It's neither arrogant nor overreaching to ask for a miracle. Miracles aren't possible because of anything we do; they are possible because of the nature of God. We do not personally work them; rather, they are worked through us as we open our hearts more deeply to love. The mystical heart is a loving one, and thus a conduit through which God naturally reveals Himself. We have a power in us, but not of us, that can miraculously heal the entire world.
Perhaps the miracle arrives in the form of an insight that unlocks a riddle in your life, a reconciliation with someone, or the opening of a door that has long remained closed. Try as you might, your efforts to break through using your talents, your power of rational analysis, or sheer force of will had remained fruitless. It was only when you put God first--when your heart softened, you stopped blaming, you stopped talking so much and started to truly listen--that some wall of resistance began to crumble. You had not done anything so much as you had released the energies of self-will. You had asked, in a way, that God's will be done. A miracle occurred not because you caused it but because you allowed it. In the words of writer Willa Cather, "Where there is great love, there are always miracles."
~ Marianne Williamson
For many people, solitude is just a poet's word for being alone. But being alone, in itself, is nothing. It can be a breeding ground of loneliness as easily as a source of solitude. Solitude is a condition of peace that stands in direct opposition to loneliness. Loneliness is like sitting in an empty room and being aware of the space around you. It is a condition of separateness. Solitude is becoming one with the space around you. It is a condition of union.
Loneliness is small, solitude is large. Loneliness closes in around you; solitude expands towards the infinite. Loneliness has its roots in words, in an internal conversation that nobody answers; solitude has its roots in the great silence of eternity.
Most people fear being alone because they understand only loneliness. Their understanding begins at the self, and they are comfortable only as long as they are at the center of their understanding. Solitude is about getting the "I" out of the center of our thoughts so that other parts of life can be experienced in their fullness. It is about abandoning the self as the focus of understanding, and giving ourselves over to the great flowing fabric of the universe. In solitude silence becomes a symphony. Time changes from a series of moments strung together into a seamless motion riding on the rhythms of the stars. Loneliness is banished, solitude is in full flower, and we are one with the pulse of life and the flow of time.
~ Kent Nerburn
Death is a silent yet eloquent teacher of truth. Death is a teacher that speaks openly and yet is not easily heard. Death is very much present in our modern world: and yet it has become an enigma to that world. Instead of understanding death, it would seem that our world simply multiplies it; death has become a quantity. The mystery of death, more terrible and sometimes more cruel than ever, remains incomprehensible to men who, though they know they must die, retain a grim and total attachment to individual life as if they could be physically indestructible.
Perhaps it is this failure to understand and to face the fact of death that helps cause so many wars and so much violence. As if men, attached to individual bodily life, thought they could protect themselves against death by inflicting it on others.
Death cannot be understood without compassion. Compassion teaches me that when my brother dies, I too die. Compassion teaches me that my brother and I are one. That if I love my brother, then my love benefits my own life as well, and if I hate my brother and seek to destroy him, I destroy myself also. The desire to kill is like the desire to attack another with a red hot iron: I have to pick up the hot metal and burn my own hand while burning the other. Hate itself is the seed of death in my own heart, while it seeks the death of the other. Love is the seed of life in my own heart when it seeks the good of the other.
~Thomas Merton, Preface to the Vietnamese edition of No Man Is an Island
Strength has a value for spiritual realization, but to say that it can be done by strength only and by no other means is a violent exaggeration. Grace is not an invention, it is a fact of spiritual experience. Many who would be considered as mere nothings by the wise and strong have attained by Grace; illiterate, without mental power or training, without "strength" of character or will, they have yet aspired and suddenly or rapidly grown into spiritual realization, because they had faith or because they were sincere.
I do not see why these facts of spiritual history and of quite ordinary spiritual experience should be discussed and denied and argued as if they were mere matters of speculation. Strength, if spiritual, is a power for spiritual realization; a greater power is sincerity; the greatest power of all is Grace.
