Human Living and Christian Living

Human Living and Christian Living. 1

Human Experience as a flawed but genuine orientation toward God. 1

Human Experience as saving, healing, and whole. 10

First, Grace toward All 11

Second, God’s Choice of Humanity. 14

Third, human recognition of its disorder or disease. 17

Fourth, Justification. 19

Fifth, participation and transformation. 23

Sixth, sanctifying grace working in faith, hope, and love. 25

Authentic Spirituality. 34

Spirituality as love. 38

Christian Fellowship. 40

Prayer 43

Sacramental Acts. 56

Internal habits. 60

Spiritual Discipline as a means of grace. 63

Spiritual Companionship. 74


Human Experience as a flawed but genuine orientation toward God

            Modernity is quite concerned with individuality and life together in a way that will improve ordinary human life. Modernity makes individuality a theme of reflection. It is the first culture to provide a significant social role for the individual. For modernity, writers like Descartes, Kant, Hegel, Darwin, and Freud set the stage for its reflection on the role of the individual in the social world. Human beings are interested in themselves. We might ignore God. We may find the question of the nature of God uninteresting. We may even find matters related to the origin, preservation, and destiny of the universe of little significance. We cannot ignore other people or us. The question “what is humanity” is of significance to us. One might argue that humanity is the most popular subject of philosophers, psychologists, and wisdom teachers. The injunction to know yourself is still relevant. Scarcely any other subject fascinates us so much as the subject of – us.

            At the same time, I want to offer the possibility that we do not genuinely know ourselves until we de-center self. We discover self in relationship to our world and in primarily with our human beings. In a sense, we discover authenticity of self outside of self as we participate in relationships beyond self.

            Science describes the profound influence of genetic structure upon human behavior. Reciprocal altruism leads to the virtue of friendship. Social status leads to social cohesion. Kin selection leads to love. Retributive punishment leads to the virtue of justice. Bargain hunting leads to the virtue of compassion. Science also describes the complex electrical impulses of the brain, divided as it is into a hierarchy composed of many subsystems that lead to increasing symbolization. The complexity of this hierarchy increases to the point where the human brain needs an image or concept of itself in order to function in the world. Human beings have not yet discovered how far down the evolutionary scale such consciousness travels. From an evolutionary perspective, human beings developed a concept of self in order to make sense of the world, for we are part of the world we inhabit. Foresight liberates us from the pure self-interest of the gene and allows us to consider the interests of others. Game analysis suggests that niceness and forgiveness are winning strategies in relationships. As Freud noted, as individuals we have our self-interest at heart, but also have to live civilly with other human beings, fulfilling our self-interest through cooperation, compromise, and restraint.

            We know conscious and self-conscious life only as bodily life. The body is an ensouled body in all its expressions in life. In Genesis 2:7, the soul is the ensouled body itself, the living being as a whole. The difference with the rest nature is not intellectual ability of humanity, but on the destiny of fellowship with God and the position of rule associated with closeness to God. The work of reason has its source in the life-giving working of the divine Spirit. The life-giving working of the divine Spirit involves all our functions, and one ought not to limit it to rational capacity: imagination, receptivity, and freedom. Humanity is open to self and to others and has awareness that other animals do not have. Humanity is capable of self-direction, both as individuals and as creating a social world. This sense of self and society is always incomplete at any moment. Humanity has relatively stable dimensions to this structure of human life, and relatively open and flexible dimensions of structure.

            We slowly develop a consciousness of the distinction between self and world. An indefinite totality of life precedes and provides the context for this distinction of subject and object. This totality of the field of life provides the context for our experience of others. We slowly learn to distinguish this ego from that ego. The scientific study of individuals leads to various abstractions, such as self, I, soul, consciousness, unconscious, and so on. We make such abstractions for the sake of usefulness, for we still abstract from a whole situation. Determining what is distinct depends upon awareness of unity. We use imagination to differentiate particularity from the unity that exists. We distinguish this unbounded nature of reality from the finite and particular because the infinite embraces the finite creatures we are and the finite world we experience. This social nexus precedes our awareness of self or sense of I. Our participation in the world from which we abstract ourselves shows the intimacy of our relatedness to the world. To truly know self, we need interaction with others. The experience of world, and especially the experience of others, is the foundation of our individual feeling for life. We experience this first in family and friendships. We deepen our experience of this feeling for life as we encounter the profound depths of our relationship with the sexually other. As closely related and independent we are, personality arises out of this relatedness with others and becomes the basis for our genuine independence from others. Selfhood means identity in all individual life. It never achieves definitive manifestation in life. Personhood transcends all particularity and changes of circumstances, because it finally draws upon relation to God as the source of its integrity. The integration of the individual moments of life results in an identity of authentic selfhood. The unity of selfhood constitutes the identity of an ongoing and constant ego. All action presupposes the identity of those who act.

            Human closeness to God means that humanity has responsibility for the environment from which we arose, in which we live, and to whom any human future intimately connects. The world belongs to God because it has its origin in God. Yet, God has entrusted to humanity rule and care for the environment. Any abuse of authority over nature comes back to harm humanity.

            Humanity as created in the image and likeness of God is a destiny for humanity. Creation in the image of God means we are destined for life with God. Jesus as a reflection of the image of God actualizes or fulfills the image of God that humanity failed to fulfill. Humanity can fulfill this destiny historically with Jesus Christ as it participates in that destiny through transformation. The essence of humanity will find fulfillment in the future. This destiny carries with in an obligation to love as the human being God intended. Since human identity today is not identical with the future, human beings must rise above the present by participating in a process of interaction with their natural and social world, who are also on the way to their destiny. God works in this process to bring humanity beyond what it could hope to achieve alone. God works in the harmonizing and integrating process of movement toward human destiny. We might call this movement a gift from, a gift of love and grace. We can study humanity biologically, economically, socially, ideologically, religiously, psychologically, and yet never exhaust the human being. Such integrative experiences of faith, hope, and love provide the condition for us to accept intentionally the grace and love of God offered in Christ. Our openness to the world consists in our awareness of a horizon that transcends our finitude.

            This concern for the individual and for human community Christianity shares with modernity. Creation culminates in the human being. I admit that my confidence in this statement arises from the incarnation of the Son as a human being, and in this sense suggests the supreme and final realization in humanity. One cannot image incarnation in any other entity that would point beyond humanity.

            God respects the individuality and independence of those whom God has made. Such an approach gives genuine independence and freedom to those made in the image of God. It also acknowledges the risk God took in forming a world like this. It leaves the world open to a yet undetermined future, at least from our perspective. I find Aristotle and Plato helpful here. Humanity desires happiness. The good, the beautiful, and the true continually guide human thought and behavior. The Christian insight that even if this is the objective, we often have twisted ways of getting there, is an important one. It is not “natural,” but of God, for beauty, truth, and goodness have their source in God, and in what God is doing in the world.

