Hebrews 12:1 So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up (CEB)
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]
[“Creative Commons May the force be with you” by Victor R. Ruiz is licensed under CC BY 2.0]
One of the lessons I learned from appreciative inquiry is that we are all going to carry baggage with us as we move toward the future. It is helpful, however, if our baggage contains the best of our experiences and understandings. Anything else will likely slow us down or sidetrack us. The author of Hebrews makes a similar claim, “Let us rid ourselves of any baggage that causes us to hobble and wobble.”
Each of us, as meaning makers, has to sort through our experiences and decide how to proceed. When our lives are touched and colored by “thin places” or “mountain-top experiences” we become present to the world in new ways. We stumble as we try to name those experiences and describe the new meaning that has come into our day-by-day existence. We are touched at a place deeper than language.
The storyteller of Genesis 1 pictures God as a vibration (force field) that draws (lures / evokes) the substance of creation from the depths of mystery. Not satisfied with theo-poetical images, many Christians through the centuries have tried to read the story as if it were the best scientific / rational description of all times – the final answer to the question, “How did that which IS come about?
One of my passions has been the search for language that describes, hopefully without diminishing, the depth / the wonder / the mystery of the thin places (or the mountain top experiences) I have encountered. Richard Rohr provided some clarity and insight to that search as he linked together four terms – “Force Field of the Holy Spirit” (Rohr), “communion of saints” (Apostles’ Creed), “collective unconscious” (C. G. Jung), “consciousness itself” (Buddhism). I would add “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews). For me, these concepts are grounded in the imagery of Genesis 1:2c – the breathiness (ruach) that vibrates over mystery (tehom) or the spirit / breath / wind of God that hovers / sweeps over the waters of the deep.
We are meaning makers, the self-consciousness of the universe. Every attempt to make meaning (science, theology, poetry, art, music, relationship, community, …) is limited by experience, language, and context. Like Adam, I stumble over how to name things. I become frustrated when I find Christian thinkers who can’t express themselves without resorting to the language of power, domination, command, patriarchy, empire, … Today’s sore spot is “the power of love.” Actually power and love cancel each other out. As Catherine Keller describes, love is invitation – eros – followed by reception and response – agape (as well as, storge & philia). When eros is admixed with power and command, it become abusive. Love is dynamic, engaging, captivating. It invites (but does not coerce) power to leave the room.
In our limitedness, it seems easiest to reduce the mysteries of life by using anthropomorphic language that personalizes them – describing them as if they were analogues to human experience and action. This reduction happens when we try to understand the concept of the Holy Spirit as a disembodied personal being that makes God (the Supreme Being) accessible to us human beings. But, what if we understand Spirit (or even God) as a force field, a dynamic vibration that hovers between us and the mystery of life itself? What if the “great cloud of witnesses” is not a substantive collection of individual beings that loom over us, but a dynamic field that hovers between us and the collective influence of those who have lived and died before us? Is this what Jung intends with “the collective unconscious” and what Buddhists mean when they use the concept of “consciousness itself?” I think so.
In spite of our differences in explaining the mystery of life, we can agree that we each have to “run the race that is laid out in front of us.” Religious experience, practices, and concepts are part of the baggage that we carry through life. The author of Hebrews is right. It is important for us to “throw off any extra baggage … that trips us up.” Theo-poetic imagery is light baggage. Turn the imagery into substantive, rational concepts and the baggage becomes weighty and unwieldy. Perhaps it is best, at time like these, to stick with Star Wars and say, simply, “May the Force be with you.”