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May 042016
 

This post is part of  a series entitled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of Our Own.  It is the eighth section Reflection I:  Opening to the Divine Mystery: Discerning Our Attitude Toward God. 


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection I
Opening to the Divine Mystery
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God
(Part 9)

 


Richards

Photo by Michelle Evans

Richard’s Answer To Question #1

Is there a God? What is God for me? Who is God for me? How do I know? Am I open to bringing these important questions into my prayer? Am I open to the possibility of my answers to these questions being transformed and growing ever deeper?


My spiritual Director once asked me “Who is God for you?” I responded that “God is a Mysterious Other that permeates the universe, including me.” She then asked me, “Is that enough?” I responded, “It is the only thing that is enough!” That is still my answer today, and it is still enough. I have some ideas beyond that, but in the end this is all I really know, and best I can tell, it is all that is possible to know and even that requires that we accept a knowledge that comes from deep inside and cannot be proved scientifically.

First let me say that I do believe there is a God. I do not believe that God is a person or anything like a person. For me it just makes no sense to think of God as a person. It raises too many other questions for me. If I try to see God as a person I am immediately faced with the question of where this “person” resides. If I try to answer that by saying that God resides in “heaven” I essentially beg the question. Where is “heaven”? And how does this “person” interact with each of us individually as we claim? How is that possible? Many of us blow those kinds of questions off with an answer similar to “because ‘he’ is God”. For me that again begs the question “Is God a person?” and prevents us from looking at that question in a deeper more open way. It also leads us to start assigning various human attitudes to God which in the end leads us to all kinds of other problems and conflicts. For me it is much more honest to “just say no”, God is not a person. At least then I can be open to the possibility of a deepening understanding of God.

In the end I believe that God is to be found somehow woven into the fabric of creation itself, into consciousness itself, and into “the force” that creates, animates, and guides the entire universe including us. I believe that through spiritual practice and specifically through prayer we can connect with that Mysterious Presence and receive guidance, strength, and courage from that “force”. I believe that our job, “if we choose to accept it”, is ultimately to connect with that force and to live our lives in response to that force. Said another way, we are called to listen to our own sacred inner voice where that mysterious presence we call God speaks to us , discover, how that voice calls us to live our lives, and to incarnate those discoveries into the way we actually experience and live our lives. As the monastics put it, we are called to divine union. Ultimately this process of discovery and incarnation process must be one of the primary reasons we pray.

I want to be clear here. I realize that this explanation, much like the God is a person explanation, raises more questions than it answers, but for me it seems a much more honest approach. Besides I know that approach works for me. It changes my life. I am not hiding behind canned explanations. I remain open to deepening my understanding, and even to changing it completely based on new evidence and new experience, or if that still small voice calls me to.

Yet, beyond all of this reasoning and all of this speculation about what God is or is not my understanding is ultimately based on personal experience. Jacob Needleman starts his book, What Is God? with this story:

Out of the corner of my eye I saw that my father was still looking up. And so I kept my gaze upward, noticing the stars, some of which formed into constellations whose names I knew. Imitating my father, I kept my gaze upward, just looking.
And suddenly, incomprehensibly, all at once, despite the heavy summer air that always absorbs most of the starlight–suddenly, as if by magic, the black sky was instantly strewn with millions of stars. Millions of points of light. Millions of worlds. Never, before or since, have I seen such a night sky, not even in remote mountains on clear nights. It was not simply that my eyes had become normally adjusted to the darkness; it was as though an entirely new instrument of seeing had all at once been switched on within me. Or, as it also seemed, as though the whole universe itself suddenly opened its arms to me, saying to me: “Yes, I am here. See, this is what I really am! Do you like my beautiful garment?” …
My eyes stayed riveted on the millions of stars, the millions of tiny stars with hardly a black space between them.
I wondered about my father, but I didn’t dare turn my head to look at him, afraid that these millions of worlds might somehow not be there when I turned back to them.

