What I have learned so far…

Virtues - Louis Comfort Tiffany

Virtues – Louis Comfort Tiffany

At sixty-two years of age, I know now that all Christians are more alike than they are different.  The things in which we differ are few but strongly held AND by focusing on them appear to radically different from those over there who (as they differed from us) must therefore be wrong.  There is a safety (even smugness) in such certitude.

Love is Faith PersonifiedOne of the problems with such is that it promotes the opposite of the thing desired or at least claimed. Certainty is not faith!  In truth certainty is the very opposite of faith.  The Epistle to the Hebrews puts it like this, [11:1] Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. As a priest, how many times have I have listened to the quasi-confession of some believer who tells me their doubts and struggles in following Jesus ending with a line like, “So John, I just can’t live the Christian life!”  I say, “No, what you see as unfaith is ACTUALLY the life of faith.  The doubt you have is an essential part of the economy of salvation.

Because it doesn’t feel certain they feel they don’t have faith.  In truth they appear to me to have faith in contrast to those more certain. So long as we live in pure contradiction by definition someone must right and wrong.  That is not to say that there is neither right nor wrong.  It is necessary to choose.  What is unnecessary is to make a point of view into an ideology!

Beloved, Let us make faith our constant companion and she will joined by her closest confidants, hope and joy. Against such company there can be no condemnation.

JWS

The Spirit and Body are One

Christ is Risen! Death is no more.

resurrection-02

On that great day we shall be free from consequence and sin and the end of all ending shall end.  We shall be one, even as the Father, Son & Spirit are one, for so our Lord commanded and what he commanded is true, not almost but always, for the spirit and body are one.

No longer shall we find division in ourselves, no contradiction nor even paradox be found for the spirit and body are one.

For all shall be raised, as our Lord has been raised with body the same yet new; so shall our bodies and spirit reunite, continued yet new for the spirit and body are one.

Fallibility and consequence, fact and value, concept and expression; indeed all pairs of opposites will be present yet welded/layered/melted/completed for the spirit and body are one.

On that great day, the dead in Christ will rise, meeting the Son in the air, the living caught up with the dead and reunion and union; all nuance, unique and rare, elegant and spare completed and there and then the Spirit and body are one.

No sleep, fatigue or pain; no peculiar debris remain for the will of the one, yet three, holy one, from to age to come, our spirit and body are one.

JWS – April 14, 2013 at  2:44 AM

Overcoming the Split Between Fact and Value

One of the fates of spending six years and three denominations in theological education was to come to a place of not taking any point of view all that seriously as people seem largely to think in the style in vogue at the time they were schooled.

Reared in an evangelical (pre-fundamentalist) Baptist Church, I was impressed by the unconscious allegiance to the Gospel as we had received it.  The Bible spoke we believed to the real situation of people in their lives and that the text was reliable in how it spoke of God. It never occurred to us to think otherwise.  I was largely unaffected by the hermeneutic of suspicion, as it was called, seeing what I call a hermeneutic of hostility, a militant regard that the scripture speaks in a hopeless superstitious way, with a sort of arrogant assumption that we now had it right being post-enlightenment and all.

I also observed that the reactivity to this hostility was to retreat into a rigid, sterile fundamentalism.  The thinking of liberal Christianity is formed; best I can tell, around a commitment to the fruit of faith without regard for the vine that bore it.  Anglicans, especially American ones have spent the patrimony on a “feel-good,” hearty hospitality inviting people to a sacrament having form but little power. Actually, that is not true.  They invite people to the mass, denigrating it by discounting the very sacrament of hospitality, namely baptism. A priest colleague of mine once responded to my stated commitment to classical Christianity with a dismissive, “Oh, John, we are redefining everything.” What?

