I present here an unedited draft of my book tentatively titled, A Contemplative Journey Through John.
This is a work of love and passion. I say love because using the concepts of creation spirituality in conjunction with a deep study of John’s Gospel has shown me a picture of God and spirituality in a whole new, diverse, and greatly expanded way. I say passion because going through this study has made me passionate in telling folks about this new (for me) brighter light of God and the intimate connection with each one of us and the rest of creation. Shining a different light on our traditional Western view of the Bible literally sets us free to love. You see, I (and other scholars) believe that our understanding of the Bible, the Gospels, and more recent non-canonical texts such as discovered at the Nag-Hammadi Library in the last century is greatly enhanced by approaching them through the lens of the Universal Christ or Cosmic spirituality. In fact, Cosmic spirituality can give us a very different picture of what living in faith actually means. With the steady decline of denominational churches, perhaps this is what the fastest growing population of the faithful, those who are spiritual but not tied to organized religion are looking for.
Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox is one of the greatest forces for introducing these concepts back into the Western Church. He uses the phrase ‘creation spirituality,’ but some get that confused with Creationism which is very different. I will use the phrase Cosmic Spirituality from here on and in the daily entries for that reason.
Fox has written several books on the subject such as, Original Blessing and Creation Spirituality which explain Cosmic Spirituality in detail, and, A Way to God which details Thomas Merton’s Cosmic Spirituality journey. He has also blessed us with, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, and Hildegard of Bingen, a Saint for Our Times, which tell us that Cosmic Spirituality is not something new. It was the spirituality of the early Christian church as we will see in our journey through John’s Gospel. However as Christian spirituality evolved through egoistic human thinking it became a religion full of human conceived rules and ideas, especially in the Western Church. As G. K. Chesterton pointed out, “Christianity isn’t a failure; it just hasn’t been tried yet.”1
Cosmic Spirituality tells us that God is in everything and everything is in God. Called panentheism, it is much different than pantheism which says that God is everything. I love the Jewish midrash which tells stories of God making room within God’s self for creation. That makes me feel much more connected to God than what the traditional western church teaches...that God is out there somewhere or in a heaven up in the sky.
Many progressive theologians find four paths on the Cosmic Spirituality journey. Fox names them the via-positiva, the via-negativa, the via-creativa, and the via-transformativa. Via-Positiva tells us, “it is a way of tasting the beauties and cosmic depths of creation, which includes us and everything else. Without this solid grounding in creation’s powers we become bored, violent people.”2 He goes on to say, all of creation is renewed through our realization of the via-positiva, and without it we become more interested in death and the systems that lead to death.3We find in the via-positiva that we and all of creation are created as blessing, and there is no concept of original sin. What?!Yes, this may be a deal breaker for some who are interested in seeing where this journey takes us since original sin is so prevalent in the Western church, but please consider that original sin is a concept developed by a priest named Augustine in the late 4th century. He was a womanizer to put it bluntly and couldn’t understand why he couldn’t understand where his lustful thoughts cam from. He assumed that he must have been born with them.
One of the pieces of evidence he used for his theory of original sin was his own misinterpretation of Paul’s letter to the Romans.4 The theory wasn’t actually ground breaking at the time, but when Constantine the Great became the leader of Rome and essentially the world in the early 4th century, original sin became the official theology of the Western Church. You see, it fit in nicely with the patriarchal state church of Rome, and it proved to be a very valuable tool for the church/state to control, subdue, and oppress the people. As a side note, this is another good argument to keep the state and church separate!
There is no theology of original sin in Jewish tradition nor in early Christianity. Jesus never mentions original sin, and it is not found in the Bible. None of the other major faith traditions have a concept of original sin. Christians might then ask, ‘Why do we need Jesus?’ I believe the entries that follow as we progress through John’s Gospel will show our need for Jesus, but in short let us say that Jesus came to show us God. I like to say that Jesus was God with skin on, and we needed God to show how us how desperately God loves us.
I love how Cynthia Bourgeault describes Jesus as coming to rewire us or upgrade our operating system...I5like Ash 2.0 better. Jesus came to teach us how to make the journey to our true selves as created in the image of God, or another way of putting it; Jesus came to save us from our false egoistic selves and show us true life as he was/is the bread of life and the living water. Although there is no original sin that was somehow passed on to us, we do sin. Sin occurs as a result of living through our false selves, and refusing to follow the path to our true selves as Jesus taught.
The journey takes work and we have to be open to upgrading our operating system. That is where the via-negativa of Fox comes into play. It seems that the via-negativa is the most difficult path for us as humans as it is the path that the ego or the false self is most interested in blocking. The via-negativa involves self emptying just as Jesus did and taught. Cynthia Bourgeault and others use the Greek word, Kenosis, for the emptying we are speaking of. She describes a divine exchange which, “connects us instantly with the whole of God, allowing divine love to become manifest in some new and profound dimension.”6 As we empty ourselves, God fills us. There are many ways to begin to accomplish this emptying process such as centering prayer and other meditations. These will be discussed further in our journey through John.
