Saturday, 29 May 2010

Start by saying yes

I am often struck by the force of St Paul’s words about all God’s promises being "yes" in Christ. This week I have been going round meeting churchwardens — the process, evey three years, of formal “visitation.” I’ll post some material early next week.
For now, I notice that parishes where there is life, vibrancy and growth, seem to approach their surrounding contexts positively rather than defensively.

This doesn’t mean they can’t criticise those contexts; indeed the capacity of a church to critique its surrounding culture is far greater, not less, when it does it from a positive relationship, not fear. Interestingly, some such places seem to be running services where they begin with coffee, not end with it — a new trend?

I am taken back to some words of Richard Rohr about the need to see everything (in the tradition of Hugh of St Victor) contemplatively, not simply in terms of our preconceptions about it. God’s vision is surely fresher, and more understanding than ours. So he says
Philosphically and psychologically, a certain assent precedes all true knowing. If you watch closely, you will often see that an initial change of heart or attitude precedes any willingness to change your mind. In my own Franciscan philosophical tradition, both St Bonaventure and John Duns Scotus thaught that love or willingness were higher than mere knowledge. You only really know that which first you love, they felt, because otherwise you invariably distort and divide your sight and eliminate any bothersome or threatening information. Then you do not love it but (at best) only your idea of it. How often we see this in our relationships; Romance instead of real love, and infatuation (“false fire” in Latin) instead of genuine fire. Words and thoughts are invariably dualistic, but pure experience is always nondualistic. Think about that!

Fundamentalism suffers from the same false seeing. It is basically a love affair with words and ideas about God instead of God himself or herself. But you cannot really love words; you can only think them. You cannot really love reaity with the judgmental mind, because you’ll always try to control it, fix it, or understand it before you give yourself to it. And usually it is never fixed enough to deserve your unprotected gift of self. So you stay on Delay, Paue or Still forever. We see this fear of intimacy in most people, but in particular with men, who tend to have a more defended ego structure.

The fact that some form of loving must precede true knowing helps us appreciate why the prophets used the intimate word for carnal knowledge or sexual intimacy when they spoke of “knowing” God (see, for example Hosea 2:21, 6:6, and John 10:14-5, 14:20, 17:3). This is a tremendous insight, but one that comes only from inner realization and not from books. So many of the mystics and the Song of Songs had to make use of sexual imagery to describe the relationship of the soul to God. From inside experience, you know God’s love is a tender dance of give-and-take, rescue and holding.


Sam Norton said...

Have you been watching Peter Owen Jones' Simple Life programme? (still on Iplayer I think). Your comment "We see this fear of intimacy in most people, but in particular with men, who tend to have a more defended ego structure" made me think of some of the lessons he's learning (and that I'm processing for myself, too).

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Sam, mnythanks for the PO-J reference. I hadn't seen the show, but will look it up. Someone was telling me about it last week. I've come across him in Cole Moreton's new book as CM's example of how the Church could relate to society posirively. He seems to function as a centred, relaxed and generous village holy man — which sounds rather good!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Richard Rohr's words that you quote here came to mind more than once since I read them some days ago, especially the final paragraph on the prophets' use of the word for carnal knowledge to speak of "knowing" God, for before we can know God, we must love God.

In my meandering way, I then thought of certain of St. Teresa of Avila's writings, which, without much straining, suggest sexual feelings. And there's the wonderfully vibrant sculpture by Bernini, St. Teresa in Ecstasy in Santa Maria Vittoria in Rome, which one member of our party rudely retitled, which title actually made a good bit of sense when I looked again at the sculpture.

Rohr's final words are lovely:

From inside experience, you know God’s love is a tender dance of give-and-take, rescue and holding.

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