I Believe …. A reflection of the first article of the Creed.

Prologue

At the beginning, that which had always existed, moved. Energy was transformed. Creation had begun. For an instant, there was light – then matter sundered and the myriad of tiny lights began to dim. Creation was taking place.

Later – much later – the seed that was there before the beginning, took root.

Humankind was born. But the light could no longer be clearly seen.

Later – much later – one solitary human saw the light that had been there at the beginning. In seeing that light, He became light. But the light blinded and confused, because creation had never before seen such a light.

Later, basking in the memory of that light, others caught a glimpse, and themselves became light. As time passed, the light spread, and towards the end of creation, there was nowhere in which light was not. Creation was complete – and there was light.

I believe in one God ……

Before creation – before time itself began – before the beginning – there exists a perfect oneness – a perfect love – a fragrance – the source of all being.

The Father – the almighty …..

The unity – the totality – the perfect outpouring of love – and what is there to be loved? Where is the lover to be caught up in this majestic, serene outpouring? “Where is my beloved?”

Maker of all that is ….

Out of unity a voice as yet unheard. Out of perfection, that which is as yet incomplete. Creation begins – seed is planted. It is the beginning.

Seen and unseen …..

Seeing, and yet not seeing. Creation waits. Where is the creator? What is life? What has meaning? Are we chaos and darkness yet? Where is the light? And yet, deep down – far away – unseen, and yet all around, is something – someone. We become aware. We become aware, and are filled with desire for that which we once were.

Parent God – Mother Father God: unity, for a time dispersed. The child grows, and leaves its parent. The child is independent. Then, drawn by love, the child turns back. The child, now full grown, now adult, seeks love, and becomes in every way like the parent. Only the relationship has changed: no longer is the offspring a child. The parent becomes known as the friend. Love becomes fulfilled. The parent and the offspring are one once more. Has the child become the parent? Has the parent become the child? The question has no meaning. They are one. We are one. Consummatus est. Creation is complete.

Footnote – a reflection on the above ….

Although the above is the result of my own pondering, meditation and prayer, it holds a great deal of value for me. It is in harmony (broadly) with a number of post-modern theologians (see especially Ninian Smart and Catherina Halkes). In addition, it is at odds neither with science, nor with the creation myths – Christian and non-Christian alike. Equally, its movement of “Paradise Lost” – the fall story, to the instant of creation, rather than into the world of humanity, nicely parallels the now accepted psychodynamic concept of “Primal Bliss” as an intra-uterine experience of human bliss – human perfection – the memory of which we all share, both on an individual and on a human racial scale (see Lake, also Janov).

Perhaps more importantly than this, is the concept of a creator-God who is both transcendent and immanent. The matter out of which creation is formed, is both from God and of God, and the Spirit is both with, and in the matter, and is the Imago-Dei which is “becoming” in humankind. Creation takes place as God, of her own volition allows a part of herself to become the material of creation. Here, I see God in the feminine (in other circumstances, it might be easier to see God as the masculine). I see God as akin to the mother, in whom is produced the material of which the child is made, and out of whom the child (the whole cosmos) is given birth. The child then separates from the mother. To strike a parallel between God’s creative act, and male ejaculation, as has frequently been conjectured in the past seems to me to be a travesty of creation as I perceive it.

I feel that in recent years, theology has tended to dwell on the notion of “God Immanent”, to the possible exclusion of “God Transcendent” – and I feel that the overwhelming human need for a transcendent God is itself proof enough of the existence of one! Coupled with this is the idea of our growing into oneness with the creator – and this concept has parallels in many theologies, Christian and non-Christian alike. In addition, the reflection hints at a liberal, inclusivist (and possibly adoptionist) Christology – without being too specific. Personally, I feel comfortable with that picture at this moment.

“I Confess ….” A reflection on confession to God.

“Test me O Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me ….”

