Thursday, October 31, 2013

Smell of the Spirit

Yesterday was a beautiful day.  As usual, in the late afternoon I changed clothes and headed to the local Metroparks for my run or, sometimes, a run that slows to a walk.  I love the Metroparks.  It is a park system that circles my fair city…some 70 miles in total.  On nice days one sees the runners, walkers, bikers, rollerbladers, women with baby carriages, and other sundry people.  It is a wonderful venue for those of us urbanites and suburbanites.  Nature is a short distance away. 

Yesterday was one of those “slower than usual days.”  In fact, it would be a lie to suggest that I went for a run.  But it was beautiful and I did not care.  I was outside; I was mobile; and I was enjoying myself.  As I have commented so often, in such a state I think people are sitting ducks for spiritual experiences. 

My spiritual experience was sneakily ordinary.  But most of my spiritual experiences are so ordinary they could easily and summarily be dismissed by the most amateur atheist.  In a debate I could not do a very good job of defending the experience as spiritual.  But again I did not care.  If there were an amateur atheist around, he or she did not bother me.  In fact, I did not even grasp the experience as spiritual until it was over and I was pondering it.  Let me explain. 

I was ambling along (maybe this is the in-between of the walk and the run!).  I saw a truck approaching on the roadway that runs along the path.  It was a pickup truck.  But the truck was piled high with bales of hay.  I recall thinking that was unusual.  This is not a farming community like the one of my childhood.  But I also know there are some horses around and I know they have to eat.   

However, it was not the sight of the truck that did it.  That was not spiritual.  As the truck passed by me and disappeared behind me, the smell began to fill the air.  It was not a strong smell, but it was more than a faint smell.  I recognized it instantly.  All those years on a farm where summer after summer I spent considerable time in the hayfield.  I know when some farmer has “mowed hay” and a couple days later after it cures, that same farmer will bring the hay to the barn. 

The smell lingered in the air for a few minutes.  Because I was going so slowly, I was able to savor the smell. It awakens deep memories in me.  That smell is tinged with nostalgia.  As I ponder it, I realize that smell effects a double connection.  It connects me to people.  In my case those people are my father, my grandfather, and sometimes my uncle.  Those were the ones with whom I was always connected to when we were “making hay.”  It was never a solitary endeavor back in those days. 

Secondly, that smell effects a connection to God---to the Spirit.  It is much more difficult for me to explain this connection.  For me it is akin to what I think it must have been like for the high priest to go into the Holy of Holies and come face to face with God.  What do you say when you emerge from the Holy of Holies?  Like I think must be true of the high priest, I emerge from my hay experience of the Spirit with all the verbal dexterity of a bumbling idiot!  I went to the mountain and have no words adequate to describe the experience. 

Then I laughed out loud.  Had anyone been close to me, they would legitimately assume I was a bumbling idiot!  I laughed because it hit me.  I know what the smell of the Spirit is!  That is funny, even as I type it.  I never, ever thought about whether the Spirit smells.  And for sure, had I concluded the Spirit did smell, I could not have come up with one idea.  But now I know.

I would not pretend baled hay will do it for everyone.  In fact, I doubt that the Spirit would work that way with very many people.  You see, it is not the hay.  It is the connection(s) that come with and through the hay.  The hay is the occasion and the medium for the spiritual connections I had and still have.  It is spiritual because it connects me to God and to some of God’s people.

If I think about it further, I begin to grasp the significance of incense.  When I go to Catholic Mass, one of my favorite moments is when the priest begins to use the incense around the altar.  Again, the Spirit begins to smell.  I realize that Quakers don’t use this sensory faculty very much.  I was not nurtured to smell the Spirit. 

I wonder how many avenues the Spirit uses to “smell up a place?”  I am sure it is more than I can guess.  Clearly, this is an area of some spiritual growth for me.  Of course, not all smells are conducive to the Spirit.  There really are some stinky spots in our world!  And there are many “fake” smells in our contemporary world: aftershave, perfumes, etc.  I doubt that the Spirit ever uses these. 

