Letter 37: Transformation by grace

In an article I read a long time ago by Cynthia Bourgeault she shared her understanding of Jesus as the Life-giver. She stated that in the original Aramaic – the language Jesus spoke – there was no word for salvation. The actual meaning of the word we translate as salvation was actually understood as a “bestowal of life” and to be saved was “to be made alive”. We read the same in the prologue of John “All that came to be was alive with his life, and that life was the life of men [and women]”

The transformation that Jesus points to in his teaching requires the moving beyond rules and regulation and the Law - beyond all the restrictions of our ordinary level of consciousness. But remember what Jesus said: “Do not suppose that I have come to abolish the Law and the prophets; I did not come to abolish but complete.” (NEB) He came to make us aware of a deeper level of consciousness, where we become aware of our Divine Origin and the total Oneness of All. His words will lead us to the point that Meister Eckhart called the ‘Birth of Christ in the Soul’: “This Birth transcends here and now. ...It befalls in eternity…..God alone must do it.... and you must undergo it….Birth must be taken in the sense of revelation.”

St Augustine also pointed to the importance of the becoming aware of the Divine spark within us: “What does it avail me that this birth of Christ is always happening if it does not happen in me? That it should happen in me is what matters.”

But Meister Eckhart stresses that: “Before this birth can happen, we must be at peace, not fragmented by worldly distractions, but united and in harmony within, like the sound of a major chord……..the mind is stilled and the senses trouble us no longer.”

Thus meditation can lead to grace-filled insights and transformation, when we become aware of the spiritual plane and our Divine connection. But if we are not careful it can feed the ego and allow it to hijack the so-called ‘achievements’ on the spiritual path and inflate its own sense of importance; this will stop any spiritual growth from occurring and will produce stagnation.

When the ego appropriates the energy released in meditation, it is channelled into self-importance, power and control, career and money making. We then stay very much on the material plane; in fact we are trapped in that reality. The spiritual dimension may well be visited, allowing insight into a deeper reality, but that insight is then used by our ordinary consciousness, our ego consciousness. Therefore no change or transformation or integration based on these experiences can take place, self-interest rather than compassion is the motivating force in the individual. When practising meditation the physical benefits would be felt, but emotional baggage and conditioning will continue to distort the perspective of reality. ‘The doors of perception’ are far from ‘cleansed’ and we cannot see ‘reality as it is, infinite!’ to paraphrase William Blake.

All traditions stress that ‘achievements’ of any kind should not be given any attention. The Desert Fathers and Mothers saw the quest for achievement as caused by misdirected forces, ego-centric desires they called ‘demons’. The Buddha also thought little of achievements, the vehicle of the ego: ‘The Buddha was walking along the bank of a river and came across a saddhu, who was sitting in apparent deep meditation. When the man came out of it, the Buddha asked him what he was doing so intently. ‘I want to cross the river by walking over the water.’ ‘I see’, the Buddha said and walked on. Over the next twenty years the Buddha came across the man on several occasions, still trying but not yet having reached his goal. Finally one day as the Buddha was passing by, the saddhu with a great smile of achievement on his face, shouted to the Buddha, that he at last could walk on water. The Buddha complimented him, but then gently inquired whether it would not have been simpler just to pay the ferry man.’

That is also the reason why sudden insights, shifts of awareness cannot be brought about by sheer effort. The more we try to achieve it, the further it seems to recede. ‘Achievement’, ‘goal’ are words of the ‘ego’ and therefore not relevant on this path. Concentration of will prevents the ‘letting go’ that is needed. The desired attitude is one of ‘detachment’ of all that might or might not happen. Then grace can do its work.

May the Prince of Peace bring you this Christmas closer to the Light and ‘life in all its fullness’.

I wish you and your loved ones a blessed Christmas!

Kim Nataraja