Occasionally books turn up that are a message I need to hear. In some cases they may have been books written years ago, long ago read and benefited from by friends and even recommended to me. I may have bought it and had it sitting on a shelf or in a pile by the side of my bed for years, probably because it was a good idea but I was not yet ready for the message.
At other times I just see a book, or hear of it somehow, and just know I must get it now, and drop everything else to read it. They are often life-changing. It was like that with ‘The Shack’, and Richard Rohr’s ‘The Enneagram’ and Brennan Manning’s ‘Ragamuffin Gospel’. You’ve probably got your own list. Some people read in the hope of solving problems in their world, I mostly read to solve problems in myself – in the hope that if I can make progress the world around me will enjoy it and respond. I think both orientations are valid.
I’m not a prolific reader. Each book feels like quite an investment of time and mental energy so I have to choose carefully. Maybe what I subconsciously do is let the books find me. That’s just preamble however. What I mean to say is I’ve had one book of each type find me this last month.
The first was Tom Wright’s ‘Surprised by Hope’, which has been on my shelf for a couple of years. The second is ‘Immortal Diamond’ by Richard Rohr, which leapt off Blackwell’s shelf. They both approach the subject (for me revelatory at present) of resurrection, but from different directions. Tom’s from rigorous scriptural argument and Richard’s from a contemplative and mystical angle. Two books, for me, in harmony; witnessing the same thing.
From Tom’s point of view, resurrection has been a lost truth who’s absence from our consciousness has led to diminished thinking and living on the part of Christians. The book actually did for me what it said on the cover, it restored hope in a surprising way.
The little piece of revelation that broke through to me this morning was that because of the hope of resurrection, it is O.K. for things to be begun in this age that will not be finished by us, or even by anyone. It is O.K. to be unrewarded and unknown in this age. And I don’t mean sadly and self-sacrificially accepted, but really, joyfully, O.K. I can be confident that all I endeavour by faith in Christ will finally be completed, fulfilled and perfected in the really real resurrection age. Nothing that was by faith that dies and goes into the ground will remain there forever. Nothing is lost, nothing is wasted. I no longer need to define success in any terms I’ve learned so far.
There are also promises and dreams I’ve lived with and not yet seen. At times I’ve imagined they were expiring, but now not so. Time is not what I thought it was, neither is a lifetime. Weariness and discouragement can fall away in the light of such truths.
On the cliff at Dodman Point in Cornwall there stands a large stone cross first erected in 1896, with a plaque laid at its base. At first sight one thinks, ‘War Memorial’, but in fact it’s a ‘navigational aid’. The plaque says something like this…”In the sure hope of the soon coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and the resurrection from the dead, and for the encouragement of those who live by faith…this cross is erected.” The first time I saw this cross there was a sense of past and future opening up and being reconciled in the present, at a geographical point, and me standing there. I think the truth that Tom reminds us of does the same.
So the second angle, one that I find contemplatives such as Richard help me with, and which makes increasing sense to me combined with the first perspective begins with a question:
How much participation in the resurrection age is available to me to experience now, and how, really, experientially might it be accessed? Though for the moment it is always held in paradoxical tension with incompleteness, it surely has to be experiential and not just knowledge.
In the resurrected, restored, heaven-and-earth-reunited age there is an essential element of me that will be there, recognisable but different. We can only try to imagine, but like Jesus as the gardener or the fellow traveller on the road to Emmaus, who ‘I’ will be then is the ‘me’ who I am now, only more so; minus the temporary hiddenness and restrictedness. Mystics and contemplatives have told us there is a ‘True Self’ discoverable amidst the temporary clutter of fallen-ness and conditioning, and found that the quest to perceive and honour the immortal diamond; the Divine Image we are created in, involved dying. This process they wisely called ‘life’, and the art was waking up from the trance and paying attention to ‘life’.
On waking up they discovered there was a choice needed to invest our identity in that which continues, which is eternal, and disinvest our identity from that which must fall away. Not disinvesting from the physical body (that problem will be solved by a simple upgrade at some point), but the constructed, conditioned, inadequate ego identity that is the ‘me’ that cannot survive the glory that is my destiny. It is the part that dies continually by being let go of, and the part that as it dies, really feels like death. In Christian teaching I think this is what we call ‘Living by the Spirit’, only that has been seldom earthed.
The mystics and contemplatives (of which Paul must have been one) just had more courage than most to explore the experience to the limits to find out what was there. To let go means falling, to fall means entering the abyss, in the abyss is the dragon, but dragons hoard stolen treasure. By the time we encounter the dragon, however, we have already ‘died’ so it has no power over us. So we plunder, reclaim our lost treasure and more besides and we return with gifts. Is this what ‘I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live’ means?
They encourage us to believe that we can co-operate with the letting go now and as we do so experience more of who we will be, which is not a stranger to us, but is who we really are. They tell us the falling is actually how we get caught and held – the way we’ve longed for all our lives.
Richard encourages me and reveals the meaning of all my experiences in the light of resurrection starting and still to come.
Taking the two together; the sharp perceptions of the intellectual thinkers and the courage and sensitivity of the mystics seem to me to be pointing the same way. The great fulfilment of which resurrection is part is getting nearer and clearer, and it is more worth living fully than ever before.