Monday, September 20, 2010

Spiritual Maturity and Theology of Fallibility Part 3

Jesus' Founding of the Church of the Holy Spirit at the Last Supper

At the last supper, Jesus informed his disciples that it was necssary that he should "go away" in order to make it possible for the Holy Spirit to come into the world and dwell in our hearts: "Yet you are sad at heart because I have told you this. Still, I am telling you the truth, it is for your own good that I am going, because unless I go, the Advocate will not come to you, but if I go I will send him to you...However when the Spirit of truth comes he will lead you to the complete truth" (John 16: 6-13).

Over many decades of theological reflection on this passage I have wondered what was that necessary link between Jesus' death and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Why could the Holy Spirit come to us only after Jesus' death. One central interpretation of that neccesity has to do with the issue of the spiritual matuurity of Jesus' followers! As long as Jesus remained alive and present, his disciples had their center of authority outside themselves. As a result they were not totally responsible for their actions. They were striving to meet the expectations of an external authority. They had not yet become fully creative and responsible adults.

But after Jesus' death his Spirit became what Paul called 'the glorious freedom of the children of God!': "The proof that you are sons and daughters is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the spirit that cries,'Abba Father'; and it is this that makes you a son or daughter; you are not a slave anymore" (Gal 4: 6-7). Paul clearly understood the good news of the evangelium, the gospel message, is exactly the message of our freedom... "Christ set us free, so we should remain free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be fastened again to the yoke of slavery" (Gal 5:1-20).

Paul has the same understanding of freedom as found in the Sanscrit root of the word. The word freedom in Sanscrit had two independent meanings. First it meant to be a free member as against a slave member of the household. Second it meant to be loved by the master. Anyone in the household that the master loved, by that very fact became a free member of the household. Anyone who was not loved was a slave member of the household.

I find the insight that comes from this double meaning of the word very profound. It is love; it is knowing that we are loved; it is by living in the atmosphere of love that we humans are genuinly free. The child that knows it is loved with an unconditional love is free to play and to develop in a healthy way. We adults, if we are fully conscious of God's love for us, are psychically free to mature and to play life to its fullness in the presence of a loving God. As Iranaeus, the Greek Father, put it: The Glory of God are humans fully alive!" Love creates the space in which freedom florishes.

Paul saw the pagans as not free but slaves in relation to their gods because they related to their gods in a spirit of fear. But Christians, he argues, are free because their God is a God of love, who has adopted us all into his family.

"All who are guided by the Spirit of God are sons and daughters of God; for what you received is not a spirit of slavery to bring you back into fear; you received the spirit of adoption, enabling us to cry out "Abba. Father"! The Spirit himself joins with our spirit to bear witness that we are children of God. And as we are children, then we are heirs, heirs of God." (Rom, 8:14-17).

Paul continuously repeats the theme that God's Spirit dwells within us and, if we ask, will empower us. "The Spirit too comes within us in our weakness: for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that could never be put into words..." {Rom.8:26}.

There is a yearning and longing deep in our psyche which is not just that of our ego, but that of the Spirit of God dwelling in the depths of our spirit. Maurice Blondel gave a philosophical expression to this same theme in his Philosophy of Action: "Our God dwells within us, and the only way to become one with that God is to become one with the authentic self!'

James Alison, my favorite theologian who happens to be a gay mam, in his most recent book Broken Hearts & New Creations: Intimations of a Great Reversal, in Chapter 15: Befriending the Vacuum, comes up with an original and profound reading of Jesus' discourse at the Last Supper. Alison interprets the discourse as deliberate settong Jesus" death and resurrection3 in the context of the original account of creation in Genesis "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, and God's spirit hovered over the water" (Gen 1: 1-2).

