Sunday, February 28, 2010

What's the point of fasting?

I fasted for the first time last Friday.

I don’t say that to boast. If I thought I had any reason to boast at all, I wouldn’t mention it. I say it only because I know how slack I am and I want anyone reading this to know how slack I am (and how little experience I have) when it comes to fasting.

I might just repeat that first sentence again, with the relevant bit in bold in case you missed it.

I fasted for the first time last Friday.

If I was serious at all about fasting, I would have fasted long before now. I would fast for the whole 40 days of Lent (excluding Sundays) and give up diet coke. Although I did drink Pepsi Max for most of last Friday and that was penance enough. At the very least, I would have fasted at least one other day during this Lent season, before now.

I don’t know why I have never fasted before. It is true that fasting doesn’t get much mention from Pentecostal pulpits. And I was in the Pentecostal church for about three years before I even knew that some Pentecostals fasted. But above and beyond that, I didn’t see the point.

I knew that Catholics fasted. But even when Lent started, my thoughts were more geared towards giving up something, than abstinence and fasting. Until I saw a message printed in the parish bulletin. Which made me think I should probably consider doing it.

So now I have fasted. And with my grand one experience of one whole day, making me an expert in my own blog, I would like to tell you exactly what the point of fasting is.

Well, not exactly. More like I would like to think about what the point of fasting might be - or might not be. And because I’m a blogger and I think better when I write, I’m writing a blog post about it.

First of all, to the non-points of fasting. The point of fasting is not to lose weight or save money. They’re earthly benefits. And if we’re fasting to gain earthly benefits, then I think we might miss out on the spiritual ones. And as this seems to be quite a honest post, I will tell you that the thought of both did cross my mind. I thought maybe I’ll lose weight. And I’ll definitely save money. Yay! But if that’s my reason for fasting, I’d be better off calling it dieting and frugality.

Another reason for fasting, that I have heard from some people, is to have their prayers answered. Now the people who I have heard this from have fasted more than I have. So I don’t really want to say their reasons are invalid. But it does seem to be sliding into that area of wanting earthly benefit rather than spiritual benefit again. Although I suppose it depends what you’re praying for. If you’re praying for a new car, I don’t think fasting is going to help too much. If you’re fasting to try and have a prayer answered to overcome sin, then that’s probably a good thing. I think. Maybe.

I may as well face it. I’m not even an expert on my own blog. I can’t even say anything without wondering whether what I am saying makes any kind of sense at all.

But one thing I do know about is me. So maybe I should talk about that. Me and my reasons for fasting.

I decided to fast first of all because I saw that message in the parish bulletin. But also because I want to continually try and get just a little bit closer to where I want to be. And I thought fasting might help me do that. Some people diet to improve their bodies. I wanted to fast to improve my soul.

And I still don’t think my reasons are that fantastic. There’s probably much better reasons for fasting that I haven’t even thought of. But that was my main reason.

But it’s still about ‘getting’ in a way. And to go back to what I said about not seeing the point of fasting. When people say ‘I don’t see the point’, what they are often (not always, but often) saying is ‘I don’t see what I am going to get out of it.’ Of course, the point to a lot of things is not actually to get something out of it.

But still, it’s interesting that I only tried to fast when I saw something I might get out of it. Although these are spiritual goals, not earthly ones, the principle is the same as the reasons why people do many things. I have a goal. I thought fasting might help get - there’s that get word again - me closer to that goal.

But then, all getting isn’t necessary bad and all giving up isn’t necessary good. If I was to get closer to God, that’s a good thing, right? If I want to give up church, that’s a bad thing.

And so maybe I shouldn’t be thinking of fasting as needing to avoid ‘getting something’. I just need to make sure that what I am trying to get is a good thing.

The other point to fasting is penance. I can’t say this crossed my mind nearly as much as it should have. (In fact, I probably thought of it about the same number of times as I thought of losing weight and saving money.) It’s a very important reason for fasting. I know that. And that’s about all I do know. So something that should be discussed in detail is only going to get a couple of sentences. And you’ve just read them.

One other thing that crosses my mind about fasting (although I’m not sure whether it’s considered a reason for fasting at all) is that suffering brings you closer to God. That’s not a popular opinion nowadays. But I do believe it’s true. And I think maybe one of the reasons we don’t accept that as readily nowadays is because many people (in the western world) no longer know what it really is to suffer.

My idea of suffering is drinking Pepsi Max instead of Diet Coke. And I have to say that drinking Pepsi Max does not bring me any closer to God. But then it’s not really suffering. Nor is going without food for a day. If I was actually starving, that would be different.

So I don’t know what it is to really suffer. But one thing I do know is that, in my darkest moments, at the times when life seems really difficult, I am far closer to God than I am when everything is going well. And I don’t know whether everyone else is completely different to me and won’t understand this next sentence at all. But for myself, if I was to never suffer anything in life, I think there is a very good chance I may forget God completely.

And that almost sounds like the saying we hear so often that ‘Religion is only a crutch.’ But I don’t mean it in that way. It’s not like I turn to God only because I want him to help me. I turn to God because when I suffer, I think of God more.

In Luke 22:44, it says that Jesus, being in anguish (some translations have agony), prayed more earnestly. I saw that verse in something else I was reading recently. And it was one of those verses that I have read many times, but that suddenly seemed to jump out at me. And I thought of all the times I have prayed, when I was deeply distressed or troubled. The more anguish I feel over something, the more earnestly do I pray. The prayers said when I am happy and everything is fine are never prayed as fervently.

I seem to have gone slightly off track. Back to fasting.

Jesus not only mentioned fasting, he fasted himself. He didn’t do it to get any earthly benefit. The devil tempted him afterwards, and he resisted temptation. Nor did he do it to ‘improve his soul’. His soul was already perfect. And that is what makes me think that my reasons for fasting may not be that good.

In the Cantena aurea, I found a commentary from St John Chrysostom, saying that Christ fasted, ‘not Himself needing it, but teaching us by His example’.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed in reading this. Because I thought if I could understand Jesus’ reasons for fasting, maybe I would be a bit closer to understanding the point myself.

I’ve just been reading different things on the internet, trying to find some good point to end this post on. But the more I read, the more I realise that any attempt to summarise it and put it into my blog is not going to do justice to it. I didn’t become an expert on fasting through my one day’s experience. And I’m certainly not going to become an expert by spending one to two hours on the internet, trying to skim through things that I don’t really understand anyway.

So I think I’ll just leave it here.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


I feel like I should do a post, because I haven't done one for a few days. But I don't really feel like writing much at the moment. So I'll leave you with one of my favourite U2 songs instead, Grace.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Birth, Death and In Between

I am going to a funeral tomorrow. I am going to a baby shower on Saturday. And on Sunday, I have been invited to a wedding. I’m not going to the wedding. But still, having a funeral, a baby shower and a wedding all in the same week makes you think about life, death and in between.

