In EfM I learned the art of theological reflection, similar to dream work. In “TR,” one works with images and metaphor to see God acting in the world and in one’s life. Both of these practices dissolve the walls of separation.
In discussions with spiritual seekers from around the country, I have encountered resistance to Biblical language. I am a Christian, but I, too, have struggled with the way the Christian language has been co-opted into a framework of dualism, a framework that no longer works for the modern, spiritually mature, thinking person.
In theological reflection, the cycle of salvation history is used as a lens through which to view the action of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The cycle consists of 4 (wholeness) components: Creation, Sin, Judgment and Redemption.
One (Creation) is Unity. There is one God. Two (Sin, separation) is a split. When Adam and Eve ate the apple in the Garden of Eden, they were given a new lens, that of the knowledge of good and evil. They were transported into the world of opposites, jolted inside the space-time continuum.
Three (Judgment) is the transcendent third: the result of the dialectical process. Only from a tension of opposites can a third, synthesized option arise and action take place. Four (Redemption) is completion, transcendence.
In theological reflection, we look at a life story, such as the scene of Fr. Louis’ vision on 4th and Walnut. We could also work this scene as a dream. What are the givens in this image (Creation, One, “In the beginning…”)? There are people, going busily about their lives, traffic, and buildings. There is ugliness, imperfection. One might imagine dirty streets, cigarette smoke, unhappiness and happiness in indulging in the practice of our culture of material comfort in the shopping district. All that is, is.
In this scene, what separates, divides, or causes conflict (Sin, Two)? One might imagine that there is joy in shopping, happiness in being alive, satisfaction in busy bodies walking…but also sadness, tired bodies heading to work they don’t love, people looking for happiness they will never find in material things. Dirty streets, chill March wind… you imagine. If it were your story, the details could be filled in by you or a group.
What causes in a change of heart in this scene (Judgment, Three, synthesis)? What causes one to be called to “turn around,” repent? Perhaps the idea that I am a person, too; That I struggle with my daily tasks; That I sometimes look to the material world to provide my happiness instead of to God; That I, too, have an unhappy soul within me who trudges dirty streets and practices unhealthy habits.
Where is the healing and goodness in this image (Redemption, Four, wholeness)? I see creatures of God, just like me. They may be tired, dirty or sad, but they are on a journey, whether they know it or not. Inside they are divine. They want to become one with God. We are all in this together. They are beautiful in their very existence. They feel the emotions I feel: the pain, the joy, the struggle. “There is no way to tell them they are walking around shining like the sun.” “The Kingdom of God is within them”, and someday they will see it, too.
Thomas Merton’s vision began at a corner, the corner of wholeness, number 4 (4th Street). He was seemingly instantly transported into a transcendent state. He didn’t have to work out the puzzle in his head in the moment. He was touched by grace. This moment occurred on a date (March 18, 1958) that adds up to 8, the doubling of four and symbol for infinity (see the book Creating Mandalas by Suzanne F. Fincher, A Dictionary of Symbols by Cirlot and the work of Carl Jung for more information on the meaning of numbers). It also represents a new beginning and resurrection, as in the 8th day.
Merton’s vision transported him to a new dimension, one where “the night and the day are both alike” (from hymn #490 in the Hymnal 1982 of the Episcopal Church, I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light). Infinity, as double 4, encompasses all, night and day, conscious and unconscious, spirit and matter.
No separation. The kingdom of God is within you. There is no way to tell you that you are, indeed, walking around shining like the sun. I see it in you. I struggle to see it in myself. We must all be mirrors for one another. The more time we spend in silence and prayer, emptying ourselves in order to be filled by God, the more we will change the world. We just might be able to convince others of their shining light within by letting our own out into the world, not hiding it behind monastic walls or under bushels.
Practice gaining knowledge of self. Study your coping mechanisms through the Enneagram and learn how your crutches (sins) are your gift and can lead to transformation. Study your nightly dreams. Know and trust that God is persuading you to become whole, not divided and separated from anyone or anything. Empty yourself. Go deep. Practice centering prayer and mediation. In that still, quiet space within, you will see yourself walking around, shining like the sun.