~ Sri Aurobindo, Words of Sri Aurobindo, First Series
We use the word "love" but we have no more understanding of love than we do of anger or fear or jealousy or even joy, because we have seldom investigated what that state of mind is. What are the feelings we so quickly label as love? For many what is called love is not lovely at all but is a tangle of needs and desires, of momentary happiness and bewilderment—moments of unity, of intense feelings of closeness, occur in a mind so fragile that the least squint or sideways glance shatters its oneness into a dozen ghostly paranoias.
When we say love we usually mean some emotion, some deep feeling for an object or a person, that momentarily allows us to open to another. But in such emotional love, self-protection is never far away. Still there is "business" to the relationship: clouds of jealousy, possessiveness, guilt, intentional and unintentional manipulation, separateness and the shadow of all previous 'loves' darken the light of oneness. But what I mean by love is not an emotion, it is a state of being.
True love has no object. Many speak of their unconditional love for another. But in truth one does not have unconditional love for another. Unconditional love is the experience of being, there is no "I" and "other" and anyone or anything it touches is experienced in love. You cannot unconditionally love someone. You can only be unconditional love. It is not a dualistic emotion. It is a sense of oneness with all that is. The experience of love arises when we surrender our separateness into the universal. It is a feeling of unity. You don't love another, you are another. There is no fear because there is no separation. It is not so much that "two are as one" so much as it is "the One manifested as two." In such love there can be no unfinished business.
~ Stephen Levine, Who Dies?
For Christians, Jesus is certainly a teacher, but also essentially more. As crucified and raised to life, he is in person the living, authoritative embodiment of his cause: the cause of God and the cause of man. This living Christ in particular does not call for ineffective adoration, still less to mystical union. But neither does he call for mere imitation.
What Jesus does is call for personal discipleship, for response and correlation; he call me to commit myself to him wholly and entirely, while going my own way—each has his own way—according to his directions. This is a great opportunity, which was regarded from the very beginning not as what must be done but as what might be done, as an unexpected chance and true gift, a genuine grace. A grace that presupposes nothing more than this one thing: that we seize on it with trust and faith and adapt our life to it; a new attitude to life, which consequently makes possible a new lifestyle.
~ Hans Kung, Does God Exist?
My dog does have his failings, of course. He's afraid of firecrackers and hides in the clothes closet whenever we run the vacuum cleaner, but unlike me he's not afraid of what other people think of him or anxious about his public image. He barks at the mail carrier, but in contrast to some people I know he never growls at the children or barks at his wife.
So my dog is a sort of guru. When I become too serious and preoccupied, he reminds me of the importance of frolicking and play. When I get too wrapped up in abstractions and ideas, he reminds me of the importance of exercising and caring for my body. On his own canine level, he shows me that it might be possible to live without inner conflicts or neuroses: uncomplicated, genuine, and glad to be alive.
Mark Twain remarked long ago that human beings have a lot to learn from the Higher Animals. Just because they haven't invented static cling or television evangelists doesn't mean they aren't spiritually evolved.
But what does it mean for an animal (including the human animal) to be spiritually evolved? In my mind, it means many things: the development of a moral sense, the appreciation of beauty, the capacity for creativity, and the awareness of one's self within a larger universe as well as a sense of mystery and wonder about it all. These are the most precious gifts we possess, yet there is nothing obscure or otherworldly about such 'spiritual' capabilities. Indeed, my contention is that spirituality is quite natural, rooted firmly in the biological order and in the ecology shared by all life.
~ Gary A. Kowalski, The Souls of Animals
The true motivation of prayer is not, as it has been said, the sense of being at home in the universe, but rather the sense of not being at home in the universe.
Is there a sensitive heart that could stand indifferent and feel at home in the sight of so much evil and suffering, in the face of countless failures to live up to the will of God? On the contrary, the experience of not being at home in the world is a motivation for prayer.
That experience gains intensity in the amazing awareness that God himself is not at home in the universe. God is not at home in a universe where God's will is defied and where God's kingship is denied. God is in exile; the world is corrupt. The universe itself is not at home.
