“I could wish,” says St. Augustine, “that we would consider these three things that are in themselves . . . To Be, to Know, and to Will. For I am, and I know, and I will, I am knowing and willing, and I know myself to be and to will; and I will to be and to know."
In conference #2, we identified these three dispositions as characteristic of the human spirit. This is not very different from Hinduism's assertion that what human beings really seek is being, knowledge, and bliss (sat, chit, ananda). It seems that wherever the human experience is carefully observed and studied, we come up with these three characteristics.
"In these three," St. Augustine goes on," therefore let one who can, see how inseparable a life there is—even one life, one mind, one essence: finally how inseparable is the distinction, and yet a distinction. Surely a person hath it before him: let him look into himself and see and tell me. But when he discovers and can see anything of these, let him not think that he has discovered that which is above these Unchangeable: which Is unchangeably and Knows unchangeably and Wills unchangeably.”
And so, as the Saint observes, even noting these three spiritual attributes and becoming more conscious of their operations, we have not yet discovered God. Here, Christianity (along with its Jewish and Moslem relatives), affirms that the human spirit is, in fact, a created entity, and here we find a primary distinction between the theistic religions and Hinduism. Where Hinduism affirms that awakening to one's deepest inner self -- the Atman -- is awakening to God, the three main theistic religions affirm that God and human beings are two different beings.
Theistic Religious Traditions
How God and the human interact and inter-relate is the primary concern of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, and all three share a common message, to a large degree (though you wouldn't guess, sometimes, by the way we get along). A few themes you will find in all three are as follows:
1. God is transcendent -- a Being whose existence is immeasurably greater and beyond anything conceivable to the finite human spirit.
2. God created all that is. Creatures owe their lives and existence to God. This fact is the basis of religion -- that our lives ought to be oriented toward God, our Creator.
3. God is also good, beyond all human knowing, but not in an anthropomorphic sense. Because God is good, what God creates is good, and that includes human beings.
4. Sin has damaged the relationship between God and human beings. By sin, here, what is meant is the misuse of human freedom and intelligence in such a manner as to assert the human spirit over-and-against God. Terrible consequences have come to the human race from this transgression, none the least of which is the loss of a sense of intimacy with God.
5. God has taken the initiative and revealed a way back to right relationship. In Judaism, that way is the Law; in Islam, it is expressed through the Koran; in Christianity, that way is Christ.
Granted the many practical differences in #5, one can nonetheless appreciate all that these theistic religions hold in common.
Theistic Christian Spirituality
With all these pieces from conferences 1, 2, and the above on the table, now, we can begin to say something about Christian spirituality. In its purely theistic manifestation, we note that it is a spirituality focused on the revelation of God through Christ. Revelation is the telling factor, here, with Jesus viewed the Way, the Truth and the Life, providing connection between the human spirit and God.
As the Truth, Jesus shows us Who God is and what God expects from human beings, thus satisfying the thirst of our rational intelligence for clarity and understanding concerning God. Furthermore, through his resurrection and ascension, Jesus shows us something of our human destiny, answering those deep questions we have concerning the ultimate meaning of life.
As the Way, Jesus shows us through teaching and example how we ought to live, bringing proper orientation to the human will. This Way is shown to be love -- insanely generous love! -- which gives to those in need out of one's own need, responds to evil by doing good, and, ultimately, sacrifices one's life for the welfare of friends.
As the Life, we experience our self-awareness to be informed through identification with Christ in such a manner as we come to know ourselves to be sons and daughters of God. This new identity cannot be taken away from us, for its foundation is in heaven, where it cannot be destroyed.
Obviously, theistic Christian spirituality offers a significantly different way to form the human spirit than one finds in Judaism and Islam (not to mention the Eastern pathways). It draws its meaning and focus from Christ, who is considered the definitive revelation of God, and, hence, the One upon Whom we can build our human lives knowing that we have, in Him, a solid cornerstone.
