testing the waters once more….

Dipping my feet back into the water with spirituality with “The Bhagavad Gita.”

I am fulfilled. the elements of nature, the body and senses, what are they to me? or the mind? what is emptiness or despair?

I am boundless space. the world is a clay pot. this is the truth. there is nothing to accept. nothing to reject, nothing to dissolve.

know you are one, pure awareness.  with the fire of this conviction burn down the forest of ignorance.  free yourself from sorrow and be happy.

you are always the same, unfathomable awareness, limitless and free, serene and unperturbed.  desire only your own awareness.

the ultimate consciousness is always present everywhere. it is always present everywhere. it is beyond space and time with not before or after.  it is undesirable and obvious. so what can be said about it? you are it.

the birth and dissolution of the cosmos itself takes place in me. there is nothing that exists separate me.  the entire universe is suspended from me as my necklace of jewels.

Water for my soul….

Thoughts from the Hassadim…

God is both Person and Nonperson for the Hasid. God becomes Person by assuming intellect and emotions in order to become known to man. However, that is NOT God per say, but an emmanation of God.  God is Absolute and unrelating Infinite (Ain Sof) before the contradiction of God’s Light, or what is known. God’s Light is and is not identical with Ain Sof, just as the sunlight is and is not identical with the Sun. In the lower worlds, in “creation” God’s Presence is Shekhinah. Shekhinah is personified as the Divine Spouce, our Divine Mother, who is in exile. The Shekhinah is held prisoner in innumerable little sparks, awaiting redemption in our hands….–Wrapped in Holy Flames: Teachings of the Hasidic Masters

The Problem of Pain

This afternoon one of my co-workers stood in my office sobbing.  Every few seconds she would catch her breath, sort of gaining composure, only to drift back into tears.  She poured out, between the bursts of sniffles, her gutwrenching story of an inexplicable break up.  The boy she loved claimed to no longer love, or even worse, no longer to need her.  It was actually more complicated than that really.  I suppose it always is.  As she neared the end of her story, she asked candidly, “What do I do?” 

Ugh.

And what do I say? My mind is a perfect blank slate.  I just sort of stammered something already obvious and then offered a hug.  What’s amazing about that encounter is that I see it happen often enough.  All of our high flying talk about “the cross” and “suffering” and “love” and “the impossible” and “miracles” and “resurrection” and “choice” disappear in the face of pain. The problem of pain for me isn’t the inability to explain its existence. The problem of pain is simply knowing how to love the person who doesn’t NEED the explanation. While we can glibly say that the hug is enough, and it may be for some, there is still the expectant look on the other’s face waiting for the words that will irrevocably release them.

I have no such Word.
While I can say something pious such as “God sees when even the smallest of sparrow’s falls to the ground,” the inevitable response is simply that the sparrow still falls…now what?

It’s then that I’m left with saying the most honest thing imaginable, “I don’t know what to say.

The Impossible Now–Part Four

This is the final installment of an introductory position paper I’m calling “The Impossible Now” or “Towards a Theology of the Impossible.”  There are three previous parts.  You can find them here, here, and here.  In this final installment I talk about “the religious question.”  Cheers!

…The im/possible is refusing, as it always does, to be pinned down and become a part of someone’s strategic planning. It will always retreat from our view, from our expectation, from our massaging of what is possible, and back into the realm of the unexpected and truly unimaginable….

The Event of the im/possible cannot be prepared for and at the same time cannot be depended on. These are horrible words to hear for strategic planning! How then do we live with such (non)knowledge? If authenticity, imagination and experiment are the tools that we shape the relative future with, what are the tools we use to embrace the wildcard future—the im/possible? What can we possibly do or say or prepare in reference to something that lies so completely out of our ability to do or say or prepare for? It is for this place, this absurd, unexpected, undeterminable place that a different set of internal reservoirs are needed. Religion, good religion, seeks to address this sort of question.

Having done all to encounter the present in a meaningful way, we are still often left with seemingly meaningless events that continually take us by surprise, disturbing our best laid plans. This realization is, at its highest, a religious experience. It doesn’t require belief in a Personal Origin, or First Cause. But it does require something of us. That much is certain. The “what” is actually rather well-known. The attributes I’m going to mention are in many ways universals. They’re what philosopher’s might call “un-deconstructables,” in that they are ideals—almost always un-fully-realized urges that keep us reaching toward them. The most famous of Jesus’ early followers, the apostle Paul, said it best, in my opinion, “…in the end, these three things remain: faith, hope, and love. The greatest of these is love.”

