Natural Alignment

Margaret Wheatley and Myron Kellner-Rogers describe what they call Four Principles of Natural Alignment:

  1. Participation is not a choice.
  2. Life always reacts to directives, it never obeys them.
  3. We do not see “reality” – we each create our own interpretation of what is real.
  4. To create better health in a living system, connect it to more of itself.

Lewis Madison Jones, Jr.

August 8, 2016 – Saint John’s Episcopal Church – Memphis, Tennessee – John Sewell

We come to do what Christians do each time they gather.
We come to tell the story.
We come to calm the fear within us.
We come to speak of the hope that is within us.
We come to Celebrate: Interpret, to make sense of. We do that in the context of the Good News of Jesus the Christ. We come to celebrate the life and home going of LEWIS MADISON (BIG DADDY) JONES, JR.

I am rarely presumptuous enough to hazard a guess at what God is thinking. I work for him but I am rarely taken into his confidence. But today, I know Phyllis that you and Lewis kept your vows to each other, as the Book of Common Prayer has it, “Until you were parted by death.” I know that pleased God. Well done.

THE READINGS FOR TODAY SPEAK TO THE STORY WE SHARE,
THE FEAR IN OUR HEARTS AND THE HOPE THAT IS WITHIN US.

On this mountain

We hear first from the words of the Prophet Isaiah who proclaimed, “On this mountain the Lord of Hosts will make feast FOR ALL PEOPLES, a feast of rich food, well-aged wines, full of fat [that was back when fat was still good news], well-aged wines strained clear.

If you recall Jesus produced excellent vintage himself at that wedding in Cana). The marriage feast of the Lamb in Revelation is the consummation of Isaiah, the party planner prophet.

God is throwing a party, a gathering intended for all peoples. God gives us bread to nourish our bodies and wine to make our hearts glad. It is God who throws the party. There and then, God will shallow up death forever and wipe away the tears from all faces. This is the salvation he promises to all peoples. Salvation is a party with God as the host.

The Eucharist carried to the dying has a special name – Viaticum, which literally means “food for the journey” a little something to “tide you over” until you arrive at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. A few days ago, I went out to Collierville, taking Viaticum. Around Lewis’ bed we made Communion together. It was a moment of deep and precious intimacy for Lewis, his family, his dog…

It is altogether appropriate we gather this afternoon to say our prayers for Lewis and that we do so as we celebrate this Eucharist together.

Hear again the words of Paul to the Christians in Rome, “For I am persuaded (not wishful thinking but the thought of one who has lived into the comfort of God’s love) that neither death, nor life, nor angels, not principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other else in all creation shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Be not afraid, for Jesus has overcome death, hell and the grave. Which brings us to hope that in within us.

icon-of-christ-high-priest-the-holy-eucharist

As Our Lord said to his disciples on Easter afternoon:
“Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also in me. In my father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so I would have told you. I go and prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you I will come again and take you to myself that where I am there you may be also…”

We have come as far as we can go with Lewis Madison Jones, Jr. His soul has gone to God and his body today goes to the University making a final contribution to cancer research.

Fritz Kunkel wrote once, “Losing one we love to death always means the possibility of a new contact with the beyond, and of a new turning away from the past toward the future.” This statement while true, is in danger of amounting to nothing more than fluffy nothingness straight from a writer’s desk at Hallmark cards. What turns this existential cotton candy into nourishment is suffering.

Spiritual growth comes through suffering. This is not something we have a choice about. Suffering is the promise that life always keeps. Lewis had more than a passing acquaintance with suffering, especially in the last year.

Wendell Berry, writes of the essential “aloneness” of the human experience embedded in entering the big woods:

Always in big woods when you leave familiar ground and step off alone into a new place there will be, along with the feeling of curiosity and excitement, a little nagging of dread. It is the ancient fear of the unknown,

You are undertaking the first experience, not of the place, but of yourself in that place. It is an experience of our essential loneliness, for nobody can discover the world for anybody else. It is only after we have discovered it for ourselves that it becomes a common ground and a common bond, and we cease to be alone.