Or as a priest, who dabbled in ministry, said by way of invitation to a Jungian seminar, “All of you who like me, cross their fingers, when they say the creed, please come.”  The same cleric while teaching confirmation class told everyone to stand and as the Nicene creed was read aloud to sit when something they did not or could believe was read and promptly sat down as it was barely underway.  My reaction to that is that we do not judge the creed the creed judges us.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Neither the extreme fundamentalism of the right or left has life in itself.  I found myself deeply attracted to the Anglican tradition.  The radical middle, pulling the extremes to the middle seemed good to me at the time and serves me still.   At the same time at the age of nineteen I had a life affirming charismatic experience in the 1970s again observing that while I counted that experience real and valid that the interpretation of that movement produced a “rigidity flexibility” (as Ed Friedman once put it.)  What I longed for was a way to make sense of what had happened to me so I searched for what I called a “religious psychology” seeking to understand why such a powerful and creative experience seemed to produce a neurotic state that in some cases left the person worse off than before. Embracing non-dual thinking, giving up the comfort of contradiction, all the while knowing that what we know is not all to be known will bring us closer to the Kingdom than all the certainty we could ever muster.

JWS

Aside

“We in the West have been trained and conditioned since childhood, firstly by over-anxious mothers and then by the values of society, to be afraid of pain, to see it as an enemy to fight and repel. Television advertisements don’t say, ‘Relax and learn to ease it’ when showing someone in pain. They say, “Take this pill or that pill and they will make you relaxed enough for your headache to go.  They implant attitudes which make us think we have to buy our way out of pain. In subtle ways they tell us that we DESERVE relief from it; that it is one of our rights to lead a pain-free life.”

Ursula Fleming  — Grasping the Nettle [pg. 33]

Ursula Fleming on Meister Eckhart

Titelumschlag Eckhart Society

Titelumschlag Eckhart Society

Ursula Fleming never pretended to be an Eckhart scholar, but no human being influenced her more profoundly than did Meister Eckhart – not even Marco Pallis, and that is saying quite a lot. When, in her teens, she abandoned her Catholic religion, intending to become a Buddhist, she turned for spiritual guidance to Pallis –mountaineer, musician and philosopher as well as a Buddhist himself – but he told her: ‘Go back to the religion of your birth. Go back to the Sacraments. And read Eckhart.’ When, having done what her spiritual guide told her, she said to him: ‘I like Eckhart but I only understand fragments of what he is saying,’ Marco Pallis replied: ‘Don’t try to understand him. Just go on reading him’

 And, years later, we find her repeating this very same advice to all sorts of groups of people – saying, for example, ‘Don’t try to understand Eckhart too much. Don’t try to work it all out. Just read it.’ Really, one could easily get the idea that the writings of Eckhart were just a collection of aphorisms!

Yet it is obvious that Ursula was not at all one of those people attracted to Eckhart because they have the illusion that Eckhart lived in a gorgeously thick mystical cloud. And all the people who knew her, both admirers and critics, were aware that she was not the kind of person who believes that hard clear thinking doesn’t really matter. We find her writing:

“Meister Eckhart says that the man who finds no taste of God wearies of looking for him. One of the criticisms of Christianity, and one of the reasons why many young Christians turn to the East, to Buddhism or to Hinduism, is that in Christianity there is no apparent help with method. How do we find God? How do we even start? Eckhart is one of the Christians who faces this and accepts it as a problem. Good intentions are not always enough. We need instruction in how to make ourselves fit to receive the revelation of God, to receive the eternal birth”  (Fleming, 1995)

 ‘Help with method’ – this, perhaps surprisingly, is what she found in Eckhart. And Ashley Young, the General Secretary of the Eckhart Society, writing about Ursula’s Eckhart reader of 1988 entitled The Man from whom God hid Nothing, said that the book was above all ‘about the usefulness of Eckhart.’ (Fleming, 1995, p. xii).

