Saturday, December 09, 2006

Finding God where (s)he shouldn't belong


I wonder what the homecoming of the human spirit will look like? Will it be like, as Father O’Donohue describes:
‘As stillness in stone to silence is wed
As a river flows in ideal sequence
As the moon absolves the dark of distance
As the breath of light awakens colour
As spring rain softens the earth with surprise
As the ocean dreams to the joy of the dance
As clay anchors a tree in light and wind
As twilight fills night with bright horizons
May beauty await you at home beyond.'

I’ve been trying to get my head round the Almighty, we’ve had a bit of a week together, my conversations (actually rants) have mirrored President Bartlett’s heated interaction with the Divine at Mrs Langenham’s(?!) funeral. And after all our altercations this week the only conclusion my thoughts have given me is that the more I know the less I understand. Life, with all its concurrent struggles and painful beauty, has brought me to the point where all the things I thought I knew I am now having to learn again. In the long run (and the long run is all there is), when everything is said and done, James was right; by their fruit shall we know the truthful ones. Shaped by the practice of church culture it just may be that I (and I don’t think I’m alone) have limited the context of the road to God. What do I mean by that? I mean that we have made God way too small.

Mystery is something sadly lacking in Western Christian spirituality, sure there are pockets of it, but they are pockets at best. Put bluntly the church’s response to Modernity put pay to that. We became the finest example of a culture preoccupied with answers rather than one who would embrace questions and mystery, and I would propose this is one of the major reasons as to why many people in the post-modern, post-Christian West struggle to connect with our Institution, and so consequently God.

For instance, where do we invest our love, passion and energy? Very few of us really go to the margins – the edge – partly due to the fear of what we will find, or because we are so conditioned that these are not the kind of landscapes that good Christian folk should be traversing. So often we are not looking. So often we are taught not to look, and because of that we become convinced that it is wrong to look. Unfortunately this is rather indicative of the lack of any mysterious, creative, imaginative, incarnate and relational connection that may possibly exist with those perceived to be outside the ‘chosen few’.

In reality we fail so often to authentically allow God’s presence in many a marginalised person’s world. Examples of this are littered in the Scriptures. I will vindicate my statement with the example of Peter. His reluctance to partake of specific foods was consistent with the Jewish tradition of holiness. This grew from a separatist approach to piety – that which divided, in church speak, the clean from the unclean. Here was a man who has followed the Christ in a way beyond even my imagination – but who didn’t realise the implications of the message of this same Christ until he met Cornelius.

For what it’s worth the Western church (all denominations included) needs to rediscover the mystery of what it means to be a friend of tax collectors, prostitutes, and drunkards. This will be messy and will not happen without a certain degree of theological tension. True holiness, real passion for humanity should not keep us from the margins of mystery – rather it should drive us into them - saturated in the faith of the one we follow. For within the margins we find God very much alive in places many of us would say (s)he doesn’t belong.

It seems to me that God is more involved in the love of humanity than the maintenance of an institution, and, as my friend Stocki says, ‘some may think this is blasphemy, but I believe it to be true. God lies here beside you in the gutter, while grace, like a mother, holds you.’

24 comments:

Awareness said...

The mysterious love of humanity...the reaching out to the unloved and unwashed.....to the disenfranchised and the sinners and the people deemed evil in our eyes......

Mystery.....the ominpresence of a larger God who encompasses all, who accepts, guides, sits by the side of the person in the gutter.....

Your post as usual Paul conjures up many ideas and thoughts for me. I'm struck by the poem and by the fact that we are all a bunch of navel gazers who are looking too deeply for answers....... instead of embracing a larger universe of mystery. Last night while driving in the dark with my two children. We were dumbstruck by the moon...sitting low on the horizon and seeming larger than real....a pale yellow, not quite full but abundant in its distinction. It seemed surreal.

The scene and the fact that driving at night often leads to existential discussions even with kids, opened up the need to talk about the mystery of the vastness of our universe........and how scary it is to consider that our sky goes on and on to infinity. It's just too big to ponder.........but ponder my kids did. My son tried to comfort his big sister by telling her he believed that it was infinite...that one the other side of the universe was heaven.....a good safe place where our souls travel to, where we will be away from the harsh realiities of our world...no evil will lurk there.

De Mello writes about the fact that we don't want anymore God talk. What we are searching for is the mystery of experiencing God. There are no words to describe HIm, though we try our darndest to capture Him in a cage for viewing......His mystery intrigues me.......His presence inspires me. It was this realization, thanks in part to Anthony De Mello's writings that opened up my interest in religion again........the sides of the box were knocked down.........my thinking expanded.

Excellent post. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts.

mich said...

Thank you, for reminding me again of the testimony:
"that there is 'that of God' in all people"

mister tumnus said...

i like the stocki quote. haven't heard that one before and wonder if it's true. if it is (s)he's keeping pretty quiet. but i guess time will tell. sometimes the questioning is exhausting and it would be good to have a hint of ok-ness around the corner. for the meantime it is no exaggeration that it is blogs like this one/people like you who help us guttersnipes to dare to lift our head to the stars from time to time. cheers CS.

