Stop thinking, get down on your knees, and pray

Friday, 7 March 2014

A Heart That Loves

“A heart that loves someone cannot hate anyone." - Johann Goethe

If you really love someone, you can have no room for hate. Genuine love for one means genuine love for all. Love is so overflowing, so gratuitous, so free and un-demanded, that the very notion of the exhaustion and demands of hate are completely foreign and alien.

Of course we are limited in our capacity to show that love to all. We need to make choices of where our energy of love goes; choosing to express love to one or to a few means that our expression of love to another or to others cannot be carried out. And we will find limits to our expression even with those who we do choose to express out love to.

But just because love cannot be shown to all does not mean that love cannot be available to all. And a heart that loves someone cannot hate anyone.

Jesus was limited. He healed many, but not all. He wept with some, but not all. He saved one woman from being stoned, but not all. He shared the last supper with 12 friends, not with everyone.
And yet why should that limitation prevent his love from being universal and cosmic? Jesus loved someone. Jesus loved specific people. And through that specificity, he has loved all, for a heart that loves someone cannot hate anyone. 

And so whenever we love, whenever we give and receive from other in genuine vulnerability, we too have tapped into or opened ourselves to what is universal, to the infinite love at the heart of all things. Hate closes down and is small, narrow, and confining. Love, even within human limitations, is infinite. In fact, love only exists within limitations at all! And within those very limitations, it is infinite and closes down all possibility of hate, smallness, and confinement.

A heart that loves someone cannot hate anyone. 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The Stranger in the Page

God is a book.

A book worth reading.
It is not a long book.
It can be read in one sitting.
It need be read only once.

It need be re-read countless times over.

Every time you read this book,
It is a new book.

Familiar, to be sure,
We recognize the plot,
The theme,
The characters.

As we enter the familiar pages
We are changed
By what is strange.
By the stranger in the page.

I wouldn’t be surprised, if this book was on your shelf.
It’s often on sale at garage sales or used book stores
For a dollar, or less.

Sometimes the book is opened,
And there are no words on any page.
Other times, the words are so jammed in,
That reading is impossible.

Sometimes the plot flows slowly,
Other times, it rips through the pages,
Ripping out the pages.

This is a short poem,
About a short book.

But don’t be fooled.
This book arrives, disguised as your life.
So it will take your life to read,
This one

The book of your life, the book of divine
Both are eternal. Both locked up in time.  

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

The Paradox of Love

“Philosophy is the wisdom of love at the service of love.” Emmanuel Levinas
“Love begins in our opening to and welcome of others, and grows as we attend to them in their integrity and wholeness.” Norman Wirzba
“Though we cannot know God, we can love God.” Anonymous
"I am loved, therefore I am." James Olthuis 
“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

I want to write something. I can think of no higher topic, nothing more important, than love. But what can I say about love? What could I possibly have to say about love?

Love is ineffable. That is, it cannot be put into words. I cannot speak about love. It is beyond the confines of language.

Yet I must speak about love.

I am describing a mystical tradition. Mystics often are the first to say that there is nothing to say about love, God, the divine, the transcendent, the mystery that created and enfolds the world. And after stating the impossibility of words they go on at great length in poetic forms to describe what they cannot describe. They attempt the impossible.

I have nothing new to say. I’ve read some brilliant philosophers and theologians discuss love. I have wise friends and professors who talk about love with great eloquence and sophistication. I have family, friends, past romantic relationships, teachers, and mentors which have exemplified and do all display an amazing outpouring practice of love, a practice which gets closer to describing love than even poetry from the most profound mystics.

Saying that I have nothing new to say about love is not to say anything new. Any and all words and actions of love are never anything new. We are always in the middle of love. It’s always already begun, and we simply pick up what has been dumped all over the place, we simply open our mouths to the perpetual stream, we simply jump on board a train that’s already bound for love. We didn't do anything, we didn't create love out of nothing. Whenever we get going with practicing love, either as a philosophical or theological description, or in concretely opening ourselves to otherness, we’re never starting something new. Even as I write these words, these very words which are fresh on this page, even as I try to describe something about love which has never before been expressed in this specific instance, there’s still nothing new. It’s still just jumping into a river that is already flowing.

And yet… it is new. Love is always new! How could it not be new? Every new instance of love adds itself to an already completed action of love. Love needs nothing and yet love rejoices when new love is released, when love is once again given the chance to burst out of the container that we’re tempted to keep it inside of. Hans-Georg Gadamer says of understanding that it is “not merely a reproductive but always a productive activity as well”. This is even more true in the case of love. Love is not merely reproductive, it is always productive. Love is so exciting because it always brings something new! In our openness to otherness in other people, creation, and in God we’ll always be in awe of the depth and diversity found in everything. What a thrilling way to live life, in love that continually opens to new possibilities!