I don’t know how long we both continued to sit there, silently. But finally, speaking in a voice that I had never heard from him before, he said:“That’s God.”*

In a very real sense that is my God too. It reaches past all of the science, all of the reason, all of the culture, and all of the religion to personal experience, and yet it is not in opposition to any of those sources. In these and other similar experiences, in times of silence and solitude, and yes, in times of prayer, the Mysterious Other I call God is just there, present in a way that transcends all of the questions and explanations. In the end God is simply a presence I experience in those special times.

For me that mysterious presence is God. I find that mystery absolutely fascinating and exploring that mystery excites me and gives my life meaning. That mystery is much more fascinating and exciting than any of the more traditional images or any of the theology. Precisely because the “God question” is such a profound mystery I am open to all of the awesome insights provided by science, by reason, by the all of the cultures of the world, and all of the religions of the world. I am open to all of the fascinating “answers” provided by all of those sources. Because I can see so many wondrous possibilities I look forward with anticipation to new discoveries, new insights, and to an ever deepening sense of that Mysterious Presence in my life and in this awesome universe.

In the meantime I am still very comfortable with the answer I gave my spiritual director years ago. “God is a Mysterious Other that permeates the universe, including me.” and yes “It is [still] the only thing that is enough!”

____________
* Needleman, Jacob: What Is God?, (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2009) p. 5-6.


Other Posts in this Reflection:

Introduction  View…

Is There A God  View…
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God

Models of Christian Spirituality View…
Seeking Divine Union 

God In The Image of Man View…
Avoiding the Challenge

Traditional Models View…
What Do They Mean Really?

Negative Images View…
Policeman, Judge, and Tyrant

Exclusivity View…
Our Way Or The Highway

God As Mystery View…
What or Who Is God

Apr 272016
 

This post is the fourth in a series entitled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of Our Own.  It is the fourth section titled Reflection I:  Opening to the Divine Mystery: Discerning Our Attitude Toward God. 


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection I
Opening to the Divine Mystery
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God
(Part 7)

Exclusivity
Our Way or the Highway?

The problem here of course is not really the name we use for God. It is the claim of exclusivity for our particular beliefs about God and our particular understanding of God. It is the belief that our own particular religion, our own particular denomination, and even our own personal “belief system” has all of the right answers and all other answers, or even all other ways of expressing those answers are just wrong.

The problem here is the belief that God will reject and punish us if we do not ascribe to the “right” set of beliefs—that God will send us to to burn in hell if we do not profess our specific beliefs before we die, never mind whether or not we can understand those beliefs or not. Some take this to the extreme of claiming that God will send us to hell even if we have never been exposed to those beliefs. Is not that almost the very definition of being a tyrant—a prime example of “exercising power or control in a cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary way”?

Some years ago I had a discussion with a very traditional Christian friend of mine about what it means to be a Christian. She was trying to convince me that I should take a more tradition approach to Christianity, and both of us were challenging each other back and forth rather sharply but also in a friendly caring way. I finally asked her, “What is the bottom line for you?” She replied quickly, “You have to believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he died for your sins!” I then asked her what she meant when she said that Jesus was the Son of God. I half jokingly told her that when I said Mark was my son it meant that my wife and I had sex, she got pregnant, and after the appropriate time Mark was born. I said that I was pretty sure that was not what she meant when she called Jesus the Son of God. She replied in an incredulous tone, “No, of course not!” When I pushed her on what she did mean she actually stuttered trying to find an answer, which she never did. This requirement to believe that Jesus was the Son of God was a central point for her, as it is for many others, and she had absolutely no idea what it meant as I suspect is true for many Christians.

We did not even get to the questions about the meaning of the statement that we must believe that Jesus died for our sins. Is it not tyrannical to require a blood sacrifice by one’s own son in order to forgive other people for their sins, not to mention downright cruel?

