Mystical = Experiential

“Grace is the consummate threat to all self-hatred” ~ Friar Richard Rohr

mystic moon
Creative Commons CC0

Note: Calling an audible as we take a one-off break from our serial string.

Riddle…

Last month in this space I offered a riddle. Several folks asked what I meant and I promised I would spell out my thinking after others had ample opportunity to express their answers to my little puzzle. There were a couple of observations on it, and thanks for those! I’m circling around now to offer my answer to this:

 

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Mark 10.46, a Christmas story. Wait. What?

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.10.46

That is the (nrsv) text we find at Mark 10.46. There’s no sign of Mary, the baby Jesus, a stable, barn animals, a manger, shepherds, magi, or any of the familiar images we are accustomed to finding in the “Christmas” stories of the Bible.

I’ll explain further in a moment, however, what I’m suggesting is that with only seven words, “Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar,” the evangelist known as Mark tells a brief Christmas story in the context of this one verse. Additionally, in so doing, they launch a fierce polemic against the ascendant, dominant cosmology of Jesus’ (and our) time. So, what makes 10.46or any narrativea Christmas story?

 

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Christ Comforted by the Angel by Rembrandt 

 

What makes a ‘Christmas story?’

The essence, meaning, or point of any Christmas story is that G-d is ‘Emmanuel.’ G-d is not some infinitely distant abstraction, e.g., deism. G-d is not of some entirely different and separate order. G-d is with us. Matthew and Luke narrate this doctrine in mythic terms through the very human motif of child birth. What had sometimes been portrayed as distant, or separate, was now being seen in a new way.  Christmas transforms our way of seeing the Divine in relation to existence. The Christmas storyin any form, iterationis a mythic narration of G-d’s Presence in existence/reality (G-d’s Immanence). “Acts” declares it in even more stark, emphatic terms: “in G-d we live and move and have our being” [see Acts 17.28]. Sounds pretty intimate. No wonder that Saint Augustine said you are closer to G-d than you are to yourself.

 

gods presence

 

The task of any Christmas story is to proclaim G-d’s Immanence. In Paul’s theological terms:

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”Ephesians 4.4-6

Through all and in all,” writes Saint Paul. To be clear, the apostle is saying that G-d [the Divine] is through all and in all. Any bifurcation of spirit and matter is categorically denied here. Christmas integrates ‘the profane’ and ‘the sacred,’ ‘the material’ and ‘non-material.’ Like Jesus’ cloak, matter and spirit are seamless, Reality is One. The Christmas story (in any form) narrates the transcendence of any dualistic cosmological structure.

Here’s a Christmas revelation from an extracanonical source. Jesus fully identifies himself with the Christ Mystery:

 

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Hebrew background…

The history of the Jewish people had been one of seeking to be in relation to G-d seeking to understand, even locate G-d in relation to the people of Israel. Early on they made provision for G-d to travel along with the people and be present in the Tabernacle, secure within the curtains delineating the ‘holy of holies.’ Later, after Solomon’s Temple was constructed, the people believed G-d’s Presence moved to reside with the people in the ‘holy of holies’ within the Temple. The legacy of the people of Israel had always been to nurture the intuition that G-d was in some way proximate to creation/humanity and not distant or disconnected from it.

 

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Mysticism…another word for experience

As mystics, Jesus, and later Paul, related what they had experienced [re Jesus see John 3.11, Matthew 7.29Mark 1.22]. They made what seemed to tradition like a wildly creative move. They located G-d’s Presence where they themselves had experienced it, within the human heart. G-d’s Incarnation. G-d is not just present in Jesus, G-d is present in you, and in everything.

I’m suggesting the author (“Mark”) knew exactly what they were doing when they offered the name of the blind beggar (“Bartimaeus”) that Jesus encountered stranded ‘on the way’ [Truth, Life].

Unpacking…

So, Plato’s philosophy sought Truthor, Reality. He found viewing/describing express existence could not be reduced beneath three frames: the good, the true, and the beautiful. However, Plato’s paradigm bifurcated Reality. He laid out his dualistic cosmology in what was, even then, a very famous dialog: Timaeus. Plato’s conception of Reality needs no Christmas because spirit and matter are intrinsically separate from each other. For Plato, Reality is forever divided into two realmsmatter [express existence] versus spirit [ideal forms].

In Plato’s Timaeus, Reality is dualistic, that is, two spheres: matter and spirit. To me, the 10.46 image is stark/plain. The evangelist is severely ranking Plato’s notion of the structure of reality as, “blind.” In 10.46 ‘Mark’ asserts that the ‘son’offspring, result, product, fruitof Plato’s manner of seeing (as proclaimed in Timaeus) is found blind there beside the way. Timaeus is found (and outed) as seriously wanting by the evangelist. Critique through biting humor, perhaps?

Enlightenment Westerners still tend to bifurcate Reality into matter vs spirit, splitting existence into sacred and profane. Christmas still makes a fine correction to that.

Finally, a couple of disclosures.

Consulting orthodoxy…

 

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The books on the bottom shelf above are all commentaries on The Gospel According to Mark. I have twenty-seven of themincluding the two forward-facing editions on the top shelf. Only two suggest even the hint of a possibility of traveling the hermenuetic path I’m on here. The other twenty-five make no attempt to recognize this connection whatsoever, so, the following quotes are exhaustive regarding my take on 10.46.

