May 28, 2013 at 2:07 pm #2052Forgiving VictimParticipant
2.6 God’s utter aliveness
In this session we explore the experience of the Exiles returning from Babylon and encountering those who had been left behind.
Receiving a new story
Share ways in which you have noticed the content, questions or insights from the previous Module showing up in your lives.
Walk down memory lane
Answer the following questions: Have you ever returned to a place that had been important to you, such as a childhood home or school? What expectations did you have? Did the place meet your expectations or maybe disappoint you in some way?
Food for thought
Join the conversation taking place around these questions in the Discussion Forum for this module.
- When the exiles returned, they brought with them an idealized vision of their home. How have you responded when reality did not live up to your dream or vision?
- How can rules and a moral code be helpful to communities?
- In what ways can a moral code be hurtful?
- What happens to us when we grasp onto a moral code for unity and identity?
- In what ways can a moral code be hurtful?
- Discuss what James means when he says that the bush that burns but is not consumed is a perfect symbol for God who is not in rivalry with anything that is, not even death.
- Who or what are the gods that tempt your devotion?
- What story about yourself and your community do these gods communicate to you?
- Where or through whom are you discovering God, not one of the gods?
- What new story about yourself and your community is I AM communicating to you?
August 9, 2014 at 2:33 pm #5856AnonymousInactive
I am beginning to enjoy playing with Scriptures and putting distance between God and human victim-making as I follow news and people’s lives in church politics.
August 14, 2014 at 3:06 am #5869
Yes, the return of the Judahites from Babylon with ideas of racial purity is indeed a source of victim-making as you express it Maginel. And it is fascinating to see the Scriptures refute this, as in Wisdom literature which continues to express an understanding to God as opening up a creation of inclusion. Wisdom literature really exposes the vanity and futility of this exclusivism which is still so alive and well today, and, regrettably in all walks of life.
September 8, 2015 at 5:39 am #6190
In the Discussion Forum of this unit, share ways in which you have noticed the content, questions or insights from the previous session showing up in your life.
Forgiving Victim’s inductive approach brought me to the personal understanding that we are ‘symptoms’ of God’s creation. The course provides a coherent, conceptual framework within which to understand, to value, to act upon ideas about God’s foundational presence. Two prime examples of these ideas are James’s discussions of Moses and the Burning Bush; and Jesus on the Road to Emmaus.
The key doctrine, identified here at this midpoint in the course, is creation out of nothing; or, creation ex nihilo. While the words are not new to me, Forgiving Victim’s inductive approach to this theology has made the significance of the doctrine accessible, like coming upon a straightaway in a path on which I’m walking.
The created world is the world of the social other; the world of mimetic conflict, where we desire according to the desire of the other. There is no chain of being connecting this world to the being and nature of God. However, even as we desire according to the desire of the social other, we are free to desire according to the desire of the Holy Spirit, which God reveals and we can discover. But the physical universe, even as it is capable of showing God’s presence, reflects it dimly, as St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13:12: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
Karen Armstrong wrote about creation ex nihilo on page 123 in her book The Case for God. Forgiving Victim has opened the meaning of Armstrong’s writing for me:
“Creation ex nihilo tore the universe away from God. The physical world could not tell us anything about the divine, because it had not emanated naturally from God, as the philosophers had imagined, but was made out of nothing. It was, therefore, of an entirely different nature (ontos) from the substance of the living God. A “natural theology” that argued from our rational observation of the world to God was no longer possible, because the new doctrine made it clear that, left to ourselves, we could know nothing at all about God.”
September 10, 2015 at 9:52 am #6192
Yes, the Prophetic writings and Wisdom literature kept alive a different understanding, that of Gods aliveness and the opening up of Creation from the Holy Place of the Temple, faced with the notions of morality and racial purity which appeared as the exiles return from Babylon to Jerusalem. The bush that burns but is to consumed is an appropriate symbol for I AM, the protagonist that is not in revelry with anything that is and which brings everything into being.
September 12, 2015 at 6:41 am #6195
In the Discussion Forum for this module, answer the following questions: Have you ever returned to a place that had been important to you, such as a childhood home or school? What expectations did you have? Did the place meet your expectations or maybe disappoint you in some way?
This summer my wife and I and another couple stayed four days in an AirBNB apartment http://bit.ly/1UK0cCf on Chicago’s north-side. Upon arriving I parked the car in the garage behind the apartment building. As I walked from the garage to our first floor apartment’s back porch, suddenly I was transported back to my Chicago childhood. The location of the garage in a small backyard on an alley strongly echoed my boyhood family-home’s yard and garage. The floor plan and general feel of this north-side apartment also resembled that of our long-ago, south-side home.
