Category: mystery


I am here, because God is.

I don’t always know what the latter means,

But I believe that, somehow,

It says that God is involved

With me

With my community

With the community at large

And ultimately with the community we call Earth.

Now, yesterday, and tomorrow.

 

I am here, because I belief that I can only know God because of God’s revelation

Especially in community

I confess that Jesus, the Christ

Is the pinnacle of this revelation

That in him God’s compassion,

Love,

And self-sacrifice is absolutely present.

 

I am here, because, even though Christ is not physically with us anymore,

His Spirit,

The absolute presence of God’s compassion,

Love,

And self-sacrifice is with us

Through the gift that is the Holy Spirit.

A word of gratitude is owed to Mememan for an engaging series of postings on the relationship between Religion & Science. His first article was a short introduction and defining of the concepts faith, belief and understanding. The second article was a more detailed introduction to the definition of science and the way the Science Method should be understood. His third article is a continued exposition on the value of science opposed to the serious flaws of the religious paradigm. The articles are well written from the perspective of someone who values the Scientific Method and has a very specific understanding of religion, albeit a little one-sided. In order to further true and open dialogue between different perspectives, which is another of the pillars of the Scientific Method, I offer a few articles from another perspective, one of faith.

It is possible to accept the opening statements of the above mentioned articles as fact, that “people of faith gravitate to their worldview by faith alone” and that “the hierarchical ranking within a religious society is directly proportional to the individual’s ability to believe dogma in the face of evidence to the contrary”. However, both these statements are not so objective nor absolutely true. In fact, it paints all people of faith with a very stereotypical and simplistic brush.

Many people of faith, from the Christian and other religion (May I interrupt myself and say that I am writing from a Christian perspective and from now will not venture to speak for faith-people of other traditions. It also holds that I am not speaking for all Christians across the board, as I am sure will be evident from the Comments)., are very critical about the world and also their faith. For many Christians faith is an act of seeking, about being curious about the world and that which is beyond the world. St Anselm (1033-1109) already coined a phrase that described faith as seeking to understand, fides quaerens intellectum, and this long before the Scientific Method.

At this point it might be appropriate to throw another term into the mix, namely experience. I think it might just be possible that all people of faith arrive at their belief based on experience. It is conceivable that at a primal level, before language and thought takes over, people have an experience that, in the long run, begs for articulation, that offers the very foundation of the individual’s existence. And articulate we do; every person in a different way, similar to some and completely dissimilar to others. The way we articulate, and therefore interpret this experience, depends on who we are, where we live, our education, income, sexual inclination, sex, race, age and a myriad of other factors. It might even be that a number of scientists are using the language of science to give expression to this experience, that it is this experience that fuels their drive and curiosity to learn more, to seek more and to understand more. One might even be tempted to argue that many scientists are motivated by the belief that what they are doing will yield a result, which might or might not exist, to solve some or other problem which will better the lives of people or the ecosystem as a whole.

In this opening article I would like to make two other, but very brief, comments.

Firstly, although most Christians believe in a Creator-God, it shows a certain lack of understanding to paint all Christians as Creationists. The term has a very specific use and refers to people with a very specific dogma. Although I believe that God created, I also admit that I have no idea how (S)He) did it; in my mind evolution is the best answer to the question of how we have till now.

Secondly, understanding smacks a little bit of the hubris mankind (sic!) is known for. Physicists are telling us that what they happily described as being the whole of existence is turning out to be approximately 5% of the whole and that they have a vague suspicion of another 10 or 15 percent but that beyond that, they are essentially clueless. Now if you write theories, hypothesize, correlate, deduce et cetera on 5% of the whole and make it applicable to whole; well it sounds a lot like belief, or, would some argue, it smacks of God-complex.

So in conclusion, to this part, I would argue that both faith and science seek to understand, that honest scientists (lay and trained) and honest theologians (lay and trained), do so with integrity and sincerity, but with different ways of articulating their experiences. That belief is to be found in the most sterile of laboratories and that critical though and a questioning dispensation can be found in the most sacred of worship spaces.

