The human spirit and its capacities for awareness, reason and freedom is dynamically oriented toward engagement with reality. As noted in a previous conference, it is ever engaged in acts of:
- being attentive - noticing what's going on outside and within
- being intelligent - questioning, probing
- being reasonable - striving to understand what's really true
- being responsible - deciding what to do with what we know.
These acts place us in a relationship with everything we attend to and inquire, reason and decide about, thus contributing to an ever-growing understanding of who we are and what we discern to be meaningful. In fact, it's not going too far out on a limb, I don't think, to say that the human spirit is inherently relational, especially when we consider that it encompasses our psychological nature and its emotions and memories. We know ourselves in terms of relationship -- with creation, other people, and, especially, in terms of our God.
Turning to the Divine
Given the understanding of the human spirit we have developed thus far, it is easy to see how and why human beings would speak of the divine. The movement of the spirit to engage reality in a relational manner naturally brings one to wondering whether there might be some kind of terminus or ultimate satisfaction for human knowing, valuing and choosing. Every relationship we engage in helps us to learn something about who we are, what reality is, and what we ought to do (and not do). Might there be some kind of ultimate relationship that satisfies these longings completely? As one philosopher noted, "if God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him." I don't take this to mean that God is only a contrived human concept -- a projection out of our own spirit -- but that something about the human spirit seems to naturally point to and open toward the Supreme Being we call God. Taking things a step further, we might even say that this openness of the human spirit only makes sense if there is a God -- else, why would we have such longings in the first place?
Note, here, that even atheists cannot deny God, for they must define their stance in terms of God. God, for the atheist, is the One-who-is-not, and so God must first be conceived in order to be denied. Atheists can never really lay aside the question of God completely, for they must continually define their position over-and-against the possibility of God's existence. In doing so, the atheist ends up acknowledging the reality of a terminus or ultimate focus of the human spirit, but concludes (through no convincing evidence) that there could not possibly be an Ultimate Being who satisfies these yearnings. Furthermore, they have nothing really convincing to offer as a substitute!
And so it is natural for human beings to conceive the divine as some kind of ultimate being or state of reality. Beyond this, we cannot say much about God using our own reason, except, perhaps, that whatever we call God must also be creator, for creatures cannot account for the fact of their existence otherwise.. As the history of religion shows, there are many ways of conceiving God -- even gods. Our concern, here, is with Christianity, however, so we will move now to consider the God who loved us first.
"You Have Made Us For Yourself, O God . . .
. . . and our hearts will not rest until they rest in Thee."
This famous statement by St. Augustine goes to the heart of the Christian understanding of God and is thus profoundly significant for the practice of Christian spirituality. Just as we suspected and touched on in the section above, Augustine affirms that our human spirit does naturally tend toward relationship with God. In light of the revelation of God through the Hebrew tradition and, especially, through Christ, he goes on to say that this longing is something of a natural grace placed within us by God to lead us to God for God's own good pleasure. And God's good pleasure, it turns out, is to be in relationship with all of creation -- especially, with other spiritual beings, who are capable of freely receiving and returning God's love. This, it seems, is God's greatest delight: to love, and to be loved in return.
God loves. God relates. The trinitarian God IS love and relationship; this is Who God IS and it's the over-arching theme of all that God does. God only loves -- always! -- even when it seems that all is falling apart. We could have never guessed this by exercising our reason in the study of creation. Only revelation from God by God could show us who God really is and what God is about.
The God who creates us and holds us in existence is constantly inviting us to relationship. Jewish, Islamic and Christian theisms understands this, and celebrate it in many ways. Because of this gift of existence and call to relationship, we are constituted as a people who belong to God and, in a special way, to one another as brothers and sisters. The human spirit finds rest in this profound belonging, but not complete rest, I don't think. Complete rest comes from contemplation, an infusion of rest and love that is rooted in God's Holy Spirit, who is peace and love Itself. This gift, as we noted in our previous conference, is uniquely affirmed in Christianity, and is the basis for our understanding of theotic Christian spirituality. Through the gifts of the Spirit, we are also empowered to love with God's own loving and to serve with God's own wisdom, knowledge, understanding, courage, etc. Our human spirit is thus supernaturally empowered to find satisfaction and great efficacy in all of its ways of exercising itself.
Hearing the Invitations
There are, then, different levels of invitation to relationship with God, flowing from the revelation of God as Trinity.
A. To acknowledge that we are creatures who owe our existence to God, our loving Creator. A response at this level places us on the journey of theistic spirituality, with an emphasis on doing the will of God, as we understand this in terms of what the Creator has revealed this to be.
- How do you hear this invitation in your life?
B. To enter into relationship with Christ through faith, looking to him as the way, the truth and the life. Here we view Christ as the definitive revelation of God, and the one who brings us into a new covenant with God. Christ's life, example, and teaching are emphasized, as is praying to him and relating to him.
