Fish out of water?

It goes without saying that we are completely dependent on the language of metaphor  to be able to communicate with any clarity.  Often we overuse certain metaphors to the extent that they lose some of their power.  For example, think about the expression “like a fish out of water.”  We’ve used these words so often that they have come to simply refer to a feeling of awkwardness or discomfort in a strange situation.  But, think about the fish that has just between caught—the fish that is flopping around on a dock or pier, or in the floor of a boat.  That fish is not awkward or uncomfortable.  That fish is desperate—quickly dying!  I get a little short of breath just thinking about that scene!

There are times when we search around for different metaphors for describing what we understand about God or the human relationship with God.  In his book The Experience of God, Raimon Panikkar speaks of how human beings are surrounded by God like fish are surrounded by water.  We are “drenched” in God as fish are drenched in water.   The problem is that we don’t recognize or we forget that we are drenched.  We forget that God is that fully present with us—longing for us to know how completely we are incorporated into God’s own being.  When we forget, we may find ourselves flopping around and feeling desperate—like a fish out of water.

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Then what?

If we accept “God is love” as our most basic truth of who God is, then what?  How do we accept God’s truth as our reality–so we can live it?  Probably by listening rather than talking–to God, that is–listening for that voice that says, “You are my Beloved.”  Hint–the key is in letting go of all the other competing voices.  It may be the hardest work we will ever do, but worth every bit of the effort.

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It all boils down to, “God is love.”

Last week, I shared some musings about the possibility that no two of us share exactly the same concept of God–that our beliefs are uniquely shaped by what we have been taught and what we have experienced. I worked in the mental health field for many years and came to know countless people who could not believe–maybe even refused to try to believe–that “God is love.”  Their experience gave them the opposite message, and that opposite message became their truth.  Their souls were imprisoned by a lie.  The story has been told many times of the great twentieth century theologian and prolific writer, Karl Barth, who, when he was once asked to give a brief summary of his personal faith, responded, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”  It all boils down to, “God is love.”    

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All “theologians”?

We are all “theologians.”  Actually that’s hyperbole–most of us are theologians.  That means that we think about God a lot, and some of us even study about God a lot.  Thousands and thousands of books have been written about the subject of God over the millenia, and maybe we’ve read some of them.  We also talk to God–in various ways–and we seem to think we know who we are talking to.  Our culture is permeated with God-talk.  But the thought comes to me–and I don’t think I’ve ever heard this expressed in so many words–“Is it possible that all of our individual physiology, all of our differing life experiences, and all of those things that we’ve heard or read or been taught, have blended together and given each of us our own  slightly unique “picture” of God?”  Wow, that would give us lots of room for misunderstanding.  Just thinking.

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Labyrinth pictures

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Labyrinth Walking (Guest post by Jeanne Tessier)

Labyrinth Walking          Jeanne Tessier

 

Unlike life, this journey begins with intention.

 I came here by choice and stand at the rim of this

circle of brick whose pattern is formed in two tones.

I have walked such forms before. Each time, there are

things I remember, things I forget, things I learn anew.

Unlike in life, I trod this path a step at a time, my mind

here, this foot and this step, perhaps because the path

is narrow and, because it is a path so clearly marked,

one feels obliged to walk it as it lays. There is nothing but

the walking, this step and then the next, forward, but

slowly, knowing — as I so often forget in the daily walk–

that the center is there, the center waits, the center holds.

The center is the goal and destination, so close, so near,

visible at times and then not, a step away and then again

receding. The center doesn’t move, but we do, the path does;

we wander, close, near enough to touch, and then away.

Just when we think we have arrived, we are led out again

to the very rim of the story, on a distant path, the center

yet again beyond our reach. Oh, I have walked this path

so many times, here and everywhere. Ever, as I walk,

the truth comes, the moment comes when I say to the

One who holds the center, Who I seek, “I am lost.”

It is a cry my God has heard from me so many times.

“I am lost and I do not know the way.” How, after all

these years, can I still be lost? God answers, “Ah, but

your feet are on the path. Your destination is clear.

I am here. I wait for you.” Here, unlike in life, here

where the path is visible and the center can be found,

all the other noise and clutter falls away. There is just

this path, just this circle that holds and embraces me,

just this certainty that if I persist the center will be

found. I walk, careful. I do not look ahead, or up,

but down — at my feet walking, at the narrow path

on which I trod, at my plodding step, at the exquisite

care with which this path has been prepared. And then

suddenly the center comes, or rather I come to the

center’s opening and step inside. So: for this one

moment, at least, I have arrived, I have come home.

But: it is always disappointing. The destination attained,

yet we cannot stay. Here we come to be fed only,

to rest maybe, to meet the Unseen Face to face.

But we cannot stay. We must go out again. We must

find our way back into the world, back onto the  path

we wander there, to do what we can, and to hope –

and hope – that the center waits, the center holds, and

to the center we will one day all and ever come.

4/26/12

 

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More Thoughts on Resurrection

When I was working on my Easter sermon, I ran across the story that Leo Tolstoy wrote about his rather sudden experience of coming to believe in Christ.  His story ends with these wonderful words:  “Suddenly I heard the words of Christ and understood them, and life and death ceased to seem evil, and instead of despair I experienced happiness and the joy of life undisturbed by death.”  The gift of the resurrection is the gift of “life undisturbed by death.” 

Many philosophers and depth psychologists over the years have understood that a deep fear of death is pervasive in humankind, and they have understood that it is that fear which fuels the great destructiveness that we engage in–individually and corporately.  The fear that we will cease to be, accompanied by massive denial of such fear, fuel the flames of pride and greed and all the evil that flows from those most basic diseases of the soul.  The unconscious mind says, “If I grab onto all I can, just maybe I will not die.  Someone else may die, but I will not die.”  We want to be winners at what we perceive to be the game of life, and, as the saying goes, “He, or she, who dies with the most toys wins.”  He, or she, who dies on the top of the heap wins.  We see the results in the news every day–from the string of investors who have defrauded clients of billions of dollars to the unknown man who murders his girlfriend rather than facing the emptiness and humiliation of living without her after she decides to end the relationship.  Loss feels like death.  We cannot bear the pain of loss when we believe deep inside that life will ultimately end in nothingness.  That belief leads to despair, and despair drives human beings into the hands of death–the hands of the enemy.  Death is the enemy.  Resurrection is the victory.  Resurrection is the gift of “life undisturbed by death.”  And only God can give it to us. 

Living a “life undisturbed by death” empowers us to do things we wouldn’t do if we were depending only on our own resources.  Living a life undisturbed by death frees us to reach out in love–to give a bit (or even a lot) more sacrificially–to be instruments of compassion and peace and justice and reconciliation. 

Experiencing the resurrection is our pathway to believing in the resurrection–to knowing that resurrection is a deep truth in our lives.  God has set this process in motion in Christ Jesus, and God calls us to continue the process–to be vehicles of resurrection power.  God introduced something new into creation that first Easter.  We discover the truth of that new thing as we commit to live it.  Ever more deeply and completely, our lives can become the evidence to the world of the truth of the resurrection. 

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