so far away from me

There is, namely, an infinite chasmic difference between God and man.

Practice in Christianity, Hong 63

I have been thinking about transcendence a lot in the last couple of days. I think I have moved to opposite poles on the discussion between knowing God in imminence and God’s complete “otherness”. I was in the “you can know God by reason” camp for a long time. So the task of theology (and apologetics) was to give a reasoned argument for God (like such a thing is possible) and people would see the error of their ways and do what God wants. Or, the other side of the same argument, if we have beautiful churches and divine liturgy, people would be converted.

Experience has taught me that neither of those two positions are valid or viable. The most well argued piece of logic will not create faith. Reason is not beyond faith. And beautiful churches in themselves do not draw people but only the beauty of Him who is present. (The Absolute Paradox is part of my movement away from imminence.)

I know I have been influenced in that move by reading Kierkegaard. Not so much his theological or philosophical works. But rather his discourses, his “sermons”. I find these full of grace and love – allowing God to be God. And I will write about them in a future post.

But today a quote from Practice in Christianity. I like how Kierkegaard says it: “infinite chasmic difference”. God’s love is what “motivates” Him to move close to us. And even my desire to know Him is God reaching out – He has placed the longing for Him in my heart.

I find it a very comforting thought that God has reached out (and reaches out everyday) to me personally. It is only in God’s free choice to come near to me, in love and the Absolute Paradox, that I can know Him and have a relationship with Him. So God by nature is completely other but in love is close to me.

walk to your own beat

I go for a walk first thing in the morning. My doctor said I need to exercise every day to help with my depression and anxiety. And I started walking as a way to exercise – I was very unfit and unhealthy which did not help the bad image I have of myself. Yet now I walk not to get somewhere or to do something but simply to walk. The walking is an end in itself – a purpose. The walk is something I do, not to get fit or to get to a destination, but some time alone while my feet are moving. This time has become a place to think and to pray. Our modern world is so concerned about outcomes and value that we can sometimes miss the simple pleasure of just doing something.

Faith is about living with possibility. It is about a choice to abide in Jesus, to stay close to Him, a resolution to keep Him in my heart. It is not about an end – forgiveness or heaven – but about the here and now with Jesus. Sometimes the Christianity I have heard preached is all about the end and how to get there: how often I should read my Bible, go to Communion, or go to Confession. When I do that I forget to smell the flowers along the way – I forget to see Jesus next to me on the path. Eternal life with God is a present reality in Jesus who has won the victory over death. Eternal life is walking in love now with the sure knowledge that with God all things are possible.

I have noticed that I walk faster when I listen to faster music – I walk to the beat. So when I want to walk really fast I listen to Britney Spears. Today I listened to the first album (on cassette) I remember buying – Pink Floyd’s “Wish you were Here”. It really is one of my favourite albums. Not only is it full of memories of growing up but it has some lines that often make me smile: “oh, by the way, which one is Pink”.

The music I listen to makes my walk faster or slower. So also with the voices I listen to in my life. I struggle with a negative internal dialogue that makes me out to be a monster. When I listen to that voice my life goes downhill fast. But when I listen to other affirming voices I am filled with possibility and hope. The more I listen to the affirming voices, the less I listen to the inner negative voice. And the inner negative voice loses its power and strength over me.

My life with Jesus is about walking with Him and listening to Him. Sometimes He speaks in the most unexpected places and people. My job is to be open to Him and to listen for Him. And like Elijah I need to be prepared to hear God in the “gentle quiet whisper”.

Enjoy being me!

I woke this morning with the strong thought that it is okay to enjoy life. It is okay for me to be happy about my happy place, to enjoy the solitude in my hermitage, and to get pleasure from the things I do well. The outcome is not always as important as the journey – an activity can be enjoyable in itself. I do not have to accept every role that is given to me – I do not need to play other people’s game.

Somehow, I think, I had convinced myself that I am not allowed to be happy as me and had to pretend to enjoy the things other people enjoy. I have never really liked the “manly things” but have joined in to be part of the crowd. And I convinced myself that everything I do is judged by outcome.

I am grateful for the things that make me happy and I now realise that I do not need other people to enjoy the same things. My happy place is an end in itself!

It has taken me a long time to get here but now that I am I feel a sense of freedom. So what if I read a weird Danish poet who walked funny?! So what if I know a lot about liturgical minutia?! So what if I like theology or philosophy without wanting to be an academic?! I am allowed to enjoy being me.

Doubting Thomas?

Today is Low Sunday, the Sunday after Easter. The traditional gospel for today is about Thomas’ doubt. Our Vicar preached a good sermon on how it is not really Thomas’ doubt that God draws our attention to in this gospel but rather the apostles’ failure to proclaim and embody their faith. I thought it was a very good sermon.

Yesterday I started reading a book by Michael Harvey, Skepticism, Relativism, and Religious Knowledge: A Kierkegaardian Perspective Informed by Wittgenstein’s Philosophy. I think I have started it before as there are notes in the ebook. The topic of religious epistemology really interests me. Some of the problems, I think, of modern Christianity centres on a misunderstanding of faith and in particular placing faith within the sphere of knowledge. So, for example, fideism is faith without proof. I think this book makes a number of very good points from a Kierkegaardian point of view about today’s gospel and Christianity as a whole.

