In the medieval era of the Holy Roman Empire, Eckhart von Hochheim was a well-known cancellation target. Today he’s better remembered as Meister (Master) Eckhart, a German theologian, philosopher and mystic, but in those ancient times our Church considered him a heretic. Some accused him of pantheism (the belief that all things are God), others of monism (the idea that there is ultimately no distinction between God and creation). But what Eckhart really preached was the divine presence within each of us. That doesn’t mean we ARE God, but that we are God’s reflection. “We should be mindful of the great nobility which God has given the soul in order that we should become wonderfully united with [God],” Eckhart taught.
Paradoxically, many of the people who cancel others from today’s political mainstream are the same ones who’ve cancelled themselves from the truths that sprang from the mainstream of faith that once nourished them. A new book titled “Strange Rites” states that half of Americans belong to no religious tradition, but borrow freely from several. These “religiously remixed” want to select the spiritual path most meaningful to THEM. Rarely on such a self-centered spiritual menu will you find love listed as a main course—which our church now teaches is God’s very essence.
The ancient Romans were lucky to have St. Paul as a guide to bring them back to true Godliness and Christianity when he wrote (ROM 13: 8-10):
“Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Eckhart taught that one should give birth to Christ within one’s soul—advice that seems intertwined with Paul’s teaching, because birthing implies leaving the womb of one’s selfish universe and bringing Christ to others. That’s a tall order in today’s convoluted political world, because it requires a simplicity that many don’t trust. Yet if you study this Sunday’s readings, they’re clearly written instructions on how to bring back those who’ve cancelled themselves from that unity. In the first reading from Ezekiel (EZ 33:7-9), this prophet explains how being God’s reflection works as a means of communication between God and man.
You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel; when you hear me say anything, you shall warn them for me.
Ignoring that calling is not an option. Living up to our purpose requires straying from one’s own inwardly-focused spiritualism and projecting it outwardly for all to see. This outreach is what Eckhart called “the generosity of God.” Those who call themselves spiritual but refuse to share that spirit as reflected in the word of God are fooling themselves.
Dominican mystic James Finley further explains Eckhart’s teaching, using the metaphor of a mirror. Imagine you’re standing before a full-length mirror, and imagine the image of you is conscious, that it can think and speak. Eventually that image says it doesn’t need you. You say to your image, “But you’re an image of me.” And to gently help the image understand, you step halfway off to the side of the mirror; and half the image disappears. The image has a panic attack, thinking, “I’m not real! I don’t exist!”
Yes, we exist, but not without the source we were created to reflect. Eckhart says, “The image owes no allegiances to anything except that of which it is the image.” In our case, we are the reflection of God’s Infinite Love. We can’t lock it in spiritual isolation, it has to be seen and experienced to be believed.
Read in this light, Sunday’s Gospel reading from Matthew (MAT 18:20)—which most of us have read and heard all our lives—offers renewed clarity:
“For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”
The scriptures give voice to the image of God we are called to reflect.