October 27, 2013

God of the Cosmos

Moving deeper into insights from from Madeline L’Engle’s book, A Stone for a Pillow and Richard Rohr’s book Things Hidden, chapter 9 we discover that both authors express the truth that God is greater than the entire universe. L’Engle quotes Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who states, “for a soul to have a body is enkosmismene (roots in the cosmos)” We are part of the entirety of the universe and like the butterfly whose wings cause ripples across the cosmos, so too our actions have far reaching consequences even if we never see them.

Rohr thinks Christianity slipped away from the Cosmic proclamation of Love toward the forensic and judgmental God image. He says that the cosmology of “True Christianity beguiles, seduces, invites, cajoles, creates spiritual yearning and draws humanity into ever more desirable mystery, healing, and grace.” The Love of God pulls us into union with God rather than Fear of retribution.
Part of the universality of God is that God is present in the joys AND in the pains of life. Rohr says, “Holding the mystery of pain and looking right at it and learning deeply from it” is necessary because “God’s heart has always been softened toward us, even and most especially in our suffering. This softens us toward ourselves and all others who suffer.” In other words, our pain helps us feel and understand and empathize with others’ pain. Then we are willing to be vulnerable enough to open ourselves to the world and even the cosmos that is filled with human pain.

One way that we can be open and impact the universe is in and through prayer. Prayer is sitting in the presence of God whether with or without words. L’Engle notes, “God can take my fumbling faltering prayers and make something good.” St. Paul knows that we may not always know what to pray. In Romans 8:26, he writes “In the same way, the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, since we do not know how to pray as we should. But the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words.” God’s Love will breathe life into the prayers of our deepest pain, and when we open ourselves to bear others pain to God in prayer. It can be difficult to be willing to be that open and vulnerable to God and to the world, yet it is how we are transformed.
Madeline L’Engle quotes Parker Palmer as saying, “the self becomes real only when reacting with other selves. We do not become real in isolation, but in response to the others we encourage along the way, and who call us into being. Not only that, according to L’Engle, “we act on those whom we meet and we call them into being. We are in a very real sense “Namers” and not the ecthroi who are ‘un-namers’ bent on removing the identity of those they encounter.”

I am reminded of the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, who only became real by being loved by the Boy. “He loved him so hard that he loved all his whiskers off, and the pink lining to his ears turned grey, and his brown spots faded. He even began to lose his shape, and he scarcely looked like a rabbit any more, except to the Boy. To him he was always beautiful, and that was all that the little Rabbit cared about. He didn't mind how he looked to other people, because the nursery magic had made him Real, and when you are Real shabbiness doesn't matter.” The Velveteen Rabbit is real to the Boy, but you recall that ultimately the Rabbit becomes really Real-really ‘Named’ and whole only after being cast off after the Boy is ill. Instead of dingy velveteen he had brown fur, soft and shiny, his ears twitched by themselves, and his whiskers were so long that they brushed the grass. He gave one leap and the joy of using those hind legs was so great that he went springing about the turf on them, jumping sideways and whirling round as the others did, and he grew so excited that when at last he did stop to look for the Fairy she had gone.”
In order to be more whole and holy we seek atonement or at-one-ment with God. Rohr says, “we [have] emphasized paying a cosmic debt more than communicating a credible love…the cross became more an image of a Divine transaction than an image of human transformation.” At-one-ment with God happens when we allow God to transform us-to make us ‘Real’, like the Velveteen Rabbit, through LOVE.

With L’Engle we might do well to pray “At-one me with You and Your love…whenever we pray, we are tapping the power of creation and that’s a mighty power…we have to try to turn to love, to know that the Lord who created all, alto loves all which was made.” L’Engle notes that in Genesis “God did not say, ‘It is finished’, that did not come until the Cross. What God said after making the world was, ‘It is Good. It is very Good’.” We have the opportunity, the option to take God at God’s word-to drink and eat life in Eucharist and in communion with life and living. In that living we are vulnerable and we are changed.
In the Loving hand of God we are transformed and as Chardin says we have “roots in the cosmos”. Like the picture above illustrates (by Melanie Weidner, ListenForJoy.com, from a Facebook posting), we can withstand the storms and pains of life because we are rooted in the Holy and in the Cosmos.

The meditations from A Stone for a Pillow and Richard Rohr continue in November.