Eckhart was certainly not a muddled thinker. He was an outstanding theologian at the period when scholasticism was at the peak of its prestige – in fact, when it was the dominant influence in Western European thought. And, whatever reservations many of us may have today about scholasticism, there is no doubt about the importance scholasticism gave to logical soundness in argument, to scrupulous analysis of theses, and to systematising. Eckhart knew how to organise his thoughts.  MeisterEckhart

However, if what we are looking for is a guide to the spiritual life suitable for people who are not academics, obviously it will not be Eckhart’s Latin works, which were predominantly written for academics, that we will turn to, but his German sermons. Generally speaking, sermons, as a genre, are not ideal for instructing people in spiritual development in a simple systematic way, unless they are being given to a regular audience. And Eckhart’s sermons, however substantial, were always sermons, not lectures, and few were composed as a cycle – a series. The theology in Eckhart’s German sermons has foundations as solid as the theology in his Latin works, but tracing ideas in Eckhart’s German sermons usually involves jumping to and fro all over the place.

There are, though, a handful of exceptions to this general rule. And the first of Eckhart’s cycle of four sermons on the eternal birth of the Word in the ground of the soul (a sermon-cycle very probably preached to his fellow Dominicans) sums up nearly all the most important aspects of Eckhart’s teaching on spiritual maturity – teaching at the heart of what he has to say to us about ourselves (Sermons 1–4, Walshe, 2008). In this brief exploration of how Eckhart set out to help people to develop a deep spirituality I will focus mainly (though not entirely) on sermon 1. I will then turn briefly to sermon 9. The sermon numbers I use throughout are those of Walshe (2008).
 
Finding God Within

One of Ursula’s more provocative remarks was that human nature is such that, whatever we may seem to be doing or however far we may seem to be from the mark, we are really searching for God (Fleming, 1995). She was prompted to say this by Eckhart’s assertion that when we go out of ourselves to find God or fetch God we are making a mistake: that, on the contrary, we do not find God outside ourselves and we should not conceive him except as in us – that our best chance of finding God is where we left him.
 
The Birth of the Word

Yes, where we left him! Eckhart’s most distinctive teaching is probably his teaching that the eternal birth of the Word from the Father is ‘now born in time, in human nature’ … that, if nothing separates our souls and God, the birth of the hidden Word can take place in the depths of our souls. This teaching of his he refers to over and over again in his sermons. However, it is in sermon 1 that he focuses on the ways in which we must change for this birth to take place in us. As he says himself at the beginning of that sermon (Walshe, 2008, sermon 1):

‘What does it avail me that the birth is always happening, if it does not happen to me? That it should happen in me is what matters.’ So said St Augustine [he didn’t, actually!]. We shall therefore speak of this birth, of how it may take place in us and be consummated in the virtuous soul, whenever God the Father speaks His eternal word in the perfect soul.”

  Continue reading

This is A Hoax and is not The Dalai Lama Rule’s for Life!!!!! (Sorry for being a party to it) J

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The Dalai Lama

1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.

2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.

3. Follow the three Rs: 1. Respect for self 2. Respect for others 3. Responsibility for all your actions.

4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.

5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.

6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.

7. When you realize you’ve made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.

8. Spend some time alone every day. 

When you are going through difficulty and wond...

When you are going through difficulty and wonder where GOD is, remember that the teacher is always quiet during the test. (Photo credit: deeplifequotes)

9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.

10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

11. Live a good, honourable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.

12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.

13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.

14. Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.

15. Be gentle with the earth.

16. Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.

17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.

18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.

God Does Not Do Time

We believe and affirm that God was with us in the past, is present with us today and will be with us tomorrow.  We must be careful to realize that while that is indeed true, God does not “do” time. God is outside time and space.  Jesus by his incarnation “entered time and space,” really becoming one with us, that is the point!   He will be with us even to the end of the age.
God has no past. God has no now. God has no future.  God is and that is enough.

Why Two Testaments?

Why do Christians have the Old Testament?  The Muslims certainly knew both testaments of our Bible and they kept neither but started over.  The Jewish holy texts remain our holy texts because the disciples read for and found Jesus there, so the Hebrew Scriptures become the first volume of a two volume revelation. After the resurrection his followers finally realized that what they wanted they were not getting, however, what they got was better.

ImageThat was not clear at first because they were looking for David, a type of Hercules or Alexander the Great, to thump the wicked, restoring Israel to her place in the sun.  I’ve always found it interesting that on the way to Emmaus after joining the party, Jesus opened the Scriptures showing how Messiah had to suffer and die. (I wish Cleopas had published his notes).

