Tag Archives: Christianity

In the Hands of an “Angry” God

Is it a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God. Well, yes, according to the author of Hebrew 10:31 who some think was the Apostle Paul. But then I, as I am wont to do, must ask the question, “What does this mean?”

With this “literary license” that I employ here…as well as in real time very often…I take the liberty to suggest this interpretation, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the ‘hands’ of Life.” By this interpretation, I suggest that it is scary to suddenly become “alive” and to realize that until that point you have been largely “dead,” living life on automatic pilot. It is even scarier to suddenly realize that you spiritual life has been part of this “automatic pilot” , robot-like life in which everyday you basically asked of life to “wind me up and watch me be Christian” or whatever your spiritual persuasion may be. When this happens one is beginning to escape the clutches of the “letter of the law” that the Apostle Paul warned against.

And yes, life is scary. It is very frightening to suddenly realize, not just as an intellectual notion, but as a feeling in the depths of the heart what it means to be human. It is horrifying to suddenly no longer be able to hide behind/beneath the superficies of our existence….ideas, intense emotions, cultural contrivances (including “stuff”) and even out faith; for, in this moment of existential crisis we often have to embrace the superficiality of faith, realizing it has been “all about me.”

But though the pain can be intense, it can be a moment of redemption in which we discover the Grace that T. S. Eliot described as “a complete condition of simplicity costing not less than everything.” And Aesychlus’s reference to the “awful Grace of God” thousands of years ago reveals an ancient understanding of the ambiguity of an experience with our Source; for, there, standing naked before God (and often humankind) we can experience and embrace the Eternal juxtaposition of judgment and grace.

With a superficial reading of these thoughts it is easy to conclude that I see God as merely a label that we can apply to the life process itself and that, therefore, I don’t really believe in a God. Well, this is a complicated matter for I do believe in God but not in the “God” that I’ve hidden behind and escaped reality with most of my life. Here I am referring to a subjective experience that is available to all and when we get there we understand—cognitively, intuitively, and emotionally–that there is a transcendent dimension to live as well as an immanent one. Yes, God is “out there” in some sense but he is also “in here” in some sense which is what Paul had in mind with his declaration, “Nevertheless I live. Yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.”

Yes, it is complicated. But reality…that is life itself…a process so intrinsically complicated that to willfully simplify it so that it will fit into our preconceptions is very dishonest and…yes…very human. It is so much easier to avoid asking the essential questions of life that can lead is into the very depths of the human experience, that very same “condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything,” referred to earlier.

Here is a closing note from my dear friend and brother, W. H. Auden, “O blessed be bleak exposure on his sword we are pricked into coming alive.” That “sword” comes from “out there” beyond the “small bright circle of our consciousness beyond which lies the darkness.” (Conrad Aiken)

Advertisements

A Dalliance with Meaninglessness

My “church” yesterday was a discussion-group with some other retired people who are associated with the local Unitarian church. The announced topic for this occasion was, “How to find meaning in your life.”

Well, let me explain. This group was comprised of highly educated and successful men and women who were “imports” to Taos, New Mexico from various parts of the country. So it didn’t take but a few minutes for “literallew” to stir and want to announce with resolution and ardor, “Back to the bible! God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” Of course I didn’t as I too do not look at life through the narrow prism of conservative thought and see…and feel…the ambiguity inherent in life. For an hour and a half we sincerely and honestly shared re our struggles for meaning through the course of our lives, struggles which continue today. Initially “literallew” did feel the leering glare of meaningless and want to revert to “well-worn words and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the wilderness.” But as the discussion deepened, my spirits actually lifted as we wrestled in the morass of meaning/meaninglessness.

On the way home I mused with my wife about why this discussion had lifted my spirits. And it was readily apparent—I felt connection! I realized…and felt…that I was in the midst of other human beings who had, and still do, wrestle with the same doubts and fears that I do. And there is a “nakedness” that is apparent in moments like this but a very appropriate “nakedness,” simple acknowledgement of human doubts and fears. And it is this “nakedness” that ultimately unites us all. Beneath the surface of our “strutting and fretting,” beneath the veneer of civilization, we are vulnerable, fragile little boys and girls who hunger to know that we are not alone.

This discussion demonstrated “faith” as I now see and feel faith to be. Now certainly many of these people would not describe themselves as persons of faith and even more so, certainly not “Christian.” Faith is the word I wish to use to describe their courage to live their life purposefully when life often appears to her without purpose.

Here is a perspective on the matter from T. S. Eliot in his Four Quartets:

And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment.

