Beliefs have consequences for my life in this world and life to come. The resurrection of Jesus, the most important facet of my faith, is one such belief. Is Jesus’ resurrection just an affirmation of my belief in the afterlife, the survival of my soul that is joined to a body, or does it have a life changing impact in the way I perceive the ‘self’, others, and the world? In the deepest core of my being, does it speak to me in a very personal way? If I rejoice that Christ is risen and share in the life of the resurrected Christ, then why is there so much sadness, sorrow, violence, injustice, unhappiness, distress… in our life? Resurrection definitely makes a serious demand and elicits a response from me. Jesus’ resurrection should have a life changing impact on me for good and my happiness. My life can never be the same. In a series of articles I shall attempt to reflect on the Post-Resurrection narratives and their application for our life.
Mary of Magdalene and the other Mary at the tomb (Mt 28:1). Who were the ones that remained faithful to Jesus until the end? The male disciples or the women who followed and ministered to him; obviously it was the women. When others doubted him, they continued to believe in him. When his own disciples fled in fear and abandoned him, they courageously followed him all the way to Calvary. Mary, his mother, silently followed him, Veronica stepped forward to wipe his bloody face, the women seeing him in pain cried for him, a group of women stood at the foot of the cross, and it was women who stayed until the tomb was sealed. Again it was women who came to the tomb on the first day of the week and became the first witnesses and messengers of the good news. When others fled for fear of their lives, they stood by him till the end. Sometimes I wonder why Jesus did not take these faithful women to the garden of Gethsemane. In that intense moment of sorrow and pain, his closest disciples, rather than staying awake and praying with him, were fast asleep. But these faithful women would have kept awake and prayed with him. The faithful nature of women, their fidelity and love for Jesus till the end makes me rethink my own perception of women, God, and the quality of my relationship with God; prayer.
Nature of Women
As per the Biblical narrative God created Adam from the dust of the earth (Gen 2:7) and Eve from one of his ribs (Gen 2:22); she is part of him and he is part of her, he in her and she in him. The narrative continues to highlight the Biblical truth that the two shall become one flesh, that is, completeness and wholeness is made possible in the union of the male and the female. In that union, love alone remains when one realizes oneself in the other. One is incomplete without the other in the sense that loves seeks union with the other. Hence, by nature men and women are equal from a spiritual perspective, from what constitutes them as human persons and not from a physical point of view. Whether it is creationism or creative evolution that we adhere to, the ontological truth is that nature has deemed that man be physically strong to protect, to provide for his family, and to create a safe ambiance for the perpetuation of the human race through his woman. This, in no way, establishes the truth that men are superior to women. The physical strength of man and the beauty of woman with her inner fortitude make the union whole and complete. Though men and women come together to create life along with God, it is the woman who literally brings forth a human life into the world. No wonder the woman is depicted as ‘creative.’ In the words of the Sufi Mystic, Jalaluddin Rumi, “Woman is the radiance of God; She is not a creature; She is the creator.” How true! Such is the noble, creative, and holy status of women. Recently a friend of mine pointed out to me that our mothers become the very first channel through which God’s love reaches out to us. Through our mothers God touches us and we touch God through her. Very true!
Men and women are the precious and best gifts to each other. They need each other to be what they are called to be and to become what they are meant to be. As said above, each is incomplete without the other; fullness demands that the two halves come together to form the whole and from a Biblical perspective which is how God meant it to be. Therefore, from a spiritual perspective, women:
need to be respected, valued, honored, and loved and are not to be reduced as objects to fulfil man’s sensual pleasures and his sexual appetite. The Biblical understanding of women will call for an emphatic ‘no’ to pornography and degradation of women in all its forms that destroys relationships. She is not a means to an end but the end that makes me human, complete, and whole.
have an inherent dignity that comes from the creator in whose image she is created and not dependent on the society, externals, or man’s whims and fancies.
must be looked upon with love, awe, admiration, wonder, and appreciation for she is an extension of myself just as I am an extension of herself.
are a constant reminder that I need to balance the left side of my brain with the right; rational and logical approach to God to be balanced and complemented by the intuitive approach to God.
Nature of God
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27, emphasis added). Oh what a beautiful affirmation of who and what God is! God created man in God’s own image, male and female God created them.’ ‘Man’ as I understand here is in reference to the complete person that is both the union of the male and female which constitutes one single unit. It is true that with our finite mind we can never comprehend the nature of God, but by following the Biblical narrative we can affirm that God is both male and female (from an anthropocentric point of view and speaking analogously), for God, as revealed by Jesus, is a pure Spirit (Jn 4: 24). Often, the tendency is to comprehend the ‘image and likeness of God purely from a philosophical point of view, emphasizing the faculties of the soul: reason and will. Though there is some truth in such an understanding of the image of God, it becomes purely a reductionist understanding of God. The Biblical understanding of the image of God as a person is far fuller, richer, and holistic; perfect union of the male and the female. It is out of this source that we are created. That is the reason why male by himself and the female by herself are incomplete. The two shall become one. Thus, both are equals and need the other for wholeness. God is a perfect union of the two natures: male and female. Perfect union results in wholeness, which is love; God.