And the world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground of our feet, and learn to be at home.

If we live long enough our world will be reduced to the dimensions of a bed. It was there, in a hospital bed that Lewis began his greatest adventure, and his final pilgrimage was not of miles to Jerusalem but inches into eternity.

Jesus didn’t say you can’t serve God and the evil one. No, he said, you can’t serve God and money. Lewis worked for mammon, but he didn’t sell out to it. With the unique candor of the dying, he said he never sold his soul for a markup of bonds. He arrived at the end, with his soul in hand. He was glad he could say his soul was his own and now it is God’s. Each of us owe God ONE soul

Big Daddy & Patrick

Lewis Jones & Patrick Moore

 

Big Daddy Jones was a tough man. He was a high school hall of fame football player, played for The University of Memphis. He learned out to take a hit. He told me the story of teaching Patrick to take a hit. I won’t go into details, but it involved the back yard, a mattress, a football and Lewis. Patrick learned to take a hit, and I daresay, he learned to love a hit. It is safe to say that no football came near Patrick that he didn’t try to catch. Also, he learned to never give up, not ever. Even with numerous opponents hanging on for dear life, Patrick was headed downfield always toward the goal line with Lewis cheering on the sidelines. That’s not a bad way to remember him.

Lewis has joined that great company that cannot be numbered who believed in the Word Made Flesh. He has entered into the great story of Scripture. Near the end of the last chapter of the last book of the whole sweep of salvation history, we see the end and we like it. What do we see? The New Jerusalem has come down out of heaven. When we are able to take a peek at the wonders of it all, we see our old friend, The Tree of Life, standing by the water that springs up into everlasting salvation. There are also other old friends, twelve trees each bear its fruit for one of the months and whose leaves are for the healing of the nations. We are home and never even knew it. The place of leaving as well as the place of returning is one.

No longer, will we be bound by time/space and we shall see the Lamb that was slain. Having had all tears wiped away, we will get on with the business of worshiping the Holy One and that I’m reassured will never get old at all.

Angels, Evangelists/Creatures and Elders, myriads and myriads and myriads to the seventh power of tenors, basses, baritones, mezzo-sopranos, counter-tenors, altos of every timbre, coloratura sopranos joined by boys with their particularly other-worldly tone, joined by those who are tone-deaf with tin ears, and too scared to try: all of them every last one: all singing just as loud as they can and perhaps on that day any who want to can sing all parts of the chord at the same time and praise God, no one sings flat. Everything from Organs and Calliopes to brasses of every possible metal and size, joined by woodwinds both great and small, accompanied by drums of all nations and persuasions, lift their voices and sing as one, on that day, that great day.

And how could they not? For death, that dominates everything from actuarial tables to crop rotation; that with its bosom buddies, plague, famine, joined in our time by true believers, whose creed is death and worship murder. Death & company have stalked our ancestors and will our descendants on this planet from beginning to end, is defeated, and swallowed up by victory.

That has been true since that day, in one particular place in a small province of an ancient empire, the rumor of which has passed generation by generation to this day and beyond till Jesus comes. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!

We shall take our seat with the great crowd of witnesses, Big Daddy Lewis among them. Let us comfort ourselves with the hope of the resurrection. To him be glory, now and forever. Amen

Save

Being Known Hand to Foot

Note: This statement went out this afternoon to the Saint John’s Community.  I thought to share it here.

Dearly beloved,

I spoke last Monday night (July 25th) at a city-wide gathering of Memphis clergy, our third meeting since the “Black Lives Matter” protest on the Mississippi River bridge (I-40) on July 11, 2016. We have come together to pray, to fast, and to create common purpose in bridging the divides in this city. I spoke without notes, but I’ve written down the essence of what I said.

Have you noticed that Christendom is over? The culture of the West is severed from the Christen Gospel and for the first time since the Fifth Century we are no longer the dominant culture in the West.