And yet… for all the newness that shows up when we love and talk about love, we’re always in the middle of love.

In a very unpoetic yet, I believe, genuine way, let me try to describe briefly this new/not new paradox.

Whatever newness we ourselves create in love (the only true newness there is), love was always already there. Yes. And wherever love bursts forth, something new has arrived that wasn't there before. Yes. Amen.

“The one who testifies to these things say, ‘Surely I am coming soon’. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” Revelation 22: 20

Monday, 25 November 2013

Politics, Naked Before God

In our human realm of knowledge, wisdom, and ideas, where we converse, agree, disagree, argue, and so on, what is the role of charity, humility, love, and justice? How is it possible to hold firm to something and yet also be charitable to other points of view, or even be open to the possibility of having one’s own opinion changed? Is intellectual charity even an option when we’re trying to proclaim gospel truth, the truth of good news for the world?

I think often of the Biblical prophets, Jesus included. No holds barred, they unleashed the gospel truth which condemned their own nation of idolatry, narcissism, and oppression, while also proclaiming good news to the poor, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed. There wasn’t exactly a polite conversation which took place (though I suppose it’s likely that the oppressors to whom the prophets were preaching wouldn’t listen to either a level tone of voice or a shrieking cry). When you’re passionate for the good news of justice, you don’t worry about calling the problem perpetuators hypocrites (Jesus), cows (Amos), or whores (Isaiah and others).

There are two particular scenarios in which I struggle to discern how the proclamation of gospel truth in the vein of the prophets might be worked out. The first is in the political sphere, where there is a certain understanding of the left and right spectrum. The second is where I currently spend a lot of my time: a graduate philosophy classroom. I’ll focus on the first.

What does the Biblical good news say into contemporary politics, and how can anyone, Christian or not, cry for justice? I think the main reason I started writing this post is to say this one thing: whatever you think of the other side of the political spectrum from where you happen to be standing, don’t be arrogant, mocking, or spiteful. Don’t cover up your own insecurities by adopting a position of superiority. Chanel that energy in a different way. Face yourself, take yourself less seriously, and surrender your self before God.

I know that there are people and systems who need to be screamed at in an energized and prophetic manner. They are hypocrites, cows, and whores who probably need some of that name calling to jolt them out of the self-secured sanctuary of greed, lust, and gluttony. But arrogantly mocking everyone who doesn’t agree with your particular understanding of politics and justice is hardly a prophetic call towards justice. I should be clear: I am thinking primarily of some of those on the political left who criticize the right. I personally have largely left-leaning tendencies and am convinced by a lot of critiques of capitalism and the free-market. But the prophetic cry for justice is only genuine if it comes from a soul who is naked before God. There is then no need to assert one’s own intellectual or ethical superiority.

Anyone who shakes their head in personal disgust at their political opponents has given up their right to criticize. Rid yourself of any negative energy that pushes you towards criticism out of malice or arrogance. Criticize and energize in the knowledge of your own insignificance before God. Then you won’t shake your head in personal disgust, but you’ll run naked through the streets screaming for justice because you’re naked before God. You’ll be at peace with yourself before God and thus not able to handle the injustices which arise from the rest of the world not being itself before God.

Spend some time naked before God. Then see what political criticism looks like. 

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Great Allower

God is the Great Allower, despite all attempts of ego, culture, and even religion to prevent God from allowing.  Show me where God does not allow.  God lets women be raped and raped women conceive, God lets tyrants succeed, and God lets me make my own mistakes again and again.  He does not enforce his own commandments.  God’s total allowing of everything has in fact become humanity’s major complaint.  Conservatives so want God to smite sinners that they find every natural disaster to be proof of just that, and then they invent some of their own smiting besides.  Liberals reject God because God allows holocausts and torture and does not fit inside their seeming logic.  If we were truly being honest, God is both a scandal and a supreme disappointment to most of us.  We would prefer a God of domination and control to a God of allowing, as most official prayers make clear.
– Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond, pp. 18-19

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Waiting, Hoping, Praying, Trying

My academic struggles have continued. I feel lost, ungrounded, and uncertain in what I know, in my ability to write and think, and in where I fit, not just in the academy but in the world. Toronto and ICS have brought real challenges. I've left a loving and encouraging community at King’s and the process of finding my footing again continues to be difficult. I admit to myself often the difficulty of this situation and I keep hoping that by such an admission I will then magically find my way to more stability. It hasn't worked out that way, though. I have to face the same difficulty again and again, day after day, week after week.