When I was researching an essay on the sacraments last year, I came across something that said that in the Catholic Church, the sacraments (of which there are seven) cover all the important life milestones. There is baptism for birth. Anointing of the Sick (or Last Rites or Extreme Unction) for Death. And marriage itself in a sacrament.

I couldn’t explore this idea in my essay, because it would have been off-topic, but I remember being quite struck by this idea that the Church was there at the beginning of life and at the end of it, and at the important moments in between.

On one level it was reassuring. There was this continuity, a thread between birth and death, linking those important moments. Not just our own birth, death and marriage. But the birth and marriage of your children and grandchildren. During all those times, the Church was there.

It was also reassuring because there was at least one constant. So many things happen in a life, so many things change. People you thought would be there forever suddenly aren’t there. The ones who were there at your birth will often have died before you die. Some faces will be gone. And new ones will be in their place. And yet the Church is still there. It’s the one face that hasn’t changed.

Yet the Church doesn’t simply show its face when it administers the sacraments. In a way, it is the face of God to the world. I don’t want to get into too much discussion about the sacraments. Not least, because I’m likely to say something wrong. But it is worth noting that the sacraments are a visible means of conveying visible grace. When the sacraments are administered, we see a visible sign of God’s presence in the world. God is there at the beginning. And God is there at the end, whether we receive the sacraments or not. But the sacraments remind us of God’s presence. Though of course, they do so much more than that. Because they actually confer the grace which they signify. And that is reassuring. To know that God’s grace is there at the beginning and there at the end, and there for many occasions in between.

But I think what most struck me is not that the Church was there at the beginning of life and at the end of life, but it was there before the beginning of life and after the end of life. One lifetime is really only a tiny blip in the history of the Church. And the Church is not just a thread, connecting the start of one’s life to the end of it, it is a thread that connects the baptism of the first Christians to the Last Rites of the last Christians. That’s quite mind-blowing, when you think about it.

In the end, this post has seemed to be more about the longevity of the church than about life and death. But maybe that’s what life and death boils down to, in the end. It is so short, compared to everything else. My friend who just died had a fairly long life. I’m not sure exactly how old she was, but she had her 80th one or two years ago. But there were many lifetimes lived before she was born and many lifetimes to be lived afterwards.

And now there’s a new little life, just getting ready to be born. Who knows what things he or she will see and do? Who knows how the world will have changed by the time he or she dies? But the Church will be there at the beginning and the Church will be there at the end. Maybe not in the form of the sacraments to this particular person. It’s impossible to know for sure what will happen there. But the Church will at least exist and be available to administer the sacraments. And God will be there. He’s there now, forming this baby in the womb. He will be there at its birth. He will be there at its death. And He will be there after death as well.

Monday, February 22, 2010

People and Walls

Every now and then, I decide that I’ve had enough of people. They only hurt you or let you down. I’m better off without them. And living life without having anything to do with people would avoid a lot of pain.

I decide I might lock myself up in my house and avoid everyone. Only it doesn’t quite work because I have children. I can’t exactly say to them can you please live somewhere else? I’ve decided to become a hermit.

These feelings never last for long anyway. A day, maybe two. On very rare occasions, maybe a week. I get disappointed with the whole human race fairly easily. But then someone will do something or I begin to think a bit more clearly and I realise they’re not such a bad lot after all. Besides which, I’m part of them. And if I wanted to avoid all people that did the wrong thing occasionally, I’d have to avoid myself. That’s pretty difficult.

But there was a time when I did avoid just about everyone. When I was married to my husband, I basically locked myself in the house and saw no-one, besides the people I had to see. There were a few reasons for that. Some of which I could discuss, but as some of them I certainly don’t want to discuss, it’s probably best not to discuss my reasons at all.

And even when I did have to see people, I put a big, sturdy, Jericho-type wall around myself before I talked to them. I might be in the same room as them. But there was no way I was getting close to them. There was a barrier between them and me.

Things have changed since then. In fact, writing this post has proved to me how much they have changed. Because I write about that time without feeling any pain whatsoever. I actually feel happier now than I did when I started writing.

And I wonder why that is? Maybe it’s because remembering that time shows me how much I have gained.

When I first started to come out of that ‘Married hermit with kids’ stage, someone was talking to me about how I needed to open up and remove that wall. And I said to her that I didn’t want to remove that wall. Because if I did, I would get hurt. She told me that at the moment (that is, at that moment), I was just a big bundle of hurt.

Reliving the past may not be painful, but it’s certainly not something I want to go back to. Because even though people occasionally let me down and disappoint me, they also bring much joy. There are also the times they surprise me with their generosity or friendship.

But just because I said that thinking about that ‘hermit’ phase doesn’t hurt anymore, doesn’t mean the hurt is completely gone. The pain I felt then is still there. Sometimes I feel like if you cut a deep gash in me, what would come up would not be blood, but tears, disappointments, hurts and fears.

I think (at least I hope) that I deal with it a lot better than I used to. But the reason I locked myself away from everyone was not only that I was worried they would hurt me. It was the fear that they would see the hurt already inside me. That they would catch a glimpse of those ‘tears, disappointments, hurts and fears’ and then they would run away. Or they would pity me or think less of me. Something. It’s like when you have a room in your house that you never want anyone to see because it’s such a mess. And if they see that, what would they think? Well I have rooms like that inside me. Rooms that are messy and ugly and pretty depressing places to be in.

Maybe everyone has rooms like that. Maybe it’s just me. I don’t know.

The pain is still there. And so is the fear.

But I have realised that sometimes the best thing to do, when you have a messy room, is simply open the door. Let people see it. Yes, some people will be horrified and will want nothing to do with you. But some will stay. Some will see your mess and accept you anyway.

And those are the moments when I give up being disappointed with the whole human race, and think that some people really are beautiful beings. Those are the times when I realise that exposing myself to possible pain and hurt and disappointment is worth it. Because sometimes that’s not what I get. Instead, I receive joy and love and acceptance. When you leave yourself open, you put yourself in a position to receive both.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Caught Between Just Who You Are and Who You Want to Be

Oh my Jesus, Thou knowest well that I love Thee, but I do not love Thee enough; O grant that I may love Thee more, O love that burnest ever and never failest, my God. Though Who art charity itself, enkindle in my heart that divine flame which consumes the saints and transforms them unto Thee. Amen.

I have started this post with this prayer, partly because I read it last night and it made an immediate impression upon me and partly because it was after reading this prayer that I began to think about the difference between where I am and where I want to be.

I know that I love Jesus. But I also know that I don’t love him enough. And last night, just before reading this prayer, I was getting a bit upset about the difference between who I am and who I should be.

The hardest thing about being a Christian, I believe, is not living a Christian life. It’s not doing the right things and making the right choices - that is when that’s what I am doing.

I think there are two common views of Christianity. The first is that Christianity is a crutch, something that helps you out when life is too tough. The second is that Christianity involves giving up everything you want to do and being miserable because of it.

