This is my personal blog. The views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the congregations I serve.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Raising the Dead.


            One of the things that Jesus’ disciples are supposed to do is “raise the dead” (Matthew 10:8 & par.)  This seems a little, well, demanding.  Certainly Jesus brings dead people back to life in several cases.  However, literally bringing someone who has died back to life is not something that the church normally considers within the realm of possibility, let alone something it is supposed to be out there doing.  We do not have many examples of this even from the lives and legends of the saints throughout history.  It does happen, here and there.  But we hardly think of this as a mark of the church, as Jesus apparently did.  When John sent messengers to verify that he was indeed the promised Messiah, Jesus gave as proof, among other things, that the dead were being raised (Matthew 11:5 & par.)
            Is this one of those remarkable things that we are to relegate to Jesus alone?  Are we to assume that he does not want or expect his followers today to be involved in raising the dead?
            Jesus did not reduce his language in this case to the literal.  It included the literal, of course, but he also talked about death metaphorically and figuratively.  He would occasionally talk about death as “sleeping” (Matthew 9:24 & par., John 11:11-14).  (Paul talks this way too.  He says “fall asleep” meaning “died” at least 11 times in 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians.)  Jesus has the father in the Prodigal Son story talk about his wayward son as having been “dead.”  But the son was not literally dead; he had lost his way.  He had lost himself, and it is when “he came to himself” that his life turns around.           
            While not discounting the possibility that Jesus means it literally when he tells his disciples, including us, to “raise the dead,” that is not all he means.  We should not consider ourselves off the hook if we fail to accomplish this literally.  For Jesus himself understood that there is a figurative meaning here.  He could also mean to wake those who have “fallen asleep.”
            Neither does he necessarily intend this to be taken simply literally either.  He does not mean go into people’s homes at night and wake them up out of slumber.  “Falling asleep” and “dying” are metaphors for, well, not getting it.  They refer to a state of consciousness that is mired in delusion, futility, absence, and unawareness.
            The great Armenian spiritual teacher, G. I. Gurdjieff also, like many other teachers, understood what we consider normal, waking life to be really a form of sleep, or even death.  The state of consciousness in which we are lacking in self-awareness, and hence thoroughly immersed in the fantasies, fears, delusions, and self-image of the ego, is a kind of sleep.  One popular image for this is that of zombies, the living dead who wander senselessly through the world with no sense of who or where they truly are, and who do violence all the while.  This is especially apparent when we compare this low state of consciousness with more advanced levels of self-awareness.  If we are so captive in “normal” consciousness that we cannot even imagine anything higher, we exist in a living death.  We are zombies.  We are slaves to the ego and its projections, its self-serving narratives, and its terrors.  We exist under the power of fear, hatred, and anger, and it doesn’t occur to us that there is any other way to live.
            When Jesus tells his disciples to “raise the dead,” he is also instructing them to aid people in “waking up” from this state of delusion, and opening their minds (metanoia) to a broader, higher, fuller, and more inclusive perception. 
            Jesus comes into the world and gives us the complete example of what humanity can be, is intended and created to be, if we wake up.  He is the fully evolved human being, a vision of our future, our destiny with and in God.  This is what it means to call him “fully human.”  He is also “fully God.”  But he is not so remote from us that what he does is something to which we may only be spectators.  He calls us, beginning with his earliest disciples, to participate in his life.  He calls on us to wake up.
            Even as he was about to be arrested, his disciples were still sleeping.  They still didn’t get it.  It is not until the resurrection that their minds are exploded and they begin to perceive what Jesus was really about, and how they were called to participate in him, in his life, in his ministry and mission.
            The church is still called to “raise the dead.”  This in truth a mark of the true church, that we help people “wake up.”  Part of our mission has to be bringing people up from this low level of consciousness, which creates a society based on violence, greed, and self-centeredness.  We are called to help people become more self-aware, and at the same time advance of a broader, more inclusive, and higher perspective on the world.  This is the healing of the soul.  It is one of the things the church is supposed to be doing: waking people up from the “death” of unconsciousness and delivering them to new life in the Spirit.
            It is part of the church’s calling that has been neglected.  To say the least.  Clearly we need to resurrect resurrection as a central task of the church.  In my own life I have found two paths that are effective in doing this: the 12 steps, and the enneagram.  (Both have Christian roots.)  The 12 steps program has liberated many people from the bondage/death of addiction, and brought them to new life.  The enneagram is a system of spiritual growth designed to bring people out of the “sleep” or “death” of unconsciously following the dictates of their ego, to a broader, wider, deeper, and higher perspective.  I have written before on how combining the two could be fruitful.  The 12 steps could be used as a way to progress up the healthy levels of the enneagram.
            In any case, “raising the dead” is something the church needs to be doing if it is going to be the church.    
            

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