So I have three quotes from the Foreword by Stanley Hauerwas:

… what cannot be forgotten is that truth for Christians is not just another object but a concrete person, Jesus of Nazareth.

This point needs to be made again and again. Jesus say “I am the truth” not “I will give you the truth and then you have it apart from me”. Truth for Christianity is a person and not an object – a person who is experienced and encountered but may never be understood.

… To be a Christian, which to be sure involves “believing,” entails an ongoing transformation of the emotions. Such a transformation means to believe in God is to know how to do something. In particular it means knowing how to go on when you often do not know where you are or where you are going. The truth of what Christians believe cannot be separated from who they must be.

Faith is about living – living with hope. Faith is a resolution to “abide in Him” more than a conclusion reached at the end of an argument. The Truth that is encountered in faith makes me a different person – it transforms me and calls me to change every day of my life.

Skepticism arises from our desire to know without the self being transformed. Ironically skepticism is but the result of our anxious desire to secure certainty by being “at home in the world.”

I really like this idea – the search for certainty is a desire to find a home in this world. For Christians “truth” is transcendent and otherworldly because God is transcendent. For science “truth” is imminent and an object that can be measured and described. God is beyond our measuring and defining. So faith is always a leap into the uncertain.

Our modern age holds truth at arms-length and thinks that I can know the truth without that truth changing me. The opposite of faith is not doubt – because that would place faith in the sphere of knowledge – but sin, a refusal to be transformed by Jesus.

my hermitage

This is my view most Sunday mornings. I like doing the “computer stuff” – it is a way I can serve the community. But more importantly, it is a way that the community helps me with my struggles. It serves the “inner hermit” in me and really makes me focus on the liturgy. So … my hermitage!

Another day, another counselling session

After the storm yesterday morning, I am calmer today. My thoughts are a little less rapid – when it gets dark I often have thoughts on top of thoughts. I am seeing my counsellor today which is always a very encouraging and transforming experience. My walk this morning was much more relaxed and less emotionally intense.

So all I am going to do is share a verse from Matthew that has been running round my head:

… for God all things are possible.

Matthew 19:26

I often think of that verse when things get dark. And, for me, that is “hope”. No matter what, no matter how dark the world might seem, God has a way. In Jesus even death itself is no longer the end. And that helps me make one more step in the darkness. And then another, and another.

So today is another day in which all things are possible. Today is another day with Jesus!

all emotions in one day

Sometimes people say that Melbourne can have four seasons in one day. Today, for me, has been all emotions in one day. I have been anxious and very sad but now I feel balanced and ready to move ahead. The anxiety from this morning has worked itself out. I have leveled out this afternoon which has given me some time to think about anxiety and how it affects me.

My anxiety often stops me from acting which, in turn, creates more anxiety. I am often so paralyzed by my anxiety that I cannot even imagine a world outside. The most basic and simplest of things can become a problem.

Basically, I find it very hard to trust myself. I simply do not see myself the same way that other people say they see me. I am always anxious before anything – meeting people, telephone, driving, speaking. Even the people with whom I have a relatively normal relationship I freet and act weird. I am always worried that I will offend people by simply being me. And every time I reflect back on things after the event I know I can do all those things and the anxiety was rather misplaced. And often the reality is that the inside is nothing like the outside – I am not nearly as weird and awkward as I think I am.

So the lesson for me is to remember before I allow my anxiety to throw my mind into a spin. Or simply to trust me – I can do it and there are even a few things that I can do well.

unless you live sacrifice

Fr Pontifex has been on my playlist for some time. I am a huge hip-hop/rap fan and he is without a doubt my favourite Christian rap artists. And I always love his videos – they are really well made, directed, and scripted. (Yes, the imagery is very Catholic but that is the tradition that formed me and in which I feel most comfortable.) So I thought I would share this song from his 2011 album The Symphony and the Static.

Eloquent words, our King is so quotable
We print his verses everywhere it’s just so notable
If I remember correctly Jesus said “I am THE way”
He is not one among wise men and the words they say
And if you put his words on your lips, check the tag for the price
You can’t say that you know him unless you live sacrifice

Pontifex, Count the Cost

Jesus asks one thing of me, “Follow Me”. And, as the song says, that means living sacrifice.

Sometimes …

Today has not started well. I have had to take more medication to get a little balance this morning. My mind ran away from me on my walk and now I am all worked up inside. I had a cry before I said Morning Prayer. Morning Prayer (and the cry) helped. But facing a whole day is looking quite daunting at the moment. I have committed myself to a couple of things today so I will try to make them.

I feel pressure to have some idea about where my life is going. I have absolutely no clue. I cannot think about tomorrow so next month or next year is way beyond me at the moment. And people do not always understand when you tell them that my life goal is to survive. So I hide! And, to be honest, it is not much of a life when survival is all it is about.

But … sometimes life is simply a struggle to survive. Like walking it is learning to put one foot in front of the other and then the hard part – do it again. I am trying to do the things that I know will give me some balance – posting here gives me an outlet for my insides and also makes me accountable. I am trying to shut out the negative voices in my head and the ones from my past (which are very loud at the moment). I have not written about the personal side of my depression – the particulars – and I may never write about that side. Today is about surviving, getting to the end of the day, doing the things I have said I will do, and not falling apart. Because at the moment all I want to do is simply give up and float away into nothingness.

I will try to post later today.