Monday, July 8, 2013

Preface to The Christian Interpretation of the I Ching

I Ching Stones

This blog is a preface to a book I have been working on for several years, a Christian Interpretation of the I Ching. Eventually I plan to make much of this book available on this web site. Some of it already is under the CIIC tab. Feel free to browse.
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The I Ching is an ancient book of Chinese wisdom. It is considered one of the hundred most influential books of all time. The I Ching shows us how every situation we might face can be understood in terms of ancient situational archetypes that have been known and studied for thousands of years.

As understood by contemporary Christianity, the I Ching is a discernment tool that allows us to better understand (discern) God’s will within the context of specific situations. We ask the questions. We receive God’s wisdom through the I Ching.

There is a strong relationship between the universal metaphors that are expressed in dreams and the sixty-four situational archetypes that are expressed in the I Ching. It is no wonder, then, that Carl Jung, who wrote so powerfully about the metaphors and meaning of dreams would be so fascinated by the I Ching.

Jung discovered the I Ching in his mid-twenties and studied it for the next sixty years.  In his autobiography, he describes his first encounter with The I Ching and the subsequent incorporation of it into his practice.

During the whole of those summer holidays I was preoccupied with the question: Are the I Ching’s answers meaningful or not? If they are, how does the connection between the psychic and the physical sequence of events come about? Time and again I encountered amazing coincidences which seemed to suggest the idea of an acausal parallelism (a synchronicity, as I later called it). So fascinated was I by these experiments that I altogether forgot to take notes, which I afterward greatly regretted. Later, however, when I often used to carry out the experiment with my patients, it became quite clear that a significant number of answers did indeed hit the mark.

This book is an introduction to the I Ching for Christians. The book is in two halves. The first half lays the Christian theological foundation for discernment tools in general and the I Ching in particular. It also describes the process of dialoging with God through the I Ching. The second half is a Christian reinterpretation of the sixty-four situational archetypes that make up the I Ching.

Why do we need a “Christian reinterpretation” of the I Ching? The I Ching is not easily approachable by modern Christians. The images are difficult to understand. The language is archaic. There are frequent references to historic Chinese events that are not part of our cultural awareness. The discussion is often sexist. Layered on all of this is a Christian distrust of anything that promises a mystical connection with the Divine.

As I started thinking about this book, I knew I wanted to present the I Ching in a way that would make its profound wisdom accessible to Christians. How could I do this? Should I explain each of the archaic images? Describe what the ancient language means? Rationalize the sexism? One night, I had a dream.

I am in my church. It is the time in the service for Eucharist, the ritualistic receiving of Christ as spiritual nourishment in the form of bread and wine. I approach the Altar with others and we kneel to receive the Eucharist. But instead of being served bread, we are each served a hexagram (a pictographic representation of one of the archetypes of the I Ching.) We eat the hexagrams just as we would have eaten the bread. My hexagram has a taste that is beyond description. It seems to melt in my mouth and has the sweetness of honey. It leaves me feeling completely satisfied. The others around me are having similar experiences.

I believe this dream has two meanings. First, that Christ is present in the hexagrams as Christ is present in the Eucharist. And second, that while the I Ching has tremendous nourishment to offer Christianity, that nourishment will be accepted only if it is presented within the context of Christianity. Of course, I wanted to hold onto the inspiring wisdom of the I Ching. But rather than use images and metaphors that spoke to Chinese literati three thousand years ago, I would use analogous images and metaphors taken from The Bible today.  I would replace the archaic and sexist language of ancient China with modern and inclusive language from contemporary Christianity.

None of this is changing the core of the I Ching. The core of the I Ching is the sixty-four situational archetypes that lie beneath the words. The challenge is to modernize the words and still reflect the essence of the archetypes. These archetypes are as alive and rich today as they were ninety years ago when Jung sat marveling over the dialogue unfolding before him or two thousand years before that when Confucius sat huddled by his lantern studying that same rich store of wisdom than even then was ancient and venerable.

Have I chosen the right approach to introducing Christians to the I Ching? Soon after beginning this book I had a validating experience in the form of what Jung would call a “synchronicity." A synchronicity is an apparently random event that seems somehow closely connected to a situation in which we are involved.

I am at a restaurant with my friend Judy. I am describing my idea for The Christian I Ching. I have told her about my dream. I am excited about how the work is progressing. I am giving her an overview of the situational archetypes and how they can be understood within contemporary Christian theology. When I finish, Judy has something she wants to show me. She has the book Natural Spirituality: Recovering the Wisdom Tradition in Christianity by Joyce Rockwood Hudson. It is a book that will be used in a class Judy and I will soon be taking together. We have just received the book and we thought we would take a look at it over dinner. As Judy hands me the book, it drops to the table in an open position. I look at the page the book has opened itself to. It is Appendix B, a single page overview of The I Ching.

My dream and my synchronicity event were validated by yet another event: The I Ching itself. When I asked God through the I Ching to offer advice on this project, the response was strongly positive. I can’t describe the response until I explain more about the I Ching, but I will come back to this response in Chapter Four.

My point here is that dream analysis, synchronicity awareness, and I Ching dialoguing are strongly synergistic. This is because, in the language of Jung, they are all windows into the same collective unconscious, that mystical zone in which our individual identities dissolve and “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female” and in which we are all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28)

This makes The Christian I Ching a natural companion to spiritual dream analysis. You are likely to find your I Ching dialogues shedding light on your dreams and your dreams helping to clarify your I Ching dialogues. And as you start paying closer attention, you are likely to find both echoed in the “random” events that perhaps aren’t so random after all.

Reclaiming God’s Wisdom is important for more than just the individual, it may be critical for our collective survival. Virtually all of the problems of the world can be traced back to the idolization of Self at the expense of God. This is the underlying message of the Garden of Eden story in the Hebrew Bible. We no longer look to God to define right from wrong; we look to ourselves. We think we know good from evil. But our judgments are all distorted by the lens of Ego.

Ego is a poor substitute for God. God tells us to feed the hungry; Ego tells us to feed ourselves. God tells us to care for the Earth; Ego tells us to plunder the planet. God tells us that all people are God’s beloved children; Ego tells us our own tribe (or race or sex or religion or country) is exalted beyond all others.

The world desperately needs a path back to God’s Wisdom. Our own journey to wholeness depends on finding this path. And yet, this path is not hidden, it is right there, waiting for us. God’s Wisdom is incarnate in the nature, dreams, and events around us. We just need to open our hearts to receive this Wisdom. The Christian I Ching is a tool that can nurture this process.

The Christian I Ching opens up a rich and ancient source of Wisdom to the contemporary Christian. It presents an opportunity to discern God’s will with respect to specific issues. It opens the possibility of a new kind of relationship with God, one in which God’s call is not just a theoretical hypothesis but an everyday reality.  This book is your invitation to hear and to follow that call.

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This page and the entire Christian Interpretation of the I Ching is copyright (c) 2013 by Roger Sessions. All rights are reserved. This material may not be copied or republished without permission.