I remember seeing a video of how snakes shed their skins.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cmqwcb1fh_0
One of the signs of vitality for humans is making all things new. Animals do it when they shed their skins. Soft shell crabs molt, as do many other creatures, one of which is the snake. I remember that picture of Harry Potter entering the Chamber of Secrets by opening the unique snake door and finding a giant snake, a basilisk. Whereas that was fantasy and a good story, I wondered in one of my Lectio Divina sessions if humans shed or molted like a snake. Is it part of their natural progression? They shed their outer skins as they grow to make way for another. I know I don’t shed my skin (but I get skin burns), but what if my spiritual dimension needs to melt because I am growing in capacitas dei? Is that even possible?
Reflecting upon it with the metaphor of the new skin and new wine means I must constantly shed my old skin to receive the new wine of Christ as my life progresses. This does not happen with my physical or even my mental universe, although I can make a case for mental molting as part of what it means for humans to stretch to find out their fulfillment as nature intended. My spiritual universe must constantly make all things new or atrophy for lack of use. Here are some of the random thoughts I have about molting.
THE METAMORPHOSIS OF THE SPIRIT
I must begin by saying there is no human metamorphosis of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit does not change, but through being in The Spirit of Truth, I can change if I know what is happening. The problem comes because I perform my Lay Cistercian practices and charisms with my old skins and can’t fill it up with the new wine of Christ’s love until I make room (capacitas dei, as the Cistercian monks call it) for the new and eternal wine of Christ. This is ongoing and at the core of what it means to seek God daily as I am and where I am.
It depends upon my awareness that I must align my will with that of the Father (adoption by the Father). I only know how to do that because I have applied The Christ Principle to my movement from a false self to a new likeness of what I should become as fully human.
The only way to grow in my spiritual life is to place myself in the presence of the one who has the way, the truth, and with whom I have new life. You must put it there like human love if you want it to be present. It is not automatic but an act of free will to choose what I think will lead me to my purpose in life. My purpose is to “…have in me the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5).
What happens when you are a Lay Cistercian or seeking to grow in God’s capacity (capacitas dei)? Like a snake or others who must shed their skins to make room for their growth, I must shed my old skin to take on new skin. One of the effects of this shedding (also called metanoia) is that I move to a more profound existence with Christ, which is almost imperceptible at the moment.
FIRST MOLTING– What is the purpose of life? My descriptions will be totally different than yours. Remember, I do not talk about physical change but only grow as a direct result of placing myself in the presence of Christ and being open to whatever is my good fortune to receive from the Holy Spirit.
My first recollection of a change in how I could relate to a God I could not see but definitely feel happened at St. Francis Xavier Grade School in Vincennes, Indiana, in the year 1951. Father Henry Doll entered the room on a scorching September day and was droning on about the Catechism of the Catholic Church, particularly Question Six, “Why are you here?” There would seem no more innocuous topic for a wimpy Eighth Grader. For some reason, I still remember Father Doll saying, “Your purpose in life is to know, love, and serve God in this life and to be happy with God in the next.” That thought hit me so hard that it has become the center of my spiritual journey throughout my ups and downs of life. This was the first time I remember moving from my parents’ nurturing Faith to launching my boat on the seas of whatever life had to throw at me. I long to be in the presence of Christ.
SECOND MOLTING — What is my purpose within that first purpose?
Now that I know the purpose of life from God, where do I fit? What is my purpose? I am the only one who can choose a center for my life. Once I have found it, I must struggle daily to keep my wineskins new.
I selected that one somewhere in the years 1960-66. It did not come all at once, like a bolt from the blue. I had a regular Lectio Divina meditation, which returned to the same thing each time. “Have in you the mind of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:5). Being in a School of Theology, I morphed into also being in the School of Love, or Charity, as described by St. Benedict.
THIRD MOLTING — What does reality look like?
