Stretching toward the horizon

A friend of mine Pravir Malik has just published a book that reaches for the horizon of man’s knowledge and understanding of the world — The Flower Chronicles; A Radical Approach to Systems and Organizational Development. He is in good company. Others reach toward the same horizon — Ken Wilbur with his Integral Theory; Beatrice Bruteau and her Radical Option extending Teilhard de Chardin’s view of the cosmic Christ, and others.

This desire to reach toward the ultimate horizon of what we can know, to sum up and integrate what you yourself have learned over your life, is a manifestation of grace.  Rather than being a God who simply said “Let it be” at the Big Bang and lets the freedom of the universe and life and consciousness evolve to create reality,  the God of Jesus Christ enters into the ongoing struggle to become more, to learn what we are intended to be. We Christians call that entry the Incarnation of Jesus, and after his resurrection, the grace of the Holy Spirit. Others, like my friend Pravir, inspired and driven by the same grace, synthesize and tell the story of reality in their own cultural language.

Grace manifests itself in goodness and beauty. It is worth the effort to read Malik, Wilbur, Bruteau, Telihard and others because their insights about what we can see when we reach beyond our usual perspectives spark an “Ah!” in us that is a gift of grace.

 

Grace and the Pandemic

I had a conversation with Robyn my spiritual director about the pandemic, and all the suffering it is causing. I had “dissociated” myself and was treating the plight we are in objectively, analytically. I run a business helping people prepare their organisations to withstand the pandemic’s effects. But something was troubling me (grace was giving me a ‘nudge’) and I wanted to talk about it with her. She led me through a series of steps to get in touch with my hidden emotions, and two emerged from my depths.

The two emotions were love and fear. I realized how Robyn loved me at that moment. Here am I hurting and she was in touch with me, being with me, helping me help myself. In these days of “self-isolation” grace brings people together, perhaps in ways we wouldn’t ordinarily experience in normal circumstances. Grace is using the pandemic to teach us to love and open ourselves to the love of others.

The second emotion I uncovered was my fear — of suffocation.  I know that people in the critical stage of the COVID-19 disease experience an inability to breathe, and that frightened me. Why? Because I had experienced that as an asthmatic. But then Robyn helped me see that I could help myself — that frighted person within me — by gently placing my hand where the fear seemed to be located in my body. It was in my chest, affecting my breathing.  I then remembered how my own father had comforted me when I was a boy, sitting on my bed, putting his hand gently on my stomachache, helping the pain to go away. I put my hand on my chest and felt my breathing get easier and my fear of suffocation diminish and disappear. That memory of my father’s healing touch was a gift of grace. But that wasn’t the end of God’s gifts in this moment.

Robyn then brought Jesus into our conversation. The risen Jesus in whom we all reside. When I had sensed my own hidden fear, I was also sensing the fear of everyone around the world at this time, as the pandemic strikes. And, when I put my hand on my chest, over my own fear, and comforted myself, I was touching everyone in the body of Christ and comforting them. That was another gift of grace! This incredible global vision of how grace was at work through me, through all of us, in the midst of the pandemic gave me joy in that moment. I know now that when I put my hand on my chest to comfort myself, I am also comforting the world — that is the way heaven works.

“So you have pain now; but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” John 16:22

 

Easter 2016

Young woman in Brussels terror attackWhere is the risen Christ?

I look at the terrible faces and destruction in Brussels and ask this question.

Some would say, and I understand their pain, there is no God or Christ. Once again men acting in the name of religion have murdered innocent people. Both love and God are myths.

Others would say, Christ is there in the background in Brussels, giving solace to those in need. This is a common view: a reticent Christ who chooses to do nothing about such hideous crimes except mop up afterwards.

But what of Christ the all Mighty? Does he reserve his power until the end of time, and allow men to freely commit crimes that cry out to heaven? Is there no grace being poured into the awful reality of the Brussels Airport?

I must say that I cannot grasp — nor should I expect to — the diverse and subtle ways that the all Mighty Christ is at work in our world.

This Good Friday, as I puzzle over the incomprehensible power of the Cross, I pray for Christ the all Mighty God to heal the effects of evil in Brussels and across our broken world.

Grace is like a hungry cat

An old man, part of a group of mentally disadvantaged people, sat next to me on a bench as I was waiting for a ferry to take me across Sydney harbor to Mosman. I was eating a chocolate bar and offered him a piece. He held up a shaking hand and took it, hungrily. I ate a piece myself and gave him another. “This is your lucky day” I said to him, meaning the chocolate. But it actually was my lucky day. I was given a profound gift in that chance meeting, which is hard to describe. It was the insight that this small interaction had far more meaning than anything else I would experience that day. That it opened a portal into another dimension of living, one having little to do with my normal life. A far more important dimension, which I hadn’t noticed that day.

Why is grace so insistent?

