thinking theology

Archive for the ‘Immanence/transcendence’ Category

Perfect love

Let us begin our reflection today with a lesson in Greek. The word that we translate as perfect is, in Greek, teleios. More than flawless, the word means something completely executed from beginning to end, something fully realized. We do not have an English word that closely captures that concept.

When we speak of perfect love, we are speaking of a cosmic vision, that holds all of our history from beginning to end, in the loving, forgiving, empowering embrace of the Holy. In Jesus life, death and resurrection, we witness what happens when a human being lives entirely in the context of that love. We only briefly, hear of Jesus doubt or fear. Mostly, what his followers remembered was a person who lived boldly within his tradition, who was fearless in his criticism of oppression or injustice. Out of his own humility, Jesus learned to step outside the boundaries and limits of that tradition, to love others and be loved by them in return.

What does teleios love mean for us? Usually we think it’s a standard for us, something to be achieved, and we feel as though we never quite get there. I think this love, however, is what has already been achieved, or perhaps more accurately, what is the key to the design of creation. There is nothing for us to do except to allow ourselves to experience this love in our hearts and minds. When we stop resisting, we find freedom from the judgement and bondage in our heads.

Love is not a feeling so much as the relationship amongst all the participants in creation. It is not sentimental so much as tensile, resilient, alive. I sometimes think of love as a dance in which everyone is a partner. There are no formal steps to the music but everyone seems to figure out how to blend into the rhythm. Those who cannot hear feel the music through other bodies. Those who cannot see find themselves held in the dance by others. And those who have trouble with mobility find themselves swept up by the movement of the group. The dance only requires a willingness, not a skill. And the dance is the dance of life, the green shoots in the spring, the swirl of autumn leaves, the warmth of summer sun, and the crisp bite of winter. Love binds all of creation together. We are never alone. When we understand that this is reality, we can adjust our awareness, attune our souls, or we can pull away, but even the resistance becomes absorbed into what is.

To trust in this cosmic love that was the way of life for Jesus, his truth, will set us free to be lovers too, to delight in life, to be artists of restoration and healing. We will be hospitable, not out of duty, but from a deep urgency in sharing blessings. It is shalom in Hebrew, being at home with Holy around us and within.

Of course perfect love reduces fear and judgement, which are human constructs and insecurities. Living as the people of the Resurrection we know that there is only life and ultimately love. That is the beginning, the journey and the ending. That is God. Ursula Leguin wrote

by Ursula K. Le Guin
Time says “Let there be”
every moment and instantly
there is space and the radiance
of each bright galaxy.
And eyes beholding radiance.
And the gnats’ flickering dance.
And the seas’ expanse.
And death, and chance.
Time makes room
for going and coming home
and in time’s womb
begins all ending.
Time is being and being
time, it is all one thing,
the shining, the seeing,
the dark abounding.

Caesar’s Face

With thanks to D. Mark Davis for his comments and translation.

In Matthew 22:15-22, we hear about the trap forming around Jesus. In this case, the temple and the Roman sympathizers form an unlikely and probably uncomfortable alliance. They ask Jesus if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. There is no safe answer to this question. The temple, of course, also collected funds. The coins in either case were different. Temple coin could not be engraved with a human face or God’s face. Roman coins were engraved with the face of the emperor.

If Jesus said the coin should go to the Temple, it would be blasphemy, and also treason, a double whammy as they say. He turns the question back to them. He says, “Whose face is engraved here?” Then, it is logical that the coin belongs to the state. But God has presence over all, so the power of this coin is minimized by being part of a greater reality. It is a clever response, but also one to cause the listener to think. To whom do I owe my life? To whom do I owe my loyalty? To whom do I offer my service? Whose gifts do I appreciate and why?

Suddenly, we are confronted with some troubling thoughts. We in Canada, may not be living in occupied territory politically, but we might ask ourselves who owns our water? our natural resources? our fields and farms? our dairy and forests? How much control do we have over our daily lives?

Jesus was very political in his time and we must be too. It is not enough to hand over our coin to the state and then turn a blind eye to how it used, for good or ill. Politicians receive hate mail all the time. I wonder if they receive equal amounts of encouragement for their service in ecology, in justice, in compassionate legislation. We live in fractious times, but it is not all bad. I am proud of Quebecois who are wearing face coverings to protest the new law prohibiting such dress. Apparently even some bus drivers are protesting. This is an example of peaceful, but strong resistance to racism and martial law. I am happy to see Lloyd Longfield (MP) writing in social media about what he is thinking. Agree or not, it is an effort at transparency.

The best society is the one which understands sharing of resources , sharing personal as well as corporate responsibility. Jesus addresses not only social victims but also power brokers, demanding justice and consideration for all. The coin may belong to Caesar, but Caesar is accountable to God. In Hebrew scripture, in many passages, we hear the prophets warning rulers that security in leadership requires integrity. When integrity fails, so will the state ultimately. The lesson is that natural law will prevail because God shelters all.

The question for us in the passage is how do we use the coin that is stamped with our Caesar’s names? How do we decide whose agenda dominated our decisions? How do we weigh the easy prize against the long term care for the earth, and its people? Sheri Tepper, the novelist, commented that justice must be weighted on a case by case basis. God sees the sparrow, sees the tree, sees the whale, sees us. God sees the particular as well as the whole. Where do we place ourselves as church, as city, as family in that mirror; what do we see?

