When God comes in

Perichoresis

8fec65aa copyLord, come into my heart. It’s hard for me to get the door open very far, but if at the Incarnation you managed to squeeze into an embryo, perhaps you could make it into my heart too—even if I only manage to crack it open a bit.

Sorry about the clutter inside. There are things that shouldn’t be here, but come to think of it, the first place you came to wasn’t exactly a clean scrubbed hospital room—it was a barn. That being the case, perhaps you would venture to enter my heart too.

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I have been told that sin is something you do not look upon or come close to. However, if a bad smelling cow shed was your place of your birth, there’s probably no place you wouldn’t come if invited. That’s a relief.

As a matter of fact, you seem to make a point of coming to where…

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The Galactic Milieu: The “Irrationality” and Beauty of the Incarnation

 

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[Slightly modified version of a post from December 2013. Merry Christmas Everyone!]

As we approach Christmas, I thought I would share one of my favorite descriptions of the Incarnation. This is courtesy of Julian May, a prolific and talented science fiction writer. One of her most popular works is the Galactic Milieu, a four-book science fiction series that constructs a future world based on the evolutionary ideas of Teilhard de Chardin and psychological ideas of Carl Jung. The title Galactic Milieu is taken from Teilhard’s Divine Milieu. In this world, a segment of humanity has evolved powerful mental powers such as telepathic communication and psychokinesis. At this point, four other sentient types of life form intervene on Earth and teach humans about Unity, an intense form of psychological and intellectual union similar to the Noosphere. In Chapter 24 of the second book of the series (Jack the Bodiless) May, a practicing Catholic, provides a succinct and powerful explanation of Christmas and the Incarnation.  The following is an adaptation of May’s explanation, which consists of a telepathic communication between Teresa Remillard and her unborn genius baby, Jon Paul Kendall Remillard (Jack):

APE LAKE, BRITISH COLUMBIA, EARTH DECEMBER 25, 2051

Jon Paul Kendall Remillard had philosophical difficulties with the concept of Christmas. That the scraggly little evergreen tree his mother was trimming was a midwinter hope symbol was easy enough to understand from the explanations and mental images his mother Teresa offered. But the notion of God creating a body for himself to wear—and even Creation itself—bothered Jack.

Jack said: “It seems a very strange and unnecessary thing for God to do. To become human so that we’d love him rather than fear him. If he’s truly a Supreme Being then it follows that he has no need of any other entity to ensure his own happiness. Especially entities that are so imperfect by their very nature that they will inevitably befoul an otherwise orderly creation. I can understand God creating the physical universe for fun. But why create other minds when you know they’re going to mess things up?”

Teresa: “I believe famous human thinkers have debated those points.” I seem to remember that the theologians of early times were quite positive that God had no absolute need to create other thinking persons,” Teresa said. “This is perfectly ridiculous, of course, since the theologians were willing to concede that he had done it and must have had a good reason. Now, unless we’re ready to admit that a Supreme Being can be capricious or wishy-washy, it follows that he needed to do it. He did need us.”

Jack: “But what prompted God’s need of us?”

“Love,” said Teresa.

Jack said: “That’s irrational.”

“Exactly. I don’t believe anyone has ever reasoned out a satisfactory answer to God’s need of us. Those religions outside the Judeo-Christian tradition rarely hit upon the notion of a loving God at all. As for natural philosophy, loving-kindness would not be an attribute that one would logically deduce that a Big-Bang-Creator-God would have.”

“Hardly.”

“But love is the only motive that seems to make any sense. Without it, you have the Creator-God as a game player trying to assuage his cosmic boredom, caring about us only as game pieces. That is to say, not caring very much! Now, if God wanted us to know that he created us out of love, he’d have to tell us, since we couldn’t figure it out for ourselves. He’d have to get directly involved with us, rather than let us tick along obliviously the way the evolving non-sapient universe does.”

“I suppose so …”

“There are any number of ways he might have done this. But put yourself in God’s position and try to decide the most elegant way to get involved with your thinking creatures. The way that is at once most difficult and unlikely but has the potentiality to succeed in the most magnificent manner imaginable.”

“Not the easiest way?”

“Heavens, no! What would be the satisfaction in that! I can sing ‘Happy Birthday to You’, but I get more satisfaction doing the mad scene from Lucia, even if it tires me out terribly.”

“I understand.”

Pinching and twisting, Teresa affixed one little candle after another, pausing now and then to straighten those that leaned out of true. “God’s most elegant way of involving himself with us would have to be a scandal to the stodgy-minded and a delight to minds that have a sense of humor and of adventure. As his mind does.”

“God can laugh?”

