Sometimes I think I critique what you say only to get you say more. I love your idea that the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount “call us to our senses, to open our eyes to the truth about ourselves.”
It is a great turn of phrase, especially when used in the context of contemporary religion. I often get the feeling that biblical Judaism at its best is all about returning to our senses; returning to the physical reality around and within us, and seeing that it is good. Our culture is far to Gnostic in the sense that it pits the physical against the spiritual, denigrating the former and elevating the latter so high as to be largely irrelevant to our lives. This is why the Song of Songs is so important both to the Canon and to our culture. It’s unbridled passion, sensuality, sexuality, and love between two people redeems both the Gnostic anti-body tendencies and the xenophobic violence that plagues so much of the Bible and western civilization.
When we return to our senses we realize that we are one with each other in a greater Wholeness. When we return to our senses we stand in what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called Radical Amazement at the wonder of life. When we return to our senses we fall in love with the world and with one another, and can learn war no more.
This is the great truth of the incarnational teaching of Christianity (as I understand it, of course). This is the core truth, the real Good News that Christianity offers the world, and which the world so desperately needs: God becomes human to remind us that we humans are God; that Nature is God; and that the Universe is God. Jesus starts out as a baby, just like us. He burps, he pees, he poops, he laughs, he cries, he rejoices, and he knows fear just like us. There is nothing human that is alien to God. And hence there is nothing human that cannot be made holy.
When we come to our senses we come to God. And when we come to God, that is when we realize the nonduality if all things as God, we regain our sanity and engage the world and one another with justice, compassion, and humility. This is what Jesus comes to remind us. The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ program for achieving Micah’s True Religion: Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).
So, if I am following your comments correctly, you seem to be saying that the Sermon is in fact a vehicle for personal transformation. I agree. And the more I measure myself against it, the more work I realize I have to do. And, if I am lucky, I will work so hard as to finally realize that work alone won’t do; I need something else. This is when Grace takes over.
There is a Hasidic story about the first angels to come to earth. They climb down the Ladder from Heaven and then when they seek to climb back up they find the Ladder has been removed. At first they cry out in despair, but after a while they begin to jump. Their hope is that if they jump hard enough and high enough they will make it back to Heaven. After a while, however, they begin to tire; and one after another the angels quit jumping, convinced that they cannot return home under their own power. All save one. One angel just keeps jumping. No matter how exhausted he becomes, no matter how weakly he leaps, he still jumps. And just when he realizes that he cannot leap even one last time, God reaches down and pulls him home.
And that is how it is with us. We have to exhaust what the Japanese Buddhists call jiriki, self–power, if we are finally to be surrendered to the Grace of tariki, other–power.
Of course it takes a lot of courage to keep jumping when everyone else has quit. That is why a fellowship of like–minded and like–willed seekers is, as you said, so helpful. I’m not sure I would agree that fellowship is the point; that sounds a bit too humanistic to me, but it is a wonderful part of the process. The point is exhaustion. And then, God willing, return.
On to the Beatitudes!