Many years ago I asked a spiritual teacher whether she believed that Christ was God. She smiled and said, “Of course.” And then, before I could get too far into believing she had actually answered the question that I had intended, she added, “But aren’t we all?”
As Christmas approaches – a holy day that I embrace and look forward to every year, that I celebrate by trimming a tree, creating a village with sheep, angels, Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus and several music boxes, by buying presents and cooking a turkey, and a day that finds me in awe at Mass with my family – it is important to ask a pertinent question.
Just what exactly does someone who believes in the complete yet mysterious unity of God and Creation, in the non-dualistic immanence of Spirit, in the Cosmic Christ of Teilhard de Chardin, celebrate on Dec. 25? What does this particular birth mean once you’ve moved beyond the dualistic way of looking at the Incarnation?
I’m nowhere near truly answering that question, but in reading the European mystics while writing In the Same Breath, (yes we are jumping ahead about 1,600 years, sorry), I came across one of the writings that got German Dominican Meister Eckhart accused of heresy shortly before his death in 1328. As you can see, he has gone about as far into believing in the complete unity of Spirit and Creation, of Self and self, of Brahman and Atman, as one can.
And yet, the words are familiar even without leaving dualism. Christians do pray for Christ to be born in their souls on Christmas Day, all the while believing in a transcendent, separate, omnipotent personal God.
Eckhart recognizes that, but then takes us firmly to the the unity his mysticism felt as he ends this homily on Christmas with the words “we are the Son himself.”
This is a common theme for Eckhart. To him, the core of our being is the “ground of the soul,” and this ground is “one with the divine nature or ground.” In Eckert’s words here: “Hie ist gotes grunt mîn grunt und mîn grunt gotes grunt,” or “Here, God’s ground is my ground and my ground God’s ground.”
Meister Eckhart – From Whom God Hid Nothing
Here in time we make holiday because the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity is now born in time, in human nature. St. Augustine says this birth is always happening. But if it does not happen in me, what does it profit me? What matters is that it shall happen in me…
Now note where this birth occurs … this birth falls in the soul exactly as it does in eternity, neither more nor less, for it is the same birth. This birth falls in the ground and essence of the soul.
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son (John 3:16). By this we understand not the external world, but the inner world. As surely as the Father, by his one nature, gives birth to the Son innately, so surely he gives birth to him in the innermost recesses of the mind, which is the inner world.
Here God’s ground is my ground, and my ground God’s ground. Here I live in my own as God lives in his own…
On one occasion I was asked what the Father is doing in heaven. I said that he is giving birth to his Son, an act he so delights in and which pleases him so much that he does nothing else but generate his Son, and these two are flowering with the Holy Spirit.
When the Father gives birth to his Son in me, I am his Son and not another: we are another in manhood, true, but there I am the Son himself and no other …We are sons in his Son, and we are the Son himself.
Now I’ll admit that as far as getting into “the spirit of Christmas” goes, this isn’t the warm and fuzzy Silent Night that was written in the early 1800s in Austria.
But I would say that both have their place. Perhaps the goal is to be able to appreciate both in whatever our spiritual lives or beliefs are – the soaring philosophical treatises and aha! moments of deep meditation and the folksy, emotional hymns and rituals. Might not that be another form of nonduality?
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Solstice and Joyous Kwanzaa!