“Of course, dear, and feel sorrowful, too. A Supreme Being without those attributes wouldn’t be supreme. Grim and joyless people try to pretend otherwise, but their arguments are unpersuasive.”

“Explain to me how God became directly involved with us.”

“It has happened differently on different worlds in the Galaxy. On ours, I believe that the primary involvement happened through the Jewish people and the Christians. It’s a long story, and you’ll really have to read it in the Bible. That book is a fascinating account of human moral evolution, with historical and deeply mythic truth all mingled in a wonderful mishmash. It’s a literary treasure as well as the word of God, and some parts of it are profound, and some are fascinating and some are poetic, and some are even a bore. Different religions interpret the Bible in different ways, but we Catholics believe that when the mentalities of one single key tribe of extremely intelligent people were finally mature enough to grasp the concept of a loving God, God simply spoke to them.” She laughed. “Well—perhaps not simply.”

“And the tribe accepted his messages and passed them on?”

“Some members did. Others kept slipping and sliding back into primitive notions of angry gods that constantly needed to be appeased with blood sacrifices and other rubbish. God had to keep coaxing them and putting them in their place the way a loving mother has to do when her children are naughty.”

“Is love the motivation for all creation, then?”

“I imagine so. Mental lattices within our normal Reality can’t exist without the other five kinds, and vice versa. If God wanted to make minds to love, he had to make the whole cosmos. And it is quite lovely, most of it.”

“But to create for the love of it seems so odd!”

“Of course it does. It really makes no sense—in a rational view of the universe. And yet every artist knows the truth of it. And every healthy adult human knows that people who are in love want the whole world to be as happy as they are. If you are God, loving yourself or even being Love in some mysterious fashion, and there aren’t any other minds to share happiness with—then you make some.”

“So one may conclude that God does need us?”

“Most of our coreligionists today believe it’s true.”

Jack persisted: “And the problem of the created minds being imperfect? And sometimes evil?”

“There’s a principle to the effect that it is much more glorious to make something wonderful out of imperfect parts. The very imperfection of the individual elements—even when there’s actual evil involved, as there often is in human affairs—challenges God to greater creative heights.”

“What a strange idea.”

“There’s an old proverb that says: ‘God writes straight with crooked lines.’ Human history is just full of crooks and twists and twines. One would think anarchy or barbarism or the lowest common denominator would have triumphed ages ago. But it hasn’t. All the messes and atrocities and disasters have somehow been woven into a construct that looks better and better every year—at the same time that some things look even worse! The world you’re going to be born into is a wonderland compared to the world that existed only forty years or so in the past. But even so, there are still persons who are discontented or who are villains, and situations that are evil or tragic. Nevertheless we children of God continue to evolve and improve on every level, almost in spite of ourselves. That also has something to do with nonlinearity and chaos. And God’s love, too.”

Jack said: “That is very mysterious. Contrary to common sense!… Why do I find the concept pleasing? Mama, why do you give gifts at Christmas?”

“It’s a tradition. Wise men gave gifts to the infant Jesus. To Baby God. And he is God’s gift to us.”

Jack said: “That’s the biggest paradox. Even greater than Creation. It was quite unnecessary for God to become human and teach us his love in person. I can see why some Earth religions deny that it happened.”

“Yes, the Incarnation is quite absurd. But you must admit it would be an excellent way to catch our attention! And so madly elegant. It’s also much easier for us to pray to and love a God-made-man, who would be more likely to understand our human difficulties, than to try to love an almighty Big-Bang-Creator. Why should he care if my roast is overdone or if I live long enough for you to be safely born?”

Jack said: “I would like him to care.”

“Ah! Now we’re moving into psychology! An incarnate, loving God takes on significant mythic overtones that appeal to the deepest levels of the human psyche. To that almost instinctive part of us called the collective unconscious.”

“I have not yet had any experience of that.”

“You will,” Teresa laughed, “when you really begin to socialize.”

“I—I wish I did not have to. Opening myself up to others can be painful as others are not always nice.”

“You mustn’t fret about it. All people have good and bad in them. I do, and so do you. This is one reason why a loving God is such an amazing consolation. He has no dark about him at all. God must know all there is to know about us—and yet he loves us anyway. He only wishes us well, even when we’re wicked or when we deny him. We would never have guessed that about him in a million years, if he hadn’t told us. It’s mysterious beyond belief”

“Of course, none of this is proof of God’s Incarnation. Even though the evidence strongly points to the Incarnation, ultimately it can’t be proved. But I believe it, and so does Uncle Rogi, and your Papa and brothers and sisters, and billions of other entities. That kind of belief is called faith.”

She gave Jack a giant hug and closed her eyes for a moment. “I have faith in God’s love just as I have faith in your great future, Jack. There are many things that frighten me and other things that make me very unhappy. But if I can just hold on to faith, I won’t give in to despair. I won’t.”

