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Reawakening Awareness


The Genius of the Good News
The great and everlasting genius of the Gospel of Jesus – the Good News, is its enormous capacity to touch and enliven what is most true about the human condition.  It is as though in one hand it holds a glimpse of the Creator of the entire and unbounded cosmos and in the other it touches the most deeply felt and universal human rhythms, desires and behaviours that are ‘species-typical’ for the human species.[1]  It provides the greatest window yet into what constitutes human freedom and human wholeness.  It establishes the highest watermark in what is required to enable human dignity.  And this genius flows on every front of the human enterprise – story and instruction on what it is to live abundantly; profound literature, poetry and story; music that transports and nourishes the soul; guides for human journey.  These all flow through from connectedness to its very source. 

The Sermon on the Mount
One core expression of this Good News is contained in the teaching of Jesus that we refer to as the Sermon on the Mount.  When this teaching is taken seriously and at face value, one can only conclude that it is impossible to live!  When we seek to hold it in one hand and our own lives in the other, we become aware of our own contradictions.  Yet, if we hold the teacher in the same place, our contradictions can emerge as paradox—like a battery–both poles there is no charge.[2]  When this “charge” is taken seriously, it can stir in one a great desire for a touch of its greatness.  And that can lead us further still – even to the surrender of one’s very life (including what, up until now, we have constructed our “life” upon), allow it to fall into a deeper relationship that makes it all possible.  The Good News, and our relational surrender to its author, awakens our deepest, almost primal, yearnings, and little by little, and within the very life context in which we find ourselves, we are invited and encouraged in the direction of our truest home.

All Who Seek, Find!
It is available to all.  It is not the preserve of any elite (even though historically, it may have been channeled through particular groups).  It is for everyone, not just for those who are theologically or philosophically knowledgeable.

Truth Enlivened
It is offered through a minimal presentation of truths in propositional forms.  Rather, truth is given life through archetypal, multi-layered stories, which have the potential to take us to the deeper and often partially hidden rhythms of our own human story.  Gospel stories and other wisdom stories from scripture resound within our own story.  This resonance can act to enliven our deeper life rhythms including those that touch the Eternal and open places of encounter with the Divine.  And then we know what it is to have our hearts burn within us![3] 

Cannot be Tamed!
The Good News resists capture, taming or being anaesthetised.  It cannot be subsumed through political force or merged with political ideology.  It cannot be nailed down, prescribed in ways that reduce, eliminate or by-pass human choice and freedom.

 Stands Above
It always stands head and shoulders above human reason, creativity or movement.  It has the capacity to relativise or to deepen the highest of human ideals, including human rights, human dignity, human liberation, human emancipation and human progress.  Though such ideas are important in the clarity of boundaries and act as protective measures around human activity, they will always be secondary to the capacity of the Good News to lead us to what is essential to achieve human dignity and transformation.    It provides a deeper basis of truth for notions such as human inclusion, and in turn cannot be reduced or contained by such ideals.  It also offers ways to discern human issues and encourages the highest levels of human consciousness – conscience touched and confirmed by the Holy Spirit.[4] 

Beyond Imagination
It takes us beyond imagination and transcends our capacity to comprehend.  It can shatter our certainty and invite it to wonder beyond our settled creeds.  It deepest knowing comes through relationship with its source – relational wisdom eventually eclipsing cognitive understanding. 

Reconcile Contradictions
It has the capacity to hold human contradictions, can use paradox, and at the same time can offer reconciliation.  It reopens a dynamic dialogue between our person of contradiction and the Source of Life.  Yet it does not impose, allowing freedom, permitting us:

Knowledge beyond our wisdom,
and has granted us, in our unripeness,
the power to destroy the earth.
[5]

 Deepen Our Psychology
It can always provide a greater depth to each advance in human psychology.  It can resist the reductionism of contemporary psychology, and can point to and enliven a human essence that is formed through relationship of Creator with Created.  Jung’s psychology might point us to an imprint of God on the human psyche, but leave us far short of actively engaging with the Imprinter! 

Outlives Human Movements
The Good News outlives the great movements of human thought and creativity, be they Renaissance, Enlightenment, Modernism, Post-Modernism.  Hopefully it will save us from the excesses of genetic tampering and from what some commentators such as Leon Kass and Francis Fukuyama are signaling as: Post-humanism.[6]  As indicated above, it takes us beyond human objectification, defies reductionism and the objectification of the human person, be it through human, economic and political structure (for example, the maintenance of slavery, or the political pursuit of a super-race), political ideology (for example, humans as units of economic production), psychological reductionism and psychopathology (the application of psychology as a “master status”), or through bio-technological tampering (genetic engineering in search of a super-human species).  

Resonate with the Human Psyche
It will always resonate deeply with the human psyche.  It can even resonate in places that are deeper than human pain and suffering and kindle the flames of the smallest pockets of hope.  It can nourish the smallest seeds of faith, especially as the person comes to end-points and exhaustion in their own resourcefulness.  It can, in the simplest terms, take us beyond ourselves.  It can open places of freedom and lead us places of deeper peace.  For those of us who are troubled and burdened it offers new knowing and wisdom through a gentle and humble heart.[7]  It enables and enlivens the great human potential for loving actions by filling them from their Divine Source. 

