By Richard Stone
(Author’s note: The following is an excerpt from the book Incarnation: Coming to Life in Mind and Body.)
A person-to-person encounter takes place, and the gist of it is magically transformed by a mind into an idea. This idea, later, may be shared, may lead to a project, may become the basis of an institution or a philosophy or a way of life. Perhaps even to a piece of History. We can never know in advance.
The Jewish tradition harbors two variations on how the Messianic Age will come. In one, there is an individual—The Messiah—who personally redeems the world through his actions and influence. In the other, all the inhabitants of the Earth together produce enough goodness that a messianic state of existence is generated.
Along the lines of the second version, I had a “lucid dream” (a vision that came in wakefulness) about the significance of Christ’s death…remembering that Jesus was a Jewish Messiah-figure. The picture that came was that an individual savior will not have to endure the unendurable agony of the Passion to redeem the whole of humankind if each of us will take on a proportional share of the pain.
The literal picture in my vision was a succession of us stepping momentarily into the role of Christ so that no one takes on more than they are ready for. We are not, in this picture, called on to “be Christ” but simply to “play Christ” briefly (as an actor takes on a role) and in that time to accept our allotment of discomfort, self-denial, self-doubt; to embrace both paradox and “otherness.”
Of course, to do this is not so simple, requiring as it does a transformation of consciousness from instinctual reaction to what Buddhists call mindfulness. But neither is it impossible to do this—many have begun the process, some are far advanced. And all it takes is “enough of us.”
These spiritual abstractions were turned into a more familiar and concrete language the other day as I was discussing with a first-year teacher the “hopeless” situation he found himself in. He felt trapped in a morass of bureaucratic demands; of kids with no interest in being in class, filled with restless, rebellious energy; of parents unwilling or unable to create a nurturing environment for the children; and of a dysfunctional society that seems to foster alienation and violence. “Is there anything you can do?” I asked. He shrugged dispiritedly.
And then I saw. He cannot overcome that situation—he isn’t the Messiah. But my question was right on target. He can do something, be it with one student or by addressing one situation of unfairness or distress. And he can keep doing his best, not just for the sake of others but to be true to himself, to his own potentiality.
When enough of us, at the same time, accept the challenge to go beyond just enduring the days of our lives…when we actively live out the possibilities of our existence to whatever extent we can…when we do not succumb to the despair of inevitability…we will transform the world.
Something new will have incarnated.
Richard Stone is on the boards of the Fresno Center for Nonviolence and the Community Alliance. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.