Modified from:

May, Julian (2011-04-27). Jack the Bodiless (Galactic Milieu Trilogy) (pp. 268-275). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

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How Do We Know Jesus Was a Real Person?

 

Jesus enjoys a good laugh, but this is too much

Jesus enjoys a good laugh, but this is too much

“How do we know Jesus was a real person?” This is the question asked by my seven year old son recently. Not “How do we know Jesus is the Son of God?” or “Did Jesus really rise from the dead?” or similar questions that adults have on their faith.  No, the question was much more basic: “How do we know Jesus was a real person?”

I have no idea of how he came up with the question. At one level it sounds absurd, especially when no one challenges the existence of near contemporaries such as Julius Caesar or Octavian, both prominent figures to be sure, but neither of whom had the historical impact of Jesus of Nazareth.

In light of that recent conversation, I was intrigued by a recent column in the Washington Post (by a religious studies professor at a prominent university no less) that not only asked this question but answered it in the negative. As stated by David Gibson of Religion News Service:

 “There are clearly good reasons to doubt Jesus’ historical existence — if not to think it outright improbable,” Raphael Lataster, a lecturer in religious studies at the University of Sydney, wrote in a column published Friday (Dec. 19) in The Washington Post.

Lataster is the author of “There Was No Jesus, There Is No God,” one of a growing number of books and blog posts by Jesus “mythicists” who question the very existence of the man from Galilee.

Once I shook my head at the sorry state of today’s academia and lack of critical thinking (ironically often by people who claim to be more rational than believers), I had to laugh out loud at the absurdity on the proposition. While reasonable people can disagree on the theology of the Incarnation or the historicity of events such as the Virgin Birth, the Wise Men or the Resurrection, it is downright funny that someone could argue with a straight face the most influential person in the history of the world did not exist. I know God has a wicked sense of humor, but that would be a real mindbender 🙂

I then proceeded to read the rest of the article by Gibson, one of the best journalists in the coverage of religion. Gibson outlines the phenomena of the “mythicists” and their “arguments”. Gibson goes on to survey legitimate scholarship in this area:

Purdue University scholar Lawrence Mykytiuk, for example, has a lengthy feature story in the January/February 2015 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review that examines the extra-biblical sources — contemporary writers outside the New Testament — who attest to the existence of Jesus.

“As far as we know, no ancient person ever seriously argued that Jesus did not exist,” Mykytiuk writes, and he cites pagan and Jewish writers of the time who did affirm Jesus’ existence.

University of North Carolina’s Bart Ehrman, a leading New Testament scholar — and an evangelical-turned-agnostic who has no Christian ax to grind — grew so exasperated by the Jesus-hoax arguments that he wrote a detailed refutation in his 2012 book called “Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth.”

Believers and skeptics can argue with each other, and among themselves, about exactly who Jesus was and what he meant, Ehrman said in an interview. But arguing that Jesus did not exist “is such a ridiculous proposition.”

* * *

But to Ehrman, the most convincing argument that Jesus was a real person is that it would have made no sense to invent a crucified messiah because that is the opposite of what everyone was expecting at the time. In other words, it wasn’t a good sales pitch.

Besides, if Jesus was the product of a conspiracy, one would think that the conspirators would have gotten their stories straight and not have left lots of conflicting details.

Moreover, Ehrman said — contrary to the claims of the mythicists — there is no analogy in the pagan world of the time to a human being who was killed and rose from the dead and then exalted as a divine being.

* * *

“I think the people who are taking [the position that Jesus was not a historical person] are really shooting themselves in the foot,” Ehrman said. “If what they want to do is to counter Christianity, then they really ought to do it on some intellectually solid basis rather than arguing something that’s downright silly.”

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Teilhard de Chardin Quote of the Week (December 22, 2014): The Incarnation

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The Incarnation is a making new, a restoration, of all the universe’s forces and powers; Christ is the Instrument, the Center, the End, of the whole of animate and material creation; through Him, everything is created, sanctified and vivified. This is the constant and general teaching of St. John and St. Paul (that most “cosmic” of sacred writers), and it has passed into the most solemn formulas of the Liturgy: and yet we repeat it, and generations to come will go on repeating it, without ever being able to grasp or appreciate its profound and mysterious significance, bound up as it is with understanding of the universe.

 

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. The Future of Man (Kindle Locations 4692-4696).

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The Fourth Sunday of Advent: What Are We Really Waiting For?