World of Faith

A World of Faith Image from http://www.bigstockphotos.com

My point in sharing this story is not really to challenge the belief that Jesus was the Son of God or that he died for our sins. That is a whole other question that is beyond the scope of this book. My intent in sharing this story is to encourage us to consider seriously the implications of our beliefs. In this case does it not essentially make God a tyrant to require us to give assent to a certain doctrine, whether or not we understand it, and whether or not we have even been exposed to it, in order to prevent eternal damnation? It seems so to me. Again is not this idea in conflict with the idea of a loving, caring, forgiving God, something that is a basic tenant of Christian belief as well? And does not this line of thought raise a thousand other similar conflicts and questions as well? Are we open to considering those questions. Are we open to bringing those questions into our prayer?

  1. What are my basic religious beliefs? What do they really mean? What do I think about people from other religions or denominations who believe differently than I do?

Other Posts in this Reflection:

Introduction  View…

Is There A God  View…
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God

Models of Christian Spirituality View…
Seeking Divine Union 

God In The Image of Man View…
Avoiding the Challenge

Traditional Models View…
What Do They Mean Really?

Negative Images View…
Policeman, Judge, and Tyrant

God As Mystery View…
What or Who Is God

Richard’s Answer To Question #1 View…
What or Who Is God

 

Apr 202016
 

This post is the fourth in a series entitled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of Our Own.  It is the sixth section titled Reflection I:  Opening to the Divine Mystery: Discerning Our Attitude Toward God. 


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection I
Opening to the Divine Mystery
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God
(Part 6)

Negative Images
Policeman, Judge, and Tyrant

God the Policeman and Judge

Then there is God the policeman and the judge. We do not usually refer to God as a Policeman, but we often talk about God as if God were a policeman. We do often refer to God as a judge. I spent sixteen years as a police officer.* Yes, part of my job involved helping people—reaching out to them when they were hurt, in trouble, or suffering in one way or another. That said, in the end my primary job as a policeman was what a friend of mine likes to call “chasing the bad guys”—to investigate crime and arrest people who violated the law. Those crimes ran the gamut from relatively minor traffic violations to murder, rape, and robbery. When I arrested these “violators” I would ultimately take them before a judge whose job was to determine their guilt or innocence and if necessary, mete out the appropriate punishment.

Much of the way Christians talk about sin today makes God out to be both policeman and judge. The attitude toward God from this perspective is that God sits up in his control room, watches us, and keeps track of our sins, judges us, and mets out rewards and punishment, sacrifice, or penance. In what we might call God’s capital punishment God sends us to hell, wherever that is, to burn for all eternity. All too often it seems that when bad things happen in our life we then blame it on our sin, and believe God is punishing us for that sin.

God The Tyrant

This approach ultimately makes God out to be a tyrant, or so it seems to me. The dictionary defines a tyrant as:

A cruel and oppressive ruler: a person exercising power or control in a cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary way.**

With that definition none of us would overtly refer to God as a tyrant, and yet it seems that we often attribute attitudes and actions to God that, if done by us humans would be seen as tyrannical. We do this while at the same time contending that God is all loving and all caring. It seems to me that when we make God out to be a policeman and a judge, and when it seems that as judge God will send you to hell for seemingly minor offenses or unreasonable offenses God is made out to be a tyrant.

Richard & Rachel

Photo by Winnie Southworth

When my granddaughter was about three years old she stopped calling me “Daddy Dick,” a family tradition, and just started just calling me “Dick”. Had I punished her or disowned her because she did not call me by my “right” name I would have been considered to be acting like a tyrant “exercising power or control in a cruel, unreasonable, or arbitrary way”. Most of my family and friends would have been all over me for being so mean. That said, one person did suggest that I should insist on her calling me by the full name to build “respect”. I love her, and frankly I do not care at all what she calls me as long as she calls me. Sometimes she even calls me “Old Man”, and I am ok with that too. Beyond that it is absolutely clear to me that both names actually indicated that our relationship and her love for me was growing more mature. Would not an “all loving and all caring” God be at least that loving and caring? And yet some of us have no problem at all taking the position that God will send people strait to hell to burn for eternity for calling God “Allah” for example, never mind that many Muslims live essentially loving and caring lives, more so even than some people who consider themselves to be Christian and yet we often insist that the Christian will go to heaven, while the good Muslim will go to hell. Might not such a loving God be more interested in our inner attitudes and outer actions, i.e Keating’s scriptural model, than in the name we use, or the particular religion or denomination we belong to.

