It really happened.
It happened. It really happened. About 18 minutes in, a young girl comes to the village church, and enters in and participates in Holy Communion. The priest goes through the sacrifice of the Mass, lifts up the cup and drinks the blood of Christ. The priest explains to the young girl that this is part of the process of becoming “one with Christ”. A minute later in the film, the skies are darkened, the rains fall, the winds blow, and you see the young girl running, running wildly along the narrow streets, passing houses in the darkness, but barreling on forward, splashing and dashing, until she finds herself at the village church. She pushes open the door and comes up to the altar. She looks up and finds the chalice and pulls it down. She finds the flask of wine, and pours it hurriedly, splashing the altar in the process. She looks up at the crucifix with the figure of Christ upon it. Still gazing at the crucifix, she grasps the chalice, and declares her immediate desire for “union with Christ”. The wine overflows the edge of the chalice and spills and runs down the edges of her mouth as she guzzles the contents of the cup. It happened. Just like that, it happened.
This riveting scene is the compelling foundation upon which the story and legacy of Joan of Arc is built. We may not know the exact details, but we know that from a young age, Joan encountered God and the mystical connection and union with Christ, which this scene depicts. This mystical encounter defined the remainder of her life.
You can take many things from the life of this teenager, and re-imagining and re-interpreting her life for this generation is not only a challenge to the director of the film, but also to the participants and the audience. There have been many films and plays made about the life of this young woman, from The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), to perhaps best known, Joan of Arc (1948) with Ingrid Bergman. Just prior to the millennium there was a TV mini-series, Joan of Arc (1999) that actually used a teenager, Leelee Sobieski, to portray the young teen. It was a well made production and was well received. The same year, my personal favorite was made, Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc (1999), with Milla Jovovich in the lead role. It is from this film, that the first paragraph of this post is based. In each case, the interpretation and application of the life of Joan is one which has captivated many people and for many reasons, and for those that cherish liberty and freedom from oppression, she has been a role model, and an inspiration, that anyone, from the very young, and from either gender, can rise up and be a force for change in society.
My own obsession.
My own obsession with Joan began as a young pre-teen, when we would frequent Rouen, the place where Joan was martyred. I still have the silver keychain I bought when I was seven, that depicts her death and martyrdom. She was one of three French heroes that formed the foundation of youthful years. Joan was the first, then there was General De Gaulle, and Napoleon. I still hold and cherish these historic characters and personalities that helped shape not only their world, but our own.
In my spiritual quest, Joan holds a special place.
I am reminded that the history of the “church”, at the historical time period, there were only two branches of Christianity, the Western Church and the Eastern Church. These two entities had a fractured relationship from 1054 and it was only becoming a worse situation and especially so in the Western Church. The history of the Western Church has had a horrible history of persecuting, torturing, imprisoning, waging wars, killing, and murdering, that have all been done in the “name of Christ” (but in reality in the name of the political church system). This is the world in which Joan arrived. There had been since 741 AD the censure through church councils against the mystical and supernatural that was strictly enforced. It became a part of the Inquisition, the “pursuit of right belief” according to the papacy and the state. It was to lead to her own demise, capture, imprisonment, trial, and death at the stake.
To be sure her life and her trial can be debated until we are blue in the face and until we no longer have anything to argue over. However, for me, it is this simple belief Joan demonstrated, in trusting in the voices she heard and what was revealed to her.
It highlights for me much of the “mystical Christian life”.
- Joan had a desire for union with Christ. This mystical theology was a very practical reality and spirituality for Joan. The film, Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc, portrays it really well. The mystical is more real than real can ever be imagined. The “earthy” side of life, the physical manifestation of substance, and physical touch and smell, are stretched beyond imagination and conception. The film reveals that kind of struggle in the young teen. The reality is the same for those of us who want that greater expression of union with Christ. Union with Christ is more than a metaphysical theory, and it a very present reality. The only question for us, as it was for Joan, was awakening to the awareness of that oneness of union, and the tangible feel and expression of that reality of the Presence. One thing the film and one thing that mystics come to grapple with is a strong sense of the sense of sin in our lives, and the desire to be cleansed from sin, not so much because we feel badly for sin, but the reality that the grace and beauty of God is so vibrant and so desired for, that we do not want anything to be in the way of a greater union with Christ. In the film, Joan keeps going to confession because down deep she wants nothing to be in the way to hinder that sense of oneness with God.
