Editorial note: This original, recent article by William McNamara was received by the editors of this website in late June 2009. It represents a return to one of McNamara’s longstanding themes, dating all the way back to The Human Adventure, that of the mystic as a “disciplined wildman” who follows the dangerous path blazed by Christ.
Who was this man who strode like a giant across the land we call “holy”? Up and down mountains, hunkering down in desert places for simple nourishment – natural and supernatural, for conversation with his small band of followers, telling stories, jokes, parables, and making plans on how to live fully and love deeply in a society half-dead from the stifling burdens of legalism and moralism. These sessions with his chosen friends always crackled with humor, crucial insights and refreshing laughter.
No one ever spoke like this man. And no one could penetrate your hidden self with such piercing eyes as this monumental master of primordial words and the terrible truth.
Who was this man who went in and out of cities, in and out of crowds, in and out of trouble, of danger, of traps set by men of fear, power and prestige? With what seemed like a perfect combination of ferocity and jocosity, he dismissed his enemies while he fascinated and charmed everyone else. With a cavalier sang-froid he broke worn-out laws and worn-down hearts. Stillness and stuckness seemed to repel him so he strove quietly and lovingly to make all things new. If massive means did not achieve desirable goals, why clutter your life with them? Fanatics multiply means peremptorily without ever reaching the end. The Scribes and Pharisees multiplied trivial laws and mindless ritual with no right or religious experience, with no resonance of deity and therefore nothing to express.
Extremes of piety, on the one hand, whatever is showy and phony on the other, all that is bland and boring. Because every creature, in its awesome particularity, enchanted him, he was exquisitely sensitive to earthly conditions and human situations. Though there was something wild and raw about him – scary at times – he was sensitive about his own cosmic, theandric personality – about his call, his destiny and his Father’s will. Psychologists, today, would call him narcissistic. How absurd! When therefore he was exposed to excruciating pain and shame what he suffered from most of all was not the wounds from whips and nails but from the betrayal of his friends. Because he was a colossal lover they were stunned and in shocking, shameful cowardice, whispered to one another “maybe he is sick.” In the face of his heroic deeds they felt keenly their own solipsistic sissiness and could do nothing but slink away.
His donkey did not abandon him. He kicked away the tombstone, entered the death chamber, licked and wormed the body of his loving master who rose up and rode the donkey out of the deadly darkness into the light of day and into the incandescent presence of Mary Magdalene, the woman he loved. The newness he longed for, the fire he was determined to ignite, would begin here, as the Kingdom, the resurrected order of being, erupted between them. Were there ever greater lovers than this? This was the inception of the I-Thou philosophy. I-It would no longer be tolerable. Individuals can still survive on an I-It relationship but not persons – not authentic human beings. From now on dialogue will prevail. We will be erotic or robots. Saints or sanctimonious studs.
I say it began here. Yes, with a high tide of passion to be sustained forever by the inflowing power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, this most manly man, was moved by the Spirit to become the most erotic man in the history of the world. After all, his father, whose will be came to do, was Eros. He embodied and transmitted that infinite, boundless love. Every “other” was a “thou” to him. Jesus himself was, as St. Francis de Sales said, “God in his most attractive form.”
A spectacular instance of all this is found in the Gospel of John. As Martin Buber insists, “all real living is meeting.” Meeting in depth. A profound act of mindful communion. One time Jesus had to leave Judea and go to Galilee. This meant that he had to go through Samaria. So he took a deep breath and, all alone, departed for Samaria. Jacob’s well was there so he headed for that. Tired when he arrived, he sat on the well and rested. This happened at six o’clock. Whenever John wants to emphasize the importance of an event he mentions the specific time.
And though he was thirsty after his journeying Jesus did not draw any water. This is very interesting. Obviously, he anticipated an encounter and so did not want to spoil it by a premature and impetuous act. Meeting is far more urgent than drinking. And, sure enough, in a few minutes the Samaritan woman arrived eager to draw water. Jesus addressed her simply and straightforwardly, “Will you give me a drink?” It’s almost a typical pub scene in Sligo, Boston, Los Angeles or Milwaukee. An erosphere suffuses the whole contextual situation. The moral splendor and spiritual audacity that Jesus brings to the meeting is incomparable. Otherwise the scene in Sligo is very similar to the one in Samaria. Boundaries are broken, interior depths are revealed. Desires are heightened.
The woman raises the question about the traditional hostility between Jews and Samaritans. Jesus simply ignored the problem as if too petty to be recognized. He is concerned about one thing only, and that is that she recognize living water when she sees it and longs for nothing more than it and the fullness of life it represents.
The Samaritan woman is on the verge of belief now but still wonders: You seem like a prophet but certainly not greater than our father, Jacob, who gave us this well and drank from it himself. Jesus’ answer is shockingly wonderful. Usually reticent about his divine nature he becomes, in loving dialogue with this strange but alluring woman, generously revealing. Jacob’s water is fine, he said, but it won’t slake your thirst forever. Mine will. I have come to give you everlasting life. He wasn’t saying, as he often did, take it or leave it. He felt erotically compelled to enrich and enliven this attractive woman’s life. How relieved he was when she gushed, “Give me this water.” He cut to the chase by revealing to her her own life. She was embarrassed but extremely impressed. So relaxed did she become in his centering presence she decided to ask him another burning question. Where does true worship takes place—in Jerusalem or Samaria? Neither place is an authentic criterion. Jesus pointed out that as humanity evolves all worship is true in so far as it is worshiped in spirit and truth. Is it a cry of a heart, a penetrating insight that sees things as they really are? Is it a direct and immediate experience of Christ himself and not just notions about him? Is it the presence of God felt?
Jesus answered all of these questions for the Samaritan woman. She felt his love and knew he cared. What a sexy man, she thought, who is obviously a prophet, in fact, the Messiah! She ran back home and told everyone that she met a pure, erotic lover. She knew he was the Son of God.
John shows in his first epistle how the whole Christian apostolate began with a mystical experience. He sees the passion and the resurrection as the inevitable outcome of a mystical life. Since John, Christianity has become hideously subverted. It is, in fact, almost the opposite of what was initiated by Jesus, the Christ.
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