My first two moltings point to the third one. I become aware that there is a reality beyond what I can see. Lots of time passed in my life just maintaining the status quo or being the martyrdom of the ordinary. I was a believer but was not growing, and strangely, not even aware of what was happening. Somewhere about 2007, when I had my cardiac arrest and was hit with the reality of my mortality, I somehow began my awareness of growing deeper in my Faith (vertical Faith) as well as just horizontal Faith, moving from day to day with the same old skins, even though Christ in my heart was new wine. I woke up. At this time, I came up with a Lectio Divina that presented me with a possible solution to my quandary about how science and Faith fit or did not fit into one reality. Up to this point in my journey, reality looked like I had accepted it as a scientific approach; you must see it as accurate. Only my experience logically led me to begin thinking, “How can most of what I hold is valuable as a human being hidden from view and accessible only if I bring it up? Again, if I want love in my life, I must put it there. But from what reality does love come? Certainly not from the corruption of matter and mind (there is always a beginning and end to all that is). How could I go to heaven if I was morally corrupt, too? My moral corruption was real, but I knew I could make it incorruptible with Christ (Molting One and Two). I realized my nature was not corrupt, but I had to radically change my thinking. It is then that I strumbled onto the rule of threes. One reality has three distinct universes. The physical — matter, life, energy, time, space, the laws of nature and physics) The mental — the universe of human reasoning and free choice, in which only humans live their collective intelligent progression and where I find myself aware that I am aware that I know that I know. I am free in this universe to discover what it means to be human, but who is to say that what I discover leads me to fulfill my nature as a human being. If I am correct about Molting One and Two, and remember this is my choice, there are only two possible choices for me to discover my future destiny or the end result of my being on this earth. There must be more to it than one solitary life. Where do I find the answers?
About that time, with my introduction to Cistercian spirituality with its practices and charism, I gradually began to put the pieces together. I took my notion of three universes to its natural evolution. Baptism was not just when I accepted God, although it is, but more importantly, when God accepted me. “You have not chosen me; I have chosen you,” Christ says. The solution to my equation, The Divine Equation, is not to seek to prove God’s existence in my life but to use God’s energy to discover what it means to be fully human in my lifespan. As I said, the two ways to do this became more evident. I could either find the answers to my questions about life within two universes (the physical and mental) which St. Paul called the World, or I could add a universe called the Spiritual Universe which I had been trying to practice from my childhood (Molting One and Two). I had moved from seeing reality as being physical and mental (which it is and is still the base on which I exist until I die), but as Christ becomes a reality that solves this Divine Equation of who I am and my purpose, this third universe is the opposite of the other two universes. It is the opposite because The Christ Principle is the sign of contradiction (the cross becomes a key to making sense of my existence). It makes sense to me that religion now makes no sense because to achieve my finality as a human, I must choose with my human reasoning and free will what makes no sense to the World, good as it is. In the spiritual universe, God presents the challenge of the Rule of Opposites. It goes against my scientific sensibilities to step out there where there is nothing solid to see, yet it is the path in front of me. When I did step out there onto what seemed like nothing, I came into contact with the Holy Spirit, my second Advocate. Having joined the Lay Cistercians of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit (Trappist) in Conyers, Georgia, they required doing daily Lectio Divine, Eucharist, if possible, Liturgy of the Hours, Rosary, Reading Sacred Scriptures, and penance for my sins (that last one I added). These are ancient practices of the Cistercian and Benedictine Orders. I added their charisms as prescribed in Cistercian procedures and conventions of the Monastery, where I pledged my lifetime fidelity (stability).
FOURTH MOLTING: How does it all fit together?
Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest and archeologist proposed a systematic approach showing an intelligent progression from creation to incorruptibility. Is it true? Is it real? You have reason and the ability to choose good or evil for a reason. I use this perspective to make sense of reality where science, philosophy, and spirituality are at odds.
