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The Ritual Mystery of the Resurrection

05/31/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Since we are getting close to Easter I thought that the essential ritual drama of the West would be an evocative way to explore ritual in its mythic and profoundly psychological dimension.

In the story of Jesus the resurrection is the essential miracle, the deepest mystery, and the greatest stumbling block. For us, it actually has more validity, greater personal meaning and power. How dare I make so blasphemous a statement? Easy. Consider it's history.

The miracle of the godded one who dies or is killed and comes back to life has a long and extraordinary history in the myths and ritual patterns of many cultures, most familiarly those of ancient Greece and the ancient Near East. Isis searches for the scattered parts of her husband, Osiris, binds them together and animates him to produce new life; Demeter calls forth her daughter, Persephone, from her dwelling place in the Kingdom of the Dead; Tammuz, Adonis, Dionysius all are destroyed and all are remade.

In the Greco-Roman world these acts of resurrection were celebrated in the Mystery Religions. These ecstatic forms of piety involved dramatic, highly ritualized inward journeys of anguish, grief, loss, resurrection, redemption, joy, and ecstasy. The Mystery Religions provided the alienated individual lost in the nameless masses of the Roman Empire with an intimate environment and community of the saved, in which he counted as a real person and in which he found a deeper identity. Identifying with the God-man or the Goddess-woman of the mystery cult, the initiate died to the old self and was resurrected to personal transfiguration and eternal life.

We know that in Egypt, Chaldea, Greece, and India the Mysteries sometimes involved initiation rites in which sufficiently trained neophytes were put into a three day death-like sleep by a hierophant or priest. In the esoteric schools it was thought that in these states the subtle body received the training it needed to impress upon the physical body a new order of being. This process involved the temporary surrender of the life spirit. There are even those who believe that Lazarus was in a state of death-like sleep when Christ called him forth.

The resurrection story of Jesus differs radically from that of the traditional mystery cult figures. By being historical, by living a human existence in space and time, Jesus brought a new dimension, that of human experience, to the trans personal and archetypal dimension of God-Identity.

I believe that if the resurrection occurred, it was because the cosmic principle was so deeply interwoven in his human structure that it did not depart his cold flesh on the cold stone. Indeed, the power of this principle was so strong that it re-ordered that cold flesh to warm life, and brought into the world a spirit of renewal that had never been known before.

How was this accomplished? And who accomplished it? God, or the Holy Spirit, or Jesus himself? No one can ever know. Mystics and contemplatives offer a perspective on the resurrection that seems to me to mirror their own experiences of illumination and unity. They tell us that perhaps Jesus effected his own regeneration through a profound state of self-reflection, possible only to those who have become transparent to transcendence and are coded by that experience with a quality of eternity that does not, can not, die with death. This implies that a new order has been created within spirit, within nature, within the soul, within the meaning and matter of history. Here we move out beyond miracle into the heart of mystery and consciousness grows into the capacity for co-creation with God. The world turns a corner and true partnership between divine and human realms becomes possible.

Great athletes of the spirit, whose powers of inward-turning have brought them to the God-reflecting waters of the inmost soul, believe that the moments of resurrection that took place in that tomb create a kind of metaphysical jumping off place, a fall into mystery where psychological and even theological realities end, and sacramental reality begins. Here Jesus becomes Christos, ritual comes alive, all matter is shown to be holy and the human becomes Love.

But there is another aspect to the classic Christian story that I would like to look act for what it suggests to the nature and capacities of consciousness. And this has to do with the three days in which Jesus wanders and explores hell and heaven. However you interpret it, he enters into the non local universe, where, like the traditional shaman in indigenous societies, or like Horus in the Egyptian mystery where he is taught by his father Osiris from the Underworld, Jesus is being initiated into extraordinary states of knowledge and action. If he is like the traditional initiate, be they among he Australian aborigines, and ancient Egyptian initiates, or even those of you who go into deep deep states from time to time and receive the training from the Infinite Self, or the non local Reality, then it is here that he learns more of his higher purpose. Now hold this, for we will return to this theme for its greater meaning and teaching for our lives. For now, let us return to the whole idea of Resurrection.