I stand before my creator in prayer. I become aware of the all-pervading fragrance of divine love. My heart fills with praise, and for a brief instant I am exalted; I stand with God. From there, I turn around, and look at my humanness. With infinite compassion, I become aware of my hurt and my pain. I become aware of all that is empty in my heart. I become aware of my relationships with my fellows – and I begin to see those around me in a different way. I have poured out my own hurt – my pain – and I have hurt them. They too, have thrown their pain at me – pain that has torn me like a burning arrow. Pain that has been unjust, unfair. Pain that has made me scream. Pain that has broken my relationships; pain that has broken my heart. Pain that has made those around me less than the beautiful creatures that they are made to be.

Is it: “Not that we have done wrong, but that we have been wronged”?

And as I see myself and my friends from the viewpoint of such love; as my heart is filled with compassion, I forgive myself, and I allow the love to fill the emptiness that was my soul in torment. Thus forgiven, not only by the creator, who is eager and ready to forgive, but by that harshest and most cruel of judiciaries – my own self; thus forgiven, I see my fellows as hurting souls. I see their torment. “God forgive them”, I cry – because their pain has become my pain. “God forgive them – for surely, they know not what they are doing, such is their pain that blinds them to all love”.

Some further thoughts ….

As I write, this very morning my mentally sick friend poured out his heart to me. He wanted to “go high” – to become manic. When he is hypermanic, he believes he is Jesus. “I can’t spend the rest of my life being an insignificant little nobody. I am nothing. When I am high, I feel I really am somebody – I feel important”. Together with another friend, I tried hard, but in vain, to convince him that his self-image is nothing more than a phantasy. Our friend would have none of this. This poor man, this dejected, hurt soul has himself, hurt many others with his pain. And the church – the church which ought to care, and to love, has done everything in its power to reinforce his dejection. Small wonder then, that I am so deeply critical of the church’s attitude towards sin, and confession.

The meditation above is a personal one, and the experience of God’s mercy and loving kindness is, for me, a very real one. If only we were able to emphasise the forgiveness and the love ….

I am filled with anguish at the plight of my friend John. I am reminded of the heart rending vision of sin given to Mother Julian of Norwich – the vision of the Master and his servant.

She sees the Lord look at his servant “with rare love and tenderness, and quietly send him to a certain place to fulfil his purpose. Not only does the servant go, but he starts off at once, running with all speed, in his love, to do what his master wanted. And without warning, he falls into a deep ditch, and injures himself very badly. And though he groans and moans and cries and struggles he is quite unable to get up or help himself in any way. To crown all, he could get no relief of any sort: he could not even turn his head to look at the Lord who loved him, and who was so close to him. The sight of him would have been of real comfort, but he was temporarily so weak and bemused that he gave vent to his feelings as he suffered his pains.”

Some thoughts on Moltmann ……..

Moltmann says: “So in the suffering history of the world of nature and human beings, we have to discern the inexpressible sighings of the indwelling spirit and the suffering presence of God”.

Personally, I find no grounds whatsoever for disagreeing with what Moltmann says.

Suffering, most theologians tell us, is the result of sin. Asked what is the cause of that sin, most theologians would disagree with one another. But the origin of sin does seem, paradoxically, to be centred around that very aspect of our humanness that is the most divine – our “imago dei”. Made in the image and likeness of God, we are prone to seek out for ourselves godly attributes (or what we might perceive as being godly attributes) – power, and power symbols such as status, recognition and materialistic possessions figure high. Perhaps the origin of sin can be traced back to this very human (very divine?) quest. This “seeking” can be for evil, or for good, depending on whether its ultimate goal is individuation, or union (and here I am thinking of union with God transcendent). The goal of union is directly opposed to the goal of the world – which is directed towards individuation – individual achievement at the expense of the rest of creation. `Self-Actualisation’ is a trendy description of this process of power struggle – a process that is in total opposition to the process of detachment that is a part of the spiritual path in all major faiths.

It is as though we see a contrast; a contrast in which humankind is playing God on the one hand, and becoming God on the other. Can we make any sense of this: is it, as theologians and mystics alike assure us, a necessary part of creation? Certainly, if we understand God’s Kingdom as a perfect state of unity, then humankind in God’s kingdom will have intimate experience both of sin, and of the pain caused by that sin; the loneliness, the dejection, the devaluing of the divine. Playing God devalues that which is divine. Becoming God increases and ripens it beyond our wildest imagination. Perhaps humankind has to experience both sides of this question in order to become perfected. Creation is about a “becoming”. (see William Rusch – quoting Augustine – “Jesus became man, in order that we might become God.”).