Grace constantly nuzzles our consciousness, like a hungry cat. The Holy Spirit wants us to notice God’s presence and gifts, but we aren’t paying attention. When my cat Oscar gets tired of nuzzling me, sometimes he stands up on his hind legs and puts his front paws on my lap, or jumps up and puts his nose very close to my face, so I can’t ignor him. Grace is insistent like that, trying different ways, like marketing experts say, to “cut through” the noise and clutter that fills our life and blinds us to what is really happening, right in front of our nose. If we don’t see God’s presence and gifts, how can we fulfill God’s purpose? Our individual contribution to His Plan is critical to God and that’s why grace is so persistent.

 

The tyranny of certainty

CertaintySometimes there are ideas in society that are so prevalent that we cannot see them or their effects. One of these is the modern certainty that human knowledge defines the scope of what can be known. Eric Voegelin in Science, Politics and Gnosticism traces this idea back to the so-called ‘enlightenment.’ He quotes Neitzche and Marx among others to illustrate the origins of our modern refusal to ask questions outside the limits of modern science.

  • Nietzsche speaks of a “fundamental will of the spirit” which wants to feel itself master. The spirit’s will to mastery is served in the first place by “a suddenly erupting resolve for ignorance, for arbitrary occlusion . . . a kind of defensive stand against much that is knowable.” [1]
  • Marx says, in the same vein: “All of so-called world history is nothing but the production of man by human labor. The purpose of this (Marx’s) speculation is to shut off the process of being from transcendent being and have man create himself.”

To simplify, this idea can be summarized as if man can’t understand trancendence or God, it’s useless to speculate about such things. This position, of course, ignors the Greek philosophers as well as Christian theologians and thinkers who started with being as a whole and reasoned based on its existence. Neitzche and Marx and many others threw out the baby with the bathwater (There is no reality other than what science can validate) because it didn’t serve their purposes. As Voegelin says, “There has emerged a phenomenon unknown to antiquity that permeates our modern societies so completely that its ubiquity scarcely leaves us any room to see it at all: the prohibition of questioning. . . We are confronted here with persons who know that, and why, their opinions cannot stand up under critical analysis and who therefore make the prohibition of the examination of their premises part of their dogma.” This especially apllies to science and its philosophical foundations.

Questioning and indifference

Why do some people refuse to examine their ideas? One reason is that their idea may be wrong; too much in their life would have to be rethought if their idea was shown to be wrong. Another, harder to see reason is that we live today in a ‘culture of indifference’ where one idea is as good as another. So what if my idea is wrong; it’s as good as yours. You can see this in the ideas that some people post on Facebook. Here are a few examples:

  • “Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways – Jack Daniels in one hand – chocolate in the other – body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming “holy Shit, what a ride!!” [A variation of the epicurean idea “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die.”]
  • “Be who you really are, do not change for anyone, and always always dream big enough to achieve.” [Life is about dreaming the future that we want for ourselves and then achieving that future.]
  • “Thoughts lead to purposes, purposes go forth in actions, actions form habits, habits decide character; and character fixes our destiny.” [We create ourselves through our thoughts, and that’s it.]

You may feel some of these statements make sense, but try asking, “How does the person who made this statement know it’s true?” Or better yet, “Where is God and his grace in this statement?” Why do people make such statements?

If we don’t have some certainty in our life then the ambiguity becomes intolerable. So we create that certainty for ourselves, alone or as part of a community. Even Christians. We rarely ask, If a person believes that the Bible is not the revealed word of God, what would it mean to be a Christian for such a person?  But Paul raises exactly that point and answers his own question: “What then are we to say about such things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhhold his own Son, but gave him up for all , will he not with him give us everything else?” [Romans 8:31-32] Our faith rests on revelation and our experience of Jesus as God or it rests on nothing. Paul knew we would have such questions because we are human. In fact questions are the usual way our faith is developed. To have no questions is not human. Certainty is not the normal human state and is tyrannical because it leads us nowhere. Jesus anticipated that common human situation and showed us the way forward.

Jesus wished to spark questions

One very obvious thing about Jesus is that his actions were ambiguous. He hid who he was from everyone except his disciples — and even they didn’t clearly understand that Jesus was God until after the resurrection. His life invited questions. “Who do men say that  I am?” Who do you say I am?”  Even when he performed miracles, people were confused, even his disciples. Speaking  of the miracle of feeding 5000 men, Jesus asked his disciples, “Do you not yet understand?” — and they didn’t. [Matthew 8:21] Jesus could have easily just told them directly that he was God yet he didn’t. We can speculate why he acted liked this but it is obvious that he wished men to ask questions.

As Christians, when we encounter people who have fixed ideas (certainty) about how life ought to be lived — even other Christians — ought we not to spark some doubt, and a consequent search for new ideas  and a fuller understanding of what life is all about in that person?

 

[1] Voegelin, Eric (2012-03-27). Science, Politics and Gnosticism: Two Essays (Kindle Locations 430-431). Regnery Publishing. Kindle Edition.