For those who are not mystics or deeply believing Christians, the story of the resurrection nevertheless holds a potency and sense of miracle that need not be lost in the arguments about whether it actually happened. What is real and true about the story, for believers and non-believers alike, is that each of us has within us the capacity to bring about many varieties or resurrection. This is a mystery with many phases, one of which has to do with the capacity we have to be dramatically and psychologically renewed to such an extent that we undergo a virtual death and resurrection. Anyone who has been powerfully renewed knows that he or she can speak of having been dead and then having been brought back to life.

Often when the body-brain-mind-psyche system has been given a profound stimulus or shock, it becomes capable of releasing many of its old patterns and allowing itself to be pulsed to a different frequency, allowing the emergence of a different human being. The history of religious experience is full of cases of people who were changed so dramatically, sometimes in the twinkling of an eye, that the Before and After are almost unrecognizable. They do not lost their previous knowledge, contacts, or friendships, but they are released to such an amplitude of being that the Before self seems Neanderthal compared to the After self, which is proto-angelic.

This rearrangement of self is not unlike what happens in the Prigogine theorem of how things grow and change in a state of creative instability. A vulnerability to new information allows its dispersal throughout the system, driving the system to a new regime, bringing increased vulnerability and availability to more information. More changes systemically being to occur; more patterns and forms emerge; finally a whole new being emerges. Resurrection!

Another phase of resurrection is essentially a remembrance, a re-membering, of our own true nature.; it is a waking up to this remembrance. When we truly hear the message of resurrection, our latent informational systems are unlocked, our deep evolutionary coding is evoked, and more of our internal systems are recruited for whole system transformation. We then experience a change that accelerates exponentially to such a degree that we are not the same body-brain-psyche any more. In this form of resurrection latent evolutionary systems are quickened and awakened to full manifestation.

The present critical mass of new information and the releasing of tribal, insular, and national bondage in our time, as well as the current density of cross-cultural and cross-informational exchange, provide the wherewithal for the release, on a global scale, of a phenomenon that could also be described as planetary resurrection. As we have noted, resurrection is about being pulsed into new patterns appropriate to our new time and place. It is also about living in a continuum with extended and "resurrected" realities, be those realities Buddhas, gods, Christs, archetypes, or even the stars themselves.

Finally, the resurrection is about the falling beyond the controls, habits, and conditioned mind sets of person and society in order to become transparent to transcendence. It is to engage at the core the Heart of existence and the Love that knows no limits. It is to allow for the Glory of Love to have its way with us, to encounter and surrender to That which is forever seeking us, and from this to conceive the Godseed. Resurrection presumes a void that precedes it, and emptying of our existence. Being empty, we then can be filled; being unknowing, we become knowledge; being no where we are suddenly a citizen in the great Kingdom.

The need for resurrection has increased in intensity in our time. We are living at the very edge of history, at a time when the whole planet is heading toward a global passion play, a planetary crucifixion. Great yellow clouds of pollution hover over major cities. The land is ravaged, the forests decimated. In the forty years or so that I've been working around the globe, I've seen the increasing desertification of the world. We are truly experiencing a worldwide Golgotha. As Heidegger says, "The dreadful has already happened." Indeed, there is much evidence that we have already passed on into limbo.

When I travel through America, I am appalled by the limbo of shopping malls, the limbo of automobile culture, the limbo of corporate culture, the limbo of wasteland ecology, the limbo of people tied to a screen, or text messaging all day, all night, their thumbs having become calloused, their faces neutral from having few face to face encounters, the limbo of meaninglessness, of lack of caring. Robert Coles speaks about the lack of caring among students for each other in our schools, noting the brutal competition that mitigates against human values. This danger is particularly apparent in the caring professions like medicine where the competition is so fierce that often those who would make the finest healers of body and mind are strained out in favor of those ability to pass a test wins them the approbation of the computer.

