How do we find meaning in suffering? How do we respond to it without projecting more suffering onto others? How do we, in Leonard Cohen’s words, deal with both “the Holy and the Broken” and still manage to sing “Hallelujah” or Praise to Life?
All these questions, archetypal and universal that they are, are raised by the image of the crucified Christ. The Christ who suffered and died in Jesus is the same Christ who suffers and dies in us.
This is why the Crucifixion is so universal a story. People—including just and good people—suffer. All beings suffer. Suffering is a cosmic habit; it is built into everything the cosmos does. Even planets and galaxies and supernovas, we now know, live, die, and resurrect by seeding new birthings in the universe.
Evil seems to have a cosmological dimension to it—it is bigger than we are, it keeps recurring, it is never completely stamped out; evil is often attributed to the dark angelic hosts, what St. Paul calls the “powers and principalities” with whom we struggle. (Eph. 6:12)
At Jesus’ crucifixion these powers seemed to triumph. The Roman Empire had its way with this troublemaker and pseudo-king who preached an alternative Kingdom to that of the Empire, and therefore had to die the ignominious death of crucifixion that the Empire doled out to the lowest of the low.
In that sense, Jesus’ death is an archetypal event for all those who are powerless and vulnerable to Evil and the powerful who can easily destroy and utilize their power uncaringly and without compassion, in their lust for control. At the crucifixion, these powers appeared to triumph over Jesus and all those “least” whom he called people to serve in Matthew 25—the poor and hungry, the sick and imprisoned. A good shepherd lays down his life, if necessary, for his or her flock. “No greater love does a person have than to lay down their life for their friends.” (Jn 15.13)
But the Crucifixion is not the last word by any means in the Jesus or Christ story.
New Testament scholar Bruce Chilton speaks of Jesus as a shaman:
Jesus clearly exercises shamanic powers in the gospels—when he stills the storm, appears to his disciples walking on water, and joins Moses and Elijah in the glory that surrounds God’s chariot-throne, for example. Hebrew shamans like Elijah, Elisha, the Galilean mystics who joined the heavenly ascent of Enoch, and Jesus himself…not only have visions; they themselves became visions for their disciples.
Following his baptism, Jesus is driven into the desert for forty days of a kind of shamanic vision quest.
Poet Bill Everson says: “Christ was perhaps the greatest of all shamans….Forty days in the desert, the carrying of the cross as a Sun Dance.” Christ was the “wounded buck” who descended to Earth. The shaman traditionally embraces a wound—like Christ did. The descent into Hades on Holy Saturday can be grasped as a shamanic story as well.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, pp. 211-214.
And Matthew Fox and Bishop Marc Andrus, Stations of the Cosmic Christ (Unity Books, 2016), pp. 125-127.
Banner Image: “Christ in limbo” (artist unknown, 20th century). Protestant Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of BischheimAlsace, Bas-Rhin. Photo by Ralph Hammann on Wikimedia Commons
Have you considered the shamanism manifest in the stories of Jesus and the Cosmic Christ? How do they speak to you?
Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time
While Matthew Fox recognizes that Meister Eckhart has influenced thinkers throughout history, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.
“Matthew Fox is perhaps the greatest writer on Meister Eckhart that has ever existed. (He) has successfully bridged a gap between Eckhart as a shamanistic personality and Eckhart as a post-modern mentor to the Inter-faith movement, to reveal just how cosmic Eckhart really is, and how remarkably relevant to today’s religious crisis! ” — Steven Herrmann, Author of Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward
Bruce Chilton investigates the Easter event of Jesus in Resurrection Logic. He undertakes his close reading of the New Testament texts without privileging the exact nature of the resurrection, but rather begins by situating his study of the resurrection in the context of Sumerian, Egyptian, Greek, and Syrian conceptions of the afterlife. He then identifies Jewish monotheistic affirmations of bodily resurrection in the Second Temple period as the most immediate context for early Christian claims. Chilton surveys first-generation accounts of Jesus’ resurrection and finds a pluriform–and even at times seemingly contradictory–range of testimony from Jesus’ first followers. This diversity, as Chilton demonstrates, prompted early Christianity to interpret the resurrection traditions by means of prophecy and coordinated narrative.