Archive for May, 2012

Sunday after Ascension: Power from on high…

May 20, 2012

Before his Ascension, Jesus tells the disciples that they are to be endued with power from on high when the Holy Ghost comes upon them.   Christians have not done so well with power over the centuries, but we might get a couple of clues from this text about the power of the Spirit.  First, the disciples are told to wait — tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem — until the Spirit comes in his own time.  We could learn a lot from fellow Christians – such as the Society of Friends – who practice quiet and patient waiting upon the Spirit.  In such waiting, the discernment between our own distortions and the power of the Spirit tend to become clear.   Further, what characterizes the waiting?  Great joy… praising and blessing God.  Is our waiting upon God marked by such joy?  Or is it a time of tapping our fingers in frustration, imploring the Spirit to hurry up and ratify our desires?

In this time of waiting before Pentecost, let us be filled with joy, joy that banishes the darkness of our hearts and the plans therein, emptying ourselves so that  the coming power may re-make and use us, only and always as Christ wills.

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Suffering and explanations

May 8, 2012

Standing with St John and the Blessed Virgin at the foot of the cross, Christianity has been willing to look upon suffering with an unflinching eye. When we begin to flinch (or sometimes worse, to explain), we turn from the path set for us by the crucified Lord. In the course of recent discussions, I’ve heard some responses to suffering which may be worth contemplation.

First, in both evangelical/Pentecostal and New Age contexts, I’ve noted strong influence from New Thought traditions. This influence shows up in a response to suffering with the direction (or the implication) that the sufferer is somehow responsible, and should change his thinking, do his affirmations, or, in a more traditionally pious vein, pray more effectively or accept God’s healing more wholeheartedly. I think New Thought (a generic term for Religious Science, Divine Science, Christian Science, Unity, and similar groups) has gifts to offer to the larger Christian tradition. However, I believe Dion Fortune was wise in her remarks (coming from a Christian Science childhood): The mind has powers which we hardly suspect, and it is a fine thing to explore them within the moral and spiritual commitments of religion, but it is not so fine a thing to make a religion of the mind, as if it is all that is.

The opposite of “you caused it yourself” is “God is doing it to you.” This perspective on suffering often arises in traditional/orthodox settings, in which a sufferer is told that God is purifying her, or that she is making reparation for sins (her own or the world’s). We all know persons who have met suffering with a grace which transforms them and radiates outward, but we can easily think of others who have been plainly and simply broken by the pain which has come their way. I am shocked by the facile willingness to imply that the latter have failed to see and respond to the hand of God.

A third version, common among esotericists, is to see one’s difficulties as caused by another, i.e., a magical attack by another person or some other sort of being. Far be it from me to deny that we can impact others, and be impacted by them, in subtle ways, intentional or not. However, how much power do we really ascribe to such? Where is our trust in Christ?

If one is suffering, one might choose to explore these perspectives (among others) to see if they have any wisdom to offer in one’s particular situation. Maybe yes, maybe no. However, it seems to me that we need to exercise great humility and reserve in applying these explanations to the pain and distress of other people. We are called to love our sisters and brothers, not to explain them. Sometimes, all we can see is a bloody cross and all we can do is faithfully stand alongside, leaving the rest to God.

IV Easter: Hid with Christ in God

May 2, 2012

Paul tells us that we are risen with Christ through the faith of the operation of God, and that we are to walk… in him.   In the gospel, Jesus opens the minds of the disciples to the mysteries of his death and resurrection, and tells them: Ye are witnesses of these things.  

What does it mean to walk in Christ and to be his witnesses?  We are all laden with notions of what the walk of faith should look like, whether those notions originate in our experiences of Christianity to date, or in our awareness of its form/s in our culture.   All too often such ideas of church and of life in Christ may be the very things on the earth from which we are counseled to remove our affections.

Like the disciples, we may have spent much time with scripture and with Jesus, and yet our understanding remains closed – closed by our inherited ideas of church, our ego-driven fantasies, our desires for certain forms of power and an identity recognized by the world.   We must be willing to let the Light of light shine into such darkness.   We are told that our life is hid with Christ in God.   Can we trust that mystery and allow Christ to open the splendor of his resurrection to us?  If so, the light will shine on the path we are to walk, however odd or hidden that way may seem.