- Joan was more concerned about the inward journey than the outward
realities. Joan loved the mystical encounter and what she experienced and was more content with bringing joy and pleasure and obedience to the voices that lead her and gave her instructions. Joan may not have intellectually been aware of the distinction or difference between the inward journey and reality versus the external earthy reality. For Joan to enter into the chapel, and take the cup was as real in the physical as in the mystical. There was no separation of that reality. Many of us become so compartmentalized in how we live, and we separate the spiritual from the physical and intellectual. For Joan all of the reality that she grasped was found in the spiritual, other worldly experience that presented itself as a daily encounter with life. When she encountered people she was easily frustrated as she could not put into words what was going on, on the inside. How many of us have had similar mystical encounters, large and small, where the world we walk in, and interact with people just seems to crowd in and get in the way of what we believe truly matters. It does not take much to lose being centered, but to get to that place of inner peace, and solitude and hold that place can at times be a challenge for most people. I can understand the frustration and the anger and disappointment when other people either don’t understand, or run interference with the inward journey and the “reality within” that drives your mystical passion and expression. Many people end up finding solitude and disengage. The tension arises with those that are confronted by others who are trying to understand the inward journey and who try to “unravel and understand its mysteries.” Quite frankly in my own journey, I have had to leave a lot of stuff, on the shelf, so to speak, having no grid of understanding, and no way of articulating those inner realities and encounters. So I can understand the heart and the intent of someone like Joan, and she can in turn be an example to me and to others who pursue the mystical expression of union with Christ.
- Joan did not see herself as abnormal and perceived all she
encountered as personal. Joan seemed driven by obedience to the voices and was only looking to fulfill the commands she heard. She wanted to please God by doing what was needed. To her, the hearing of the voices was normal. It was her own personal and present tangible reality. It was her “normative self”. I can well understand the desire to obey God and to pursue passionately what I understand God to be revealing to me. Like Joan, God speaks to me, not in audible voices, but He speaks, and gives me visions and pictures and insights. God communicates with me as I commune actively with Him. The more I take time to commune with the Him, the more expressive the mystical realities and encounters become. I should not and neither should you be surprised by that. Joan certainly was not surprised and nor should any of us be. What it intriguing in Joan’s life as much as my own, and the other mystics I have read and studied, is how others have judged and critiqued those who have had mystical encounters. There is a desire in most of what I have studied and in my own experience, to want to honor and please people. Joan suffered from the same issue, of not wanting to appear rebellious and to try to honor people that are deemed to have “authority”. What Joan learned as other mystics have learned, is that at the end of the day, you may try to honor people, but in the end, you need to honor God, and the revelation and the mysteries He has given you, rather than cave in to human understanding and judgment. For Joan, she tried to honor and please her judges, and when she did, she was facing death, and when it came to the crunch of denying her voices and her mystical experiences, she could not do so, so she recanted from her confession. That recantation led to death at the stake. Like many other Christian martyrs, when faced with denying what she knew in her heart of hearts and the reality of that mystical union with Christ, she could not deny Him. To deny the voices and the encounters, was to deny her own life, her own truth as she understood it, and all that she knew to be of God. How could anyone in her place deny that?
I am embracing a re-awakening to the mystical realities and encounters.
So here I am today, re-awakened afresh to that desire to pursue hard after Christ, and to do so through that inward journey of the spirit. I have had so many experiences and encounters where I put them on the shelf, and refused to go there anymore. I had to deal with disappointment and the rejection and judgments of men and women. I had to come to the place where “religion” was not an option. I really don’t give a damn about religion, especially the Christian religion. Religion is a substitute for a spiritual union with God and with other people who are also pursuing hard after God their Creator. Jesus did not come in the Incarnation to establish a new religion. He came to reconcile us to God the Father, and to make union with God a reality.
To know God and be in union with Him, that is my desire.
Like those who have gone on before us, we choose to embrace the mystical union with Christ, and pursue hard after the Kingdom of God and see the purposes of God established in the earth, and the government of God and rule of God manifest in every nation. We have been born with an eternal destiny and purpose. That destiny and purpose is rooted and grounded in the mystical union we have with God. This is what it is to “know God and be known by Him”, where we become one with Him, just as a man and woman become one in marriage. That oneness makes it a unique and beautiful reality and mystical encounter the opens up all that God has to offer.
Shalom ~ Sam