“Seeing. One could say that the whole of life lies in seeing…to try to see more and to see better is not, therefore, just a fantasy, curiosity, or a luxury. See or perish. This is the situation imposed on every element of the universe by the mysterious gift of existence. And thus, to a higher degree, this is the human condition.” From The Human Phenomenon, trans. Sarah Appleton- Weber, p. 3
A transformational event happened to me based on my discovery of the chart by Teilhard de Chardin. Up to 2022, I had been, with some difficulty, I might add, trying to prove God’s existence. I might even go so far as to say that I obsessed over trying to justify the existence of God with human proofs, such as logic, Scriptures, and other mental gymnastics. One day last month, while I was in my upper room (Matthew 6:5), my friends Jesus and the Holy Spirit asked me in a Lectio Divina meditation why I was trying to prove something that humans could never fathom with human reasoning alone. They suggested to me to be still, listen with “the ear of my heart” to what they were saying and try, within the scope of my life experiences, to relate The Christ Principle to what I found to be the purpose of life. I learned that it is a waste of my time to prove God’s existence to anyone other than myself, and even with me, as St. Thomas Aquinas was quick to point out, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”
With Christ as the cornerstone that the builders have rejected, I have been using the World’s measurements to prove God exists to others since my Baptism. I have realized that I got that all wrong. The Christ Principle is a sign of contradiction, the cross. My secular World does not recognize The Rule of Opposites for the Baptized. It seeks proof. Now, freed from the obsession to prove something to someone else, I can just relax in silence and solitude and be present to the ontic possibility of the manifest ability of Christ in whatever comes my way each day. What a splendid joy that has been so far.
FIFTH MOLTING: How to love fiercely?
Using these four moltings, I am now not my old self (old skins) but constantly looking to make all things new. It is a mindset each day, a realization that prayer is not just a set time but extends to all sacred times. This I do not by myself but by having been friended by Christ and the Holy Spirit (Baptism and Confirmation) and with the ongoing help of being adopted by the Father. All humans look for the meaning of love. For some, it starts and stops with their genital organs. These are the ones who are ruled by their passions, much like the animal emotions we emerged from. For others, love becomes looking for physical pleasure through other people. This is how humans evolved, and they are caught up with the ambiguity of right or wrong. Unlike animals, we have choices to make all the time. These choices carry consequences and may shape how we see the reality around us. For example, there are two basic approaches humans have when approaching the question of the Sacred. 1) There is an invisible power outside of yourself but accessible to those who know how. Within this group are those who hold that there is a Divine Equation, one where both the questions and the answers to what it means to be human are accessible through being present to the Divine Nature. 2) There is no power outside of yourself, and the only reality is one that can be demonstrated. This second approach usually, but not always, means that God is not a part of the equation. These two approaches carry with them assumptions. These assumptions are given to each age by Jesus Himself and are as true now as when he walked the earth.
When speaking of love, there are also two ways to look at this word. As in the example above, the meaning of love can come from outside of yourself or within yourself. If I choose from within myself, my limited knowledge of the true meaning of love is limited to my life choices based on my needs. This is not bad as in evil as much as incomplete and will not propel us to the next level of our intelligent design, to be an adopted son of the Father. As an individual, I can choose what is good or bad for me. The danger comes in choosing something bad for me. Who tells me what is good or bad? Again, I can get that answer from inside or from a source outside of myself that goes against my inclination to know it all or resist others telling me what to do. This is called conversio morae in my understanding of Cistercian (Benedictine) spirituality because I must die to my old self (old skin) daily to be able to fill up with the new wine of Christ. Daily is hard because I don’t have the power to sustain that effort. My energy comes from The Divine Equation, these six questions I must answer. In this particular, “How can I love fiercely?”
Fierce love is profound love. Profound love comes from my choices for good (Galatians 5) instead of my choices for bad. Profound love has the energy of God attached so that I now have the power to rise up to new life (the resurrection) each day in, with, and through Christ Jesus. False love comes from my love of self-gratification. Human love comes from my choice of what my reason tells me is good. In his masterpiece, The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm suggests that love is an emotion we need to fulfill our humanity but is an acquired skill, hence the need for practice and a model. He says that there is authentic human love and unauthentic human love. I have reason and free will to help me choose what is good for me. The problem is that human love alone is not fierce enough to raise me to the next level of my humanity. I need the energy and power of nature beyond and outside of myself. This love is fierce because it allows my human nature to interact with the divine nature as an adopted son (daughter) of the Father.
In my second molting, one of the techniques to delve deeper into the reality of my humanity is realizing that I am an adopted son (daughter) of the Father. By Faith, I am a child of God, a pilgrim in a foreign land whose evolution is beyond the phase of my physical and mental body on earth. Christ tells us that he gives us peace, but not as the world gives it.
Jesus answered and said to him, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.q
24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me.