This simple three word formula provides the basis for the intersection between the im/possible and the real. Faith isn’t so much a mental adherence to theoretical propositions about the nature of truth, but rather living today in the light of the future as it should be. Faith sees the idealized Peaceful Tomorrow, the future where swords have been beaten into plowshares, and tanks made into tractors, and determines to live peaceably today, even while the world is filled with wars and rumors of wars. Faith is an active, aggressive leap forward toward the Good, the Just, and the Best in spite of evidence contrary. Faith is an investment in particularity and locality, refusing to be theoretical and (merely) universal. Faith is always personal, though hardly private.

Hope isn’t the spindly sickly stuff of fantasy; it’s longing contentment. Hope sees the possibility of renewal and resurrection where others see lifelessness or death. Hope believes in commonality, compassion and a desire for connection with the Other where fear informs us that only Strangers and Monsters await on the other side of the unknown.

And love…Love is the greatest of these. Even faith and hope must give way before love. What can be said of love? Those who have known both Love and God have said that God is Love. If God can be spoken of and said to be anything at all, God is spoken of as and said to be Love. The substance of the divine is bound up in love. Concrete love. Active love. Visible, tangible, touchable love. Love, which covers a multitude of sins. Love which walks the extra mile. Love which gives up the second coat. Love which willingly lays down its life for another, for the Other. Love, of whom we may sing a thousand songs.

Our deep need to account for the unaccounted for, forces us to build up, to work on, a different skill set entirely. The things that are simply cannot prepare us for the things that are not. For those sorts of im/possible occurrences we must draw on the deep fountains that lurk at the corner of our being, not quite yet realized, still in formation, and dependent on some previously unforeseen happening to unleash their potential in our lives. In some strange way, these too, carry the stamp of Artistry. Art, in all of its forms, somehow allows to us to look upon, and hint at, those things which we cannot view in a straightforward way. Artistry gives birth to the Encounter of im/possibility which we are able to meet with arms open, acting out of faith, hope, and love.

Who do I love…

Augustine’s question, “who do I love when I say I love my God?” is an apt one.  It’s honest.  For all of our highly articulated dogma’s or “namings” we must acknowledge, in the end, that a question mark lingers with the person of God.  The face of God, unrevealed to Moses, is still no more revealed to us.  A hazy gauze lingers there, and a promise that one day “we will know even as we are presently known.”  In other words, the “event” of God–the experience–is still a Mystery (something known but not understood).  While we have many names for this underlying event (and it takes all of them to even begin to touch the event they house), no one of them takes the cake, so to speak.

But my point isn’t that we shouldn’t attempt to give name, or honor the particularity of names (such as Jesus).  Like the writer of the gospel of John, I think it would take all the words in the human language, and fill all the books ever written, to describe the presence of God.  No, I think part of what we must do is labor to give birth to better and higher articulations.  My feeling is that we must exhaust every available resource in the knowing of God in order to fall backwards into enjoyment; tossing our hands up and proclaiming, “this is a mystery.” 

So I search for better names and better namings. Last night I came across a simply beautiful phrasing of “the event of God.”  I was really blown away by it.  I think this most clearly articulates my current understanding of who God is and how we interact with Godself.  It’s from a book I’ve been reading called, “The Sparrow“.  This is a lovely novel. I can almost guarentee it will make my top 2009 list.  Amazing.  If you haven’t read it, please consider doing so.  Anyhow, here is the part I was drawn to, a working definition of who I love when I say “I love you my God”:

There are times…when we are in the midst of life–moments of confrontation with birth or death, or moments of beauty when nature or love is fully revealed, or moments of terrible loneliness–times when a holy and awesome awareness comes upon us.  It may come as deep inner stillness or a rush of overflowing emotion.  It may seem to come from beyond us, without any provocation, or from within us, evoked by music or a sleeping child.  If we open our hearts at such moments, creation reveals itself to us in all its unity and fullness. And when we return from such a moment of awareness, our hearts long to find some way to capture it in words forever, so that we can remain faithful to its higher truth…

…when we search for a name to give to the truth we feel at those moments, we [may] call it God, and when we capture that understanding in timeless poetry, we [may] call it praying.

