Prayer as Unity

Seventh Sunday of Easter Meditation: John 17:11

(Video at the end of the post)

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Jn 17:11

I’m always humbled when I read about Jesus praying. It highlights that I don’t pray enough and rely on my own reason and will to do things. I find myself seemingly autonomously going from moment to moment without feeling the need to pause to pray. I convince myself it’s because of a “robust” doctrine of the Holy Spirit and a deep awareness of the perpetual presence of the Spirit residing in me…but it’s comical really. I’m fooling myself.

The reality for me is prayer feels like work, work that I often don’t have the energy to do. On top of sheer exhaustion from all the demands and the instability of chaos and confusion, prayer feels like work with nonexistent results. A work that goes ignored, is met with silence, and with more suffering, sorrow, and sickness. Even though I’m very familiar with the doctrines and dogmas surrounding prayer and why I should do it, more often than not prayer exposes just how alone I am, how desperate I am, how hurt, scared, confused, and stuck I am. I don’t like that.

But, that’s the point. Life reduces us to the powerless ashes from which God’s divine creative activity and flair calls forth a powerful phoenix. This is the encounter with God in the event of faith, the being wholly dependent on a wholly other God, the death giving way to new life robust in, deeply aware of, and bringing glory to God. Life out of death is the divine means by which God is glorified.

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you.” As Jesus prepares to leave the disciples, they are faced with their own “hour” whereby they are left alone in the world as Jesus suffers, dies, is raised, and goes to the Father.[1] The intersection of Christ’s hour with the disciples’ hour is both the completion and the consummation of the love of God for the whole cosmos made manifest in the event of the cross. [2] This is the trajectory of Jesus’s ministry on earth unto death: as Christ is the embodied love of God which the disciples experience bodily, so too are the disciples in world as they move forth from their hour of encounter with God in faith, in prayer.[3]  The metanarrative of scripture is aimed to this fact: it’s about God’s love for the world, for Israel, for each of us.[4]

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” The small band of disciples extends, by the Holy Spirit, to the ends of the earth, making disciples and adding to the union for which Jesus prays. Thus, while we are alone and wholly dependent on a wholly other God, we aren’t alone. Prayer unites each of us individually to Christ, the Revealer, and in being united individually to the Revealer we are united to each other into the eternal body of Christ.[5] As we pray in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are in communion with God and thus brought into the beautiful and timeless community of saints: past, present, and future.

 

[1] Bultmann John 487 “In 12.23 this ωρα had been described as the hour of his δοξασθηναι. The difference is purely one of form—it is described as the hour of his μεταβηναι εκ του κοσμου τουτου. For it is introduced here to show its significance for the disciples. For them, it is primarily The Hour, because he is going; they have still to learn that this μεταβηναι is at the same time a δοξασθηναι.”

[2] Bultmann John 487-8 “But the reader is immediately made aware his μεταβηναι is not only the end, but at the same time the consummation of his work: αγαπησας εις τελος; he showed them his love right to the end, which means at the same time, right to its completion This is not of course a biographical comment designed to show the extent of Jesus’ heroism—that he remained true to his own, ‘right up to his last breath’; the intention is to show that even the end itself is nothing other than an act of love, nay more, that it is the necessary end, in which the work of love he had begun finds its consummation.”

[3] Bultmann John 488-9 “It is not necessary after ch. 10 to enlarge on the question who the ιδιοι are. Τhey are his own (10.14) whom the Father has given him f 10.29). And although they are the object of his love, whereas in 3.16 it was the κοσμος that was the object of the Father’s love, this distinction between the two involves no contradiction, but is quite appropriate. Of course the love of the Son, like that of the Father, is directed towards the whole world, to win everyone to itself; but this love becomes a reality only where men open themselves to it. And the subject of this section is the circle of those who have so opened themselves.”

[4] Bultmann John 488 “But it is only looking back at the end of his ministry that we can see the whole of it clearly: it was never really anything other than an αγαπαν τους ιδιους.”

[5] Bultmann John 489 “In the actual situation as it was, this circle was represented by the twelve (eleven); but the use of the term ιδιοι here, and μαθηται, is significant; it shows that they are the representatives of all those who believe, and it also shows that they are being viewed in terms of their essential relation to the Revealer, which is grounded not in the temporal but in the eternal.”