It is true that some people use Christianity as a crutch. They’re interested in God when life gets tough and they think he’s going to wave a magic wand and make everything okay again. But as soon as life gets good again, it’s Goodbye God and hello world.

But to truly follow Christ involves some sacrifice. It does mean giving up some things we want to do. It means putting others and God before our own selfish desires.

But it doesn’t mean being miserable because of it.

I said before that the hardest thing about being a Christian is not living a Christian life. By which I meant that living a Christian life is not the hardest thing about being a Christian. But it can also apply the other way. The hardest thing about being a Christian is ‘not living a Christian life’. When you’re a Christian, but you’re not living life the way you want to, that’s the hardest thing.

And all Christians are in this situation. None of us are living life exactly the way we want to. We are caught between who we are and who we want to be. And it’s really hard wanting to live a certain way, but falling so far short of it.

And what makes it even harder is I know I will never get to that place. I know there is never going to come a day when I say ‘Oh good, made it. Now I can relax.’ It is always going to be some elusive goal ahead of me, that I keep walking towards (and sometimes away from), but that always seems to get further and further away.

If I did manage to reach a state of pure selflessness, where the only thing that mattered in my life was God, and where I lost every single one of my selfish desires, the world would look at me and say ‘what a miserable existence’. But it sounds wonderful to me. Misery is not being there yet.

And before I end this post, I just want to point out that the title did not come from me. It’s not exactly the words of any great theologian either. It’s a line from the Bon Jovi song, ‘Welcome to Wherever you Are’. That line kept running through my mind as I was writing this post and so it became my title.

Friday, February 19, 2010

My Own Opinions

One of my faults is that I am very fond of my own opinions. I can imagine a few people being shocked by that statement. Not because I have admitted to such a terrible fault. But because I would call it a fault.

In the western world at least, we place a high value on the ability to think for ourselves and form our own opinions. We teach it to kids at school and ram it down their throats at university. What we think seems to matter less than whether we came by those opinions through our own reasoning. And one way to lose a person’s respect is to say that you believe something just because (fill in the blank) says so.

Although many different people with very different beliefs may be criticised for not being able to think for themselves, it is a criticism often directed towards Christians. Which makes sense. Christians do - or at least should - form some of their opinions based on what the bible says. If not, why bother having the bible? Why not simply lock it in a drawer and form our own opinions about how we think God should do things. And then teach those opinions as coming from God.

Also, Christians must simply accept some things. I am not going to get any further to the truth by doing some critical thinking about the Trinity. In fact, as my thinking may be wrong, if I do think about it and form my own opinions, I am far more likely to be led away from the truth than towards it.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with forming our own opinions. Sometimes it is not just an advantage to be able to think for ourselves, but almost necessary. Say there is a government election. What is better? To vote a certain way because that’s how someone told you to vote? Or to form your own opinion about the best party to vote for? Most people would agree the latter is preferable. Or take the messages we receive from society, culture, the media and advertising. I strongly believe that most people could do with a lot more critically thinking when it comes to those things.

So the problem is not being able (or being taught) to think for ourselves. The problem comes when we attach far too much importance on our own opinions. Or when we decide that an opinion is only valid if it relies on individual reasoning.

To get back to me. (After all, it’s my blog.) I said that one of my faults was that I was very fond of my own opinions. What this means is that I have to tendency to think that my opinion on something is more important that what anything else has to say about it. If my opinion contradicts something in the bible, well then maybe the bible is wrong or that centuries of interpretation have been wrong. If my opinion contradicts what the Church says, then I’m going to tell the Church exactly why it should listen to me instead.

And this isn’t simply a matter of wanting everything to match up to my own opinions. It extends to wanting to have my own opinion about everything. It’s the attitude that nothing must simply be accepted. But that all my beliefs must be based on my own reasoning. And that my reasoning is more important than anyone else’s reasoning.

I was thinking recently about the conversations I used to have with my Christian friends. But after a while, I realised that it wasn’t simply the discussions about faith that I missed. It was the disagreements about faith. I used to love challenging people and being challenged. The conversations where everyone agreed weren’t nearly as interesting.

Now I think being challenged is a good thing. I love it when someone says something that makes me either rethink something or realise that I fall far short of what God wants from me. And I believe the Christian life should be a challenging one. What the bible says does challenge us. What Jesus Christ said does challenge us. God doesn’t always tell us what we want to hear. And sometimes what he says seems to contradict our firmly held convictions and beliefs. If the bible doesn’t challenge you in some way, I suggest you’re not giving it enough thought.

We live in a world of critical thinkers, where people love to form their own opinions and voice them to whoever will listen. Nothing must be accepted. Everything must be challenged.

But maybe we’re so busy challenging the world that we won’t allow ourselves to be challenged. And maybe our ability (and desire) to form opinions on anything and everything sometimes prevents us from simply accepting the truth.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Going Without

The people of today aren’t exactly known for their ability to go without things. Well why would they? Many of us have been told, by television advertisements, magazine articles and store salesmen, that we can have anything we want to. If we don’t have the money, no problem. Just put in on the credit card or get a loan or buy it on an interest free plan.

Instead of being told how to go without, we have a whole heap of people telling us how to get things. Which makes sense, from a sales perspective. You don’t sell too many products by telling people that don’t need or can’t afford what you’re selling. Or that they should save up and come back when they have the money. By the time that happens, they may have changed their mind or found a cheaper or better product.

It wasn’t always that way. The best conversations I ever had about money was with the lady who used to live next door to me. She was 90 and had lived through the depression. There have been many times when I thought I was ‘going without’. But compared to what she told me about her younger days, I was living in luxury.

Today’s idea of ‘going without’ is very different to way people thought of it in the past. Even when we think we’re cutting back to the necessities, we usually have quite a few luxuries that didn’t even exist in days gone by.

Just because something has been invented doesn’t actually mean we need to have it in our lives. (And I must remind myself of that next time my iPod breaks down.) And yet we act like we do. We must have a set-top box and a DVD player and an iPod and a television and a mobile phone, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

And because we see these things as necessities, we’re not going to let the fact that we don’t have the money stop us from buying them. Just put it on credit and pay it off later - or not.

There’s a very good reason why I’m saying all this today. Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. It is a time to be spent in preparation for Easter. Part of this usually involves some form of self-denial. Traditionally, this meant fasting. But people may give up whatever they choose, from poker machines to television to chocolate.

It’s hard finding something to give up. It shouldn’t be. There are so many things in my life I don’t actually need. Little luxuries here, there and everywhere. I could probably write a list of at least 20 things I could give up. The problem is I don’t want to do without any of them.

But then, if I did want to do without them, it wouldn’t really be self-denial now, would it?

One fasting day that a lot of people do still keep to is Good Friday. I know someone who never went to church, didn’t like any talk of God at all, seemed to squirm when anyone mentioned Christianity, but faithfully abstained from meat on Good Friday. And I heard someone else who wasn’t a church-goer have a very big go at someone for eating a pie on Good Friday.