Then there is the personal limbo of our time. Many people, bereft of meaning and no longer committed to the standard brand culture, philosophy, or religion of our era, have long periods in which they quite literally feel dead. Many of us feel ourselves caught up in limbos of our own and others' making. We long for the call: "Arise, Maiden, Madam, Sir, Doctor. Arise! Arise!" We long for resurrection and we refuse to believe the signs that it may already by in our midst. Resurrected ones are walking among us and we mistake them, as did the three women, for pleasant hippie-type gardeners. Could it be that the success of the Obama campaign came about because it offered a sense of return to meaning and a resurrection into new ways of being an American?

Resurrection is essentially a remembrance of one's true nature and a waking up to this remembrance. Resurrection is the hearing of the message that unlocks our latent informational systems; our deep evolutionary coding is evoked by this new awareness and more of our internal systems are recruited for whole system transformation. What then takes place is a change that accelerates exponentially to such a degree that it is not the same body-brain-psyche. In this form of resurrection latent evolutionary systems have awakened to full manifestation.

The present critical mass of new information, the transcendental data gatherings of Googlites, and the releasing of tribal, insular, and national bondage in our time, albeit with radical fundamentalist back lash, the density of cross-cultural and cross informational exchange, release on a global scale a phenomenon that could also be described as planetary resurrection. Resurrection is about being pulsed into new patterns appropriate to our time and place. It is also about living in a continuum with extended and"resurrected" realities, be those realities Buddhas, gods, Christ, archetypes, and maybe the stars themselves.

Perhaps in our time the longing itself becomes the experience. Perhaps we can paraphrase Meister Eckhart when he said "The eye by which I see God is the same eye by which God sees me." Now we can say that the longing with which we yearn for God is the same longing with which God yearns for us. I believe that the strength of that mutual longing can give us the evolutionary passion to roll away the stone, the stumbling of blocks that keep us sealed away and dead to the renewal of life.

The Walk to Emmaus


The mystery of the journey of Jesus in the world does not end with the resurrection but with another journey, a walk, in fact, on the road to Emmaus. As the gospel of Luke recounts, several days after the crucifixion two men were walking along the road to Emmaus, a town some seven miles from Jerusalem. They were deeply absorbed in their conversation and hardly noticed when a third man quietly joined them on the road. After a while this stranger interrupted to ask them what they were talking about so intently and with such sadness. They told him that they were discussing the condemnation and death of Jesus and the discovery of the empty tomb by certain women of their company who had come back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that Jesus was alive. The stranger agreed that Jesus was indeed living and as they continued to walk together took them through an interpretation of the scriptures, showing them in chapter and verse how everything that had happened had in fact been foretold.

The two men were feeling great warmth in their hearts toward the stranger and when they reached the house in Emmaus where they would be staying, they invited him to join them as it was now late. The stranger agreed and went to dinner with them, blessing the bread and breaking it to give to them. At that moment they underwent a shock of recognition and knew the man not as stranger, but as Jesus. Immediately he disappeared. The two men instantly got up and sped along the road back to Jerusalem where they told the disciples the wonderful things that had just happened. As the were telling these things, Jesus suddenly appeared among them, quieted their fears that he was just a spirit, and invited them to handle his very physical hands and feet. Then he asked for something to eat and proceeded to chew and swallow some broiled fish. He concluded his visit by blessing and empowering them and they were filled with great joy.

