The traditional or orthodox reading of the message of Jesus is understood through the faith of the masses and through the belief that virtues can be acquired. Contrastingly, the metaphorical reading is a result of direct experience or perception of which virtues are symptoms. The objective, communal and orthodox faith lacks a connection and lies outside the realm of personal experience. People believe because they cannot know for certain; however, authentic faith has nothing to do with belief but with intimate experience that allows them to drop the false. What then gives people the strength or courage to let go of their crutches? Orthodoxy may call it the grace or the favor of God but it certainly cannot be rationalized or explained by intellectual means. There is no method for acquiring it. Those who are touched by it unequivocally claim that they no longer have a need for faith. Their faith becomes a bridge and not something to possess. In the past, many sages and mystics came to be regarded as heretics by the Catholic Church because they had gone past dogma and tradition and were not ignorantly following an inherited pattern. They were led to proclaim: "I no longer have faith; I know." It is not a type of knowledge, separate from the self, which has been worked out intellectually and accumulated in the brain. It is not some external piece of information about something as we normally think of knowledge. This "special knowledge" is a function of the knower. From the perspective of those on the “outside” looking in, it is an intoxication that could be viewed as sheer madness, arrogance, heresy, escapism, or demonic possession. But one needs only to look at individuals who have been gripped by it to witness its transforming power and reality, beginning with the person of Jesus. We know them by the fruit they bear. As Jesus says in Matthew 7:17: “So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit." In the end, who is truly insane? Ordinary, "well-adjusted" individuals who hardly question the conflict-driven paradigms in which they are immersed or those whose personal experience leads them to a more fulfilling and meaningful life?
The type of understanding that is alluded to through a metaphorical reading of the story and message of Jesus involves leaving behind the socially determined, that which our community has provided to us, in order to find our own experience of the movement of Life. It requires that we loosen our grip on our worldly or inherited patterns and ideas, turn inwardly, and tap into an inner sense of ourselves. It requires that we strip these ideas of their inherited social garments and clothe them with our naked vision. It requires that we build a ship of understanding, with our own hands, and set sail upon the sea of experience. It requires that we close our eyes that we may see and shut our ears that we may hear and lose our life that we may find it. Those who take up this challenge, sages or mystics, have a choice. They can either seclude themsevles from the world and become hermits in adoration of their idea of God, or they can carry their crosses in the world by constantly testing, shattering and rejuvenating their vision of themselves and their conception of life. The challenge, as Jesus put forth to sages, is to live in the world and, through its suffering, through its trials and tribulations, through its undulations – not despite them - find Life here and now at the place where they are standing. The Holy Land is here, beneath our feet. Those who fully understand this notion experience their entire lives and history as a creative, unfolding process that transcends pain and pleasure, fear and desire. It is a revolution in consciousness that simultaneously transforms sages and the world around them. And although this experience cannot be analyzed, dissected or “proven” in any way – much like matter cannot be dissected into minute and indestructible physical substance - its effects are very real indeed and permeate the entire life of sages. This changed consciousness is not a temporary altered state as viewed in terms of mind-altering drugs, but an awakening. This is the redemptive state in the human being of which Jesus was a symbol. The psychologist Carl Jung writes: "… the 'renewal' of the mind is not meant as an actual alteration of consciousness, but rather as the restoration of an original condition, an apocatastasis. This is in exact agreement with the empirical findings of psychology, that there is an ever-present archetype of wholeness which may easily disappear from the purview of consciousness or may never be perceived at all until a consciousness illuminated by conversion recognizes it in the figure of Christ."2 We can say, as a result of this transformation, that the world in which sages now live is also changed. How? The radiance of the world, which once was blocked by the old constrained, judging self and the limiting forces of fear and desire, is now allowed to shine through. But it is not the radiance of the world per se but the radiance of Life reflected through the world. This is the same radiance that comes through in beholding a great work of art. This is the radiance of The Father.