Very thoughtful and personal reflection from Katherine Greiner, Doctorate Student in Theology at Boston College. Here is an excerpt:

“Their stories remind us that each of us is called in our own unique way to participate in the unfolding of God’s mysterious plan. What makes David and Mary so special is not their superhuman capabilities, but their courageous capacity to participate in God’s creative mission, to make room for God and give space for God’s creative actions to take place. They each lived into their relationships with God, eager to see what God will bring about in their lives. This ability to say yes and then to risk all in order to participate in God’s life reveals their deep trust in God’s love and grace. What both David and Mary show us is the promise that with God’s mercy and love, we are enough. They lived their lives in a posture of trust and love. Perfectionism, on the other hand, indicates a life lived in a posture of fear—not trust.”

Daily Theology

advent candlesThe fourth and final candle is lit. The stockings are hung. The trees are up. The planes have landed.

In the words of Joni Mitchell:

It’s coming on Christmas.

They’re cutting down the trees.

They’re putting up reindeer and singing songs of joy and peace.

And I do wish I had a river to skate away on. Personally, it has been a difficult Advent this year. Like many of our Daily Theology contributors as well as many of its faithful readers I am in the middle of The Dissertation. Currently The Dissertation stands as the central symbol of all my personal anxieties and struggles. Working on this seemingly unconquerable tome as brought me into a different kind of Advent experience than I’ve ever had before. It has been more visceral and liminal. And, unfortunately, no amount of Christmas carols, stocking stuffers, or spiked eggnog is going to bring it to…

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Sunday Reflection, Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 21, 2014): Letting God Embrace Us

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My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. — Luke 1:46-47

This Sunday is the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The readings can be found here. This is a very busy time of year for many of us and it is easy to get caught up in the pressures of daily life. For me, it is stressful as it is the busiest time of year at work. This tends to result in guilt of being away from my family, not to mention physical, mental and emotional fatigue.

I was pleased to find this week’s reflection comes from John Predmore, S.J. which helps put me at ease.  You can read the full reflection here but set forth below is an excerpt:

In our daily prayer, we often look for God and we sit and wait and hope for a clear response. These two Advent sequences flip things around for David and Mary. Perhaps we have to toss things around in our prayer so that instead of directing our attention at God, we simply notice God directing attention at us. This shift in direction is crucial. When we let this happen, we let prayer be accomplished along God’s initiative. It is not that we search for God, it is that God has already found us and is seeking us. We have to notice that God is gazing upon us the way we marvel at the twinkling lights of a Christmas tree. God’s dwelling is already within us; we do not have to look on the outside anymore.

Some of us get uncomfortable when someone stares at us because we know we are desired in some way. What if we just showed up to prayer and realized God’s stare is riveted upon us because God warmly desires to be with us. We do not have to do anything but to let God come closer – something we both want. Even God’s most intense gaze is enough for us to handle because God’s parental care is communicated so thoroughly that we just receive what God extends to us.

Sometimes we do not want to show up to pray because events as not going so well. Though we try to be a loving person who follows the road of discipleship, we are left feeling beaten down by the tactics of others who tell us there’s something wrong with us. Others can make us feel miserable and we begin to diminish our self worth. These are the times when we avoid prayer at all costs because we figure God might not like our ways either, but these are especially the times that we have to sit before God in prayer – just to have God look upon us and heal us because of the many ways others have sinned against us and beaten us down. Allow God to be a loving parent to that part of you that is raw and unhealed and needs a blessing. Know that there is nothing wrong with you and that God just wants to bless you with love and grace. The gaze is gentle and tender and is a balm for all the world’s ills. God wants you to become strengthened by God’s compassion so that you may bring the gift of yourself to others – with warts and freckles, dimples and birthmarks. God finds it beautiful. We need to discover the beauty God sees within us.

In Advent, we find ourselves being blessed by God, similarly to the way Mary was. Within her grew the Christ-child, who would be given to others as a gift. Let the rest of this Advent be about receiving God’s breathtaking stare of every single graced moment of your day. Allow God to delight in you as you gracefully respond to God’s watchful eyes that glimmer and sparkle brighter than those Christmas tree lights. Know that you entrance God with you goodness, even in your struggles. God had promised to make his house within yours. God promised us Emmanuel – that God is with us. Now it is time to let him grow so he may delivered for the world’s salvation.

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Other Resources:

Living Space
Creighton Online Ministries

 

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James Martin, SJ On Being Interview

James Martin

One of favorite authors, James Martin, S.J. is on the latest show of On Being with Krista Tippett.  Not surprisingly, the title of the show is “Finding God in All Things”, which is a summary of Ignatian Spirituality.  Fr. Martin’s writings, especially his book “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything” were very instrumental in my adult move from agnosticism to Catholicism.

You can find links to the episode here, including podcast information and information on when it is being played on your local NPR station.

Link to Episode Information

James Martin Book “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything

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