Thursday, June 19, 2014

CORPUS CHRISTI: THE MICROCOSM IS THE MACROCOSM

Yes, the microcosm is the macrocosm. Let me explain.

Today, Thursday 19 June, many Christian churches around the world are celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi (otherwise called the Thanksgiving for the Holy Communion, the Feast of the Body of Christ, and Corpus Domini). This important feast, originally a local feast before becoming one of the Universal Church, is traditionally kept on the Thursday next after Trinity Sunday, and celebrates the belief of Christ's ongoing and real presence (‘Real Presence’) in the form of the Eucharist. The latter is said to have been instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper on the first Maundy Thursday. In contrast to the sombre atmosphere of Holy Week, Corpus Christi is a joyful celebration of the sacrament of Communion.

Now, I cannot accept any literal interpretation of the doctrine of Transubstantiation—the idea that the bread and the wine used in the sacrament of the Eucharist become, not merely as by a symbol, sign or figure, but also in reality the body and blood of Christ. Yes, that is too much for me to believe. However, the idea of Transubstantiation does mean something very real and wonderful to me. You see, the whole mystery---and that is what it is, a mystery drama. Never forget this---the Christian Church, the 'prolonged Personality' and 'posthumous Self' of Jesus throughout the centuries (albeit all too often a very fallible, errant and sinful version of the Man from Galilee), is first and foremost a mystical church, despite the efforts of many who strive to have it otherwise, and as a mystical church the 'mysteries of Jesus' have not been completed but are still being lived week by week and day by day by those spiritual seekers who participate meaningfully in the liturgy, ritual, ceremonies, and 'myths' of the Church.


To the extent that Jesus can be said to embody the fulness of the Divine---my view is that Jesus reveals to us 'as much God' as we are humanly capable of comprehending---so the wafer of bread in the Eucharist fully embodies the divine life present in matter (yes, matter). However, there is much more to the ceremony than just that. The mystery drama of the Eucharist, under the veil of earthly things such as bread, wine and water, illustrates and dramatizes the essential oneness, wholeness, unity, indivisibility and ultimate indestructibility of all life. Yes, the essential oneness of all life is symbolically represented by, and fully but microcosmically concentrated in, the Sacred Host, Itself a living symbol of the All-ness of Life in the very real sense that all of life and all of time and space can be said to be present, as a special intensification and concentration of Life, within the confines of this otherwise very little wafer of bread. Yes, the sacred Host, this 'heavenly bread,' is a miniature of the ‘Eternal Now.’ In that regard, I am reminded of those wonderful, oft-quoted words of William Blake (from his poem ‘Auguries of Innocence’):

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

The circular shape of the wafer is itself illuminating. In the ancient occult tradition metaphysics was often spoken of as sacred geometry or simply geometry. 'God geometrizes,' it was, and still is, said. Each geometrical shape had a certain metaphysical and esoteric ('inner’) meaning or significance. You could teach the whole of metaphysics by simply teaching geometry. Now, the circle, a most ancient and universal symbol, represents, among other things, life that has no beginning and no end (cf the Gnostic concept of a ‘world serpent’, in the form of a circle, eating its own tail), eternity, infinity, heaven, the universe, the cosmos, perfection, purity, God, Spirit (or 'Life Force'), ultimate oneness, the cycle of existence (human and otherwise), and associated notions of karma and reincarnation. More relevantly, especially in the context of the Holy Eucharist (cf the circular shape of the Sacred Host), the circle, being unbroken in nature, also represents a ‘sacred place.’


Sacred, indeed. If, like me, you accept the idea that all of life is sacred, holy, or divine, then you should have no difficulty at all in accepting the idea that the Host of the Eucharist is sacred, holy, and divine. ‘Spiritually and materially,’ wrote priest and author Geoffrey Hodson, ‘every Host is as a microcosm of the Macrocosm. Blessed indeed is every recipient.’ Microcosmically, each of us is a miniature copy of the universe, and the Eucharist is a sacred mystery drama and pictorial representation of the human soul, which comes forth from God, and which labours and struggles in time and space, in exile from its eternal home, in its pilgrimage and on its way to its ultimate re-union with the divine source from which it came. The Eucharist re-enacts the forever-ongoing 'descent,' so to speak, of Spirit into matter---a veritable Self-sacrifice of life itself (the cosmic 'Word-made-flesh,' and 'Lamb slaim from the foundation of the world' [cf Rev 13:8])---and its eventual 're-ascent' from matter into Spirit again, the idea being that we come from God (the ‘ground of all being’), we belong to God, we are part of God’s Self-Expression, and we are on our way back to God. God is---we are.

Let me make one thing perfectly clear. (Richard Nixon used to say those words, heaven forbid.) The bread and the wine on the altar or Communion table are not mere symbols. There is no such thing as a ‘mere symbol.’ By its very nature a symbol can’t be ‘merely’ anything. A symbol---any symbol---if it be a symbol at all, is always a form or representation (’re-presentation’) of what H P Blavatsky referred to as ‘concretized truth.’ A symbol is a sensory, and ordinarily visual, way of discerning and describing some aspect of Truth (Life). More than that, a ‘true’ symbol is a way of helping to bring into the fullness of objective reality the truth of which it is a symbol. Yes, a symbol not only ‘symbolizes’, ‘represents’ or ‘stands for’ something else (the ‘inner reality’), it actually is instrumental in bringing about that reality and, in very truth, is that reality. In the case of spiritual truth, a symbol of God's presence and power also communicates that presence and power through our senses.