Guess I will have to keep my nose open!  The Spirit is all around.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Walk the White Line

I was not very far into my run/walk yesterday, when I noticed them.  It was a gorgeous fall day.  It was warm, the sun shone brilliantly in the sky and the leaves are turning multiple colors.  It was a good day to be alive and to be outside.  Besides it was more fun than reading and grading papers! 

I noticed ahead of me on the other side of the road a bunch of kids and two adults.  They were just emerging from a yard and were coming toward me on the side of the road that has no sidewalk.  It is not a hugely traveled road, but there are quite a few cars and the road is relatively narrow.  From what I was guessing, there were two mothers and five kids as I differentiated the pack unfolding one person at a time. 

Naturally, the kids bolted to the front, forming a single line to include the mothers at the tail of the line.  I was not paying close attention as I loped along in my own little world.  But then I heard these words from one of the kids: “Walk the white line.”  Those words jolted me back into consciousness of the seven pilgrims on the other side of the road as they approached.  Indeed, I saw the white line they were now to walk. 

The white line is the normal line painted along the side of the road to indicate to the driver where the road leaves off and the ditch---or whatever is at the side of the road---begins.  Any of us who drive know well the white line.  It is so omnipresent, I never even think about it.  But we all know the experience of being on a country road on a very dark night and discovering there is no white line!  Black asphalt in a black night is tricky!  Thanks be to white lines! 

The minute the kid called out, “Walk the White Line,” I knew the theme and title for this reflection.  It was a clever move on his or her part (I had no recollection whether it was a girl or boy’s voice that offer the sage orders for the others).  I don’t know whether it was the kid in front…or one of them in the middle…or the fifth kid.  I do know it was not one of the adults.   

And I knew all of this was a powerful metaphor for the spiritual journey.  Probably most of us are aware that “journey” is a timeworn metaphor for our spiritual life.  Of course, no one lives an entire life in a day.  Life is constituted by many days---usually thousands of days.  Indeed someone who lives to be 100 will live through more than 36,000 days!  I am not there yet! 

So life is a journey and so is spirituality.  I like the Latin word for journey; it is via.  A via is a journey, a path, a road, a way---a way of life.  Of course, we get English words from this, like “viable,” which means there is a way!  So when the kid called out, “Walk the White Line,” he or she was offering a viable way for the troop to proceed without being run over by a car.

I want to use that line as an analogy for our spiritual journeys.  I suspect it is typical for our spiritual journey to have a white line.  Sometimes the white line may include the scripture of the tradition.  In the case of my own Christianity, I think the gospels are key.  Jesus calls out, “love your enemies.”  That’s a white line.  If you follow the Christian via, then you are to love your enemies.  If you are Christian, you can add details. 

Another white line comes with our various traditions.  My own Quaker tradition has several “testimonies” which are offered as white lines.  We have a testimony about peacemaking.  We are supposed to look for those occasions that take away possibilities of war and enmity.  For me this means to pay attention and not provoke people.  It means I am supposed to me a reconciler rather than a troublemaker.  There is another testimony on simplicity.  If I walk the Quaker white line, I am not supposed to be into greed, accumulating, and selfish hoarding of anything.  I am to live simply.  I have more difficulty with time than I do material goods.  As an American, I live fairly simply.  But one look at my schedule---at being too busy---and no one in his or her right mind can conclude I live a simple life.  I have strayed from the white line.  I may be in danger of being run over! 

If we walk the white line, it is not a guarantee that we will never come into harm’s way.  The kids walking the white line yesterday did not assure them they were absolutely safe in the face of the passing cars.  But they were on the right path.  They had opted for a viable way. 

I was intrigued by the kid’s foresight and leadership.  It could have been “every kid for himself or herself.”  But the little leader took responsibility for safety and the wellbeing of the others.  He or she stepped up and spoke out.  Blessed be the spiritual leaders.  We don’t have to be the oldest, the most educated, nor at the head of the line. 

We do need to be aware, creative, and ready to serve.  Usually there is a white line.  Let us have the audacity to tell others to walk the white line!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Identity and Relationship

Recently I have been leading a group that is using the classic book, Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh.  Originally published in the mid-1950s, this book has stood well the test of time.  It is dated in some ways.  Reading it again makes me aware of how our American culture has changed.  The role of women, of marriage and other things have undergone significant change since the mid-20th century.  And yet so much of the book is timely and, even, timeless.  There are still nuggets of wisdom and profundity that make me delighted to read it again.           