            Individuals are not home with themselves. Humanity does not feel at home in the world in that humanity seems unsatisfied with anything the world provides, either in terms of nature or in terms of the social world. This high estimate of humanity has built for God also suggests humanity reflects the divine image. We orient ourselves toward an end beyond ourselves. We tacitly admit that we cannot find a home within ourselves or in human community. Any dimension of home that humanity experiences in a human world points us to its completion and fulfillment in what is beyond humanity. In fact, if we think that making home with ourselves or with human community is one’s objective, one does not know the nature of either one very well. The end humanity seeks is happiness. We have penultimate ends that we often make ultimate, such as wealth, honor from others, fame, power, a good for the body, pleasure, the development of the soul, or any created good. Any of these can be used for good or evil. Further, their attainment does not lead to satisfaction, for our desires seem infinite. We can find happiness only in what lies beyond us, as infinite and eternal. Human life never possesses happiness, but only partially and imperfectly experiences it. Practical and scientific knowledge will give us a degree of happiness, but both point beyond themselves, through both contemplation. In this sense, happiness is participation in divinity, as that which is beyond, in the eternal.

            Human desire does not find satisfaction here, even though we try to find rest in ourselves and in our culture. If we find rest in ourselves, we do not truly know who we are. When we turn our gaze from ourselves and contemplate the Infinite and Eternal, we gain a better knowledge of whom we are. When we turn with gratitude toward life and the Eternal, we become open to becoming the people God intends. That which is beyond we rightly label divine, and reflection upon it should enlarge and renew us. The fact that we are not content with that which is lower than us becomes a tacit confession that, in order for us to fulfill our desires, we need to focus upon something higher or beyond us. This dimension of human nature is the reason scriptures and institutional religion was, for they could not arise simply by the imposition of an elite. We will not find fulfillment of our lives unless we direct ourselves toward the divine. We can apprehend this orientation toward divinity by reflecting upon our existence. When we sense this paternal love from beyond, we will also submit to obedience and reverence. Contemplation of human existence leads us to reflect upon our longing that carry us beyond. Further, the image of God rests upon the whole universe. Yet, if God does not come to us, we will get off course, and we will not achieve our goal of divine communion.

            The incarnation of the Son is the definitive realization of the human destiny for fellowship with God. Any degrading of humanity in this world does not extinguish the reality of this destiny of the image and likeness of God. The point of this likeness to God is fellowship with God and life with God. The universe participates in God, but human destiny participates freely, responsibly, gladly, with love, to become a co-worker with God in creation.

            This destiny of human fellowship with God is a corporate one. This common destiny of humanity resists any understanding of morality that assists disintegrating trends. Hidden in the world and human life is the reality of God. As a Christian, I believe the Bible gives us the definitive disclosure of God. The incarnation of the Son is a fulfillment of human destiny toward fellowship with God. Since the Son was the image, word, and communication of the Father from the beginning, we can see that creation of human beings in the image of God had a sense of fulfillment in the history of Jesus from the beginning.

            Creation in the image of God means that religion is not an add on to human life. Rather, to be fully human is to seek God, to honor God, and to thank God as the giver of life. We must assume a disposition in every human being to do so. Human beings have an inner movement toward this divine destiny, no matter how little we may observe it at any given moment. God is active in those integrative moments to bring us toward our destiny. Only God can cause the image of God to shine in us. The moment we take our destiny into our hands, we are already sinners and miss the mark.

            This destiny is not immediately present to us as a goal. Any level of trust we have toward the horizon of the natural and social world, and restless striving to overcome our limits, suggests that the true meaning of life transcends the boundaries of the finite. We face limits in showing courage in a fragile, vulnerable, suffering, and tragic world. We face limits when we show faith, hope, and love, when we could show anxiety, despair, and hate.

            This experience of limit suggests our tacit openness to God. We can achieve our destiny only when we know that we are distinct from God and accept ourselves as having our origin in God. By accepting our finitude as given by God we attain the fellowship with God that is implied in our destiny of divine likeness. When we accept our finitude, we have a responsibility to respect other creatures within the limits of their finitude.

            Christianity takes sin and evil seriously. However, the church needs to arrive at a balance. The concept of human dignity has other than Christian roots.  Humanity struggles to express its worth and dignity in individual and corporate life, and desires to have others respect one’s individuality and uniqueness, and therefore at times reflect the will and purpose of God.

            Given the provisional nature of human world, every human act will have a dimension of participation in the ground and destiny of humanity, as well as dimension of absence. To this extent, all human acts weave good and evil into them. The life-giving Spirit tacitly works in all persons, even where the individual does not acknowledge it.

            I recognize the risk us human beings take in forming a meaningful and whole life. The risk is that we commit ourselves to that which is not true, good, or beautiful. We have twisted reasoning, evil inclination, and twisted desire, as well as simple human imperfection that limit our knowledge and wisdom. The result is that we may sincerely commit ourselves to something that proves to be false. I would like to take away that risk. I do not see how I can.

            One way we can examine this risk is to consider what we love. Our knowledge of that which we love is always incomplete and involves risk. Our knowledge of ourselves is not as full as we might like, yet, I hope we have a healthy love of self, just as we know God loves us. Our knowledge of our neighbors is far from complete, and therefore love will always be a risk. Yet, that should not stop us from loving them. Our knowledge of country is a mixture of truth and error. Every country has dimensions of its life that we justly reject. The same is true of our lives and the lives of our neighbors. Such imperfection is simply human. Yet, we can genuinely love in the midst of imperfection. God seems to do this all time. We need to reflect that kind of love toward the world. As difficult as it may be to know of we orient our love toward what is true, good, and beautiful, one of the ways we will know is by the fruit this love brings to our lives as individuals and a community. Our love for self, others, and country is love for both as they are and for what they have the potential of becoming. Such love recognizes that what is contains much error and imperfection. Such love has recognition of the need for improvement in human life and culture.

            Since love involves some degree of commitment and risk, we may have some wonderment concerning the object of our love. We may not be clear whether we love at all. Yet, I think if we honestly investigate our lives, we will have to acknowledge that we love some things in the world, even if only ourselves. Yet, I would also suggest that such limited love would not bring us to the fullness of our humanity. We will not discover authenticity in self or in our spirituality until we de-center self and discover that our authentic self is outside of us, in our relationships with others, our communities, our nation, and I think, with God. This awareness of the infinite and eternal helps us to embrace God with love, just God embraces us with love. We need to experience healing of our pride and selfishness, our tendency to cling desperately to finite things as if they were infinite, and instead recognize that the only way for our love to find completion is in God.