To pray means to bring God back into the world, to establish God's kingship for a second at least. To pray means to expand God's presence.
~ Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Insecurity of Freedom
If I am to know the will of God, I must have the right attitude toward life. I must first of all know what life is, and to know the purpose of my existence.
It is all very well to declare that I exist in order to save my soul and give glory to God by doing so. And it is all very well to say that in order to do this I obey certain commandments and keep certain counsels. Yet knowing this much, and indeed knowing all moral theology and ethics and canon law, I might still go through life conforming myself to certain indications of God's will without ever fully giving myself to God. For that, in the last analysis, is the real meaning of God's will. God does not need our sacrifices. God asks for our selves.
~ Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island
Words stand between silence and silence: between the silence of things and the silence of our own being. Between the silence of the world and the silence of God. When we have really met and known the world in silence, words do not separate us from the world nor from other people, nor from God, nor from ourselves, because we no longer trust entirely in language to contain reality.
Truth rises from the silence of being to the quiet, tremendous presence of the Word. Then, sinking again into silence, the truth of words bears us down into the silence of God. Or rather God rises out of the sea like a treasure in the waves, and when language recedes his brightness remains on the shores of our own being.
~ Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
The more we believe God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed—might grow tired of his vile sport—might have a temporary fit of mercy, as alcoholics have fits of sobriety.
But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.
But is it credible that such extremities of torture should be necessary for us? Well, take your choice. The tortures occur. If they are unnecessary, then there is no God or a bad one. If there is a good God, then these tortures are necessary. For no even moderately good Being could possibly inflict or permit them if they weren't.
~ C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
The devil believes in God but he has no God. The Lord is not his God. To be at enmity with life is to have nothing to live for. To live forever without life is everlasting death: but it is a living and wakeful death without the consolation of forgetfulness. Now the very essence of this death is the absence of hope. The damned have confirmed themselves in the belief that they cannot hope in God. We sometimes think of the damned as men who think of only themselves as good, since all sin flows from pride that refuses to love.
But the pride of those who live as if they believed they were better than anyone else is rooted in a secret failure to believe in their own goodness. If I can see clear enough to realize that I am good because God has willed me to be good, I will at the same time be able to see more clearly the goodness of other men and of God. And I will be more aware of my own failings. I cannot be humble unless I first know that I am good, and know that what is good in me is not my own, and know how easy it is for me to substitute an evil of my own choice for the good that is God's gift to me.
~ Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island
Satanism itself is an evil cult that has always been part of the depraved mass of society, but is currently on the increase. Satanists believe that the Creator God has withdrawn from the world, never intervening anymore in its affairs, and that the Son of God who has been given control of the earth in the Creator's absence is Satan, the god of this world (described in 2 Corinthians 4:4 as the god of this passing age). Jesus tried to destroy Satan's plan for the world, but it is, according to their belief, Satan that will attain the final victory. They participate in depraved rites and through psychic practices open themselves to the influence of satanic powers. The motives of its practitioners are mixed.
I have no doubt that the practitioners of Satan worship are soon assaulted by evil forces, an infestation that shows itself in a progressive deterioration of the person's character. Deceitfulness, perverse sexual behavior, stealing, and increasing destructiveness are typical features of this break down of the personality. To the rationalist all these changes can easily be attributed to fear and the general atmosphere of perversion that lies around zealous practitioners, but in practice there is usually a more concentrated focus of psychic assault in such cases, in addition to the psychological confusion that is drawn to the surface by the eruption of fear and hatred.
It is the social misfit and emotional cripple who are attracted bizarre activities of this kind. They are sad specimens of disordered humanity who seek power to affirm their shaky confidence. What they are really seeking is understanding and affection, but there are not many agencies who provide these needs, at least in a form that accepts the person as he is without imposing a rationalistic or a sectarian religious style of thinking upon him.
