On the calendar of the Christian year, today is the beginning of Holy Week. The events of this week, in terms of their centrality to the religion, are foundational, the equivalent of the Exodus to Judaism. (And given the close family connection between the two, there is always the dance between Holy Week and Passover, which begins toward the end of Holy Week, at least this year).
So here we are at Palm Sunday, telling the story of the joyous entrance into Jerusalem of the G_d-saturated teacher and healer Jesus with his dozen students, cheered by an unknown number of exultant followers. By Friday, their dream will be traumatically, agonizingly shattered, leaving the students scattered and wandering, his followers bewildered, grief-stricken, and lost.
It is easy enough to make a connection between where this week is going for them and how it will wind up for anyone who encounters a distressing NDE during this time. Those of us who’ve “been there” know the feelings all too well, and we don’t like where this is going. (One of my good friends, years back, finally realized that he kept seeing the classic Norma Shearer film Marie Antoinette over and over in the passionate hope that just once, she would escape the end he knew was coming.) We want to push back, keep it from happening.
But life never gives only Palm Sunday. And as depth psychologist and spiritual director Dr. David G. Benner observes,
Although we seldom hear it presented in these terms, Christian spirituality is primarily about the transformation of consciousness and identity.
So many Christians—and so many spiritual and religious people of all doctrines—have never realized that this is what it’s all about, this transformation, and that particular beliefs or practices are merely means to that end, not the end in themselves.
(And if your feathers are fluffed because Benner mentions Christianity specifically, please keep in mind that he knows perfectly well that the statement applies more broadly, but he is writing to his particular audience.)
A transformation is something that happens between our Here and our There, calling up the metaphor of a journey. What we keep considering in these posts is the hard part of our individual journeys, the struggling part that we wish we could keep from happening. Whether that pain and struggle originates at the inside of a spiritual experience or, as with many glorious NDEs, afterward, in the days of grief and loss when the light seems gone, the hard times inexorably happen, and we are unable to change that.
But one thing is clear. The self that begins this journey is never the self that ends it. The self that emerges during this journey is larger, more enlightened, and more whole. This journey is one that all humans are invited to make.
We have our own Passovers, sending us into the wilderness, and we have our own Holy Weeks, which seem like the end of everything good. Whatever made us think that the journey of spiritual transformation could be easy!
This is a good week for reflection. Who was the self who began your journey, and why do you suppose that person had that particular experience? What have you learned about yourself and the experience since? Have you allowed yourself to become “larger, more enlightened, and more whole,” or are you still fighting back?