Martin Buber has written that our absolute relation to God is as inclusive as it is exclusive. While from my side I contemplate the truth and beauty of that, I cannot help but consider it as descriptive also of God’s relation to us. There is a beautiful symmetry here in both directions: our relation to God is, at once, exclusive and personal while evolving and revealing itself communally through our relations with others. We then, in our human understanding, perceive God’s love for ourselves as direct, personal, and exclusive, yet somehow encompassing in the same “exclusive way” the whole community of man. Each individual relationship is exclusively inclusive in the reciprocal bond between a man and God – between mankind and the divine.
Ironically it would seem the nature of a personally exclusive relationship with God would be the hardest for us to understand, but the real gray-area comes, I think, in grasping the all-inclusive communal nature of our relationship. That may be why there is so much contemporary emphasis by the church on this aspect.
In considering our exclusive relationship with God it is impossible not to consider You; and disastrous not to include others, for it is through their inclusion in the relationship that our exclusive bond evolves. No matter how much I may favor and nurture an exclusive relationship with You, it is not completely that! There is no way of eluding the reality that we are part of others and others are part of us and You are at the center of us all.
The ways I perceive God continue to mature as I learn more and grow in the spiritual life through prayer, reading and meditation. At this time in my life I find myself supremely desirous of bringing myself safely into His fold despite my own straying and oblivious apathy. The more I confront my own weaknesses the more I see myself as utterly dependent on the compassionate and relentless pursuit of God. It’s almost to the point of throwing up my hands and saying, “OK God, I give up! I can’t do anything with me. My only hope is in Your love.”
In this perception, however, I may be relying too strongly on You to do for me the things for which You have given me the graces to do for myself. This is a demarcation point requiring keen discernment – a thoughtful weighing of how my dependence and my independence interact. The reality of my desire to pray, read,and meditate is itself a gift from You. By willingly choosing to accept it, I act on my own. But for that whisper, that tweak, that nudge I wait with hope; and when it’s there, You watch to see what I’ll do – and You too wait with hope.
You don’t need me in order to be who You are just as I don’t need hair in order to be who I am, but, in both cases, it is desirable. I don’t think there is ever a possibility of me totally putting my dependence upon Your love and mercy, but
there is that within me that tells me I must choose and act on my own with the assurance that Your grace is with me. It’s another facet of the trust between us to which I must learn, more and more, to surrender.
Something I’ve noticed about my perception of God is that I dwell heavily on the image of a kind, merciful, compassionate, loving and forgiving God and I don’t think much about God the Punisher. A compassionate, forgiving God is cozier, more comfortable. But there are many references in the Bible (particularly the Old Testament) to God as a punisher – a just punisher!
There’s a difference between a just punisher and one who treats others punitively out of a judgmental sense of self-righteousness. It is people who are this kind of punisher that God the Just Punisher deals with. But in scripture, in almost every instance, the punishment of God is mollified with second or more chances through repentance. Even in so wickedly plotted and disgusting schemes as those of Ahab and Jezebel there is (at least for Ahab) forgiveness because of his repentance. It often seems that God does not actually punish us so much as we punish ourselves when we cut ourselves off from Him.
There is also another factor involved in our perception of God as Punisher. We often mistake sufferings, trials, and hardships for punishment when, in fact, they may be gifts, graces, and blessings. What we may call the punishment of God
may more likely be the opportunity for correction. Like a disciplining parent, a slap on the wrist or timeout in a corner by any other name may be an intentional wake-up call from God. It depends a lot on how we look at it. If we look at it negatively we end up punishing ourselves. But if we look at it positively we might be able to see the “punishment” as an opportunity for growth.
The concept of God as Punisher may simply be due to perceptions of our own guilt and shame and their recompense.
Some aspects of the gospel about the wedding feast at Cana recently struck me in a new and somewhat oblique way. Toward the end of that narrative the steward says to the bridegroom, concerning the wine, “You’ve saved the best for last.” In a
strange way that statement struck me in regards, symbolically, to the notion of the prescience You may have had about Your life. Another statement made by You to Your Mother on the same occasion, “My hour has not yet come,” would seem to indicate that You did possess some foreknowledge.
Applying the steward’s words symbolically to Yourself I see the irony of You knowingly recognizing a characterization of the life that was ahead of You – saving the best for last! Of
course that “best” was not best for You but best for us. Yet even then, three years before the event, it seemed to foreshadow it.
And then there’s the matter of that “hour” You spoke of at the dawning of Your public life. That word appears in similar contexts in other gospel passages. Did You use it to refer to the initiation of Your public ministry or to Your passion and final redemptive act? In either case there seems to be some evidence that You had more than normal human powers of foresight. This is a very powerful concept when taking into consideration the textual record of Your words and actions
during Your ministry. It adds another marvelous dimension to meditating on these scriptural accounts. The probability that You did, indeed, possess this power should not really be surprising since, by Your miracles, we know already that Your
humanity encompassed more-than-human abilities. But again, we should not be surprised. Your humanity was in tandem with Your divinity.