~ Martin Israel, The Dark Face of Reality
The reality of the holy can only be grasped from the standpoint of the mystery. Then one sees that the holy is not a segregated, isolated sphere of Being, but signifies the realm open to all spheres, in which they can alone find fulfillment.
The face of the holy is not turned away from but towards the profane; it does not want to hover over the profane but to take it up into itself. "The mysteries always teach us to combine the holy with the profane." The strict division between them has its place not in the character and attitude of the holy but in those of the profane; it is the profane which makes a fundamental and insurmountable division between itself and the holy, and on the other side the inadequate "usual" holiness consists only in being separate from the profane, whereas the perfectly holy thinks and wills nothing but unity.
The contradictions between the spheres of the holy and the profane exist only in the subjectivity of man who has not yet attained to spiritual unity and is unable, with his limited powers of understanding, to mediate between the two. In reality the main purpose of life is to raise everything that is profane to the level of the holy.
~ Martin Buber, On Zion
Unity joined to infinity adds nothing to it, no more than one foot to an infinite measure. The finite is annihilated in the presence of the infinite, and becomes a pure thing. So our spirit before God, so our justice before divine justice. There is not so great a disproportion between our justice and that of God, as between unity and infinity.
The justice of God must be vast like His compassion. Now justice to the outcast is less vast, and ought less to offend our feelings than mercy towards the elect. We know that there is an infinite, and are ignorant of its nature. As we know it to be false that numbers are finite, it is therefore true that there is an infinity in number. But we do not know what it is. It is false that it is even, it is false that it is odd; for the addition of a unit can make no change in its nature. Yet it is a number, and every number is odd or even (this is certainly true of every finite number). So we may well know that there is a God without knowing what He is. Is there not one substantial truth, seeing there are so many things which are not the truth itself?
We know then the existence and nature of the finite, because we also are finite and have extension. We know the existence of the infinite, and are ignorant of its nature, because it has extension like us, but not limits like us. Be we know neither the existence nor the nature of God, because God has neither extension nor limits. But by faith we know His existence; in glory we shall know His nature. In other words, we may know the existence of a thing, without knowing its nature.
~ Blaise Pascal (1623-1662)
God made man in His own image. Whatever that means, it means that man is important to God and is responsible to God. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God came to earth in the person of a humble carpenter, and thereby sanctified the individual. This means that what the individual believes, is, and does, counts...
We cannot foresee the results of our actions. It is our responsibility, not our helplessness, which appalls me... As each... goes out to industry...or university or family life, (his) influence, for good or bad, will radiate across the centuries. An act of kindness may help to mold a Gandhi, our failures may be creating a new Hitler.
The progress of mankind has always depended upon those who, seemingly isolated and powerless in their own day, have seen their vision and remained true to it. In the darkening corridors of time they preserved integral their vision of the daylight at the end. This is a matter not of calculation but of faith. Our work may be small and its results invisible to us. But we may rest assured it will come to fruition in God's good time.
~ John Ferguson, The Enthronement of Love
Where there is mystery, there must be faith. Faith, you cannot change no matter how you look at it. Either you have it, or you don't. For us, it is very simple because our feet are on the ground. We have more of the living reality. There was a time when the Church had to show majesty and greatness. But today, people have found that it does not pay. They have found the emptiness of all that pomp so they are coming down more to the ground, and in coming down there is the danger that they are not finding their proper place.
God has created all things. All butterflies, the animals—the whole of nature He has created for us. To them God has not given the will power to choose. They have only an instinct. Animals can be very lovable and love very beautifully, but that is our of instinct. But the human being can choose.
That is the one thing that God does not take from us. The will power, the power to will. I want to go to heaven and I will, with the grace of God. If I choose to commit sin, that is my choice. God cannot force me to do otherwise. That's why when we become religious we give up that will power. That is why the sacrifice is so great: the vow of obedience is very difficult. Because in making that vow you surrender the only thing that is your own—your will power. Otherwise my health, my body, my eyes, my everything are all His and He can take them. I can fall, I can break, but my will power doesn't go like this. I must choose to give it and that is beautiful.
