The purifying goal of mysticism and contemplative prayer is nothing less than divine union—union with what is, with the moment, with yourself, with the divine, which means with everything. Healing, growth, and happiness are admittedly wonderful byproducts of prayer, but they must not be our primary concern. The goal must be kept simple and clear—love of God and neighbor, union with God and neighbor. Our common word for this state of union is heaven. Wherever there is union, there is a little bit of heaven.
Much of common religion is well-disguised self-interest—high premium fire insurance for the afterlife—instead of self-emptying love.
.. Most of the official Catholic liturgical prayers ask in some form, “That I or we might go to heaven.” (This is not a guess. I have counted!) Is there no other priority than my personal salvation? If it is true that lex orandi est lex credendi, “the way you pray is the way you believe,” then it is no wonder Christians have such a poor record of caring for the suffering of the world and for the planet itself, and the Church has fully participated in so many wars and injustices. We have been allowed to pray in a rather self-centered way, and that fouled the Christian agenda, in my opinion.
.. Jesus talked much more about how to live on earth now than about how to get to heaven later.
.. But many Christians, both Protestant and Catholic, pushed the goal into the future, making religion into a petty reward/punishment system inside a frame of retributive justice. (The major prophets—and Jesus himself—teach restorative justice instead.) Once Christianity became a simplistic win/lose morality contest, we lost most of the practical, transformative power of the Gospel for the individual and for society.
.. The branch that imagines itself to be separate from the Vine (John 15:1-8), acts as if it is separate from God. We call the result sin, but the real sin is the imagined state of separation. It is our own delusion and decision!
In the past, most of Jesus’ practical teaching was ignored by Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians. The establishment chose instead to concentrate on private sinfulness and personal salvation and, as Brian McLaren says, an “evacuation plan” into the next world.
.. growing recognition that Jesus was clearly concerned about the specific healing and transformation of real persons and human society “on earth as it is in heaven.”
.. The Church, more than Jesus, historically focused on doctrinal belief and moral stances, which ask almost nothing of us in terms of real change. They just define groups—often in an oppositional way.
.. Critical biblical scholarship is occurring on a broad ecumenical level, especially honest historical and anthropological scholarship about Jesus as a Jew in the culture of his time. This leads us far beyond the liberal reductionism and the conservative fundamentalism that divide so many churches.
We now see the liberal/conservative divide as a bogus and finally unhelpful framing of the issues.