Having been exposed to Indian Spirituality has only re-enforced my strong Biblical belief that God is male-female and beyond that. One of the major tenets of Indian Spirituality is that God is both Shiva and Shakti. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, who had a strong devotion to God as Mother, says:
That which is Brahman is verily Shakti. I address That, again, as the Mother. I call It Brahman when It is inactive, and Shakti when It creates, preserves and destroys. It is like water, sometimes still and sometimes covered with waves.
That which is the Real is also called Brahman. It has another name: Kala, Time. There is a saying, “O brother, how many things come into being in Time and disappear in Time!
That which sports with Kala is called Kali. She is the Primal Energy. Kala and Kali, Brahman and Shakti, are indivisible.
He who is Brahman is the Adyashakti, the Primal Energy. When inactive He is called Brahman, the Purusha; He is called Shakti, or Prakriti, when engaged in creation, preservation, and destruction. These are the two aspects of Reality: Purusha and Prakriti. He who is the Purusha is also Prakriti. Both are the embodiment of Bliss.
If you are aware of the Male Principle, you cannot ignore the Female Principle. He who is aware of the father must also think of the mother. He who knows darkness also knows light. He who knows night also knows day. He who knows happiness also knows misery. You understand this, don’t you?
And for the author of The Prophet:
Most religions speak of God in the masculine gender. To me He is as much a Mother as He is a Father. He is both the father and mother in one; and Woman is the God-Mother. The God-Father may be reached through the mind or the imagination. But the God-Mother can be reached through the heart only - through love.
Probably we are so accustomed to address God as Father and our mind is conditioned to such an extent that it is really difficult to address God as Mother. It is not anti-Christian to look upon God as Mother as well. Oh God my Mother, fill me with your love and make me whole.
Nature of Prayer: Being in love with God
In the male dominated religious institutions women are hardly given any importance and more so it is perceived below the dignity of man to listen and learn from women. But against the background of such an attitude, it is interesting to note as we go through the resurrection narratives that women somehow get it and that men fail to comprehend it. It is the unique quality of women, who through their intuitive nature can bring us closer to God, but the dominant male ego refuses to acknowledge this and takes pride mostly in the intellectual comprehension of God. But if God is a mystery then a mystery can only be embraced with all its tensions and polarities through love; mystery can never be intellectually comprehended. The women loved Jesus and love for them was the gateway to embrace the mystery of the Resurrection. This brings me to the understanding of prayer as being in love with God.
For me, the best description of prayer is in the words of Theresa of Avila for whom, “Prayer, in my opinion, is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us." Prayer is just ‘to be’ in the presence of God who loves us. In love we hardly need words, concepts, and theories but only a heart that is willing to receive and give love. Just to be present to God and to let God be present to us. The ineffable beauty of such an understanding of prayer is that we don’t have to go in search for God, for God as ‘the treasure lies within our very selves’ (St. Theresa of Avila). As she points out “We need no wings to go in search of God, but have only to find a place where we can be alone and look upon Him present within us.” All that is required is a strong desire and longing for his loving presence. Probably such an understanding of prayer appears to be too simple to be true that we disregard it.
Being in love with God, which is prayer, seeks nothing but just love for the sake of love. It asks for nothing but the sincere desire to please the Lover in everything we do. Probably it is very difficult for us to conceive such an understanding of love for we tend to equate love with getting /receiving, or what is in it for me. Living a life of love is like the mother who loves her child without expectation in return. Isn’t there pure joy in this love? From the perspective of prayer as being in love with God, our life itself becomes prayer for we are constantly seeking to please the Lover in everything we do, in everything we are, and in everyone we encounter. Prayer is to turn our attention to the loving presence of God for only love can touch God and not abstract concepts.
The faithful love of the women for Jesus during his ministry and especially during his passion and death highlights the truth that ‘love is as strong as death’ (Song of Solomon 8:6). Love reciprocates love. Not even the strongest tomb stone can prevent their love for him. Their fidelity, presence, and love are returned with love; first witnesses of the glory of the resurrected Jesus. Love here is not sentimental or emotional but that which seeks communion and fullness with the lover. Once again, in the words of St. Theresa of Avila, “Perhaps we do not know what love is. It would not surprise me, for love consists not in the extent of our own happiness, but in the firmness of our determination to please God in everything.” Isn’t this the Little Way of St. Therese of Lisseux: taking every opportunity to stay committed to love God and share that love with others? She constantly reminded herself to love God in everything she did and in everyone she encountered. To love without ‘ego’ is indeed true love in God and for God.
Does the resurrection of Jesus really matter to me? Yes it does. The women who remained faithful to Jesus and loved him till the end and even beyond the tomb are a constant challenge to me: to rethink my perception of the nature of God, nature of women, and the nature of prayer. Thank God for Women!
To be continued....
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