Isn’t that beautiful?  I know that some will object to its universality, rather than its particularity (Russell doesn’t point to any one religion in this passage as the “name above all names” does she?).  Still, let’s not cut off our nose to spite the face.  Or in this case perhaps, let’s not cut off the face to eccentuate the nose.  The experiences and names we give God will (conceivably) be particular to our situations and context. I don’t think we have to work at bringing God down to our context, if anything we have to work at allowing God to be as big as s/he is.  As one of my friends put it, “there are thousands of types of lungs, thousands of ways to breathe in the air–still there is only one air…and I’m not sure if it cares what you call it…it still does it’s job” (my paraphrase). We do well to remember the differences and diversity–we also do well to remember the unity and BIGNESS of God. 

One final thought: if God is indeed who I imagine him to be then he will most certainly be bigger than my ability to imagine him.

An excerpt about belief:

I believe in God the way I believe in quarks, ” she said coolly. “People whose business it is to know about quantum physics or religion tell me that they have good reason to believe that quarks and God exist.  And they tell me that if I wanted to devote my life to learning what they’ve learned, I’d find quarks and God just like they did.”–From “the Sparrow” by Mary Doria Russell, pg 110.

I assume that I am not an expert on quarks.  I assume I have very little to say on the matter. I haven’t studied it, I haven’t spent a lifetime of experiment and experience on the subject.  I don’t feel left out or stupid or unknowledgable or out of my league or judged or condemned or as if I should come up with something to say on the matter when in the presence of jargon talking physicists.  I simply sit, listen, and hope to glean what little I can, and I apply what little I’ve gained.  Why is it that we imagine religion, the religious question, differently? I suspect I know why.  I can’t help but wonder if because we create God in our own image, we expect ourselves to have an expert opinion on the matter.  And of course we are experts on God, because more often than not s/he is simply the glass ceiling of our own imagination, conveniently validating all of our preconceptions.

Early Morning Hymnal

  I’ve been starting my mornings and then continuing my days with poetry. Poems tend to hint at things that can’t be seen straight on.  They elucidate the hazy feeling of Being.  I for one struggle through them, feeling confined by their lines, symmetry, and schemes; only to be opened up to another world in reflection. Here are a couple of poems out of books I’ve been enjoying lately.

THE SEED CRACKED OPEN

It used to be

That when I would wake in the morning

I could with confidence say,

“What am ‘I’ going to

Do?”

That was before the seed 

Cracked open.

Now I am certain:

There are two of us housed 

In this body,

Doing the shopping together in the market and

Tickling each other

While fixing evening’s food.

Now when I awake

All the internal instruments play the same music:

“God, what love-mischief can ‘We’ do

For the world

Today?”  –Hafiz

 

We must not portray you in king’s robes,

you drifting mist that brought forth the morning.

Once again from the old paintboxes

we take the same gold for scepter and crown

that has disguised you through the ages.

piously we produce our images of you

till they stand around you like a thousand walls.

And when our hearts would simply open,

our fervent hands hide You.–Rilke

 

Amen.

What Color Is God-Part 5

Revelation.
It appears all over the New Testament and literally means “laid bare” or “being made naked”.  It is a process that God initiates—a process that ultimately ends in the unveiling of something.  But the action of revelation is far less interesting than the object of revelation.

“Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to the gospel and the revelation of Jesus Christ” Romans 16:25


“I don’t stop giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ…may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him…”
Ephesians 1:16-17
“For I did not receive it [the gospel] from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Galatians 1:12


“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, be sober minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you when the revelation of Jesus Christ comes to you.”
I Peter 1:13