I was in a Sunday School Class recently, and the class was discussing the requirement to “believe in Jesus Christ” in order to go to heaven. I asked what happens if the person is from a remote corner of the world and has never heard of Jesus Christ, and was told in no uncertain terms that they would go to hell. When I asked if they really believed that, several insisted that they did. That to me is the ultimate example of God the tyrant. At least so it seems to me?

Question for Reflection
  1. Do I sometimes see God as a policeman, judge, and/or a tyrant? Do I sometimes act and talk as if I do? How does that affect the way I approach prayer?

____________

* For more information see Southworth, Richard N., Choosing Authenticity:  Religion Is Not Enough,  (Seattle, WA, CreateSpace, 2011), p. 3-27. – See more at:  http://www.thegreatjourney.com .

** Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.


Other Posts in this Reflection:

Introduction  View…

Is There A God  View…
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God

Models of Christian Spirituality View…
Seeking Divine Union 

God In The Image of Man View…
Avoiding the Challenge

Traditional Models View…
What Do They Mean Really?

Exclusivity View…
Our Way Or The Highway

God As Mystery View…
What or Who Is God

Richard’s Answer To Question #1 View…
What or Who Is God

 

Apr 202016
 

This post is part of  a series entitled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of Our Own.  It is the eighth section Reflection I:  Opening to the Divine Mystery: Discerning Our Attitude Toward God. 


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection I
Opening to the Divine Mystery
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God
(Part 8)

God As Mystery
What or Who Is God?

All of this begs the question we talked about earlier, ”What is God?” Does it even make sense to attribute these types of attitudes, these types of requirements, and these kinds of actions to God at all?

Confucius is reported to have said “True wisdom is knowing what you don’t know”*. The truth is that we do not know and we cannot know fully what or who God is. We can have ideas and opinions, but we cannot know. Thinkers from every era, culture, and religion have taken their shot at describing what or who God is. Atheists have tried to deny that God exists at all. Some have argued for a single God, and some have argued for multiple gods. All of the theology about the Trinity is only the Christian version of that effort. In the end the atheists cannot prove definitively that God does not exist anymore than the theists can prove definitively that God does exist or who or what God is. The possibilities between those two extremes are legion. If we can let go of our own assumptions and opinions those many possibilities themselves are awe inspiring as well. And maybe, just maybe, we could begin to put an end to all of the violence and wars that come from the many controversies that grow out of those debates.

Sources of knowledge

Background Images from http://bigstockphotos.com. Hands photo by Winnie Southworth. Image by Richard Southworth

For us to truly recognize the powerful awesomeness of God we must first examine the often narrow, unreflected, and conflicting images and attitudes we have toward God. We must take those images and attitudes into a prayerful discernment process that includes what we have learned from science and reason, and from the culture, and from religion. We cannot blindly accept the answers provided through any of those sources. But in the end we must take all of that into our reflections and prayers and seek our own answers. We must have the courage to listen carefully and repeatedly to our own sacred inner voice that, if we are open, speaks in the deepest part of ourselves. We must find our own answers there to these foundational questions of the Spiritual Life. Is there a God? What is God? Who is God? What is our image of God? What are our attitudes toward God? Our answers to these foundational questions will guide the way we pray and the way we experience and live our lives. The crucial thing here is that ultimately our answers are our own answers and that those answers are open to revision and an ever deepening understanding as we continue on our journey.

In the end we must hold all of our answers tentatively. We must let finding and deepening our answers to these and other similar questions become one of the reasons why we pray.