At one point, the group focused on chapter IV, “Double-Sunrise.”  I really don’t know much about shells, except to know that I like them and like to pick up shells when I am at the beach.  But I have never been an “ocean person,” so am very much the novice.  Lindbergh describes the double-sunrise shell in this fashion.  “Both halves of this delicate bivalve are exactly matched.  Each side, like the wing of a butterfly, is marked with the same pattern; translucent white, except for three rosy rays that fan out from the golden hinge binding the two together.”            

With this wonderful description embedded in my mind, I read on in the chapter.  It was readily apparent the chapter was focusing on relationships.  Lindbergh talked about relationships with spouses and with kids.  Relationships with friends played a role.  I have known for a long time that I am fascinated by relationships.  Like most folks my age, I have had some good relationships, some long relationships and some lousy relationships.  While this reading was interesting, I did not find it new.          

At some point, however, I realized Lindbergh had introduced another major theme into the chapter.  This theme was about identity.  Again, I know that I have given a great deal of attention to the issue of identity.  When I was in my twenties, I knew I was hard at work forming my own identity.  In retrospect I also know that I did not finish this identity-work in my twenties.  For all I now, I am still forming my identity.           

It then occurred to me that Lindbergh’s writing had given me a new way to think about things.  In effect she was asking me to think about the connection between identity and relationship.  I am sure they are connected---perhaps very closely connected.  But I realized that I had not thought much about it.  I must have thought about each one independently.           

Let’s look at two types of relationships that clearly have a formative effect on our identity.  It is obvious that our parents have a huge role in forming us.  Our relationship with our mothers (or primary caregiver) is perhaps the most important formative influence.  In fact, those of us lucky enough to be born into a loving, caring home have huge advantages the rest of our lives.  If we are unlucky to be born into homes where there is little love and, perhaps even, abuse, the identity forming process is much more difficult.  But it does not condemn us to be “nobodies.”  It is just harder.           

The second kind of relationship I want to consider is the relationship possible with God or the Holy One.  For those of us on the spiritual journey, this also can become the primary relationship.  It can become the most powerful formative influence on our identity.  In fact, I think of the monks who enter the monastery.  That relationship becomes so formative that they take on a new name to befit their new identities.           

When I enter into a relationship with the Holy One, I am not going to get a new name.  However, I will start to become a new being.  Christian literature will talk about us becoming “new persons.”  In biblical language we die to the old self and become a new self.  Thomas Merton uses language of the “false self” and “true self.”  Whatever the language we might use, the fact of the matter is we all have a chance to become a new, different person.          

In the Spirit we are remade.  I do not see my life predestined.  I am not red meat for the whims of Fate.  I was created in the image of the Holy One and I have the free will to choose the kinds of relationships that can shape me into the spiritually mature person that can make a huge difference in the world.  In the Spirit I become a “somebody.”  I become somebody who makes all the difference.  I become a plus in the world and not a minus!          

I like to put it simply: with whom I am affects who I am.  In other words, the people (or God) with whom I am affect the person I become.  The good news is, it is never too late to begin this spiritual formative process.  Learn what it means to enter into a relationship with the Holy One.  Choose to associate with and become friends with the friends of God.  Who you are is affected by the one with whom you are.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Tradition and Convention

My favorite monk, Thomas Merton, makes an interesting distinction in his book, No Man Is an Island.  Merton differentiates tradition and convention.  Merton talks about tradition in very positive terms.  I like the way Merton defines tradition.  “Tradition is living and active…Tradition does not form us automatically: we have to work to understand it…Tradition really teaches us to live and shows us how to take full responsibility for our own lives.  Thus tradition is often flatly opposed to what is ordinary, to what is mere routine.”  I will unpack this lengthy quotation as we consider the meaning and impact of tradition in our spiritual lives.           

But first let’s get a sense for how Merton uses the idea of convention.  Then it will become clear how he differentiates convention and tradition.  “Convention,” says Merton, “is passive and dead…Convention is accepted passively, as a matter of routine.  Therefore convention easily becomes an evasion of reality.  It offers us only pretended ways of solving the problems of living---a system of gestures and formalities.”           

