The Example of Jesus

By: Brian Robertson

"These mystics see in the historic life of Christ an epitome--or if you will, an exhibition--of the essentials of all spiritual life. There they see dramatized not only the cosmic process of the Divine Wisdom, but also the inward experience of every soul on her way to union with that Absolute 'to which the whole Creation moves.'

"This is why the expressions which they use to describe the evolution of the mystical consciousness from the birth of the divine in the spark of the soul to its final unification with the Absolute Life are so constantly chosen from the Drama of Faith. In this drama they see described under veils the necessary adventures of the spirit. Its obscure and humble birth, its education in poverty, its temptation, mortification and solitude, its "illuminated life" of service and contemplation, the desolation of that "dark night of the soul" in which it seems abandoned by the Divine: the painful death of the self, its resurrection to the glorified existence of the Unitive Way, its final reabsorption in its Source--all these, they say, were lived once in a supreme degree in the flesh.

"Moreover, the degree of closeness with which the individual experience adheres to this Pattern is always taken by them as a standard of the healthiness, ardour, and success of its transcendental activities."

-Evelyn Underhill


How Do We Know That We Won't Get Lost?

The spiritual path a narrow one, compared in some mystic traditions to walking the razor's edge. Jesus himself talked about the narrow gate and, I suspect, on either side were sheer drops reaching down many thousands of feet! Of course, there are those who take a fairly naive approach and claim that it's simply impossible to get "lost" in the process of searching for God. On the other hand, there are those who state categorically and without hesitation that "even Satan may appear as a glowing white angel."

The practical experience of life is that people do, indeed, get lost. Unless one accepts, for example, that religious authorities who have been cited for sexual abuse merely entered their religious post only as a way to feed their sickness, we have ample evidence that clergy and priests and seekers who have honest intentions at faith do get way off the beam, although in most cases being lost doesn't mean heinous moral and legal infractions, but rather personal and individual misgivings.

Where do we turn for guidance? It's obvious that the biblical tradition is a guidepost and, some would say, the only permissible one. And if one does indeed turn to the story of Jesus' life, there we find the life of the mystic in terms of the rites of passage that take place.

The spiritual awakening is the birth, the sense that there is far more to life than what we see in front of us. The awakening may come as a result of, or lead to, the sense of poverty of the spirit or of the vast army of temptations to not heed the call.

From that, one realizes that the desert that the faith's earliest members spoke of is not so much a physical solitude (although that certainly can be the external situation) but a spiritual or personal solitude. Jesus' life included not only the desert where he went for 40 days, but also the personal solitude of prayer and contemplation which is so frequently referred to in accounts of his ministry. Yes, there is service and healing, which for us does not have to mean the miracles Jesus performed in the gospels, but rather the care and love of those in need.

But all is not easy on this path, which is why so many turn away from it in fear or sorrow. Jesus' own tribulations in his prayers in the Garden of Gethsemene reflect the model for what St. John of the Cross referred to as the "Dark Night of the Soul." It is a time of utter desolation and the belief that all we have done is worthless and, perhaps, the very goal itself is pointless. It is the sense that we have been abandoned, left to hang alone on our particular cross.

Yet, from that death of the self, of the ego that resists the gravitational pull of God's love, comes the resurrection, the sudden sense that we are of spirit, just as God is of Spirit, that we are, then, children of God not abandoned but embraced, not forgotten but welcomed home as the prodigal child. And, like Jesus, we are taken back into that blessed Unity with God, each of us in our own role, each of us made complete by the other.

It is true that the New Testament presents us with a story of the soul of the mystic as it makes its journey from birth, through suffering, to final victory. By focusing on this reality and returning to it again and again to check our progress, we are incapable of becoming lost. And, even if 1 out of 100 stray, isn't the story told by Jesus of the good shepherd enough to instill us with the faith and courage to know that, no matter what, we will not be forgotten or abandoned, that our search for God's grace is matched by the searching God of Love.