Thursday, January 01, 2015

Is God Dead?

Is God Dead?
A meditation on the Feast Day of the Holy Name

It is New Year's Day, January 1, 2015, the Feast Day of the Holy Name.

In my own personal Pilgrimage I am celebrating a weight loss of almost 80lbs since June 16th of this year. That was the day I underwent gastric bypass surgery. I thank God and the folks at Massachusetts General Hospital for all the support they have given me in the days and months leading up to and from that date.

The significance of the weight loss encompasses much more than a journey toward better health. 

It is a journey in coming;
To see You and me more clearly,
To love You and me more dearly,
To follow You within me more nearly,
Day by Day. 

How dear to me are those who first taught me the prayer of St. Richard of Chichester; Fred & Beryl, Mark, Allison and Gillian. What a lovely and gracious family to grant me a place at their table so many years ago. It was in that home that we debated the matters of theology, philosophy and church polity. 

How much they loved me. 

It took a long time for me to understand or proclaim what I knew to be the Gospel and how it propelled me through the trauma of my father's death at Christmas when I was a boy 8 years of age.

In some ways, I believe that loss is at the root of my bi-polar illness. My father's death and the knowledge that there is room in the heart of God for him as there is for me as there is for everyone on the planet. That is at once a distressing and exhilarating experience for the human soul. 

It is for me a journey to the deepest part of my soul; those places that are at the deepest corners of my being. This is the journey that brings me closest to You. It is a journey that requires the utmost courage.

The courage of which I speak is the necessity for truth and honesty that You and I must face together, namely, that there is the possibility that it is only I who write these words and that You are simply not there; that there is nothing beyond me other than all other human beings.  We are indeed the measure of all things and we are free to lust after all the sex, money and power we can grab. And there is no internal or external accountability within our hearts or elsewhere for all that we do on this side of death. This is because I am all that is and there is no You. We are all that is. And there is no You. There is nothing inherently Sacred in life even within me so I am not just free do do as I wish, I can engage in utter licentiousness with impunity. 

And that is what leads me back to God. 

The courage it takes to face into the abyss of the Absurd requires the courage to Renounce it. After all it makes no sense for this whole experience to be Absurd with a capital "A". 

I rehearsed this choice on one unforgettable visit with a man named Peter more than forty years ago.  He is a brilliant man and, at the time, a leader of a chapter of Atheists at Oxford University. We spent a few evenings in conversation with one another. With his rapier wit, he asked me three difficult questions.
1. If there is a loving God, how do you account for all the suffering of the very people he supposedly cares so much about?
2. The warfare and the violence done in the name of God throughout history is utterly inhumane. We'd be better off without religion of any sort.
3. Science has a much better explanation of the world we live in than the superstitious account of "creation" that we have from the bible etc. Peter is a physicist, and a brilliant and gifted one.

I spent a restless night twisting and turning with questions touching on the very center of all that I held dear. But then the next night came and it was my turn to ask some questions and his turn to answer. I asked him these questions:
1. If there is no God, what do you propose to be the Meaning of life with a capital "M".
He said that logically, we must admit that life is Absurd with a capital "A".
I said that I renounce that with a capital "R". 
2. While it is true that "Religion" is responsible, and scandalously so, for so much violence in history, there is nothing that makes me think that a "Secular" world would be any more merciful. In fact, from what I see so far in this past 100 years or so, I am terrified by what Science can do, especially with its new capability of atomic power. And if we have no "inner compass" to guide us, no God to hold us accountable, what will there be to put a check to human bestial tendency. He said that we will have to have strong police forces and armies. I said; "Well, that accounts for British Imperialism and American hegemony." 
3. The Church has made some impressive contributions to Western Culture; Oxford & Cambridge among them, great art, architecture, music and some of the finest outlets for human creativity. What do we put in the place of that creative genius? Shall we bulldoze the great British Cathedrals since they are merely harboring dangerous human superstition? That one got a bit of a rise out of him

I am grateful for the night of terror I spent wrestling Jacob-like with God and Peter. And I wonder sometimes if he remembers those two evenings. Apparently he stands at the other end of life in bitterness and without a whimper of hope, according to a mutual friend, also a brilliant Oxford educated physicist and fellow Christian (Anglican/Episcopalian)  since this is all that there is and there is nothing more. 

Should I write to him a letter of thanksgiving? After all, it was he who introduced me to a rather stark prospect; namely, that You are NOT there.

I faced that terror long into the night as I wrestled with You until we both understood something of one another. 

I am in You.
You are in me. 

You are in all whom I meet, with or without the Holy Name we honor today. The Holy Name I honor is the Name of Jesus, the Child, the son of Mary, the only begotten of the Father, the Love of God made flesh and blood the one we meet in the Eucharist and the one who makes it so vividly clear who You are within my heart. And while I am certainly Christ centered, I am not Christ exclusive.

You are the Holy Name.
But are you the only Holy Name under heaven?
Is not Abraham Holy?
And a million more?
Is not every human being under heaven a Holy Name before God? And are we not each and everyone a God carrier in his/her own way? 
For every single Child of all the Holy Names above are Holy to God, are we not?

Again the question begs to be posed.

Suppose, for a moment that there is a God and that God were able to look into every human heart and, suppose this same God were to say; "How shall I bring obedience, love, mercy, wisdom, peace, and justice into the world? Suppose God were able to look at the world Google-like and the Universe as well; is it not possible that God would be free to send these Holy Names into the world God so dearly loves? 

This is obviously a rhetorical question. God is obviously free to do as God wishes. And God may also wish to bring Science and Atheism into the world since God may indeed become impatient with The Church, especially when it becomes a hinderance to the very Truth, Justice, Love and Mercy God intends for the planet.

And this is how I see You. I see You as reflected as an image within my own soul. 
As I am in You and as You are in me so You are in all, All in All. 

This is then my leap of faith, a leap that also requires a good deal of courage.

And this is how I choose to live in You. 
Seeing You more clearly,
Loving You more dearly,
Following You more nearly,
Day by day. 


Fr Paul

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