The Emmaus journey continues the mystery rites of the resurrection in new and remarkable ways. Luke's gospel narrative is one of completion and fulfillment. Emmaus is cited as "seven miles from Jerusalem." In the tradition of sacred numbers, seven completes the quest. The Emmaus walk marks Christ's return from the eternal to the temporal world in an act of compassion, relatedness, community, and, most importantly, concreteness. Jesus, in his three day sojourn in the non local Reality has become capable of acts of radical humanity. But the real presence was difficult for the disciples. "Something kept them from seeing who it was" until the moment he broke the bread and offered it to them. "Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him."

Here we discover the Eucharist as continuing the central mystery of the Christian tradition which ironically, and almost comically, turns out to be a glorying in the most physical and concrete of all experiences. The ritual gesture of the consecration of the bread by Jesus is an enfleshment, a palpable statement of the concreteness of God-in-the-world, an earthly presence of Christ among the community of the faith.

Faith consciousness recognizes in the symbols not merely a meaning, a memory or an understanding of Christ, but a reality of the Divine in the All of all that is human, that is ordinary, that is natural. Bread is broken together and fish is chewed. Hands and feet are extended to be touched. There is nothing abstract here, nothing of the ephemeral spook or the smoky apparition. No one is hallucinating; on the contrary, they are invited to engage together in the most sensory of communions. "Why are you troubled, and why do questionings arise in your hearts? See my hands and feet, that it is I myself. Touch me and see, for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see I have." The ideal world of possibilities and patterns that are held in the non local Reality where Jesus spent three days and the real and local existential world met on the road where Jesus shows up eating and drinking and touching has brought together the passion and possibility of what before had been divided and distinguished worlds.

In the hidden non local what we would call divine life of Christ, in the substance of things unknown, in the ultimate mystery of a reality beyond our control or our images- the Godseed comes, and says "Touch me" and we are Godded and transformed in the Love of the Beloved. We can refuse to see with our eyes and hear with our ears and know with our minds. But it is difficult to doubt the reality of flesh touching flesh and it is well nigh impossible to reject the even greater impression of heart touching heart. At this point we discover that we know nothing but we feel everything. Surrendering to feeling we find that being so loved we have no choice but to become love, to become the stranger on the road of everyone's Emmaus, the one who discloses the goddedness within, the one who says, "Touch me".

In this mystery and this consciousness we are required to die to our learned habits and ways of knowing, and to be reborn in a learned ignorance that is the essence of wisdom.

It was in the evening of the journey to Emmaus that this sacramental consciousness was reached, not in the fullness of the day. Thus it is in the darkness that there is light, in the unseeing there is seeing, in the absence of Jesus there is the Christ present. Augustine once experienced a series of visions of Christ that finally began to wane. Filled with anguish at the loss of the Beloved, the saint cried out to Christ to return. Out of darkness he heard the words, "I have disappeared right before your eyes in order for you to return into your heart to find me." Thus for the disciples of Emmaus and for Augustine the sacramental Christ came not first to liberate their outer worlds - their Israel from the outside in, but to liberate them from the inside out - from that deepest place within that seemed unreachable, from that Kingdom within that seemed elusive, from that voice within that seemed silent, from that spirit within that seemed dead. For it is in the heart that the Mystery of the Eucharist transforms our lives alchemically. In our hearts, in our feelings, in the places where we are touched, the miracle of transubstantiation occurs and spirit and matter become each other. Thus in the resurrection of the eating, drinking, loving, empowering, touchable one, the incarnation is completed. The human and divine orders are re-united, re-birthed in the fullness of human consciousness; and creation is found good and matter is found holy; and nature is not corrupt but sacred, not as spirit nor as matter, but as one in a Love that knows no understanding. That is, as the disciples said, too good to be true, but it is true nonetheless by a wonder beyond all reason. In the most ordinary of acts we disclose the material intimacy of a God who is closer to us than our minds or eyes - for when we eat and drink and touch and perform sacramentally the thousands other acts of human concreteness we become what we already are, the fellow traveler on the road to Emmaus. This is the good news, this is the great gift - the gift of simply being all in All, love in Love, hope in Hope, faith in Faith.