And God; is God – our transcendent God – involved in this process of “becoming” in which we have our being?

Let me quote Ninian Smart:

“You could conjure up in your mind the swirls of atoms, the patterns of molecules, the growth of cells, the thunder of stars: and eventually you would see living creatures, and feel their consciousness, and in due course there would emerge humans, the creatures you would have endowed with your own consciousness, capacity for feeling and imagination. They would be in your image. It would be a wonderful ebullience to make such a cosmos. But could you bring yourself to make it when you knew that rats would bleed to death in sewers, and birds fall suffering into the undergrowth, and women drown in seas, and men burn in fires? Could you create a world in which, inevitably, there would be suffering? Would it be enough that joys would outweigh pains, and happiness distress? It would be a partly callous thing would it not, for a blissful God to bring into being swarms of suffering creatures?

But the Christian God is not a blissful God, or rather, she is not a wholly blissful God …… “

And the chapter goes on to say that it is inconceivable, impossible even, that a God could not allow such a creation – unless that God is prepared to suffer – to be part of – to take part – in that suffering creation, until it is wholly complete, and pain is no more.

If as Christians, we accept Jesus as true God, then can we in all honesty place God above suffering – can we place God above and outside of any intimate relationship with us, God’s creation? And where does a view of God, a theology which places God at such an unimaginable distance, place Humankind? The great prayer of Jesus is “That all may be one, just as I and the Father are one”. Jesus, quoting the Psalmist, said, “You are Gods, all of you, and sons of the most high”. The evidence here, and in many other places is plain: God created humanity to be at one with him – and therefore to try to distance God from us can be no more than a vain attempt to hide from our creator and from our future. Our suffering, our pain is God’s suffering, God’s pain, for it is no less than the groans, the crying out, of a creation yet to be finished. Our pain, God’s pain, is the pain of birthing, and the pain of being. It is our pain and God’s pain as we become that which is to be. Birth pangs? More than that – far greater pangs than we can imagine, because creation leads to something that is totally beyond our present experience, or even our wildest imaginations.

Perhaps it is fitting to let Jurgen Moltmann have the last word in support of my own perception of our intimate relationship with the God who suffers just as we suffer, for a time, “in this vale of tears”. Perhaps it would be more truthful to assert that we suffer, just as God has suffered, and will continue to suffer (for a time) until creation is all complete:

“A God who cannot suffer is poorer than any human. For a God who is incapable of suffering is a being who cannot be involved. Suffering and injustice do not affect him. And because he is so completely insensitive, he cannot be affected or shaken by anything. He cannot weep, for he has no tears. But the one who cannot suffer cannot love either. So he is also a loveless being.”

Perhaps a part of the process of suffering is a “becoming” also, for God. God, becoming more human, as man becomes more divine?

“The Kingdom of Heaven is Like …… “

A question from a little child.

I imagined myself being asked this question – and immediately I thought of the most original, arguably one of the most outstanding theologians that the twentieth century has produced. I thought of Anna – the Anna of “Mister God this is Anna” by Fynn. I imagined that it was Anna that was asking me the question. And I could do no more than wait patiently for her to give me the answer. After all, she was able to tell me from present experience – and with age, my memory grows seemingly more and more dull.

I think of Anna, as she realises that God is “In her middle”, and that “God is in Fynn’s middle too”. She makes the leap to realising that God is in the middle of everyone, every creature and everything that God has created. Having taken that mind-stretching leap, Anna has not finished. One day, she says to Fynn – `Where are you?’, `Here, of course’, Fynn replied. `Where’s me then?’ `There!’ `Where do you know about me?’ `Inside myself someplace.’ `Then you know my middle in your middle.’ `Yes, I suppose so.’ And Anna goes on to say `Then you know Mister God in my middle in your middle, and every person you know, you know in your middle. Every person and everything that you know has got Mister God in their middle, and so you have got their Mister God in your middle too – it’s easy.’

