Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Hocus Pocus – The Alchemy of the Dysfunctional Religious Group

Many believe that the term ‘hocus pocus’ is a term that originates in the realm of magic and wizardry. Well, there is nothing further from the truth that has ever been uttered. It is an adaptation of the term used in Roman Catholicism during the celebration of the Mass. It is the misunderstood uttering of the phrase “hoc est (enim) corpus (meum)” - which means ‘This is my body’ I am sure some five year old peasant boy during the Middle Ages heard a priest utter this within earshot and walked away with ‘hocus pocus’.

The Stone Faced Icon

Ironically, this twist of the Real is very true within Christendom in general and most specifically within dysfunctional religious groups. Why is this the case? They have taken so much of the humanity of the phrase uttered by Christ during His last hours on earth amongst those He loved and replaced it with the stone marbled iconism of the Son of God. Cold and tyrannical, aloof and yet holy. If there are tears on this iconic Christ, they are made of dust as the weak and failing are crushed under the weight of self introspection and self-flagellation in the name of the pursuit of holiness. Who is exempt from the rabble who tries to rise from this muck of humanity? It is the ones that are in charge. In many venues of the faith where dysfunction is present, there is the ruling elite. These are the ones who construct a state that many truly faithful and good people live in: slavery. You might ask ‘what kind of slavery?’ and I would reply the worst kind – the slavery that is self imposed trying to follow a leader’s way of salvation. How is this formed within a dysfunctional religious group?

The Two Answers: One Life and One Death

There is a gradual formation of this iconic version of Christ versus the Real One. Tragically, this takes place in a displacement of Jesus with the way to live that one perceives would please Jesus. This is a modern-day Judaizer and the Dorian Gray of the legalist. In essence the glory of Christ, His person as described in Isaiah 53, is replaced with some perceived perfection of the Law in one’s life. That is, instead of gazing with wonder at the person who is Christ, we are confronted with the barriers to Him. In other words, if we can ‘lose’ enough of ourselves, then we will be able to fellowship Him. The process whereby these hurdles are removed is in the methodology the follower receives from the leader in most cases. On the surface there is nothing really wrong with what is being said. No, in fact who would disagree with the pursuit of holiness, the denial of our base desires in the name of love for the Savior. Yet, we must pause to ask ourselves questions. In the pursuit of all this have we lost the very thing that called us into His presence to begin with? Have there been barriers that have been erected that He Himself went through great lengths to remove? Have we lost our way in the pursuit of Christ? How could this have happened? Well there are two answers- one Infernal and the Other Eternal:

The first answer we receive from perhaps those we followed and trusted. We have either not understood the ‘truths’ we have received because they are revealed by God and because we are fleshly, we have not fully understood them – God only speaks in a limited fashion to such as these and it is usually through those that He has ordained to be the leaders. Or, we are in rebellion and there are areas in our lives that grieve the spirit of God so much, He cannot fellowship us. In either case, the answer is more spiritual ‘elbow grease’ and industry. To shred off the living tissue. The fruit of such an approach ultimately is self-hatred and a twisted co-dependence on those who lead. In this way of life it is not what is real that matters only what is perceived. If we are perceived as adhering to the codex of the group, we are growing spiritually mature. However, if we hear other things and see beyond the box we have been given to dwell within, we are the worst kind of person: a rebel and a devil’s child.

The second answer comes from the reality of the first coming of Christ. I bid you to read again Isaiah the 53rd chapter. In it, Jesus is the suffering servant. In it we see the humanity of Christ, we see the suffering, the emptying of self and the choice of being a substitute for us on the Cross. In it, the pain and terror of Gethsemane and the burning walk up to Golgotha is vivid and sticks in the mind. The Jesus that removes barriers to Himself, the one who bids us to stick our hands in His side and the one who breathes on us to receive His Holy essence. Who dines at our table simply because he chooses to do so. Who tells us stories of how God reconciles and yet drives from His presence the ones who have turned a House of Prayer into a den of thieves. What is stolen? The most precious thing: the thought, the hope, the dared whispered prayer of the sinner saint – the reality that they are accepted by God. Not because they have earned it or because they have understood the rules. No but by a far greater power that silences any hissing voice: love…the love of the savior.

The Cheap Alchemy Trick

What is the alchemy? It promises to turn common elements to gold. Brennan Manning in his work Ruthless Trust, crystallizes this dark form that seeks to eclipse our only Hope: the Love of God, The wonder of God, the Glory of God:

“When the glory of the transcendent God is not addressed, our focus shifts to human behavior, the cultivation of virtues and the extirpation of vices, the qualities of discipleship, and so on. Personal responsibility replaces personal response to God, and we become engrossed in our efforts to grow in holiness.”

This is the answer to how one gets lost. We replace the person of Christ with activity for Him and in that we lose everything, our life becomes hollow, our gait falters and our vision grows dim. We eat the husks and pods from the trough of religion hoping to fill our bellies and our souls with peace but if it is true as the Apostle Paul has so succinctly stated in his first epistle to the Corinthians 'the body is for Christ...and Christ for the body'...only He will do...only He will satisfy. Friends, listen to your own heart and see if you truly have the savior or some cheap copy. In the
name of Christ, be honest with yourself and still the voices that are not yours and not His.

When all is left quiet, we can then see the Glory of God that is Christ (Jn 1:14). We must allow ourselves to peek over the edge of life and our own shortcomings and to stare into the shining crystal throne room, to walk blood-path to Mount Zion understanding God has made it our home. We were prodigals, now we have come home. We are not coming home, we are home. Do we really need the work of Alchemy? The real truth is that most of us don’t realize we are gold already…fine gold, purified in the fires of Calvary.

‘This is my body’ is not the hocus pocus, the cheap and shabby imitation…Don’t walk away from the Christ and accept the alchemist’s wafer – I hope now you will see that there is no real comparison.

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