Question for Reflection
  1. Can I accept God as a Mysterious Other? Can I be open to new ways of seeing and understanding who or what God is? Can I accept the challenge of developing an understanding of God and a relationship with God that is unique to me as a basis for developing a “Prayer of My Own?

____________
* https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/497572-true-wisdom-is-knowing-what-you-don-t-know


Other Posts in this Reflection:

Introduction  View…

Is There A God  View…
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God

Models of Christian Spirituality View…
Seeking Divine Union 

God In The Image of Man View…
Avoiding the Challenge

Traditional Models View…
What Do They Mean Really?

Negative Images View…
Policeman, Judge, and Tyrant

Exclusivity View…
Our Way Or The Highway

Richard’s Answer To Question #1 View…
What or Who Is God

 

Apr 132016
 

This post is the fourth in a series entitled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of Our Own.  It is the fourth section titled Reflection I:  Opening to the Divine Mystery: Discerning Our Attitude Toward God. 


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection I
Opening to the Divine Mystery
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God
(Part 5)

Traditional Models
What Do They Really Mean?

The Trinity

The basic explanation for what God is for Christians is in the concept of “The Trinity”. The dictionary defines the Trinity this way:

Also called Blessed Trinity, Holy Trinity, the union of three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Ghost) in one Godhead, or the threefold personality of the one Divine Being.*

Maybe if I were a Christian theologian, this would be helpful, but I am not a theologian and this is not all that helpful to me personally. It raises more questions for me than it answers. As a friend of mine put it, “trinity is even a conundrum to many theologians and lots of preachers”. It is beyond the scope of this reflection to try and unpack this complex theological explanation, and yet its very complexity points to something extremely important to our discussion here. Just maybe it points in the general direction of an answer. Clearly it attempts to move us away from God made in the image of man.

Mighty God

Photo by Winnie Southworth

At the same time we all too often seem to be able to talk about the Trinity while still giving God the attributes of humans. Maybe the real message for our discussion is simply that we do not know and we cannot know the answer to this profound question—What is God, or even Who is God? Maybe the best we can hope for is the realization of the awesome mystery behind this great universe. Maybe that realization provides a much more palatable foundation for prayer than any of our traditional explanations, including the more technical theological explanation of the Trinity.

God The Father

That said, picking up on the so called first person of the Trinity image one of our most common images for God is God the father. We often refer to God as a loving, caring, and forgiving “Father”, or even as Abba or “daddy”. Initially that sounds good, but sub-consciously that image inevitably, even if pre-consciously, gets caught up in our relationship with our own earthly father. What if our father was absent? What if our father abused us? What if he was cold and distant? Even if he was an otherwise a “good father” he is still often seen by his children as a disciplinarian who was always telling us what to do and what not to do, preventing us from doing many of the things we wanted to do, punishing us when we were “bad”, and rewarding us when we were “good”. All of this becomes a part of our attitude toward God as father whether we are aware of it or not and it all seems very natural. It is part of what father is for us. Beyond the father image we get from our childhood, God the father is often presented in much the same way in what passes for church teaching today. The truth is the term has become almost cliche today. For this image of God the Father to work it needs to be brought into the “divine therapy” of our prayer and unpacked. We need to be clear what it means for us personally.

Questions for Reflection

  1. What does “the Trinity” mean to me personally? What does “God the Father” really mean for me personally? How does that square with my other attitudes and beliefs about God?

____________
Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.


Other Posts in this Reflection:

Introduction  View…

Is There A God  View…
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God

Models of Christian Spirituality View…
Seeking Divine Union 

God In The Image of Man View…
Avoiding the Challenge

Negative Images View…
Policeman, Judge, and Tyrant

Exclusivity View…
Our Way Or The Highway

God As Mystery View…
What or Who Is God

Richard’s Answer To Question #1 View…
What or Who Is God

 

Apr 062016
 

This post is the fourth in a series entitled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of Our Own.  It is the fourth section titled Reflection I:  Opening to the Divine Mystery: Discerning Our Attitude Toward God. 