But then even that form of fasting often isn’t really self-denial. Last Good Friday, I was at my mother’s house. I cooked a fish dish that was probably the best meal I ate all year. Then we had dessert afterwards. I think we may have missed the point.

I have no idea how many Catholics give up something for Lent. Or how many Christians. I’m not even going to guess. But I suspect, of those that do, what they actually give up is not as much as what people used to give up for Lent. Little things, rather than big things. Small sacrifices, rather than an attitude of self-denial and penance.

Perhaps it is harder for us to go without things these days, because we are so used to getting what we want, when we want it. But maybe we need to practice self-denial because of that.

I don’t think any of us are meant to live in a world where we very rarely have to go without things. And I’m not just talking about the fact that we can’t buy a car or go on a holiday. Most people don’t get everything they want. However much money you have, there will always be something you can’t afford.

Instead, I’m talking about the things we are used to. The things that we see as necessities, even though they’re really luxuries. The things that are affordable and either make life easier for us or bring us some enjoyment. The world tells us that we need these things and that we will be happy once we have them.

Happy, maybe. But they won’t actually bring us true joy. Things are just things, when all is said and done. And allowing ourselves a whole heap of luxuries only increases our desire for new ones.

In the end, I decided to give up chocolate. I was telling my son about it and he said that he also wanted to give up chocolate for Lent. That’s a big sacrifice from him. My eldest son is a complete chocoholic. Whenever he gets any kind of treat, if there’s a chocolate version of it, he’ll go with the chocolate. I’ve never seen him choose any kind of milkshake except chocolate or any kind of muffin except chocolate. Anyway, you get the point. I didn’t ask him to give up something for Lent. He chose to do it. And I think, to be perfectly honest, he’s making a far bigger sacrifice than I am. Chocolate means far more to him than it does to me.

But anyway, his reasoning for this was interesting. He said that if he gave up chocolate, Easter would be even better than usual. Because he’d have all this chocolate and he’d really appreciate it because he’d gone without it for so long. It’s not exactly the kind of preparation for Easter that I think Lent is meant to be. Easter is about Jesus, not chocolate. But maybe he has a better understanding of Lent than I do.

I was searching for something to give up and, in the end, chose something that wouldn’t cause me too much pain - which I know is completely the wrong attitude. I wasn’t really thinking at all about how it was a preparation for Easter. There was not much thought given to what I might gain spiritually from self-denial. It was just - well it’s Lent. I should give up something.

I said earlier that I don’t think we’re meant to get everything we want. And I think that’s because it’s when we give up things that we’re more able to receive what God has to give us. And it’s when we go without that we actually gain the most.

(Image details: Detail of painting "The Battle between Carnival and Lent" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1559.)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Scared Scripture

Each night, I have to read for 10 minutes with my son. As a joke, I said to him you could read my university textbook. It was a joke. Honestly. I’m not that mean. But he thought it was a brilliant idea, which is how my son came to be reading my textbook out loud.

My son tends not to look at the words too carefully. So he’ll say what he thinks the word says or should say, rather than what it actually says. So when he came to the words ‘sacred scripture’ he said ‘scared scripture’ instead.

It was cute and it was funny. But it also made me think. In what way could scripture be scared?

Now obviously scripture cannot be scared at all, either as simply a book or as the Word of God.

But people can – and have been – scared that the authority of scripture is under threat.

I don’t have the time to go into everything with too much detail here. But as I have been thinking about the authority of scripture, I would like to briefly look at some of the possible reasons why people may believe that the bible is no longer authoritative.

The first and most obvious one is that some people do not believe that God is real or that Jesus was God’s son. For those that do not have faith in God or Jesus Christ, then it’s hard to find any reason why they should consider it authoritative.

However, another statement that comes up sometime is that no-one should consider it authoritative because some people do not believe it is the word of God. So for instance, say someone asks another person why they believe a certain thing is wrong. The person answers because the bible says this. The first person says well that’s not a good reason because I don’t believe in the bible.

But many people do base their beliefs on what is right and wrong on the bible. And if they are asked why they have certain beliefs, the answer is the bible – whether other people believe in it or not. This could almost be a post in itself. But I better leave it or I will run out of room.

Another threat to biblical authority is that people believe it doesn’t match up with scientific fact. Whether this be the creation story or Jesus’ resurrection or miracles or the flood. And some people think they can no longer believe any of it because they see certain parts of it as unscientific.

The first point to make here is just because something seems to go against our idea of science doesn’t mean it did not happen. If God is intervening, one would expect that the natural laws of science would be suspended. That’s what makes Jesus’ resurrection a miracle. If people rose from the dead all the time (under properly conducted experiments in science laboratories) then it wouldn’t be that much of a big deal. In fact, then you’d probably get people saying well I don’t believe Jesus was the Son of God because he never did anything that special.

The second point is that the bible is not a science book. And if someone were to ask me whether the bible was an authoritative text for learning about science, I would have to say no. But then if someone were to ask me whether a science text book was an authoritative text for learning theology, I would also say no. And yet many people do reject the bible because it fails to match what the scientists say.

I would also say that the knowledge of science is limited. Science tells us about what we can see and can know. But it can’t tell us of Heaven or God or spiritual intervention in our lives. And considering that science is limited to what is here on earth, it seems foolish to use it to reject a book that is not limited to what is here on earth. The bible is more concerned with heavenly matters. Science is only concerned with earthly ones – and can only examine earthly ones.

Another threat to biblical authority that is related to this is that the bible seems to contain errors or that certain passages in the bible do not line up with other passages. So for example, the Gospel of John sometimes seems to contradict Matthew, Mark and Luke. The idea is that, if the bible really were the Word of God, then it would not contain any errors or contradictions.

Again, I go back to the fact that the bible speaks of theological truths. I believe it was divinely inspired. And that God ensured that there were no errors in theological matters. However, it was written by humans, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And humans have limited understanding. It is possible that God allowed them to make errors (due to their limited understanding), providing that they did not make errors that were of importance to any matters related to faith.

Here’s an example. One problem for the church is times gone past was the idea that the earth revolved around the sun. Because in Joshua, it says that the sun stood still. So that’s one error that people might point to and say that the bible is not divinely inspired, because if it did, it would not contain that type of error. However, we need to consider people’s limited understanding of astronomy at the time. If God was to ensure that this error was not in the bible, he would have had to sit the writers down and given them an astronomy lesson that they would not even have understood.

And if we go back to the Gospel of John. What was important for John was that he conveyed spiritual truths in an accurate way. Some of the contradictions may not really be contradictions at all. It is also possible that some of his gospel may not contain the type of strict, factual reporting that you may find in a court transcript, for example. And yet it may be truer because of that. A transcript may be accurate, but it does not always reflect the truth. The comparison has been made between a photograph and a portrait. The Gospel of John perhaps seeks to present a spiritual portrait of Jesus that may be a truer representation than a photograph would be.