In some ways tradition and convention are both accumulations of the past.  I have traditions from family, from the Quaker meetings in which I spent my youth, some athletic traditions and others.  Within many of these traditions were conventions.  If you went to my Quaker meeting (or church), there would be certain things you were “supposed to do,” even though there were no rules that someone could have handed to you.             

Conventions often come to us as those things “we have always done that way.”  Conventions usually mean that you are right if you do it the right way.  I think Merton is insightful when he describes convention as passive.  “Just do it,” is the mantra of the convention.  “Don’t ask why, just do it,” is the unwritten rule of convention.  Convention has an implicit assumption that suggests doing the act results in the act being meaningful.  For example, convention would say that sitting together in silence in a Quaker meeting for worship means you necessarily have a spiritual experience.  Anyone who has done that knows it is not necessarily true.  It may be true; but it is not necessarily true.          

I think this is the insightful, which Merton figured out.  Tradition is living and active.  Tradition is also the “story” by which we engage the past.  In some ways tradition, like convention, says, “this is the way we have always done it.”  Tradition knows this past and wants to hand it on to all newcomers.  If you play on my team, if you join my group, if you are part of my family, then this is the way we have always done it.           

But tradition never assumes that “the way we have always done it” is a guarantee that it always works.  Tradition never assumes that merely doing some traditional thing guarantees success.  Convention implies that is true; tradition knows it is not always true.           

I like Merton’s emphasis on the fact that tradition really teaches us how to live.  No doubt that was true for his monastery, which would have been steeped in tradition.  My Quaker meeting back home is more than two hundred years old.  And it is part of an even older Quaker story and tradition.  And Quakers are part of the much older Christian tradition.  Of course, there are many conventions that have resulted.           

Conventions are like the sediments of our history.  They are the ordinary and the routine.  There is nothing bad about them.  But they are not active and do not live.  Being conventional is ok, but not vital.  Doing conventions is ok, but not enlivening.  On the other hand, tradition puts us in touch with the past and with history, but it vitalizes the present and thrusts us forward into exciting futures.  It teaches us how to take full responsibility for our lives.           

Tradition helps me take full responsibility for my life.  Allow me to go back to the Quaker example of sitting.  It is Quaker tradition to use silence as a medium to be available to the Spirit of God to engage us.  Convention would say to be silent and God will come.  Nothing to it!  But tradition says to become silent.  Silence, however, is not passive waiting.  Silence requires active waiting.  In silence one prepares the heart, opens the mind, becomes vulnerable to the Presence.  Being silent guarantees nothing, but is does insure the increased likelihood that the Spirit will be experienced.           

If I get myself out of the way, the Spirit comes my way.  That is what tradition teaches me.  But tradition teaches me knowing that is different than experiencing that.  Tradition teaches me how to become spiritual.  But I actually have to do it.  Knowledge is good, but it is not sufficient.             

I appreciate the many conventions in my life.  But I value the traditions that form me spiritually and that teach me how to take responsibility for my own life.  And I thank Merton for helping me understand the difference.  I don’t mind being conventional.  I want to be traditional.  But most of all, I strive to be incarnational.   

Friday, October 25, 2013

My Little River

I sit in my chair as I begin to write this inspirational piece, which will be read tomorrow.  It is pitch dark outside.  As we near the shortest day of the year, it always seems much later than it really is.  I have some nice windows to look out, but because it is so dark, I cannot see a thing.
 
But I can hear the roar in the background.  If I were to invite you into my place tonight, you would swear we were at the ocean.  With only a little imagination, we would be certain we could hear the waves crashing on shore.  But I am twelve miles from one of the Great Lakes and at least 400 miles from the nearest ocean.  So it is not the ocean we hear outside my little place.  It is my little river.
 
Why would I call it my little river?  I call it that because most of the time that is exactly what it is: my little river.  Right now it is pretty tumultuous.  If you could wait with me till dawn begins to fragment the eastern night sky (and my window does look out to the east), we would see that my little river is quite high in its banks.  We have had a great deal of rain and a heavy rain yesterday.  So my little river is swollen and it rages.
 