Is this, I wondered, a description of God’s Kingdom? If it is, then God’s Kingdom is the most wonderful state of `being in relatedness’ that we could imagine – and there’s more!

And I wonder how I can even begin to say anything about the Kingdom of God to a child like Anna – it’s almost as though if I share my picture, I’ll ruin hers.

`Do you know what it’s like to be loved – really loved?’ I say, wondering to what extent she’s ever really known love. `Yes’, she tells me. `Well’, I continue, `God’s kingdom is even better than all the love you can ever imagine. And there’s more – do you know what it’s like to be really accepted – accepted without ever having to earn it? Well, God’s kingdom is even better, because you’ll be accepted by God and by everybody – they just want you to be there, and you know they want you so much that they’re more pleased to see you than anyone has ever been before.’

As I continue in my imagination, I seem to hear a chuckle. `I know that, silly, but there’s a lot more you haven’t told me. People are happy – really happy – not just putting it on, but happy deep down inside. And God’s happy too, because we’re happy, and we’re happy because God’s happy.’ I pause. Why did she ask me in the first place? A tear comes into my eye, because I know the answer. She just wanted to see if I still remembered what God’s Kingdom is like. I must think myself into it more often – it’s obvious that she’s never left it!

Anna is aware of bliss. Anna is aware of rapture. And here I am coming close to forgetting the rapture, the bliss and the glory that is God’s and our Kingdom. Then, in my imagination, perhaps thinking of Matt 18:2, it seems as though Jesus takes Anna and shows her to me – `Unless you experience things in the way that she does, you’re going to find the Kingdom a bit of a problem’. `Sorry, Jesus’, I find myself saying, `I’ve still got a lot to unlearn, haven’t I?’.

Non ex nihilo, sed ex Deo ….. A creation metaphor?

Catherina Halkes says: “God did not create from nothing, nor did she give birth, but acted in love and creativity with what was available to her. Just as God gave the people the duty to watch carefully over the garden of life, to work in it and guard it, `he’ himself did this for the whole universe”.

In the beginning, all was without form, and void – an empty God? A God without purpose? A God who is love, and who needed to love. And who better than we, to understand this agony, this anguish, our own agony, our own – God’s own – agony and anguish as we long to create – to bring into being – and to love. In the beginning, I am. In the beginning, I am alone – I am lonely, I am in pain.

I think once more of my favourite theologian: Anna, in “Mr. God this is Anna”. `Mr. God don’t know he is good and kind and loving. Mr. God is – is – empty’, she tells Fynn, as she makes the incredible discovery. Later, she explains that she has come to this amazing paradoxical conclusion because Mr. God was not empty in the sense that there isn’t anything there, but `empty because he accepted everything, because he wanted everything’.

God is love. Anyone who lives in love lives in God. And there is no one to live – no one to love – no one to be loved. An empty God – a God who has needs? A God who needs us just as much, and in the same way, that we need God? For me personally, this view, this paradigm, that is a God with needs, is the only way I can see creation justified. If God has no need of us then we are mere toys, objects to be pitied. I am less than human, a manikin, a plaything. And I don’t feel like Pinocchio. If that were the case, how could the splendour of humankind that Psalm 8 shows us, be possible? And conversely, for us to be able to say that `We are Gods, all of us, and sons of the most high’ (Psalm 82), we must be created not only in the image of God, but intended to be God’s friends rather than mere toys.

The Idea, the Plan, the Form of creation was there already – for it was the shape of God. And what else was there, when God alone was there? Out of God there flowed Matter – at first without shape; at first empty. Then the matter took shape – and became like God. Matter became the very image of God. Matter from God became Humankind. In God’s own image, we were created – out of God’s own being. And we were not alone; and God was not alone. But the memory of the pain of aloneness was there – because it was a part of God. The need, the agony, the anguish that moved God to create was, and is, a part of our own being, made in the Image of God as we are. In our anguish, we were not able to be the companion. We needed to separate, to move away, in order to learn to love and to be loved – in order to learn how to create.