That being the case, how do we live? I believe that we must be friends by choice, we must proclaim the essential faith and we must wash the world’s feet. catholic worker homeless

1. We must be FRIENDS BY CHOICE

We must be friends, not because of this or any coming crisis. We must be friends regardless of the boundaries of race, creed, culture or polity. When Christianity was the dominant culture in the West, we had endless arguments over almost everything. Arguments over matters of doctrine and practice for five hundred years are now luxuries we can no longer afford. The people in the street neither understand nor care about these issues. Continuing these controversies is like having an argument over what brand of hardware is on your front door while your house is on fire!Let us choose to be friends and all else will follow.

2. We must proclaim an ESSENTIAL FAITH

How do we come to a genuine consensus on the essential Gospel of Jesus Christ? Just before Christianity became the dominant culture of the West, in the fifth Century, Saint Vincent of Lerins said the Church should follow universality, antiquity, and consent in what we believe.

Logo-Paroisse-St-Vincent-de-L--rins

“Moreover, …all possible care must be taken that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.”

   –St. Vincent of Lerins. The Commonitory of St. Vincent of Lerins (p. 7). Veritatis Splendor Publications. Kindle Edition.

It doesn’t mean that we will not believe many things that differ but that all these doctrines and dogmas are not ESSENTIAL!

3. We must wash THE WORLD’S FEET

Americans love words. We talk a lot. Talk is not going to communicate what must be said. I’m an Anglican Christian, so my mind turns to sacraments and signs. What is a sacrament? What is a sign?

  • SACRAMENT: “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” Sharing bread and wine (communion), pouring water (baptism), or holding hands while giving and receiving rings (matrimony).
  • SIGN: “a symbol that transmits the very thing it symbolizes.” A five dollar paper bill represents and transmits five US dollars in currency.

washing feet

We can’t have communion together easily as it is many fences around it. For five years as I’ve prayed, I have come to believe that what we must do is wash each other’s feet in public.  Yes, I said, “We must wash each other’s feet in public.”  Beyond that, we must wash the feet of anyone in our city that will allow us to wash their feet. It’s a bit humiliating to wash feet but it is more awkward to have your feet washed. We’ll simply choose to wash and be washed. What I can tell you is that when we make that choice, a mysterious intimacy washes the soles of feet, penetrating the souls of any who humble themselves, getting to know each other hand to foot.

As always, you can reach our clergy by phone (below) or by email. Our email addresses are listed on the website under About>Staff.

Imperial Martyrs

Royal Russian Martyrs

On this day,   July 17, 1918,  The last Russian Tsar, his family and servants were murdered by the Bolsheviks. On this 98th anniversary,  let us pray for all who suffer on account of their faith and simply because of who they are.

Alexander Petrovich Izvolsky, the Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1906 to 1910, wrote the following in his reflections about the armed revolt that broke out on the night of July 19-20, 1906, in Kronstadt:”…On that day, July 20, when the mutiny had reached its culminating point, I was by the Emperor in Peterhof… The line of reinforcements could be seen from the window… We clearly heard the sound of the canons… I could not detect the slightest sign of agitation in his features… After the briefing the Emperor said: If you see me in such a calm state, this is because I have an unshakable faith that the fate of Russia, my own fate and the fate of my family are in the Lord’s hands. No matter what happens, I will bow before His will.”    (Orthodox Russia, 1967, no. 10, p. 4)

There were many signs, portents, and prophecies of the Imperial martyrdom to come.

(Anna Alexandrovna Vyrubova, Her Majesty’s Lady-in-Waiting, p. 171) -“In December of 1916, Her Majesty [Empress Alexandra] traveled for an emotional rest to Novgorod for a day, with two Grand Duchesses and a small suite. She visited field hospitals and monasteries and attended the Liturgy at the St. Sophia Cathedral. Before her departure the Tsaritsa visited the Yurievsky and Desyarina Monasteries. In the latter she visited Eldress Maria Mikhailovna in her tiny cell, where the aged woman had lain for many years in heavy chains on an iron bed. When the Tsaritsa entered, the Eldress held her withered hand out to her and said, ‘Here comes the martyr, Tsaritsa Alexandra!’ She embraced her and blessed her. In a few days the Eldress reposed.”