What really fascinates me is trying to see the correlation between Your divine prescience and the humanity that drove Your everyday words and actions. It fascinates me because if I am a follower of You I, like You, must maintain an awareness of the correlation in my life between the spiritual and the corporal.
To be able to see something of God in every single person we encounter draws us, an inch at a time, toward the realization of our true selves which, fundamentally, is You. God sees You, His Son, in each of us. That is why He loves us so much. You are the Child of God and, as a human, You see us also as God’s children. Thus when we look at each other we see a child of God; a
brother/sister of You.
Meister Eckhart says that the whole of the Father’s teaching is His Being which He reveals to us in You. All that God does and teaches He does and teaches in His Son. You are God’s Child and we are God’s children because He sees in each of us You, His Son. If God sees You in each of us why should we not look
for that which He sees when we look at each other?
Of course God sees more deeply inside of us than we are able to see, but that which is inside of us is usually manifested outside of us in what we do or say. That is what we should look for - those exterior manifestations in others that are
harmonious with what You would say or do.
The obstacle in recognizing the signs and manifestations of Your presence in others is that many of us prefer to look for the lack of such qualities, flaws that serve as fodder for our criticism. What is it in us that so inclines us to back-biting
criticism, gossip, and self-righteousness? What is it that makes us want to say that he/she is not so perfect? I think it’s often a proclivity for leveling the playing field. We look at our own flaws and then try to mollify them by looking for worse in
others. But that approach has it backwards! We should not be comparing. We should be trying to find You in ourselves and that will help us find You in others. Imagine living our lives with the ability to see You regularly in ourselves and in every person we encounter.
Fr. Anthony DeMello makes a brilliantly simple and compact case for our inability to know God. It is because of our lack of awareness. I want to write to You further about this sometime, but for the moment I want to tell You how immensely important You are to our awareness of even the tiniest tidbits of our concept of God.
The word “concept” is the right word because how we conceive of God may only begin to approach the reality of God. So, how do we conceive of God? You said, “He who sees Me sees the Father.” So we start there; and isn’t it a magnificent gift that God becomes man in order for us to know Him better? In thought, feeling, touch, sight, and sound we can grasp a human being because we share all that with others, but even then we don’t fully know another and probably never will. It’s kind of like that with God. By sending You to us we could grasp at least the tiniest snatches of God’s thoughts and feeling; what He saw
and heard, and we could touch Him.
We will never comprehend God. It is impossible for us. Whatever we say about Him we are really saying about You.
We know You. You are the subject upon which we predicate God.
The people of the Old Testament dealt with Yahweh, His voice, His manifestations, and His revelations through the prophets. We have a tendency to equate Yahweh with the Father, the Creator, but I think it was You all along. The second Person of the Trinity is the divine conduit between God and man and always has been and always will be.
If we seek union with God in eternity we can do no better than to seek union with You now. I associate the mystical primarily with what we can’t know humanly. It is that which only the spirit can attempt to seek. But with You before us there is
something of non-mystical reality that we can latch onto and still say we know God. As Thomas did, we can touch You, and we can see You; and he who sees You sees God. Let us then never despair of knowing You and seeking You, for that is why God sent You.
You are the Incarnate Word of God come into the world. Is it not ironically backward that Christians seem to nurture the feeling that that Word was meant just for them?
I am a Roman Catholic Christian by birth first and then by choice over the course of my spiritual evolution. Regardless of one’s religious persuasion, if one studies the great religions of the world there are many striking harmonies with the Incarnate Word of God as we have received it.
Some of the Eastern religions pre-date You're appearance on earth by hundreds of years, yet say many of the same things contained in Your teachings. The transpiration of these
“harmonies” leads one to consider the magnitude of the common truths about man’s relationship with the ground of his being. It also tempts one to consider, despite popular Catholic feeling, that the mission of the Incarnate Word was not about establishing an exclusive religion (man took care of that), but about adding to, magnifying, and enriching a synthesis of man’s worldwide thoughts about his place in the cosmos and sanctioning them by the power of that which they worship.
In the Pauline sense, then, the Incarnate Word of God was not meant for Jew or Greek, but for all. It is self-deceptive to read some of the things the Buddha, Confucius, Lao-Tzu, etc., say, and deny their harmony with Your teachings. Thus it
makes one ponder not only the existence but also the portentousness of the common denominators arising from the boundary-pushing extent of man’s limited mind regarding the meaning of his existence.