The last threat I would like to discuss is one that often comes from Christians. And that is the belief that we don’t like what the bible says anymore, so we’ll change it to something we do like. In other words, they believe the bible is an authority, so long as it fits with their beliefs. But if it doesn’t fit with what they like, then it is no longer considered authoritative. And often this means changing the spiritual truths discussed in the bible to be more acceptable to today’s world.

It’s probably the scariest threat to scripture there is. This idea that the bible no longer fits with what we believe to be true. Therefore, it must be wrong. However, it might just be the case that what we believe not longer fits with the truth.

Anyway, I could probably go on for a few more pages at least, but this post is long enough.

What I am Thankful For

This is a really daggy thing to do. And if there’s ever a post that you don’t want to read, this is probably it. But I feel like it’s needed at this time. More for my own benefit, than anything else.

Here is a list of all the things that I am thankful for:

• My faith
• My children
• My father, my grandmother, my sister and my mother.
• My house
• My dog
• The fact that I could manage to get a new computer when the old one died
• The box of veggies I just had delivered from (and no, they’re not paying me, but they deserve a plug).
• Trees, birds, grass and flowers.
• The fact that no-one has yet put a multi-storey complex in the showground near my house.
• iTunes
• My son fixing my iPod
• Bon Jovi songs
• Being able to study theology
• Learning about Catholicism
* The Catholic Church
• Books, books and even more books.
• The items I have on top of my TV cabinet.
• Sunshine
• Seasons
• Rain
• The delight on children’s faces as they go jumping in puddles
• The sound of my children praying.
• Finding friends in unlikely places
• Having people in my life that know me well, but still love and accept me.
• Getting help from people when I least expect it.
• Conversations about God.
• The bible.
• Watching Dr Who with my boys.
• Cuddles and kisses from my sons.
• Hearing my children sing.
• Laughter, silliness and absolute hilarity.
• The funny conversation I had with my son this morning about how the opposite of upset should be downset, but downset sounds more unhappy than upset.
• The humour in having to walk to the shops with a child’s umbrella that only covers three-quarters of me, has five holes in the top of it and keeps collapsing on my head.
• Podcasts.
• Curling up on the couch on a rainy day and reading.
• Aromatherapy oils.
• Long, hot baths.
• Having three different people give me clothes for the boys in the past week.
• The fact that I managed to cover at least one school book this year without putting creases in it.
• White chocolate.
• Being asked to make cheesecakes for my friends.
• Blogging
• Emails
• Writing
• Learning
• Music
• Beautiful art and architecture
• Old buildings
• Old churches
• Knowing that if I walk down the street, I will usually say hello to at least one person I know.
• Knowing that I don’t need to be wealthy to be happy.
• Knowing that I don’t need to be successful (as the world defines success) to be happy.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Love is not...

At this time of year, you could almost be forgiven for thinking that love is about flowers, chocolates and very pink looking cards. It’s a pretty warped idea of love.

But then, watch any movie or television show and you’re likely to get as equally a warped view of love. Is it any surprise that many people’s idea of love is also warped?

Love is not flowers or chocolates or cards. Yes, these things may show someone’s love. But the absence of Valentine’s Day gifts does not mean love is missing anymore than their presence means that love is there.

Love is not wanting someone, in the way that someone wants to own or possess something. That’s lust.

Love is not trying to make someone fall in love with you or stay with you or come back to you. And it’s certainly not about trying to force them to do any of these things. That’s coercion.

Love is not about control or jealousy or always getting your own way or holding a grudge or winning an argument.

Love is definitely not about taking. And taking doesn’t just mean removing something from someone by force. It also means trying to make someone give you something they don’t actually want to give you. Trying to persuade someone to buy a gift or take you out for dinner is a form of taking. And love also isn’t about sulking or pouting when you don’t get what you want.

Love is not finding Mr or Mrs Right. It’s not about there being one special person out there who will finally make you happy or ‘complete you’. Or that there is one person for everybody and as soon as they find that one person, everything will be wonderful.

Love is less about happy endings and more about hard work.

And love is certainly not deciding that you have found that special person and that nothing else matters. That’s selfishness. Prior commitments, the pain of other people. The idea that these don’t matter once you find someone you ‘love’ is just nonsense. So is this idea that nothing else matters except being with the one you love.

Sometimes love means having to let go.

So what is love then?

As someone who didn’t exactly make a success of marriage, I feel more qualified to speak about what love is not than I do about what love actually is. So I’ll leave it to someone far wiser than me to describe it.

1 Corinthian 13:4-10.

[4] Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful;
[5] it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
[6] it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
[7] Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
[8] Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.
[9] For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect;
[10] but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Contextual Theology: Is the Bible speaking to us or are we speaking to the bible?

I once thought that the only way to get an unbiased opinion of the message in the bible was to get a bunch of people who had never heard of the bible or Christianity or Jesus to read it and then tell me what they thought it meant. Obviously this was a foolish notion. In today’s world, it would be practically impossible to find anyone who has not heard of these things.

But it was foolish for another reason. I presumed that, if they hadn’t heard of these things, then their opinion would be unbiased. But in reality, they would still be reading the bible with ideas about spirituality, meaning, life and death and morals. They would also be influenced by their culture and background. Their worldview would determine how they read the bible, just as surely as if they were reading it with a set of preconceived ideas about what it actually meant.

Much theology today tries to give a voice to certain groups that may have felt excluded from theological discussion in the past. So we have feminist theology and black theology, to name the two most well known ones. There is also the broad category of liberation theology, which can refer specifically to groups of oppressed people, for example those in Latin America. Yet it can also refer to any group of people that have felt marginalised or oppressed in any way. Contextual theology can also be more narrowly defined to groups within groups. My readings for university include papers on Aboriginal theology and Samoan Women theology.

This type of contextual theology does have its benefits. The bible is for all people at all times. And what it says to me, as a white Australian woman, may not be the same as what it says (at least in part) to a Samoan woman. Also, the bible uses a variety of metaphors to describe spiritual truths. How those metaphors are understood may be different from culture to culture and individual to individual. To look at these metaphors in the context of specific peoples should not involve changing the metaphor to fit their understanding, but of ensuring that their understanding fits with the biblical truth.

Yet there are also dangers. The first of these is that the message of the bible may become segmented. Instead of being one universal message, it becomes a series of different messages for different peoples. Related to this is the danger that what the bible ‘says to me’ becomes more important than what it says ‘to people everywhere’. We raise the individual or group message over the universal one. Yet it is the universal message to mankind that is the most important.

Another danger is that we tell the bible how it should be read. In Faith Seeking Understanding (2004), Migliore says that the bible should be read as a liberating message. Yes, liberation and freedom is one strong message of the bible. But it is not the only one. The bible also speaks to us of judgment, for example. To approach the bible with our own ideas about what it should be saying may be to miss what else it has to say. Taken to an extreme, it may also involve correcting the bible when it does not fit in with our ideas.