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection I
Opening to the Divine Mystery
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God
(Part 4)

God In The Image Of Man
Avoiding The Challenge

Christian scripture tells us:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.*

Those of us who call ourselves Christians are familiar with this passage. Most of us can recite it almost verbatim. That said, our basic attitude toward God often seems to assume it is the other way around: God made in the image of man. We act as if God were a person like us up in heaven, wherever that is. I saw an infographic some time ago that said, “God loved us so much that he made us in his own image, and then we loved God so much that we made him in our image.”

Computer Control Room

Image from www.bigstockphoto.com

I have often joked that I grew up with this image of God with a long white beard up in some grand control room pushing buttons and leavers controlling the entire universe including each of us. As I became something of a “techno junkie” I jokingly wondered what kind of computer system God used to track all of that activity. On one level I was joking, but the truth is it is not far from the image of God that I grew up with. Sadly, that “joke” still works. People still understand where it comes from. Jokes like this are only funny when there is some truth behind them. When we think of God as a person it raises all kinds of deeper questions and conflicts which need to be brought into our reflections and prayer, but again, we mostly avoid those questions like the plague.

On one level most all of us know that God, whatever or whoever God is, is not made in the image of man. That said we still talk and act as if God is in fact a person in the image of man. When we do that without reflection, over time we end up subconsciously thinking and acting that way, with all of the inherent problems and conflicts that results inherent in that process, like the one mentioned above and like some that follow. Suppose we really are, in some mysterious and powerful way, made in the image of God? Might that not challenge us to live up to that image? Could our tendency to see God as a person be a subconscious way of avoiding that challenge?

It is important for us to face these questions honestly. We need to think about them seriously, and we need to take them into our prayer.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do I sometime act and talk and act as if God was made in the image of man? What would be the implications of taking the idea of me made in the image of God seriously? Am I up to facing that challenge?

____________
* Genesis 1:27 (NIV)


Other Posts in this Reflection:

Introduction  View…

Is There A God  View…
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God

Models of Christian Spirituality View…
Seeking Divine Union 

Traditional Models View…
What Do They Mean Really?

Negative Images View…
Policeman, Judge, and Tyrant

Exclusivity View…
Our Way Or The Highway

God As Mystery View…
What or Who Is God

Richard’s Answer To Question #1 View…
What or Who Is God

 

Mar 302016
 

This post is the third in a series entitled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of Our Own.  It is the third section of Reflection I:  Opening to the Divine Mystery: Discerning Our Attitude Toward God. 


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection I
Opening to the Divine Mystery
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God
(Part 3)

Models of Christian Spirituality
Seeking Divine Union

Thomas Keating makes a distinction between what he calls the “Western Model” and the “Scriptural Model” of Christian spirituality.* I am sure that some, including myself, would question the distinction between western and Scriptural, but his descriptions of the two models, whatever we choose to call them, is instructive.

For Keaton, in the western model we as humans, and for that matter all of creation, are outside of God and God is outside of us and outside of creation. Said another way we are out here in the world and God is up there “in heaven”. With this model all of our efforts are self-initiated and directed toward pleasing God. External actions are more important than internal intensions. Our efforts are directed toward completion of the various rituals and other responsibilities, and, I would add, professing the right beliefs. We initiate these actions. God then rewards us when we are good and punishes us when we fail to live up to those requirements. The emphasis is on reward and punishment both in this world and in heaven or hell as the case may be. We do external works to obtain merit—to “be saved”—so that God will respond positively. In its most narrow sense, we seek to please God and avoid going to hell and to assure our place in “heaven” in the afterlife wherever and whatever that is. The extreme view of this is expressed in a church sign I saw once that said, “Use ‘Son’ Screen to avoid eternal burning”. Sheesh!

