"Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom." (Luke 23:42)
"Remember Me and I will remember you."
(Qu'ran 2: 152)
When Jesus was crucified, a thief was crucified beside him. The thief prayed to Jesus in supplication, "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom." But the very Lord to whom he prayed was dying before his eyes.
He prayed, yet the object of his prayer was dissolving. This is not only faith, but meditation. As an icon to be worshiped, Jesus was disappearing. The object was abandoning the subject. And to that crisis of prayer, Jesus responded: "This very day you shall be with me in paradise."
When the subject who prays loses the object of prayer, where is paradise? Paradise is the very heart of emptiness.
One who worships the image of Jesus on the cross is a thief. The nature of a thief is to grasp, to possess what he cannot have. So we cling to the form of the Master. Just as thieves grasp coins and jewels, we grasp exquisite feelings and sensations, calling them "spiritual experiences." Like thieves, we live in deep poverty and long to fill ourselves with treasure.
But the treasure we seek lies in the very poverty of the subject, not in the form of the object. That is why Jesus said to his disciples, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Mat. 5:3) They did not understand him. But the thief on the cross understands him.
Jesus turns to us on the cross of meditation, saying, "Do not grasp my image. Do not worship my form. For this must pass away. As an object, I am crucified to you. As a subject, you are crucified to me. Yet this very day, this very Now, you are with me here, in the kingdom at the center of the cross. For I Am the very awareness of the one who seeks me."
Opposites dissolve at the center of the cross. In this crucified center, past and future, heaven and earth, I and Thou become One. Jesus kisses the thief. The kiss is imageless. And in the heart's awakened hollow, the thief finally knows the radiance of Christ.
It is duality itself that is crucified. "Remember me," said the dying thief, "when you come into your kingdom." But Jesus has already replied, "The kingdom of God is within you." (Luke 17:21)
Through the centuries, seekers have practiced remembrance of God in their daily work, trying to follow the injunction of St. Paul to "pray without ceasing." Likewise, the holy Qu'ran tells us to "remember Me and I will remember you": the Muslim invitation to practice ceaseless remembrance, or "Zikre." In every religion, devout seekers try to practice remembrance while walking, traveling, engaging in daily business. This is a heroic but exhausting effort...
Trying to remember God in the market place divides our mind. Both our prayer and our work are distracted, each by the other. We become weak at prayer, and weak in our business. How can we avoid such distraction as we attempt to remember God in the midst of activity?
In Augustine's words, God is "intimior intimo meo," deeper inside me than I am to myself. Remembering God does not mean wrenching our attention away from this place or this daily task, toward an other who is above. Prayer need not be a long distance call.
God is always already within, not as an other, but as our core of silence. We meet that silence not by praying, but by listening. Listening becomes what it hears. Who do we become when we listen to the silence at our core?
Prayer is deep listening to the Silence at the core of this moment, wherever we are, whatever we are doing. When I listen to the core, I dissolve in my own heart. I am crucified as a separate ego, a grasping thief. And God as an object is crucified beside me. There are no longer two. There is only the kingdom: a silent radiance in the center of my soul.
Even in the market place, I can open my heart to the present moment just as it is, fearlessly welcoming the chaos without resistance, without the rebellious desire to be elsewhere.
Let the storm of Now crash over me. At the center of the storm, the core is ever silent: what Eliot called, "the still point of the turning world." To dwell in my own heart is to dwell in the heart of the world.
At the most essential level, remembrance of God is not a relationship of I and Thou, but a relationship of I and Am. When I rest in core silence, this little I surrenders to the vastness of the divine Am.
To surrender is to dissolve. Bhakti and Vedanta, devotion and unity, are the same path. Thus the Sanskrit verse of the Ashtavakra Gita, "Layam vraja: Dissolve now." And thus the true meaning of "Islam": the infinitive of the verb "Salam," to surrender.
Our core silence is not a dreary void or a lack of vitality, but vibrant openness, ever deepening, ever expanding. The expansive nature of emptiness is the dynamic of bliss, "ananda."
Nor is our core silence an "out of body experience," but an infusion of energizing consciousness into each cell, each atom of flesh, awakening our sacred hollow places.
Hollow is the eye, the throat, the beating heart, the lungs and belly. Did you ever wonder why Creator left a hollow at the core of creatures and their vital organs? Why we've been carved into flutes, wounded with openings?
Is it not to remind us of the secret chamber in our chest, the holy stillness at the center of the dancing stars? This is where Creator dwells in all of us. I can always enter that holy place, not by escaping, but by resting more fully in who I Am.
"When you pray," said Jesus, "go into your secret chamber, close the door, and pray to your father in secret." (Mat 6:6) I pray "in secret" when I rest in my core silence. Christ's self-emptying on the cross (in Greek, his "kinosis"), removes his image from my thieving hand, so that I may discover his true likeness in the silence I Am.
His cross presents me with a radical choice: whether to worship God as idol or as spirit. By his crucifixion, Jesus calls me to renounce all dependence on religious forms. This means not only "idols of silver and gold," but images of thought, ideology, and belief - for they too are things.
The death of Jesus dissolves every icon into formlessness: the silence that was here before God said, "Let there be light." Yet his resurrection invites me into a wider expanse, a vastness I may only know by passing through the still point at the center of the cross: the ayin soph, the uncreated bindhu.
The center of the cross is not hidden or esoteric. It need not be sought. It is not to come in the future. Nor is it a salvific event in the past. The center of the cross is the kingdom of Presence.
Where else is there to go? "This very day, you shall be with Me in paradise."
Collage by Rashani Réa, from the book we did together called 'Shimmering Birthless.'