“The revelation of Christ Jesus which has been given to His servants…
” Revelation 1:1
The significance about what God is longing to show us is that it is not an “it” at all, but is actually a “person”, Himself.    A person—living, breathing, actual, is not an it.  An it is inanimate.  An in it is unmovable.  An it is fixed and stationary.  An it has no need to be seen.  You can quarrel over an it.  You can build an it.  You can regulate an it.  It can be administrated.  It can be discovered, disputed, and sent into disrepute.  It has a shelf life.  It collects dust in museums.  It has no life at all.
The capacity of faith is tied up in the object you have faith in. I have very little faith that my two year old son’s high chair will hold my weight.  On the other hand I have a great deal of faith that the posh leather reading chair my wife purchased for me last Father’s Day will.  The difference is not in me as the believer but in the object I am believing in.
No wonder we are experiencing such a crisis of faith today.  But actually it is linked with a lack of real vision.  Good vision.  True vision.  20/20 clarity of vision.
Our utmost essential is for revelation.  An unveiling of the person of Jesus Christ.
Recently I’ve come to understand that you can know plenty about Him but never know Him.  Kind of like a wonderful illustration that a friend of mine tells about his familiarity with Michael Jordan.  He was fascinated by Michael Jordan.  He knew every detail.  He knew every statistic from on the court and knew the juicy gossip from off the court.  Each factoid and detail was a prized possession to my friend.  He was the epitome of a fan.  He really thought he knew it all about Michael Jordan, and in many ways he did.  But of course all this information really didn’t translate into actually knowing the man behind the number 23.  Can you imagine what would happen if during a chance encounter my buddy acted chummy with Air Jordan?  He might casually drop the question of “How’s your mom doing, man?” or informally refer to him as Mikee and talk about his lesser known business dealings or invite himself over for beer and pizza.  At that point MJ’s security guards would suspect him of being a stalker and haul him away.  Why?  Because knowing about someone is very different from actually knowing them.
Participation not information.
That’s what it says in Scripture, “We have become partakers of the Divine…” Interacting.  Responding.  Engaging.  Relating.  These can only be done in connection with a person.  So God never gives us data…predictable and rational static facts…a how to manual…a dummy’s guide to what we can expect out of God…He just gives us Himself…a glimpse of Himself.
Have you ever heard someone described as being “colorful”?  That phrase might mean they tell great stories.  Or it might mean they laugh a lot and make others laugh too.  Maybe “colorful” means feeding five thousand hungry mouths out of a few slices of bread and a couple cans of tuna.  Maybe “colorful” means touching the untouchable leaper or allowing a prostitute to apply her hard earned treasure of oil and perfume as a gift upon your feet while offended religious folk look on. Maybe “colorful” means being capable of raising your friend from the dead—knowing you would a few moments later—and still wailing like a child when you discover the bad news.  Maybe “colorful” means unexpected friends and undeserved enemies.  Could any one person be that colorful?
Yes.
Our Lord is the definition of color.
That’s why, for my part, I wonder if Job saw God as vivid techni-color.  It makes sense to me. Like I said, it’s hard to argue with a color.  It’s hard to have expectations of a color.  A color…like a person is always on the move…never quite how you remember them to be.
You just enjoy the dazzling hues and tones while they’re around.  You engage it with your being and you take pleasure in its existence.  When tragedy happens you experience the blues.  When anger crashes your way you get the “Mean reds” (as Audrey Hepburn said in “Breakfast at Tiffanies”).  And when all is well…it’s a bright sunshiny day. There’s color in everything and it’s everywhere. Wherever life is happening you’ll find color there also.

I don’t know if Job got stuck in a rut later and picked up a new dogma.  Probably.  That’s how we humans are.
I heard some one say once that there are only seven lessons in life and we just keep repeating them over and over.

So…here I am…having already learned that God couldn’t be boxed in—having already understood that God was bigger than my pet theologies and theories.  And I’m staring at the floor while everyone else is eating in the kitchen.  I can’t get up yet.  I just want to drink in the golden pine grain of the hard wood floor beneath me and the ocean foam blue of the chair I am sitting on and the charred ginger reds of the fire ahead…I am rediscovering God…a God I can’t disagree with or debate about…A God aimed at my senses…a tangible Lord…a visible and visual Lord…a Sensual Jesus.

