At least three of my clients last week were talking about the end of the world.
When the Circle Counseling therapists got together for their monthly meeting, I asked them if they had similar experiences. They not only had similar conversations with their clients, some of them personally sensed the same apocalyptic zeitgeist that worried them.
Our stories piled up until we had a lot of evidence that people feel the end of something is happening. I immediately thought the pile resembled R.E.M.’s dreamy nightmare song from 1987: It’s the End of the World As We know It (and I Feel Fine). Here are a few of the scenes in the nightmare I heard about:
- the hollowing out of Late Capitalism courtesy of consultants like McKinsey,
- everything global warming,
- the terrifying and tragic war between Israel and Hamas,
- a man with a combat weapon at large in Maine,
- a Trump-affirmed election denier elected Speaker of the House, and more
The powerlessness is palpable.
How do we help each other endure this time? Can we find faith, hope and love in it? Or are we doomed to throw off such niceties and just survive? The therapists did not answer all my questions. But I did come away with some inspiration to stay in a place I have been trying to remain, into which I invited a couple of clients when they were feeling overwhelmed: right now and forever.
Psychologically, it makes sense to stay in the present and work with what is in front of you, not living in regret about the past or in what ifs about the future. Spiritually, if we nurture our right-now relationship with God, we can live in a transcendent, eternal reality that fuels our hope in hard times and often creates possibilities for goodness to emerge from the most recent tragedies we experience.
The Transhistorical Body
I think my right-now-and-forever relationship with God includes being part of the transhistorical body of Christ that emerged with Jesus and is eternal. Even though the Church is getting tossed around by the zeitgeist, it is still the home for the hope of the world, it is still stationed in the hollowing out middle, and it is still a place where everyone can find relief and restoration.
When my former church became the end of the church as we knew it, my son and I retrieved some of our intellectual property before the web archives all died and reformed The Transhistorical Body website. Day by holy day, our collection of wonders will reinforce how Jesus has been present in every era and in all sorts of people bringing the hope of resurrection. [Here’s the link if you want to subscribe. It goes live with the All Saints Day triduum, October 31]
Living in right-now and forever with God in the transhistorical body of Christ brings freedom from being over-responsible for Russia’s takeover of Crimea and under-responsible for caring about the person in the elevator with you. Being part of the Transhistorical Body comforts us by reminding us how Jesus has found people in every era who follow him and make a difference, and it comforts us by reminding us we can’t possibly know or control just how creative God when times are scary.
I want to leave you with one example from the transhistorical body who might help explain why Mike Johnson is Speaker of the House (especially if that scares you) and why it is crucial to have a right now and forever relationship with God.
First, Mike Johnson
Speaker Johnson was born in 1972 to devout Evangelicals in Louisiana. Few people know a lot about him, yet. But I do know a lot about the church of his childhood, since I was there. It was obsessed with the end of the world. (Michael Stipe was born in 1960, raised as a Christian in a family full of Methodist ministers and says his song reflects that preoccupation). Apocalyptic movements often thrive in troubled times. Reactive groups look toward a golden age. They often follow a person they believe is God-ordained. If you want to get deeply into the weeds on this, read this fascinating paper by Paul Ziolo that traces occurances.
In Mike Johnson’s case, Trump is his leader (yes, people think he is ordained by God) and the golden age he longs for hearkens back to a time before godless people infected his beloved church with abortion and same-sex marriage — and before capitalism was regulated (how that gets in there still mystifies me).
Johnson’s goal as a child was to become a firefighter like his idolized father. His life changed forever when he was twelve and his father was permanently disabled while fighting a fire. His father could not save his (notably black) partner who died in the fire and spent the rest of his life running a foundation named in his memory. Johnson, the oldest child, took on a great deal of responsibility, became a lawyer, and became a leader among the lawyers who have been working to take back America for Jesus.
The ongoing influence of Joachim de Fiore
Strangely, I have found, Mike Johnson’s view of the world and the urgency he and his fellow election-deniers feel follows the path laid out by one of the most influential teachers you’ve never heard of: Joachim de Fiore. Fiore’s extremely influential prophetic writings in the 12th and 13th centuries reshaped European thinking and formed the basis for many subsequent reactions to the troubles of the world, right down to the cult of Trump. In Fiore’s case, the Church has been particularly transhistorical.
There is no way I can sum up the intricacies of Joachim’s thinking, which mainly interprets the Book of Revelation. But Lucas Coia gives us a good start on his groundbreaking theories which now seem very familiar:
Simply put, Fiore believed that the events recorded in the Old Testament prefigured those of the New, which in turn, predicted the future.
This was linked to Joachim’s famous tripartite division of history, with each epoch corresponding to a person of the Trinity. Thus, the Age (status) of the Father began with Adam, came to fruition with Abraham and ended with Christ, while the status of the Son began with King Uzziah of Judah, came to fruition with Zechariah—John the Baptist’s father—and was about to end in Joachim’s own time.
This last point accounts for the popularity of Fiore’s prophetic message. According to Joachim, the Age of the Holy Spirit, believed to have begun with Saint Benedict of Nursia, was soon to be fulfilled. In fact, this would occur in the year 1260. And people needed to prepare.
