Book review by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy
Robert Thiefels has written a thoughtful and valuable book about consciousness as it pertains to the Christian faith journey. In Standing in the Midst of Grace: Essays on Living in Christ Consciousness, he invites us to look beyond the Jesus we have created in our own image and see the unfolding Christ Who loves us into full participation with an evolving universe.
We human beings suffer from the narrow view. A judgmental and transactional approach to life has limited our field of vision, and we keep looping through inadequate solutions conceived in a framework of consciousness that Thiefels believes is no longer viable for our survival. The Christian response to this dilemma is what St. Paul advises: Let go of the egoic self, with its dualistic, exclusionary orientation, and put on the mind of Christ. See the world as Jesus did and relate to in like manner. Thiefels calls this level of awareness “Christ consciousness.” It is, for him, the life-giving seedbed of true change.
“How can we create a better world if we cannot imagine one?” he asks. “And how can we imagine such a world except from a different vantage point than the one we now inhabit? We must be transformed.”
A retired social worker and adjunct professor of theology and religious studies, Thiefels began his study of consciousness more than thirty years ago. This book represents a compilation of his years of inquiry. Seven essays explore how a change in consciousness – a waking up to the Christ Who infuses all of reality – might transform our understanding of God, inspire new structures in our churches, alter our allegiances, and deepen our interpretation of Scripture. Two are formatted as if for a parish study guide with bullet points summing up main points. One includes ruminations in response to the writings of theologian Walter Brueggemann. The uneven-ness in style does not negate the richness of thought presented.
Thiefels aligns with today’s evolutionary theologians who are synthesizing the revelations of science with the revelations of Scripture. Theirs is a deeply optimistic theology, one that includes everything. “Another name for Christ consciousness,” he writes, “is unity consciousness.” Here is the mystic’s view. God not as exacting judge, but as the ground of all being, infusing every atom and cell with love.
Some might find such an inclusionary stance unsettlingly open-ended, (Don’t we need judgment?), but Thiefels encourages us to mature in our Christianity. Centering prayer, a contemplative study of Scriptures are among some of the practices that can help us put on the mind of Christ which is ultimately becoming what we already are. God-bearers. What a grace to encounter this book in this time of fractures, when states, like famine-ridden Yemen, endure a de-civilization, and our own homeland appears to come apart at the seams. To read of God constantly, continually loving the world into wholeness lessened my fear and energized my faith.
Claire Schaeffer-Duffy and her family at Therese-Francis Catholic Worker in Worcester have been family to us at Agape for over thirty years.
To order book: from Barnes and Noble online, or from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.