26The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that [I] told you.r
29And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.u
30I will no longer speak much with you, for the ruler of the world* is coming. He has no power over me,
31but the world must know that I love the Father and that I do just as the Father has commanded me. Get up, let us go.vhttps://bible.usccb.org/bible/john/14
TWO TYPES OF LOVE BASED ON DIFFERENCES IN THE WORLD AND THE SPIRIT
One of the great insights coming from the Holy Spirit is my gradual awakening to the different meanings and assumptions of the word “Love.” In the passage above, Christ tells his disciples that He gives them His peace. This is not the peace that comes from kicking out the Romans from their lands, but rather, this peace is spiritual, Christ giving of Himself to those who love Him. This peace is not the absence of conflict (what the world thinks) but the presence of fierce love (what the spirit does when he overshadows us).
It is this recognition that with Baptism comes dual citizenship, the city of the earth and the city of God. We are adopted sons (daughters) of the Father. I will share with you these two interpretations of love, that of the world and that of the spirit. You can judge for yourself what makes sense.
IT’S ALL ABOUT PERSPECTIVE
I always look for two meanings when thinking about the word ”Love” in my Lectio Divina. The first meaning is what the world thinks of Love. For this, I reference what Erich Fromm says about the meaning of Love in The Art of Loving. The second dimension is that of the spirit. For this, I use The Christ Principle and the Cistercian practices and charisms to look at “love” from the viewpoint of what Christ taught us in Scripture.
I will offer my take on LOVE from these two viewpoints. As an adopted son of the Father, I use what Christ teaches about Love. My approach comes from my personal experiences and lessons learned about LOVE. I call it fierce or profound Love to differentiate this key purpose of life from its secular counterpart.
|Love is at the core of what makes humans different from the rest of living things.||Love is the purpose of life. Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:38.|
|Exists in the Physical and Mental Universes only||Exists in the Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Universes|
|Humans who are atheists, agnostics, or indifferent about God, those with a good heart and who are sincere about doing good||Those who are Baptized and Confirmed, anyone who accepts Jesus as Lord, and those who struggle with carrying their cross daily but do it anyway.|
|Citizens of the secular world||Citizens of the kingdom of heaven and adopted sons or daughters of the Father|
|Love can be authentic or unauthentic and depends upon the choices people make||Those who die to self and accept the Christ Principle as the center of their lives|
|Use the Divine Equation, but get their questions and answers from themselves or society.. What is the purpose of life? What is your purpose in the purpose of life? What does reality look like? How does it all fit together? How do you love fiercely? You know you are going to die: now what?||Use the Divine Equation but get their questions and answers from the Holy Spirit through Scriptures and Tradition.. What is the purpose of life? What is your purpose in the purpose of life? What does reality look like? How does it all fit together? How do you love fiercely? You know you are going to die: now what?|
|Love is a learned behavior and depends upon the disposition of those who love||Love is a person, and we learn about what Love is because Christ loved us first|
|Human nature is good but tainted by original sin. The default is to seek what is good for me. I seek to satisfy my needs with the template of choices that make me happy.||Human nature is good but wounded by original sin. The default is to choose what I think is good for me or to go outside myself to use what God says will help my human nature to fulfill its destiny as an adopted son or daughter.|
|Original sin clouds the benefits of being good or the consequences of destructive behavior.||A clear choice for the knowledge of good or evil|
|What is real can be reached by reason alone. Love must be visible.||Faith informed by reason allows humans to live in the visible secular world but also to transverse the invisible world of Love.|
|What makes Love authentic or unauthentic is the choice of what makes us more human or less than human and more animal.||The Divine Equation is not solving who God is but using who God is to solve what it means to be fully human.|
|Each human must learn what it means to love with the totality of their life experiences and choices. Choices have consequences. Wrong questions give wrong answers.||Each person who is Baptized is given the map (Scriptures) of how to walk the minefields of life without destroying themselves. Christ has the right questions and the corresponding authentic answers to Love.|
|Reconciliation with our enemies or friends means humans can be noble according to what they place at their center.||Each person selects a center of their existence based on their purpose. There is only one authentic center, just like there is only one virtue, Love.|
|Secular thinkers believe theirs is the way, but unfortunately, they only live seventy or so years to live it.||Christ is the way, The Holy Spirit is the truth, and the Father is life.|
|The basis for authentic Love is the choices we make. Who determines what is good or bad can be the individual or society. ||The Christ Principle determines what is good or bad for us. For this to be true, we must die to that part of us that wants to be god and listen with the “ear of the heart.”|
|Characteristics of Authentic Secular Love (Erich Fromm: The Art of Loving)|
care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge.