“Judgment” vs “Judgmentalism”

In Shakespeare’s marvelous play, Hamlet, Laertes is grieving for his sister Ophelia who he then sees as demented and laments that she is, “Divided from herself and her fair judgment without which we are pictures are mere beasts.”
Shakespeare understood a dimension of judgment that is often not considered, that being that “judgment” is merely a decision or choice. For example, cultures always evolve a legal system in which miscreants stand before a judge or tribunal for some misdeed and there the community tells him/her, “We do not approve of the choice that you made on such and such occasion.” The collective thought reflects the decision of what is “good” and “bad” for the commonweal of that tribe. In this hypothetical illustration, a community makes a “choice” and exercises power, declaring, “we will not abide that behavior” and will then impose consequences even up to the point of death in some cultures. (This brings to mind another observation in the same play, “There is nothing good or bad but thinking makes it so.”)

But, on an individual level…such as with Ophelia…we also exercise judgment and make choices all of which have consequences. But Shakespeare noted that Ophelia’s judgment was impaired so that her world was rigidly bifurcated between people as “pictures” or “mere beasts.” He was describing persons who see people only through two prisms—the extreme of a one dimensional idealized fantasy such as a “picture” or the other extreme…also a fantasy…a “mere beast.” Shakespeare recognized that we are infinitely complicated creatures and that our perception of others has to include the nuances between the two extremes. Yes, we are “pictures” but also “beasts” but also everything in between. And, this same impairment of judgment influenced Ophelia on the issue of “to be, or not to be” leading to seize the “bare bodkin” and take her life.

This brings to my mind the Christian notion of judgment and “judgmentalism.” Many Christians are proud that they are not “judgmental” and will piously announce this fact. However, that itself is a judgment!  Judgment is intrinsic to the human experience and we cannot help but make judgments if we have any degree of functional ability; and, come to think about it, we do so even without that level of ability! True, Jesus said, “Judge not that ye be not judged” but I don’t think that He meant that we should be so naive as to think we never exercise judgment. Jesus was merely saying, “Hey! Sl;ow down. When you are so quick to see the mote in someone else’s eye, take pause and realize that there is a beam in your own eye.” Yes, there are many times when we must exercise judgment and take a stand but if we find that we are “taking a stand” and making moral pronouncements a lot of the time, we might take pause and look closely in the mirror. “What we see is what we are.” Just to exercise judgment does not make us “judgmental” but when we find ourselves standing in judgment often of others, we might take pause and consider that “What we see is what we are” I’m learning to do this myself and the experience is not very pretty!

A Van Gogh Observation about Christ

I think that Christians can learn a lot about their faith from people from outside of the fold, people who have not been “Christianized” into their faith much like a machine-line product. Those of us raised in a Christian culture have to be careful that our faith is not merely something that we have imbibed from the atmosphere of our life much like other parts of our identity—gender roles, political affiliation, affiliation with the “local sports team”, etc.

Now I am not at artist though I am married to one and have learned a lot from her as I have had to recognize and learn to live with someone who looks at the world differently than I do. She also brings a different perspective to my faith from time to time, not having been “Christianized” as I have been. And I receive weekly emails from another artist, Robert Genn, who also has interesting things to share about space which are often relevant to spirituality. Today I want to share with you an observation about Jesus made by Vincent Van Gogh which I found really interesting. He saw Jesus as an artist but an artist whose medium was the human spirit and life.

I can well understand that you were a trifle surprised to hear how little I liked the Bible, although I have often tried to study it more thoroughly. Only its kernel—Christ—seems to me, from an artistic point of view, to stand higher than, or at any rate to be somewhat different from Greek, Indian, Egyptian, and Persian antiquities, although these also stood on a very high plane. But, I repeat, this Christ is more of an artist than all artists—he worked in living spirits and bodies—he made men instead of statues.

(This quote shared by one of my favorite bloggers, a Quaker who lives in England, whose blog is titled, “Finding God in 365 Days”)

A Maya Angelou Prayer

Here is a prayer by Maya Angelou which I recently came across, demonstrating the “non-duality” approach to spirituality that I have come to appreciate.

 

Prayer
 
Father, Mother God,
Thank you for your presence
during the hard and mean days.
For then we have you to lean upon.
 
Thank you for your presence
during the bright and sunny days,
for then we can share that which we have
with those who have less.
 
And thank you for your presence
during the Holy Days, for then we are able
to celebrate you and our families
and our friends.
 
For those who have no voice,
we ask you to speak.
 
For those who feel unworthy,
we ask you to pour your love out
in waterfalls of tenderness.
 
For those who live in pain,
we ask you to bathe them
in the river of your healing.
 
For those who are lonely, we ask
you to keep them company.
 
For those who are depressed,
we ask you to shower upon them
the light of hope.
 
Dear Creator, You, the borderless
sea of substance, we ask you to give all the
world that which we need most — Peace.
 
