Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Beauty of Orthodoxy: Creation from Nothing Lends Hope to Salvation from Nothing

From time to time I hope to post reflections pertaining to the relevance of Christian and Catholic doctrine for persons living in the 21st Century. These reflections will run under the theme "The Beauty of Orthodoxy." By "orthodoxy" I mean considerations of the categories that comprise the Christian or Catholic faith "system" that accurately reflects the tradition pertaining to these categories (ex: an "orthodox" consideration of Jesus as a person would include referring to the ancient belief that Jesus is fully human and fully divine). However, these reflections are meant not merely to "point back" to what the tradition has long held to be true, but are also meant to help us articulate our beliefs in a manner befitting contemporary questions and concerns.

Last April I celebrated the funeral of a dear friend's father. I remember vividly how my friend lamented her dad's passing and remarked to me how she was anguished by the thought of her dad's continued existence and "where" he was. I believe that the anguish my friend was feeling has to do, in part, with the threat that death poses of oblivion or nothingness. This is a fear deeply rooted in the human psyche and can be traced across time and cultures. There are actually philosophies which are founded upon the idea that everything ultimately comes to nothing (nihilism). What to do (or say) in the face of the threat that death poses?

One argument against death as oblivion is, of course, the Resurrection of Christ. However, this response begs the question "who raised Christ?" The New Testament answers that question definitively by stating that God raised Jesus on the third day (Acts 2:32). But what can serve as an explanation for "how" or even "why" God can raise someone from the dead? The easy answer is because "God is God" and, as such, is all powerful. This answer, however, still doesn't point to a more precise account for the "how" or "why" of God being able to save from death.

To provide a "way out" of this dilemma, we can refer to the ancient Christian doctrine of "creation from nothing" or creation ex nihilo. This Christian idea was established early in the Church's history as a way of explaining the conviction that God alone is eternal and that God creates freely and out of love. The idea may provide us with a compelling and relevant reason to explain why we believe God saves us from the nothingness that threatens us in death. Very simply put: if God can create from nothing than God must also be able to save from nothing. The 19th/20th Century process philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead, had a beautiful saying along similar, more poetic lines, "God is the tender concern that nothing be lost." In other words, the very love that freely breathes life is the self-same love that freely saves life. Pat, TOR

Saturday, September 25, 2010

An Appointed Time for Everything and an "In an Between Time" for Everything: Reading Between the Lines of Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

This past Friday (9/24) the first reading for Mass was the famous passage from Ecclesiastes 3:1-11: " There is an appointed time for everything....a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to uproot the plant. A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to tear down, and a time to build. A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather them; a time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away, a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak. A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace."

In general, the sense of the reading expresses the conviction of the author that there is a time for nearly every form of human experience conceivable and an appropriate "oscillation" from one experience to its opposite (i.e., a time to tear down, and a time to build). If we think of the experiences mentioned above as existing along a continuum, than what may also be implied in this famous reading is an "in between time." For example, between the time to tear down an old house and the time to build a new one would be the "in between time" of simply living in it.

If we reflect on this passage from Ecclesiastes in light of our own experience of time, we may very well find the majority of our time could be characterized as "in between time." In other words, the time spent being born or dying, planting or uprooting, killing or healing, tearing down or building, weeping or laughing, etcetera, etcetera, is likely fairly minimal when we think of how much time we spend "in between" these polar opposite, "peak" human experiences. This is important because it raises the issue of the point and purpose of "in between time" and how might we best spend it. Some insight or guidelines can be discerned from the Gospel for Mass from the same Friday (Luke 9:18-22). In these passages, Jesus and the disciples have just finished ministering and feeding the 5,000 and are on the verge of Jesus' Transfiguration (9:28-35).

During this "pause" or "in between time", Jesus spends his time in solitude, prayer, and in communion and conversation with his disciples. The time spent in solitude draws him into communion with God. The time spent in prayer anchors him in his determination to carry out God's will by devoting himself to the spreading of the Good News about God's Kingdom. The time spent in communion and conversation with the disciples serves as a confirmation of what his life has been about up to this point (Peter's acknowledgement that he is "the Christ" - 9:20) and also serves as an opportunity to clarify what his life is to be about (9:22 - "The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.")

The way in which Jesus spends his "in between time" in the above passages stresses the fact that there is indeed an appointed time for everything and a time between everything. This all important "in between time", which makes up the majority of our lives, is meant to be spent, in part, in communion with God, in prayer so as to discern God's will for our lives and world, and in communion and conversation with others so as to affirm the gift of who we are and who others are and also help us refine and focus these gifts for the glory of God and the life of the world.