I signed up for the second stage of formation in an incarnational modern day monastery today. My wife and I commit to three strands. Each of which I fully respect and yet have many questions for these three strands as I journey into this stage of “living it.” I reflect here in these posts on the three strands.
The”liminal” has subsided as things here settle in: there are less new things to say hello to this year and far fewer things to say goodbye to. This provides room for some deeper reflection as I continue to journey with faith. The routines that go with a more settled existence have changed things more permanently (babies have such an effect). The setting is idyllic, nestled in the hills of Middle Earth where the sky seems to touch the earth creating a number of “thin spaces” throughout the property. The Divine has evidently descended over time here in which I live, or perhaps it is the converse in that we are made the more aware as we stop and take stock.
1. The first strand: Jesus Centre
- Having missed the 2015 Nepal earthquake by 3 days, my faith began to unravel in response. This came at a time where I began to question my world with a critical understanding (thanks Dave Andrews, 2013; Charles Ringma who helped us through a book study in our home of Steven Bouma-Prediger & Brian Walsh, 2008 ; postgraduate study of Michel Foucault, 1975; Elizabeth Johnson, 2011; and Dale Martin, 2009), I was left with a choice. Either I abandon this notion of God completely or wrestle with the issues that arose.
- Having left Nepal 3 days prior to the 2015 earthquake we found ourselves walking across Spain on the Camino de Santiago, providing some time to think and reflect on questions of faith. The question of where God is in the issue of suffering hit me full in the face following the quake. In short, my framework of faith broke down. The question boiled down in essence as many have explored previously of how to fit a God of love with the suffering in the world. The Nepal earthquake got me thinking. Many thousands of some of the most beautiful people in the world had just been killed, made homeless. Where the hell is God in such a scenario?
- My nice and neat, easy to navigate with all of the answers in a three point, easy to construct framework faith was inadequate. This “easy to construct faith,” was just as easy to “deconstruct” when facing such questions of suffering. The Nepal (or Gorkha) earthquake was just one such suffering of which I was aware and yet this one particularly impacted on my world for some reason. Dale Martin’s (2009) take on the New Testament certainly provided ample room for such a deconstruction.
- There were many other factors occurring at this time also with this faith journey. It was not only the critical questions taking place, my community of friends and networks too began to change simultaneously. This provided a “greenhouse” of opportunity to examine my faith journey.
- A new framework was therefore required to investigate and engage with this God if I was to continue on the faith journey. Into the fray came Elizabeth Johnson, who I’d listened to on a Home Brewed podcast talking about her book “Quest for the Living God.” A self described feminist, Johnson questioned the white, male, patriarchal idea of “God.” Helpfully, she explained that when it comes to the Divine, our understanding can be only likened in analogies. These projections of the white, male were certainly dominant in times past but this was changing rapidly as new theologies emerged in response to historical events and social conditions.
- The process of likening the Divine begins with creating analogies to something earthly, but crucially this then needs to be deconstructed if we are to reference backwards towards the divine. For instance, the Psalmist describes God as a “rock,” and yet this can’t be taken literally. As Augustine surmises: “if you have described God, it is not God.”
- The closest we get to the Divine is love, quite like Otto Rudolf’s idea of mystery who moves ever closer to humanity and yet remains utterly other. The divine has been fully expressed in Creation and I wanted to continue to believe, the historic person of Jesus Christ. Yet, this is all under fire, and the book itself raises questions. How to resolve such an impasse?
- What moreover, of suffering? Johnson spends a chapter outlining the work of three German theologians who struggled with the same questions following World War 2 and the horrendous aftermath of the holocaust. This went part way in answering the question although left much to be explored.
- Moltmann examines the idea of the “crucified God”
- Soelle talked about the “silent cry of life” while
- Metz went even further to discuss the use of the Psalms in remembering and lamenting. Metz talked further about the compassionate promise to whom one laments.
- I murder their complex and thorough thinking on the issue, although it seems satisfactory for now. What needs to occur, however, is further exploration in this community I am living.
- It has left things utterly open and in transition, with plenty of room to question and deconstruct Von Hugel’s “child-like institutional” phase of my faith. The “adolescent critical” phase has certainly come about where these questions have arisen. Much deconstruction has occurred but something needs to replace this understanding if faith is indeed to continue into the third phase. Von Hugel also uses the idea of mystery of faith this third “adult” phase to explain the way forward.
- The time has certainly come to face these realities and attempt some way of bringing about an understanding of this divine mystery as I explore the wisdom of the ages.