existentialist cafe

life is sacred

Tag: ascent

I Cor 13

“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”

A majestic passage, which as been somewhat hackneyed by its (over) use in weddings. Knowledge tells us all about the world and the various things that happen in it, but loves meets the world in its mere existence. And later Paul says, “Love never ends…. As for knowledge, it will come to an end.” He has in mind, I think, a cosmic ending, but in the soul’s ascent to God also there is a point at which there is a cessation of knowledge and speech. There, one exists in pure abiding. As people, we may master all things which can be said to exist within us. Here we meet that which transcends our personhood, so it remains a mystery. Even so, there “[we] will know fully, even as [we] have been fully known.”


And the painted ponies go up and down

The notion of samsara is a compelling one. When cosmologies speak of cycles, I think they are drawing our attention to something which is at once both fundamental and profound. As much as we chart a straightforward course through life, it is difficult to ignore the cycles that gird us – day-to-night, season-to-season, the waxing and waning of the moon. But┬ásamsara is also a course. One travels through cycles of birth, death, and rebirth in the path of enlightenment.

Spiritually speaking, there are cycles of death and rebirth that we go through in our lives as well. In fact it seems to be a requisite part of the spiritual life. If we desire to walk that path, then we must be willing to let go of what is most precious to us. At times we get stuck at some place in the cycle, stubbornly clutching the doorjamb even as we are being carried to something new and better. In the contemplative Christian tradition, the guiding image is the ladder of divine ascent. In the foreground is the idea of slow-and-steady progression, though in the background is the idea that one must die to one’s self in order to find new life and that one must do this continually.

Although I think it would be a mistake to ignore the profound differences between Buddhism and Christianity (for instance, Christianity has a theology of the self while classical Buddhist teaching rejects the self), I think it is worthwhile to think about how the idea of cycle and the idea of ascent are both true pictures of the spiritual life.

Joni just had a birthday this week, so this is doubly appropriate: