Tag Archives: christianity

Panentheism: Filling gaps of ancestral homelessness

A wise teacher said recently, with acute and accurate observation, “Most multi-god religions never really had an issue with the one-god religions. It’s the Monotheistic religions that chronically have taken offence with everyone else.” He went on to note that it may be entirely possible for an animist to sit in a Protestant church and feel fairly at home.

It seems it is becoming less and less tolerable (especially with increased information and awareness coming from science, anthropology, history, and ethics) to claim sovereignty of belief and truth in opposition to a great multitude of beliefs and experiences in the world. This poses an extremely consequential dilemma. On the one hand, there are fundamentalist believers of many different religions, who dig their heals in even more, saying it is a sure sign of the demise of humanity that so many people disagree with “our way.” These groups have to work even harder to preach and evangelize the “one true way.” On the other hand, many who grew up in the church or have Monotheism in their ancestral heritage, leave these “limited and exclusive” belief systems behind in order to find something more authentic to their experience. Sometimes this seems rather fundamentalist on the other extreme.

Granted, there are those who are perfectly comfortable with this arrangement of digging in even harder or abandoning their roots. I would be willing to bet, however, that for many, though, the arrangement, message, or straight up disconnection feels off… like something is missing and can’t be settled. I think this unsettledness is good and is important. It creates a hunger to search for something of meaning, something more reconciling, more inclusive, and more embracing of our ancestral heritage.

Some of us don’t feel quite right about about tossing off monotheism and some of the nuances that we are drawn to within our belief systems we were raised on. Maintaining a spirit of anger and betrayal towards something so central in our heritage is something akin to walking with a profound limp. I have heard so many times of the pain and horror at what our ancestors have done in the name of God and how this has driven one to different beliefs. Good! The pain of how things are and how they have come to be is exactly the burden we need to carry into the future as we put words to the trouble we are in.

There is a historical and cultural understanding about god, though, that I believe can unite and reconcile these homeless and disillusioned Westerners. It is indigenous, it is local, and it is inclusive. Panentheism is a foundational belief that includes God, mystery, or divine and also allows for more unification between the creator and the “created.” While not exclusive to Christianity, there have been Christians since the early church that considered God to be in all things and all things to be in God. So the universe is contained within an infinite and infusing presence.

In this way, the divine is simultaneous with Life. Love. The Force. The Great Spirit. Problems with the dualism of monotheism can be moved beyond. Within panentheism there is room for all, the ability to hold the grief of what has been done and is being done, and a way to love the world as alive and infused with Life. Problem of evil, or a good God allowing bad things? Not really an issue if God includes all of life, both light and darkness. Other religions or views about God? We are all part of a greater presence, each trying to find our cultural way of understanding and connecting. The relationship between humanity and other earth beings? We are all sustained by Life. None are greater than the others, but participate together with Life and Love to create more life.

Personally, the implications of living in this way and with this union are only beginning to take shape. Living in the belief that all things are in God and God is in all things has been my ongoing contemplation for maybe more than ten years now, but it continues to shape the way that I engage with others, pray, care for the land and those that live on it, eat and drink, attend and participate in church, and care for others in times of heartbreak and death. I have been able to find some reconciliation and harmony with my Christian heritage without feeling like I have to be stuck in a box that is too small and exclusive. I find myself in great wonder much of the time and frankly in awe of mystery at all times. It is okay for me not to know. In the midst of it all… all the joys and sorrows, wonder and heartbreak, there is still God who holds me and all beings in love. Life happens and continues to happen. It is not the enemy, not bad or good per se, but wonderful, yes. And consistently beautiful.

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The One thing I would tell everyone

Kat asked me last night what I think is the most important thing that people need as far as spiritual, emotional, and health support. This is something we think about a lot in our soul crafts of spiritual support (me), yoga teaching (her), and resilient community building (both). I thought long and hard about what I have learned so far in my many, many conversations with patients and spiritual seekers, people in pain and people who are thriving.

There are so many stubborn people. Men and women who desperately cling to how they have always done things, how their church tells them they should think and believe, how the supermarkets advertise, or how their families pressure them. They resist change and they suffer. I want to grab their faces in my hands and ask, “Do you really feel this way? Do you really think that? Does eating this or that really make you feel good?!? BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE TO!! Listen to your heart. Listen to your body. Follow it’s lead.”

People need to be affirmed, honored and celebrated that they can trust their heart, that they their personal experience of Divine love is valid and worth something. Ironically to follow the crowd, to feel the pressure of the system or the hierarchy to think and feel a certain way without the affirmation of one’s uniqueness is a profoundly lonely experience. How many pastors really want to say the things that they feel they must say so as to not make their parishioners too uncomfortable? Why do we twist, bend, argue, and force ourselves to believe in a God or a way of living that when we really listen to our hearts doesn’t feel good or compelling at all?

Your unique and personal experience of your soul, of Spirit, of transcendence, is worth something. It is important and valid and true to you. It is written on your heart. I want to know about it. I don’t want to know what someone else has told you that you have to believe, I want to know what you feel, wonder about, and live by. And I hope that at least in my company, you will feel free, unfettered, and fully welcome.

May you recognize in your life the presence
Power and light of your soul.

 May you realize that you are never alone,
That your soul in its brightness and belonging
Connects you intimately with the rhythm of the universe.

 ~John O’Donohue

Why I’ve started to dislike Easter

I think Easter is supposed to be the cornerstone holiday of Christianity, at least that’s what I grew up thinking in my Evangelical upbringing. After all, Jesus died to pay the price for all our sins and then he rose again, finalizing it and making it clear that God approved of the sacrifice. It’s a great opportunity to remind us all how important it is remember our sins and to commit our lives to him and to believe that he really did do this for us.

I don’t really like going to church on Easter anymore. I mean, I’ve heard this same message a hundred times… Easter doesn’t make it any more real to me. I just end up feeling like the pastor is using the opportunity of a packed church and a suffering savior to get more commitments to follow Jesus. But I don’t think there was anything in Jesus’ death and resurrection that was saying believe that I did this and you will go to heaven. There was nothing in his death and resurrection accounts where he said follow me and make me your God.

I also don’t really like working in the hospital on Easter. I have done this the last two years. Last year, I spent most of the day with a family of 30 or more relatives waiting to hear whether a 14 year old boy, who had a completely unexpected stroke, was going to die. And prayed with a man who held his newborn child who had died in delivery. This year, I had to talk with a family whose father and husband, most likely dying from full body shut down, after the doctors found a softball size tumor on his last day of checkups after pushing through metastasized melanoma. We talked about letting go, about grieving, about the fact that he might not go home.

If I had to choose between the hospital and church on Easter, I think I would choose the hospital. To me it feels closer to real life and rings truer to what Easter is all about. Granted, God’s presence is as present at church as it is in the hospital, but in the hospital people have to wrestle with it more… and God’s presence, the work of Christ in the universe, the person of Jesus should be wrestled with. Always, and without exception. I guess I’m just not into “Hurray for Jesus” anymore. I’m not into easy answers, or sealed in blood, or done-deal salvation. If Jesus is the “blue-print,” as Richard Rohr often mentions, if he is the full representation of God, or the ultimate archetype of truth in the universe, his death and resurrection are not a series of facts that must be believed for eternal salvation. His death and resurrection are not a story to be told with much theatrics and passion with the hopes of getting a few more Christians to add to the Book of Life.

If Jesus truly is the revelation of the Divine in humanity, his death and resurrection are a cosmological statement that says, “See, this is what God is like. Death happens. It is a necessary part of human life, it is a necessary part of the spiritual life. And when we die, God comes through with hope and new life. It has been this way, it is this way, and it always will be this way. If you are afraid to die, you will not face the new life.” My sin did not put Jesus on the cross. The reality of life put Jesus on the cross, just as reality of life raised him from the grave. And is it a unquestionable proven fact that he rose? No. But then again, sometimes archetypes say more about truth than fact does anyway.

Idealizing transference and religion

Had some thoughts after church today, coming from worship and also from many experiences as a chaplain. As one who gravitates towards psychoanalysis (especially Kohut’s theory of Self Psychology) and spiritual direction (especially the tradition of the Christian mystic), there are some things that stand out to me differently from when I did my theological training in seminary. As one who has merely scratched the surface of Self Psychology, I may butcher the theory as I reflect on this, but I hope it provides some usefulness as we think about God, religion, and a deeper awareness of the Self.

Self Psychology breaks down the three basic self object needs into mirroring, idealizing, and twinship. Mirroring is hearing from caregivers that I am wonderful, special, and valuable. Idealizing is having someone I can rely on who is a image of “calmness, infallibility, and omnipotence.” Twinship is having those who I can feel similar to and be in like relationship to. When these needs are not met sufficiently, an individual suffers from self object need derailment and will seek to meet these needs in increasingly unconscious ways – self object need transference.

It is the Idealizing transference that I pick up on a lot with religion. It makes sense to me and it fits when it is minor. It can be helpful, good, and stabilizing to the self to give God

There is significant benefit in seeing the God who exists both in light and darkness, in presence and in absence.

the role of a perfect, stable, faithful foundation. After all, to make this transference with a human makes for a much quicker “frustration” as a human is soon to let us down at some point. But this frustration is what we need to form a health sense of self. In religion this idealizing transference can go overboard, with some potential life-shattering results.

Essentially, an idealized transference happens when there is a low sense of self worth, an ingrained feeling of not being able to do it on my own. Often fathers and elders meet this basic idealizing need, and in recent history of suppressed emotional expression, working away from home, and at times, narcissistic tendencies, many men and women suffer from a deep woundedness in this area. If we have not had good relationships with idealized figures who show their lack of perfection and therefore encourage us to hold ground in our self, we will constantly be looking for others (God/Jesus included) to be that foundation.

Sadly, and often, life happens for people and their faith is shattered because God doesn’t seem to pull through for them. This is very real and frankly, many of our worship songs don’t prepare us for this. I see this in the hospital, and it is one of the reasons I say to people, “I have come to learn that often the answers we easily come to in church, don’t really fit in the hospital.” There is significant benefit in seeing the God who cannot be so easily pinned down and understood, the God who is at times unexpected (the Wild Goose in the Celtic tradition), the God who exists both in light and darkness, in presence and in absence.

This is such a scratching of the surface, but it gets me thinking. Here’s a really good from a therapist/mother’s perspective: Demigods on Eggshells.

What is your face? or place? …either way, let it flow

In a recent conversation with a directee, we discussed the nature of finding one’s identity… as a self, as a child of God, and as a follower of Christ. Our conversation helped me put the following core ideas together for me.

I was reminded of Eugene Peterson‘s book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. I have not read the book, but I have heard from those who read it and I find the title alone to be a transformation of thought. I am sure that it is not Peterson’s main point, but the title speaks to me of the reality of Christ’s presence in all that is. Christ really does play in ten thousand places. Not just in the church, not just in one set of beliefs or theologies, not just in one type of person. And he plays! He is not in all things to judge, to condemn (“…and the son of God did not come to condemn the world, but to save it”), to say who’s in and who’s out… he recreates. He finds joy and delight in revealing himself in the cosmos!

I also like to think that Christ dwells in ten thousand faces. Meaning that there are so many flavors and so many individual expressions of Christ’s presence. All the people I meet… Christ. I remember Jesus, himself, saying, “Whatever you did to the least of these, you have done to me.” Not to say they all use the same language for Christ incarnate. Many have a deep chasm to cross, high hurdles to climb over, when it comes to words like “Jesus,” or communities like “Christians.” What they perceive is their experience, not perhaps the reality or the true expressions of these.

So if Christ dwells in ten thousand faces, or he plays in ten thousand places, the questions I have to ask myself are, “What is my face that I show to the world? Who am I as a beloved son or daughter of God? What is my expression?” It seems to me that until I know this truth and allow it to be real in myself, I will never see it in others. I will always be prescribing a face that I believe is the right face to others. Most likely, it will look like what I think it should look like… probably me, or my set of ideals. This was one of the most difficult yet freeing things I have ever learned… how to be myself as Christ has made me to be, not to be the “Christian” that the Christians say I should be, or the “man” that the men say I should, or even the person that I idealize myself to be. Coulda, shoulda, woulda… that’s what I like to say.

Anthony De Mello teaches,

If you want to live, you must have no permanent abode. You must have no place to rest your head. You have to flow with it. As the great Confucius said, “The one who would be constant in happiness must frequently change.” Flow. But we keep looking back, don’t we? We cling to things in the past and cling to things in the present. “When you set your hand to the plow, you cannot look back.” Do you want to enjoy a melody? Do you want to enjoy a symphony? Don’t hold on to a couple of notes. Let them pass, let them flow. The whole enjoyment of a symphony lies in your readiness to allow the notes to pass. Whereas if a particular bar took your fancy and you shouted to the orchestra, “Keep playing it again and again and again,” that wouldn’t be a symphony anymore.

My wise and beautiful wife said to me yesterday, “I’m through not loving myself. I’m done with it. I am just going to love all of myself from now on. I love myself! I even love that I am weird.” She loves the flow. We all need to love the flow. We need to find that unique face of Christ that only we bring to the world, and live it… love it. The rest flows…