Why 1260? Well, Revelation 12:1-6 reads: “A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun … and (she) fled into the wilderness … so that there she can be nourished for one thousand two hundred sixty days.” Yes, it was that simple.
Fiore’s tripartite “tree” (above) is reproduced in all sorts of European programs for world improvement from then on. His approach to history infects almost everything, especially in the 20th Century when technological revolutions make enormous power possible and Eurocentric thinkers believe they can control the world.
- Hitler’s idea of the Third Reich directly reflects Fiore’s view of history.
- Marxists look to the withering away of capitalism and a golden age of communism.
- Jihadists, like Hamas, look to the defeat of infidels and the universal rule of Sharia law.
- Americans believe dictators will be defeated and they will make the world safe for democracy.
- Evangelicals look to bring in the second coming of Jesus by making the Gospel available to every people group.
- I still sing “this is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.”
Fiore’s patterns thoroughly infected thinking in Europe long before the 20th century. One example from Paul Ziolo illustrates:
During the 17th and 18th centuries — the ‘Age of Enlightenment’ — thinkers sought to redefine the ‘modern age’ and the core of their legacy is the still-current tendency to dismiss the past as an aberrant prelude to modernity, confining it within the straitjacket of ‘mainstream’ history teaching — the three epochs, Ancient, Medieval and Modern, with the last held equivalent to Joachim’s Third Status — the Age of Reason now, rather than the Age of the Spirit. For the French philosophes such as Voltaire, Montesquieu and Descartes, reared as they were within the Latin Catholic cultural ‘attractor’ and therefore closer to the psychological roots of the Joachimite program, the viri spirituales that were to supplant the clergy and catalyse the Age of Reason were philosophers. Yet the unconscious ties of these philosophes to their psychoreligious past became clear when Reason ‘herself’ was deified during the French Revolution — as an avatar of that vast, complex and hidden deity that is always the last resort of humanity in psychological crisis – the Great Mother.
Mike Johnson inherited an interesting mix of Joachimite and philosophical/scientific Christianity. He must have heard about the Seven Dispensations in the Bible and seen charts about the 3-7 Biblical Covenants so popular in Protestant churches. They look and feel like variations of Joachim de Fiore’s Three Ages/Status.
What to do with an unsettled age
His law training made Johnson a congenial legal scholar for the law of God, too. In 2002, he left his lawfirm to work with the Alliance Defense Fund, as it was then known. This Christian nonprofit, a conservative answer to the American Civil Liberties Union, has been at the leading edge of litigating high-profile cases contesting protections for abortion, contraception coverage and LGBT rights. His work was energized by miracle. He said, speaking about his father, burned over 80% of his body, “From a young age, I saw that prayer and faith are real, tangible things. I watched God work a miracle and save my father’s life.” That defining experience seems to have provided ongoing motivation to bring about a righteous age.
The rapid changes and troubles in the age of Joachim and Francis are strikingly similar to what Mike Johnson has experienced. Me too. I have a categorically different, Christian response contrary to Johnson’s, but it would be wrong to say I don’t share any of his hope for the age to come or don’t feel an obligation to bring about the fullness of the age of the church.
I am unsettled by the turmoil in the news and even more unsettled when my clients spill it into our sessions. It is tempting to be swept up into the zeitgeist which only needs a match or two to flame into hysterical, apocalyptic reactions similar to other outbursts we can easily see in history. Some of the reactions were astoundingly good, like the Beguine movement of the 13th-16th centuries. Some were horrifying, like Mao Zedong or Pol Pot purging their people to create socialist utopias free of the past. I think the latter kind of movement can be seen in what has been happening in many churches, both left and right leaning, since the pandemic launched the world into hysteria.
When Jesus taught his disciples about the troubles that lay ahead of them and the whole world (Luke 21), he gave them three instructions:
- Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.
- Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near.
- Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place and to stand before the Son of Man.
My response to my turmoil this morning had a bit to do with the words of Jesus.
- I took a step back and see the big picture: the transhistorical nature of the Lord’s work in the world which is much bigger than I could fully know. And I looked into the eternity spreading out before me, which is wondrous — right now and forever.
- Even more, I determined to let my anxieties go for a while and sink into the presence of the Holy Spirit, Jesus with me. In that green, leafing space I was reoriented, aware of being healed, and restored to a sense of well-being.
- I became more awake, shaking off the tiredness that accompanies the constant onslaught of powers too big to control. And I shook off the notion that my time was the most important one and my actions crucial to the world’s survival. I let my trust in God prevail.
I can’t say what happens to you when you pray and meditate, we’re all on our own road, but I became much more ready to love who was in front of me. My wife came back from an early appointment and said, “I am back.” I stopped typing, stood up, embraced her and said, “I love you. Please keep coming back.”
Perhaps Jesus says the same thing, “Please keep coming back.” Please be who you are and do what you can to love what is in front of you, yourself included. That love is always the first step on the road to deeper and farther, especially in times like these.