I’ll write on the concept “religion” in the next article in this series of responses.

Coca-Cola would like us to believe it is as easy as opening it, the faithful (seemingly from a diversity of different religions) would like us to believe it can be attained by confessing it, afaithful would like us to believe it is a case of not confessing it, the producers and retailers would like us to believe it increases with consumption and the naturalists and greenies would like us to stop consuming in order to truly gain it, the moralists champions the life-long commitment to a person of the opposite sex as the doorway to a lifetime of it and the more liberal finds it in the diversity of multiple connections. Whatever the answer, it seems that there are many different answers to the question and that these answers are directly linked to the underlying philosophy of the person that answers the question. The question of course being: What will bring us lasting happiness?

Implied in the question is that such a thing as lasting happiness does indeed exist and all we need to do is to find the start of the correct path towards it, journey it with commitment and persistence and at some or other time, we will arrive at the source of lasting happiness. Maybe the challenge lies in the assumption and not in the diversity, and sometimes even apposing, answers.

It might just be that in the uncritical acceptance of the existence of lasting happiness, and the assertion that every person, and therefore myself as well, has a given right to happiness, we are excluding ourselves from the very thing we seek. The view that happiness is something that can be achieved and the moment it can be achieved happiness is turned into the result of a doing function. It puts the Self in control and constantly asks an evaluative question about every moment; is this, what is experienced, truly happiness or is there something greater?

Maybe the first step towards understanding lasting happiness is the acknowledgement that our reality is often filled, or even that the default setting of our reality, is a place of unhappiness; that happiness, especially lasting happiness, has an Other-worldly quality to it. C.S Lewis famously writes that joy “is the serious business of heaven” (Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on prayer). Thus it might just be true that in search of lasting happiness we are not in control, because we are searching for something that does not essentially exists to be grasped.

This acceptance that happiness is not something of our doing but rather a state of being, might open whole different perspective on lasting happiness. An acceptance of life as it is, an openness that much of who we are, are marked by honest struggle, by hardship and challenges, by hunger and thirst and by the realization that everyone around us is faced with the same reality, might be the change of perspective we need to see the Other-worldly. Maybe it is when we surrender our desperate quest to find a mythical happiness, that we find a much more down to earth, even fragile, but ultimately a lasting, happiness.

God is love. Somehow this statement can be challenged; or at least any idea of God-as-love as being harmless, limited in such a way that (S)He) only wants for us that which we think is pleasurable to us, can be challenged. Thus, saying God is love, might be saying a lot or maybe saying nothing at all. However, the one thing that cannot be challenged (IMHO), is the compassionate nature of God. In Jesus Christ God chose to become part of the suffering of Creation, even more extraordinary, (S)He) chose to make suffering part of (S)His) very being. That is the mystery of the name, Immanuel (Matt 1:22-23), God-with-Creation, especially in suffering.

This is it. 2 more assignments to complete, get it done already, one other errand to run, a day and a half’s playing with my son and I am on my way. The bags are packed, the paperwork in order and the leave application signed. I’m off on a hop, skip and jump through Europe.

The adventure starts on Thursday (31 March) when Emse and Janno will drop me at Monte Casino to catch the Gautrain bus. Instead of a two hour ordeal with Johannesburg traffic they are out and about in four quick kilometres. I’m catching the evening flight with EgyptAir to Cairo and from there to Geneva the next morning.

What’s the trip all about? The short answer is: experience. The trip of two halves is planned around experiencing different sights and sounds, smells and tastes, different ways of thinking and talking and a lot more. For the first part of the tour I am joined with 14 fellow travellers on the way to Taize, a retreat community in North-western France. After spending two days in Geneva we will head to this diverse community for seven days. We will take part in the daily rhythm of those who seek to bring about God’s kingdom in a very tangible way.

After this thought-provoking experience the group will split into smaller groups. The majority are slowly making their way back to Geneva from where they fly back to South Africa. I am doing things slightly different. Bearing a backpack and equipped with a few things to capture experiences I am heading out to Paris (2 days), Amsterdam (2 days), Rome (4 days), Athens (3 days) and Cairo (3 days) before I head back home.