So, when it comes to the Sacrament of the Altar, which as I see it is the sublimest myth known to humanity, we have powerful archetypal symbols that not only commemorate in symbol the metaphysical and spiritual ideas to which I have made reference, they enable all who participate in the ceremony with sincerity, right intention, and purpose to actually take part, both interiorly and exteriorly, in that sacred mystery drama ('self-same sacrifice,' in the words of one Christian liturgy) that is going on all the time wherever there is life. Not only that, but we have a powerful ritual that (to borrow from one Christian liturgy) serves to 'perpetuate within the limitations of time and space ... the enduring sacrifice by which the world is nourished and sustained.'

I still have a lot of problems with many aspects of Christianity, or at least 'Churchianity.' Indeed, many conventional Christians would regard almost all that I’ve written in this post as clear and unambiguous evidence of that fact. So be it. I am a freethinker or I am nothing. I will, however, say this much: the Divine Presence I encounter mystically in the consecrated Host is not only the Jesus of both my childhood and my adulthood mediated by means of the creative power of the Spirit of Life, revealed knowledge as well as imaginative mystic reflection, but also the Cosmic Christ, that is, that aspect (for want of a better word) of God which created all things, upholds, sustains, and nourishes all created things, is in all things as all things, pervades and permeates all things yet is not consumed or constrained by all things, and whose very Real Presence in and to me is nearer to me than hands and feet, for it dwells in my very own heart. In other words, the Christ who ‘fills the universe in all its parts’ (Eph 1:23). 

You see, in the consecrated wafer is all of life---past, present and future---and that includes the man who once walked this earth known as Jesus of Nazareth, whose wonderful Personality and Power is mediated to us, as well as the indwelling Presence and ‘substance’ (or 'essence') of all persons and all created things. In and by means of the Eucharist, and under the veil of the simple earthly things used in the ritual, I feel an intuitive connectedness, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually, with all of life. To this wonderful, mysterious Self-revelation and experience of Life itself, I can only say, with deep humility and thankfulness, ‘My Lord and my God’ (Jn 20:28).

Here’s something else. The Eucharist is a powerful transformative ritual. You see, we are the bread and the wine. The bread (cf flesh) may be said to represent our terrestrial, mortal life, whilst the wine (cf blood) signifies our spiritual life. Conjointly, both represent or signify our lower and higher natures respectively. So, we should place upon the paten all our joys and sorrows along with all our hopes, fears, negativity, and disappointments---everything, in fact. We can also place upon the paten all those we love and for whom we care. And that drop of water added to the wine and cast into the chalice---that, too, represents us, indeed every moment of our lives as well as the lives and sufferings of others whom we love and for whom we care. Yes, we offer ourselves so that we can be consecrated, that is, transformed into new and better people. Of course, it is not magic. We need to die to our old, tired, false selves in order to be resurrected into our True Self, the latter being the very best person we can be. That requires, among other things, self-surrender … on a daily basis. Fulton J Sheen, in his inimitably beautiful manner of writing, has written:

We must not think of the offering of the bread and wine as independent of ourselves; rather the bread and wine are symbols of our presence on the altar ...

We are, therefore, present at each and every Mass under the appearance of bread and wine; we are not passive spectators, as we might be in watching a spectacle in a theatre …

We who are assisting in the Mass, together with all creation, offer ourselves as bruised grain and crushed grapes that we may die to that which is lower to become one with the tremendous Lover. ...

Death---and resurrection into newness of life. Such is the Power of this tremendous divine Power, and we can be channels, inlets, and outlets of this great Power. Now, what is God? What is the Divine? Well, for me the Divine is both a Presence and a Power--in fact, the only Presence and Power---that which animates, sustains, and nourishes all things, and in which we live, and move, and have our being. This Divine Presence and Power---the so-called 'bread from heaven'---must for the most part be experienced by means, and under the veil, of earthly things, the latter including our minds and their workings. In the words of Thomas Aquinas, from the Tantum ergo,  'Faith, our outward sense befriending, / Makes the inward vision clear.' As Presence, the Divine is the indwelling life of all the peoples of the earth. As Power, the Divine is an indwelling force for good, that is capable of transforming broken human lifes. 

In all respects, the Divine is the creative, dynamic, and transformative principle of life and love---in particular, suffering love---that forever gives of itself to itself so as to enable life to continue and grow. It is the power that brings peace, works for unity and wholeness, forgives, cleanses, heals, revitalizes, refreshes, renews, and recreates. It is the principle of oneness, wholeness, and holiness. It is 'the peace that passeth understanding' (cf Phil 4:7). There is nothing in the world quite like it, and the great mystery drama of the Eucharist is a living symbol and regular re-presentation of this Divine Power and Presence. Indeed, it's all of life.

Yes, the microcosm is the macrocosm. The One, which forever becomes the many, and the many are one. And so it is.






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