Divine Union

Photo by Brian Hill

For Keaton, in the scriptural model we are in God and God is in us. Interior motivation is more important that external actions. Our job in this model is to listen to God, seek God’s guidance, and to follow that guidance in our day-to-day lives rather than focusing on our own self-initiated actions and projects. The emphasis is on our spiritual journey and to unite ourselves with God and to love God, love ourselves, love others, and to love this wondrous universe—right here right now. The monastics refer to this journey to unite ourselves with God as seeking Divine Union. (More about that is a later reflection.) Jesus put it this way: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength, [and to] love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”** Obviously if we are to love our neighbor as ourself we must love ourselves as well.

Question for Reflection

  1. Do I sense that God is inside of me or outside of me? Do I sense God judging me or guiding me?

____________

Keaton, Thomas, Video The Spiritual Journey:  Introduction:  Attitudes Toward God, (Contemplative Outreach, St. Benedict’s Monastary, Snowmass, Co., 2006)  http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org

** Mark 12:30-31 (NIV)


Other Posts in this Reflection:

Introduction  View…

Is There A God  View…
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God

God In The Image of Man View…
Avoiding the Challenge

Traditional Models View…
What Do They Mean Really?

Negative Images View…
Policeman, Judge, and Tyrant

Exclusivity View…
Our Way Or The Highway

God As Mystery View…
What or Who Is God

Richard’s Answer To Question #1 View…
What or Who Is God

 

Mar 232016
 

This post is the second in a series entitled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of Our Own. It is the second section of Reflection I: Opening to the Divine Mystery: Discerning Our Attitude Toward God.


 Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection I
Opening to the Divine Mystery
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God
(Part 2)

Is There A God?
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God

Is there really a God? Dare we even ask that question? If we are a “believer” might not serious questioning of our attitude toward God call that belief itself into question? Even if we accept that God exists, might not serious questioning of our attitude toward God call us to change all kinds of other things in our approach to God? Are we really willing to open ourselves to that possibility–that challenge? On the other hand if we are a “non-believer” might serious reflection on these questions call that decision into question as well? All too often we accept a “pie in the sky when I die” and/or a vaguely defined King on a throne in the sky image of God and do not look any further. Some of us just accept a mechanical universe as well, again without looking any further.

When I first heard that one of my favorite authors, Jacob Needleman, was writing a book about God the working title was reported as Who Is God? I looked forward to reading this book. Some months later, when the book actually came out, the title had changed to What Is God?* At first glance I thought that was strange and even a bit shocking. As I delved into this excellent book, I began to realize why the title had changed and just how important that change was. Before we can even begin to reflect on our attitude toward God we have to honestly look at the even deeper question of what God is for us. Is God a “person”? Is God a “spirit”, and if so what does that actually mean? Is God somehow to be found in consciousness itself? Is God in a way we cannot fully understand, the very substance of this awesome universe—the “stuff” that gives it its being and its energy, that gives us our being? We often say that “God is love”, so is God somehow to be found in love itself, and if so what does that actually mean? On the other hand is God a Divine Mystery that simply does not fit into any of our categories? Is God inside of us, outside of us, or in some mysterious way in all of creation? How we answer this question—What is God?—is foundational to the whole spiritual journey and to the attitudes we have toward that Divine Mystery, the universe, other people, and ourselves. It is critical for us to look at these questions seriously, and bring them into our prayer.

Each religion has some explanation for that ultimate reality some of us call God. Even an atheist in their very denial of the reality of God makes basic assumptions about the ultimate reality that is behind this awesome universe. I have my own understanding which I will share later in this reflection, but the important point here is that each of us needs to reflect seriously on this question ourselves and take it into our prayer.

Native American Chant

Native American Chant* | Photo by Winnie Southworth

All of that said, regardless of how we answer the question, What is God?, in the end we are still left with the original question: Who Is God for us? What attitudes are we to have toward this God? Whether we come to the conclusion that God is like a “person” or we come to realize that God is not like a “person” in the normal sense of that word, we still need to discover our attitude toward that Divine Mystery. I want to make an important point here. I realize that, when asked if God is a person, many or even most of us would reply instantly, “No of course not!”, but there are deeper questions even here. Are we acting as if God were a person? Are we talking about God as if God were a person? Are our attitudes toward God limited by and based on preconscious assumptions that God is a person? Is our approach to prayer based on those same preconscious assumptions? How might our approach to prayer be different if those assumptions were to change?