- How do you hear this invitation?
C. To open oneself to the gift of the Holy Spirit and become transformed by the gifts of the Spirit. This consent leads to a more explicitly theotic dimension of the Christian spiritual journey, where we look to the Spirit to inform the workings of our human spirit, and to transform our human nature unto a likeness of Christ. Consents A and B are presumed in this relationship, and cannot really develop very far without them, as the Spirit's work is in reference to Christ, who, likewise, references the will of the Father in his work.
- How do you hear this invitation?
Numerous Scriptures and writings could be cited in reference to these three invitations. One of my favorites, for example, is Acts 19: 1-7, which clearly illustrates the distinction between B and C, above. What others might you point to as invitations to relationship?
Reflection and Discussion
1. What questions or comments do you have in response to this conference?
2. How do you hear God inviting you to the three levels of relationship described above?
3. How have your responses to the three levels of relationship satisfied the longings of your spirit?
Good Morning Phil and All-
This morning's words bring up an important pastoral issue for me. The spiritual optimist in me wants to shout AMEN to your first paragraph. And I do believe that God is always reaching out and inviting us closer toward union. I guess if I didn't believe this I would give up. So before I say what comes next please hear that I do agree with you and love the way you put it.
I mentioned that my issue is a pastoral one and it comes from the relationships I have within my congregation and community at large. There is a cloud hanging over all of God's activity through the human spirit that would otherwise draw humanity near. I guess what I'm saying is that even though God is doing all this stuff reaching out to humanity in love, there is still something inhibiting so many of us from really pluggin into this reality. There is an alternate false reality where many if not most of us live day to day. So many times we resist God's overtures toward loving. I would be interested to hear some comments on this resistance. While we are predisposed toward God we are, at the same time, resisting. What a frustrating mess. I wonder at the incredible difficulty most folks have in "dynamically orienting themselves toward engagement with reality."(real reality) So many people seem almost naturally disengaged from this reality and mighty proud of it.
Man that sounds cynical. Comments?
By the way... is there a spell-check on this thing?
You're anticipating what is to come, Danny. See the plan for conferences 8 - 12 on this page. But it helps to hear your experience, as the resistances and obstacles you encounter are indeed there, for sure.
No spell-check that I know of, unless it's built into your browser and operating system (as in Safari and Mac OS X -- ahem! -- ). You could compose your message in a word processor and copy-paste it to the forum if you need spell check.
Oops... my goof.
Guess I haven't wrapped my mind around all the resources yet.
Oh, no problem. Just wanting to reassure you that we'll deal with that piece. As you noted, it's so very real and works against our spiritual growth.
What powerful words those are...."Come to me."
Your questions and the discussion brings up the challenge of the wide resistance to the wonderful invitation of God to relationship.
I went to a workshop with Scott Peck, and he said less than fifteen percent of the world reads his books. His concern has become focused on how are we going to reach the rest of the world. He was focusing on developing community and some of the ways we might do that. I do believe the internet is opening up a global dialogue that can be helpful.
Yet, my own experience continues to challenge me to open the ways that I share the wonders of God's love with others.
I have a 94 year old neighbor, who has lived beyond her husband, daughter, and most of the people in her life. She is alone with failing eyesight, like so many. I love my solitude and my prayer life. Yet, the challenge in the scriptures is to love our neighbor, to take care of the widows and orphans as one invitation. I am drawn into changing light bulbs, adjusting her thermostat, reading something in her mail, even putting out a small kitchen fire, and so many little daily tasks that have become overwhelming to her.
My resistance comes toward the little details of each day. I have helped get her bank involved to set up a trust for her, and she has gone from a monotone voice and an expressionless face to animated sharing of her life and memories. The reality of loving our neighbor becomes real in our human contact.
Perhaps some have resistance to silence and to facing themselves, to letting God love us, to
realize in how many ways we have fallen short of God's example of love.
Stepping out and risking and sharing opens the
logjam of emotions that so many hold inside.
Let us hope there is someone kind to greet us and hear us when that happens. Perhaps we will change the resistance one by one by one. Naomi
Having just read today's conference (but not having finished the others) I was taken back to a problem I had years ago when following your '12 steps' with a group. We came to a point where the others were all talking about Jesus and their relationship with Him. I, however, began to think that I wasn't a Christian as for me He is the Son of God, Christ and not Someone with whom I had intimate conversations as others seemed to. This happened shortly before Holy Week and I was lucky enough to have a conversation with a vicar on a visit to my original parish church back in England on Good Friday of all time! He helped me to see that I had a wonderful relationship with God the Father. He said that this was not always the case as many people had problems with their earthly father relationships. I had a wonderful father and so for me this was not a problem. All this to say that today's questions challenged me again, although not in a worrying sense as last time, when I read words like 'praying to him' and 'relating to him'. So I ask now if this is something that I should be working on or am I ok as I am? I should mention that what also came out on that Good Friday was that Christ is the one who is present in Church (that sounds so silly put in type, but I hope you see what I mean).
p.S. I could be put off by the fact that many others seem to be in places of leadership in various churches, but decided that I won't let that bother me!