God is Love and God Loves You

Luke 13:10-17 (Homily)

The statements “God is Love” and “God loves you” are abstract concepts. I can tell you these things all day, but apart from concrete manifestation of that love in substance and action, both statements fall flat. We live in an era where words are tossed about, rapidly and thoughtless so. We say I love you to our friends and family and then in the next breath profess love to jellybeans. What then does love mean? In the predicament where there is little concern for the substance of language, the meaning of words, and the impact of nouns and verbs, how do I communicate to you love? What does “God is love and loves you” mean? A profession of love causing you to experience and believe that profession, means the profession needs substance, the landing has to stick; deed must follow word.

We encounter Jesus on the Sabbath teaching in a synagogue. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a woman appears having an ailment for 18 years. Luke explains: she is bent forward,[1] unable to raise herself up completely. Luke doesn’t tell us much about the woman. He only tells us that she’s suffered with this ailment for 18 years. For nearly two decades she existed in a curved-in state, unable to look up. Her eyes took in more of the ground than the sky; her face went unnoticed, turned toward the dust and dirt of her travels. The very face a mother adored, a lover loved, a child yearned for now hidden in plain sight. An identity hidden; she was merely a body in the crowd. 18 years nearly unseen. That’s a lifetime for some of you.

When she appears,[2] Jesus perceives her. In the midst of all the people attending the synagogue on the Sabbath, Jesus’s perception of her presence is identical to his question, “Who touched me?” in Luke 8, while being pressed in on all sides in a crowd. Luke loves highlighting Jesus’s divine attributes. One of those attributes is perceiving the people his society and the religious therein have ceased to perceive. Jesus sees those who have fallen through the cracks, those who have slipped off the grid, those who have been relegated to the fringe. Those who have been excluded and isolated? These he sees. And he doesn’t merely see, he perceives and he acts. Jesus loves these.

On any other day, that woman would’ve gone in and come back out without much notice. But not today; today, Jesus notices her very presence. And what does he do? He calls her to him. “Woman, you have been[3] set free from your infirmity.” And then he lays his hands upon her. In an instant (literally), she is set straight (again)[4] and (at the same time) is bestowing glory on God.

And, I am brought back to Genesis 2. The last time someone was this curved-in was when Adam felt the deep trial of isolation. In the presence of God, he longed for an other. As God gazed upon this turned in man, God said: it is not good that this man is alone. I will make a partner for him. And like the light and the dark on the first day, God pulled the man apart—taking one and making two. Just as light is its own substance and so too the dark, both the man and the woman were two complete individuals—they were equal but not interchangeable. Forever, in this swift movement of deft surgical precision, loneliness was lifted from Adam’s back and cast into the outer darkness to take up its kingdom where there is not. And God sat on his throne among the light, in the midst of the life of humanity in community in the cool of the verdant garden. And it was very good.

As Adam was set free from his infirmity of loneliness in divine intervention, so too this woman is set free. Jesus lays his hands upon her and separates her from her burden, from her isolation, from her oppression, from her exclusion. She now stands upright, for the first time in 18 years; she can see the bright light of day, the blue of the sky, the twinkling stars of night. As she stands upright, she gazes (again) into the eyes of those around her, to recognize and to be recognized in her identity. Jesus restores her to the dignity of her humanity articulated in upright posture. Not frail and hunched over, she stood tall and looked out, restored by the simple word and touch of Jesus the Christ, by his love. What was her life of burden and bondage is now relegated to the old age of what was; she is ushered into the freedom and liberty of the new age. And when that event of encounter happens with God, a thick and dark line is drawn in the sand between what was and what is and what will be; a line is drawn like the one created by the collapsing walls of water forever separating Israel from Egypt and their bondage and captivity.