|Characteristics of Authentic Spiritual Love (Galatians 5) |
In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,q
23gentleness, self-control. Against such, there is no law. r 24 Now those who belong to Christ [Jesus] have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.s
25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.t
26 Let us not be conceited, provoking and envious of one another. “
|Characteristics of Unauthentic Secular Love|
(Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving)
Characteristics of Unauthentic Spiritual Love
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: immorality, impurity, licentiousness,o
20idolatry, sorcery, hatred, rivalry, jealousy, outbursts of fury, acts of selfishness, dissensions, factions, 21occasions of envy,* drinking bouts, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
|Human nature has nobility and willingness to help others, but it is often compromised by original sin.||Jesus, Son of God, both divine and human nature, TELLS US AND SHOWS US how to love through His willing sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. We must do the same and put to death our old wineskins to receive the new wine of Christ. The Blessed Mother and the lives of the Saints show us the meaning of Love and the effects of choosing God’s will by how they lived.|
|Without God, humans would not be able to fulfill the fullness of what their human nature intended by intelligent progression (evolution).||With God but without being God (which is impossible), humans can fulfill the fullness of what their human nature intended by intelligent progression (evolution).|
|Without Christ, we would not be able to move to the next level of our evolution as nature intended. Good as it is, authentic human Love does not possess the power to raise us to our destiny.||Christ became human to show us that being adopted by the Father won’t take away the martyrdom of ordinary living and pain. Still, we have the tools to rise above our adversities with Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.|
|Humans are not evil by their nature, only by their choices. Movie stars and corrupt politicians show us how to love and what not to do. We learn the meaning of secular Love through our family and trial and error. Authentic Human Love is not evil but noble, but, by itself, does not have the energy to raise us up to the newness of the next level of our intelligent progression.||Mary, Mother of God, is the prime example of what a human can become if they fulfill their destiny as nature intended. The energy of the Holy Spirit, which adopted sons and daughters can use to augment their secular human Love and lift us up (the resurrection is the prototype) to make all things new. This means making new skins to hold the new wine of Christ. Christ is present today, yesterday and tomorrow.|
|What we see in the physical and mental universes is how to love authentically in the secular world using its parameters and value systems.||With Baptism, we are citizens of a parallel but separate dimension, sons, and daughters of the Father, even though our base is the secular universe until we die.|
|The secular world is the only reference to discovering who we are as human beings. This is not bad, as it is insufficient to full our destiny as nature intended.||All words, practices, and love in this spiritual universe are the opposite of the secular world in which we find out what is meaningful. This is a sign of contradiction.|
SIXTH MOLTING: You know that you will die: now what?
Let’s take stock of what has just happened. It has taken me a lifetime of molting to discover these six questions and where to get the correct answers. I approach my quest to discover what it means to be fully human by putting together these six moltings or questions with answers from outside my human nature.
This sixth realization comes because I have struggled to get through the other five. There is a progressive intelligence to these answers. If I am indeed an adopted son (daughter) of the Father, what awaits me is the fulfillment of what it means to be human.
There are three dimensions to this Divine Equation (even though there are six questions with their corresponding authentic answers.)
Here is what I intend to do with my life between now and when I die.
Focus each day on seeking God in whatever comes my way and whoever comes my way. Awareness is key here.
Try to “have in me the mind of Christ Jesus,” each day.
Read Chapter 4 of The Rule of St. Benedict each day.
Write down my Lectio Divina thoughts which come to me through the Holy Spirit in a blog.
Write these blogs in a book format.
Visit the Monastery of the Holy Spirit each month for Gathering Day (in person, or via Zoom).
Create YouTube sessions with Zoom based on my thoughts about life, love, and how to be fully human as nature intended.
Pray for mercy and forgiveness of my sins, go back to those murky places in the past, and restore them with atonement for failures to love Christ as He loved us.
Prepare to live forever in Heaven and pack for the journey.
Praise to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. The God who was, who is, and who will be at the end of the ages.