Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Experience of God.

The Thought For The Week in The Friend of 6th February is titled 'The Idea Of God'. Here is the Quaker philosopher, John Macmurray, on the subject of 'Belief In God', from “Creative Society, A Study of The Relation of Christianity to Communism”, 1935, pp 16-29:

“Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the Kingdom.”

“[T]here is a sharp distinction between believing in God and believing in the idea of God. .. One cannot believe in God and at the same time believe that any idea men(sic) have framed … can be adequate to express the nature of that in which we believe. .. If I can insist that my idea of God must be maintained, how can I have the humility to recognize the existence of a Being in the light of whose infinite understanding all my knowledge must be the ignorant fantasy of a child?

“Belief in God is not an intellectual matter. .. [T]he bare statement that God exists has no meaning by itself. We cannot point to God, as we could to any finite object, and say 'that exists.' We can only assert the existence of something corresponding to our conception.

“Intellectual atheism … is equally meaningless until we know what is the conception of God which is denied. Atheism may have a relative truth. It may be a way of rejecting a conception of God which is false. .. An honest and courageous atheist is surely more pleasing to God than a dishonest and cowardly theist.

“Belief in God is properly an attitude to life which expresses itself in our ways of behaving. .. Perhaps the fundamental component of a belief in God is the expression in action of an attitude of faith or trust. .. It involves the recognition that the control and the determination of all that happens in the world lies in a power that is irresistible and yet friendly .. it is the capacity to live as it this were so. .. The opposite attitude, which is the core of real atheism, expresses itself in that individualism which makes a man feel alone and isolated in a world against which he must defend himself. .. This is to disbelieve in God. For belief in God, whatever else it might involve, at least includes the capacity to live as part of the whole of things in a world which is unified.

“Marx said [paraphrased] 'Let us turn from ideas to reality, let us look not at people's theories but at their actions. It is by seeing how societies and their institutions work in practice and not by accepting their own ideal accounts of what they are after that we shall understand their real faith.'

“Now that core of belief in God which is present in a large measure in Communism, and which is difficult to discover in organised Christianity as we know it now, is the only possible basis for a belief in God which is not a mere idea. .. There [is] nothing paradoxical [here] – It would be no more than a commentary upon the saying of Jesus to the religious leaders of his day, 'Verily I say unto you that the publicans and the harlots go into the Kingdom of God before you.'”

Friends: let go of your ideas and your disputes about the idea of God, "these different and strongly held opinions" as the author of 'The Idea of God' puts it, and look instead to the light within:

“But as I had forsaken the priests, so I left the separate preachers also, and those esteemed the most experienced people; for I saw there was none among them all that could speak to my condition. .. Thus when God doth work, who shall let [hinder] it? and this I knew experimentally [through experience]”. George Fox, Journal, 1647, quoted in Quaker Faith and Practice, 19.02.
Don’t Look Now

It is possible to communicate with God or the Spirit. By this, I mean not just that we can pray or worship, but I would say on rather rare occasions, we can hear or sense God or the Spirit communicating back to us. This – let’s call it a revelation or a burst of spiritual awareness – is of course wonderful and mystical. It can change lives. It is rare, special and immensely precious.
So how can we get more of it to happen? Ah! They say you can take a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. I don’t imagine that we can bring the Spirit to us but not make it communicate. No, it’s the other way round. I suspect that we are the horse: we can take ourselves towards God, but in my experience, we can’t very often make ourselves communicate with him, or hear him communicating with us.
Winnie-the-Pooh says, “Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.” Pooh is not famous as a theologian, and he is talking about Poetry and Hums, rather than awareness of God, but apart from that, he’s spot-on.
OK, so how do we put ourselves in the right place so that God can find us? It may be more a case of, How do we put ourselves in the right place so that we can allow ourselves to let God find us? As you know, someone who tries too hard to achieve something, especially if that something is a horse-to-water phenomenon, can make it less likely to happen, rather than more likely. If I am desperate to get you to love me, so desperate that I fawn and cling and plead and agonise (or if I hit on you too obviously, or even stalk you) I may put you right off. Not more love, but less than ever.
Pooh and Piglet are walking in the forest, when they spot Tigger seriously stuck up a pine tree and mistake him for a Jagular. “. . . The Jagular called out to them. ‘Help! Help!’ it called. ‘That’s what Jagulars always do,’ said Pooh, much interested. ‘They call, “Help! Help!” and then when you look up, they drop on you.’ ‘I’m looking down,’ cried Piglet loudly, so as the Jagular shouldn’t do the wrong thing by accident.”
Sometimes, we need to not strive, if what we desire can’t be achieved by striving. They say, “God knows where you are. He will come and find you, when you least expect it.” “OK,” I say, “Lord, I’m not expecting you, right? See, I’m actually looking in the opposite direction. Now come and find me . . . Lord?” Piglet carefully looks down, so as to avoid the disaster of being dropped on by a Jagular. I don’t look too hard for God, so as to avoid the disaster of his not contacting me. Neither seems to work.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Book of Life

Hello again. I haven't blogged for a while, but I'm back. The Book of Life Terry Pratchett’s Discworld is shaped like a pizza, and it works not according to the laws of physics, but the laws of magic. The only character who appears in all of the Discworld novels is Death, a seven-foot skeleton in a black robe holding a scythe, as is traditional. His house is like a Tardis, bigger on the inside than on the outside. In Death’s library are literally mile upon mile of shelves, which house the Book of Life of every individual, alive or dead. The Book of each dead person is complete, but the Book of every living person writes itself continuously, the words quietly scritching themselves onto the page. If you stand in Death’s library, the sound of the Books writing themselves is like the sound of a waterfall. I’m wondering what the Book finds to write, what happens in most people’s lives that is worth writing down? The key to this puzzle is probably that the Book writes itself. You don’t write your own Book, and no one else decides that your life is so interesting that it should be chronicled. It writes itself, of its own accord. Many people, if they wrote a diary every day, most days it would be, “Got up; had breakfast; went to work; came home; went to bed.” So what does the Book write about you? A lot more than that. Arthur Koestler said that most of us spend most of our time on the trivial level of life, the ‘What’s for tea?’ or ‘What’s on the telly?’ level, although we are capable of visiting the deeper level, which he calls the tragic level, for short periods. The Book finds a lot to write about your life that is on a deeper level than you know yourself. Again, not for the first time, I get the feeling that we live mainly on the outer surface of what we are, on the skin of the apple, so to speak. I think that it would not be right to worship the skin of the apple, no matter how attractive it looks; nor the flesh of the apple, nor even the core, although it is the core of ourselves. I’m guessing that there is something in the core, the seeds perhaps, that enables us to contact the One whom we can worship. On a good day, that is.