I woke from sleep to write some of this in my journal a few nights ago, and want to distill it here. A lot of it is inspired by Verna Dozier's account of the Biblical story in "The Dream of God"and by reading around in various traditions and angles on the idea of the Sacred, and the names of God, for a class I teach sometimes. As well as my efforts, as a poet, to imagine and give words to what seems to be my experience of God. This is the story I live within: I can't prove its objective truth, but it makes beautiful sense to me, and helps me to make sense of the world. Here goes.
If you read the Scriptures of the 3 great monotheistic traditions you encounter a God who is first characterized as a "Creator." This is a poetic name, indicating that the people who wrote these texts understand God as having a stake in human history and the wholeness of the earth. This Creator is in loving relationship with Creation, and wants humanity to be part of that loving relationship. But the fundamental thing is that we are made free, to choose that loving relationship or not to choose it. And the Bible tells the story of so many times when we are offered that relationship and choose not to enter it. The stories suggest what this relationship is like symbolically -- to be in the garden, man and woman together and in harmony with the world, and ready to grow into relationship with the Creator in taht place. But, as the story goes, humanity chooses a different path, wanting, ourselves, to be God. The way Verna re-tells the story is, I think, very true to the overall pattern of Scripture, especially Hebrew Scripture: we keep being ofered opportunities to choose God's way, we keep choosing our own way and as we do that we also turn on each other and bad things happen. God doesn't fix the bad things, but keeps calling us back, giving us another chance. There is no end to these calls to return: God does not give up on us. There is grief on all sides. Somehow--and this is a theological point to explore more --God limits God's own ability to MAKE us do things God's way. There is no coercion from God. There needs to be freedom of choice on our side in order for there to be real relationship (and when we don't have that real relationship with God we also don't have it with one another). This call to return (Islam callst he prophecy a "reminder" to humanity about what we've forgotten) is persistent.
For me, raised in Christianity, the idea of the Incarnation just makes sense, and makes more sense the more I attend to it. After the giving of the Covenant and the people falling away from it, creating kingdoms and , led by corrupt kings, waging horrible wars, after the prophets being ignored, with their message of justice and mercy, after the exile and return, God comes among us as one of us and demonstrates and preaches this loving relationship in the person of Jesus: In the person of Jesus, God gives the early disciples -- and all of us sinc e-- a chance to experience in our humanity God's desire to be in relationship with us, and to call us into right relationship with one another. It goes badly for Jesus: the combined forces of religious institutions and political empire conspire to kill him. He is just too threatening. Somehow the Resurrection, and the witness to that event, beginning with Mary Magdalene and the women at the tomb, promises that you cannot kill this persistent love of God. It will triumph in the end. So, as followers of Christ we live in that hope -- not by imposing a whole new set of laws and structures (though Christianity has done that plenty of times -- that doesn't mean it's right), but by finding ways to embrace in love the freedom that God has always been offering us. And trusting that God's Spirit will help us with that.
I believe that the Love of God underlies everything -- and I think every great religious tradition at its best ultimately points to this, one way or another. The core of the great religions says that there is power available to us to choose life, to find ways to live in harmony with one another, as human beings, and to honor the Creation. As a Christian I think the best thing for me is to "root where I am planted" and having embraced that I find great riches in the story of Christianity, and that's where my teaching and writing take root and grow. But I doubt any religion has a corner on ultimate, absolute truth. How could they? We only have human language and perception, and the truth is much bigger than that. The best religions do is to point the way, and to remind us that we are NOT God. That may be the most important thing, and the hardest, to remember.
It is distressing to me that people and societies and religious groups not only fail to live up to the loving Creator's dream for us, but corrupt it into tribalism and sectarianism. The tendency to say "We have the truth and you don't" "You are out, going to hell, etc., and we are in" This or that authority has the one true way," does not demonstrate the falsity of revealed religion but rather the human failure to seek genuine truth and understanding. If there is any truth at all to what I say I believe, as a Christian, then it is also impossible that I have it completely right: the truth is too big, the mystery of love too far beyond my grasp. All I can do is to try to find the path that is open to me, to follow it in freedom and in love, and to use all that I am -- mind, heart, and body -- to do so. There is challenge and struggle in this but there is also great joy.
People who truly desire to find the way offered by the loving Creator God usually embrace religious practices (worship, forming community with others, prayer, compassion for the poor, work for justice and peace) because these practices help them to grow in faithfulness -- not as ways of getting into heaven. That is already taken care of, if we believe the repeated calls to return, the promises of forgiveness and grace that run through the Biblical tradition -- and through other great traditions as well.
The prophet Micah says "What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God." Jesus calls us to love one another as He has loved us. The Qu'ran says we have all these different faiths so that we will try to outdo one another in faithfulness. The life of faith is about wanting to live into those callings, and to be shaped by them. As Brian McLaren says, God calls Abraham, not just to be the father of a chosen people, but to be a blessing to the world, by whom all the nations of the world will be blessed. It's not about "getting it right" or "having it perfect" or even "becoming a better person." No. It's about following a path to freedom, and not just for ourselves but somehow for the good of this broken and hurting world.
- Kathleen Henderson Staudt
- I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.