Decades old memories flooded into my mind, giving me the opportunity to explore long dormant feelings in a venue where I had no prior expectations to make them conform to cherished ideals. On the contrary, while the north-side apartment readily evoked childhood memories, it simultaneously contained them within the frame of our couples’ weekend.
So remaining grounded in the present, I returned in memory to a distant past. Inhabiting both worlds at once, I was able to contemplate my past dispassionately through a lens informed by the distance of years of experience. And yet I wonder how this dispassionate lens that tenderly looked into my past gets refocused for a similar survey of the present. Where will I find the same empathic understanding presenting itself among the practicalities framed within the bounds of today?
September 23, 2015 at 9:36 am #6199
Well, Rich it seems to me that you are asking yourself if you can be as dispassionate about your present as about your past. But, do we have to be ‘dispassionate’ about ourselves? Would it not be better to accept ourselves and even love ourselves, while being aware of our imperfections? God loves us unconditionally, warts and all. By loving ourselves I do not mean conceit, or a lack of humility, but rather an awareness of the Christ within. SO, if God loves us warts and all, should we not love ourselves in this knowledge, with humility?
September 24, 2015 at 6:18 am #6201
Sheelah, thank you for sharing your thoughts, which I very much appreciate. Self-acceptance, self-love in practice can seem elusive for me. While intellectually I completely agree with you, self-love in practice requires more than intellectual assent; because self-love in practice flows into and through personal, interactive forms that emerged out of one’s past conditioning.
For example, last night I found myself in an argument with my wife where early-on I recognized that my emotional state and hers were miles apart. We didn’t find any resolution to our differences until eventually it occurred to me that there were three of us in the room: my wife; my inner, self-loving awareness; and then my outer, probably not so pleasant nor integrated behavioral shell. (Actually, there were four of us, including my wife’s inner self!)
I thought of my behavioral shell as a persona conditioned from past experience. I realized, only after we were well into our disagreement, that my behavioral persona was incongruent with my inner self-acceptance. Only after I realized that, admitted it to myself, and then to my wife could we begin to truly hear each other.
The inertia of life, I think, tends to maintain the conditioned persona du jour. It’s tempting to equate acceptance and love of self with acceptance and love of that persona, which came about primarily through interaction with the social other. Whereas, true self-love arises from engagement by the ‘utter aliveness’ of the other Other, the Christ within. I think I have that right. It ‘ain’t easy’ putting all these ideas together, and then into practice. ‘Ain’t easy,’ but certainly the only Way worth living into!
October 3, 2015 at 1:36 pm #6204
Rich, I think that your ‘behavioral shell as a persona conditioned from past experience’ is also loved by God. I think we all have to learn to think with our hearts and less with our heads. Perhaps you could think in terms of incorporating and transforming your ‘behavioural shell’ into a whole with your inner self-loving awareness. Carl Gustav Jung advised us not to throw out our shadow side as that is where all the energy lies. You are obviously aware of its presence, so when it appears you gradually soften and transform it, while retaining its energy. Does this make sense?
October 5, 2015 at 7:09 am #6205
Sheelah, thank you for your thoughts, which make a lot of sense for me! I learned a while ago about the Shadow Self, as it applies to me experientially. My ‘aha’ was learning that I had packed good and assertive and skilled aspects of ‘me’ into the shadow. I fully agree that ‘softening and transforming’ my shadow self is the way to proceed. I think ‘softening and transforming’ is such a good term, because it respects a present that both anticipates and facilitates future integration. While my writing has reflected inner conflict; it is only because I am getting clearer that I can see what I see, and say what I say. There is great ‘behavioral softening and transformation’ in and growing out of the encounters I’ve shared, for which I am very grateful.
September 23, 2015 at 6:35 am #6198
In the Discussion Forum for this module, discuss what James means when he says that the bush that burns but is not consumed is a perfect symbol for God who is not in rivalry with anything that is, not even death.
What follows is a meditation trying to make sense of the idea of a burning bush where at one and the same time “utter aliveness” is contained, but also overflows. James writes that Isaiah whose “atheist god who is not-one-of-the-gods” was the prophet who first understood the concepts underpinning the meaning of the burning bush.
The bush looked like it was burning, the one that caught Moses’s attention on that mountain, but it was not consumed. The bush burned and yet its green leaves remained alive and well. What was happening was something like the lighted, gas-log fireplace in my living room: burning logs that never collapse in a shower of sparks into a glowing pile of embers.
The bush is “… a perfect symbol for God who is not in rivalry with anything that is, not even death.” The bush simultaneously reveals the physical and metaphysical realities of which at all times the bush was composed and enlivened. Saint Augustine, in Chapter Three of his Confessions, wrote:
“Do the heavens and earth then contain Thee, since Thou fillest them? or dost Thou fill them and yet overflow, since they do not contain Thee? And whither, when the heaven and the earth are filled, pourest Thou forth the remainder of Thyself? or hast Thou no need that aught contain Thee, who containest all things, since what Thou fillest Thou fillest by containing it?”