That’s precisely what we would be hearing outside my door in that pitch-black night.  It is a swollen, raging river.  If my little river were a person, we would be guessing that person would be angry.  In fact a “raging” river is an angry river.  Like anger, the rain has turned my little river into something else. 
 
The flow of the river right now is aggressive.  Instead of drifting along, that river is charging downstream.  It submerges rocks and anything else that gets in its way.  The water current is swift and quite strong.  No sane person would step into the water to swim.  To step into the water would be suicidal.  My little river has become a potential death-dealer.  It may be awesome.  But it is also fearful.  I respect it---from a distance!
 
So what does this have to do with anything?  Certainly one can ask whether it has anything to do with religion or spirituality.  At one level---the literal level---the answer is negative.  Literally it is a story about a rain-swollen little river that flows nearly out of control.  It is simply the effect of some heavy rain.  But the literal level is not the only way to read and hear this story.
 
Let’s assume this is metaphorically a nature story about how the Spirit works in the world and, specifically, in human beings.  At the Spirit level there are actually two levels, just as there are two levels to my little river.  The obvious level is what I would call the “normal level.” 
 
This normal level is my little river most of the time.  Most days, if you were to visit, would show us a little river gently moving along.  One could walk into the water and barely discern the movement.  It would pose no danger.  We could play in it and enjoy it.  It would be fully ours to do as we wish.
 
That is very much how I see the normal level of the Spirit.  It, too, is very gentle.  The movement of the Spirit, like the river current, is barely discernable.  In fact, the subtle flow of God’s Spirit in normal times is so difficult to discern, it would be easy to assume there is no Spirit.  Perhaps this is why so many of us in our normal lives are not aware of the Spirit and, consequently, live with no attentiveness to God’s Spirit.  It is the same with me and my little river.  Normally speaking, I am seldom aware of the little river.
 
But then come the rains and then comes the gusts of the Divine Spirit.  The little river swells, just as my spirit is swollen by the Holy Spirit.  This is no longer the normal level!  What do we call it?  Is it the abnormal?  Although that sounds a bit strange, it is an ok description.  To be abnormal is to be away from the normal.
 
Strange as it sounds, there really are times in my life when the presence of the Spirit has been so abnormally present that I could do no other than be awed (and somewhat fearful) of it.  That kind of presence threatens to take control of me.  It feels like it is going to carry me along in a Spiritual current too strong to resist.  This may sound like religious fanaticism, but that’s not the case.
 
Nothing in my life that I have done remotely comes close to religious fanaticism.  The abnormal presence of God’s Spirit does not create religious freaks.  But that abnormal presence of the Spirit does create martyrs and miracles.  The English word, martyr, comes from a Greek word meaning, “witness.”  So a martyr is one whose life is a witness (ultimate martyrdom being witness unto death).
 
The abnormal presence of God will make each of us this kind of witness with out lives.  And that would, in turn, be a miracle.  We would be led to be something great.  And we would be called to do something significant.  To be in this abnormal presence is to pray truly for God’s will to be done.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Compline

Recently on my pilgrimage to the monastery, the students and I participated in one full twenty-four hour round of the Divine Office, as it is called.  The first aspect of that is Vigils, which happens at 3:15 am.  Vigils is a good name, coming from the Latin meaning, “to keep watch” or “vigilance.”  At the other end of the cycle is Compline, which obviously has the sense of “completing.”

I loved Compline.  Because of the time of the winter season when we were there, it was already dark outside when we entered the sanctuary for Compline.  The darkness led to a more mysterious sense for us as we walked through the darkness in silence into the sanctuary.  Because we had been up so early, it was easy to understand why the day did seem like it was nearly complete.  It was easy to know that if we followed this schedule on a daily basis, as the monks do, we would have to head to bed fairly soon after Compline.  No 11:00pm news and Jay Leno for monks!

One of the things I bring back with me from Gethsemani is the ability to participate in the Divine Office as I wish.  So in this new day, I thought I would go directly to what will happen tonight at Compline.  As with most of the short worship spots throughout the Divine Office (from Vigils to Compline), there are readings from the Psalms.  In fact, at the monastery, the monks work through the entire book of Psalms (all 150 of them!) every two weeks!  No wonder they know that book so well.