This way of Christian spirituality is summed up nicely in an Internet course on Christian spirituality offered by St. John in the Wilderness Episcopal Church:
- see http://www.stjohnadulted.org/spir_1.htm
Theotic Christian Spirituality
If the Word incarnated in Christ had only died, risen and ascended, it would have been enough to contribute to a very high theistic spirituality, such as outlined above. In addition, theological implications such as heaven and hell could have been affirmed, along with a vast array of ethical, ecclesial, and liturgical practices. But the ascension was not the end of the story, as we know. In fact, this Sunday, we celebrate the next great surprise in the unfolding Christian story -- Pentecost, the day God shared with us the Holy Spirit. This marvelous Gift enables us to participate in God's very life and, through this intimate exchange, find our own human life transformed into a likeness of Christ.
The Greek term, theosis, captures best this new dimension of spirituality. It is difficult to translate into any language, meaning something like "divinization" or "deification" -- literally, becoming God. It is what St. Irenaus, writing early in Christian history, meant when he wrote that "God became man so that man might become God." By this, he is not intending to say that we will eventually be transformed so that our human nature disappears and we turn into God. The paradigm for this process is Christ, who perfectly joins the human and divine in such a manner that the divine life informs everything about his human life. Our destiny in God is in Christ, made possible through the power of the Holy Spirit working within us.
This quote (shared in this coming Friday's Daily Spiritual Seed) communicates something of the difference between theistic Christian spirituality and theotic Christian spirituality in the phrase, "we are loving by means of God." Not only that, but even the functions of awareness and intelligence become infused with God's very awareness and intelligence.
We are no longer talking about a transformation of character based on valuing what Christ valued in the way he valued it (theistic Christian spirituality), but actual participation in God's very life so that out human ways of perceiving, valuing and knowing now operate "in the way the Spirit teaches us." This Spirit is more than enthusiasm for Christ, but the Divine Principle Itself, dwelling within the human soul, coaching, guiding, informing, and transforming us all throughout our lives.
I will stop here as the intent of this and the previous two conferences was to roughly indicate some of the contrasts between human spirituality, theistic Christian spirituality, and theotic Christian spirituality (which is actually the only fully developed theotic spirituality). For a deeper dig into this topic, see http://shalomplace.com/ubb/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=2;t=000192 Henceforth, we will begin to explore various aspects, movements and disciplines of Christian spirituality, adopting an approach that appreciates both its theistic and theotic dimensions.
Reflection and Discussion
1. Questions and comments from the conference.
2. Do you think most Christians take a theistic or theotic view in their understanding of Christian spirituality? What has been your understanding?
To the extent all humans are on a journey of transformation and experience different types of conversions, both secular and religious, through faith, both implicit and explicit, I think the first three conferences reveal some important distinctions between the explicitly Christian journey and all others.
The question, above, situates us within this Christian journey and, in my view, seems to challenge us regarding the nature of our response to its Good News. Whatever one's understanding or view, however theistic or theotic, we have been taught that all will indeed know the nature of one's response to Gospel imperatives and invitations both by the manner in which we love one another and by the fruits of the Holy Spirit in our lives. In this sense, it seems to me that most Christians have been properly formed with a theotic view and are in touch, for the most part, with the demands of conversion, with the invitation to metanoia.
Another question arises, however, as to how earnestly any of us apply ourselves to these demands or respond to these invitations. It has been said that there are two major routes to transformation: mysticism and suffering. And, for this consideration, we might broadly conceive mysticism to entail all that would be involved in one's wholehearted surrender to the journey of transformation, let's say, through a life of intense prayer and through a voluntary asceticism and self-imposed mortifications, as well as those mortifications that otherwise result quite naturally as a result of one's apostolic commitments. And - we can also see how life's sufferings, however involuntary, can work to transform us and increase our solidarity with and compassion for others. Life thus seems to be uncannily oriented and artfully crafted toward effecting human transformation, one way or the other?
So, a question I would like to ask is whether most Christians journey toward transformation through mysticism (again, broadly conceived to include our sacramental and liturgical and ascetical experiences) or through life's incidental suffering (albeit eventually viewed through the lens of the Paschal Mystery)? Or varying combinations of both, let's say, voluntary and involuntary mortification (purification)?