During this whirlwind I will try to see and hear, taste and experience as many religious, cultural, and philosophical points of interest as possible. I am especially excited about my hosts. I am staying with native people in every city who kindly offered their couches for travellers seeking to experience more than just the tourism beat.

Now you know. This is what I will be up to during the month of April. If you are interested in my journey, please tune into this blog. I will try to post a blog every day of my trip, at least as much as internet access allows me. I might also send the odd tweet (follow me on @hannol) but rather than be connected to my phone I will be connecting to a world much different than my own. This blog entry will be duplicated at weltewoorde.wordpress.com.

Join me, even if it is from behind a computer! You are most welcome.

 

As a last thought. This journey, as the bigger journey of life, will be marked by a seeking and enjoying of mystery; barefoot!

 

 

  1. Write this list
  2. Make meditation a habit for every day, 30 minutes a bare minimum, but why stop there? In short: speak less, listen more.
  3. Read more. Include at least two classics, a cookbook, a book on travelling and a book picked out by a friend.
  4. Visit the places that are mentioned in the book, make the recipes and share the insights of the book picked by a friend.
  5. Run more, cycle more and swim more. Be active. Open the lungs, take note of every breath, the essence of my life.
  6. Connect more. Once again, in short, listen more to others. What is important to them? What is your answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything? Or, what is your question to the answer 42?
  7. Watch the diet, cut on the fries, the soft drinks and the chocolate. Add on the fruit, fibres and water.
  8. Strive for balance. Not only in regards to the diet, but life as a whole. Know when to work, and then work hard. Know when to play, and then play hard. Know when to rest, and then rest hard.
  9. Sleep less! We sleep too much.
  10. Chill, and know: it is ok to not be ok. Grace is abundant!

Quietness

Quietness is where we meet ourselves,

something sometimes terrifying

and other times soothing.

*

Of course, sometimes,

we are met by the

*

wholly Other!

I am privilege that a recent blog entry, God is dead! Or is (S)He)?, was duplicated on www.news24.com. This entry was fairly popular and solicited an active debate. To be expected there were pundits who claimed that God was dead indeed, or, that God cannot be dead as (s)he) never existed to start with. On the other hand there were those who vigorously defended their belief, based on personal experience, faith and Scriptures.

Evolution, the tension between religion and science, Pascal’s wager and a number of other arguments surfaced amongst the, probably to be expected, stereotyping from both sides. The one argument, against the existence of God, which I would like to address, is that of causality.

The argument goes something like this. Nature is governed by the law of causality; nothing can exist without something else causing it. It is within the context of a causal world that the faithful confesses a Creator-God, which is the origin or source of all that exists, including the laws that orders our natural world. The critique that is levelled at the identification of this first cause with a personal deity is that of the continuity of causality; who or what created the Creator? Why stop at Creation, the Big Bang or the Big Bang as creation event as the start of the causal chain?

In my mind the assumption that everything is governed by the law of causality is based on our extended experiences of the natural world. In order for something to happen, it must be caused by another event. From here it is a small jump to conclude that this is the only way that anything is possible and, as such, if there is no cause, then the resulting reaction cannot exist. The fruit that grows on this tree is the question that, if God exists, who caused or created him, it or her and if no such a cause can be identified, God obviously does not exist.

Into the debate, enters the Black Swan Theory, popularized by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book The Black Swan. This theory postulates that certain events falls so far outside the scope of personal experience that it cannot be predicted in any way. The theory is named after the falsification of an old world presumption. In 16th century London the statement “black swan” referred to something that was impossible. The current and historical experience at the time was that all swans had white feathers and therefore the popular conclusion was that the occurrence of a black swan was indeed impossible. It was only when a Dutch expedition in 1697 discovered black swans in Western Australia, that the presumption was falsified.