So tonight part of the Psalm which will be used comes from Psalm 143.  Let’s listen to part of the Psalmist’s words.  Come quickly and hear me, O Lord, for my spirit is weakening.” (Ps 143:7)  I can resonate with these words.  I like the first two verbs in the sentence: come and hear.  I like the audacity of the Psalmist as he addresses the Divinity: Come!  Listen!

If we were to imagine how the Psalmist said these words out loud, how would we imagine?  Would the Psalmist use a booming voice---almost in a demanding fashion? “Come!”  “Hear!”  I think this is my choice.  I almost snicker when I think the Psalmist says to God something to the effect, “Come here and listen!”  But in faith this is exactly what we can do.

The Psalmist continues by saying, “Do not hide your face from me, do not let me be like the dead, who go down to the underworld.” (143:7)  That seems like a legitimate prayer as we head into the night and to sleep.  In effect, it is a prayer to be “watched over.”  We probably all have that feeling that at night when we are asleep, we are not in control.  We can be taken places via our dreams, etc.  “Watch over us,” we pray to the Divinity.

The next line follows wonderfully on the previous thought.  “Show me your mercy at daybreak, because of my trust in you.” (143:8)  This petition assumes we will make it through the night.  It assumes God will watch over us and bring us back into a new day.  And to ask for mercy at daybreak seems like a pretty smart move on the part of the Psalmist.

I realize how easy it is for me to enter the night with a little fear and, then, get scared at night with the darkness, nightmares, and so on.  But when morning comes, I feel ok and ready to be in control.  It is as if I don’t need God anymore!

The Psalmist is smarter than I am.  The Psalmist asks for mercy at daybreak.  The Psalmist is smart enough to ask for mercy so he is not on his own…he is “on mercy.”  It is as if the Psalmist says “God be with me.”  “God be with me through this new day.”  “God be with me in every way.”

I know how it works.  I have been to Gethsemani and many other monasteries.  But knowing how it works…and doing it are two different things.  But I am ready.  I am heading into Compline tonight ready to tell God to come and hear.  And I will pray with the Psalmist to show me mercy at daybreak.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The God Who Is To Come


Finally, I would like to look at the third piece of the Doxology which is recited many times daily at Gethsemani, the Trappist monastery where I visited recently.  The Doxology begins by praising the God Who is, Who was, and Who is to come.”  In some ways this God Who is to come is the most difficult to describe.

Clearly, the language is future tense.  The verb indicates the not-yet quality of this aspect of God.  (I am assuming there are not three gods being affirmed in the Doxology!). It is the one true God who is the God who worked in the past (tradition), who works in the present time, and the same God who will be at work in the unfolding of future time.  The good news is this God Whom we knew yesterday and today will be the same God Whom we will know in the future time.

I have no doubt, the popular understanding of this God Who is to come is that God Who will inaugurate the future judgment.  For many people this is probably the era of the Apocalypse.  In addition to the judgment, there will be the wailing and gnashing of teeth.  In this scenario one certainly hopes to be on the right side.  Typically the story goes, the earth will be finished and the Kingdom will come for some.  And for the other, unlucky ones, well….

I do not dismiss out of hand this popular view.  It may be correct.  There is biblical evidence that can be read to support this viewpoint.  And certainly the God Who was often is portrayed as judging the people.  So it might be true.

However, I want to suggest an alternative view of the God Who is to come.  I believe we have hints of how this aspect of God will work if we pay attention to how that God worked in the past.  One of the most important characteristics of our Divinity is the creative.  Genesis begins with the account of creation.  It seems to be God’s very nature is to be creative.  That is why you and I are here.  God wanted us and, therefore, brought us into being.

Love is as good a reason I know to account for why God wanted us.  God needed some lovers!  And look at what God got: you, me, and a bunch of others.  But it did not go too well.  We turned out too often to be lousy lovers.  We became too self-focused.  We did not always honor our gift of life, our blessing of free will, and our need to be careful.

