Friday, July 15, 2011
Infusing Hope Into the Dark Night of Our Species (2): The Annunciation
Following up on my previous blog referencing Andrew Harvey's book "The Hope," I want to recount the particular mystical experience that jolted Andrew's life-long journey as a spiritual seeker into a new realm of what he calls "sacred activism," and caused him to dedicate his life from then on to relieving the world's suffering. I believe it was an Annunciation of sorts that led him to his future role as a "sacred activist."
By his own account, a Divine intervention occurred in Andrew's life at the time when his father was dying in Coimbatore, India. In conversations they had at his deathbed, his father told him how he had come to see that the future of the world was in danger and that only a revolution of the heart, expressed in action, could transform the situation. "I hope to God we still have time," his father kept on saying.
While his father was dying, Andrew went to a local Catholic church nearby, on the feast day of Christ the King, where he heard the priest sermonizing about the power of the resurrected Jesus, whose fiery love no cruelty could deter or defeat. The priest informed the congregation that this was the model for what would resurrect the world from its suffering, poverty, despair, and apathy.
"After the priest finished talking and sat down," Andrew writes, "I looked up at the statue of the resurrected Christ at the end of the church. The only thing i can say about what happened next is that the statue became alive. For almost 15 minutes I saw the Christ in majestic, radiant golden light...It was both an ecstasy and an agony beyond anything I had ever known or even imagined." He goes on to describe how the fire streaming between his heart and the heart of the resurrected Christ felt like a knife plunging again and again into his heart--and that what was being revealed to him was the cosmic force of Divine Love and the potential divinity of all human beings who would allow themselves to be possessed and transformed by Divine Passion. This fire was what it will take for us to survive the coming ordeals and cataclysms, according to Andrew. "This was the fire in which a new world would be created out of the smoldering ashes of the old."
As he emerged from the church, Andrew saw an emaciated man with no arms or legs, "planted in a filthy puddle." Thinking he saw the re-embodied Christ in this figure crucified by suffering and poverty, he ran towards him to offer help. It was then that he heard a voice, which seemed to come from inside him, speak. It began by upbraiding him for his selfish spiritual ways-- exploiting mystical teachings for his own personal pleasure and career, when what he needed to be doing instead was devoting all of his actions and resources to ending the horror everywhere around him.
"The world," the voice said, "is burning to death in the fires of greed and ignorance. All of animal and human life is now threatened. This being you see before you is one of billions in anguish. See behind him and around him the burning forests, the polluted seas, the vanishing tigers and polar bears. The Divine is being crucified again and again by a humanity obsessed with its own needs and driven increasingly...to dominate and control and exploit everything."
At that point, I couldn't help thinking of the Republican blowhards sitting in the West Wing, even as I wrote this, and playing Russian roulette with the debt ceiling, their pretzel brains working overtime to corner and defeat the President politically under the camouflage of claiming to want to reduce the budget deficit. (Despite their current posturing, Republicans voted seven times to raise the debt ceiling during George W. Bush's administration, even while Bush was busy doubling the national debt.) Then, quite unexpectedly, I had my own epiphany. Teleported straight into the White House, I crashed one of these meetings, ongoing exercises in Republican futility. I looked hard at Eric Cantor, John Boehner, and Mtich McConnell--who, whenever a bipartisan agreement is within reach, turn on their heels and leave the president holding the bag--and I read out loud to them the final comments spoken to Andrew by his mystical voice:
"Everything you are and everything you do from this moment on must help human beings awaken to their inner divinity and to its responsibilities of urgent sacred action. The only questions you will be asked when you cross over the waters of death are 'What did you do while the world was burning? How did you work to heal the horror of a world on fire? What did you love enough to risk and give your life for?' Nothing else will matter. Understand this now."
The voice then advised Andrew to turn away from everything he had been and done and believed, and to dive into the furnace of a Divine Love that embraces all beings. It demanded that he give his whole life to spread and embody the message of its passion to the world. The only hope, both for him and for humanity, is to take up the challenge of the Divine and put the fire of Divine Compassion into radical action in every arena of the world."
Would it have any effect, make any difference? Probably not with these guys. By his own account, the call to action dramatized by the "voice" terrified even Andrew. "It left me nowhere to turn and no self-justification to cling to. I felt vulnerable, naked, broken, and exposed, a fraud and fool, absolutely inadequate to what was being asked of me, afraid of what the voice was revealing about the world," he writes.
I found myself wondering if anything--or anyone--could ever make men like Cantor, Boehner, or McConnell feel vulnerable, naked, broken or exposed--much less a fraud or a fool.
"If I," Andrew continues, "who had pursued spiritual truth for 20 years, could be so resistant to a vision I knew came directly from the Divine, how would others...even begin to receive the message, let alone act upon it?" The question cannot be improved upon, and it begs answering. Annunciations, it must be said, are all-encompassing. Once they strike, you cannot really avoid their imperative. You can recoil, but you cannot really refuse them.