October 20, 2013

God of Grace and God of Glory

Continuing with thoughts from from Madeline L’Engle’s book, A Stone for a Pillow and Richard Rohr’s book Things Hidden, chapter 9. Last time we pondered the contrast between a ‘forensic’ God and a God of Love. According to both L’Engle and Rohr, we too often believe that God is keeping score. Instead, our God is, as L’Engle notes “the image of God within us is Love.” This time, we will consider how that God of Love is manifest-as the God of Grace and God of Glory.

One of my favorite hymns is by Harry Fosdick (see below for full text or here for a video). The hymn is triumphant praise to the One who is in control of all things. Fosdick starts out by calling on the God of Grace and God of Glory to pour out power on the People of God and bring the Church (which is the people-the Body of Christ) to true and ‘glorious flower’.
Fosdick’s hymn starts in the right place-by asking God to work in us. The fact is that we cannot by ourselves become holy or even good. Indeed such efforts can have the opposite effect. “If I, self-consciously, try to make myself good, I am unwittingly separating myself from those I love and would serve…I learned that if I was what I had considered selfish, that is, if I took reasonable care of my own needs, we had a smoothly running household,” say Madeline L’Engle. We try so hard to be perfect and good that sometimes we cannot see the Holy spark within us, and fall into the trap of thinking we aren’t any good.

So we try to make ourselves over into what the world (or the church) says we should be. Too often that comes at the cost of relationships and even our soul. Rohr states, “it is precisely my ego self that has to die, my need to be right, to be in control, to be superior…the longer you gaze [on the Crucified One], the more you will see your own complicity in and profitability from the sins of others.”
Fosdick’s hymn reminds us of the “hosts of evil ‘round us [who] scorn Thy Christ”. Those hosts might just include our own need to control and work out our own salvation. When we are working in our own power to be ‘good enough’ for God, we live in the “fears that long have bound us”. Instead God would “free our hearts to faith and praise.” This doesn't happen overnight. In looking at Jacob's life in the Bible and in L'Engle's book (A Stone for a Pillow) you can see that transformation was a life long process filled with lots of errors. AND GOD STILL LOVED HIM! God loved Jacob enough to make him the patriarch of Israel-father of the 12 tribes!

The start to this process, for many of us, is learning to love and forgive ourselves. L’Engle insightfully remarks, “[the] most difficult of all is learning to bless ourselves…[to] accept ourselves as blessed-not perfect, not virtuous, not sinless-just blessed.” Both L’Engle and Rohr know that we have to forgive ourselves before we can really love ourselves or anyone else. Rohr notes, “Forgiveness is probably the only human action that demands three new ‘seeings’ at the same time: I must see God in the other, I must access God in myself, and I must see God in a new way that is larger than ‘an Enforcer’.” Because God is Love not Judgment, we must shift our paradigm to see ourselves as we are seen: in and through the lens of God’s Love.
Too often we find it difficult to release the aim of making ourselves holy because we fear the retribution of the angry God if we fail. Fosdick calls on the God of Grace and Glory to “bend our pride to Thy control. Shame our wanton selfish gladness, rich in things and poor in soul.” The problem is that we really, deep down, like ourselves the way we are. Yes, we admit to having some faults and know we could be ‘better’. However, we don’t really want to get rid of the image we have created of our identity.

Rohr compares the paradigm shift to the “Passover commemoration [where] we have an image of the death of something good, innocent, and even loved”. He says we are called to put to death “what I deem necessary to my identity; it is what I cannot live without. It is these seemingly essential and good things-when let go of-that break us through into much deeper levels of life.”
Not an easy thing-letting go of the identity I carefully have built up. It is only in looking to the Cross and living Fosdick’s refrain “Grant us wisdom, grant us courage…” that we can start to change. Slowly we see, with Rohr that the Cross is “not an image of the death of the bad self but, in fact, the self that feels essential, right, and necessary-but isn’t necessary at all.”

The final verse of the hymn calls on God to “save us from weak resignation…let the search for Thy salvation be our glory evermore.” When we let the God of Grace and God of Glory live and rule our lives we will be able to live with our “feet on lofty places…armored with all Christ-like graces in the fight to set men free.” It is in the letting go of our image of being in control and in charge that we find true freedom and forgiveness. Then we learn that what Archbishop Desmond Tutu said is true. “God loves you! And God’s love is so great, God loves your enemies, too.”
It is not easy to live a life of openness to God’s love. That Love demands a response. L’Engle emphasizes the paradox “our faith is a faith of vulnerability and hope not a faith of suspicion and hate”. We are called to enter into a life of openness and vulnerability instead of insisting on our own way. Then we can with Fosdick live as  Serving Thee Whom we adore.”