            Since we are the ones who love, we justly consider our knowledge of self. We can have some certainty about our knowledge of self. After all, when we hear the ancient injunction, ‘Know yourself,” we have some certainty that we say this to a self that is, lives, and understands. We may doubt many things that we see, touch, hear, smell, or taste. However, one thing we cannot doubt is that our doubting shows that we live, remember, understand, will, think, and make judgments. If we doubt, we know that we want certainty. If we make errors in judgment, we know that we want to make correct judgment. If we doubt, we understand that we doubt. Such paradoxes of human life are simply what it means to be human. As much as we justly doubt, for doubt itself seems to push us toward better understanding, judgment, thinking, willing, and certainty, we cannot doubt that existence of doubt and the things about which we doubt tells us much about who we are as human beings.

            At the same time, the church needs to recognize the profound power of sin and evil that twists human behavior and institutions. What Christians say about human beings as sinners is true to life only if it relates to something that characterizes the whole phenomenon of human life. The bible and Christianity have a correspondingly low estimate of human nature in the concept of sinful humanity. Christianity encourages an uneasy conscience as humanity deals with the capacity for evil that lies within it. Modernity can maintain genuine individuality only in terms of the human complicity in the social tensions of history, while yet appreciating the human capacity for transcending the self. Modernity encourages an easy conscience, suggesting that no one is really all that bad. Modernity suggests a philosophy of history in progress, a secularized version of Christian millennial hope. The confidence in progress within modernity arose from newly found freedom of rational discourse, in the nature of accumulating knowledge and experience, and in the rational understanding of nature. It assumes that all development means advancement of the good, and thus fails to acknowledge the potential for evil. Modernity leads to the suggestion that the Christian view of humanity and therefore its message of healing the disease that inflicts humanity is irrelevant to modernity. Modernity can continue to acknowledge the endless possibilities for good that reside in human history, but it needs also seriously to consider the endless possibilities for evil. Every fact of chemistry and biology involved in forming human beings experiences transformation as human beings begin to use them, reflect with them and upon them, and engage in the increasing natural complexity that defines humanity.

            Sin is far more of a problem than the self-awareness of human beings will usually admit. That is why much of psychology wants to help people adjust to who they are. The problem is that we are sinners, which is different from people who occasionally miss the mark. Human beings have a profound fault or disease for which it requires healing, not by examination within, but turning our gaze outward, and as a Christian, I would suggest that we turn our gaze toward Christ.

            Evil does not always manifest itself with all its destructive force. If this were so, one could eliminate evil easily by singling out and isolating or destroying the perpetrators. The power of sin rests on the fact that it promises a richer and fuller life. Sinners separate themselves from the will of God and from the source of their life. Death is the consequence. Evil shows itself in what is supposed to be good, and especially in the apparatus that is set up to repress it. The universality of sin forbids the moralism that will not accept solidarity with those who become the instruments of the destructive power of evil. Sin’s universality shows such a moralistic attitude to be hypocrisy. The Christian doctrine of the universality of sin has the specific function of helping to preserve solidarity with evildoers, in whose conduct the sin that is latently at work in all of us finds expression. This anti-moralistic function of the doctrine has often been underrated.

            Humanity has long distinguished between good and evil.  We also place such distinctions between people.  Part of the misery of humanity, however, is that good and evil resides in us all.  Yet, some of us consider ourselves good or moral people.  We judge ourselves quite positively.  Such good persons judge others as bad or evil people.  In both cases, we can see the flaw.  The good person is not as good as he or she thinks.  Good people often have their own private sins that they justify to themselves.  In addition, bad people are not as bad as they appear.  Good resides somewhere in the person.  We cannot assume that a moral life will lead to happiness.  We can only assume that, whatever happiness we experience in this life, comes from grace.

            Modern and secular life, in turning from God, has taken full responsibility for evil in the world and for victory over it. However, our failure to rid ourselves of evil compels us to compound our sinfulness by blaming others for the presence of evil. We may have particular individuals in mind, such as a parent, relative, or sibling. Another time, we may blame an anonymous social structure, among the principalities and powers that rule the world. Modernity has rightly emphasized the social role of the individual. It has little guidance for the intentional formation of internal links between individuals that community needs for healthy functioning. In that sense, modernity can feel rather cold and repressive in placing demands upon individuals to take responsibility for self and family while not providing an intentional social network to assist in meeting in those demands. Domestic life and local communities are to provide those internal links, but the breakdown of family lessens the opportunity for social networking. The kind of mentality that localizes evil in other individuals or groups leads to violent upheavals. This deep-seated inclination to seek evil in others also frees oneself from blame.

            The responsibility for sin becomes complex. We find the social nexus deformed. Since no individual is an island, the deformed elements of the social nexus become part of us. Every culture has destructive forces that touch individuals. Individuals share in the collective guilt of a culture. No one escapes the guilt that is part of the historical and corporate moment. Utopian visions of a better world free of guilt only lead to greater violence and cruelty in the effort to implement a utopian vision. Self-centered living and living without faith, hope, and love alienate us from others. Our fragmented lives oriented toward fame, wealth, pleasure, or power, often begun as attempts to please others, ends up pleasing no one. Thus, we alienate ourselves from our true self. We alienate ourselves from God as we pursue self-sufficiency. We alienate ourselves from the rest of nature by denying or suppressing our common destiny. Alienation violates the depth of the relatedness of all things.

            Yet, this social nexus of sin actualizes itself in individuals. Will and desire must choose the good, true, and beautiful. When they do not, they become caught in the web of sin. When things become present to consciousness, they become possibilities of choice. Choice involves weighing possibilities. Many things evade our consciousness. Our moods are often beyond choice. We can choose between acts and their objects, but so easily between moods and feelings. God is not a matter of choice for us, for God is not object of our consciously, except in an indirect and diffuse way.