Tsar martyr 3

 There was no tsar in whose reign more saints were glorified (canonized) than that of Nicholas. His love of Orthodoxy and the Church’s holy ones knew no bounds; and he himself often pressured the Holy Synod to speedily accord fitting reverence to many of God’s saints. Among those glorified during his reign were: St. Theodosius of Chernigov (glorified in 1896), St. Isidore Yurievsky (1897), St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk (1909), St. Anna of Kashin (1910), St. Ioasaph of Belgorod (1911), St. Germogen (Hermogenes) of Moscow (1913), St. Pitirim of Tambov (1914), St. John (Maximovich) of Tobolsk (1916), St. Paul of Tobolsk (1917) and St. Sophrony of Irkutsk (1918). In addition, one of the most revered of Russia’s saints, Seraphim of Sarov, was glorified by the Church during the reign of this pious Tsar in 1903, at his insistence. At this time, Nicholas was made aware of the future apostasy and downfall of the Russian nation and Church through a prophetic letter written by St. Seraphim himself. The Saint had, shortly before his death in 1833, written this letter and addressed it “to the Tsar in whose reign I shall be glorified.” He then gave it to Elena Motovilov, the young wife of N. I. Motovilov, who is now well known for recording his conversation with the Saint about the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. She kept that letter for seventy years and gave it to the Tsar at the glorification ceremony.

00-00-pavel-ryzhenko-from-the-life-of-st-seraphim-sarovsky-2006

While the exact contents are today unknown, it is nevertheless certain that St. Seraphim prepared Nicholas for the coming tribulations. Furthermore, on the return trip from Sarov, the Royal Family visited St. Seraphim’s Diveyevo Convent where Blessed Pasha (Parasceva) the Fool-for-Christ spoke to them for several hours; it is said that she foretold to them their own martyrdom as well as that of Holy Russia. They left her cell pale and shaken but resolute — they would accept with faith whatever Cod had prepared for them, esteeming the incorruptible crown of martyrdom higher than corruptible earthly crowns; electing to accept the cup of suffering offered to them by God Almighty, that by drinking of it they might offer themselves up as a sacrifice for their people.

Holy Martyrs pray for us

Tsar martyr 2

Save

Christmass Eve 2015

Black hole warping space-time, computer artwork.

Black hole warping space-time, computer artwork.

We live inside a box formed by time & space. Standing at the edge of that reality, peering beyond, we see, as the Apostle wrote, through a glass darkly and our mind fills with haze and vapor. We just can’t go there as nothing inside compares with the outside (so far as we know). Carl Jung posits the need for a point of reference outside the conditions of present reality.

Carl Jung, “It is possible to have an attitude to the external conditions of life when there is a point of reference outside them.”

Andreas Wagner, “All we know and experience is mediated through matter. If we step on a sharp object, the material known to us as a foot, begins to phone home: pain, pain, puncture, puncture, what is it? Pull it out right now. The change in message from my foot requires a change in the matter of my foot. Wagner concludes by saying, “Matter impacts meaning.”

Andreas Wagner, “we overlook that there is no conversation without matter, and similarly, that any change in the meaning of a signal requires a change in matter. Matter impacts meaning.”

We need two things to make sense of anything and everything.

1. What we must have then, is a point of reference beyond the time & space container in which we live.
2. And that reference point will be experienced through matter which is the only way we know how to know anything.

Before the foundation of the world, The Holy Trinity promulgated the incarnation.  The Second Person of the Trinity, coming from eternity into time and space fully material to promulgate salvation.  Matter impacts meaning and Divine matter imparts ultimate meaning.

 

theory_large

Christ in the flesh is the reference point beyond time and space. image by Spalinka

Nativity story begins with an enrollment. The early enrollment that precedes the birth of Christ alludes to the “enrollment in heaven” that is his birth’s consequence. As he said to his disciples, “Rejoice not, that the spirits are subject to you but rather rejoice, because you names are written in heaven.”