What Color Is God-Part 4

Something in seeing God changes our experience of Him.  How desperately we need sight.  We need vision.  One of the old Jewish prophets wrote that without vision people perish.  That passage in the Bible gets quoted an awful lot. It always seems to come out to play right at the launch of a major building campaign or a fund raising drive for a local church.  It’s sort of become one of those, “Get on the band wagon—or else you will surely die” messages.  And I’ve always been amused as Christian leaders rally their troops around those types of announcements.  One church I attended raised a giant 50 foot banner across the sanctuary that said in big block print, “Building a Dream That Will Endure” as it prepared for an expansion to the current auditorium.  Ironically that same church closed up shop several years later.  Which brings up a thought, I understand that we need vision, but isn’t there such a thing as bad vision?  It reminds me of those commercials for Cornea Replacement laser surgery.  “Reduced Price!  Now only $300 dollars for one eye!”  One eye?  I heard a comedian start to joke about that once, “Who’s only getting half of the surgery done? Can you imagine them closing one eye for near sight and then opening it again to get far sight back?”  Ridiculous right?  Bad vision.
And bad vision always produces poor results.
That’s why during the Cold War the United States and Soviet Union dumped billions of dollars respectively into counter-espionage “disinformation”.  They knew that if your enemy is looking at a slightly maladjusted view of reality then their whole perspective will have been warped.  The Great Game, as they called it, was to feed one another vision—incorrect—worthless—deceptive vision.   Their spymasters believed that it would not be atomic bombs or nuclear holocausts that were going to win the war, but rather by neutralizing the adversary’s energies through fraudulent information.  They understood that resources are activated only as vision allows.
Today it seems like we, as Christians, exhaust ourselves on faulty vision.  We hotly debate side line issues and divide over personal differences.  We rally behind brick and mortar buildings and often fail to come together over God’s spiritual House, ordinary believers—men and women just like you and me, who house God’s own Life in our hearts.  We cheer for evangelistic crusades but forget to obey the Great Commission by actually discipeling new converts.  We put cash in offering plates but don’t give of our time, our energies, and our affections.  We cry saline laden tears at altar calls and healing prayer services but fall short of bringing over soup to the sick one or holding the basket case as they sob their confessions on our shoulders.
I read a study recently that suggested less than one third of Christian youth today maintain an active trust in Jesus Christ after they graduated college.  And I believe it too.  I have watched some of my best friends, the guys who led me back to the “foot of the cross” when I had wandered away, throw in the towel forever on some unpredictable battlefield later in their life.  One of my wife’s room mates from college just emailed that her own husband, a Seminary graduate pastor, had decided a short time ago that “following Christ is too hard.  It hurts too much.”   And so he quit.
Because bad vision is painful.
Because over time bad vision makes our eye lids hurt and our head ache.
Eventually the alternative of closing our eyes rather than seeing disappointingly becomes more equitable.
We need vision.  We need sight.  But not of edifices and edicts.
Not even of cooler looking cammo-Bible’s or Christian skateboarders or other pop culture poser’s preaching the same tired message of “Convert or die!”
Scripture has a very special word for the kind of sight we need.
Revelation.

What Color Is God-Part 2

I suspect that lately my view of God has become a list of rules. A systematic theology. A set of doctrinal certainties. A series of viewpoints that you should adhere to—should believe—should agree with—should promote to others, and if you do not or cannot then you’re out of luck.
So I have wrangled mentally to “get my mind right”. I have worked very hard to agree with all the current “orthodox” ideas…which are fine and good.
But, a color?
If God is a color then it takes Him out of the realm of argument and orthodoxy all together. When was the last time you heard someone say, “I disagree with Blue!” Or “I have serious doubts as to the reality of Eggplant purple!” You may dislike a certain shade or not take pleasure in a particular tinge but you would never make a case about it—divide over it—take a stand on those grounds—form a serious opinion on it at all—sign a membership card to join with other’s, be they fan or foe of that tone. That’s what’s great about colors! They have nothing to do with theoretical concepts…They’re something to be appreciated. They target impressions and awareness beyond cognitive thought. They are meant to be enjoyed. They’re aimed at your senses.
The pupil lets in light—
Light attacks the retina, pin balling off of rod’s and cones, fragmenting in the awareness of reds, and blues, and yellows—
Traveling up the optic nerve in an information bundle until it is deposited in the brain—
And then pleasure sets in. Delight strikes. Consciousness occurs.
Active.
Engaging.
Sensory.
A color can only be understood in the context of action and enjoyment.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons that God longs to be seen…action and enjoyment…

Part 1 Part 3       Part 4        Part 5

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