Lent 2023: Third Sunday of Lent

One direction of religion is upwards transcending this world into a realm of breathtaking clarity and freedom beyond the limitations of both mind and matter

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John 4:542

One direction of religion is upwards transcending this world into a realm of breathtaking clarity and freedom beyond the limitations of both mind and matter. Most religions get stuck in these limitations and entrapped by the other direction. The second direction is downwards into human culture. Religions form institutions, belief and symbolic systems which are useful only for as long as they provide the resistance necessary for transcendence. Hence the inherent contradictions of religion.

In our time religion itself is being changed by the crisis humanity is passing through. The Catholic church’s inner turmoil reflects what is happening in all Christian institutions and in the surrounding cultures. Some key issues recur and become intense battlefields, particularly sexuality and women. Yet the forces of these two directions of religion are being reconciled. Whatever else is being worked out, it is reshaping a patriarchal religion into one with a vision of humanity based on equality not out of date hierarchies of power.

Other religions, like Buddhism and Islam, are going through similar revolutions. As they do, all religions may come together in an unprecedented way. Human culture will be transformed. Instead of competition they will find communion in the greater, common direction of transcendence. Religions have a core mystical consciousness from which they emerge but also quickly forget, falling prey to the collective egotism of power and polarisation. In recovering the transcendent force, within itself, each religion discovers that it is – astonishingly – one in the same force as every other religion.

One hot day Jesus was walking with his community when about noon he became tired and sat by a well. His disciples left him to go and buy food. A Samaritan woman, who is not likely to be dominated by any man, came to the well. Samaritans and Jews were sworn religious enemies.

He asks her politely for a drink from her well. This breach of cultural norms – him speaking to a single woman and she a Samaritan – astonished her. It leads to a conversation within which they soon come to a deep mutual recognition. She refers to the immense religious divide between them and he replies that the hour is coming when truly religious people will transcend all their divisions. The hour will come – ‘in fact it is already here’, he adds –
When true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. And that is the kind of worshipper the Father wants. Because not culture not a religious figure – but ‘God is spirit’.

This extraordinary encounter leads Jesus to confess openly to her, a foreigner and a woman, as to no one else, who he is, the Messiah: ‘I who am speaking to you, I am he’. For a Christian this is very moving and revelatory. But I think to anyone with a spiritual eye, this conversation affirms the truth of humanity’s oneness waiting to be discovered beyond religion and culture in the spirit.

When will this be realised? Are we in a birthing of a new manifesting of this truth? We are if we choose to be. The time is coming but in fact it is already here.

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