Theology should involve letting the bible speak to us, rather than speaking to the bible. If contextual theology means seeing what the bible has to say to a specific group of people, bearing in mind that its universal message to mankind is more important, then I am all for it. If, however, it means paying attention only to certain parts of the bible or changing the bible to suit our own ideas, then theology and the bible become simply tools to achieve our own ends. We are closing our ears to what it really has to say and we are placing ourselves above God.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Something is Missing

Two weeks after my old computer went into retirement, my iPod has now stopped working. Funny how the things that didn’t even exist 20 years ago now seem like necessities.

In a way, the loss of the iPod has hit me harder than the loss of my computer. Because I need my computer for work. And so when it broke down, I had no choice but to go and get a new one. But an iPod only seems necessary. It’s not actually that important. So considering that I don’t actually need one and I just bought a computer and I need to watch my money for a little while, buying a new iPod will have to wait.

And I feel like I’ve just lost a limb.

Last night, I had planned to do some reading for uni. Before I got to that, I was washing up, listening to a podcast, when my iPod just stopped. I tried reformatting it, but that didn’t work. So instead of going onto my uni reading, I started watching television programs on the internet. How that makes any kind of sense at all, I don’t know. It’s not like I use my iPod to read.

I guess it was just that sense that something was missing. Something in my life wasn’t quite right. And I couldn’t function properly without it there.

I don’t need to lose an iPod to feel like that. I often get the sense that something is missing. Or that my life is slightly off track and I need something to pull me back to where I’m meant to be. Or that I am searching for something, but I’m not quite sure what it is or how I will ever find it.

If I walked into a Pentecostal church and explained that feeling, they would tell me it was because I hadn’t found God. They would say that once I am born again and let Jesus into my heart and am filled with the Holy Spirit, that emptiness or sense that I have lost something will automatically disappear.

But I have found God, at least in one sense. And yet that feeling remains.

In another sense, I don’t think I’ve found God at all. And I wonder whether any of us really do find God. Maybe all we do is go searching for Him. And at times He allows us to catch brief glimpses of Him.

Another thing that the Pentecostals say quite a lot is ‘She needs to get God into her life.’ As if God were a thing that could be found and then owned. Put Him on a shelf next to the bible, and believe your search is ended. Kind of like an item in a treasure hunt. Crossed God off the list. Now I need to go searching for wealth and happiness.

God can never be owned. We can’t find him in the sense that we can pick him up and put him in our pocket. Put a label on Him that says ‘This belongs to Liz’. God doesn’t belong to me. God doesn’t belong to anyone. We belong to God.

Instead of getting God into our lives, we need to get our lives into God.

And maybe that’s what missing. It’s not just that something is absent from my life. It’s that my life is not completely where it needs to be. I am the one who’s missing. I’m not quite there yet. And I never will be.

I spend so much time searching for God. And that search will continue. But maybe it’s not just about finding God. Maybe it’s also about losing myself.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Authority for Determining Christian Belief and Practice

Authority is not a word we like very much anymore. Unless it comes to questioning someone’s authority. The modern western world is very good at doing that. But when it comes to respecting the authority of others, or recognising someone’s authority to tell us what to do, forget it. Instead of respecting authority, we’re more likely to criticise or ridicule it. Instead of obeying authority, we tell them exactly where we they’ve got it wrong.

When it comes to Christianity, we need authority. Christians are called to believe the right things and do the right things. And although God may be in the world, he isn’t sending out media releases or doing interviews on The 7.30 Report. So how do we decide our right belief and right practice (orthodoxy and orthopraxy)? We need to recognise of the authority of other sources to speak on God’s behalf.

Not everybody would agree with this. In fact, one of the stumbling blocks for people coming to religion is that they do not want to recognise the authority of anything or anyone else, other than themselves. They want to make their own choices about what to do. They want to work it all out without any kind of guidance from anybody.

Related to this is the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Some people prefer to rely either solely or partially on what the Holy Spirit is saying to them. They recognise God’s authority, but not necessarily the authority of other sources. The problem with this approach is that what God is saying to me may be different from what God is saying to you. How do we decide who is right?

I heard a pastor once say that if everybody is being led by the Holy Spirit, then there will be no disagreements in church meetings. And if anyone does disagree, then they’re not truly being led by the Holy Spirit. (As a person who tended to disagree, I got a little annoyed at this.)

But even though I believe his attitude was wrong, I think he had a point. If the Holy Spirit is guiding all Christians, then why do they disagree? Now if I believe God is telling me one thing, but it seems to be telling everyone else another thing, what do I do? Do I decide that God says different things to different people? Do I take the view that what God is telling me is more important than what it is telling everyone else? And what if the Holy Spirit seems to be guiding me differently than the way it has guided millions of believers through the centuries? What if it’s different to what the bible says? Am I the only one who has it right?

So unless we want billions of Christians, all with very different ideas about what it means to be Christian, and all convinced that their idea is the right one, we need some other authority to appeal to.

The bible is easily the most widely accepted source of authority for Christian belief and practice. God did not just create us and leave us alone. He interacted with us. And the bible is a record of what He has said and what He has done in the past. It is God’s word and divinely inspired. For some, this means it should be the only authority. Yet as history – and the many Christian denominations that now exist – shows us, people may read the bible and get some very different ideas.

Another source of authority is tradition. We do not just read the bible for ourselves and make our own decisions. We consider how Christians through the ages have interpreted the bible. We look at the orthodoxy and orthopraxy of the past to help us decide on what we should believe and how we should act in the present.

I believe another source of authority should be the Church. Even with the bible and with tradition, there will still be many disagreements. The Church helps resolve those disagreements. And although I believe that the churches of different denominations can help guide the individuals within that denomination, I also believe that the Catholic Church is the only church that has the authority to speak to the body of believers as a whole. As with individuals, different denominations have different ideas about what it means to be Christian. The Catholic Church was the one church instituted by Jesus Christ and so would seem to be the church with the highest authority when it comes to determining matters of faith.

Authority is related to revelation. As we seek to determine what or who has the authority to speak for God today, we must look at how God has revealed himself in the past. The perfect revelation of God comes in Jesus Christ. Authority relates to power being invested in someone or something by another source. Jesus Christ was asked under what authority he performed his miracles. He did not answer, but we know that his authority came directly from God. In the context of Christianity, this investment of power should come from God or Jesus. Authoritative sources must not simply be made up out of thin air. We should consider where God or Jesus Christ have given authority to others.

Again, what immediately springs to mind is the bible. The bible is a written record of how God has revealed himself in the past. It is also a written record of Jesus Christ, what he said and did, what his purpose was and who He was. As most Christians agree that the bible is an authoritative source, I won’t spend too much time discussing this one. And yet the bible also helps us determine what else has authority.