My hunch is this: that Luke portrays Jesus, in between Gethsemani and the cross, as deliberately retracing in historical form the route back from (present) created reality, to being outside of and thus prior to Creation. From his prayer of obedience and sweat "like clots of blood", in which he is fulfilling Genesis 3:19,so that the new Adam is able to get right what the old Adam had fouled up, he moves to the formless and dark void which is described at the beggining of Genesis, and once again in the darkness and failed sun that accompanied the Crucifixtion, Thus, in breathing out his Spirit to the Father on the Cross, he is entrusting to the Father the concrete historical and human form of the bringing into being of the New Creation; which he has opened up by going to his death. {Luke23:44-46). It is from then, until it is breathed upon us that the Spirit hovers over the vacuum.

Alison advances the thesis that just as the old Adam tried to achieve immortality without God's help and ended up with the dualist idea of immortal soull and mortal body; Jesus , as the new Adam. in obedience to God, his Father, entered into the void of death. This act of obedience enables God's spirit to undertake the new creation by sending the immortal Spirit to dwell in our hearts.

(Part 4 will deal with how the LBGT Christian community should deal with a fallible and homophobic leadership in the Church)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Spiritual Maturity and Theology of Fallibility: Part 2

Freedom of Conscience

One of the most central teachings of Jesus, without doubt of utmost importance to all Christians and especially to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Christians is freedom of conscience. This teaching is founded on Jesus' promise to his followers to send them the Holy Spirit who will dwell in their hearts and lead them into all truth.

In John 7:37-39 Jesus made the promise of "Living Water"!

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood there (in the Temple) and cried out:

"If any human is thirsty, let him or her come to me!

Let the man (or woman) come and drink who believes in me!"

As the scripture says: From his breast will flow fountains of living water.

John adds this comment on the mysterious connection of Jesus' death on the cross and the gift of the Holy Spirit:

He was speaking of the Spirit which those who believed in him were to receive; for there was no Spirit as yet because Jesus had not yet been glorified.

At the last supper John records Jesus as promising: "I shall ask the Father and he will give you another Paraclete (the Greek word means advocate) to be with you forever, the Spirit of Truth whom the world can never accept since it never sees nor knows him." (John 14: 16-17) Jesus declared further: "I have said these things to you while still with you, but the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you." (John 14: 16-17)

Jesus declared further: "I have said these things to you while still with you but the Advocate, the Holy Spiirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and remind you of all I have said to you." (John14: 25-26) The title Advocate which Jesus gives the Spirit means we will have our own public defender, one who speaks with us and for us; one who will plead our cause.

Fulfilling the Prophets

Paul, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, sees Jesus' gift of the Holy Spirit as the fulfillment of this prophesy of Jeremiah:

Look, the days are coming, Yahwey declared, when I shall make a new covenant with the House of Isreal when those days have come...Then I shall plant my Law, writing in their heart. Then I shall be their God and they will be my people. There will be no further need for everyone to teach neighbor or brother, saying, "learn to know Yahwey"! No, they will all know me, from the least to the greatest...since I shall forgive their guilt, and never more call their sins to mind (Jer. 31-34).

Notice that Jeremiah foresees that the new covenant in which every human being from the least to the greatest who believes in the messiah will have direct access to God who dwells in their hearts. This access to God will not be a privilege of the few who are gifted with extraordinary intelligence, or ritual rank, or even holiness! The Holy Spirit is portrayed in the prophets as a thoroughgoing respector of democratic process. There is no hint here that one must depend on extrinsic authority in order to inform one's conscience and learn what God wants. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, God will directly and immediately inform our conscience.

In the Acts of the Apostles on Pentecost sunday, Peter records these words of the prophet Joel: "I shall pour out my Spirit on all humanity. Your sons and daughters will prophesy; your young people shall see visions, your old people dream dreams. Even on slaves, men and women, shall I pour out my Spirit" (Acts 2: 17-18; Joel 3: 1-2.).

It should be clear from these passages that the Prophets foretold that the spiritual movement created by Jesus through the gift of the Holy Spirit will of its esssence be a democratic movement in which all members are equal in authority because of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It follows that all authority will be based on a discernment of spirits that happens from the bottom up and not from the top down.

