Matthew tells us that at his baptism the human Jesus comes into direct contact with his divine life. As Jesus comes up from the water “suddenly the heavens were opened to him,” that is he has an experience of the divine realm as the Spirit of God floods his consciousness.
Then, Jesus hears the voice of God, “you are my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
Is it proper to imagine sharing an experience of being named a child of God and in touch with the divine realm?
Apparently it must be, because Jesus teaches us to pray for just such a gift when he says, “When you pray, say “Our Father”. We could only call God “Our Father”, if we have the experience of being God’s children. Otherwise the words “Our Father” would be make believe or meaningless church-talk.
Then Jesus tells us to pray, “Thy will Kingdom Come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” which is asking for the divine realm to show up right in the midst of our earthly experience.
Jesus is teaching us to pray for his baptismal experience.
But how can this be since obviously we aren’t Jesus?
So maybe it will help to talk about his experience as a human experience we can relate.
It starts by wondering about the purpose and function of the human brain, which Jesus shares with us. Our materialist culture believes only material stuff is real so that our thoughts and feelings, even our consciousness, are the product of our brains. Therefore, such things as God and Spirit are fictions that have no connection to reality. Like pink unicorns that can fly.
The Bible, however, turns this view upside down: for in Genesis 1 it is Spirit that creates matter, and not vice versa.
Our brains are not the creator of experience, but the instruments created by Spirit to receive signals from outside itself, like a radio receiving signals from a radio station. And like a radio it must be set to one station at a time: if a radio receives every signal all at once you’d only have white noise. Just as if our eyes could see x-rays, gamma rays, microwaves, radio waves and all other waves, we would be blinded by the light.
So, just as our brains only see a narrow spectrum of light and only hears a narrow spectrum of sound, so our brains are filters that only receive a very narrow spectrum of Divine Reality, of Spirit.
God-waves are around us all the time, but the brain normally receives only a small sliver of them that we call “consciousness”. If our brains receive full contact with Spirit, we couldn’t function. We’d be like those saints who have a powerful contact with Spirit and then have to withdraw from society to process what has happened.
Saint Paul after his Damascus Road experience of the Risen Christ withdraws to the Arabian desert, maybe going to Mount Sinai, for three years to process his overwhelmed mind.
Eckhart Tolle says that after he was flooded one night with the formless that we call God, he sat on park benches for a year marveling at the beauty of birds and squirrels, slowly coming back into the world of form.
After Jesus’s baptismal encounter with Divine Reality, Spirit drives him into the wilderness for 40 days to integrate his experience of Spirit and Divine Sonship. In the wilderness, this processing feels like encounters with the devil who tempts Jesus to turn his experience into a trophy of the ego, so he can present himself to the world as special, a great man, even as God’s Son, just like Caesar.
Jesus grounded in the Biblical story realizes this experience isn’t about him but about God. When he begins his ministry in Galilee he doesn’t say, “Look at me, I’ve finally arrived, aren’t I special!”
Rather, he says, “The kingdom of God has arrived, open your eyes and ears to what is right in front of you—receive the healing and forgiving Spirit God gives you as God’s child.”
Jesus’ proclamation is about God, but it is for us—showing us how we can share his baptismal experience and thereby share the divine life of him who shared our humanity.
It happens on Easter Day to the two on the road to Emmaus who have their minds blown by the Risen Jesus who unpacks the Bible and at supper disappears, leaving them with an experience of Resurrection so strong they run back to Jerusalem to tell the others, “we have seen the Lord.”
It happens to 3000 folks on the Day of Pentecost.
So, there may be an ironic truth being spoken when somebody who hasn’t been back to church for 20 years says to me in semi-jest, “if I attend church, I may be struck by lightning.”
Exactly—not a lightning bolt to punish, but the lightning of being grasped by the Spirit of the all-loving God. This is what everyone needs, of course, to become fully alive, but the thought is terrifying. Maybe better to maintain my bland spiritual diet, blind and deaf to my life as it really is in Christ.
But we chose this rainy day to show up at church and engage in dangerous activities that quiet the brain that filters out the Divine.
For example, group singing alters our consciousness. Listening to the Bible orients us away from materialism and toward Spirit. Greeting strangers expands our vision of community and how to live for others.
And of course, the Eucharist brings the Christ into our body, so we may experience him in our minds and hearts, so we can welcome others into an experience of their life in Christ.
As Isaiah says today: I am the Lord, I have taken you by the hand and given you as a light to the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.”
Underneath all the order and decency of our worship something wild may be going on, so that Annie Dillard is on to something when she writes: in Teaching a Stone to Talk:
“On the whole, I do not find Christians outside of the catacombs sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest notion of what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us to where we can never return.”