Merton speaks in terms of urgency and crisis and of our experience of the Cross as related to issues of continuity (really discontinuity and death) and creativity (a life of meaning, which reminds me of Viktor Frankl's existential vaccuum). And my recollection is that he suggests that most of us are gifted with this urgency and experience this crisis as life's events overtake us, involuntarily, rather than from our earnest and single-hearted setting out in search of the Grail.
In my own life, then, I can look back and hear God ask of me in each moment of prayer: What brings you here, now, in love?
And my answer has very often been that life's discontinuities have me scared out of my gourd.
And my answer has sometimes been that I feel alienated from a deeper meaning.
And my answer has less often been that pure love brought me here, although I think I can discern a movement more and more away from fear and more and more toward love.
And there is a certain paradox in this in that life's crosses have not made me fear more but have made me love more, have softened me up, so to speak, and made me more and more compassionate toward all fellow sojourners, sometimes gifting me with a joy and a peace that would otherwise be incongruous, from a worldly perspective, in this or that life circumstance. And perhaps that is the infallible sign of the Presence of God and the assistance of the Holy Breath.
Come Holy Breath,
Thanks to both Phil and JB for their helpful insights. As I answer the question Phil asks I see much of my early interactions with God being spiritually more theistic. I do admit that I'm not completely clear on the distinctions between these two approaches to Christian spiritual life. The lines between them are sometimes fuzzy and hard to know. Most of my early Christian life was centered on a decidedly theistic view of God. And Phil's distinctions between Christ as the Way the Truth and the Life have always been meaningful to me.
In the last several years though my walk has been more like a delicate dance as I struggle to hear the music (God's graciousness) while at the same time needed to motivate my feet to boogy(my response.) A few months ago, the music seemed to stop-- or at least I lost my ability to hear it. I wasn't sure what happened. So I began to talk to others I walk this path with and they all had stories similar to mine. Sharing our experiences of being deaf to the music of Christ turned out to be a very enriching thing for us all, especially those in my congregation.
My walk seems headed in something more like a theotic stream here in recent years. And I'm wondering, does anyone out there discern a progression here that maybe a theistic spirituality will many times lead to something more theotic. It's hard for me to figure this out because I can rarely distinguish the line between the two. I suspect I need both to be where I'm at with and in Christ.
Like many of you, I have been on a quest of sorts ever since I can remember. Reading and reflecting on many of your comments, your thoughts, and your ideas brings back the experiences of the many levels of the spiritual journey.
In answer to the question, for myself, I certainly have moved into the more mystical aspect of the journey at this point in my life.
There is a step from theistic to theotic that, for me, could only be taken in faith. I was a university teacher, a researcher, and on a search for knowledge for a good part of my life. The Spirit drew me into the unknown.
I likened it once to leaping into open space where God catches me.
This becomes real and becomes a part of my life through prayer and solitude. Dwelling with God opens and reveals everything that I have ever tried to conceal or to keep secret. It really could no longer just be a path of exploration. It is a total trust and a daily act of faith that guides me into the mystery of God.
For me, it has been and is the greatest adventure and transformation available in this life.
My focus is yielded to the Spirit of God and into a mystical Love that is a wilderness in terms of what we can define. It is home.
My experience began to deepen as I opened my heart and prayed, moved by love. I became aware that everything began to change.
The invitation is always there for each one of us. Listening to each other and sharing our journeys as a community can bring us to life as God's people.
Love will make us real.
In faith, Naomi
Thanks for your sharing, JB, Danny and Naomi. I think this helps to further clarify some of the points made in the conference.
This distinction between theistic and theotic Christian spirituality isn't one commonly taught, and so it might be helpful to say just a little more about it. For one thing, I wasn't implying that Christians emphasizing a theistic approach aren't experiencing theosis; I'm sure they are, as in their ongoing growth in Christ, they are experiencing transformation through the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The theotic includes the theistic. In fact, we might even discuss whether non-Christians and even non-religious people experience theosis; the answer would depend largely on whether you believe the efficacies brought to the human race through Christ's death, resurrection and ascension apply only to those with explicit Christian faith, or if they touch every human being in some manner. What say ye?
