The Christian of the Future
The Christian of the future will be a mystic, one who has experienced God for real, or he or she will not exist at all.
– Fr. Karl Rahner
There is a profound story in part of the testimony of St. Francis of Assisi. Like many religious people, Francis experienced his religious group tribally and had an abhorrent fear of certain “outside” groups of people. For many Christians in the world today, that fear and disdain might be directed at LGBTQ+ persons, different religious groups such as Muslims or Hindus, or non-religious groups such as atheists and humanists. For Francis, his disdain was directed towards lepers, and he avoided them at all costs.
One day while riding his horse, Francis encountered a leper with his hands out, asking for charity. His initial instinct was to turn away to avoid this man whose skin had been eaten away by leprosy. But to Francis’s surprise, he was suddenly filled with compassion and turned towards the man. He dismounted his horse, gave the man money, embraced him warmly, and kissed him tenderly on the lips. He literally put his lips on that which disgusted him most. This was the watershed moment in Francis’s spiritual life. When he got back on his horse and looked around, he no longer saw the man. He eventually came to understand that it was Jesus Christ himself whom he had kissed.
St. Francis later wrote, “This is how God inspired me, Brother Francis, to embark upon a life of penance. When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure; but then God himself led me into their company, and I had pity on them. When I had once become acquainted with them, what had previously nauseated me became a source of physical consolation for me. After that I did not wait long before leaving the world.” It was soon after this encounter that Francis left his life of wealth and power, began spending time with lepers, and started his ministry.
The Greek word for sin, hamartia, means “to miss the mark.” It is quite a different understanding than the conventional modern notion of sin as a violation of a written law or, more simply, “bad behavior”—however that behavior may be defined in any given cultural context. Francis’s behavior when he was “in sin” was the result of a misperception of who and where God was. In his embrace of the leper, Francis’s sight was corrected. He now recognized Christ not just as a man who lived for thirty-three years, but as the indwelling Spirit of every human being, including the leper. For Francis, this Spirit extended to all creation. He came to see all people as a manifestation of the Spirit of God, or Christ. Although the characters were different, my encounter with the transgender woman on my porch led me to the same conclusion as Francis. The leper, the transgender woman, and everyone else was a vessel for the indwelling Spirit of Christ. There were no exceptions; therefore, there was no longer anyone to disdain or avoid. Only different manifestations of Christ to love. The Apostle John calls the indwelling Spirit of Christ “the Word”:
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 apart from Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of mankind. And the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not grasp it.
– John 1:1–5
The Word, or Christ, is the Spirit that flows out from God and manifests all things in physical form. This is the spiritual reality, which the mystic sees. To be “in sin” is to be in darkness or blind to this reality. The result of this blindness is the perception of separateness from God and others. Sin is not a state that one consciously chooses to enter into by willful decision. It is an inevitable state of human development. The condition is not original; rather, it is inevitable. Like Francis, there must be an encounter in each person’s life where this perception of separateness is corrected and sight is restored—revealing the indwelling Spirit of God in every human and all creation.
The person of Jesus incarnates this formless, expansive Spirit of God pulsing through all of creation (Christ) and distills it through one person, expressing in human form the very essence of God and ultimate reality. The life and teachings of Jesus as portrayed and mythologized in the New Testament took on a powerful symbolic spiritual meaning, which has endured for two millennia and has profoundly shaped the course of Western civilization and the world.
The following verses express the nature of Christ, revealed through Jesus:
For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation: for by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or rulers, or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
– Colossians 1:13–17
Once one is aware of the truth of this reality, mainly that Christ is the imminent Spirit of God animating all of creation, a love that was once reserved only for Jesus suddenly extends boundlessly to everything: because the fundamental essence of Christ is hidden in everything. The person of Jesus is then the gateway, or portal, out of the darkness—the darkness of seeing divinity exclusively in Jesus and nothing else. Through the gateway of Jesus, we transfer into the kingdom—where we recognize Christ as the indwelling essence of everything that exists.
The Christian mystic is one who has made the leap from loving Jesus to loving everything because they see Jesus in everyone and everything else. This is the reality from which they see.
Only the Divine matters.
And because the Divine matters,
– Thomas Keating, O.C.S.O.
Praise for Returning to Eden
“Heather offers her unique contribution with her own story by reimagining, reshaping, and reinterpreting some of Christianity’s major components into food that will benefit many on their own spiritual journeys.”
—David Hayward (@nakedpastor), Artist, Cartoonist
“In the ancient Christian world and well into the Middle Ages, the highest and most proper reading of scripture was the ‘spiritual’ or ‘allegorical’ reading. It was only in the modern period that the dominant Christian understanding of scripture was progressively contracted into an impoverished literalism; and it was only in the twentieth century that fundamentalism triumphed for so many readers over the beauty, mystery, and richness of the text. In these pages, not only does Hamilton make a case for a bold recovery of spiritual reading; she does so in a contemporary idiom, drawing on the intellectual resources of our day as fruitfully as patristic tradition drew on the hermeneutical methods of its time.”
—David Bentley Hart, PhD, Theologian, Philosopher, Writer, 2015-2016 Templeton Fellow and 2016-2017 Director’s Fellow at the University of Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study, Author ofThe New Testament: A Translation and That All Shall Be Saved
“For anyone who has found themselves increasingly incompatible with the husk of the Christian institution and hungering for a more mystical and inclusive version of that faith, Heather Hamilton serves as a compassionate mytho-poetic midwife … gently guiding readers into the unknown germinating potential within.”
—Brie Stoner, Host of Unknowing Podcast, and Co-Host of Another Name for Every Thing with Richard Rohr Podcast
“If you’re ready to move through faith deconstruction and into whole-life transformation, Heather Hamilton is your guide. At turns disarming and incisive, Heather shares vulnerably from her journey through Bible-belt fundamentalism to a truly mythic understanding of Jesus the Christ.”
—Mike Morrell, founding organizer, Wild Goose Festival; co-host, Mystics Summit (The Shift Network), collaborating author with Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation
“For me personally, never have the words ‘sacred,’ ‘inspired,’ and ‘infallible’ felt more appropriate for describing the Bible than they did as I was reading this book. All of the arguments about literalness and historicity notwithstanding, Heather Hamilton transcends the fray, inviting us to take the Bible more seriously than most of us have ever imagined possible … So, regardless of your relationship with the world’s long-time best-selling book—whether that relationship is warm, strained, or estranged—this book will be a gift in your life. I mean it when I say: get ready to have your mind stretched and your heart healed.”
—Stan Mitchell, Founding Pastor, GracePointe Church, Nashville, TN; Teaching Pastor, The Village Church, Atlanta, GA
About the Author
Heather Hamilton received her B.A. in Journalism from Georgia State University and spent many years doing video production before discovering her love of writing. After filming and editing stories with people from all over the world—celebrities, orphans, religious leaders, royal family members, political figures, and everyday people—Heather recognized the common threads and themes intertwining all humans across religions, cultures, classes, and demographics. She is passionate about fostering human connection through storytelling, writing, art, and exchanging ideas. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and three children. You can follow her online here.