The Grace of the Present Moment: Talking to Alexander John Shaia

I hope you’ve been having a restful and reflective season. And, I realize that, for many of us, this has been a difficult season – whether simply feeling the weight of national and global tensions and tragedies, or the pain often borne uniquely in our immediate context.

I carried this paradox with me in my conversation with my dear friend Alexander John Shaia yesterday. It was our final Make Advent Great Again dialogue, and it’s too good not to share with you, here:

In this dialogue, we discuss:

  • Embracing the gifts of radiant darkness
  • Living now in the presence of the future
  • Moving from ‘hope’ to conviction
  • How to create space for Divine promise in your life on the other side of deconstruction
  • The hidden wisdom of the early Jesus movement that can guide us to human transformation, whether you’re conventionally religious or not

Here’s a written reflection Alexander wrote to accompany this, beginning with the Lectionary Scripture reading for this week:

In these days Mary sets out and goes with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she enters the house of Zechariah and greets Elizabeth. 

When Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, the child leaps in her womb. And Elizabeth is filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaims with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why is this happening to me, that the mother of the Most High comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believes that there will be a fulfillment of what has been spoken to her by the Most High.”

And Mary says, 

My soul magnifies the Most High -and my spirit rejoices in You, my Savior,
for You look with favor on the lowliness of your servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and Holy is Your Name. 

Your mercy is for all who are in awe of You from generation to generation.
For You have shown strength with your arm;
have scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
have brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
have filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
have helped your servant, Israel, in remembrance of Your mercy, according to the promise you made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to Sarah and their descendants forever. 

And Mary remains with Elizabeth about three months and then returns to her home.

– Luke 1:39-56, New Revised Standard Version, adapted by Alexander John Shaia 
 
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As you read this text, please note that I have changed the tense from past to present.  Reading scripture in the present tense is a significant change that we can all make. Whenever I share a gospel text, I read it in present tense. Without fail, someone will come to me later, sharing that they have never heard that particular text before. The truth is that when we read in past tense, we think in terms of history rather than spiritual experience. Present tense moves us into the story as something happening right now. In my book, Heart and Mind: The Four-Gospel Journey for Radical Transformation, I stress that changing the text to “here and now” is vitally important to an experience of the gospel fresh and new.  
 
And tense plays an enormous significance in Mary’s Canticle. Have you ever noticed that Mary prays future actions of the Most High as if they have already taken place? In psychology, we might term this as a person having a positive outlook on the future. However, I see more than mere positive psychology at work here. As Elizabeth states, “blessed is she who believes the fulfillment will happen.” Note that the word Elizabeth uses is “believes.” Belief is a step beyond hope. And Mary goes beyond hope in this canticle. She proclaims the Most High’s promise as something that has already happened. (For more, see pages 306-320 in Heart and Mind.) 
 
How may we take on the level of service needed in today’s world? As we come to the close of this Advent, Luke gives us great succor. Ponder Mary’s canticle. Pray all of our needs for mercy and justice today – as having already happened. Notice the grace and inner strength that grow within you from this practice.  
 
As the outer calendar tips from Advent to Christmas, I pray that you may savor the inner experience of fruitful darkness, know it is the only place from which grace is able to move us a belief, or a knowing that is beyond hope.  And that knowing is the deep font of our non-anxious, consistent and persevering work in the world.  And non-anxious work is the salvific action that the Most High calls us to offer each other and our world.  
 
By our lives may we “Christmas” (Christ-Missa) which literally means: The Christ Be Sent!  Alleluia.   
 
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If you find this inspiring, be sure to read Alexander John Shaia’s magisterial tome, Heart and Mind: The Four-Gospel Journey for Radical Transformation

Consider bringing your faith community or circle of friends on this life-journey with the Heart and Mind Community-Formation Guides.

And check out Alexander’s Advent interview with Rob Bell!

Alexander John Shaia, PhD, is a thoughtful and poetic man, living the ancient rhythms of his Lebanese and Aramaic heritage. With deep conviction, he invites us into a practice of spirituality (and Christianity) for the twenty-first century—one that crosses traditional boundaries, encourages vital thinking and inhabits a genuine community of the heart. As a spiritual director, educator, anthropologist, psychologist, ritualist and Sandplay therapist, Alexander is a holistic, cross-discipline visionary and passionate professional speaker. He founded The Journey of Quadratos, as well as the Blue Door Retreat in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Now he travels internationally, speaking, leading seminars and conducting retreats on Quadratos, the Four-Gospel Journey and Gateway to Oneness (The 72 Hours of Easter). Each autumn Alexander guides an intimate band of pilgrims on the Camino, the West’s most ancient path of transformation. He’s just released the updated edition of Heart and Mind: The Four-Gospel Journey for Radical Transformation, which this post is based on. See Quadratos.com for more about his work and offerings.

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