I remember when I was in grade school and I learned that some girl "liked me." This didn't happen very often, nor did it ever seem to coincide with my own secret amorous leanings; the upshot was that I never really had a serious girlfriend during my elementary and high school years. I do recall feeling flattered to think that someone thought highly of me, however, or even found me attractive. After learning of this girl's feelings for me, it became impossible to look at her the same way. Even after all these years, I see some of them around my old home town and the thought comes along that there once was a time when she "liked me." Amazing!
I recall later, in my college years, when the two-way switch finally clicked, and I finally liked someone who liked me (and vice versa). It was all I could think about, at first, and doing so left me feeling warm and energized inside. No matter what was going on, or how rough my classes were, the thought of my girlfriend and the prospect of seeing her brought a bright spot to my life.
What was unthinkable to me at the time was that something like this might be possible with God. Even though I would have felt comfortable affirming the truth of the Christian mysteries, it was all far away from my heart, and nothing I felt relationally involved in. God was "out there," running the universe, and had left us guidance on how to live and strength through the Sacraments to live that way. I was at peace in my conscience, only there was clearly something missing . . . when I let myself think deeply about anything, that is. It's easy, as you all know, to avoid such inner inquiry when young, especially if you have a cool girlfriend (or boyfriend, as the case may be).
Faith and Relationship
Discovering that God is Love, and that God invites us to relationship is analogous to learning that someone "likes you." If you really hear the invitation -- if you "get it" -- you can never be the same. There is a sense in which a relationship is an on/off affair; either you're in it, or not. You might be in it by degree -- maybe just an acquaintance, or a friend, or deeply committed. You can also say "no thanks," and close your heart, responding politely and interacting appropriately, but withholding any inner openness to having your life touched and influenced by another. It's the same way with God. We're either in relationship or not, open or not -- perhaps open to a degree, of course, but maybe not even that, at times.
Consider that it is possible to believe in something or someone and not really have a relationship going. In terms of our earlier discussion on the human spirit, we could say that one can give rational assent to a certain proposition, or to the existence of a person. I believe Abraham Lincoln existed, for example, and that he was a wise leader and an important figure in American history. I don't have a relationship with Lincoln, however. There is no sense with me of his spirit reaching out and touching mine, or interacting with mine in any way. It can be the same with God.
Relationship with God begins with the response of faith to a perception of God inviting relationship in some manner. By faith, here, I mean more than belief, for, as noted above, it is possible to believe and to have no relationship. Faith, then, is the response of inner openness to relationship with God that makes it possible for our human spirit to become intimately influenced by the Spirit of God. And just as we can be open to another by degrees, so, too, can our level of faith enable a range of possible relationships with God. To some extent, that's what the distinctions made in earlier conferences about theistic, Christic and theotic spirituality was all about, though one can certainly have a very high degree of faith development in each of these levels. It's also what the development of covenant seems to have been about.
Covenant and Faith
One way to understand biblical history is in terms of a deepening covenant between God and the human race (albeit through the Hebrew people and Christ). By covenant, here, I am referring to more than a contract, but the terms of relationship between two parties -- God and God's people, in this case. When two are in covenant, they "belong" to one another, as in a family. The terms of the covenant indicate behaviors and attitudes that will foster development of the relationship; they are more than just arbitrary rules and regulations. To be faithful to the terms of the covenant is to be faithful to the relationship, and to grow in the experience of it; to break the terms of covenant is to damage the relationship.
We could do an extended study of covenant and benefit much, but that is not my intent, here. What I wish to call attention to are two points about biblical history.
1. It is always God who initiates the covenant, whether it be through Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and, eventually, Jesus Christ. God is the one who calls us to relationship, and who indicates the terms by means of which we can continually abide in relationship.
2. Each successive covenant is an invitation to a deeper relationship. The Mosaic covenant calls for more commitment than the one with Noah; same, too, for the covenant with God established through Christ.
You've all studied this, no doubt, and are familiar with the terms of the New Covenant, which are abundantly discussed in Paul's letters in the New Testament. The emphasis he gives is to faith rather than conformity to laws and regulations, for it is the inner openness of faith that enables the human spirit to receive the graces won for the human race by Christ. For Paul, it is not what we do that puts us right with God, but what Christ has accomplished; faith is opening oneself to receive what is given through Christ as pure gift. Good works, as the Book of James points out, give evidence of one's faith, and help to maintain one in the disposition of faith. There is a congruence between faith and the works which come from faith; if not, then faith will be diminished somehow.
Spirituality and Faith
Christian spirituality, then, has to do with how the human spirit is formed in faith and responds to God out of the consciousness awakened by faith. The Way of Christian Spirituality (course title) is formation in Christian faith through the Spirit of Christ.. This entails fostering openness to the Holy Spirit in our human spirit, and intentionally striving to bring all aspects of our being and our lifestyle into the direction of the Holy Spirit.
In our will, we open ourselves to receive God's love and discover that we can love anew with a love that transcends our human capacities for loving. The gift of the Holy Spirit is the inner principle and source of this new power.
In our reason, we open ourselves to being formed in the truths of Christ's revelation, which do not contradict the truths we can grasp through science and philosophy, but transcend them, indicating aspects of the divine mystery that we could have never figured out on our own.