Rohr says God’s love calls for relinquishment of those things in life and esp. those things in ourselves that we think we cannot live without. What might God be calling you to give to God? L’Engle says we must learn to see ourselves as “blessed”-not perfect, just blessed. Do you really believe that you are blessed? Fosdick’s hymn says we need to lean on the God of Grace and Glory “lest we miss Thy Kingdom’s goal”. Can you trust God enough to let God be in charge?

 God of Grace and God of Glory, Harry E. Fosdick, 1930  
God of grace and God of glory,
On Thy people pour Thy power.
Crown Thine ancient church’s story,
Bring her bud to glorious flower.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the facing of this hour,
For the facing of this hour.

Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
From the fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.

Cure Thy children’s warring madness,
Bend our pride to Thy control.
Shame our wanton selfish gladness,
Rich in things and poor in soul.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal,
Lest we miss Thy kingdom’s goal.

Set our feet on lofty places,
Gird our lives that they may be,
Armored with all Christ-like graces,
In the fight to set men free.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
That we fail not man nor Thee,
That we fail not man nor Thee.
Save us from weak resignation,
To the evils we deplore.
Let the search for Thy salvation,
Be our glory evermore.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
Serving Thee Whom we adore,
Serving Thee Whom we adore

October 13, 2013

Forensic God or Loving God

For the next few weeks, join me in considering thoughts from from Madeline L’Engle’s book, A Stone for a Pillow and Richard Rohr’s book Things Hidden, chapter 9. I read both recently and was moved by the similarities of thought even though the two writers are very different.

These two works offer insight into how we too often view of God as judgmental (forensic, to use L’Engle’s metaphor) rather than Grace-ful and Loving. L’Engle explores the story of Jacob in her book. She says that in many places church culture has shifted to a view of God Who seeks to punish and keeps lists of what we do wrong. If we really read the Old and New Testament we will find a God of love Who cares for and forgives even someone like Jacob who lies, cheats, steals, etc. When we image God as the One who tallies good and evil on a scale, Rohr says, “We end up making God very small and draw the Godhead into our own ego-driven need for retribution, judicial resolution and punishment…exactly what Jesus came to undo.”
Rohr’s work asks us to revisit the Cross because, he says, too often we do not see the Cross as the “revelation of a mystery” but rather as a “substitutionary tragedy”. We humans have “always needed to find a way to deal with human anxiety and evil…usually by sacrificial systems…[and] we think it is our job to destroy the evil element.” We find it too easy to point fingers at others instead of accepting our own role in whatever problems arise.

In the ultimate paradox and overturning of our systems, “Jesus took away the sin of the world, by exposing it first of all as different than we imagined, and letting us know that our pattern of ignorant killing, attacking and blaming is in fact history’s primary illusion…he shared with us a Great Participative Love, which would make it possible for us not to hate at all.” Our response to that Love needs to be seeing God in life. God loves us not matter how incompletely and imperfectly we accomplish that.

L'Engle says, “If our worship of God means anything at all, it must be voluntary, not coerced.” God gives us the choice to see and respond. Jacob, you may recall, finds himself fleeing from his brother’s (well deserved) wrath and discovers God, perhaps for the first real time at Luz. He does not encounter God who chastises him for his deceit and failures. He finds “the Lord is in this place…this is the Gate of Heaven.” (Genesis 28:16-17) L’Engle notes, “Wherever I call upon my Maker is always God’s house”. Of course, we have free will to see or not the glory around us.  Jacob, in fact, even though he is awed, bargains with God. “IF God will be with me, and will keep me…THEN the Lord shall be my God.” (Genesis 28:20-22)
Rohr quotes Duns Scotus who states, “God’s redemptive action…[is] God’s perfect and utterly free initiative of love…God is in charge of history, not us and surely not our sinfulness.” Rohr insists “Jesus Christ is both the medium and the message…Jesus is pure gift, grace and glory!” Unlike Jacob, Jesus (God in human form) is the true image of God. According to Rohr, those gazing upon the ‘Crucified One’ with “contemplative eyes are always healed at deep levels of pain, unforgiveness, aggressivity, and victimhood.”