Knowledge illumined by burning bushes precipitates paradigm shifts fraught with anguish-laden cognitive dissonance. Anguish connotes considerable loss, as well as connoting the concurrent birth of the immanence within. The unknowable (that is, not directly perceivable) utterly alive metaphysical reality infuses, but in no way opposes, the physical world. In fact the two realities, physical and metaphysical, complement one another.
Awareness of utter-aliveness infusing all that is, utter-aliveness never in opposition to what is, emerged as paradigm shift replacing the familiar, tacitly accepted image of a three-storied universe where one God reigned. The burning bush reveals that our physical present simultaneously contains, and is contained by, both human awareness and not directly perceivable utter aliveness.
What does the birth of this new way of knowing mean for individual persons? It takes time in individual lives for these facts and their correlate in physically aligned actions to appear fully. It takes time for egos to relax; to stop trying to tightly encompass perceived reality; but to discover they are freed from the fear of exploring the peripheries of their spans of attention. It takes time to discover the realms where burning bushes forever are seen coming to light.
September 23, 2015 at 10:36 am #6200
Rich, the American scholar Robert Dobie (Logos and Revelation) has the following to say about the unknowability of God. “Human reason is indeed powerful and capax veritatis but, left to its own devices, it is liable to error, and, most important, to confusing its own limited, finite and provisional formulations of the Truth with the infinite Truth itself. Human reason cannot grasp the infinite without the help of the infinite. Reason is in need of illumination or an unveiling that frees it from its own finitude. Hence, both men ( Ibn Arabi and Meister Eckhart) argue that we need revelation”. All the Scriptures of the entire Abrahamic tradition speak of the mystery of God. In the Christian tradition we only know God through Jesus, and this is what the contemplative tradition has always known. Jesus tell us how to live, but we put ourselves in the presence of God simply in awe.
October 2, 2015 at 6:32 am #6203
“Just as the Hebrews discovered God revealed to be not one of the gods, we are still discovering the same thing today. Who or what are the gods that tempt your devotion?”
If God is not ‘one of the gods’, then Who or what are my gods, my idols? The question brings idolatry to mind. Chris Hedges in ‘Losing Moses on the Freeway’ wrote: “Idols comfort us, reassure us and empower us.” In the beginning idols are familiar and present when I am ready for them. Only later on must I conform to their schedule for an increasingly-difficult-to-attain familiar, but false sense of security, empowerment and goodness.
What does it mean to worship idols? Richard Rohr wrote in ‘Jesus Plan’: “When there is no experience of the True Sacred, we will always fall into the worship of the false sacred. The false sacred will invariably become a pretext and even a holy justification for prejudice, marginalization of others, scapegoating and violence.”
James wrote on page forty-two of ‘Forgiving Victim’ that “… our self-identity as ‘good’ is one of our most sacred idols.” I can know myself as good only when I know others in some ways as bad. The comparison is necessary to reveal, to emphasize the meaning of real or imagined differences. I know I’m worshipping the idol of a good self-identity when I hear myself piously intoning liturgies blaming ‘them’ as the cause of my problems. These perceptions can be burning bush realizations where ‘God, who is not one of the gods’, is calling me into mindful attention.
James wrote: “In the face of “I AM”, pure deliberate unhurried protagonism, creating and moving, all of us are peripheral, symptoms, “it’s,” “they’s” being turned into a “we” and an “I” through a historical process of relationships in which we find ourselves being called into worshipping the Lord.“ We are inducted over time into relationship with God, we cannot ourselves grasp God. James wrote “… ‘I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE’ … … … is something that cannot be grasped, coming towards you, and the ‘not-being-able-to-be-grasped’ is essential to what is going on.”
So “what is going on”? How does one wake up to their idol worshipping practices? I think of Moses at the burning bush. I AM, WHO I AM became present to Moses through a commonplace bush. Moses recognized, stopped and attended. James wrote: “ “I AM” turns out to be the real protagonist, the one who brings everything into being, and it is thus only in the degree to which anyone stops attempting to be the “I AM” in the face of God, trying to make God an “it” or a “he”, that that person, or that group, will start themselves to receive their real “self”, their real but subsidiary “I am” as a group and as individual persons.”
Recognize, stop and attend – initial responses to I AM calling from utterly ordinary, non-threatening, mundane reality. It is enough in the beginning to respond mindfully, attentively … to go with the flow.
October 12, 2015 at 2:05 pm #6208
Yes, Rich, I think you have not only understood how we create idols, but you have also realised it and understood how to recognise it.
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