~ Mother Teresa, in Desmond Doig's
Mother Teresa: Her People and Her Work
He who practices charity is not jealous, nor envious, neither does he speak evil of his neighbor. He does not rejoice at the fall of others; he does not incriminate the fallen, but he sorrows with him, and does what he can to comfort him. He/she does not pass by his brother/sister in hard times; but he/she helps them, and even dies with them.
He who performs charity does the will of God, and learns of Him; for our own good Master Himself said: 'By this shall all people know that you are My disciples, if you have love one to another.' He that has charity thinks no one a stranger; but he looks upon all men as his own kindred. He that has charity endures all things, is long-suffering, and kind to all... Truly may we say that 'God is love, and that he that dwells in love dwells in God.'
St. Ephraim Syrus (c. 306-73)
(from A Day Book from the Saints and Father, ed. J. H. Burn)
What I am concerned with at present is not the question whether God is dead or obsolete, but with the question of what resources of language may be dead or obsolete. The metaphorical and metonymic phases of language have been in large measure outgrown because of the obvious limitations that they imposed on the human mind. But it seems clear that the descriptive phase also has limitations, in a world where its distinction of subject and object so often does not work. There is no question of giving up descriptive language, only of relating it to a broader spectrum of verbal expression.
The word "God" is a noun, and so falls into the category of things and objects. For metonymic writing this is not an insurmountable problem: what is beyond all things and objects can still be a noun, or at any rate have a name. For most writers of the second phase, God represents an immutable being, set over against the dissolving flow of the world of becoming in which we are; and practically the only grammatical device for conveying this sense of the undeniable is the abstract noun. For third-phase writing, founded as it is on a sense-apprehended distinction between objects that are there and objects that are not, "God" can go only into the illusory class. But perhaps this kind of noun-thinking is, at least here, a fallacy of the type that Whitehead calls a fallacy of misplaced concreteness.
In Exodus 3:14, though God also gives himself a name, he defines himself as "I am that I am," which scholars say is more accurately rendered "I will be what I will be." That is, we might come closer to what is meant in the Bible by the word "God" if we understood it as a verb, and not a verb of simple asserted existence but a verb implying a process accomplishing itself.
This would involve trying to think our way back to a conception of language in which words were words of power, conveying primarily the sense of forces and energies rather than analogues of physical bodies. To some extent this would be a reversion to the metaphorical language of primitive communities, as our earlier references to a cycle of language and the "primitive" word "manna" suggested. But it would also be oddly contemporary with post-Einsteinium physics, where atoms and electrons are no longer thought of as things but rather as traces of processes. God may have lost his function as the subject or object of a predicate, but may not be so much dead as entombed in a dead language.
~ Northrop Frye, The Great Code
We sometimes ask, 'What of the good men and women who lived before the time of Christ or in pagan lands, and never had the opportunity of being Christians?' Here is the answer of one writer.
We must believe that the possibilities, provided by God of learning through suffering in this world, have always afforded a sufficient means of salvation to every soul that has made the best of the spiritual opportunity offered to it here, however small that opportunity may have been...
A pagan soul, no less than a Christian soul, has ultimate salvation within its reach; but a soul which has been offered, and has opened itself to the illumination and grace that Christianity conveys, will, while still in this world, be more brightly infused with the light of the other world than a pagan soul that has won salvation by making the best of this world, of the narrower opportunity here open to it. The Christian soul can attain, while still on earth, a greater measure of human goodness than can be attained by any pagan soul in this earthly stage of its existence...
It is this individual spiritual progress in this world for which we pray when we say, 'Thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven'. It is for the salvation that is open to all people of good will—pagan as well as Christian, primitive as well as civilized—who make the most of their spiritual opportunities on earth, however narrow these opportunities may be, that we pray when we say, 'Thy Kingdom come'.
~ Arnold J. Toynbee, Civilization on Trial
Jason E. Royle
Welcome to my blog. I'm an open-minded theologian committed to Christ-like compassion & understanding.
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