It is worth noting that bible does not stop with the Gospel of John. It goes on. In the Acts of the Apostles, we see how the early church community developed and grew. And some of this involved working some things out. They could not simply turn to Jesus all the time and say well Jesus said this and so the way forward is plain. They needed to discuss things and come to certain decisions. And as we move past the Acts of the Apostles, we find many epistles, written to Christian communities. These epistles explain things and give advice. They talk about right beliefs and right practices. Those early churches often didn’t quite get it right. They needed to be pointed in the right direction.

When we use the letters in the New Testament as a guide for what to believe and how to act, we are essentially giving authority to the very beginning of Christian tradition. We recognise that people of the past have something valuable to say to people in the present. We learn from the theology of those that went before us. Now there is a difference between the epistles included in the bible and theology that was done afterwards. And I can see why some people would respect the first, but not the second. And yet it does seem to suggest that theology is an ongoing process.

This does not mean that theology needs to recreated for each new generation. Nor does it mean that we return solely to the bible to discover a theology for a new age. Instead, our theology must be built on the theology of others. Making decisions about right belief and right practice did not end after Jesus’ resurrection. Nor did it end after the last word Revelation was written. In fact, if it had, then we wouldn’t even have a bible to use an authoritative source. We also wouldn’t have the Church we have today. The first 500 years included a lot of differences and problems that needed to be worked through. And one of reasons why Christians believe the things they do today is because the people around then spent a lot of time resolving those issues.

I cannot finish this post on authority, without discussing where Jesus specifically gave authority to others. In Luke 9:1, Jesus called together the 12 apostles and gave them power and authority. It is very important that we think of this in deciding what or who has authority to act on God’s behalf today. Some people believe that the authority given here relates to all believers. Yet it seems important to me that he only gave authority to his apostles, not all his followers.

Before I go any further, I want to point out that I do not have a good understanding of this verse. And I tried looking for some kind of commentary on it, to get a better idea of what it actually meant. However, I couldn’t really find anything that was too helpful. But I am guessing that this relates to the authority given to the Church. Well in my opinion, it seems to. Maybe I might try and find out a bit more about that and do another one of my ‘I have no idea what I’m talking about posts’ a bit later.

But my ignorance here actually brings us to an interesting point. Because I have a verse in the bible and I’m not quite sure what it means. So what do I do now? Wait for the Holy Spirit to explain it to me? Search the rest of the bible in the hopes that I might find something that will shed light on it? Talk to people at my church – with the realisation that what the Catholic Church says about this verse is very different to what the Pentecostals would say about it? Check commentaries of other theologians to see what they have to say?

I can speak to other Christians, but in doing that, I may face differing opinions. What if one person says it means something, but another person says it means something else? How do I decide who is correct? I must then ask myself what basis they are using for their interpretation. If one person’s interpretation comes directly from the Holy Spirit, but another person’s interpretation comes from years of studying theology, do I treat both interpretations as equally valid?

So it seems that, although God speaks to us through the bible, we do need some form of further explanation to help us reach conclusions about what the bible is actually saying. And because there are many different explanations out there, we need to decide which explanations are correct. This can’t be simply a matter of choosing the one we like the best – tempting as this is to do. It must take into account the authority behind the explanations we receive? Do they link back to an authoritative source? Or are they simply one person’s opinions?

(Image details: Calling of the Apostles by Ghirlandaio Domenico (1481). Image is in the public domain.)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Prayer - Using the Words of Others

When I was a child, I was told that prayer was personal. Something between me and God. An individual matter.

At first, this seems very different from the way I came to view prayer as a Pentecostal. The Pentecostals spend a lot of time praying together, either in prayer meetings, in fellowship groups or as a church. Then there are prayers said at the beginning or middle of every social event and a prayer said before each meal. When somebody needs prayer, everybody near gathers around and lays a hand on them. There are also prayer chains, where people are placed on a list and asked to pray when requested. When the bible studies close down for the holidays, the prayer meetings continue. Prayer is considered not just important, but vital.

In the Catholic Church, prayer is also seen as essential. In fact, I would hazard a guess that most denominations see the importance of prayer. Perhaps that is one reason why prayer meetings are often the way place where different denominations come together. Prayer is something that we all do.

And yet the way that we pray can be very different. I have certainly noticed a difference between how I saw prayer as a Pentecostal and how I am beginning to see it as a Catholic.

Pentecostals may not see prayer as a personal matter, but I think it would be fair to say that there is a strong focus on the individual. When prayers are said, they are usually said as the person thinks of them. No notes are used. No memorised prayers are used. In prayer meetings, people are encouraged to simply speak out as the Spirit leads them.

Despite attending many Sunday School lessons, my children were never taught any prayers. Nor were they given any prayers to read. The Sunday school teachers talked often about prayer. But it was prayer that focused very much on the relationship we have with Jesus and with God. Prayer was simply talking to them, not borrowing other people’s words to say.

In the Catholic Church, praying is done a bit differently. (And I’m leaving aside here, one obvious difference that Catholics pray to Mary and the Saints.) But in a Catholic Mass, prayers are usually ones that the congregation knows and recites together or they are read from a book. And outside the Church, Catholics are encouraged to pray the rosary and use other existing prayers, instead of always making up our own.

I would say one of the main differences between Pentecostal Prayer and Catholic Prayer is that Pentecostals place more emphasis on using their own words (or the words of the Holy Spirit, as they would have it) and Catholics place more emphasis on using the words of others. That is not to say that there is a firm divide between them. Pentecostals do not have a rule that you must not use the prayers of others. Nor do Catholics only use existing prayers.

To ask which one is better seems pointless. People usually pray in the way that seems best to them. I’m sure that God is more concerned with whether we are actually praying, rather than having a preference for the way in which we pray.
However, I do believe there are a number of things I have gained through starting to use the prayers of other people.

First, I believe praying together forms a spiritual connection between people. And although Pentecostals do pray together, they are not saying the same words at the same time. And quite honestly, there are quite a few prayer meetings I have been to where I have been more concerned about what prayer I would say, rather than listening to the prayers of other people. We say Amen together at the end of it. But for the rest of time, we could be thinking of completely different things.

When people say specific prayers as a group, they are brought together in that one thought. And yes, it is possible to be thinking of tonight’s dinner while you’re reciting memorised words. But even despite this, there is a group of people saying the same words together. I think there’s something powerful in that. One of my favourite times of the day is when I pray with my children. And it never used to be. There were times when we would pray and I would be struggling to think of something to say. It’s hard work trying to think of a new prayer every night. But now we recite prayers together. And it really is beautiful. To hear all three voices in unison – three voices that may have been in disagreement with each other that day. But when we pray, we are brought back together again. Not only does it connect us to God, but it connects us to each other.