In the notes concerning verse 46, John R. Donahue and Daniel J. Harrington discount and all but out-rightly dismiss the germ of my mystical take when in Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Mark they write:

“The Aramaic word for ‘son’ is bar, and so, ‘the son of Timaeus’ is the explanation of the name. The name ‘Timaeus’ is harder to explain; a connection with the figure in the Platonic dialogue seems unlikely, yet it is difficult to find a Semitic name that might have generated the name Timaeus.” (page 317)

In, The Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Gospel According to Mark, James R. Edwards writes:

“On the way out of Jericho a blind beggar calls to Jesus. His Aramaic name, Bartimaeus, means ‘son of Timaeus,’ a translation that Mark may have added for the benefit of his Gentile readers.” [cf. note 70]

(n. 70) “B.M.F. van Iersel and J. Nuchelmans, … advance the intriguing though speculative thesis that the ‘son of Timaeus’ recalls the name of the principle speaker in the then best known dialogue of PlatoTimaeus; and that Mark’s use of the term symbolizes the conversion and discipleship of the Greco-Roman world to Jesus.” (page 329)

 

dots obsession—love transformed into dots
Dots ObsessionLove Transformed into Dots by Yayoi Kusama

That’s my story…

So, van Iersal and Nuchelmans notwithstanding, that’s my take on Mark 10.46 as fierce polemic in the guise of a Christmas story. While my mystical explanation for the puzzle the evangelist presents in their naming of a blind beggar seems to be largely overlooked by orthodox tradition and the commentaries, I’m sticking to it, for now.

~~~~~~~~~~

Next week we’ll return to our regular approach and continue our look at the five stages/phases of change through a Spiral Dynamics lens [developmental anthropology]. Note: Serial approach. Introductory post (June 30). First in series (July 1).

Your thoughts?

I never know what I’ve said till I hear the response. What did you hear me say?

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SD Worldview Color Key

 

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6 thoughts on “Mystical = Experiential

  1. I consider myself a panentheist, believing that God is in everything, everything is in God, and, to distinguish it from pantheism, God also transcends everything. Or something like that.

    I like your mystical interpretation. It works in many ways.

    With regard to Christmas, I always let my hair and beard grow out for Christmas. I have a very Santa beard. Yesterday in the grocery store I passed a grandmotherly looking lady with a young boy in her cart. As they went on down the aisle I heard him say, “It’s Santa.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, Michael, thank you! Had I had exposure or access to thinking like this as a child I might not have thrown the Christ child out with the bathwater of Christianity. Having deconstructed what Christian faith I had by the age of 7, having excommunicated myself from the Roman Catholic Church as a result, and having relegated my experience of the Divine to my time alone in the creek across the street, I became aware I was a mystic in high school when I encountered Lao Tzu and then meditation.
    Recently I have been working through what I now recognize as trauma – said self-ouster resulting from my utter lack of resonance with the only experience of spiritual community to which I had access and a part of which I was required to remain, bodily, at least – and increasingly finding resonant voices and understandings of the spiritual story of my own heritage (Christianity) for the first time in my life. Not only is your voice and understanding in this piece the most recent iteration, it is the first one I have encountered in the context of Spiral Dynamics. I have found other Christian voices exploring SD (Richard Rohr, The Liturgists, Rob Bell), but this post of yours appears embedded in a sequence of in depth posts about SD; the others are more or less the other way around.
    Your original post on this riddle felt maddeningly esoteric, and, even as recent as that was, I was in a more frustrated space about this material in general than I am today. But this post makes all my frustration at digging into your riddle entirely worth my while. I was wholly unequipped to have uncovered this perspective. Thank you for following through with your explanation. What I hear you saying is this: the real Christmas story is that Spirit and Matter are one, that G-d is immanent in us all, and that the author(s) of Mark and possibly other gospels were well aware of this. I also appreciate your spelling of “G-d,” whether it be a nod to the tetragrammaton or a nod to Korzybski or both.
    Four and a half decades into life I am finding people who understand the teachings of Christ and the bible in the way I needed people to understand them when I was a child. Better late than never, I suppose – I am certainly grateful to find these voices now. Thank you for being one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. hey now, photochthon,

      Thank you for your kind words!

      There’s a story that circulates around Jewish mysticism that says one may not approach the Kabbalah until reaching the age of forty. I imagine you know that in Hebrew tradition the number forty doesn’t always mean 40. In this instance i take it to mean one’s spiritual path will appear at an appropriate time, when one is ready.

      I would recommend that you drop by your local library and borrow a copy of “The Foundations of Mysticism: Origins to the Fifth Century (The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism, Vol. 1)” by Bernard McGinn to read, and then read it. I think you’ll enjoy.

      If that’s not your cup of tea then i would recommend that you read everything you can find by Rumi.

      peace <
      michael

      Like

  3. Thank you for the book recommendation, Michael, I will look it up. I have also heard that story about the Kabbalah, and have learned a lot from that tradition (Rabbi David Cooper’s “God Is a Verb” in particular blew my mind about ten years back). I am a big fan of Rumi, if mainly through the pen of Coleman Barks, and also of Hafiz, of whom I have read much less. I found your blog through your posting on the Beck-Graves Original SD group, where you may see me showing up as Matthew Bain. I am grateful to you for posting such in depth writing about Spiral Dynamics, too! Best, Matthew

    Like

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