Jesus was the catalyst of a salvific experience. This is the experience named Spirit and Jesus eventually became the man named Spirit, the bearer of divine salvation. Jesus now lives in the far reaches of God, but the experience named Spirit which he inaugurated did not "ascend heavenward" with him. It continued among his followers who called themselves the Body of Christ, the ongoing possibility of salvation.
The transmission of Christian faith is incurably people-centered, dependent upon the press of flesh from generation to generation. But no matter how many years distance us from Jesus, we will not forget him. His life, death, and resurrection are the authentic revelation of the living relationship to God. The upshot of all this, Chapter One suggests, is that we are a People of Spirit and Memory.
The soul of the People of Spirit and Memory is their living relationship with God which is activated by the experience named Spirit. This foundational experience is explosive. It inspires the human mind and heart to myriad creations. The People of Spirit and Memory have produced myths and rituals, elaborated beliefs and theologies, espoused values and behaviors. As generation succeeds generation, these diverse creations stockpile. They are in constant need of reform in order to be faithful to the living God they reflect.
The principle is that the Church is always reforming but never fully reformed. The creations of the People of Spirit and Memory have many different and very important functions, but only one ultimate purpose. They are expressions of the experience named Spirit and are meant to facilitate that experience for all who come in contact with them. At least that is what Chapter Two seems to think.
A preeminent creation of the People of Spirit and Memory is narrative. Story is one of the primal expressions of the experience named Spirit, and Christian faith regularly retells its sacred stories. The great hope of every retelling is that the tale will powerfully intersect the life of the hearers and they will experience, however dimly, the reality of Spirit.
The second half of Chapter Three explores the dynamic of hearing the sacred stories of the tradition. But those stories are old, and these are secular times (so the propaganda runs). People are interested in their own personal stories. We must begin with contemporary stories and bring forward the story of Jesus, the premier sacred story of Christianity, to interpret the depth of what is happening. So the first half of Chapter Three starts with personal narrative and merges it with the sacred stories of the tradition. The great hope remains the same--that in the merger of the two stories the experience named Spirit will emerge.
Chapter Four probes the abiding concerns of the experience named Spirit. If this experience and the living relationship to God it activates is the connection between Christ and Church, the source and goal of the creations of the Christian tradition, and the ambition of Christian storytelling, what does this experience entail?
The first moment of the experience named Spirit is an inrush of divine love mediated by human love. This love seeks and finds the heart of each person. More often than not, our hearts are living in either rejection or envy. For the rejected, this love sets a table; for the envious, this love holds up a mirror. For both it offers the opportunity for another way of being human.
The mystery of iniquity is that our hearts kill the love that seeks to save us. But this divine love does not give up. The crucifixion of love becomes the everlasting offer of new life. Of course, Jesus, the Son of God, is the one who revealed all this to us.
The first moment of the experience named Spirit is the swift inrush of divine love. The second moment is the stumble of human response. What will we do with the Love that loves us more than we love ourselves? Chapter Five struggles with a few suggestions. The surrender to divine love liberates human love.
This love moves in two directions at once--toward God and toward neighbor. Both these directions are intimately bound together. Love for God means praying and plotting and holding on. (Unless, of course, letting go is what is called for.) Loving God is the ultimate adventure. Loving our neighbor in God is the proximate passion. To love the neighbor is to see their well deserved injuries as our own undeserved wounds. It also entails a reversal of personal power. It is no longer ingeniously employed for personal gain, but lavishly spent for human reconciliation. The experience named Spirit results in joyous struggle. Of course Jesus, brother to us all, is the revelation of this struggle.
Even in minor moments of honesty, anyone writing a book admits that he or she is talking to himself or herself. The primary audience is the writer's soul. But hopefully there are soul mates. They are envisioned as people who are trying to think and live faith to the full; who know that genuine religious living is the key to what Kazantzakis called the "luminous interval between birth and death"; who have a heritage they honor, but wish they understood more deeply; who want to say something to the next generation, but want to make sure it comes from their heart; who believe in more than they have experienced, but want to experience most of what they believe; who want to allow religious truth to illumine interpersonal and social life, but reject simplicism and fanaticism; and who know that complexity and struggle are the name of the game, but who party like five-year-olds whenever hope arrives. If these feelings shape your soul, welcome.
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