Tough Minded and Tender Hearted
 It always encourages a balance between toughness in discernment and truth seeking with love and tender heartedness.  In fact, its most profound truth seeking is always relational.  In fact, this will become most significant for our work as reflective practitioners.  Bernard Lonergan[8] gifts us with important insights into dynamic human consciousness that extends us into a relational dimension. 

We Kick Against It!
Yet we can kick against it at every point!  We can make it our greatest enemy.  Alternatively, we can try to harness it to our own self-interest.  We can resist it and at the very same time embrace it – almost simultaneously holding on with some passion at both extremes.  It can be both the highest ideal and the greatest laughing stock.  It can niggle, offend, trouble, and haunt and do all of this without ever imposing its will upon us.  We can rail, kick and scream against it, while at the same time, knowing intuitively our great need of it.  
     In summary, it represents the very corner stone of our entire universe that we most easily reject.  And yet, in spite of all the forces that stand against it, both personal and political, it will always live on.  And it will always retain  an incredible capacity to name a deeper reality and to pull the carpet from under the feet of those of us who consider that we have some handle on it – and to bring forth to stand in our midst a wide-eyed, wondering child who is most ready to embrace it with all of his or her heart.[9]

Truth and Brokenness
The gentle and humble heart of the Good News does allow its truth to be carried forward through human brokenness.  And its vehicle is so often the most broken of individuals and church communities.  It seems to depend often on broken remnants rather than seemingly together majorities.   It appears to put more trust in servants rather than masters.  And it will always break through and surprise. 

Companions and the Broken Remnant
Perhaps as we come to reflect upon our companioning and to extend our capacity for reflective counselling practice, we might hold a hope that we could be part of that broken remnant.  At the very least, reflective approaches to counselling practice will open us more to our own brokenness.  But at the same time, as paradoxical as it may seem, it also has the potential to open us to the depth, resourcefulness and creativity of the human person – who, despite post-modernism’s distaste for notions such as “human essence”, who is still created in the likeness and image of the Creator.[10] 

Glimpsing this Likeness through Story
Through our deeper attention and self-forgetful loving interest, we may even glimpse this likeness and eternal rhythm within the story of the one whom we are companioning. 

Clearing the Deck
To glimpse the “likeness” we may need to do a little housekeeping – a little clearing of the clutter on the deck.  We may need to move our sophisticated theoretical paradigms slightly to the side to reopen sufficient space for reverence, awe, wonder and prayerful contemplation.  We may even need to wake up from our contemporary slumber.  It may mean opening a doorway for our “wondering child.”  Then in our wakefulness we may need to slow the pace of our frenetic searching.   We all need to get more of ourselves out of the road!

Reconstructing
Postmodernism has opened fresh windows through encouraging us to deconstruct large areas of human expertise and previously established knowing.  However, in this key elements of what it is to be human have been lost.  It has encouraged a philosophical reexamination of foundational suppositions of the era of thought that has been called the Enlightenment.  These suppositions included: objectivity, realism, universal truths, rationalism, the blank slate, essences and meta-narratives (for example, socialism, liberalism, and so on.)[11].  To engage seriously with the Good News will be to recognise that its foundational suppositions take us beyond such philosophical examination to enduring ways of living and being.  It will reinstate for us an essence of what it is to be truly and fully human and to find abundant life. 
     According to Douglas Groothuis:[12]

‘Michael Foucault and other postmodernists announce the death of the subject qua person with a human nature, not just the author or the autonomous self. To all those “who ask themselves question about what man is in his essence,” Foucault writes in The Order of Things, “we can answer only with a philosophical laugh.”

Postmodernists deconstruct texts precisely because they deconstruct persons. Instead of taking the human subject to be an irreducible and substantial locus of significance, deconstruction dissolves the subject into cultural contingencies. As Jacques Lacan confessed, “I am a poem not a poet.’

Groothuis continues his critique of this position by making a strong contrast with Christian view of the human person. 

‘Christians should bristle at this belief. Scripture states that humans possess a nature; we are created in God’s image, however culturally embedded we may be (Gen. 1:26). To make authorial intent the final word on the meaning of any text honors the author’s created nature as a knower and communicative agent. Although not omniscient, humans are determinative of the meaning of their texts.’

The Window of Brokenness
The acknowledgement of our personal and collective (church and community) brokenness, we can seek ways to carry the transformative Good News through our persons, bodies and communities.  The living out of this Good News can be to find the transformative gift in brokenness, pain and suffering.  Companions and counsellors are constantly brought face to face with pathos and suffering.  It is an ongoing challenge to keep this hope alive for many seekers.  Companions are not immuned from the resonance of such brokenness deep within their own story.  Indeed, such places of brokenness can become treasure stores filled with deep sensitivity and knowing for the story of the other.  It can echo the one who says:  ‘This is my body given for you…’[13]    
     Through brokenness, through suffering there is a way of transformation, of growth and of new meaning.  These are movements to wholeness, or better still, to holiness. 

