Readings for 2 nd Sunday of Lent: GN 12:1-4A; PS 33: 4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; 2 TM 1: 8B-10; MT 17: 1-9
Have you ever gone through a period when you profoundly question how you're spending your life? I'm thinking especially about suspicions that you might not be giving enough attention to your interior life -- to your enlightenment.
Today's gospel reading about Jesus' transfiguration before his friends on a mountaintop with Moses and Elijah raises the issue. Matthew's account presents a literally en-lightened Jesus. He's suddenly filled with light. His face shines like the sun; his garments become white as snow. The story points towards enlightenment as the purpose of life with all other matters being secondary. . . .
Personally, Jesus' transfiguration makes me wonder about all the things I do that distract me from the pursuit of personal enlightenment -- from meditation, my mantra, and the other spiritual disciplines the Great Masters tell us are necessary to attain union with God..
I'll get back to that in a moment.
But let me contextualize my reflections by confessing my own recurring doubts about finding myself on mistaken path of activism. I mean lately I've been wondering if in my thinking, teaching and writing I'm too concerned with politics, economics, and issues of oppression and liberation -- too influenced, perhaps, by liberation theology. In fact, over the past six months those wonderings have been surfacing with renewed intensity.
I blame it on India.
And why not? Four months spent in such an exotic atmosphere with its sea of people, intense traffic, dime-a-dozen gurus, wild auto-rickshaws, cows on the street, colorful temples, poverty, spicy food, and wonderfully kind people will raise questions about everything.
On top of that there was yoga every day, past life review, learning prana yama (breath control), and living inter-generationally with my daughter, her husband and three children under five. All of that can cause one to question everything.
Above all, a ten day silent Vipassana retreat with its strict "noble silence," and 10 hours of meditation each day (100 hours in 10 days) will do the trick. So -- to repeat -- I find myself questioning everything, including all the things I've held important in life. I question what I've taught my students over my forty years in the college classroom -- you know, about economic systems, on the history of colonialism, liberation theology, and the development of the Jesus tradition.
By the way, I am back teaching again. (That's been my principal form of activism all my life.) And suddenly my life threatens to become very busy, involved, and outward-turned. Oh, right now it's not nearly the way it was when I was teaching full time. Currently I teach a two-hour class on Monday, and then I have a day off. Wednesdays there's another two-hour class followed by four days off. That's not so bad at all, I'm sure you agree. The point is, however, that teaching has me back on campus.
So a couple of weeks ago, one of the deans saw me there walking across Berea's quadrangle. He thought, "There's the man I've been looking for." And pretty soon he's asking me about directing and administering a prison project Berea's been asked to join." (It's the "Bard Prison Initiative" which offers college degrees to inmates.) The dean asked me if I'd be interested.
I said yes. And now I find myself recruiting Berea teachers to take part -- helping prisoners in the Northpoint Training Center/Prison in Danville Kentucky to obtain a Berea College degree. So I'm back organizing and attending meetings. True: it's a wonderful opportunity in so many ways. But it's filling up my plate which had become delightfully manageable after I retired from Berea College and stopped my teaching in Costa Rica.
What about meditation then, I wonder? What about the pursuit of enlightenment as (at my age) I'm increasingly aware that the moment of death getting closer and closer? Will new responsibilities distract me from such concerns?
Once again, my questions are intensified by what I learned about Jesus specifically in India. There people kept telling me that during his "hidden life" or "lost years," Jesus had spent time on the subcontinent. They said that between the ages of 12 and 30, Jesus traveled to India and studied under Buddhist masters who schooled him in the ways of Gautama who lived 500 years earlier.
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