Wednesday, September 08, 2004
jesus is the question
The meaning of life is a tricky thing. Sometimes we are fooled into thinking that life's meaning is simply something we can be told; it is as though we see the universe as a giant quiz book, where we only need to flip to the back, turn the page upside down and thus behold all life's mysteries. Then last year, I became a Christian and rapidly accepted the belief that the Bible was that quiz book, and there, sure enough, at the back of that book was Jesus Christ - the answer, apparently.
So I said a sinner's prayer, accepted Christ and believed the quest was over. That's it. Job done. Next universe please. Then, slowly, I came to realise that Jesus isn't an answer at all: he's a cosmic question mark.
Jesus doesn't give us answers. He asks us questions. Just look at the gospels: he is always answering questions with questions. Jesus is an enigma. While surfing today, I came across this fanastic little idea by earlm, a user at the Christian Mystics Forum:
"who/what he is remains a hopefully fruitful koan for me that represents an historical image of the coming together of the immanent & transcendent 'God' on Earth"
If you don't know, a koan is: "A puzzling, often paradoxical statement or story, used in Zen Buddhism as an aid to meditation and a means of gaining spiritual awakening." - Dictionary.com
A famous example of a koan is: What is the sound of one hand clapping? There isn't meant to be an answer to it, it is just meant to make us think about 'hearing the impossible', as this short article puts it. Similarly, the parables of Christ make us think beyond the boundaries of earthly reality. When we read John 3 we see how easy it is to take Jesus' metaphorical language superficially and literally. Like a koan his words require more careful consideration than that.
But it isn't only Jesus' teachings that resemble the koans of Zen. His whole life, death and resurrection do the same thing. The incarnation itself is a koan - if we seriously consider it, then we see the implications that this doctrine has not only on our understanding of God, but also on the divine nature of the human being, and how all of us, not only Christ, can begotten by God. So the next time you feel confused about the empty tomb, or the bread and the fish or whatever else, consider yourself blessed. This is when we really look at those mysterious, almost nonsensical stories for the first time. We reflect on them, looking to see some concrete meaning, but a quiz book answer won't necessarily come.
"When we stop questioning we die. We only stop asking questions when we have despaired of life or when delusions or pride have mastered us. All the same, we hardly ever give up dreaming that a single definitive formula could solve all life's problems. The temptation is very strong to cheat on the challenge of the mystery of life by reducing it to the status of a problem" - Laurence Freeman, Jesus the Teacher Within
oh and what an insightful cllection of thoughts. Actually this coincides with my reading a chapter in The Rite Stuff (collection of essays on Ritual, edited by the great Pete Ward), from the perspective of a psychlogist. She talks about the importance of 'curiosity' in our approach to interacting with other people, that we should try to model ourselves on the Jesus who asked questions. For the divine incarnate he seemed to be so totally interested in hearing other people, enabling them to share themselves. I suppose the parables, in thier immanent transcendence, still help us to find our own ways of funding people's considerations of thier place in the world*.
*In which his parables were so concretely grounded.