see a well thought out ethical campaign from the government. Especially as we’ll no longer be getting progressive safety legislation from the EU. And I said ethical, not because the campaign will do good, but because it goes further than simply informing people of the change in the legal penalties and actually helps them to improve their behaviour. Such guidance is an important responsibility of governments, especially given that law and morality are inextricable. Read the rest of this entry