The Christ-child is born and laid in a manager because there was no room for them in the inn. Like the birth of this child the origin of this son of God is outside the inn of the world and laid in a MANGER.

Interesting word, MANGER The Greek Old Testament uses the same word Kibotos (kib-o-tos)

arkconstruct1

Noah’s Ark floated in the waters of the deep carrying the pioneers of the restored the world. Noah believed God, built the ark, filled it with beasts, went aboard and God, it says, Closed the day.

Princess plucks Moses from Nile

Moses, in his ark, floated out of the bulrushes into the life of Pharaoh’s daughter.

The Ark in the Jordon

The Ark of the Covenant – The box containing the Law – through the desert toward the promised land.

 The manger in the Bethlehem stable.

manger

The Ark/Manger: This Kigotos is a sign of Christ coming as servant as well as a king.

The manger signifies emptiness that is to be filled. The container available and waiting to be filled with the precious gift of God, the gift of the Son.

In this box, we live in time and space. To this ark, this Manger of time and space, is born a material reference point: Jesus the Christ.

Now, let me string together reflections by the Church Father on this great night.

In this manger Mary puts Jesus wrapped in swaddling bands (KJV). As Gregory of Nazianzus puts it, He was wrapped in swaddling bands, but at the resurrection he released the swaddling bands of grace. He was laid in a manger but was praised by angels, disclosed by a star and adored by magi.”

manger animals
Inmost crèches and art of the nativity you find animals around the manger, always an ox and always an ass, why because of the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “The ox knoweth his owner and the ass his master’s crib.”

 

manger-animals-christmas-coloring-pages-02

NO PIG!!!

On a humorous aside.  Last night (Christmas Eve) at the family service performed the traditional Christmas Pageant. Children were dressed as all the usual suspects. I  did have to intervene when one little girl announced she wanted to be a pig at the manager scene.  “No pigs,” I pronounced!  Even though Memphians revere all things porcine, especially in its myriad of eatable forms,  there was still no pig at the manager.

After the Church Fathers, the Venerable Bede, whose tomb lies at one end of Durham Cathedral, wrote in the 7th century,   “He who sits at the right hand of the Father goes without shelter from the inn, that he may for us prepare many mansions in the house of his heavenly Father. Hence we have ‘because there was no room for him in the inn.’ He was born not in the house of his parents but at the inn, by the wayside, because through the mystery of the incarnation be is become the Way by which he guides us to our home, where we shall also enjoy the Truth and the Life.”

The Angels and the Shepherds

James J.J. Tissot

Luke ends the nativity gospel in fields near Bethlehem where the angel of the Lord proclaims, this day is born to you a savior who is Christ, The Lord, Savior = God’s activity come to earth, Christ/Messiah/the anointed one, the Lord, the prince of peace.

So there you have it. The story that begins this night with this Mass in the mid-night, ends on Easter Eve after the fall of darkness, but in that darkness has come a great light.

manger & cross

A latter day Church Father, C.S. Lewis, once wrote, “What a terrible place the world would be if it were always winter and never Christmas.” Unfortunately there is not much winter (70 degrees but thank God for 30 ton air-conditioners) but it is Christmass!

We are not alone, the Christ Child, the only Son of God, has come to be born in us. To Him be honor and glory now and forever. Amen.

©John W. Sewell
The Feast of the Incarnation
December 25, 2015

The Archetype of the Shape-Changer…

magicians_work_1479

The magician is the archetype of the shape-changer, the protean power of men to move mountains, to adjust to changed conditions, to find a way to make things work. As Sophocles noted twenty-five hundreds ago, “How numberless are the world’s wonders/And none more wonderful than man.” He who tamed the salt-churned seas, who built roads across the mountains, who wrenched from the recesses of his soul the Fifth Symphony, is the wonder-worker in nature. His shadow side, though, is control, manipulation, sleight of hand and charlatanry. He is not to be trusted. He embodies the ethical edge along which all men walk, the fine line between working wonders and treating the world as a shell game.