I am suggesting that it is in the very act of creation itself that we need to look to find the source of the pain that we have called `sin’. Was the original sin disobedience, or was it obedience – obedience to that divine spark that filled us with desire to `be as Gods’ (Gen 3:5)? The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11) suggests that it was this very separation, this very experience of the pain of aloneness that was God’s before it became ours, that allowed the blissful acceptance to take place later. A time of joyful reunion in which we learn to enjoy relationship with our very hearts’ desire. A reunion, not of creatures with an overlord, but of friends who have yearned and yearned to be together.

And it is for this blissful re-union that “the whole of creation waits with eager longing, and groans in travail”.

© The Revd Barry Drake MA – Theology – God and the World – May/June 1995

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Fynn – “Mister God this is Anna” – Collins, 1974, Fount 1977, 1980

Halkes, Catherina J. M. – “New Creation” – SPCK 1989 In her vision – “the world was a dance; God and ourselves dancing together”. Relationships.

Hick, John – “Evil and the Love of God” – Macmillan – 1966

Hodgson, Peter C. – “Winds of the Spirit” – SCM 1994 Hodgson, Peter C. with Robert H. King – “Christian Theology” – Fortress

Janov, Arthur – “The Primal Scream” – 1973 – Abacus

McGrath, Alister – Christian Theology – 1994 – Blackwell

Moltmann, Jürgen – “Theology of Hope” – SCM – 1967

Moltmann, Jürgen – “The Crucified God” – 1974 – quoted in McGrath

Lake, Frank – “Clinical Theology” – 1966 – DLT

Rahner, Karl – “Theological Investigations” – DLT

Rusch, William – “The Trinitarian Controversy”

Smart, Ninian, with Steven Konstantine – “Christian Systematic Theology in a World Context” – Marshall Pickering – 1991

Writings

The Revd Barry Drake MA is a very active retired minister of the United Reformed Church.


Contents


Watch this space!

Please – don’t skip this article because you don’t know anything about advertising. You know a great deal about it. You’ve watched hours and hours of it on the T.V. You’ve read pages of it in newspapers and magazines, and you’ve seen hundreds of notices and posters – and you know exactly how you react to it! You are an expert. Now please read on.

Just imagine for a moment that you are asked to prepare an advertising campaign. The product is genuine – you’ve tried it – you know it is really wonderful. You also know that it is something that every person in the world really needs. You have met people who say they don’t need it – but you are well aware of the wonderful things it has done for you, and for others that you know who have tried it. And it is affordable by all.

Now to the problem areas that our campaign will need to address.

There is only one manufacturer. Over the years, a number of packagers have come into being. Each one claims that their product is the only one that can be used with any effect. Each one mixes in their own additives, and sells the product through a number of dedicated outlets. In this country especially, some of the outlets try to make the claim that the product sold by their particular outlet is the only pure form. This is especially true of those who are known to mix further additives in with the product. Some of these additives are so overpowering that it is difficult to use the end product, and it has been suggested that some of the more harmful additives render the end product useless. In recent years, the product is being imported from the Far East and from the continent of India. Some of the UK marketing agents tried to call for a total ban on the Asian imports, and they, together with the UK branches of a certain European agent have suggested that the Asian varieties do not work. Experience suggests otherwise, but the Asian agents have not translated the labels or the instructions. This makes their version of the product unsuited to people who were educated in the UK.

It is the negative effect of all of this that has brought the entire product into disrepute, and caused many people to try and manage without using the product at all.

It is possible to source the product straight from the original maker. As you might expect, this is frowned upon by all of the regular packagers, and their various outlets – but it seems possible that the unadulterated product, without its packaging and additives may be better than any of the popular versions.

The only manufacturer is God – and the product, in its unadulterated form, is also God. If you have got any ideas at all for resolving the above problems in our current campaign, please tell us so that we may get this campaign under way as all our attempts so far have been vetoed by one or more of the packagers.

Barry Drake.

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Copyright – Barry Drake MA 2000 – 2015
Last revised: April 2016

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