            The Old Testament focuses upon sin as transgression of the norms of conduct by individuals. This view has the weakness that life is a web of encounters and happenings, as well as acts. Paul begins reflection upon sin as part of the structure of human life in such a way that sin is in the web of social encounters between individuals and institutions. Augustine suggested that sin has to do with perverted desire functioning as love of self, having the effect of hating God. The primary human problem is that of the over-valuation of a self that wills. One makes oneself the center of the world, drawing one’s world into oneself. In Immanuel Kant and his notion of radical evil, we find sin becomes a failure of the self. For Hegel, we are not what we ought to be. We have the capacity to receive the best humanity can be, but we more often make ourselves in particularity the embodiment of the universal. Desire is a thrust toward the infinite and eternal that often does not raise itself above mere self-seeking. For Kierkegaard, the desperate character of all our strivings for self-fulfillment has its foundation in focusing upon our finite existence instead of the ground of human life in the infinite and eternal. Our desperation results either from denying the infinite and eternal ground of human life, or from grasping at it to the denial of our finitude. Anxiety becomes an excessive love of self. Need and desire characterize human life. The step of excessive desire has its foundation in anxiety about our ability that leads to attempts to ensure the security of self by possessing what we desire. Our search for confirmation by others has its foundation in anxiety. The sinful dimension of this anxiety is to seek such recognition from others at any price, as if we would secure our identity through another. Anxiety about our ability presupposes exaggerated love of self. Anxiety reproduces fixation on the self. Such anxiety refuses to accept our lives as gifts, to be thankful, and to move confidently into the future. This trust is not yet trust in God, but it is an important place to begin. This anxiety is not yet sin, but it provides the important context for sin to occur. Sin presupposes itself. Humanity could not experience temptation if humanity had not already sinned in desire, if not in action.

            Sin is also a violation or alienation in relationships.          When we understand religion as fellowship and personal relationship with God and with each other as our destiny, then sin becomes what spoils the relationship, causing alienation and estrangement. Sin becomes a rejection of the love God and turning away from the gracious presence of God. We can define sin as that which frustrates the purpose of God for us. Sin is a misuse of human freedom and a repudiation of the divine love.

            God gave the gracious gift of independence. However, the human response to this gift is to turn from God and toward oneself. We cannot turn aside so directly from the divine mystery that is most inwardly present to our lives. Nevertheless, there is that turning away from God that we call sin. Even our self-willing is not a matter of choice in the sense that we may refrain from it. To loath self is a form of identity and sense of self. Suicide cannot avoid qualifying the existence of the self by act. All that we can choose is the way in which we will be ourselves, within limits, and indirectly by way of the objects and activities to which we devote ourselves. Paul makes it clear that sin precedes all human acts as a power that dwells in us, that possesses us like our own subjectivity as it overpowers us. It is a state of alienation from God. Yet, this alienation does not come about without our cooperation and consent. We consent to the law of God while still following the path of sin because it deceptively promises us life, while in reality it brings death. We engage in sin because of the deception. Our voluntary committing of it is enough to make us guilty. In him began the temptation by the power of sin that still seduces us all today. All of us sin because we think we can attain a full and true life thereby. In this sense, the story of Adam is the story of the whole race.

            The consciousness of guilt presents itself as a heightened expression of the alienation of the ego from its own self. Alienation has a generalized and vague feel; guilt is specific. The consciousness of guilt is related to a quite determinate objective situation, a determinate transgression of a norm. This implies that there is a clear knowledge not only of personal identity and of the demands this identity makes on personal behavior but also of the person’s own failure and the nonidentity this creates. Healthy individuals feel such guilt at such times. In such relation to the specific transgression of norms, guilt is the justified and necessary response of a normal consciousness. Where actual guilt is present in the form of a particular violation of a norm or as existential guilt referring to the whole orientation of one’s life, then guilt consciousness and guilt feelings is justified and the condition for dealing properly with guilt. Guilt presupposes an authority before which the culprit becomes or is culpable. Legal culpability and guilt is obvious. The same holds for moral guilt. The possibility of the Christian message being true in addressing the human experience of guilt becomes at least possible as we listen to the voice of conscience.

            Guilt can also become less specific and generalized, and can become neurotic. Such guilt may come from an excessively strict superego that has driven the ego into the blind alley of self-aggression. They may also be a consequence of the decline of a sturdy value orientation in the general cultural consciousness. Churches can also intensify such neurosis through nonspecific calls for the confession of sins (slavery, racism, materialism, sexism, etc.) and for penance, both in the liturgy and in the rest of Christian behavior tend to cultivate this kind of indeterminate and generalizes feelings of guilt. Our understanding of the guilt consciousness begins with the fact that culprits have to answer for the consequences of their actions. Blame is attributed to them independently of whether or not they admit their guilt and acknowledge their actions as faulty. Consequently, guilt in the sense of an attribution of blame exists before and independently of the development of a subjective consciousness of guilt. The concept of conscience arose out of the feeling of guilt.[1] Conscience recognizes transgression of mutually agreed upon norms and values, revealing the connection between an act and the whole of our lives. Such a revelation is the result of or immediate relation to God. In repentance, culprits distance themselves from their acts and identity themselves with the agency that passes judgment on these acts. At the same time, repentance alone cannot strip guilt of its power. Guilt is not entirely an inner state of the culprit. Its removal requires that the impact of behavior upon the social world find restoration. That is the point of expiation. Expiation is not the application of a principle calling for vengeance. It seeks restoration of the social order of meaning that has been harmed by the action, and therefore with the restoration of the culprit’s own identity. The symbolic cultic action restores the culture’s religiously based order of meaning and restores to the culprit his or her identity as a member of the community.

            In the Christian view, conscience is the sense of Another who looks upon us, judges us, and knows us from beyond. Humanity has a sense of reverence and thus dependence upon the source of life, a sense of moral obligation, and the longing for forgiveness. Humanity made in the image of God is unable to experience satisfaction with a god made in the image of humanity. The capacity to transcend self gives humanity to recognize that any projection of humanity is not God. Idolatry comes when humanity forgets its limitations. Humanity seeks security at the expense of other life. Human temptation is to deny the limited character of knowledge the limited perspective anyone has on life or God. Humanity pretends to achieve a degree of knowledge that is beyond the limit of finite life. This is where the ideological taint to all human knowledge takes place and which is always something more than mere human ignorance. Ideology attempts to hide ignorance by pretension.

            Human beings can come to a point where they say “no” to their best life, and to do so consciously, willingly, and with action. Although we might consider this the mystery of evil, we need to recognize that something is abortive, miscarries, fails, becomes self-destructive and self-contradictory, within certain human beings. I do not know if some individuals have so defined themselves by such evil that it defines the result of their lives. However, the possibility of such a human life as a rebellion against human life suggests the seriousness with which we need to take the span of life given to us. This way of life, in which we threaten our own lives, is a possibility we cannot eradicate. However, while history remains an open process, none of our decisions close themselves off from further definition. What appears as the objective character of our action remains open to further definition and determination.