In Luke’s brief story, he boldly describes the cosmic battle between God and the powers of sin and death. Jesus heals on the Sabbath and is chastised. He brings dignity and humanity to an old woman, and the ruler of the synagogue loses his mind.[5] After a stern, “Hypocrites!”, Jesus tightly correlates Satan (the powers of sin and death) to the religiosity of the rulers. According to Jesus, using the law to keep people bound in their burden and oppression is letting Satan have his way in the world. The law is good and can create and maintain freedom; but it should never be weaponized. When we love the law more than we love people, we are in the business of stripping people of their dignity and humanity. The law was made for humans, not humans for the law.

Back to the beginning, God is love because God is active and God’s activity is manifest in love loving, which is bringing freedom to the captives (in a real way). When I profess love, my love best look like this…

 

 

 

 

[1] More like “bent-forward-ing” the verbal aspect of the word doesn’t translate well into English.

[2] The word that is translated as “appear” in the text is technically “Behold!” which carries the same force of “suddenly there she was!” thus “appearing”.

[3] The perfect passive here has the force of an event that has occurred to the recipient that has ramifications into the present. In a sense, she will has been set free and will continue to be set free. Woe to anyone who attempts to reverse the divine action.

[4] Highlighting that she wasn’t always this way that at one point she could stand up straight.

[5] Quite literally, he is indignant, it’s the manner of his being in the current situation.

love loves

Can you write a sentence with one word?

Love loves.

Love loves loving.

Love loves loving love.

Love loves loving love-loving loving.

 

Love loves. Love plants, waters, and grows it’s own fruit. If humans could harness the fruitful self-productive power of love, deserts would be verdant jungles. Love loves. The freedom of love to love is remarkable. Why do I love you? Just because. Love loves. Love demands no reason and rejects the reason when it is given. Love doesn’t love according to boundary markers or territory. It’s the universal uniting factor of humanity. Love loves. Love doesn’t ever destroy, it doesn’t tear down, it doesn’t isolate, it doesn’t ostracize, it doesn’t’ exclude or seclude, it doesn’t manipulate or use. Love loves. One sentence: love loves loving. Love loves and creates love as it goes. And that going is a solid distance into eternity in any direction. Love loves. Love finds a way in the midst of the worst conditions because love knows no obstacle. Love loves. Love knows when to let go, when to release the beloved because it loves the beloved and loves the freedom of the beloved. Love loves. It’s remarkable that love isn’t always about being happy, but allowing sadness to participate. Grief and sadness are real because…Love loves. Love knows when to bear its burden to spare the beloved; love takes on that which she doesn’t want the beloved to endure. Love loves. Love sees through the misery to capture the beautiful, embraces the pain because she can’t do anything else. Love loves. Love is itself and it’s action, it is the triunity of subject-object-verb. Love loves love. Love loves. Love loves itself into the beloved and the beloved becomes the beloved because loves loves itself into it. Love loves. Love loves the beloved into the beloved but not to obtain some reciprocal action but just because it can do nothing else but love the beloved. Love loves. Love just loves and it is independent of any work or action of the beloved. The beloved is just the beloved because love loves.

Thomas Aquinas and The Concept of the Ontology of the Human Person

Sounds like the title of a children’s book gone horribly awry, doesn’t it?

Sadly, coming up with something creative as a title for this series of posts proved impossible; I’m rather bad at coming up with titles to begin with not to mention for entries once meant to be part of a larger academic work. *sigh* Oh well, “it is what it is”….wait, that may have worked! 😉

This is the first post (of many; yes you’ve been warned) discussing Thomas Aquinas’ concept of the human person. I’m pulling directly from a section for a dissertation I am no longer working on, which hurts…a little, won’t lie. But, having 75 pages of written material sit on the drive of my computer hurt more, so I’m giving them some light here on my blog. I can hear from here the shouts of ecstasy. Stop it. You’re making me blush.

My plan is to go through and chunk up the section and post it (post by post by post…) here. I am neither an Aquinas scholar nor a Thomist. In an attempt to understand what Luther was saying about the concept of ontology of the human person (also part of the larger, former dissertation) I had to know (well) what he was working with and even against; this is how a Lutherphile ends up with near 100 pages of work on Thomas Aquinas. With that said, I want to add that I did my best to assume the posture of a student who wanted to learn from Thomas Aquinas; my aim in this section was not to find the myriad of ways I could disagree with him, but to (as best I can from the 21st century) get into his head, make his language my language, see through his eyes. And, in my opinion, that’s what a good student does: she learns, she learns well, and then she find the cracks and faults.