Emptying isn’t the only aspect of via-negativa, but it does play a role in the other aspects. As mentioned above, we are deeply affected by the pain we experience through life. As we empty ourselves through the Spirit, we tend to find those often hidden pockets of pain. This is usually a process that takes time and comes about in conjunction with other spiritual practices as mentioned above. Thomas Keating calls this process “the archeological dig.”7Cynthia Bourgeault explains, “As trust grows in God and practice becomes more stable, we penetrate deeper and deeper down to the bedrock of pain, the origin of our personal false self.”8 As an aside, the enneagram is a wonderful tool in helping us through this process as it points us to what some call our childhood wound, and it provides tools to help us on our journey to the true self.
As we journey on the via-positiva and the via-negativa we find ourselves entering into the via-creativa. Each of us is transformed into the true self or the self we were created to be. We begin to realize that we have been living our lives by running a program with automatic thoughts that guide us to repeated almost scripted actions. We realize that these things came from a defense mechanism we set up for ourselves beginning with the childhood wound. Although important and needed for us to survive in society and in our culture, this defense mechanism does/did not come from God. Rather it came/comes from the many super-ego voices we encountered such as parents, teachers, and experiences of society both positive and negative. An easy way to understand this might come from looking at prejudice, racism, and nationalism. These are things that are taught to us and certainly don’t come from God, yet they go into forming our personalities and false-selves which end up not serving us nor the Kingdom of God very well if at all.
This leads us to the via-transformativa, which is God’s desire for us. Creation within each of us, the earth, and the Cosmos begins to be transformed into God’s vision (Kingdom of God) with our help. God invites us to be co-creators with God. Did you hear that…Co-Creators!!! The via-creativa changes our whole perception of creation, of work, and of life for that matter. When we are co-creators we learn that we can be in touch with God and others through the arts and through our work. We find that our work should be much more than a job...that it is a vocation. In that way we serve God’s desire for, ‘Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ You see, we actually come to play a part of building the Kingdom of God in the here and now. Salvation is not something we sit around and wait for because we said some magic words…Salvation is in the here and now as we release our false self. As you read the entries, see if you can place them in one of the four paths. I will mention some along the way, and remember they can overlap.
Now for a little background on where I am coming from regarding John’s Gospel. I am asking you, dear reader, to maintain an open mind once again and prayerfully consider the following. It is much different than what is traditionally taught in most of the Western Church. We know that John is not like the other Gospels, especially chronologically. Many stories involving Jesus are only found in John or are different from the accounts in other Gospels. I, and many other scholars believe that much of John’s Gospel is metaphor. Just as Jesus taught in metaphor (parables) the author(s) of John surely, at least partly, relied upon the same method to reach the readers to which they were writing. We know that John was written some one hundred years, give or take, after the crucifixion of Jesus. These folks had been living as believers and had the experience of living as believers for all of this time. That is the experience being related in this Gospel. John is certainly one of the most mystical books of the Bible, and the most mystical of the canonical Gospels. As such, we can surmise that it was written by a Jewish mystic or mystics. After all, Jesus was a Jewish mystic. To clarify, when I use the word mystic, it simply means someone who has internal experiences of God so you probably are a mystic yourself or know folks who are. We all have the capability of developing mysticism.
Again, this is a work of love and passion on my part as I believe much of what is found here can save the Western Church not to mention our society which is growing more and more polarized. The creatures of Creation are dying and becoming extinct at an unprecedented rate. The living earth, which we need to survive, is currently being irresponsibly plundered and stripped of its rescources in a way that is causing irreparable pollution to oceans, rivers, lakes, air, and land.
Cosmic theology will also renew and change the way we look at the universe itself. Cosmic Spirituality and the emerging cosmology fit together very nicely, and as such, cosmic spirituality can also serve most other major faith traditions. We will no longer have to choose between faith and science as the two are merging together. Science supports Cosmic spirituality!
I invite you to begin the journey with an open mind. There’s that phrase again, but if we desire to grow it is essential. It is probably best to read one entry per day so I have numbered them. Think of as a daily devotional for those of us who truly want to go deeper in their faith. You may want to take Sunday or another day off if you attend the worship gatherings of your faith tradition. My prayer is that you, the reader, will begin to look at possibilities and will think seriously and prayerfully about what is being presented. As you read please realize that I don’t have or pretend to have all of the answers…my desire is to provoke thought and communion with God. spirituality can set us free to love as God loves! I hope and pray that this is a beginning to bringing humankind closer together as we explore who we truly are!
1 G. K. Chesterton as quoted by Cyber Thiago Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus, (Shambhala: 2008) p. 4
2 Matthew Fox, Original Blessing, (Tarcher/Penguin: 1983) p. 34
4 Ibid. pp. 48-49
5 Cynthia Bourgeault, The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice, (Shambhala: 2016) pp. 49-50
6 Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Jesus, (Shambhala: 2008) p. 73
7 Cynthia Bourgeault quoting Thomas Keating, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, (Crowley Publications: 2004) p. 97
Copyright ©️ C. Ashley Dotson 2019
Cathedral Rock in Sedona Arizona as seen hiking the Scorpion Trail.