Our sacrificial, forensic metaphors and images limit how we are able to come to God. They are built from our own desire for control and power. Throughout history, we have chosen to seek power rather than healing which comes from 'gazing upon the Crucified One'. Rohr notes, “enslavement and exodus is the great Jewish lens through which history is read…the pattern of down and up, loss and renewal, enslavement and liberation, exile and return, transformation through darkness and suffering has become quite clear in the Hebrew scriptures.” We don't like the enslavement, exile, loss parts of the cycle and try to control our lives to prevent that, even if it means trampling over others in the process.
However, the real image of God is “Jesus on the cross [who] identifies with the human problem…He refuses to stand above or outside the human dilemma…instead becomes the scapegoat personified.” Scotus says, “Jesus was not ‘necessary’ to solve any problem whatsoever-he was no mopping-up exercise after the fact-but a pure and gracious declaration of the primordial truth, from the very beginning which was called the doctrine of ‘the primacy of Christ’.”

When we are able to turn and see God in the ups and downs, then we can respond differently than when we are trying to earn approval from a God who is all about judgment. L’Engle quotes Thomas Traherne who says “It is by your love that you enjoy all His delights, and are delightful to Him.” When we respond in love to God, we enter into His joy and that is the goal of all living and all worship. Later she notes that “The image of God within us is love.” Not only is the image within us love, but also we are to be that image to the world.
Take a moment or more to consider how you view God? As the Judge who takes notes of every wrong action to hold up at the final judgment or as God on the Cross holding out arms of all embracing Love? Is God in every place, for you, so that all is the Gateway to Heaven or only in selected places and times, when you are ‘perfect’ and ‘all is well with the world’? What difference do the two images of God make?

Next time we will consider the God of Grace and God of Glory based on L'Engle and Rohr's thoughts.

October 6, 2013

St. Francis

Before we delve into Madeline L’Engle’s book, A Stone for a Pillow, let’s take one last look at Change and how it can impact not just a single person, but a culture and succeeding generations. October 4 is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. His story is one of pretty astonishing transformation to the work of God.

He started life as a rather ordinary son of a rich cloth merchant in Assisi. This meant he lived very privileged life by the standards of the day, with plenty of food on the table, rich clothing, and festive friends. After going off to war in 1201, he was imprisoned. Upon release, he returned to Assisi only to enlist in 1205 in the Count of Brienne’s army. He left the army not long afterward and returned to Assisi, a changed man.
Francis began praying for enlightenment, and to his parents chagrin, ministered to lepers and made a pilgrimage to Rome where he joined beggars. About this time, he had the famous vision of Christ in the chapel of San Damiano. The Lord told him, “Francis, go and repair My house, which, as you see, is falling into ruins.” Thinking this mean the physical chapel, he sold some of his father’s cloth goods (without permission). This action led his father to bring him before the Bishop of Assisi for judgment. It was then that Francis publically renounced his father and family, by removing everything his father had given him, including the clothes he was wearing.

Francis then took up the life of a beggar and penitent in the Assisi area and began working to restore several chapels. In 1209, he heard a sermon on Matthew 10:9. This inspired Francis to take up the life of an itinerant preacher. His actions gained him followers. This group formed a community, ministering to the ill and wandering the mountain communities of Umbria in Italy. Later in 1209, Francis sought permission to found the Order by travelling to Rome. Eventually he gained an audience with Pope Innocent III who finally granted his permission to Francis. The Franciscan Order was born in 1210.
The Order grew quickly. Francis’ preaching focused on the goodness and beauty of all that God made, and the need for redemption, as well as the duty of all to praise God and to be stewards of all creation. He is credited with calling various aspects of creation Brother and Sister, such as Brother Son, Sister Moon, Brother Poverty, Sister birds, etc. Francis was the first person to use a Nativity to tell the story of the Birth of Jesus. He used live people and animals to illustrate the story. This was such a hit, that is continues to this day.

My favorite legend involves Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio. The wolf was terrifying the townsfolk, so Francis went to talk to it. When he found the animal, he commanded the creature to come to him. He said, “Brother Wolf, you do much harm in these parts and you have done great evil. All these people accuse you and curse you...But Brother Wolf, I would like to make peace between you and the people." After this, the wolf no longer harassed the people and flocks. Of course we often see Francis portrayed with birds on his hands and shoulders because of his affinity for the creatures of God. This image is from the chicagofranciscans.com website and noted as on the Grounds of our Lady of Victory Convent, Lemont, IL.
Francis was not looking to be changed, but he was open to the call of God and as a result he changed the vision of God for the people of his area and beyond by the preaching of peace and brotherhood for all creation.

It is worth considering how we can be open to God call and how a change in our outlook and living might make an impact on our family, friends, community and beyond.