Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sundays with William Blake: Christ, Guanyin and the Divine Image

Who are we worshiping?

Guanyin, Bodhisattva of compassion, China, 12th Century 
The famous Danish philosopher Kierkegaard once asked:

"“If one who lives in a Christian culture goes up to God’s house, the house of the true God, with a true conception of God, with knowledge of God and prays—but prays in a false spirit; and one who lives in a idolatrous land prays with the total passion of the infinite, although his eyes rest on the image of an idol; where is there most truth?"

This struggle towards the revelatory might seem foreign in most Christian churches today.  But to William Blake, a Gnostic Christian, such questions are acts of worship.

Gnosticism is a form of meditative Christianity which claims its origins date back to the original disciples of Jesus.  Unlike most modern Christian faiths, Gnosticism places a strong emphasis on the unification with the divine through enlightenment.

Gnosticism does not necessarily conflict with conventional church teachings.  While the focus of most church teachings is on the power of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, even the most mainstream Christian faiths often recognize the need for personal introspection and communication with the spiritual.

During many of my periods of deeper thoughts, I came to the observation that one of the many faces of Christ was The Compassionate.  This image is often taken as "the" image of Jesus, such as the familiar paintings of Christ holding and caring for a small lamb.

But of course, the image of God the Compassionate is present in many religions, including Hinduism, Judaism and Islam, as well as many ancient "pagan" religions.

One image of the The Compassionate God struck me like an echo: Guanyin, Bodhisattva of compassion and mercy.

There are many parallels between Guanyin and Jesus, including the idea that the human manifestation of the Compassionate God can carry away the guilt of his or her executioners.  In Guanyin's case, she accepted the negative karma of the man assigned to execute her.

So, I asked myself, what am I worshiping when I worship Jesus?  Is it just a name?  Or is it something more - a figure, an idea, a personality?  When someone worships Guanyin, are they further or closer to worshiping Christ than someone who worships a thing called Christ that teaches them to hate?

I'm not a theologian of any sort.  But I feel that this spiritual question is being asked and answered by Blake in the poem below - "Divine Image."

The Divine Image
By William Blake

To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our father dear,
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is Man, his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form,
In heathen, Turk, or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

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