No matter which religious affiliation we choose we should never close the door on the cosmic insights that support our journey within that affiliation. There are bits of subtle wisdom in Eric Bonheoffer’s thoughts on “religionless religion” –
some of which extend beyond what he originally intended. There is merit in his thoughts about Christianity often being a secondhand experience passed on by family, culture, and tradition; and his wondering how religious practice can leave a
person ultimately unchanged at the core of his being. But beyond that the wonderment itself hints at looking beyond nominal Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, to the unnamed religion that draws our spirit to the Absolute.
Sometimes we neglect attending to the obvious – because it strikes us as, well,obvious! At the risk of expressing the obvious to myself, I contemplate the deeper insights behind the obviousness of a saying such as “can’t see the forest
for the trees.”
The deeper insight contained in this proverbial cliché goes beyond the smaller perceptible details that tell us that what is closest to us often distracts us from the bigger picture. This touches profoundly on the immense gap between the sentient world and the inner heart and spirit. Can God even begin, in some sense, to be perceived when our intellects and emotions are constantly flooded with people around us? But, can the notion of God be conceived at all without people?
The truth is: seeing the forest in the trees! In the same way we look at a large clump of trees and think, “forest,” we can look at people all around us and think,“God.” We can consider their God-given gifts and potentialities even in people who do not reflect “godliness.” God resides deeply in every one of us and waits to be recognized. Consider the sadness of living a whole life with God residing deeply in us and never being recognized. Such is the preface of hell!
Such recognition does not have to be of the Christian God, or even another religion’s God, but simply of some all-pervading spiritual being that we summarize from all the “trees” around us. It is the spark of that spirit within us which begs to be
recognized, begs to be perceived through us by others; not as another “tree” but as the living embodiment of the“forest.”
In the life of the spirit being able to see the forest for the trees means being able to see the forest in the trees.
I write this during Donald Trump’s fourth year in office as President of the United States. I have, over a lifetime, formed and nurtured an inherent aversion to politics and politicians. I vote, and I honor the memory of some great patriots including some presidents. From the memories of childhood I recollect
having to sit through boring and unintelligible political conversations at the meals of larger family gatherings.
As I grew and began to exercise some critical thinking I weighed the morality I was being taught against the hypocritical words and actions of many politicians. The occupation itself seemed to be tainted with deceit. I wondered why anybody would ever want to become involved in such a self-serving mess. There have been glimmers of hope now and then, but not for some time.
I’ve maintained these expectations of shadiness for over 70 years now, and along comes President Trump to crown me with a definitive halo of wisdom. If there was ever a better time to shout, “I told you so!” it is now!
But all 70 of those years of indifference were cast into an entirely different light last Saturday at Mass at St.Michael’s. The priest delivered a homily that included the notion that not only now but always we should pray that anyone in so significant a position as the president should receive our prayers for integrity, truthfulness, dignity, and compassion. I had never considered this before! Under the present circumstances it made a great deal of sense despite the personal incongruity of it.
If we should forgive and pray even for our enemies, why not for any head of our government aside from what we might think of him? There is no argument, when I think about it, that these qualities should always be prayed for in our president. I
guess it just comes down to the fact that you don’t have to like or agree with somebody in order to wish for and pray for the qualities you think are needed in their position.
In our relationship with You we are often given to believe in the simplicity of just leading a “good life.” But leading a good life is an extremely complex process involving a lot of conflicting dynamics.
In outline form three major dynamics seem to dominate with many and varied sub-topics. First, there are the motions of a good life. We act out the motions of kindness, caring, compassion, tolerance, forgiveness, servility, etc. Hypocrisy,
selfishness, pride, and ego are more likely to creep in at this level than anywhere else. Often our primary concern is that others see what we are doing. What we do and why we do it is an indication of what is truly in our hearts.
That leads us to the second major dynamic of a good life – motivation. Intention or motivation comes from our inner spiritual self. With proper intention and motivation we can eliminate the possibilities of self-serving hypocritical actions
and postures – at least most of the time. With a motivation of sincere love and concern, and an intention to do God’s will, we minimize the obsequious self and its “me-first” proclivities. In this dynamic of a good life the other always comes first and self-assertion is replaced by an honest attitude of altruism.
The third major dynamic of a good life involves a kind of fear that others will mistake our good intentions for something else. It’s a well-founded feeling because most of what we do is not based on unconditional love but rather on our own agendas. We often feel that leading a good life is useless unless witnessed by others including, especially, You. This, for one reason, is because of what Anthony DeMello calls our need for the drugs of appreciation and recognition.
In each of these dynamics there are minor things, thistles and traps that arise from circumstances and attitudes. Thus, simply leading a good life is not so simple. The motions, ostentations, intentions, and anxieties involved in leading a
good life are constantly modified and manipulated by the life itself we are trying to make good.