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~ Spiritual Symbols are Reality ~

Animals have circulatory systems that move their blood to every cell for nourishment and cleansing. You knew that. What many may not know or forgot since their grade school biology lessons, some animals have an “open” circulatory system wherein the blood is pumped to the top of their bodies and “free falls” through their tissues to be collected at the base by a vein and pumped back to the top.

Lobsters are like that. If you force one to remain on its back, the blood will pool at the bottom (actually, its top) and sit there. The creature will actually bleed to death without losing its blood.

We humans have a closed system, so we can hang upside down or hang out in the weightlessness of space and our blood will continue to move through the 100,000 miles or so of vessels.

Primitive people regarded our planet earth as an integrated, living entity. It indeed is that. Postmodern humankind also see it that way, but we do not treat it as such. We like to divide everything into compartments and systems and do not experience the unity of the entity.

How many of us think of the sun when we gaze at a campfire in the night? How many even wonder what I mean by that connection? That blazing firewood is releasing captured radiation from the sun. Our nighttime fire is intimately connected with our star, 93 millions miles away, that will greet us in the morning.

Maybe we’ll have some applesauce for breakfast. We can swallow it thoughtlessly while making plans for the day or we may experience the relationship of apples to trees to earth, water, air and our sun, marveling at how all that becomes our blood that sustains our lives.

But let’s get back to water. Our earth has an open circulatory system. Water is the blood of the earth. The earth’s blood does not run through closed pipelines that must be punctured to access. Like the blood of a lobster, it is pumped up to the top of the earth’s atmosphere by our sun, raining down back into the open conduits of streams and rivers. It penetrates deep into the earth’s organs and tissues, becoming accessible to all living things.

Our ancestors were wise not to throw wastes into the earth’s water. The technological nations forsook wisdom for expediency, however, starting with the “Industrial Revolution” when the earth’s rivers and oceans became convenient dumping grounds for the toxic wastes produced. In that sense, the blood of the earth became the repository of our sins.

We humans are still drawn to water and fire. We retreat to oceans, rivers, streams and lakes to ponder, linger, play and rest. We gaze at candlelight or campfires contemplatively. We feel the primordial connectivity to these elements. They have been and continue to be the inspiration of poets and artists.

Some know how God chose these elements and others, such as bread, wine, and blood, to symbolize His presence with us. Others know that these are not “just” symbols, but the substance of not only our bodies but souls as well.

When I float on ocean waves or on a still lake, I think of blood. (Strange, but true.) That is a result from much contemplation of the symbolic and real life connectivity of blood, water, bread, earth, wine, and Spirit. The blood of Christ was poured out, offered as the repository of our sins. We are born again of the water and the Spirit. (John 3:5.) “By His wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).

Like the earth’s water, the blood of Christ runs in an open circulatory system, open to all, and all are invited to drink from its flow, to be nourished by its sublime purity.

Christ is the Incarnate, the Immanuel (“God-with-us”). So His wounds are still open. As He did with the apostle Thomas, Jesus invites us to also thrust our hands into His wounds. Thereby, like Thomas, we will relinquish our doubts and our selves and exclaim, “My Lord and my God!”

Unlike pagan deities or our own idols, Christ is not untouchable. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you…Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him” (John 6:53, 56). He in me, I in Him. This intimate union is incredibly intense and life giving.

That is why Christ’s wounds are still open today. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to Me.” So long as children are aborted, bombs tear human bodies apart, humans are caged in prisons or put to death by governments who decide they are not redeemable, Christ’s wounds keep bleeding. So long as humans are stripped of their dignity, families, homelands and love, Christ’s wounds keep bleeding.

Thankfully, it is a redemptive bleeding. If Christ refused to bleed on our behalf and in solidarity with us, He would no longer be the Immanuel, the God-with-us. We would be estranged from Him, which defines the state of hell. Hell is not being able to bathe in the bleeding wounds of Christ, bleeding for us. Hell is not being able to participate in His suffering and thus the suffering of all our brothers and sisters in Him. Hell is being unable to participate in the redemptive and life-giving wounds of our Christ.

Saint Therese of Lisieux wrote a prayer that told Jesus of her great love for Him such that she would live in hell so that at least someone would be loving Him from there too. Perhaps the saint and I have different conceptions of hell. In hell, where those refuse to let the blood of Christ flow over and through them, who have egocentric ideas of what it means to live apart from He who is the Author of life itself, there is no experience of love. That is hell and death.

A rabbi lecturing his students announced, “Don’t fret or lose faith if you don’t understand all this. Get used to it. When the Messiah comes, you won’t understand him either.” Indeed, that happened and continues to happen. The mysteries of the kingdom of God cannot be fully grasped. What a foolish presumption to think otherwise! “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9). The psalmist remarks “to learn your thoughts I would have to be eternal, like you.” And it will take eternity to grasp them. We will never be bored! Nor will eternity be a state of constant “rest” with condolences to those who think of heaven as being equivalent to laying on a sofa watching endless TV shows sipping heavenly drinks. We will be eternally busy!

However, we can and are indeed invited to experience the mysteries through immersion in its symbols, and the stories and realities present in them. What does it mean to experience a symbol, be it the living waters, the bread and wine, or the Bride and Bridegroom?

First, we need to relinquish our clinging to the idea “it’s just a symbol.” Then, we can enter the reality that is clothed by the symbol. In experience, then, the symbol becomes very real.

I am grateful and overwhelmed to be immersed in the world of Spirit. In that world symbols are reality. I silently say “grace” before drinking water, as that gulp of water is as big a deal as a meal around which the family gathers and offers thanks. The bread I consume as the symbol of Christ’s body is miraculously physically transformed into my own body cells. Eaten in the name of Christ incorporates His physical as well as spiritual presence in me. To not feel that, is hell, estrangement from Him who is incarnate in all things.

How can any of us who bear the name “Christian” separate Christ from all we do, from all we consume, from all we think and are? As the Incarnate who emptied Himself to become one of us, Spirit made flesh, He never taught nor demonstrated such separation.

And He is still infused in our humanity, still bleeding when we bleed, in solidarity, love and redemption. There is no “spirit world” out there to which we must strive. Christ said, “The kingdom of heaven in with you and in your midst.” Why is it so hard to take Him at his word and behave accordingly?

Don’t keep a lobster on its back or else you will cause a slow, painful death. Likewise, don’t turn the kingdom of heaven upside down, in your striving to be at the top. You will likewise bleed to death. The blood of Christ does not start at the top where arrogance, pride and a striving to save oneself reigns. “He who is the least will be the greatest.” The blood of Christ pools at the bottom, where the humble and contrite (wounded) hearts choose to be. From there, like in a lobster, they are pumped up to the top, into the heavens.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services
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Spiritual Resource Services  © August 27, 2004

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