This renewed consciousness reveals the elementary ideas in their nakedness, like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden before the Fall. This new awareness transcends the "normal" concerns of fragmented individuals, which entail frustration, temptation, fear and desire. All of their energies and perceptions become part of an awareness that takes into account their entire being and their environment, as a unified whole. They become light enough, metaphorically speaking, to walk on water. They eventually lose some of their fears, judgments and insecurities. This change has nothing to do with morality but everything to do with the shattering of belief and ideology through complete, existential awareness. Simply put, through this revolution, sages begin to see the breaking down of the illusion under which they had been living. And it is a continuous, unfolding process. It is not without deep psychological pain that sages often die to their old selves and their concerns and are born anew into a new dimension. The German mystic, Henry Suso, describes this state using religious imagery: "When the good and faithful servant enters into the joy of his Lord, he is inebriated by the riches of the house of God; for he feels, in an ineffable degree, that which is felt by an inebriated man. He forgets himself, he is no longer conscious of his selfhood; he disappears and loses himself in God, and becomes one spirit with Him, as a drop of water which is drowned in a great quantity of wine. For even as such a drop disappears, taking the color and the taste of wine, so it is with those who are in full possession of blessedness… Remark well that which is said of the blessed: they are stripped of their personal initiative, and changed into another form, another glory, another power."3
In 1 Corinthians 13:11, Paul captures this idea as a maturation of the human being: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways." There is not a willful effort by the ego in curbing behavior or in trying to think good thoughts or do good deeds. The individual becomes a whole human being, from the inside out; and while insecurities, fears and desires still operate in his or her life, they begin to lose their gravity or power to drag the individual along by their potent, rushing force. He or she watches them as they bubble up in within and allows them to flow through him or her, like watching the clouds overhead. The sage’s life in the world becomes a cinematic screen of moving images upon which the darts of fear and desire are targeted, but impotently fall away in sheer inconsequence. Sages become symbols; or better yet, they realize that they are a willing instrument or a vehicle for something greater than their conscious selves, transparent to a higher order. We see this naturally and well illustrated in one’s own body, which operates beyond one’s conscious effort or knowledge of its operation. Again, that is not to say that their worries or human burdens disappear, but their reality is transformed in context with this new consciousness. The change in behavior is simply a reflection of the effect of this new consciousness and not vice versa. The orthodox view would have us practice good deeds and morality in order to bring about a mature and godly mind, but we know through thousands of years of this practice that this method always fails.
Great artists are familiar with this experience when, through moments of inspiration, they are lost in their creativity. They disappear. Students of the arts at first must learn the rules and guidelines of their art that are imposed upon them by their teacher. Eventually they must let go of all the rules, dissolve them and transcend them if they are to find their own voice. They must let go of their “minds”, which is the accumulation of all of the knowledge and identity given to them, and go past theirs teacher and all that is familiar. They must let themselves go – they themselves must dissolve - and experience their art through their own mystery. Likewise, sages must interpret the faith and its language that they inherited from their communities, parents and teachers, through their own experience. And in so doing, they illuminate the language and transform it into a meaningful force, in context with their own personal lives and talents. It is by nature, and necessarily so, a subjective and solitary personal experience. And as mentioned previously, through this experience artists and sages not only transform their works or themselves but also the world around them.
In context of this essay, the orthodox or literal interpretation of the message of Jesus is one that has been formulated by society, by an outer source, and by the faith of the masses. The metaphorical interpretation, on the other hand, arises from an internal transformation; it cannot be understood in absence of a personal experience. No reading of a book or an essay, no lecture or person will provide that transformation. This personal experience is not shaped by the community but by the energies of one’s own unique impulse to life. In one respect, it can be said that orthodox religious or Christian believers sacrifice their individual selves, that part of them which Jesus sought to redeem, in order to save their social selves, which sustains the world. That is to say, orthodox Christians forgo their own experience in order to uphold an accepted communal ideology, to subscribe to the dogma of the community at large or to their church. They focus on developing a social persona, as Christians living in a Christian community according to specific principles or ideas that are visible, written down, and adhered to by others of their own group. They forsake their own creativity and impulse to life, or at the least limit them tremendously within the framework of their ideology, readily accept the crystallized forms which society or their church hands them, and attempt to bend their lives to the will of these forms. They become divided in themselves. Within this scenario, society becomes a hollow collection of people who are simply sleepwalkers ignorantly repeating an inherited pattern. In this way, society dictates to the individual rather than the individual, of his or her own experience or wholeness, revitalizing society.
We see then a duality or two opposing orders or forces at work here. One is the external, social order and the other is the internal and personal order. It is not often that these two are in accord, and orthodox Christianity usually interprets them as a duality and asks us to deny the one, the material, in exchange for the other, the “spiritual.” Sages must reconcile the two, even integrate them, and learn to live on the cusp. They may even come to see them as contrasting expressions of the same movement. If they succeed, they may become masters in both worlds. But the greatest challenge for sages, as I mentioned previously, is to accomplish this task while living in the world. I would like to stress this point again: We can escape the world and live in a cave as a hermit; however, the nature of life invites us to live in the world and shine in it, with all of its temptations, frustrations, calamities, loss and sorrow. Why? Because these seemingly negative aspects of the world are the very waters of our baptism, the very things that lead us to wisdom. They are there to help us recognize our potential, as painful as the experience may be. And if we bear fruit and let go, we become a light to others, transparent to the rhythm of greater Life, not by choice or desire or merit or effort but by the virtue of the impulse of our own lives. Simply, as we witness in nature, there can be no growth or life without destruction or death. This, I believe, was the unifying and existential element in the teachings of Jesus. We can see this idea pervading every aspect of his life story, from birth (Herod slaughtering the children) to death (the Crucifixion).
2 Carl Gustav Jung - AION: Christ the Symbol of the Self
3 Henry Suso – Buchlein von der Wahrheit" cap. iv