(Part 3 will deal with Jesus' message concerning the Holy Spirit at the last supper.)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Spiritual Maturity and Theology of Fallibility

A theology of fallibility lies at the very heart of Jesus' life and teaching and is, I believe, deliberately ignored by the Catholic church because it threatens the hierarchy's claim to absolute authority. That theology was a major part of Jesus' message at the last supper as recounted in the gospel according to John. This theology has enormous implications for the structure of authority in a Church that claims to be based on the revelation of God's will made by Jesus and the prophets. In my next three blogs I will deal with that theology and its implications. (The theme of this series of blogs is dealt with in a much fuller way in my book: Freedom, Glorious Freedom: The Spiritual Journey to the Fullness of Life for Gays, Lesbians and Everybody Else. That book, with a new preface by Rebecca Mertz, was recently re-issued by Lethe press.)

What constitutes Maturity?

A healthy maturing process is the psychological process by means of which we separate off from our dependence on parents, family and external religious authorities and become autonomous adults, making our own choices and taking responsibility for them. Maturity can be defined as the ability to live one's life according to one's own insights and feelings and no longer live in a continuous effort to meet the expectation of others. Theologian Sebastian Moore goes so far as to write "living your life to meet the expectation of others" is a form of sin. On both the psychological and the spiritual levels maturity means the ability to discern what is the true self and to find the courage to act out that true self.

What is the role of fallibility of authority in that process? Thank God for blessing us with finite, fallible parents! It was precisely when we knew that our parents were wrong that we found the courage to separate off from them. Had they been infallible, it would have been close to impossible for us to mature into autonomous and responsible adults.

In his book of liberation theology on the spiritual journey of the poor in the base communities of Central and South America, Gustavo Gutierrez, a Peruvian theologian, expressed the same understanding of spiritual maturity. The title of his book: We Drink From Our Own Wells, derives from a famous saying of the medieval monk, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux: "Everyone has to drink from his (or her) own well!" "Spirituality", Gustavo writes, "is like living waters that spring up from the very depths of our own personal spiritual experience." The basic teaching of base communities was a personal capacity for discernment of spirits to understand how Gospel values could be implemented in the lives of the poor.

This understanding of spiritual life based on personal experience the Hierarchy perceived as a threat to its external authority and leading to a democratization of the Church. Comsequently, the Vatican went on an all out political attack against Bishops who embraced liberation theology, replacing them with conservative Opus Dei bishops who proclaimed the absolute authority of the hierarcy and renounced the preferential option for the poor supported by the Jesuits and liberation theologians in favor of a preferential option for the rich. This decision was recently identified as the underlying cause of the impotence of the Church in Mexico to have any influence in stopping the violence in the drug wars. After all, the leaders of the drug cartels are the rich! The Opus Dei Church is almost totally out of touch with the ordinary people of central and south America and cannot get back in touch, I believe, without restoring the base communities founded by liberation theologians!

D. W. Winnicott, the famous English specialist in child psychology, wrote: "Every child knows in its bones that in its wickedness lies hope; in its conformity and false socialization lies despair!" Winnicott meant that most chilren remain hopeful that they will continue to be loved and respected even when they do not conform to parental expectations. But if a child believes that the only way it will be loved is by conforming to the expectations of others and hiding the real self in a closet, it has already dispaired of life.

The central message of Jesus in the New Testament is that we are unconditionally loved by God, our father. "While you were yet sinners, I loved you!" God's unconditional love frees us to play all our lives in the presence of an unconditionally loving God.

Maturity for a gay person must include coming out of the closet; just as spiritual maturity must include coming out of the closet with God. We must risk that we are loved by God just as we are. We must "take a chance on God"!

(Part 11 of Spiritual Maturity and Theology of Fallibility will explore the understanding of spiritual maturity proclaimed by Jesus at the last supper.)