In our awareness, we awaken to a new identity, knowing ourselves to be children of God.
The psyche and its operations -- even the physical body! -- is transformed on this journey of faith. We become new creations, who are ever becoming newer -- even as the body ages and we approach the time of our death.
Through Christian faith, we enter into the new covenant with God through Christ and come to know that we belong to God most intimately and profoundly - - that God even "likes us," and wants us to draw ever closer. Through Christian spirituality, we respond to this call, consciously and willingly, receiving and expressing the goodness of God in all the levels of our being.
Reflection and Discussion
1. What questions or comments does the conference awaken for you?
2. What difference has it made to know that you are loved by another?
3. How do you experience relationship with God?
Hi, all. Although I haven't posted much, I've been reading and prayerfuully reflecting on the messages. The thing I've been struck by in the past couple of conferences is the idea of God inviting me into a relationship. Of course I've known this, and have even experienced it on very deep levels. But I think in the past few years I've sort of lost touch with that invitation and with God's Spirit touching mine and mine responding. I don't know if it's from trying to cram too much into each day and not devoting enough time to listening, or what; but I've found myself trying to be a lot more open and prayerful lately, and to remember that God really "likes me". So I'm here and I'm reading and praying and reflecting.
Hi everyone, this is Cathy and I've been silent as I've been in the hospital w/ another heart attack and some surgery....I've not had a chance to follow all the readings but will only add that God works in strange ways and with crooked lines guess He just wanted me to listen and that I did and also did my usual Irish Palsmist complaining of enough already to which I got The graces are their just ask... So here I am again learning to trust and asking for prayers.... humbly and sincerely Cathy
Dear Cathy - Along with many from this newly formed gathering of seekers, I have begun to lift you up before the Throne of God's grace for continued healing and restoration of health. Somehow, these readings of deep spiritual matters found through our course help strengthen and support our faith journeys with Christ. As I have been reading (and as of yet, not responding) I have been made more aware of Christ's immediate presence by His Spirit with us and in the world. In a terribly hectic too busy world, we must be surrounded by community who helps to reinforce the truth about God in Christ by the Holy Spirit.
So with an even greater and firmer stand in faith, I confess and therefore pray and believe that His powerful healing and loving presence is absolutely with us (with you, Cathy), and healing is being accomplished in His perfect way and time. Many blessings and love to you in the power of the Spirit. Marina
Very nice, Marina. "Amen!" to your prayer.
Keep us posted on how things go with you, Cathy.
"1. What questions or comments does the conference awaken for you?"
As I read your note, Cathy, realizing all you had been through in the last weeks, it reminds me of how behind our comments, thoughts, ideas and the feelings that we are sharing or even not sharing in a forum here, each person has our own processes unfolding in our lives on another level. Being mindful of our brothers and sisters in a global sense and with personal compassion is so much a part of our gospel call. We are called to be "real" with each other, and I thank you for sharing on a personal level with us.
I certainly add my prayers for your recovery.
I know all too well the feeling Danny expressed in his post on May 19 in the The Invitation: “Come to Me…. thread. I also have written replies that I have not sent to the forum because I considered them to be sophomoric compared to some of the contributions being offered by others in the group. However. I am finding Phil’s clarifications to my questions and concerns and to those that he is clarifying for others who are participating to be full of insights and most helpful.
With regard to Lesson #5, I bring my response to faith from the position of a cradle Catholic who forsook much of Catholic doctrine, worship and ritual and sought to find another avenue by which to enter into a relationship with God. But I found nothing with which I could comfortably identify or that has a tapestry as rich in ritual and worship as that of the Catholic Church. So I returned to the practice of Catholicism. Although I cannot and do not embrace all the doctrines promulgated by the policy-making Magisterium I can and do experience God through what the Catholic position has taught (and continues to teach) about Christ. And so, not having forsaken Christ I agree with all that Phil has offered in Lesson #5. However, I want to address the issue of good works as giving evidence of one’s faith and maintaining one in the disposition of faith.
Much of the time good works are identified as doing something tangible and noticeable like feeding the poor by volunteering in a soup kitchen, or tithing, or donating money to a charity or homeless center, or visiting the sick, or picketing an abortion clinic, etc. Although the forgoing and many more of like kind are indeed good works building on a relationship with God I wonder if the Christian faith and the new covenant with God through Christ would be better achieved or realized if we would emphasize doing works that perhaps are not so tangible.
I find that I experience growth in my relationship with God when I engage the good work of renouncing the bitterness, resentment and anger that desires vengeance against someone who has slighted me in some way. I feel that a good work is done when I struggle to forgive an enemy and then move toward loving that enemy with prayers for him desiring the best that I would want for my family and myself. I find it to be a good work struggling to manifest the fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, trustfulness, etc) in moment-to-moment relational interactions when the seasonal affective disorder I suffer piques the depression to which I am prone. Although we are called by the Holy Spirit in and through the Incarnation, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ and have been given the graces to engage and manifest God’s gifts and fruits, it’s just that I have never seen good works emphasized or identified as also being intangible and invisible.
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