Under Saturn’s Shadow: The wounding and Healing of Men – James Hollis [95]

Laws of Geometric Emotional Process

Definition – An emotional triangle is any three persons
or two persons and a part of a system with a ‘problem’

Emotional Triangle

Emotional Triangle

FIRST LAW OF TRIANGLES: YOU CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE

It is not possible from the position of A to change the relationship of B and C.

SECOND LAW OF TRIANGLES: PROTOPLASM IS PERVERSE

Continued efforts to change the relationship of B and C from the position of A will be converted by homeostatic forces to their opposite intent (pushing them apart will make them ‘fall in love’, and trying to push them together will create polarized opposition).

twoperson_ruleTHIRD LAW OF TRIANGLES: YOU HAVE TO START FROM HERE 

Start From Here Change in B and C can only come from changing one’s own relationship with either or both, individually.

hqdefaultFOURTH LAW OF TRIANGLES: OVER FUNCTIONING = STRESS

If from the position of A you become responsible for the relationship of B and C, then you will wind up with the stress for their relationship, if not for the whole system. By “helping” (a synanom for controlling) B and C will not feel it.  It may be that they need to feel the anxiety to get unstuck.  

Bowen Theory – Notes from lecture by Rabbi Edwin Friedman

Anyone who wants to know the human psyche…

jung “Anyone who wants to know the human psyche will learn next to nothing from experimental psychology. He would be better advised to abandon exact science, put away his scholar’s gown, bid farewell to his study, and wander with human heart throughout the world. There in the horrors of prisons, lunatic asylums and hospitals, in drab suburban pubs, in brothels and gambling-hells, in the salons of the elegant, the Stock Exchanges, social meetings, churches, revivalist gatherings and ecstatic sects, through love and hate, through the experience of passion in every form in his own body, he would reap richer stores of knowledge than text-books a foot thick could give him, and he will know how to doctor the sick with a real knowledge of the human soul.”
  -Carl Jung

How The Resurrection Makes Sense

JOHN POLKINGHORNE

How to understand the Christian hope of the resurrection of the body against the background of modern science? A physicist and Fellow of the Royal Society, who is an Anglican priest, explains how he brings his scientific researches to bear on his Easter faith. John Polkinghorne was formerly president of Queens’ College Cambridge.

John PolkinghorneWHAT is a human person? A smart tap on the head with a hammer will show that we depend in an essential way on our bodies. So are we simply bodies, merely material beings? What about the soul?  In the history of much Christian thinking, and in much popular piety, people have thought of themselves as if they were apprentice angels. In that case, the “real me” would be a spiritual component, trapped in a body but awaiting release at death. Today, that is an increasingly difficult belief to hold. Studies of brain damage and the effects of drugs show how dependent our personalities are on the state of our bodies. Charles Darwin has taught us that our ancestry is the same as that of the other animals. Earth was once lifeless and life seems to have emerged from complex chemical interactions. Many scientists think that we are nothing but collections of molecules and they write popular books to assert this belief.

Yet that also is a pretty odd thing to believe. Could just a bunch of chemicals write Shakespeare or compose Handel’s Messiah, or discover the laws of chemistry, for that matter? There is something more to us than the merely material. Yet, whatever that extra something is, it is surely intimately connected with our bodies. We are a kind of package deal, mind and body closely related and not wholly detachable from each other. It is a puzzle.

Strangely enough, a clue about how to wrestle with the problem may be offered to us by modern science itself. For a new kind of scientific paradigm is in the making. It is called “complexity theory”; so far it has only reached the natural history stage of studying particular examples.

The Blue Apocalypse - Aaron Arkkelin

The Blue Apocalypse – Aaron Arkkelin

Physicists naturally started by considering the simplest systems available. After all, they will be the easiest to understand. Recently, the use of high-speed computers has extended our scientific range. As complex systems began to be explored, an unexpected realization dawned. Very often these turn out to have a quite simple overall behaviour, ordered in some striking pattern.

