“We fear nothingness. That’s why we fear death, of course, which feels like nothingness. Death is the shocking realization that everything I thought was me, everything I held onto so desperately, was finally Nothing. The nothingness we fear so much is, in fact, the treasure and freedom that we long for, which is revealed in the joy and glory of the Risen Christ. We long for the space where there is nothing to prove and nothing to protect; where I am who I am, in the mind and heart of God, and that is more than enough.” – Richard Rohr
We long for that more than anything, don’t we? – that feeling of absolute security and safety in God. We long for it in this world and hope for it in the next. We long for the deep inner knowing that, as Lady Julian of Norwich says, “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well”: to know that everything is going to be all right. Scripture says it will: “Since this One has been raised up, there is also a universal resurrection of the dead ”. But no matter how many words we hear, whether from Jesus, our church ministers, or our friends, we’re so often still afraid.
What are we afraid of? Our writer says it is that feeling of nothingness – of having to let go of “everything I thought was me”. What is this “everything I thought was me”? Well It’s my personality, my likes and dislikes, my opinions, my hopes, my fears, my expectations, my desires, my feelings, my sense perceptions, my memories, my moment-by-moment thoughts. There’s a lot of “me” there isn’t there? But there’s nothing wrong with all of those “me’s”. They’re an essential and indeed precious part of who we are – a cause for celebration, just as are our ancestries, astrological signs, Enneagram types, families-of-origin, marriages and other relationships, and all the rest of the bundle of things that constitute a human life. Finally though, they are more characteristics that we have than the essence which we are. They are more “I have” than “I am”. And as wonderful as they are they in themselves will pass away when we die. But there is another part of us, beyond all of these “me’s”, – beyond our smaller selves – that will not die.
In Richard Rohr’s words who we really are, and what will not die, is “the treasure and freedom … which is revealed in the joy and glory of the Risen Christ”. That treasure and freedom lies in the core of our beings, deeper than any of our smaller selves’ manifestations. It has been given many names: our True Self, our Essential Self, our Deep Self. My own preference is our Christ Self. It is unique to each of us. It is the glory of God within us. It is where Christ encounters the distinct human being that is each of us. It is where we have a personal experience of the One, of God. It is a relational space where we experience ourselves as loved – where we are met in tenderness and compassion. It is a part of the immensity that Christians call the Body of Christ while also being, in some mysterious fashion that very same Christ that Jesus broke forth in his birth, death and resurrection. And it cannot be destroyed.
To me the most wonderful and amazing thing about that Christ Self within me is that it can be both known and grown. It is accessible and dynamic. It is something that I have been entrusted with in order to have it, in Mary’s words, “magnify the glory of the Lord” – both in this world and the next. Mary uses the word “soul” to describe this Christ Self: “My soul magnifies the glory of the Lord”. And that is another word we can use in describing this “treasure and freedom revealed in the Risen Christ”. It is a soul that is not static but is continually moving, continually growing (and, because we are human, sometimes receding). This soul, this Christ Self, is formed as we learn and distill the essence from all of the feelings, sensations, thoughts and experiences of our lives. What we are about in this world, in preparation for our movement into the next, is the building up of this soul. Personally I like to think of this Christ Self as my “second body”. It’s what Paul is speaking of when he writes of becoming a “new creation, a new being in Christ”. It’s that place within which Jesus called the “Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven”. It’s that place that scripture is referring to when it says we are made “in the image and likeness of God”. It‘s where God comes bursting towards, in, and through us. And it is this soul, this second body, this new creation, this Christ Self that will carry us into life beyond death.
I lived much of my life as the “doubting Thomas” of yore. But I like to remind myself that it was Thomas that actually had more faith than perhaps any of the others. It was he after all who was willing to die when Jesus was about to return to Judea to waken his friend Lazarus. Thomas said then, granted with a bleak resignation, “Let us go also, that we may die with him.” Let us put aside our fears and follow Thomas – and when the time for our death arrives may we say the same last words that the monk Bede Griffiths spoke on his deathbed: “Receive the growing Christ”.
Brian Puida Mitchell has been on the “spiritual” path all of his life – albeit somewhat grudgingly for a good number of years. He jumped in with both feet fifteen years ago after being introduced to Centering Prayer by Cynthia Bourgeault and now facilitates a contemplative group in Kamloops, B.C.