Question for Reflection

  1. Is there a God? What is God for me? Who is God for me? How do I know? Am I open to bringing these important questions into my meditations and prayer? Am I open to the possibility of my answers to these questions being transformed and growing ever deeper?

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*Needleman, Jacob: What Is God?,  (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Penguin, 2009)

** Native American Chant used in a retreat attended by Winnie Southworth a number of years ago. Origin unknown.


Posts in this Reflection:

Introduction  View…

Models of Christian Spirituality View…
Seeking Divine Union 

God In The Image of Man View…
Avoiding the Challenge

Traditional Models View…
What Do They Mean Really?

Negative Images View…
Policeman, Judge, and Tyrant

Exclusivity View…
Our Way Or The Highway

God As Mystery View…
What or Who Is God

Richard’s Answer To Question #1 View…
What or Who Is God

 

Mar 172016
 

This post is the first in a coming series entitled Choosing Authenticity: A Prayer of Our Own.  It is the opening section of Reflection I:  Opening to the Divine Mystery: Discerning Our Attitude Toward God. 


TheUniverse

Robert Williams and the Hubble Deep Field Team (STScI) and NASA http://hubblesite.org/newscenter/archive/releases/1996/01/image/a/

Choosing Authenticity
A Prayer of Our Own

Reflection I
Opening to the Divine Mystery
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God
(Part 1)

Introduction
The right attitude toward God is essential to one’s progress on the Spiritual Journey.*
Father Thomas Keating

One of the most foundational questions that we can bring to serious prayer is the God question itself. Is there a God? What is God? Who Is God? These questions need to be a central part of our meditation and our prayer. We need to cultivate an openness and even a deep desire to discern and to continually deepen and transform our understanding of God, and our attitude toward God. That understanding and attitude determines, at the most basic level, how we approach our prayer, and ultimately how we approach our entire life.  If we do not believe in God we still need to stay open to the possibility of new insights and understandings of the origin and functioning of this wondrous universe.

The dictionary defines prayer as:

a spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.**

Clearly if our goal in prayer is communion with God our understanding of what or who God is and our attitude toward God matters. That said, it seems that these foundational questions are often ignored or avoided, both in our individual lives, and in many of our churches. All too often we accept the canned answers and vague understanding from our childhood and the answers given to us by our culture, our churches, the theologians, and the philosophers. We often say our attitude toward God is based on scripture, but our interpretation and understanding of scripture is informed by those same sources. We accept these canned answers or the lack thereof and fail to even bring these deep critical questions about God into our consciousness much less into our prayer. We avoid what may be the most important questions of all. On the surface we avoid or ignore these questions because we think we know the answers, but it often goes much deeper than that. We do not bring these questions into our consciousness or our prayer because we are afraid of what we might discover.

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Keaton, Thomas, Video The Spiritual Journey:  Introduction:  Attitudes Toward God, (Contemplative Outreach, St. Benedict’s Monastary, Snowmass, Co., 2006)  http://www.contemplativeoutreach.org.

** Apple Dictionary, iOS Software version 7.0.4., © 1983-2013, Apple, Inc. All rights reserved.


Posts in this Reflection:

Is There A God  View…
Discerning Our Attitude Toward God

Models of Christian Spirituality View…
Seeking Divine Union 

God In The Image of Man View…
Avoiding the Challenge

Traditional Models View…
What Do They Mean Really?

Negative Images View…
Policeman, Judge, and Tyrant

Exclusivity View…
Our Way Or The Highway

God As Mystery View…
What or Who Is God

Richard’s Answer To Question #1 View…
What or Who Is God

 

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