The presence of the soul is no where more powerfully to be found than in the miracle of the human face.
Think of someone, someone important to you, someone you love. When we do this, what is it that appears before our mind’s eye? The answer will always be: the face of our loved one. The face, the countenance, is that physical part of someone that most manifests their soul, their inner being. In their eyes, their mouth, their subtle movements of eyebrow and chin, whole inner worlds of feeling and experience are revealed. No shoulder, elbow or knee cap will ever reveal to us what a smile or a raised eyebrow can. The inner world of the soul is revealed in the landscape of the human face and the inner essence of a being shines out of their eyes. The face is the one part of our visible, physical body that most reveals the invisible, spiritual being.
In searching for the inner essence of the divine, the invisible reality of God’s being, where, on the great body of the world, can we look? Where can we turn out gaze to discover the countenance of the divine?
To the great Christian Festivals that have made their way into our lives of Christmas and Easter, and to a lesser extent, Pentecost, we need to add a new one in our era: the Festival of Michaelmas. Michael, the great heavenly being of the archangelic realms, is the one who does battle with the dragon, the enemy of humanity and God. What greater expression of God’s enemy can we imagine than the materialistic worldview? This way of thinking and perceiving that excludes the reality of inner being, that excludes meaning and goodness and admits only randomness, chaos, meaninglessness and the outer, physical shell of reality; it reaches into the minds of human beings and threatens to swallow them up in despair, bitterness and terrifying separateness.
In a time when our senses and intellect so dominate our experience and the ancient, intuitive sense for the spirit that permeated all earlier cultures has faded away, finding something, somewhere to look in the physical world that manifest the reality of God’s being becomes so essential.
This is the deeper meaning behind the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, also known as the “Mystery of Golgotha”. Through his words, his deeds of healing, his loving acceptance, forgiveness, equal treatment of all, his bearing and his destiny with deep serenity and uprightness – everything about his life and ministry is an expression of God’s innermost being, down to his greatest work: to walk with open arms into death and freely offer his life to the world. Even for someone who feels they have to reject most of the stories of Jesus’ life as “mythological”, discovers the breath of the divine in his very life and death.
This was a life so whole, so free, that he had no need to cling to it. This is the picture of one who has escaped the survival mentality that marks all self-conscious human beings. One cannot give away what one does not possess. Jesus possessed himself. Jesus gave his life away…The cross is the place where the fully alive one could give all that he is to others, and in that act make all that we mean by the word “God” visible. Humanity becomes endowed with the marks and the meaning of God. Full humanity flows into the divine reality. Divinity becomes and is the ultimate depth of humanity.” – John Shelby Spong in Jesus for the Non-Religious (my emphasis).
This great act, this deed of life and death on the mountain known as Golgotha, becomes the place we can “look” in the physical material world that in every way is a manifestation of the spiritual reality of the being of God. The Mystery of Golgotha is the face, the countenance of the Divine and thereby the antidote for our materialistic consciousness. A deeper penetration and understanding of this event becomes the ultimate foil of this fierce dragon of materialism and therefore an expression of Michael’s work in our time.
This work of manifesting the spiritual in the physical is also the very mission of all sacraments: to be a sensible, physical expression of an invisible spiritual reality. For this reason, the renewed Sacramental Christian life, as it appears in The Christian Community, is under the guardianship and inspiration of Michael. He is that being whose deepest concern is to do all he can to counteract the threat that humanity faces to lose all connection to meaning, purpose and wisdom. His goal is to make sure that we do not lose our access to this wisdom, this “heavenly light”, even as we live with our consciousness in a world of outer, “earthly” light.
Therefore, when we think of God, when we seek the inner being of the divine, creative spirit, let rise before our mind’s eye the events of Christ Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. Let these events become transparent to us, outer expressions of the inner being, the heart of God. And when we gather before the altar to celebrate the sacraments, let us attend to them in the same way; let them become for us a kind of countenance that reveals the inner soul of the divine. When we do this we participate with Michael in overcoming the power of the enemy of humanity that would chain us to the earth; we overcome the dragon in our own consciousness.
Contributed by Patrick Kennedy, a priest in The Christian Community, in the Washington D.C. area. This post also appeared in that congregation’s Blog.