Jesus’ Spirituality (part 2)

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Water Lily and Dragonfly

The Spirit-filled experience of Jesus begins with his powerful vision of being the much-loved child of God that he received at his baptism (Luke 3:22). This familial intimacy shapes his comprehension of and his relationship with God. Jesus even addresses God as Abba, an Aramaic word used by very young children to address their father (Mark 14:36). The contemporary English equivalent is “Daddy.” In other places and situations, mothering images of God are equally appropriate.

This is radically different from how God has commonly been imagined. The image of God in the ancient world was taken from the function of warrior-kings and emperors, with all the pomp, violence, and inaccessibility this entails. A basic function of an ancient monarch was to protect and reward faithful subjects and punish the wicked. Following this paradigm, God is imagined as a heavenly warrior-king but, unlike earthly kings, God is all-powerful and completely just.

The God of Jesus stands that way of picturing God on its head. Rather than a distant and regal monarch, God is a loving and intimate parent. Rather than rewarding faithful subjects and violently punishing the wicked, God blesses all without partially (Matt. 5:45). Moreover, God’s mercy and compassion are demonstrated through seeking and reaching out to those considered to be outsiders or sinners. The picture of God in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son is of a father who allows himself to become vulnerable and casts aside his dignity as he runs to greet his returning child (Luke 15:11-32).

Jesus’ portrayal of God as a loving and nurturing father drew on rich sources in the religious traditions of Israel, especially the Hebrew prophets (Jeremiah 31:7-9). Yet he developed and deepened it in response to his personal, Spirit-filled relationship with God.

Marcus Borg says that we easily overlook and have difficulty giving credence to the reality of the Spirit because deeper forms of prayer have disappeared from our experience. We are familiar with brief verbal prayers but that has historically been only the first stage of prayer in the Jewish-Christian tradition. Deeper levels of prayer involve internal silence over an extended period of time. Through such meditation, one enters into a deeper level of consciousness and rests quietly in the presence of God (Jesus: A New Vision, 43-44).

Jesus habitually withdrew to solitary places to pray and occasionally prayed all night (Luke 6:12). His visions, his sense of intimacy with God, his claims of authority, and the impression he made on others grew out of his Spirit-filled internal life.

Each of us can practice this spirituality in ways that feel comfortable and appropriate; I have already referred to some of them in my posts on “being peace.” Each of us will develop such practices in ways that fit who we are. For instance, I discovered that carrying a camera has enhanced me sense of awareness of the other and of the presence of the divine in our world. I also find that my trust in God as a loving and compassionate parent changes my understanding of myself and the kind of world in which we live.

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