So the creative God---the God Who is to come---still is present in creative ways to bring us back into relationship.  And it seems clear to me that God is going to continue to be Lover and not Boss.  This is the cue to understanding the God Who is to come.  That God will be found in desire, not despotism.  That God wants us and will not whop us!  I do not think the God Who is to come will come apocalyptically.  I am convinced love is the key.

The God Who is to come will love us into new being just as much as we were loved into being in the first place.  It will be a slow and, sometimes, painful work.  It will be slow for God and it seems slow to me.  I am convinced this is the only way the kingdom can come.  The God Who comes will be appreciated as Host and not Henchman.  The gift is life.  One needs life to love.  That’s the kingdom secret.

The job of all of us who want to work with the God Who is willingly sign up for some hosting of our own.  As harbingers of the kingdom, we seek ways to bring life into death-dealing places and situations.  If we are alert, we can see these all around us.  We will seek ways to inject love into places which become seeds of hope.

Hope is the currency of the God Who is to come.  Hope is how we participate in tomorrow today.  I am ready lovingly to do my part to plant seeds of hope…hope grounded in the God Who is to come. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The God Who Was


Yesterday I mentioned how many times daily I said the Doxology while on my recent trip to the Tappist monastery in Kentucky.  I guessed it was thirty or forty times.  Of course, that seems like a big number and, truly, I may be exaggerating.  But it was many times.

Of course, I lived a great deal of life before I really knew what a “doxology” was.  I knew it was something most people knew.  But why it was important was beyond me.  It was simple…a kind of spiritual no-brainer.  And then I learned Greek.  I learned the Greek word, doxa, means “praise” or “glory.”  So when I say the doxology, I am literally praising or giving God the glory.  That made it important to me.

The Doxology we shared at the monastery at Gethsemani was a little different than the version I grew up saying. The opening line was praising the three persons of the Christian trinity: in traditional language, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  That is and was standard.

Then the next line was the one which intrigued me.  It intrigued me every time I said it.  “The God Who Is” was the first piece of that line and it was the object of some reflections in yesterday’s meditative selection.  The next piece is what I want to give focus in this new day.  And so the line goes: “The God Who is, Who was….”  “Who is” clearly is present tense.  It is the God of today, the God of the here and now.

“The God Who was” is the God of yesterday.  It is the God of last century and last millennial.  Indeed, it is the God who has existed from the beginning of time.  It is easy to wonder why bother with that God…the God of our history and the old God of our world?

With that question, I realize I am wandering into some significant theological waters.  It can get tricky.  Nevertheless, I wander in and want to explore this “God Who was…”

“The God Who was…” is the God of tradition.  Of course, “tradition” is also a tricky idea.  For some, tradition is old stuff and should be done away with as soon as possible.  It is seen as dated, dilapidated, and sometimes, detrimental.  “Out with the old and in with the new” is the cry!  “Trash Tradition” seemed to be the mantra of the 1960s.

But tradition has a salutary side.  Tradition can be seen as the treasure of memory.  Tradition does not necessarily mean fossilized.  It can be lively…a living tradition.  As far back as Augustine in the fourth and fifth centuries, memory was the way the past was held in the present.  If I can remember, then I have “yesterday” in the present of today.  Otherwise, “yesterday” is gone.  It no longer exists.  Just think if someone came along and wiped out your memories.  No longer would you be “the real you.”  Just think if you could only recall what happens in one day!

Thank God for memory…that storehouse of all my “past present times.”  That’s tradition.  And it is no different for God as we relate to that God.  God did not just become God for me in my present.  God was God for countless people in countless places long before I existed.

There are stories of that God interacting with all those people before me…people God also cared for and loved.  Of course, they may have experienced God differently than I currently experience the Divinity.  They may use different language than I do to describe my God.  But that does not make them wrong…any more than my language to describe God is right. We are all linguistically helpless creatures wrestling to articulate the mystery and majesty of “The God Who is, and Who was…”

I take solace in the fact that “The God Who was” somehow foundationally undergirds all that I am and do.  It is not all novelty.  There is history; soon I will be history.  I will become part of the tradition wrapped up in “The God Who was…”  Tradition is the repository of yesterday’s truth and meaning.

From the depths of my heart I praise “The God Who was…”