What he explained on the road, was that what they believed about Messiah was indeed true but incomplete and that the triumph of Messiah was at the end of the age not then.  Their desperate need threw off their timing.   What are we desperate for today?  Is it possible that what we want is less than God wants for us?  Remember that Columbus was on his way to the Orient when he bumped into the Occident.  What Columbus accidentally found was better than what he looked for!

O Lord, we are not yet as we shall be and after the dying of our illusions lies the resurrection of our true selves.   Don’t forget the promise of Columbus.  Amen.

So you want to live a life of faith?

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The Monkey Mind

Suppose one day you decided to intentionally live a Christian life.  Where would you begin? What is the first small turning of mind that begins the adventure of following Jesus?

A first step is to notice the process of your mind, the Buddhists call the unconscious and undisciplined mind, “the monkey mind” meaning that our mind is a tree full of monkeys with chattering, swinging to and fro and competing thoughts. Notice how the mind flits from thought to thought. Know that focus is the goal and also know that this is easy to wish and hard to achieve and when achieved is of short duration.  What to do?

The very first thing to do is “decide” to follow Jesus.  Immediately, the thought erupts, “You can’t do that!” I say, “Yes you can,” however, avoid vain battles and take the posture of “as if.”  Begin to act “as if” you can live the Christian life. Give up the pressure of doing it right and just act as if it were true.  Later on if it isn’t working you can climb again into the simian tree.   Now that you are acting as if it were true, now what?

The next thing to do is to cultivate inner peace & serenity. How? Let’s explore.

Inner serenity is gained by balance.  Balance is gained by moving beyond contradiction to paradox. What you ask?  Just listen.  We learn to be good boys and girls at our mother’s knee.  There is a right and wrong.  If we choose the right and avoid the wrong all will be well and of course that is true as far as that goes.  Contradiction is only a place on the journey not its end.

“I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light,” a hymn in the 1979 Hymnal sums up this stage, however, if we assume this is all that isImage required we will lose our way.  The opposite of faith is not doubt!  The opposite of faith is certainty.   Certainty is seductive.  We choose the light. Done, we think. All that is required is to set our autopilot and get on with other demands of life.  Choosing the light is of course the right choice and if that choice put paid on sin all would be well. This is not the case.

The boundary between light and dark is not between us and someone else, no, unfortunately this boundary is in the core of our being. When we realize this is uncomfortable, so we find someone and focus on them and their failings and thus avoiding our own we find our “certainty” again, lapsing again into comfortable unconsciousness.  What is called for is honesty, ruthless honesty.

  •  We keep before us our brokenness self-centeredness
  • We withdraw our projections (more about that in a bit)
  •  When tempted to project we look instead at our own shadow
  •  We adopt what Richard Rohr calls “non-dual” thinking. What is this?

 Non-dual thinking is the origin of this blogs name: Beyond Contradiction.  We must leave behind the either or thinking and embrace paradox. Yes there are two points of view.

In fact one of these points of view is right and the other wrong. One option is chosen and the other avoided.  We do all this without losing our objectivity and serenity.  In this quandary, I found a passage from the writings of Carl Jung very illuminating.  This portion of the last chapter of his work, Memories, Dreams and Reflections speaks to me as deeply as it ever has.

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Carl Jung

I quote it in its entirety.  “In any case, we stand in need of a reorientation, a metanoia. Touching evil brings with the grave peril of succumbing to it. We must, therefore, no longer succumb to anything at all, even the good. A so-called good, to which we succumb, loses it ethical character.  Not that there is anything bad in it on that score, but to have succumbed to it may breed trouble. Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol, morphine or idealism. We must be aware of thinking of good and evil as absolute opposites. The criterion of ethical action can no longer consist in the simple view that good has the force of a categorical imperative, while the so-called evil can be resolutely shunned.  Recognition of the reality of evil necessarily relativizes the good, and the evil likewise, converting both into halves of a paradoxical whole.”

Memories, Dreams, Reflections – Carl Jung pg. 329