Skyline, Winter - 2005

By Diane Pendola

The Center Holds

Behold! I am making all things new!
-Revelations 21:5-

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It is Christmas. It is Solstice. It is winter. It is a time of dying back. The harvest has been gathered. The leaves have fallen from the trees. Energy is pulled into the earth, back towards the center, hidden from sight. It is a time when all of us, no matter what our creed, grope darkly towards the Source of our Hope. We sing songs of peace on earth knowing there is no peace. We wonder how peace will come in our world that is torn by so many forms of war. And our hearts are torn, too. We feel the fabric of our lives, our communities and our fragile blue-green planet torn, and we wonder, will the center hold? Will the whole cohere?

I have followed the fine veins, the corroded arteries, the underground rivers toward the source of my hope. Many times I have felt close to despair. The promising veins vanish along with my illusions. Mine shafts collapse atop my dig for fool's gold. The arteries of church and state narrow impossibly with the corrosive debris of rust and decay. Yet still I hear the river's voice. As the psalmist says, deep calls to deep in the roar of waters. And there are times a whisper surfaces, murmuring up out of the dark and flowing into the body of my life---evidence of the Source from which the waters spring. And so I tend the springs of hope, knowing there is always more that I do not see, nor hear, nor understand.

Throughout my adult life, the witness and work of Raimon Panikkar have been a life-giving spring. I hope that you, too, can be sustained by the clarity of his waters. Nor do you need to be a Christian to drink from the deep well of his life. But in our time, and in this country of the United States, I find that what he has to say about being a Christian to be particularly instructive.

In an article, published in the Spring/Summer 2000 issue of the magazine "Cross-Currents", called The Dawn of Christianness he writes: The word "Christian" may be the adjective of Christendom (a civilization), of Christianity (a religion), or of Christianness (a personal---not individualistic, spirituality). During the period of so-called Christian culture in medieval Europe, it was almost impossible to be Christian without belonging to Christendom. And until quite recently it was very difficult to profess oneself a Christian without confessing the Christian creed (Christianity). Today, however, there are more and more people who consider the possibility of being Christian as a personal attitude, even without belonging to Christendom or totally adhering to doctrinal dogmas of Christianity, insofar as the former represents institutional structures and the latter a special doctrinal set-up. I am not speaking of an individualistic position but of a personal attitude, keeping in mind that "person" always implies community.

I find the distinctions he is making here particularly helpful in understanding a slice of the current political landscape in this country. The move toward the right, fueled by a conservative Christian religious agenda, could be understood as a move toward Christendom. It might be seen as a desire to unite heaven and earth, to make the "kingdom of God" present within our political world. George Bush (from a conservative evangelical perspective), and John-Paul 11 and the current Pope Benedict XVI (from an institutional Roman Catholic view), seem to represent attitudes that desire to renew and restore Christendom. Panikkar points out, those who talk today about world market, global democracy, or universal technology are still living in a kind of Christendom ideology---which leaves no place for other world orders. And this, of course, is exactly why neither Christendom---nor Zionism, nor Islamism, for that matter---is a viable alternative in a pluralistic world. We have seen that the consequences of such projects in the past have been totalitarianism and fanaticism.

Panikkar suggests that though we need institutional structures and doctrinal systems "to give a home to Christianness, pluralism is essential. People need community, which depends on a living organism, and institutions that, like the Sabbath, serve the human person. People also need doctrinal formulations and systems of thought capable of giving expression to what is deepest in the human being, without their pretending to be absolute or to exhaust the mystery of reality." It is precisely for this reason we cannot retreat into the past in order to recreate a future Christendom, as though we can give absolute expression to the mystery of reality.

I am one of those growing number of persons that Panikkar describes as striving to articulate a genuinely Christian confession of faith without being totally conditioned by the historic weight of the past or the doctrinal constrictions of tradition...Such a struggle for renewal is innate in the human person; it has always been so, but in our time it is acquiring historic, even cosmic proportions.

Why cosmic proportions? Because if we do not find ways to live together, to love each other, to love the earth as our own body and to love the universe as the revelatory body of the divine, we could very well rend the sacred fabric of life on earth. We have it in our power to bring the human adventure to a close. We are in need of conversion, of a change of heart and a change in direction.

Christianness constitutes the Christian contribution to this cosmic change in the adventure of the universe in which we are all involved. Panikkar shows a humility here which is absent from the pronouncements of Christendom and the dogmaticisms of Christianity. Christians have a contribution to make and we make that contribution by moving toward the source of our hope. It is a journey inward toward the Center of our selves, toward the Center of the Cosmos, toward the Center of Mystery. At the same time it is a journey outward in embodied expression of the great transforming love embraced in the depths of that mystical encounter.

"The experience of Christian maturity is three-fold. It is the meeting with Christ in the center of one's self, in the center of the human community, and in the center of reality." The way is not backward toward a Christendom of the past, though the temptation is great to move in that direction. Nor is it forward into a future that never arrives. Rather it is inward toward the center which can bear the great changes that are upon us. As we move toward that center we can have confidence that within this ever-expanding Universe, the Whole coheres and the Center holds.

(Throughout the Whole)

I am in love
            with my beloved
and I am not jealous
            that you also know Her.

The whole Universe
            is shot through with Her Love
and His Word
            got the whole show started,
from big bang to Now
            from end to beginning again.

So, how can we help
            ourselves from falling for Him?
Like stars flashing
            through the velvet night
we extinguish ourselves in His Light,


I am in love
             with my beloved
and I rejoice
            that you also know Her:

Divine Mother, Goddess, Gaia,
            Cosmic Christ, Sophia, Allah,
the Original, bi-sexual, trans-gender
            androgynous God!

I have my own name for Her
            and image I adore.

What is yours?

By Diane Pendola

©Diane Pendola, December 2005. You are welcome to print or make a copy in electronic form for personal use or sharing with interested persons as long as the copyright notice is not removed or altered. Please do not print it in any other publication, or sell it, by itself or as part of another work, without express written permission of the author.

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