            The loss of self is the loss of a center and sense of wholeness. The disruption of the center causes one to lose a sense of world as well. Moral conflicts and psychological disruptions can show such de-centering. One can fall to pieces, and one’s world falls to pieces as well. One’s self and one’s world cease to be a meaningful whole. One loses a sense of power and meaning. One can experience the emptiness of self and world. Nothing speaks. We separate ourselves from our destiny through our freedom. Under the control of our pride and anxiety, we cease to relate to self and world in a way that is either faithful to our origin as the image of God or faithful to our destiny of fellowship with God. One has used freedom to waste freedom.


Human Experience as saving, healing, and whole

The salvation of human life depends on the future. For Christians, Jesus becomes the criterion of the healing and wholeness that we need. Wherever saving power exists in humanity, Jesus is the criterion by which we recognize that power. If we place our trust in the wrong direction, it can destroy the meaning and point of one’s life. I hope to show that placing one’s life into the hands of Christ will bring to the wholeness and happiness for which one longs.

First, Grace toward All

I speak of what some traditions call prevenient grace. I will focus upon the historical and hoped for future of the reconciling work of God in Christ. However, this work of God in Christ is continuous with all creation, a work that has as its goal the gathering of all beings into a community of love and justice. This would suggest that the possibility of the reconciling work of God in Christ rests upon Incarnation. This grace consists of the personal love of God that has an answer in humanity.

In reality, we find it difficult to notice grace all around us. Grace is the free action of love that is only at the disposal of humanity precisely in so far as we are at the disposal of this divine love. Human dignity does not diminish God. Christianity is not the religion whose basic attitude is fear of its going to our head if we extol the greatness to which God has raised humanity. In this way, we can understand why acts inspired by grace occur throughout humanity. Stirrings of grace precede the act of faith and love. The offer of grace is not limited to any moment, even the cross. When grace inspires our behavior, we transcend ourselves and come toward the God who offers grace. Grace influences our whole lives. Grace is not a rare event. Theology too often appears offended at the generosity of God in sharing grace. Even when we do not know it or believe it, humanity lives in the presence of God, elevating us toward that which is beyond our narrow lives.

However, could we claim that this grace is nothing but what we are naturally? We can only say that within the world, unity and plurality exist, in which mutual interdependence is the foundation of the unity of creation. The natural order has gradation of life. Nature has openness toward grace and sharing in divine life. Human beings, then, must have the capacity to receive this gift of grace and love. In particular, Christians need to become more awake to the detailed events of life as something more than natural, but as showing grace.

            Humanity desires healing from its condition that Christianity calls sin. This desire demonstrates the continuing influence of our destiny toward fellowship with God. All “good works” reflect the influence of the divine Spirit in humanity, for humanity genuinely struggles toward respect for individual and corporate worth and dignity. The church is not the sole arena of the work of the Spirit or of grace. The fruit of the Spirit, for example, occur outside of the Christian community. In fact, at times, that gracious working of the Spirit outside the church acts in a convicting and judging way upon the church, which all too often fails to live up to its ideals.

            Happiness brings delight with it. It occurs when one has an intuition or sense of one’s place in eternity and infinity. For us to have a proleptic experience of happiness in eternity, we need reasonably healthy bodies, some material wealth, and friends. This means that ethical behavior will encourage respect for the body, reasonable acquisition of wealth and sharing that wealth with others, and development of relationships with others in friendship. Happiness is always proleptic for human life, will always evil, imperfection, and suffering. The grace of God is so active in the processes of human life that one’s individuality and community become the means of some degree of happiness. We will need to orient our lives toward the ultimate good or happiness, and this includes both contemplation and action. To be human is to desire some degree of happiness in this life, even when one is unclear about eternal happiness.

            Melancthon is surely wrong to suggest that good works and the means of grace may not be part of the process that brings a person to have a faith in Christ. The practice of the virtues, the practice of love, attending to the means of grace, can help us get to the point where we realize the graciousness of what God has done in Christ, and that our imperfections demonstrate that we need this gracious activity from God toward us in order to have right standing with God. All of this is a reminder that the covenant that God established with Israel through Moses and the Law simply did not work. Jeremiah and Isaiah say as much, and look forward to God doing something new. The promise of God to Israel of Land, Law, Temple, and King did not provide the security for which Israel longed. The prophets recognized that the cycle of obedience, disobedience, and deliverance represented a basic flaw in the system. They anticipated a new act of God. Post-exilic Israel is a testimony that Israel did not heed the prophets, for their attempt was to do everything better than what their ancestors did. In the coming of Christ, the early church saw that the new covenant toward which the prophets pointed and promised had come to fulfillment. If we are to experience health and wholeness in this life, it will because of grace working in the processes of human life, often unacknowledged by the one responding to this grace.

Here are several comments that, I hope, will open up the awareness of the grace hidden all around us.

·        An example of this grace is that whenever we experience genuine personal love for another human being, it springs from the love that God has already given.

·        Have we ever kept quiet, even though we wanted to defend ourselves when another treated us unfairly?

·        Have we ever forgiven someone even though we got no thanks for it and our silent forgiveness was taken for granted?

·        Have we ever obeyed, not because we had to and because otherwise things would have become unpleasant for us, but simply because of that mysterious, silent, incomprehensible being we call God and the will of God?

·        Have we ever sacrificed something without receiving any thanks or recognition for it, and even without a feeling of inner satisfaction?

·        Have we ever been lonely?

·        Have we ever decided on some course of action purely by the innermost judgment of our conscience, deep down where one can no longer tell or explain it to anyone? One is quite alone and knows that one is taking a decision that no one else can take in one’s place and for which one will have to answer for all eternity?

·        Have we ever tried to love God when we are no longer being borne on the crest of the wave of enthusiastic feeling, when it is no longer possible to mistake our self, and its vital urges, for God?

·        Have we ever tried to love God when we thought we were dying of this love and when it seemed like death? Have we ever tried to love God when we seemed to be calling out into emptiness and our cry seemed to fall on deaf ears, when it looked as if we were taking a terrifying jump into the bottomless abyss, when everything seemed to become incomprehensive and apparently senseless?

·        Have we ever fulfilled a duty when it seemed that it could be done only with a consuming sense of really betraying and obliterating oneself, when only doing something terribly stupid for which no one would thank us could apparently do it?

·        Have we ever been good to someone who did not show the slightest sign of gratitude or comprehension and when we also were not rewarded by the feeling of having been selfless, decent, etc.?

I would cautiously offer that such experiences are experiences of grace. Human life prepares us in such a way that moral regeneration occasioned by the work of Christ is not such a shock. What God in Christ wants to do in us is bring to fulfillment the new creation that prevenient grace has already brought; a movement that brings us from death to life. John Calvin recognized that being born again does not take place in one moment, day, or year, but through continual and slow advances. Revivalism and evangelical theology has tended to narrow the time to specific moments, valuing dating the exact hour and minute of conversion.