Re. the theotic, then -- notice how much this view prevails in Paul's letters . . . how much he is focused on the leading and guidance of the Spirit. It's almost as though, for him, the Spirit has become the Source which informs his thinking, choosing and his very awareness moreso than his own human spirit. He's still very much aware that he is there, and frequently notes when something is not of the Spirit, but his own judgment. What's interesting is that he always seems to assume that his readers / listeners have a similar experience of the Spirit.
Another way of contrasting the two is that the theistic approach is Christolological -- centered in Christ and his teaching -- while the theotic approach is pneumatological, or focused on the Spirit. The theotic approach presumes the theistic, in many ways, only it is much more mystical and even unpredictable in its manner of proceeding. While the theistic approach seems to appeal to human reason first, then to the will and awareness, the theotic reverses this order: awareness of presence leading to movement of the will then some kind of rational understanding, obscure though it may be. Again, this is not to suggest that the Spirit doesn't operate through rational intelligence and theistic spirituality; it's a matter of a shift in how one attends to the leadings of grace.
To the extent certain efficacies will flow from Right Speech and right relationship to the Truth, explicit faith is a great gift and will make great differences in one's life.
What might some of those be?
At the same time, the efficacies brought to the human race through Christ's death, resurrection and ascension certainly touch every human being in some manner.
What might that be?
These are questions I've mused over before and I look forward to considering them again with the help of my brothers and sisters, here. Looking forward to others ideas and experiences.
I have studied scripture and the life and teachings of Jesus for thirty years. I am definitely Christian, and as I mentioned elsewhere, very Trinity oriented. So, everything flows from a Christian perspective.
Yet, I have seen and worked with people who let their lives flow from love without any theological perspective, and I wouldn't presume to label it. Certainly, for me, the theistic background supports and informs my life of following the leading of the Spirit. One contributes to the wholeness of the other.
I very much like your statement, Phil, when you said:
"Again, this is not to suggest that the Spirit doesn't operate through rational intelligence and theistic spirituality; it's a matter of a shift in how one attends to the leadings of grace."
It very definitely is the leading of grace.
Grace is a wonderful concept and an even greater experience.
I think discernment of spirits comes in here somewhere in terms of taking our guidance from our experiences.
I don't find the judging of others listed as one of the fruits of the spirit. I would hope that we could stay open to the cup running over that touches the lives of those affected by grace and love even without a proclaimed theistic background, or that we could celebrate those who are so proficient in expressing their own theology and Christian spirituality in so many different ways.
Aren't we trying to determine our own central
perspective, to better understand the working of the Spirit in our lives as Christians?
One way is not preferred over the other, at least not in my understanding.
I have a friend who is a pastor, and she finds God most clearly in wrestling with the Old Testament stories, and the experiences of God in the characters there. She senses a numinous presence in the darkness, but revelation is
greatest in the scriptures for her. I find it fascinating that God comes to each of us in a way that seems right for the person and who they are.
I would love to hear some of those ways from others in the group.
As a pastor I find myself continually over my head in the deep water of people's lives. In answer to Naomi's request to hear more from others I am amazed at the things God does when I am with people. I should say that when I am at my best I have begun the day with lectio and centering prayer. I have had a few times of deep revelation in these morning prayers but they are rare--sometimes even boring. But... often later in my day God will interupt even my best laid plans with an unscheduled talk with his chosen person for the day. I take these face to face contacts personally because more times that not it seems that something gets shared that is meaningful to both of us. Maybe it's something this person says or something I add, but between us I often wind up pondering "Whew, where did that come from?" These conversations seem revelatory to me. Scripture is often involved but not always.
I end up getting a lot out of these conversations. Maybe they receive something too but through these conversations I hear words that are born from the heart of Christ and grace is revealed to us in love. It's like the Spirit jumps back and forth between us and we get to particpate. Wonderful!