Naomi, your sharing about how you care for you elderly neighbor and the difference it's made in yours and her lives was most edifying. I think it's a great example of how, once we become aware (be attentive) of something, we are ultimately led to make a decision (be responsible) on what to do about it. It would be easy to rationalize away (the be intelligent and reasonable steps) any kind of involvement with her, but it sounds like you heard an invitation to love breaking through and responded. It takes a heart open to and receptive of grace to do that.
- - -
Sue, I should mention here what theologians call the ad extra rule. You can look it up on the Internet, but what it basically means is that what one of the Persons of the Trinity does, they all concur and participate in (sort of an "all for one, and one for all," you might say. ). So a spiituality focused on God the Father/Creator doesn't really exclude the Son and Spirit. They're there!
Earlier in my life I was often accosted by well-meaning evangelicals who didn't think my relationship with God was all that great because I didn't seem to have a personal relationship with Christ and speak Christianese the way they did. Same went later on when I encountered pentecostal Christians, who didn't think I had really received the fullness of the Spirit. While I don't especially like or condone those kinds of confrontations, I will say, in retrospect, that it started me thinking more deeply about how I related to the Trinity. Eventually, I did come to a more explicit focus on Christ and the Spirit in my life, and I do think it's made a difference. God is God, to be sure, but how God is revealed through the Persons tells us much about who God is and how God acts. Also, it seems as though God wants to be known and loved in the three Persons; that's one reason God has been revealed thus.
I hope what comes through, here, is more invitation than anything else. How do we hear the Persons of the Trinity inviting us to relationship?
I’m still stuck trying to understand the difference between relating to God theistically and relating to God theotically. So I’ll try to answer my own questions by taking the position that relating to God through Christ is relating theistically and relating to God through the Holy Spirit is relating theotically. From this premise I’ll make the further assumption that relating to God theistically is a relationship that entails merely meditating on the teachings and life of the incarnated Christ, and relating to God theotically is relating to God through the resurrected and ascended Christ. From this vantage point I think I can argue that a theotic relationship is the more mature relationship.
As I see it, everyone is capable of a theistic relationship because it is first and foremost an intellectual relationship. Once an individual learns about Christ we can muse over, talk about, argue about, visualize with the incarnated life of Christ and its meaning for humanity. (I might add that before the Divinity became incarnated in Christ a theistic relationship with God was eventuated through the teachings of the Prophets) But in the theotic relationship (which became possible through the event of Pentecost) we are moved by the Holy Spirit to become Christ in every way. (I don’t know if a theotic relationship could have been possible without the Incarnation.) Comment anyone?
Now let me turn for a moment to recall what Luke 12:10 tells about one of Christ’s teachings: “Anyone who speaks against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever blasphemes the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven.” I take that to mean that we may not want to agree with what Christ taught, we may even condemn what Christ taught, but the Holy Spirit who is within each of us, even if we condemn Christ on an intellectual level, is continually working to move us toward the theotic relationship.
We have all experienced deep within our being a pull this way, a push that way, a prod here, a prod there when we have had to make a choice between an expression of love and an expression of hate, between acting to bring peace to a situation or acting to bring enmity to a situation, between forgiving or not forgiving. By denying the Holy Spirit to bring its fruits into play in those areas of our lives we eschew the invitation God offers to be relational and harden our attitudes to the degree that it makes it impossible to ever enjoy eternity with Christ.
LJohn, I'm glad to read the clarifications you're offering and seeking re. theistic and theotic spirituality. First and foremost, these describe perspectives that are contrasted with positivist and philosophic concerns. The theistic perspective goes beyond what philosophy can affirm by positing a Creator to account for all that is, including a Source for all goodness and love. The theotic goes another step by describing how our human nature becomes transformed by the divine. There are spiritualities suggested by these perspectives and I tried to say something about that, but it does become difficult to distinguish them completely at times.
You note: everyone is capable of a theistic relationship because it is first and foremost an intellectual relationship. . . Well, yes and no. I meant to say that theistic (including Christic) spirituality is about "doing God's will" as we understand that in terms of revelation. Here, Christian theism would be informed by Christian revelation rather than, say, Jewish or Islamic revelation. It's still a theism, however, though focused more in Christ.
What I also meant to say was that there is more -- namely a relational intimacy with God effected through Christ in the Spirit, with transformation of human nature. You seem to have the same understanding of that.