Now that that’s off my chest, let me cease my preliminary yammering. Without further interruption:

The Introduction

The concept of the ontology of the human person is rather difficult to pin down in the works of Thomas Aquinas. One cannot turn to the index of the Summa Contra Gentiles or the Summa Theologiea and look up the concept of the ontology of the human person to be directed to a part in each work that will clearly tell the reader the proper definition of the ontology of the human person. Rather the concept is embedded within Thomas’ works, nearly all of them. In Thomas’ discussion about God, we see what humans are not and this plays a role in understanding the concept of the ontology of the human person for Aquinas. One must first understand God as Creator, to know the created and why God creates and what aspect or characteristic of the Creator is contained within the created and what does the created say about the Creator. The concepts are intimately bound together yet distinct; they are one but polyform.

For instance, to understand humanity and the world as created, there must be a differentiation between Creator and created, a differentiation that must be upheld if we are to make sure that God is distinct from creation (distinction not intending complete disassociation, but rather difference: God is not creation and creation is not God). Not only that, but also that God is intimately connected with and toward creation (the concept of God’s Providence); God is not a far-off God that has merely created this world only to let it now run its course of action without any involvement on God’s end: God cares for, provides for, is the authority over, and sustains creation.

This distinction between God, Creator, and humanity and the world, the created, is crucial for Aquinas. The distinction highlights mainly the healthy differentiation between God and creation. As stated above, God is distinct yet connected to what God creates. What God is and who God is, humanity and the rest of creation are not (and cannot be). But it is also important to mention that the inverse is not 100% true. We cannot say, taking Aquinas at his word, that what humanity and the world are or who humanity is, God is not. Primarily we cannot say this because of the fact that there are resemblances and types that reflect the divine Creator within the creation. So, if we see beauty in a flower or a pastoral setting, we can deduce, according to Aquinas, that God is beauty more fully and perfectly. When we encounter a wise person, we can likewise deduce that in God wisdom is full and perfect, and so on. According to Aquinas, the virtues and the good that we see in humanity and in creation are in God fully and perfectly.

With this said, the main point of this discussion is to discern, carefully, what Thomas says about the ontology of the human person. It has been established that in order to do this well, maintaining the integrity of Thomas’ thought, one needs to look at both Aquinas’ concept of God and his concept of creation. So, what does the distinction between the Creator and the created as well as the types and resemblances between the Creator and the created tell us about the ontology of the human person? This concept of the ontology of the human person seems to come down to the proper definition of the image of God in which and with which humanity is created. It is here, in the image of God, where we see both the distinction between God and humanity and the resemblance of the Creator within the created. To understand the ontology of the human person, for Aquinas, one needs to understand the image of God as it is within humanity and as it is communicated to humanity through creation. For Aquinas, the image of God contained within humanity—if we dare to simplify here his complex definition—is (best defined) as: the intellect. While the term and concept of the intellect will be teased out in future posts, it will suffice to say here that this is not a cold and isolated term, depicting man as merely a brain with no heart. For Aquinas, the concept of the intellect is a broader term, encompassing the reason, free will, and love. It is the intellect that separates humanity from the beasts of the earth, for by it we can contemplate, and by it we can seek God, the true end of all good and humanity’s beatification.

This discussion, in its goal to define Aquinas’ concept of the ontology of the human person, will attempt to be faithful to Aquinas’ own approach by first looking into Aquinas’ concept of God, then into why God created and what He created, and then conclude with a discussion of Aquinas’ concept of the ontology of the human person. But prior to diving into those concepts I’ll be providing a background to some of Aquinas’ work (I know, you were dying to know) and definitions of terms (now this I know you wanted to know). Providing background into Thomas’ work gives his work a dimension for us in the 21st century; he did write in a particular time with a particular goal to address a particular problem, we would do well to understand this historical background as much as we can. Giving some definitions to terms is always a good idea to create the common-ground of language: if I merely toss to you the term “essence” you maybe be familiar with the term but we may be working with varying concepts depending on how we’ve developed the term from our own research.

With that…Stay tuned!