John 1:1-5 (NRSV) - The Word Became Flesh
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
Beyond all our thoughts and words, there is something more, something full of mystery. Take a moment please and think of the Gospel of John, where it is written, "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God." In indeed, think about how God brought creation into existence, how God created your life and my life.
Genesis 1:1-3 (KJV) - In the Beginning
Before there was creation itself, there was a wordless nothingness, an emptiness waiting to be filled, a formless void. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, 'Let there be light, and there was light". And creation was formed out of the formless void, and there with God in this moment of creation, in the beginning of all things, was the Eternal Word, perhaps born from a single desire and thought of God.
"In the beginning was the Word." As a Christian, or even someone of another faith, have you ever thought of how your own relationship with creation is grounded in the Word or words, and how your life arises in and through all your relationships, with all creation?
This is certainly true for a Christian in their relationship with Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, the Word Made Flesh; as well as words from many other sacred traditions forming the world, words, like sutras, binding the family of humankind together. When we take time to dwell on our relationships, even those beyond our immediate family and friends, we begin to see how life arises from these many interconnections.
Can you begin to imagine how you have touched my life, even if we have never met or spoken? Can you begin to imagine how you have touched the lives of other people too, and will continue to touch them? This is how powerful relationships are in the world. This is the Word, the Holy Spirit, at work within the world. And then imagine, please, how our own thoughts become words of our own, shaping our world, shaping our lives, our communities, our reality.
We are all interconnected, perhaps even more so now, as we listen and come to know one another within a sacred community, as we listen to or even read each other’s words. Words have a life of their own. They shape our lives, and they interconnect us in marvelous ways. This is why writers love writing and use words to express themselves. It is why people love poetry, good plays, a compelling novel or story, or any appreciable writing in which we form a connection with one another.
I’m sure that we have more than 300 books in our library at home, and at some level, there is a relationship with every single word in every single book, or even in the words I am typing now, hopefully making a connection with all of you.
In Buddhism, this concept of our interconnectedness with life, all life, reality itself, out of which our lives arise, is called Dependent Origination or Dependent Arising, Pratītyasamutpāda in Sanskrit. Dependent Arising is hard to wrap your mind around, unless you know and have the right vocabulary, unless you have devoted time and energy to understanding Buddhism's beautifully symbolic and complex language, its words.
For now, let’s simply say that it is a reality of shared interdependence and one that tells us, we are intimately interconnected to everything else in life, with one another, with all of creation. The Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, calls this concept interbeing, in his book, The Heart of Understanding, where he teaches that “To be” is to inter-be, and that “we cannot be alone, exist alone without anything else.”
In Christianity, there is a remarkably similar and beautiful concept, it is found in a marvelous Greek word used by the early church fathers and mothers, to describe the mystery of the Trinity. It is the word, Perichoresis (peri-kor-es-is). Perichoresis is an ancient term in Christian theology, which refers to the indwelling of the Trinity, of how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are so intimately connected within their unity as one that there is an indwelling between them all. And that this indwelling is shared with us, in and through Christ, in the Paschal Mystery of Christ as the Incarnate Word, the Word Made Flesh.
How appropriate, since not one of us can imagine living without words, living a life without words in some form.
Let me go back, please to the wordless beginning of things, ultimate reality perhaps, to the Buddhist concept of Śūnyatā–Nirvana, emptiness. I’m struggling for a clear image or a metaphor to use in this dialogue, and it’s hard for me to find one. This is why I love to write poetry, because poetry for me is a transformational and transcending language.
Perhaps it would help, as Jesus or a Tibetan or Zen Master might, to have you visualize the emptiness of an empty cup. The space that can be filled at any time, by anyone, by you, by God. This space, this emptiness, can be seen as the pure and infinite potential of all eternity, out of which all reality arises in a universe of infinite possibilities, or even of a given intimate moment within eternity, now in this present moment, in these words, even in the spaces between each word. You may also visualize it as an empty cup, a cup that is ready to receive the new wine of life or hot jasmine tea.
What I’m trying to say, with all these words, is that sometimes we simply need to let go of all our words, all our images, and all our thoughts, even becoming lost for a while. Becoming lost can be a goodly thing, a needful thing. Because in doing so, we can develop a whole new language, and new images, like an artist, does when they are creating, be it a new symphony, a beautiful painting, a poem, a play, or a photograph that takes your breath away and leaves you speechless.
I love that feeling of speechlessness, of emptiness, of being empty and ready to receive the next new thing. The secret I think is in understanding that each moment is the next new thing. It is a moment that is both, empty and full of infinite potential, a newness that is born out of every moment. I ended a poem once with these words.
“We are the poet and the poem out of which each moment arises.”
I know in my soul this is a powerful truth, one arising out of my own thoughts, words, and spiritual life. I love the dialog we may find within any sacred community, and the many gifts it brings us to discover such moments, to discover the newness of a moment, and to discover a new meaning in life within one another, new words even, words that God constantly shapes.
Words that arise from a single point of emptiness and words that help us to shape the life we live into a new language, a new life. Words that help us to breathe as one body, in one single breath, and in one spirit together. There is something truly sacramental and spirit driven, inspired, by such a dialog, by such relationships. It is an indwelling where we do dwell within one another, Perichoresis.
I'm thinking of Jesus now and the words we hear him say in John 10:10; "I came that they might have life, and have it more abundantly." And I'm thinking how much your life enriches my own life; how we enrich one another in our lives that God has given to us each. I just want us to realize this fully, to appreciate it fully, and know fully that we are all a part of that gift too, and to be grateful for the sacramental moments we share together, where we come to know and be fully known by God, where we come to be blest.
I'm thinking that the Buddha would certainly agree with all this, in a sheer Buddhist enlightenment and wakefulness-practicing sort of way, practicing this way, this journey, this celebration of life.
Saint Julian Press
Ron Starbuck is an author, poet, the Publisher-CEO of Saint Julian Press, and an Episcopalian with certain Buddhist leanings who values comparative literature and literary dialogues in many forms.
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