(Ideological and fundamentalist ways of thinking die)
I received an email from someone I do not know. She was the recipient of one of my post, via a second party. She asked me a few questions about my faith. Below is my poor way of expressing a small part of my own journey. Most of my writing is stream of consciousness stuff, so it is a bit of a ramble. I am not an organized thinker, more intuitive I believe, so my writing is a way for me to actually see what I know, or feel, or am thinking about.
About a year ago I was reading a book on religion (sorry to say I have forgotten the name of the book) and this statement jumped out at me. This is a paraphrase of course: “Religions survive because the words of its founder can never be fully understood, they never become an ideology. Ideologies are closed systems and are too rigid to survive for long; they become brittle and collapse”. In other words fundamentalisms of any sort whether it is secular or religious, are doomed to die eventually. It is the pondering of the deep questions that keep the faiths alive. As a Christians, I can say that I have spent years pondering the mysteries of my faith and have yet reached the place where I can say “I know and understand”. No, faith is the goad that keeps me digging, praying and pondering the mystery of the incarnation and what it means. Intuitive understanding is good, but actually putting this into words can be difficult.
We are made in the image and likeness of God. If anyone believes that, that alone can lead to a lifetime of pondering what this actually means. What are our deepest longings and how do we live them out, I guess is a good place to start. Without being sentimental, I can say that at least for me; that deepest longing is to learn to love and to be able to accept love in return. Our songs and literature speak of it as well as do an artist of any stripe. There is, of course, instinctive love, based on need, but we can also go beyond that. A good parent loves the child enough to let it mature and grow more separate, which I am sure can be both and joyous and painful experience. When meditating on the reality of true human love and its cost and rewards, I think tells us something about that mystery that we are made in the image of. I remember once when I was about 12, I became very sick, with a high fever and could not eat or drink much. All my mom could do is to give me aspirin, and when the fever broke, change my bed since it was soaked. I do not remember much about this time, but I do remember the concern and pain in my mother’s eyes. I got the feeling that she would have taken my place in a heartbeat. I got better of course and life moved on.
The more we love, the deeper our compassion and empathy (that flows from experience and self-knowledge), the more we are capable of feeling not only joy but also suffering. Love makes us vulnerable and open to full life. The problem with human love is that it can often be portrayed at its worst and not its best. Being human, I believe we are broken is some way, that leaves us always looking for a deeper experience of love, though we may seek it out in many ways that are harmful to all involved.
Love calls us to face life fully, to embrace both the pain and the joy. Sin is when we try to escape this vulnerability that is part of our existence and seek to protect ourselves. This can be manifested in many ways. Our addictions, the walls we build to keep others at bay, the suppression of our emotions and feelings etc. I can say that I have learned this from experience and the healing that leads to a deeper ability to embrace life is a lifelong process for most, well it is true for me.
What does it mean when we say “That God is love”? When you insert onto this phrase that God’s love is infinite, well that adds a whole dimension that is beyond human understanding and in fact can be quite frightening. Human love with all of its ups and downs and failures can be understood…. infinite love (?), well no. It is not human love, but something much more, and this love as is shown in the Christian path, seeks us out in a way that is passionate and at times can seem unmerciful.
Revelation, which I believe Jesus is that a revelation of the Father’s love for each of us, is something simply revealed, but not something new. This reality has always been at work in our world and as time goes on, we are slowly learning at ever deeper levels what this means. I doubt we will ever fully understand. Each Christian is called to live out this mystery and to deepen one's understanding of what it means.
Jesus used human metaphors to help us understand the Father’s love. For instance the parable of the ‘Prodigal Son”, is something that can be understood at ever deeper levels, the more it is prayed over. Infinite love overturns all of our thoughts about love in general and God’s love in particular. We will always on some level be idol worshippers, and we are called to allow each of these idols to fall by the wayside as we become closer to this mystery, which is based on developing a loving and trusting attitude….which by the way is a conscious choice. Like Jesus in Gethsemane, when he said: “Father let this cup pass by me…… (here is the clincher)…..yet not my will, but your holy will, be done”….each of us will also have our Gethsemane experience, perhaps more than one, in which we will ask to be delivered and for the most part we will not be. It is difficult to embrace life when we suffer, but that is what we are called to do. Jesus knew that the Father was with him, suffering with him, just as God journeys with us and experiences our lives fully; such is the love that pursues us.
Sebastian Moore wrote a book titled “The Crucified Christ is no stranger”. In this book, he made this statement: “When we see Christ on the cross, we are looking at our own souls”. When we love, we see the beloved fully, be it a husband or wife, or a child, or a dear friend. When we love in this way, I believe we are actually living out that image of God. With God, each of us is the beloved, the only one; we are not looked upon as being simply a member of a group, race or species. No, we are each uniquely loved in an infinite manner. This is hard to believe and understand I know, in fact when this mystery draws close, is when I am tempted to doubt. I choose to move forward in trust.
We are called to be fully human. I believe that Jesus shows us what that means. Of course, it means a death to a way of life that is more instinctive than human. On the cross, when he was near death after he cried out to the Father in seeming despair, he said this: “Father forgive them for they know not what they are doing”. Yes, we are called to let go of all that causes pain and separation in the world. If we were truly human, living out of our highest ideals, or perhaps the Sermon on the Mount, I think the world would be quite a different place. Do I live this out, well no, I still struggle and hopefully with God’s grace, I am becoming, a little bit more human, every day.
Christ Jesus identifies with each of us. “Whatever you do to the least of these you do to me”….is something real. It shows the immanence of God. We are all sacred. When we fail to see that, then we sin, because we use one another more often than we would like to believe.