— Maya Angelou

 

Paean to God’s Little Children

Last year I substitute taught in public schools with young children ages 5-8. I have noted here before how deeply moved I was by the experience, learning anew how precious and beautiful they are. These children were so very alive, not yet having been deadened by the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir too”…most of them anyway. (There were some who, sadly, had been deadened and it was horrible to see. Their “life” had been taken from them already, their spiritual vitality missing or depleted.)

The “life” present in these children, though, really galvanized the spiritual reawakening I have experienced the past few years. My “inner child” was stirred deeply by the innocence, vulnerability, neediness, and love of these children. And, I might add, these children loved me too which should be the highlight of my resume henceforth for there is no accomplishment of which I am more proud.

This experience made me often think of these words of Jesus regarding children, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17)” Jesus recognized in the children of his day the same qualities I noted in my classes last year, seeing that they trusted openly from the depths of their heart, not having learned to do otherwise. He was telling us that he wanted us to trust Him, our Source, just like these children were trusting. The trust that he had in mind was not a rational experience as much as one of the heart, not something that was carefully thought out, the conclusion of a research project of sorts. This trust was just a spontaneous flow from the depths of the heart.

And most of us have a hard time getting this “flow” underway as the “research project” method of faith that we were inculcated with is hard to shake. It sure has been for me and still is at it is an ongoing process. Getting the flow to going is a matter of being willing to peel off the layers of our social self, that contrivance of the ego, and get down to the core of who we are, to our “be-ing” itself. And, when we “be” we are going to have to entertain at some point the “Be-ing One” (as in Yahweh’s ‘I am that I am’) in some fashion, though our conception of the experience might be different; for, conceptions are culturally determined where as Being (the “Being One)” lies beyond the realm of conceptions and is, by the way, That which ultimately unites us all.

These thoughts were inspired by Richard Rohr again who continues to almost daily steal my ideas and never gives me credit for them! Damn him!

PEACE OF MIND IS A CONTRADICTION IN TERMS

“Beginner’s mind” is actually someone who’s not in their mind at all! They are people who can immediately experience the naked moment apart from filtering it through any mental categories. Such women and men are capable of simple presence to what is right in front of them without “thinking” about it too much. This must be what Jesus means by little children already being in the kingdom of God (Matthew 18:3-4). They don’t think much, they just experience the moment—good and bad. That teaching alone should have told us that Christianity was not supposed to be about believing doctrines and moralities. Children do not believe theologies or strive for moral certitudes. They respond vulnerably and openly to what is offered them moment by moment. This is pure presence, and is frankly much more demanding than securing ourselves with our judgments.

Presence cannot be easily defined. Presence can only be experienced. But I know this: True presence to someone or something allows them or it to change me and influence me—before I try to change them or it!

Beginner’s mind is pure presence to each moment before I label it, critique it, categorize it, exclude it, or judge it up or down. That is a whole new way of thinking and living. It is the only mind that has the power to actually reform religion.

Adapted from Beginner’s Mind (CD, DVD, MP3)

The Daily Meditations for 2013 are now available
in Fr. Richard’s new book Yes, And . . . .

Rumi Points Us to the Real!

This beautiful poem by Rumi illustrates what I see as a central message of Jesus. In my own words, Jesus’ ministry can be summed up with, “Hey, you guys and gals, you got it all wrong! You are taking for real that which is only temporary.” This was most clearly emphasized when he said in Matthew 6, “ Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. Earlier Plato had noted the same phenomena with his myth a man being chained in a cave in which he could only see the shadows of the world that was going on behind him outside the cave’s opening. He naturally took the shadows to be the real thing. I think it was C. S. Lewis who described this as “the sin of misplaced concreteness,” taking the ephemeral to be the real. Here, Rumi presents the notion with customary eloquence:

Thirst is angry with water. Hunger bitter
with bread.The cave wants nothing to do
with the sun. This is dumb, the self-
defeating way we’ve been. A gold mine
is calling us into its temple. Instead,
we bend and keep picking up rocks
from the ground. Every thing has a shine like gold,
but we should turn to the source!
The origin is what we truly are. I add a little
vinegar to the honey I give. The bite of scolding
makes ecstasy more familiar. But
look, fish, you’re already in the ocean:
just swimming there makes you friends
with glory. What are these grudges about?
You are Benjamin. Joseph has put a gold cup
in your grain sack and accused you of being
a thief. Now he draws you aside and says,
“You are my brother. I am a prayer. You’re
the amen.” We move in eternal regions, yet
worry about property here. This is the prayer
of each: You are the source of my life.
You separate essence from mud. You honor
my soul. You bring rivers from the
mountain springs. You brighten my eyes.
The wine you offer takes me out of myself
into the self we share. Doing that is religion.