We take humanity so seriously because God has taken humanity so seriously. The whole of reality is distinct from God, and yet God communicates grace and love to that world. The whole work of God toward the universe is one of redemption and reconciliation.

Grace is the beginning, middle, and end of our discussion of wholeness of life in Christ.  Grace is the air that surrounds the house, and the sun that shines upon it.  God is the loving parent who seeks to gather humanity and hold each and all as close as possible.  All of life is a gift from God.  The Christian life is impossible without God's grace extended to the believer.  God is the seeker and always initiates every relationship with us.  Even our awakening to God is a response to the Holy Spirit at work within us.  We cannot control the ways or means that God will choose to use in our transformation any more than we can command God to transform us.  God offers this grace freely to all.  No one is ever outside the reach of the loving presence of God.  God is always actively engaged on our behalf.  Therefore, no one has to suffer from unforgiven sin.  No one has to walk alone.  No one has to be a prisoner of fear.  No one has to stay as she or he was.  All can know the assurance and comfort of the Savior's presence in their lives.  All can be redeemed and all can, by the grace of God, travel the road of wholeness in life in Christ.  The grace of God makes this possible.  As we mature in the Christian life, we increasingly recognize the priority of the grace of God over our own decision.  We recognize that God apprehends us, not the other way around.  God sought us, wooed our attention, and called forth our love.  The grace of God makes our relationship with God right.  The grace of God calls and strengthens us in living the way God intends.  Our lives begin surrounded by the grace of God, the grace of God continues to draw us and lead us into a relationship with God, and the grace of God brings us to holy living. 

            At a human level, relationships begin and grow because those who engage the relationship disclose themselves to each other and become open to change and risk. The same is true in knowledge of God. We can know God only as God discloses himself to us. God leaves no one alone. We can reflect upon creation, upon the history of Israel, and especially in the gift of the Son, and see the ways in which God discloses himself to us. God, who is the good, the beautiful, and the true, is the source and inspiration of all goodness, beauty, and truth humanity can experience and express. When it comes to matters of deity and Incarnation, we can speak some things, but much must remain unsaid. Some things about God we have the capacity to speak and understand, and other things lay outside our human ability to do so.

            We love without knowing. We do not know people fully, but we love them. We do not love ourselves fully, yet, I hope that we love we properly love ourselves. We cannot know God fully. In fact, any knowledge we have of God is proleptic. Yet, for the Christian, we believe that the clearest knowledge we have of God is through Jesus Christ. This knowledge is a matter of trust in what God has done through him. As a result, recognizing the proleptic nature of our knowledge, we can grow in understanding and in our love.

Second, God’s Choice of Humanity

            Election is God’s way of turning toward humanity in grace and love known in Christ, as well as in judgment. As we know Christ, we know what God intends for humanity and for us.

            God takes the initiative in the process of salvation. We can reflect upon the general education of the human race, self-development, and the struggle for existence between individuals and cultures. Our ideals compete, but for those open to reflection, they do not exclude. Our interaction with others moves us along toward a common humanity. The divine origin of the ideals of life declares itself in a sense of election and calling that in some way sets the lives of individuals or particular societies in relation to the rest of humanity and to all peoples. The act of God always precedes human action. In order to be confident of one’s fulfillment, one must look at the activity of God alone. Predestination is the highest affirmation of divine love. The power of God does not violate the love of God or the holiness of God. God can do everything to express and fulfill the loving purpose of God. God is competent to deal with all things, capable of dealing with all circumstances in such a way that nothing can thwart the plan of God for the people of God.

The coming of Christ shows that God chooses humanity; it makes clear the grace and love of God toward humanity. We know God has chosen us through what God has shown us in Christ. That calling and choosing is for all people. Any election and predestination of which we speak must focus on the turn toward humanity that God made in Christ. Jesus anticipates the future of God and the reign of God. Jesus was a sign of the coming rule of God. The election of Jesus himself characterizes the relation of the work of Jesus to the church. Theological discourse has not clarified the precise nature of that relation.

Theology reflected an abstract view of the electing activity of God. It is abstract because it makes the divine decision timeless, abstracting the divine acts of election from history as the bible witnesses to them. It also detaches individuals as objects of election from all relations to society. Lastly, it restricts the purpose of election to participation in future salvation in disjunction from any historical function of the elect.

However, this new act of God finds its foundation in the eternity of God, as Paul points out in Romans 8:28-30. Nothing in the past, present, or future conceals itself from God. Further, Ephesians 1:4 states clearly that God elected believers in Christ “before the foundation of the world.” The reference of Paul to the divine counsel in Romans 8:28-29 lends re-enforcement to the concept of an eternal election. Yet, that election arises out of the freedom of God. Such election is not part of the nature of God, as early Calvinist theologians insisted. The electing will of God aims to unite humanity in an end-time community based on their reconciliation with God. That community becomes a paradigm of the future humanity toward which election directs history.

The church claims knowledge of the criteria that decide the admission or rejection of individuals into the future fellowship with God. That criterion arises out of the promises in the Hebrew Scriptures and in their fulfillment in Jesus. The will of God as expressed in Israel finds its fulfillment in the word and deed of Jesus. The election of Jesus relates to the elect community in connection with his mission to proclaim the gospel. He directed that mission to the Jews as the people of God. The election of believers in Christ before the foundation of the world relates to the divine plan to sum up all things in Christ. The fellowship that believers have with God through Jesus has to take shape in each believer. This does not mean that election has an orientation to individuals, but always along with others and with humanity as a whole. This means that we must link the election of Jesus himself to the community. We then link election to salvation for creation and for humanity. The election of Jesus and his historical mission is a service to the future human fellowship that we will experience and that has provisional form in the church today. Even his name, in which Christ became part of the name of Jesus, designates him as Messiah of the people of God, and thus not for himself alone. God elects all others through him and in him.

The calling to faith by the gospel takes place within history and to all persons. God is present here and now, moving among humanity and the people of God. The election of God realizes itself through the freedom of humanity. The preaching of the gospel aims primarily at the faith of the recipients and therefore at their participation in salvation through their fellowship with Christ. While many people hear the Christian message of reconciliation, only some respond. Paul differentiates between the historical calling and the divine election only to focus upon the assurance that the faithfulness of God shelters the believer. Eternity forms the condition of relationship in the sequence of temporal moments. Divine election from eternity corresponds as its temporal realization only the totality of temporal occurrence that only the future can complete. The aim of divine election is to have people who have fellowship with Jesus. The sending of Jesus serves that divine will and expression of love. It will achieve its fulfillment in the future. Those who respond positively to this message of reconciliation cooperate with God’s choice in gratitude. By living in fellowship with Jesus, people assure themselves today of participation in the future reign of God. We need to participate actively in the work of God that moves toward the image and likeness of God.