Invitation of Wholeness
As companions we need a capacity to hold in one hand the woundedness, the brokenness and the pathos of the story of a seeker, while in the other hand, hold hope for wholeness, growth and transformation.  At the same time we need to acknowledge that the invitation to wholeness is not getting back to life as normal – to things as they were before this seeker’s crisis.  Wholeness and holiness are always invitations to growth.  And stepping into the midst of pathos and even darkness with such a hope is often stepping out into the unknown.  It is a risky step – a step of faith for both seeker and companion alike.
     Nowhere is this clearer than in the encounter between Jesus and the woman found to have committed adultery.  Somehow Jesus holds the many contradictions of this situation:

  • the accusation;
  • the “rule” or right way of responding to issues that had been accepted as part of that tradition;
  • the self interest and motives of the accusers;
  • the projections of their “shadows” onto the accused – the “real sinner”;
  • the brokenness, sin and fear of the accused;
  • and, the hope for wholeness for both accused and accusers. 

Jesus contains these contradictions in the hope that transformation will occur.  In a highly charged moment of “death making”, an opportunity for life and wholeness opens up.  Jesus holds his nerve because deeper human and eternal potentialities are possible for all participants.  Yet, in the end, there is only one who hears the full invitation to wholeness:

‘Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.’[14]

Light and Darkness
It is most significant that the very next time speaks to the people following this most transformative of events, he says:

‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’[15]

His statement immediately moves him into controversy and to marked difference with the prevailing ideologues.  Again, there is a deeper knowing and experience that is at stake.
It is evident that Jesus holds a different view of the human person and of the connection of the human person and the Divine.  There may be similar contentions between the views and experiences of Christian companions and much of contemporary philosophy.  For example, while the postmodern deconstruction of the human person may have yielded important insights, the “self” that it leave with us is very much a “constructed self”, embedded in and almost left at the mercy of culture.  They might be able to point out in the above story how the woman’s experience had been curtailed by the meta-narrative held by both herself and her accusers.  They may have even extended this analysis to suggest that she had been caught more in her oppression than in her “adultery”, as after all, this is only a construct of the dominant meta-narrative.  A contemporary narrative therapist might have helped her to recover lost parts of her own story which might have helped her to see that her actions were part of a deeper desire to move beyond her oppression. 
     There are, however, strong indications that Jesus could companion her to even deeper places.  Did he hold to a meta-narrative that had labeled her actions as “sin”?  Was there something of her own inner story, something of her deeper being, core or essence that might not be acknowledged by a contemporary, postmodern narrative therapist?   There certainly was an external condemnation and a link to a meta-narrative.  And this was being made by teachers of the law and religious leaders. 

‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.  In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’[16]

     Was there also an inner condemnation, both for the woman and for her accusers?   Jesus seems to be able to hold whatever the contradiction is here for both accused and accusers in order that it opens a potential site of transformation for all.  Is he appealing to an inner story that is somehow congruent with what might be accepted as a truth of the meta-narrative?  Does something resonate as truth with all participants?  Is there a deeper story that has somehow been written on the hearts and minds of all?  Jesus stakes his reputation, one could almost say “puts his body on the line,” on this inner truth.  Yet, when one stands back from the drama and volatility of this encounter, there is great consistency with his teachings, especially those set out in Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5 to 7. In these teachings it is impossible to separate external actions from inner life.  He reminds us that our eye is the lamp of our body.

‘If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!’[17]

Are all participants in the above story being invited to clean and clear the lenses of their own eyes, and to attend to the “planks” within them that can blind?  
     These same teachings seem to take us way beyond the meta-narrative that is called “law”.   Jesus does this in a way that does not undermine the meta-narrative, but simply put it into perspective. In this encounter Jesus completely embodies his teachings.  And as with other encounters, he puts his total person on the line.  And in doing so, he again shows us the depth of the human person who is always embedded in something far deeper than culture, or even the dominant meta-narratives of a particular religious culture. 

Invitations to Growth
It is people’s brokenness that brings them to our door.  Just as people sought Jesus for their healing, people will seek out us. 

Notes

[1] Review by R. J. Coleman of the writings of Francis Fukuyama, Christian Century, July 26, 2003, pp. 36-37.
[2] Cited by A. B. Robinson (2003). Back to basics. Christian Century, July 26, p. 26).
[3] Luke 24:32. 
[4] Romans 9:1. 
[5] Stephen Mitchell’s adaption from the Hebrew of Psalm 111, in A Book of Psalms. New York: HarperPerennial, p. 61.
[6] Coleman, 2003, op cit. 
[7] Matthew 11:29.
[8] Lonergan, Bernard (1958). Insight: a study of human understanding. NY: Philosophical Library.
[9] Matthew 18:3. 
[10] Genesis 1:26 & 27. 
[11] Coleman, 2003, op cit. 
[12] Groothuis, Douglas Postmodern fallacies. Christian Century, July 26, 2003, p. 41.
[13] Luke 22:19. 
[14] John 8:11. 
[15] John 8:12. 
[16] John 8:4-5. 
[17] Matthew 6: 22-23.