God is big

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Grace and peace to you …

Simply put, there are three main stages in human development. They include infancy, adolescence and adulthood. Friederich von Hugel shows that healthy religion must take account of and nurture the predominant needs and activities of each stage, and so concludes that religion must include three essential elements:

“An institutional element corresponding to the needs and activities of infancy, a critical element corresponding to adolescence, and a mystical element corresponding to adulthood.”

This does not mean that the needs of infancy disappear in adolescence and nor do the needs and activities of adolescence disappear in adulthood, but they should cease to be predominant if we are to grow. Healthy adulthood should also never completely exclude the infancy and adolescence aspects.

In broad terms infants enjoy boundaries that provide them with comforting protection, while teenagers question boundaries and kick at them at every turn, and adults realize that boundaries are necessary but more complex than first thought — even incommunicable — and if the boundaries are to be honoured in adulthood it will be out of love and no longer fear, a delight and not a duty contributing to one’s freedom, and not captivity. Adulthood can see the value of the institution and the critical voice at one and the same time.

There is a danger that we find the comforting protection of infancy so satisfactory, or the questioning teenager so conveniently non-committal, that we get stuck and never venture towards the terrifying freedom of adulthood. When the institutional element predominates to the exclusion of the other two aspects, the result will be an immaturity of faith, and increased superstition and a loss of freedom. When the critical element dominates “it is liable to produce rationalists rather than religious persons, people whose devotion to an intellectual system replaces their devotion to God.” There is also a danger if the mystical becomes unhinged from the other two elements. In doing so personal experience is “canonized as the only legitimate source of discernment – opening widely the door to self-deception”.

All three elements are necessary for a healthy church/community/organisation. We are called to discern where one is dominating at the expense of the others and make the necessary adjustments. Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for humanity and not the other way round, reminding us that the structures/systems/rules/institutions are not ends in and of themselves but they are rather servants/scaffolding or conduits to a greater good and a deeper fullness of life.

God is bigger than any word or concept that we have come to use to hold or understand God. That is why the Hebrews of old were not allowed to have the name of G-d on their lips, (they weren’t allowed to write it out in full either), because it was both too holy and too large. In other words they recognised that God (and God’s name) broke out of all human categories not least our human vocabulary. There are some today who even decide not to use the word ‘God’ perhaps because they find it is too small, too limiting, too bound to a sense of religious institution and choose rather to use other words. A current favourite is “the universe”, that I imagine is used either consciously or unconsciously to counteract the contamination of God by the small.

So may our religion never become our God and may we never worship the way we worship. May our spirits remain fluid and our hearts ever open to being surprised by God. God is big.

Grace and peace, Alan

Read – Reflect – Renew

In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know,
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess,
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not,
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

~ TS Eliot

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