Danny, Reading your examples of revelations that come from a spirit-moved conversation with another brings to mind the revelation in scripture that where two or more are gathered in my name, as it is in love, there will I be also. God's unique way of appearing in our lives and our hearts is the miracle. It is a beautiful example. Naomi
I’m somewhat confused over the distinctions between a theistic and a theotic spirituality. By theistic do we mean that if there had not been a Pentecost, an imparting of the Holy Spirit on the atheist, on the agnostic, on the aborigine, the South Sea Islander, the Eskimo, the Christian, the Jew, the Muslim, the American Indian, everyone human regardless of what sect or belief they may hold…..that we would never have been “heirs with Christ” destined for a life eternal where there is no pain, no sorrow, no darkness, no suffering, no death? Would Christ’s life only have been a model to emulate in order to live a truly authentic human life?
But with the descent of the Holy Spirit, with the imparting of Christ’s Spirit in the very fabric of our humanity have we now become Christ-like in every way and Christ continues his life in and through us until the end of time, suffering with us, loving with us, laughing with us? And does living a theotic spirituality mean that whenever we may fail to live even authentically human lives while continuing to hope for a resurrected, everlasting life the Holy Spirit captures the victory for us despite our weakness, provided we surrender or wills or egos? For “……the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be expressed in speech…(and)…intercedes for the saints as God himself wills.” (Romans 8:26-27)
I just reread what I wrote and realize that perhaps I should have affirmed my statements instead of putting them in the form of a question. I don't have the time to rewrite or edit, but I hope I’ve given the group the gist of my thought.
LJohn and All-
I find myself contemplating your words on thread one (spirituality) and the notion that at Pentecost the Holy Spirit came down to all humanity. My point of view on this has formed around the notion that the Holy Spirit has always been sort of "hovering over the face of the waters" here on earth. And that the Holy Spirit did at given times empower individuals to accomplish the will of God at certain times. But that generally the Holy Spirit, before Pentecost, was largely working from outside the human heart trying to get in. There is the human spirit given to each of us to empower and animate our lives, but this is fractional in some way to the Holy Spirit empowering us from the inside.
My understanding is that at Pentecost, through the salvific work of Christ, the Spirit descended into the hearts of those believers gathered and great things began to happen through them. This topic seems important for us because although I believe this wholeheartedly, if I'm wrong, my whole approach to people and their spiritual formation will need major adjustments. Others of you out there, wade in. I'm interested.
Phil, JB doctrinally, what does the official doctrine of the Church say? Is there anything there that could answer my question?
As I noted in another discussion, the ad extra rule in theology affirms that where one of the Persons of the Trinity is active, the Others are also found.
In the case of the Holy Spirit and Pentecost, however, the way I understand it is that, with Christ's ascension to glory and the establishment of human nature in the Trinity itself (through Jesus' union with the Word), Jesus' own experience of the Spirit becomes available to the human race. This view recognizes a kind of underlying unity of the human race -- what Thomas Aquinas called the human form, which we all draw our human nature from and image in our own unique way. So it is Christ, as Mediator between the human and divine, who transmits the Spirit to the human race through his own sacred humanity, awakening a new principle of interior life that is distinct from our own human spirit.
To whom is the Spirit transmitted?
One could say that the answer is "to whomever Christ wants to do so." That's fairly safe.
But I think it follows that the union of the human and divine in Christ is such that every human being has access to the salvation he won for us and the Spirit he transmits because there is, now, a new order of relationships between God and humanity established by Christ. Obviously, those who are properly formed in the Christian faith are ideally suited to benefit from this through the type of openness and authenticity engendered in their formation. Evangelization and faith formation are thus very important.
I am not adverse to believing that all human beings of good-will who strive to live justly have access to these graces as well, and are, in fact, benefiting from them. Else, I don't quite know how to explain the fruits of the Spirit we see in the lives of so many non-Christians.
I hope this helps. What do you all think?
