Grace and Mercy

     In the 6th chapter about grace and mercy, I was mostly drawn more to the section about the interaction of prayer with God. It starts by revisiting the idea of the collective unconsciousness by starting with the psychedelics in the 1960s and moving forward to the field of quantum mechanics which soon helped come up with a “scientific” name for divine consciousness: the nonlocal mind. Nonlocal, “refers to a field that cannot be represented or measured in the typical space-time continuum… the human mind is an extension of the nonlocal mind-which is not simply localized in the body.” (pg. 203) What does this have to do with grace and prayer?

     According to Seaward, when we pray, we send our thoughts out as a type of energy, because all things are energy. Beyond that, that prayer also enters the nonlocal mind. So prayers don’t necessarily go from sender to godhead to receiver but instead go everywhere; as the author demonstrates through several studies where distance is made irrelevant. To this end, prayer is an effective coping technique for stress, but open-ended prayer vs. goal or reciting words (think rosary or the same prayer before a meal) appears to be the most effective; I wonder if this is because it is less about the self (ego) and more about the divine. As it explains later in the reading,“Surrender does not mean to give in or give up. ‘Surrender to the will of God’ is an invitation to work with, rather than in opposition to, the divine game plan. Think of surrender as flowing with the current.” (pg. 212) So rather than praying to God FOR something, or repeating a prayer on autopilot, in an open-ended prayer it is more thoughtful, immersive and gratitude filled. This could go back to the four processes; the repetitive prayers may be good for the “emptying” process of clearing your mind, but not for the “connecting” process of relating to the divine. 

     Do we not see this told to us by Jesus in Matthew 6:5-8“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees you in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Do we think that God needs us to repeat empty words again and again? That God does not know what we need before we ask? Jesus tells us to pray “to the Father” not in front of many, because if you are putting on a show, that will be your only reward, but in private, where it is clear your prayers are for God. And Jesus says “do not heap empty phrases” thinking we’ll be “heard for their many words” but gives us clear instruction on how to pray. Then we are given the “Lord’s Prayer.”

     But even here Jesus says Matthew 6:9-10 “Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus says to pray LIKE this, not to recite this prayer repeated. Jesus is giving us instructions (because the disciples asked) on how to pray. So he’s saying, acknowledge God as your Father, praise his holiness. Pray that God’s Kingdom and Will be on earth as it is in heaven. Matthew 11-12 “Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” Then Jesus says ask God to provide for your needs daily, to acknowledge that it is God and not you who sustains you. Pray that God forgives your sins as you have forgiven those who have sinned against you (loving all people and showing compassion). Matthew 6:13 “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Pray that God help you to avoid the things that tempt you away from relationship with your heavenly Father, and protect you from evil.

     Jesus then goes on to remind them that if you forgive others, God will forgive you but if you don’t, neither will God forgive you. What is that about? Why would Jesus tell us that God forgiving us is contingent upon us forgiving others? I think this traces back to my reading in Cannato, where we must redeem all creation. Love everyone. Our salvation is found in loving each other and in God. Jesus, in forgiving and loving us and sacrificing himself for the world is the ultimate example of this. Perhaps that is why reciting prayers in front of many doesn’t impress God, or repeating the same prayer over and over doesn’t resonate in God’s heart the way Jesus’ instruction on prayer does. If we pray the way Jesus’ calls us to, we can’t help but enter into a deeper relationship with God and all those around us whom we have wronged or who have wronged us.

Advertisements

A God Who Suffers and Why the Crucifixtion Might Be the Least Important Part of Jesus’ Story

The Holocaust was a major obstacle for modern Christian theology. The body count was too high, the treatment too brutal, the target too specific, the apathy too apparent. What answer could possibly be given for a God that allows atrocities on the scale that occurred in concentration camps, often at the hands of Christians? This was not war. It was the murder of six million Jews and three million others who were from minority groups or were sympathizers. They were defenseless. The answers to the questions for why certain things happen to certain people were no longer adequate. Nobody could reason away that such abuse was God’s Will or was for the best; those regular platitudes Christians mistakenly offer so often as solace, not realizing the weight it places on the victim, become apparent in their inadequacies in this situation. It would have been impossible for the symbol of the cross to not raise questions and dilemmas about God for Christianity.

Traditional theology teaches that, “…God does not will suffering directly. Rather, having created a world with its own natural laws, a world, moreover, where human beings have free will, God allows or permits disaster to happen… Even when suffering is unjustly inflicted on the innocent, God allows it out of respect for human freedom. No matter what happens, God will bring good out of evil in the end.” (Johnson, 51) But this kind of modern theism almost takes God out of most of the story; placing the Trinity only at the beginning and the end. It reinforces this distant, uninvolved Creator that shook off the dust once the work of creation was complete. Furthermore, it creates the perception that if things aren’t fair now, it is okay because God will make it alright in the end. This can be dangerously manipulated to justify the act of doing nothing, of promising reward in the next life instead of seeking justice for God’s creations now.

That answer was, not surprisingly, inadequate to many. The inhumanity that occurred within the concentration camps (and the US unwillingness to be involved until forced, the Japanese internment, the brutality on all war fronts, the Rape of Nanking, nuclear bombs, etc.) made people all over the world question their understanding of Christians and their Trinity. Christian theology and the cross had to take into account the suffering of the people in a way that did not have God as a distant, top of the pyramid Lord indifferent to the suffering of man. Additionally, presenting God as someone who sacrifices His own undeserving Son would translate extremely poorly to those who lost loved ones in the War and in camps. It makes no sense without the context of the resurrection (which was often a theistic after thought). Atheism provides an unfortunately reasonable response to an indifferent God that creates Christians who are okay with torturing and murdering millions of men, women and children. Not surprisingly, faith in God is not at its all-time high in countries that went through the World Wars. And yet there is an even better answer to the issue of the crucifixion in ideas like Dorothee Solle.

Dorothee, a German Lutheran theologian who visited Auschwitz, is described in Quest for the Living God as coming “…to the realization that rather than being a dominating force or an ineffective form of love, divine power is a creative, noncompelling, life-giving good. This is power that flows through relationships bringing others to life, power as love.” (Johnson, 64) To her, God isn’t this omnipotent God, whose main attribute is power and whose primary concern is over who wields power and who submits. God also isn’t impotent love, dying helplessly on the cross, weaponless and without any power. God instead elects to sacrifice and suffer with humanity, and the full story of the cross is in the resurrection because it brings hope to those in the world who themselves are a member of the crucified. ”None of this Christian theologizing is meant to remove the terror of the Holocaust from the Jews… But the God who shared in the suffering and death of the cross and brought the power of life to bear in the resurrection of Jesus Christ was there, suffering in the death camps.” (Johnson, 64)

There were, as mentioned, other theological paths that could be taken following WWII; this is just one solution. However, if the idea isn’t the distance, absence, or indifference of God then another option is that God was present in the concentration camps, beside those who suffered or even suffering with them and hope rests not in endless suffering but in a God that resurrects those that suffer injustice. This is, right now, an aspect of God that resonates with me. A God that takes sides, whose power within his human story lies in his teachings, his life and in his power to be resurrected out of an unjust death and yet to be present with us always. In other words, the Trinity, who I’ve come to see most simplistically as The Giver, The Gift, and the Giving. But more on that later…