(Rom 8:29 NRSV)  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.

(1 Cor 15:49 NRSV)  Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven.


This emphasis leads to accenting spiritual and ethical obedience, bringing our will into conformity to the will of God and our world into conformity with the will of God.

For the present, election means selection of some over others. However, the number of the elect remains open to all who come into fellowship with Jesus. The electing will and love of God toward humanity does not find its fulfillment in time. The present selection of the elect is in the context of the eternal plan of God and within the whole history of salvation. Though individuals are objects of divine election, God does not elect them in isolation from the historical calling of God in the proclamation of the gospel. That calling of God comes through the compassionate word and deed of the church that directs itself to all who are lost. Far from limiting election to that which is before the foundation of the world, then, I want to relate it to the future consummation that is the goal of the divine plan of history. That plan consists of summing up all things in Christ.


(Eph 1:10 NRSV)  as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

The will and purpose of God find their fulfillment despite perpetual defiance of the will of God in human history. Election consists in proleptically participating in the fellowship with Christ that is this divine plan for history. With divine calling comes assurance of eternal election. Thus, Christ is both the origin and consummator of creation. Christ as the one who consummates history maintains the independent existence of creation, even as all things find their summation in him. That independence requires fellowship with God by the Spirit. The work of the Spirit helps us to accept our finitude and difference from God through the work of reconciliation. The Son leaves space for the independence of others before God and alongside him, while bringing about the participation of all creation in fellowship with God. Those who receive and accept calling to faith in Christ can be confident already of their eternal election. However, election is not a possession of those who God calls now. It means participation in the consummation of the eschatological destiny of humanity and all creation. The fellowship of believers mediates that election in the present.

The participation of the elect in salvation stands under the condition of a movement toward the inclusion of all persons by God. The doctrine of predestination properly understood means to be assurance to the believer of grace based upon its origin in the eternity of God. The election of individuals is open to the participation of all people. Elect individuals and the elect people of God receive with their calling the commission and mission to work for the inclusion of all humanity in the relation of Jesus Christ to God. We have no guarantee that all will respond to the invitation to faith. The task is to give assurance of that participation to all who still long for fellowship with God, in spite of their alienation and corruption. The aim of election is fellowship of a renewed life within the rule of God. The creator desires all creation to live in the presence of the creator. The goal of this reign of God is not external creation. Their yearning for fellowship with the creator can find this life only in eternity.

Our specific destiny as individuals finds fulfillment only in fellowship with the creator. Only in that fellowship will we free ourselves from the self-seeking and mutual oppression with which human society inflicts itself. Only as we allow God to set the norm for our relations with each other will we experience mutual fellowship.

We seek a human order of our common life. We cannot agree on the right order of society or on the standards of right and their application to our life together. New forms of common life emerge out of such historical conflicts. All of them rest upon force.

In the midst of this strife, God calls the church to offer a model of the future reign of God. The blindness of the world affects its ability to see the church as a sign.  Yet, the conduct of the church and of individual Christians can obscure the sign to which the church directs humanity. The church is part of the conflicts that engage the world. In order to maintain itself in these conflicts, it involves itself in intolerance, striving for clerical dominion, inner controversies, lack of love, and division. Christians contributed to the disasters that have taken place in the history of Christianity. The life of the church often distorts itself as the sign of the divine rule to the point of being unrecognizable. By analogy with Paul’s argument in Romans 11:11-12, we might suggest that the perversions of church life is the means God uses to hold open an opportunity of sharing in this salvation for those who take offense at the church. Even for them, Christ is the criterion of participation in the salvation offered by God.

            Opportunities for new beginnings emerge from historical disasters. The history of the church shows this as well. For example, the church did not formulate a principle of tolerance; only out of historical conflict did the church value it. That principle even transforms the church and its relation to other religions. The church has become more keenly aware of the element of the provisional in human assessments about such differences. It remains open to the future of God and of the judgment of God.

Third, human recognition of its disorder or disease

            Salvation is nothing less than the healing of broken relationships. This involves a personal dimension of spiritual, psychological, and physical disease. However, since we are such social creatures, it also involves economic, social, and political dimensions of human social life. The disorder of humanity is not simply personal. The salvation God offers reaches beyond the personal as well, to heal broken human relationships. Everything broken in humanity is a concern for God and God includes in this movement toward wholeness.

            To be human is to envision a better self a better world than we presently experience. Our capacity to reflect upon ourselves in this way is a distinctive and frustrating aspect of who we are. God wants us to find our home.

            First in our progress toward wholeness is awareness of the disorder of human life, which many traditions call the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. The fact that we can become aware of this disorder suggests that we continue to bear the image of God, which is why the teaching of John Calvin on total depravity is not helpful. We are not now, what we ought to be. Every time we distinguish the ought and the is, we acknowledge that harmony does not exist between them. Nor can we remove the difference between the ideal and the real. Even if we see it indistinctly at times, we know that things are not well with us. We know that we should be different. Sometimes, we try to explain the discrepancy by conceiving of the ideal as our better self, which stands against our lower self. In the process, we deny our responsibility for the whole self, in order to maintain a good opinion of ourselves. We justify ourselves. We deceive ourselves so well. The ought becomes nothing more than social convention, or that we are nothing more than animals. Yet, we desire that others treat us respectfully and with consideration, which contradicts the “theory” that we are nothing more than animal instinct. We cannot escape moral obligation. Yet, this morality is emancipation from God as well. Even engaging in religious practices can become our last attempt to find security in our spirituality.

An act of grace, such as the coming of Christ, is also an act of judgment. If the coming of Jesus is a saving and reconciling work of God, it is because humanity is in danger. Jesus brings to light the danger in which humanity carries out its life.

The work of the Spirit deepens the uneasiness of humanity as it faces the disorder of human community and life. In this way, the Spirit cooperates with a tendency already within humanity, namely, that of uneasiness in the face of the disorder of life. Such awareness is not new to us. Grace does not abolish our freedom, which would amount to abolishing human beings. Rather, grace perfects nature, as Aquinas has said.

The recognition of the disorder in human life and the self-destructive capacity of this disorder lead me to consider the gracious and loving movement of God toward human beings living in this predicament. The disorder of our lives has oppressed others. Our sorrows and joys grow out of this world. We are combatants in a struggle. Entangled in the world, yet hoping that something transcends it that can bring our lives and the lives of human beings, and all creation, to its fulfillment. What do beings like us have to say about the world, beyond simply an accurate scientific statement? The question of meaning and purpose, and therefore the question of God, seizes us in the midst of the world. Yet, we also experience moments of heightened value for humanity, the world, and ourselves. The redemption God offers in Christ affects relationships with others as well. I deal with relationships between God and humanity and relationships within humanity. What I share here has no other consideration than to bring healing, wholeness, and fulfillment to these relationships. Modern people may not think they need forgiveness. They need it more than they think.

