An Excerpt from "The Hope" by Andrew Harvey
An Excerpt from The Hope by Andrew Harvey
I arrived in Coimbatore on a Tuesday. That Sunday I went with my younger brother, who had flown to India also and with old family friends to the services at a local Catholic church. It was the feast day of Christ the King. The church was full of marigolds and roses, Indian worshippers in their flamboyant and sweet-smelling best, little girls with silk ribbons and jasmine in their hair, and distinguished, gaunt old men and mothers and grandmothers in crisp red and gold saris. An old man in horn-rimmed glasses that flashed in the sun read the Gospel from Matthew 25:31-40. If I had to choose one passage from all the world’s scriptures that expresses the essence of the truth I have come to believe, it would be this one. And on that Sunday, I heard each word afresh, as if for the first time, with a broken-open heart:
When the Son of Man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats.
And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
“For I was hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in.
“Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.”
And then shall the righteous answer him, saying, “Lord, when saw we thee hungered and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink?
“When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? Or naked, and clothed thee?
“Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?”
And the King shall answer and say unto them, “Verily I say unto you, inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
The old man sat down, and a small, smiling, plump Indian priest took his place and began his sermon. As he spoke of India’s poverty and the growing sufferings of the planet, the tiny priest’s voice swelled and shook. He said that Jesus is the mystical King of the universe, not because of his miracles, not because he walked on water or raised the dead, not even because he left us such teachings as Matthew 25, but because again and again and again, he gave himself away to human beings out of a supreme, inextinguishable and fiery love that no cruelty could deter and even the most humiliating death imaginable could not defeat. It was this fiery passion of love, the priest went on to say, that resurrected Jesus. It is this passion of love that will resurrect the world from its suffering and poverty, despair and apathy.
I felt as if I was hearing the essential message of Jesus’ life to all human beings whatever their religion for the first time, almost as if Jesus was saying it to me.
After the priest finished talking and sat down, I looked up at the statue of the resurrected Christ at the end of the church. The only thing I can say about what happened next is that the statue became alive. For almost 15 minutes I saw the Christ in majestic, radiant golden light. No human words could ever convey what that moment was like. It was both an ecstasy and an agony beyond anything I had ever known or even imagined, an ecstasy of rapture, amazement, gratitude, adoration and an agony at what seemed like a knife plunging again and again and again into my chest. When the knife of light had finished its work, I saw how my own slashed-open heart flowed back to him in an answering molten stream of fire. Love, lover, and Beloved were all one in grace. All were one all-transforming fire of divine, passionate compassion. As this fire streamed between my heart and the heart of the resurrected Christ, I knew that what Divine Grace was giving me was not only an ineradicable revelation of the cosmic force of Divine Love but also an experience of my own innermost truth, my own embodied human divinity and that of all human beings who would allow themselves to be possessed and transformed by Divine Passion. I knew that the fire streaming between my heart and the Christ’s was the fire that would birth a new world out of the Death of our crisis, a fire that would enable those wild and brave enough to survive its ordeals – once they discovered it in their own inmost being – to burn with unconditional compassion, joy, and passion for justice through all the coming cataclysms. This was the fire in which a new world would be created out of the smoldering ashes of the old; this was the fire that would burn in the heart of a transformed humanity and give it the energy to invent and reinvent all institutions, arts, and sciences in the name of Love and Justice.
The experience, however, did not end with that vision and its revelations. As I stumbled out of the church into the humid, scalding ferocity of an Indian noon, I saw beside the open gate of the church an emaciated young man. He must have been around 25, with no arms or legs, planted in a filthy puddle. He was one of the most beautiful human beings I have ever seen, with a face seared and honed by distress and humiliation. And as I ran toward him to gather him up in my arms and help him out of the puddle and place whatever money I had in his pocket, he looked up at me. And as his eyes burned into mine, I knew that just as I had seen the Christ in glory in the statue in the church, now I was seeing the Christ in this armless and legless man, crucified by suffering and poverty.
A voice within me then began to speak. It was so loud I was almost deafened by it, although no one else heard it. You have been playing with light all these years that you believed you were making spiritual progress. You have been exploiting the mystical teachings and experiences you’ve been given for yourself, your career, your own selfish enjoyment. Don’t you understand that the purpose of everything you have been through is to make you a servant of Divine Love in action in the world? Don’t you realize that if grace has opened up the divine realms to you, it is so that you can be devoted and humble enough to dedicate all of your thoughts and emotions and actions and resources to the ending of the horror that you see before you?
The world is burning to death in the fires of greed and ignorance, and all of animal and human life is now threatened. And this man that you see before you is one of billions in anguish. See behind him and around him the burning forests, the polluted seas, the vanishing tigers and polar bears. Don’t you see the Divine is being crucified again and again and again by a humanity obsessed with its own needs and driven increasingly by a crazed and suicidal hunger to dominate and control and exploit everything?
Everything you are and everything you do from this moment on must help human beings awaken to their inner divinity and to its responsibilities of urgent sacred action. The only questions you will be asked when you cross over the waters of death are: What did you do while the world was burning? How did you work to heal the horror of a world on fire? What did you love enough to risk and give your life for? Turn away from everything you have been and done and believed, and dive into the furnace of a Divine Love that embraces all beings. Give your whole life to spread and embody the message of its passion to the world – that the world must now wake up, claim the sacred fire that lives within every human heart and body, and act from it. The one hope, both for you and for humanity, is to take up the challenge of the Divine and put the fire of Divine Love into radical action in every arena of the world. §
Andrew Harvey is Founder and Director of the Institute of Sacred Activism, an international organization that invites concerned people to take up the challenge of our contemporary global crises by becoming inspired and effective agents of change. Andrew has taught at Oxford and Cornell Universitys as well as at various colleges and spiritual centers throughout the world. He has written over 30 books. Read more at www.andrewharvey.net.