What does this have to do with the law of causality and the question to who or what created (or caused) the Creator.  Simple; why do we contend that we know everything and that the law of causality is an absolute truth. It might just be that there is a black swan waiting on the causal horizon and that this horizon is closer than we care to imagine, that is, if relativity and quantum mechanics are to be believed.

So says Nietzsche and many others agree. Huxley was of the opinion Darwin did the deed, but is it that simple? Is all that is needed for God to die the opinion of an intellectual minority of the world’s population, which happen to reside mainly in the affluent West?

I have a growing suspicion it is not quite as simple as that. It seems that (wo)mankind have been religious from their earliest awakening. One of the earliest examples of human religious experience and expression is the awe inspiring Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave paintings in southern France with an early dating somewhere in the region of 32 000 – 30 000 BCE. The cultural heritage of this cave precedes the caves at Lascaux with almost 15 000 years!

Through the centuries the idea of God developed, were defined, redefined and cross-pollinated. The one constant being that people from all walks of live from every conceivable corner of planet lived from the basic knowledge that there is something like a God, a higher power or energy, that is the source and sustenance of all Life.

Then the ability of man to harness fossil fuels and utilize industrial-orientated machinery changed the world. Suddenly we had the luxury of power and time, and the concept of knowledge changed. For our survival, at least for some, we were not at the mercy of the natural environment anymore. In those reaches where this revolution had an impact (wo)mankind felt on top of the universe; who needed God? This feeling of invincibility and spare time allocated to thought combined for the inevitable conclusion that God is nothing more than the desperate projection of those in need. How arrogant could we become?

Nature is giving us the answer; very! It seems that at the pinnacle of our knowledge, the new kind; it was and is limited, even in regarding to the ecosystems on, around and under Earth. Through natural disasters, changing climates, oil spills and shrinking water resources, to name but a few, we are learning the hard way that not everything can be fitted into a neat system with the little knowledge we have.

It might be that God is a figment of our desperate imagination, but the claim that God is dead, is merely another statement of our ignorance. How do we know? Maybe the wheel has turned enough that we must acknowledge with generations past and present that we do not understand at all, but that, somewhere deep inside, there is an almost primal experience, the old type of knowledge, of that which can be called God.

Why do we (I) believe?

This seems to be an easy question; that is till we buckle down to real honesty and square with the eyes that reflects back at us from the mirror. What does my faith mean to me?

The easy answer is of course that I am the chosen of God, bought by the blood of Christ and gifted by the Holy Spirit. This is true and an answer to be satisfied with, especially if you are from the Reformed variety of the Christian faith. Everything is indeed grace; God’s gift in Christ.

Another approach is to confuse the why with what and try to answer the question with rational and reason. The answer does not sound much different from the one above. The biggest difference being that the formulation might be slightly more formal; slightly expanded into three volumes (if you are shrewd or learned enough).

Philosophy of religion, psychology, theology of religion, sociology and maybe even biology and genetics might offer answers to this question from different angles. These can range from things like a genetic pre-programming to think in terms of the metaphysical (the God-gene), the context in which we were born and raised to a Freudian interpretation of religion as a whole. You might agree or disagree with a number of these approaches but it might be that you still believe, even after the theories, and that the question asks on yet a deeper level.

In my mind the reason I believe is a mixture of all of these factors with a good deal of grace, however when I look myself in the eye, the question change from the factors forming believe in me to the purpose of my faith, and this is where honesty starts to hurt. This is where Jesus confronts me with my own agenda. Is my faith used to merely further my own cause, justify my own way of thinking, my domination of the other, my thirst for power and status or is the purpose of my faith to serve others, to allow justice to happen through me, to be a voice for those without a voice and to further the cause of the One whom worked the faith in me.

Why do I believe? I believe because a vision that was granted me in grace. This vision is at the same time is the reason and the purpose of my faith. It calls me to action, asks of me to evaluate my behaviour, to live not for myself but for the other, to keep the focus on the One who is the vision. It opens me to community, to share and receive vision(s). What is this vision? What is the cause of the One who grants this vision?

In my understanding? To love God and your neighbour like yourself.