Doctrinally? I defer and demur.
There does seem to be a pattern?
1) Got it
2) Lose it
3) Find it
In Scripture it plays out like this:
4) New Covenant
In New Covenant, like this:
2) Passion & Death
4) Ascension or Assumption
In Rosary, like this:
1) Joyful Mysteries
2) Sorrowful Mysteries
3) Luminous Mysteries
4) Glorious Mysteries
In Transformation, thusly:
1) Formation & Socialization
In Zen, like this:
1) First there is a mountain
2) Then, there is no mountain
3) Then there is
In Natural Theology:
1) Kataphatic affirmation
2) Apophatic negation
3) Eminent predication
4) Revealed Theology
1) Lectio and Meditatio
4) Beatific Vision
Theosis or Divinization:
1) False/Small Self
2) Surrender or Capture of Self
3) True/Large Self
4) Imago Dei
1) Lost Coin
2) Lost Sheep
3) Prodigal Son
4) Grain of Wheat
6) Wedding at Cana
a) got wine
b) lose wine
c) new wine
d) drink wine
In Literature and Movies and Music:
1) Homer's Oddysey
2) Oh Brother, Where Art Thou
3) Wizard of Oz
4) It's a Wonderful Life
5) James Taylor:
a) Walking mind thru easy time with back turned toward the Son
b) Cold wind blows
c) Turns head around
d) Sees Fire and Rain
In 12 Step Program, same thing
The four seasons - winter, spring, summer, fall ...
Day, Night, Dusk, Dawn ...
and on and on ... the pattern is everywhere!
Now, it seems to me that Reality has been confgured this way from the get-go and that the mystics of all great traditions have been in touch with this pattern to varying extents ...
and that God was going to get on this Merry-Go-Round from the get-go ...
and that At-One-Ment was artfully and craftily and uncannily bult-in to Reality ...
and that Jesus and the Holy Spirt came to amplify the Invitation to the Great Banquet and further empower our surrender ...
and that we can reject the invite and get drug in to the Banquet, where His Banner over us is Love, kicking and screaming, or we can come willingly just as we are (without one plea) ...
that we can wait to be captured or we can surrender ...
that we can make Her seduce us or that we can sign His dance card and arrange a liason ...
and that classical At-One-Ment theology and the whole Felix Culpa theory is interesting and maybe even correct but ...
I'm with Duns Scotus --- no one needed to sin or mess up in order to occasion the Godhead's participation in the Great Mystery ...
Jesus and the Spirit were coming anyway ... They weren't going to miss this for the world!
To be drawn into God's Spirit, to me, is to
swim in a new reality. The mind quiets down, my heart is open, and I am free. There is love and great peace. The life of Jesus seems to call us to come and see. All are welcome.
I went to a retreat once where the theme was to spend one hour with Jesus. Some were filled with great questions, seeking proof and absolutes, and wanting to know all they could know in that hour. In the example, Jesus kept saying, couldn't we just be together while I am here.
It made a very strong impression on me, probably because I was a researcher that couldn't stop asking questions at the time.
It has slowly helped to form a new reality for me through meditation and prayer.
My greatest moments have become just dwelling in the Spirit and treasuring that great Presence of God.
This reminds me - Someone said that, in the Gospels, Jesus was asked 183 questions and that He only directly answered three. Anyone know more about this?
For sure, he answered no theodicy questions, explaining why there is suffering. At least he didn't do so with some rationalistic response. His response was to Come By Us, Kumbaya, God is with you, Emmanuel. Concretely experienced, I would describe the effect of this response -- by way of personal presence -- as not unlike a parent who comforts a child awakened from a nightmare. Launching into some type of Jungian dream analysis is unnecessary and explaining away the unreality isn't so necessary. Just a hug and a reassuring presence seems to be all the answer required to console us. This is not to say there is nothing going on in with our speculative reasoning faculty as we are being consoled but only that our practical reasoning and nonrational faculties also play a very integral role in leading us to Truth, Beauty, Goodness and Love?
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