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

Dana
There a whole pile of stuff competeing for position to come out on paper - this stuff won this weeks battle

i have always been drawn to the disenfranchised, those who respectable people won't go near - a bit like the kid in 'keeping the faith' who takes coffee to the local prostitutes

my boy samuel loves the moon too - he calls it la luna

I like what de Mello says, 'that we don't want anymore God talk. What we are searching for is the mystery of experiencing God.' i really haven't read much, i will remedy that - any suggestions?

Mich,
i need to be reminded to - we too easily make judgements on who is 'in' or 'out', who is righteous who is sinner - we are all 'all'these things - for we are ALL born in the image of the divine, and i think that as soon as we lose our compassion we lose any claim to part of that divinity

hey cs
i know, it's hard to know someone has their arms round you in the gutter, but no matter how it feels something deep within me still believes those arms are there...
ps, i slept with the father last night!!!! Quite a confession i know - bloody hell he snores.
salutations

Awareness said...

Hi Paul

La luna........I like that.

Don't you LOVE it when many thoughts compete?? The unravelling of convoluted and interconnected ideas........yummy. I have a few competing for my attention as well....one that includes a wonderful quote by CS Lewis.....I've been clutching onto for a couple of weeks now. Sometimes things need stewing on the back burner to soak up the goodness first.......

I too have always been drawn to the same individuals as you.... even as an adolescent I would find myself engrossed in conversations with street people who spent their days at Union Station in Toronto for example. I would never have predicted that I would find myself in the career I am in.......but hindsight has allowed me to realize it was truly meant to be. Much I could write on this...... and will continue to......

My reading recommendation? The book "Awareness." there are others, but this is the one I was referring to... De Mello passed away quite a while ago. this book was written in the 80's......a kindred lent me the book to read, though I think you could probably order it online.

:)

mister tumnus said...

seems like you two lay awake listening to each other snoring. sweet really....

Niki said...

I've been thinking all day...about what a mess I'm in. I can't run away from it anymore - there's nowhere left. So stay I shall and try to unravel the questions before I go anywhere near the answers...

...and all that after a night with a free bar in Laska

Mata H said...

Well, wherever you are there are bound to be Jesuits. They are grand fellows. The Jesuits see it as part of their ministry to provide contemplative space to those who require it "for the peace of their soul". They offer (usually for whatever you can manage to pay) both guided and unguided retreats. Jesuits are very savvy to the relationship of faith and social action, and are deeply part of the mystical tradition. Retreats (at least here) are not limited to Catholics. And they are silent retreats. I think a 3 day huided retreat might be great for your soul. Think about it, ok?

Mata H said...

guided retreat...(not huided)

Mog said...

Hey Paul... good to continue reading your missives. Hope things are alright in the in-between-land you're in lately, and that Christmas finds you at ease, generous and celebrating. Sorry to miss you in Belfast the other week... next time... Pádraig.

Mr. Althouse said...

I mean that we have made God way too small.

That is profound. I believe that you're on to something there. I am fortunate, I guess, to never had any formal religious upbringing. I am not Christian or Jew, although I have parents that hail from each. I was atheist for a very long time.

As a result, I was able to formulate a God of my understanding. My belief is based on a little of this and a little of that and a lot of experience. With all that thrown into the mix, my understanding, as I understand it, is minuscule at best. There is much I don't know, nor will I ever. The journey, however, is in the discover... and the mystery.

Mike

Gabrielle Eden said...

That which is enshrouded in mystery is too scary. Why don't miracles happen in the west as they do elsewhere? Because westerners want man-made solutions, and can't stretch their imaginations for the almighty to come in.

Mr. Althouse said...

Merry Christmas, Paul

Mike

a m y said...

this image, and the quote at the end from your friend is absolutely lovely. it evokes so many deep emotions regarding my own faith and beliefs and such. thanks for sharing.

did you take that photo? where, if i may ask?

Mata H said...

Let us hear from you -- it has been too long.
--Mata

Suzanna said...

any wind for the sail yet?
I like that new Paul Simon too.
("once upon a time there was an ocean")

BJ said...

I love the idea of messy Christians. I actually just blogged about it on my site if you want to take a look. I love your thoughts here and couldn't agree more that we have to venture out, as Jesus did, to truly love others. Bless you!

Mr. Althouse said...

Happy New Year, Paul!

Mike

Ive said...

Paul - I met you at Greenbelt, in the beer tent with Pip and then continually at the talks sales - things have been really tough this year and I find myself coming your blog on a regular basis - `i love the pictures they inspire and touch me and on days like today when reading requires to much the pictures speak to me - many thanks

Niki said...

Just a quick drop-in. Wondering where you are? I hope you are well.

marko said...

paul -- would you shoot me an email? i seem to have lost your contact info now that you've left the center.

Julie said...

Hi Paul

Can you email me as I've mailed you but not sure you have the same address now.

Bless u

Julie

Society's Elite said...

"Life, with all its concurrent struggles and painful beauty, has brought me to the point where all the things I thought I knew I am now having to learn again."

You just described where I'm at too. Awesome post man....

The Harbour of Ourselves said...

to all who have sent kind words, my heartfelt thanks goes back to you all

to those who i owe a long overdue email explaining a few things - i will try and get round to it over the next few days...