The tricky part is that theosis is probably happening to everyone, Christian or not, because of the Incarnation and Pentecost. Obviously, it helps enormously to be properly formed in Christian faith to be able to benefit from these graces.
By denying the Holy Spirit to bring its fruits into play in those areas of our lives we eschew the invitation God offers to be relational and harden our attitudes to the degree that it makes it impossible to ever enjoy eternity with Christ.
I think that's well-said.
That sentence above combined with the last sentence from the next conference ---
seems very right-headed to me. [see postscript]
p.s. I did not want to detract from the clarity and integrity of those two sentences above because they say some extremely important things. For those who are interested, I did want to note that those views are richly contoured and avoid many of the pitfalls of interreligious dialogue. They avoid: 1) a theological anthropology that is too optimistic (as if all of humankind is somehow spontaneously longing for the beatific vision) 2) a theological anthropology that is too pessimistic (as if there is no goodness or grace operating in humanity prior to or independent of divine revelation) 3) an insidious indifferentism (as if what we believe and how we articulate it doesn't matter) 4) a facile syncretism (as if we could just eclectically blend the best elements of all the great religions and traditions without recognizing their cultural embeddedness and integral natures) 5) a false irenicism (as if the great religions and traditions have no substantive points of contention) 6) an exclusivistic ecclesiocentrism or Christocentrism (as if no one else could be saved but Christians) 7) an inclusivistic theocentrism (as if the Incarnation was somehow not a singular event and revelation of the Trinity), 8) an exclusivistic pneumatology (as if our sacramental economy and clerical orders and rites of initiation were the only ways for grace to transmute human experience), 9) etc
Phil and JB-
Thanks for your help here. JB your last post really helped my understanding a lot. I must confess that I have written several replies that I have not sent on to the forum. I feel a little intimidated I guess. I admit I feel like someone with the batting skills of a PeeWee who has just been signed on to the Major Leagues. Even when I connect and get a hit it seems to be a foul ball. I think I will just read for a while and try to get a handle on this stuff. Maybe I just need to practice in the cages before I actually step up to home plate. It is great material though. And I am very interested. It is just very new and very deep from where I stand.
I also don't want for anybody to try and "dumb this down" for me. I want to be able to step up and gain what I can. The question crossed my mind to ask if there is anyone else out there reading and working on this who feels like they are out of their league? Are there any who don't post for the same reasons? Since this is my first forum experience what should I do? Just keep swinging? Back away and watch the pros for a while? I'm not even sure if I should tell everyone about how I feel here. But there goes...
Thanks for the clarifications, JB, and for your honest sharing, Danny. A topic like this does present an opening to inquiry into deep theological matters, but also invites personal sharing. I hope all will feel free to share whatever questions or experiences they wish--even to disagree with some of the points made. That's what the forum is for.
Danny, thank you for your honest sharing. I too feel a little intimidated, this is challenging material.
Phil, I need some clarification on your statement,"theosis is probably happening to everyone".
That does need more clarification, I agree, Ann, and I didn't spend much time on it because it opens that sticky question of how non-Christians participate (or not) in the graces won for the human race by Christ. As the concern of this series is Christian spirituality, I didn't intend to spend much time on that topic, as this course assumes the presence of Christian faith in those who've signed up (to some degree, at least).
So what I expressed was a personal opinion only and not something the Churches are all in accord about. Even my own Catholic tradition is careful to:
a.) insist Christian faith is important, so much so that those who willingly and knowingly reject it have placed their souls in peril;
b.) state that those who (through no fault of their own) do not have Christian faith may still be saved through fidelity to the authentic leadings of their conscience.
Somehow, the second statement needs to be squared with Christ's own statements to the effect that no one can find salvation and go to heaven except through him. We can understand how this can be the case for those with Christian faith, but how about for those without?
The response to this, I believe, would be to recognize that Christ's life touches all by virtue of his sharing in both our human nature and the divine nature. If we understand human nature, then, to be something that we all possess both individually and collectively, then we can see that Christ introduces into human nature itself direct access to the divine presence--through him, and to whomever it is he wishes to share the divine presence. Some of his teachings make it clear that there will be those who are "in him" but don't even know they are -- E.g. the parable of the sheep and the goats in Mt. 25. Rather, they responded to others in need out of conscience, implying a kind of "faith" that opens them to receive God's grace even if they don't understand any of this in terms of Christian teaching. As recipients of grace, they would be transformed -- hence, the process of theosis.
That's actually the short answer to your question, so I hope it helps.
Phil, I think this answer of yours is filled with grace. How refreshing to hear this kind of perspective in a time when so many seem to be choosing up sides in theological questions.
Thank you, Phil. The second statement which you expanded on really did help. Ann
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