Monday, August 13, 2007

st hippolytus and malcolm x

O beautiful one,
they are liberated whose kundalini is awake.
They are liberated who hear spontaneous repetition of hamsa.
They are liberated who have envisioned the blue pearl.
But they are undoubtedly liberated
who experience the transcendental state beyond form.
Sri Guru Gita, 122

I just read Wilber's essay on "Translation versus Transformation." I usually use the words "conformation versus transformation," but he writes in a very similar vein to what I have already learned and I was thinking about that in relation to today's feast and have borrowed some of his language.

Today is the feast of Pontian and Hippolytus on the Roman calendar, second century Christian martyrs. Similar to Ss. Cornelius and Cyprian, Hippolytus is always associated with Pontian, who was a pope, but Hippolytus outshines Pontian in many ways. But, also similar to Cornelius as opposed to Cyprian, Hippolytus was the harsh one, the intransigent one. If I had to guess, I would say that Hippolytus was an 8 on the Enneagram––his first answer to every question was “No.” For example, in regards to the liturgy, he was steadfastly against people using the vernacular for the Eucharist, and he wanted to retain the liturgy in the sacred scholarly language. Meaning, he didn’t want the Eucharist celebrated in that vulgar language of Latin––he wanted it to stay in Greek. (So, even our current language debates must be put into perspective.)

But worse than his refusal of Latin, he refused to accept the teaching of the legitimately elected Pope Zephyrinus and called the next pope, Callistus, a heretic, and then allowed himself to be named an anti-pope by a circle of followers who thought of the church as an elect community of pure souls who had to remain sharply and uncompromisingly separated from the world and all its dangers. He and his friends remained in schism through the next two popes, Urban and Pontian. But then, as ironic fate would have it, he was exiled with Pope Pontian. It is only then that some kind of reconciliation took place, and Hippolytus resigned. (Maybe the one area where Pontian outshines Hippolytus was in his humility. Pontian himself resigned his office for the good of the church.) When they died their bodies were brought back to Rome together and buried with solemn rites as martyrs. So, basically, what we have here is someone who was a schismatic and a heretic himself. And I can’t help but think that the martyrdom of exile itself was some sort of grace of God––to finally break through his self-will.

Religion seems to perform two very different functions. I think of them as conformation and transformation. First of all religion can act as a way of creating and building up a sense of a separate self, and then a collective of separate selves. That separate self or the collective of separate selves then has to be fortified, defended and promoted. At this stage we think that as long as we believe the myths, performs the rituals, say the right prayers (in the right language), and embrace the proper dogmas, we are going to be saved. This is the process of conformation, conforming to an external framework, perhaps akin to the purgative phase of the spiritual life. But at some point, hopefully, the spiritual aspirant is going to feel comfortable enough within and with this framework to open up to more than conforming, to open up to transforming instead of conforming, transforming self and transforming the world from within––to going beyond the external signs to actually “circumcising our hearts.”

For example, in the Book of Deuteronomy (10:12-22), we hear the Israelites being challenged to stop being so stiff-necked, and now that they have circumcised their foreskins––now that they have fulfilled the external signs and practices––to circumcise their hearts––internal transformation. And part of that internal transformation involves breaking out of the caged little world of self or the little protected collective of separate selves: not only accept no bribes, not only care of orphans and widows, but even to care for aliens. This isn’t all about you! Open the doors! I’m thinking of the marvelous experience of Malcolm X just before he was murdered, what he called his “second conversion,” when during his hajj to Mecca he realized that all these people around him, black, white, brown skinned, from every nation and language group, were all his brothers and sisters, and he left the Nation of Islam of Elijah Muhammed to form Organization of African-American Unity, and eventually moved from fighting for civil rights to fighting for human rights. Ken Wilber refers to this movement as moving from selfishness to care, to universal care; or from selfishness to rights to universal rights. This is the work of transformation, inner transformation that enables us to transform the world.

Unfortunately, sometimes this circumcising of the heart, this opening of the heart only happens when that whole structure gets challenged, undermined and perhaps even dismantled completely––like Hippolytus being sent into exile, like the falling out between Malcolm X and Elijah Muhammed and the Nation of Islam (who will eventually have him killed). At some point authentic transformation is not a matter of merely believing, but about the death of the believer, a total surrender of self with all its opinions and plans. And then authentic religion becomes not a matter of merely conforming and making the world conform, as much as about being transformed and then being able, through our transformation, to transform the world around us. As we realize our own transformation, our very presence automatically effects transformation in others, like yeast in the dough, like salt in the earth.

Ironic and typical in today’s Gospel, after the glorious vision of the Transfiguration, and Jesus announcing that he is going to suffer, be handed over and killed, immediately he and his disciples get faced with a bunch of petty questions about paying taxes (Mt 17). It’s almost as if Jesus says, “Whatever! Pay it! We’re free. We have seen the glory; we know where we are going.” That’s the freedom of transformation, and that’s how we become agents of transformation in our world. As we realize our own freedom, our very presence automatically liberates others.