JESUS: The Ascension, by Thomas Keating

The Ascension Thomas Keating

From The Mystery of Christ

After speaking with them, the Lord Jesus was taken up into Heaven and took his seat at God’s right hand.  The Eleven went forth and preached everywhere. (Mark 16:19-20)

By becoming a human being Christ annihilated the dichotomy between matter and spirit.  In the Person of the Divine-Human Being, a continuum between the divine and the human has been established.  Thus, God’s plan is not only to spiritualize the material universe, but to make matter itself divine.  This he has already done in the glorified humanity of his Son.  The grace bestowed on us by the Ascension of Jesus is the divinization of our humanity.  Our individuality is permeated by the Spirit of God through the grace of the Ascension and more specifically through the grace of Pentecost.  Thus we, in Christ, are also annihilating the dichotomy between matter and spirit.  Our life is a mysterious interpenetration of material experience, spiritual reality and the divine Presence.

The key to being a Christian is to know Jesus Christ with the whole of our being.  It is important to know his sacred humanity through our senses and to reflect upon it with our reason, to treasure his teaching and example in our imagination and memory, and to imitate him by a life of moral integrity.  But this is only the beginning.  It is to the transcendent potential in ourselves – to our mind which opens up to unlimited truth, and to our will which reaches out for unlimited love – that Christ addresses himself in the Gospel with particular urgency.

Not only is it important to know Jesus Christ with the whole of our being; it is also important to know Jesus Christ in the whole of his being.  We must know Christ, first of all, in his sacred humanity and historical reality and, more precisely, in his passion, which was the culminating point of his life on Earth.  The essential note of his passion is the emptying of his divinity.  We enter into his emptying by accepting the emptying process in our own life, by laying aside our false self and by living in the presence of God, the source of our being.

We must know Christ, however, not only in his human nature – his passion and emptying – but also in his divinity.  This is the grace of the resurrection.  It is the empowerment to live his risen life.  It is the grace not to sin.  It is the grace to express his risen life in the face of our inner poverty without at the same time ceasing to feel it.

The grace of the Ascension offers a still more incredible union, a more entrancing invitation to unbounded life and love.  This is the invitation to enter into the cosmic Christ – into his divine person, the Word of God, who has always been present in the world.  And he has always been present in a saving way because of God’s foreknowledge of his incarnation, death, and resurrection.  Christ is “the light that enlightens everyone,” (John 1:9) – the God who is secretly at work in the most unexpected and hidden ways.  This is the Christ who disappeared in his Ascension beyond the clouds, not into some geographical location, but into the heart of all creation.  In particular, he has penetrated the very depths of our being, our separate-self sense has melted into his divine Person, and now we can act under the direct influence of his Spirit.  Thus, even if we drink a cup of soup or walk down the street, it is Christ living and acting in us, transforming the world from within.  This transformation appears in the guise of ordinary things – in the guise of our seemingly insignificant daily routine.

The Ascension is Christ’s return to the heart of all creation where he dwells now in his glorified humanity.  The mystery of his Presence is hidden throughout creation and in every part of it.  At some moment of history, which prophecy calls the Last Day, our eyes will be opened and we will see reality as it is, which we know now only by faith.  That faith reveals that Christ, dwelling at the center of all creation and of each individual member of it, is transforming it and bringing it back, in union with himself, into the bosom of the Father.  Thus, the maximum glory of the Trinity is achieved through the maximum sharing of the divine life with every creature according to its capacity.  This is “the mystery hidden for ages in God,” (Ephesians 3:9).

The grace of the Ascension is the triumphant faith that believes that God’s will is being done no matter what happens.  It believes that creation is already glorified, though in a hidden manner, as it awaits the full revelation of the children of God.

The grace of the Ascension enables us to perceive the irresistible power of the Spirit transforming everything into Christ despite any and all appearances to the contrary.  In the misery of the ghetto, the battlefield, the concentration camp; in the family torn by dissension; in the loneliness of the orphanage, old-age home, or hospital ward – whatever we see that seems to be disintegrating into grosser forms of evil – the light of the Ascension is burning with irresistible power.  This is one of the greatest intuitions of faith.  This faith finds Christ not only in the beauty of nature, art, human friendship, and the service of others, but also in the malice and injustice of people or institutions, and in the inexplicable suffering of the innocent.  Even there it finds the same infinite love expressing the hunger of God for humanity, a hunger that he intends to satisfy.

Thus, in Colossians, Paul does not hesitate to cry out with his triumphant faith in the Ascension: “Christ is all and in all” – meaning now, not just in the future.  At this very moment we too have the grace to see Christ’s light shining in our hearts, to feel his absorbing Presence within us, and to perceive in every created thing – even in the most disconcerting – the presence of his light, love, and glory.


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