Last year, I tried fixing my clothes-drying machine. I kept forgetting to unplug it and I got shocked no less than a dozen times (I went into the humanities for a reason). Every time I got shocked, my arm jumped and twitched painfully. In movies you see people touch a major power source and get thrown across a room.
It turns out that this actually happens, but not for the reason that most of us imagine. Most of us envision that when you touch a hot power source, electricity flows into your body kind of like a painful liquid flowing out of the wall socket and into your veins.
But the science behind it is different. When you have contact with a source of electric energy, there is no external material entering you. What actually occurs is that the electrons already inside you begin to move to a different rhythm — a new current.
When your body jumps, it is not because a force inside a socket pushes you. It’s actually just the power of your own muscles flexing at a much faster and stronger rate than our brains normally instruct them to do. The encounter with an external source simply awakens and unleashes a power already within us.
The ancient mystics of the church had a belief, which Eastern Orthodox Christians still hold, in something called “Uncreated Grace.” This is one of the main differences between the Eastern and Western churches. Western European theology taught that God invented grace (unconditional love) as a response to our sinnin’ ways. The ancient, mystical, Christian tradition, however, says grace is not a created thing. It pre-dates creation; it precedes the eruption of the universe. Unconditional love is the soil out of which all things grow, which infuses the whole universe.
When we embrace this theology, then the goal is not just to get saved from beyond, but to encounter the great source that will kickstart what has already been put in us. Our calling is to unblock what Saint Teresa of Avila called “the boundless aquifer within the soul,” so that we can participate in the work of liberation.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus, who had unblocked this aquifer, faced down enemies that could kill the body, but not touch his soul. Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. faced his enemies declaring, “I’m not afraid of any man. My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” May we become free like them, and face down the forces of injustice and evil in our world standing on the solid ground of unconditional love.
Rev. John Helmiere is the convener of Valley & Mountain.
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