The other benefit from using existing prayers goes back to what I said about it being hard work trying to think of a new prayer every night. For some people, praying is easy. As soon a prayer meeting starts, something beautiful and amazing comes out of their mouths. For others, it’s a bit more difficult. One reason why I have spent time in prayer meetings worrying about what I would say next is because I do find it a struggle. Not so much when I’m praying alone, but definitely in front of other people. Plus, I know there are some people who won’t pray in prayer meetings at all. Either they’re too shy or they can’t ever think of anything. When a group prays the same prayer together, that obstacle is removed. Everybody can pray, without trying to think of something to say or the right way to say it. And then we can focus on the words we do say, instead of worrying about what we should say next.

One book I read said that existing prayers can often be useful, because they say what we want to say, but better than we could ever say it. That is certainly true. Sometimes what we want to say to God comes in semi-formed thoughts. Existing prayers put those thoughts into sentences. And some prayers are so beautiful. To read them is like reading poetry. But I think it goes a bit deeper than that. Because many prayers do not just say what we want to say, they say what we never even dreamed of saying. If I pray, only using my own words, then I am limited to what I think and believe and already know. But when I use the words of others, I am influenced by their spirituality and their devotion. They take me to a place that I could never find by myself.

When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, he did not say well it’s a personal matter. Nor did he say just pray as the Spirit leads you. He gave them a specific prayer to say. At the very least, we should pray the Lord’s prayer, as it was given to us by Jesus himself. But also, there have been so many wonderful prayers written throughout the centuries. It seems arrogant to believe that anything I can say would be better than anything they could say. And foolish to ignore those prayers have brought comfort, hope, joy and a deeper spirituality to many people, simply because they are not my own words.

Christianity is not solely a personal religion. We are not just a bunch of individuals who happen to believe in the same thing. We live our faith in fellowship with one another, as a community or believers. The prayers I make up myself belong to me and God alone. And yes, there is a place for that. Some prayers are meant to be personal. But prayer is also meant to be a communal activity. Something that the Church does together. And even when we are not physically located in the same room, when we pray the prayers of the Church, the prayers that people have written, the prayers that many people through the ages have said, we do pray in community. We pray alongside the many people who have said that same prayer in the past, all the people who are praying it now and all the people who will pray it in the future.

Think about the Lord’s prayer for a minute. In fact, why don’t you actually pray it now?

Our Father who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever.

Did you pray it? I sure hope so. Because if you did, you just said a prayer that people have been praying for 2000 years. In fact, you just said a prayer that the Apostles prayed, the very people who were with Jesus when he was here in earthly form. You just said a prayer that was taught to those Apostles by Jesus himself. Two thousand years of people using that prayer, going all the way back to Jesus.

I don’t even have words to express how that makes me feel. But that’s okay. Because I’m sure that someone, somewhere, at some time, has done a very good job of explaining it.

(Image details: The Lord's Prayer (1886-1896) from the series The Life of Christ, Brooklyn Museum, by James Tissot. Image is in the public domain.)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Spiritual Meaning Behind Real Events

In looking at the historicity of the Gospel of John, some writers have come to the conclusion that it is symbolic, rather than historical. They seek spiritual meaning behind many of the stories and thus conclude that those stories did not actually happen. For example, the raising of Lazarus can said to be symbolic of the way in which Jesus Christ gives new life. Therefore, it did not really happen. It was meant to convey a spiritual truth, rather than give a historic account.

However, in my experience and I’m sure in the experiences of many other Christians, everyday life is loaded with symbolism. Barely a day goes past when I cannot find a spiritual meaning behind events that actually happened. In writing this blog, there are many ideas I have that revolve around some event that occurred in my life. These events may remind me of a spiritual truth or convey a spiritual lesson. When I wish to describe these events, I focus on how they are symbolic of God or faith or being a Christian. But just because they are symbolic does not mean they did not occur.

I try not to write too many of these types of blogs. Firstly, because I don’t have the time to write them all down. Secondly, because I think they can be a bit boring. The type that start with ‘I was feeding my dog today and that made me think about how God…’ Don’t laugh. That was an actual idea at one point. My son had made the comment that the poor dog must be starving because he hadn’t been fed in five days. Don’t report me to the RSPCA just yet. I had been feeding my dog. It’s just my son hadn’t seen it and so he presumed that it hadn’t happened. Made me think about all the times that we think God isn’t doing something, just because we haven’t actually seen Him do it.

You may have noticed that there’s been a bit more time than usual between blog posts. That is because my old computer decided to die on me. It would frequently either freeze or shut down in the middle of what I was doing, with no warning and for no apparent reason. So I had to get a new one. And I have spent the last couple of days setting it up and adding all the programs that I need.

Anyway, to go back to that moment when I walked out of the computer store. There were a few different emotions happening for me at the time. But one thing I did feel was this sense that what I was holding was new and clean and incorrupt. I had a fresh start. My old computer had been with me for five years. During that time, I had added a lot of programs and files that I didn’t want and didn’t need. For example, I had five programs to tell me how fast I type. I know I’m a fast typist. I don’t need five programs to tell me that. They were clogging up the system, affecting my performance and holding me back. Now all those programs were gone. I had a clean slate to work with.

Of course, if you go back a couple of paragraphs, you’ll see that I’ve already added new programs. At the moment, most of these are ones that I need. But give it time. I’m sure that before too long, I’ll have a number of programs that aren’t really necessary. And if I have this computer for five years, it will probably be just as full of junk as the old one was.

Yesterday, I was listening to a Catholic Answers podcast. And someone rang up to ask why we continue to sin after baptism. I can’t remember the exact answer. But I know the person answering said that we do not lose our inclination to sin. And straightaway, I thought of my computer. I thought I may have lost all the old crappy programs I had on my old computer. But I haven’t lost the inclination to add new ones. And I believe his answer will stay in mind because I was able to immediately apply it to something I understood.

Jesus used parables a lot. He used parables to discuss heavenly realities in a form that his hearers would understand. Whether they really happened, in this case, is irrelevant. But in a way they did happen. They had happened to all the people who were listening to him. They were the symbolic meaning that occurred in their everyday lives.

I believe God often uses earthly things to describe heavenly realities. And so do people who talk about God. To say well this has a symbolic meaning, so it didn’t really happen is to miss the point entirely. My son really did say that about the dog food. I did really get a new computer. The fact that I attach a spiritual meaning to it doesn’t invalidate the truth of that.

And if everyday life is so full of spiritual meaning, how much more so when Jesus walked the earth. Jesus wasn’t just describing heavenly realities in earthly form, he was the heavenly reality in earth form. To try and separate Jesus into those events that had spiritual meaning and those that are historically true, is like trying to separate any other person into the part of them that breathes in and the part of them that breathes out. They are both intertwined.

Jesus really walked the earth. He did the things described in the gospels. But he also was a symbolic representation of God. More than that, he was God. He was a symbol that represented the very thing He was symbolising. And so it would be surprising if Jesus only did those things that had no spiritual meaning. Everything he did had spiritual meaning. It was part of who he was.


Bookmark and Share

Blog Patrol