We’re reading Walter Brueggemann’s book “The Land” in Biblical Foundations. Commenting on Israel after the exile, Brueggemann writes about hope. “Here is the heart of the good news of the gospel:  things that seem hopeless need not stay as they are. Things that seem hopelessly lost, closed, and dead are the very region of God’s new action. The reversal of destiny is not some clever trick of human ingenuity, but it is the action of God himself when all human ingenuity has failed” (126).

I always feel as though I’m on the brink of really locking into this new pursuit of wisdom I’ve undertaken here in Toronto. The problem is that I feel kind of frozen before all the wisdom and knowledge that is in the brilliant minds of my classmates and professors, and that lines the pages of thousands upon thousands of books.

So, what does Brueggemann have to say to my situation of the experiences of groundlessness and uncertainty? Well, by his own standards, it’s not much. After all failed human attempts at knowledge and wisdom, it is only God that brings about anything substantial. So I can attempt to be patient and await God’s renewing word, maybe create the space for such a word to be spoken. I do this in silent meditative prayer. But perhaps my prayer could also take an assertive tone, like that of the psalmist.

The psalmists often quite bluntly tell God to defend them. I quickly found a psalm of complaint (The Message): “Harass these hecklers, God, punch these bullies in the nose. Grab a weapon, anything at hand; stand up for me! Get ready to throw the spear, aim the javelin, at the people who are out to get me. Reassure me; let me hear you say, ‘I’ll save you’” (35:1). The psalmist is sure that God has promised to protect and uphold them, and so they demand that God hold up his end of the bargain!

I don’t know if God has promised me anything. There may be New Testament promises to all believers. But I’m not sure if my relationship with God is such that I can assert myself like the psalmist does. Which, admittedly, is a lonely and discouraging thought.

I will continue waiting, hoping, praying, and trying to create silence and space in my life to hear God’s word. It might be that the academic pursuit is simply not where I should place my life’s energies. It’s discouraging to think that simply working hard at something doesn't necessarily mean you’ll succeed at it. But, I confess, there is pride at work in me which creates my unrest in the first place. I’m a typical human relying too much on human ingenuity. 

Friday, 8 November 2013

Condemned to Simplicity (The Wisdom of Love)

This past week, in one of my classes on philosophy of language, we talked about how how having a sophisticated and educated vocabulary is important for understanding the world and each other well. Language is probably the primary way we understand the world. We see and interpret our world through the language we've been taught. But language is not simply a pair of glasses which we can put on or take off. It really is what allows us to experience our world as our world at all. And so, a rich vocabulary leads to the possibility of a rich understanding of the world.

But it's only a possibility; it doesn't necessarily follow. And as a student pursuing higher education, it's important to keep in mind that knowledge about words is not necessarily wisdom. You can have all of the best tools in your toolbox, but you need to use them properly. You can have all of the best words in your vocabulary, but if you need to use them properly.

That is why the wisdom of love is so crucial. Philosophy comes from ancient Greek and is the amalgamation of two words: philia, love, and sophia, wisdom. The history of philosophy has thought of itself as the love of wisdom.

Emmanuel Levinas reconfigured philosophy when he said that philosophy isn't the love of wisdom; it's the wisdom of love. Thinking is not about loving wisdom. It's about being wise lovers. Wisdom is in the service of love.

I sit down to write this blog post, and again I'm frustrated at my lack of wisdom, my lack of control over language, my lack of creativity. I want to be a creative, sophisticated, and loving thinker, but I feel condemned to simplicity. If I can't control my words and thoughts in creative and life-giving ways, then how can I be wise? How can I be loving?

Not just knowledge. Not just wisdom. Not just the love of wisdom. But the wisdom of love.

John Main writes: "We have to confront the annihilating, the loss of self. People are often repelled by the negative language of the mystical tradition and of the scriptures: surrender, death, loss.

But what is surrendered is what is worthless. What is annihilated is what is unreal. What dies is what is impermanent anyway.

The essential experience of prayer is the powerful surge of God's creative love. It is this surge of love that brings about a break-through into the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is simply the power of divine love released and penetrating into every fibre of our being: the Kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21)."

What needs to be surrendered and annihilated, and what needs to die within me is the need to impress others and impress ourselves with knowledge, wisdom, or even love. Yearning for a beautiful skill of language, of wisdom, for the goal of impressing others, is a false self which needs to die.

The wisdom of love does not belong to our false selves. It doesn't "belong" to anyone, or any thing. Love is always gift, an outpouring of vulnerability and self-offering for the sake of others, vulnerable both in giving and receiving. The desire to have the wisdom of love, to contain or know or control the wisdom of love, necessarily won't allow for love to emerge.

Being condemned to simplicity may be a great gift.