If asked the same question as Jesus was, how do we say with integrity how we support our society, our church, our family? Is it even a question we ask ourselves or have we forgotten to whom we belong, whose service liberates us?

The Water, the Earth, the Air.

The Water, the Earth, the Air

I chant this hymn to the Trinity of life and hope. In these three, we discover each other, ourselves, and find God. In Marc Gellman’s story, “Water All Around” in Does God Have a Big Toe? it is not the noble animals, lion, eagle, or elephant who discover God, but the fish who are wise. They guess that God is their environment, is everywhere, and then somewhere else too.

From the beginning, the Spirit brooded over the shape of God, the primordial deep well of being. Water and air, similarly composed and yet each held in symmetry so that there can be life. In the deeps, we feel the power and presence of that which is more than we can iterate, more than we can define, deeper than we can explain. The deep is both beyond us and all around us. Indeed the oceans that tirelessly ebb and flow against the edges of the shore beat that same rhythm in our veins, sustaining and making life possible. About the only time, we notice the ocean beating within and around us is when it stutters inside us or rages at the edges of our buildings and constructs.

The air we breathe, the winds that smash against our pride, our Babel towers, the breath of God that enlivens and quickens these bodies, works in concert with water to keep us alive. And the air that rushes through our lungs has rushed through so many others, has tickled the trees of other civilizations, other cultures. The wind in our hair is a lesson in the history of all living beings if we stop to listen to its song spinning around us.

We forget about the earth on which we walk, the place where Moses experienced God in an improbable bush. The earth, where Jesus walked and saw the holiness expressed in the plants and animals he saw, who showed his disciples how to discover the Beloved in the faces of others, who confronted them with the truth of their own being, who taught that dusty graves are for leaving, not being trapped in. In Jesus we are invited to walk the earth with love and purpose.

The Water, the Earth, the Air.

The fish are wise. God is not to be found only by our minds but in our ecstatic gratitude for life, in our devotion to this planet, in reverence and awe for all that lives. If God is everywhere, then everywhere is the place and the occasion for worship. All water is baptismal water calling to remind us that we have received a very particular gift. We have eaten from the tree and now we know ourselves as separate. If we want union with the Holy, we must find ways to cross the bridge to reconnect, to remember the Holy in our own bodies, to see the Holy around us and to be the lovers and healers that Jesus called into ministry with him. Like the woman at the well, we are discovering the water of life, existing naturally within and around; spiritually calling us into a wider perception of reality and consciousness.

Albert Einstein said, “We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. The delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection to a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. “

One Package, Infinite Possibility John 14:15-21


In this gospel passage, we read of Jesus gently chiding his disciples who want to see God. He tells them that when they know him, when they understand what he is about, then they will see the Divine. This clearly is not very satisfying for the disciples at all. In the Gospel of Thomas also, Jesus has these interchanges with them.

Jesus saw infants being suckled. He said to his disciples: “These little ones being suckled are like those who enter the kingdom.”
They said to him: “Then will we enter the kingdom as little ones?”
Jesus said to them: “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside and the above like the below; that is, to make the male and the female into a single one, so that the male will not be male and the female will not be female — then you will enter the kingdom.”

It would seem that the non-canonical gospels are even more obtuse, but wait. What is going on here? Jesus seems to be teaching that it is when we separate things with our mind and our literalistic sense, that we are confused. It is when we are able to perceive interconnectedness, we learn that all things are one; and in that experience, all things make sense and are coherent. That experience of oneness is the experience of the Divine. Perhaps it is even how the Divine experiences reality, so when we open ourselves to this, we taste eternal life.

Jesus says elsewhere that there is no marrying in heaven. Is that because heaven is existence that is aware but not separated by perceptual boundaries? Animals often show this integrated awareness. I’m sure you have been alarmed by an animal companion staring intently at something invisible to you.
Most of you have experienced the stunning beauty of nature that makes you forget yourself totally as you stand in awe. I also often experience it as someone dies and their spirit pulls everyone together in one last moment of shared grief. In that moment, the sense of connection binds that pain in and of the moment. These moments of love, beauty or suffering are gifts that break through our normal isolation and aloneness.

It is easy in our busy, working time to forget these sacred moments, but Jesus cautions that we find God as we lose ourselves in love, in his great compassion, in acts of solidarity, in appreciation of life.

Linda Hogan writes in “The Great Without” : The world inside the mind is lovely sometimes, and large.Its existence is why a person can recall the mist of morning clouds on a hill . . . . or the black skies of night that the Luiseno call their spirit, acknowledging that the soul of the world is great within the human soul. . . (But) the inward may have been all along the wrong direction to seek. A person seems so little and small, and without is the river, the mountain, the forest of fern and tree, the desert with its lizards, the glacial meltings and freezings and movements of life. The cure for soul loss is in the mist of morning, the grass that grew a little through the night, the first warmth of sunlight, the waking human in a world infused with intelligence and spirit.

God’s Spirit is calling us to relinquish our small dreams, our ragged and unhelpful boundaries and open ourselves to freedom that is another way to experience the compassion of being all in the One as the One abides within us all. Jesus shows us how being connected in body to the earth and in spirit to the divine, integrates a human, brings worlds to gather, makes us human. Being the nexus of immanence and transcendence is both the human task and our destiny.