Heating water in a saucepan can provide an example. If the heat is applied gently, the water circulates from the bottom in a remarkable way. Instead of just flowing about any old how, it forms a pattern of six-sided cells, rather like a honeycomb. This is an astonishing phenomenon. Trillions of molecules have to collaborate and move together in order to generate the pattern. The effect is a simple example of a new aspect of nature that scientists are just beginning to learn about.

Traditionally, physicists thought in terms of the bits and pieces that make up a complex system. The exchanges of energy between these bits and pieces look extremely complicated. It turns out, however, that if you think about the system as a whole, there can be these remarkably orderly patterns of overall behaviour.

In other words, there are two levels of description. One involves energy and bits and pieces. The other involves the whole system and its pattern. At this second level, using computer-speak, we could say that what we need to think about is the information that specifies the pattern.

 Saint Thomas Aquinas

Saint Thomas Aquinas

We have become used to the concept of cyberspace – the realm of information accessible through our computers. That world is one of human contrivance, a world of virtual reality. We are less used to the idea, in fact because it is so unconsciously familiar, that we live in a world of intrinsic information-generating capacity, the world of actual reality and so the world of God’s creation.

We human beings are immersed in this realm of being in which energy and informational pattern complement each other. It is a world altogether richer than its pale shadow in cyberspace, for people are much more than computers made of meat. Our powers of thinking, including our access to meaning and to mathematical truths that cannot be established within the confines of the purely logical formulation we may be considering, show that we transcend the limitations of the merely computational.

One might ask what all this has to do with the human soul and coherent hope. What-ever the soul may be, it is surely the “real person”, linking what we are today with what we were in the past. That real me is certainly not the matter of my body, for that is changing all the time, through eating and drinking, wear and tear. We have very few atoms in our bodies that were there five years ago. What provides the continuity is surely the almost infinitely complex pattern in which that matter is organised. That pattern is the real person, and when we talk about the soul, that is what we are referring to. The infant science of complexity theory encourages us to take this kind of thought very seriously.

SUCH a manner of thinking need hardly come as a surprise to Christians. After all, the ancient Hebrews certainly did not think of human beings as apprentice angels. They took the package deal view that we are bodies full of life. St Thomas Aquinas thought the same. He helped the Church to free itself from the straitjacket of Platonic thinking imposed upon it through the great influence of St Augustine, with its reliance on a dualistic picture of soul and body as distinct entities. Instead, Aquinas made use of the then newly recovered insights of Aristotle. In Aristotelian thinking, the soul is the “form” (that is, the pattern) of the body.

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Saint Augustine of Hippo

In these terms, we can understand in a coherent way the great Christian hope of a destiny beyond death. That hope is to be expressed in the classic terms of death and resurrection, and not in spiritualist terms of “survival”. Death is real and a real ending, but it is not the ultimate end, for only God is ultimate. The last word on human destiny does not lie with the fact of death but with the greater fact of a faithful Creator and a merciful Redeemer.

Of course, as far as embodiment in the matter of this world is concerned, the individual pattern that is the human soul will be dissolved at death. It makes sense, however, to believe that God will hold that pattern in the divine memory and then reimbody it in the environment of the new creation at the resurrection of the dead.

Our real hope that death is not the end has to depend on our belief in the trustworthiness of God. Appeal to that belief was exactly the way in which Jesus countered the disbelief of the Sadducees (Mk 12: 18-27). He reminded them that God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The patriarchs mattered to God once and so they must matter to God for ever. Israel’s God is “God, not of the dead but of the living”. If we matter to God now, as we certainly do, then we shall matter to God for ever. At death, we shall not be cast aside like broken pots on some cosmic rubbish heap. Human beings are not naturally immortal, but the faithful God will give us a destiny beyond our deaths.

Jesus teaching at the Temple - James Tissot

Jesus teaching at the Temple – James Tissot

We can take with all due seriousness all that science can tell us about ourselves and this world and still believe that God will remember the patterns that we are and will recreate them when we are resurrected into the life of the world to come. As Christians we know that this is not a mere theoretical possibility, for we have the resurrection of Our Lord as the foretaste and guarantee, enacted within history, of the destiny that awaits us all beyond history.