            Second in our movement toward wholeness in Christ is turning away from the disorder of human life. In one sense, to become aware of the disorder of human life is already to turn away from the place one now is and seek and new place. It involves transcending of self by movement toward God, in which we find liberty and our wholeness. However, such an awareness could lead to despair were it not for the awareness of the promise of reconciliation. This turn from disorder is a turn toward God. It is turning away from a previous way of life of one’s own choosing, and a turning to the will and way of God. It means not just forsaking the old way but entrance on the new way. This turning occurs throughout Christian life. Following Jesus and discipleship belong to this turning. Only a new form of idolatry would turn this gift into a secure possession.

            What we can say is that people experience a relative conversion before and after the central event of someone repenting and believing, as the Spirit grasps them and turns them. The function of the church is to be a vehicle in converting people by transferring their latent experience of the grace and Spirit of God into showing publicly that experience. The church does not address lost souls in the sense of people without God. God leaves no one alone. Yet, the church seeks the awakening of the Spirit of God that to transform them into people who have experienced consciously that present. Greek philosophers described this experience as having their eyes opened. The Spirit is at work wherever radical changes toward a positive orientation in living becomes reality.

People often have ideas of repentance that do more harm than good.  Too often, we think of a nagging and judgmental authority.  We do not spend much time talking about sin in our culture.  We should, however, for sin is real, contagious, and deadly.  Repentance is the beginning of true self-knowledge.  When we conceal or suppress the knowledge that we are sinners, we become counterfeit persons.  Repentance means admitting who we are.  Biblically, we can see this awareness in Isaiah 6:1-5, Luke 5:1-11, and 15:11-32.  Yet, pointing people to their sins may only bring guilt.  If we look closely at these stories, we see that directing people to the holiness of God brings us to a genuine awareness of their sinfulness.  The biblical concept of repentance involves turning from our sin, who we are in our heart, more than turning from sins, the things we do.  That root sin in each of us the Christian tradition calls pride.  Many people reject this notion today, for they believe their sin is to value themselves too little.  However, I suspect that if we look more deeply into this behavior, we would notice people who seek sympathy from others, and hope others will rescue them, thereby still getting their own will accomplished.  Pride is that desire to manipulate the world to get what we want.  The role of victim has just as much pride in it as that of persecutor of others.  True repentance brings a burning desire to change.  Therefore, it is not just remorse or regret.  Too often, these feelings come from the reality of being caught.

Fourth, Justification

The early Greek writers interpreted salvation in Christ along the lines of John.  They emphasized the incarnation of the Logos and the fellowship with God that the incarnation makes possible.  Orthodox churches continue this emphasis.  However, the West, consistent with its legal background in Rome, emphasized the doctrine of justification developed by Paul.

The West emphasized justification through Augustine and the Pelagian controversy.  Luther expanded the concept as summarized in the saying, “righteous and sinner at the same time.”  We do not work out fully in life what we are in Christ. Without this interpretation, Luther is open for misunderstanding.  The Reformation achieved a deeper appreciation of both the teaching of Paul and its place in the biblical witness. Luther assumes the importance of fellowship with Christ as those who entrust themselves to Christ. However, he rarely spoke about the inner connection between the forensic description of justification as a divine verdict passed on to us and the ontic description of justification as an effect of faith fellowship with Christ. See his commentary on Galatians. Real renewal accompanies this forensic view of justification, for without that it remains external.

            For Paul, faith is itself the righteousness that counts before God. Further, Paul uses dikaioun as “to declare righteous,” and not “to make righteous” in the sense of ethical formation. He takes the word from rabbinic usage in courts of law. Someone acquits the other of guilt; they declare the other innocent. Between God and us stands the imperative and claim of God. Yet, this righteousness is a gift through Christ. Paul refers to the verdict of God at the last judgment. Therefore, justification is not a process. Faith makes us righteous before God only because it appropriates the saving work of God in Christ. In particular, faith appropriates the forgiveness of sins based on the atoning death of Jesus. The righteousness of faith forms the object of God’s declaring believers righteous, of their justification.

            Inevitably, we must raise the question of how the righteousness based on the verdict of God actually comes to us so that we really share in it. If the verdict is not purely external, but rather a creative verdict in us, we do not want to evade this question. We need to understand better what it means to be in Christ and in ourselves, especially as related aspects of the same person. The basis of the verdict of justification is our being in Christ. Conversion and faith come through the word of the message about Christ, and thus is not just a subjective theology of experience. In Schleiermacher (The Christian Faith, par. 109), the shift totally to our religious and ethical subjectivity takes place. Only faith fellowship with Christ is the object of the divine sentence of justification respecting believers. I have reservations about Barth’s concept of representation, in that it appears to cross over into the replacement of the believer before God, even though the believer is the goal of the saving work of God. However, Barth impressively revived the Christological focus of justification by presenting Christ as the one who was judged in our place and raised again for the sake of our righteousness, the one in whom we have God’s pardon. Believes share in the pardon only in Christ. Though faith has implications for life, our righteousness before God does not consist primarily of these, but of faith.

      One way to approach the fellowship that we have with Jesus is from the standpoint of the confession of faith by the Q community:


(Luke 12:8 NRSV)  … everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God …


The fellowship of believers with Jesus will withstand future judgment. The disciples are with Jesus in the sense of discipleship, sharing his way and his destiny. The risen Lord also promises to be with them as they engage in missionary activity. Paul implies a personal relation of individuals to Christ, while yet membership in the church founded by proclamation and adherence to its common apostolic faith. We cannot separate them.

            This turn toward Christ is an act of trust, faith, hope, and love. It begins the process of healing. Faith is not assent to certain facts or doctrines, but to entrusting oneself one’s self in a relationship that both places one in right standing before God and begins the process of healing that finds its completion in the future rule of God. The reformers rightly stress at this point that human imperfections will always make it impossible for human beings to achieve right standing with God. Such a position in relation to God will come as God turns toward humanity in love and grace, and this God has done in Christ. Our confidence before God cannot be in following rules, doing a ritual correctly, or even in the perfection of our love. In each of these cases, the focus shifts from Christ to us. Given human imperfection and the lack of our capacity to be honest with ourselves, Christ needs to remain the focus when it comes to the matter of the basis for our confidence with God.

            We need some way of directing our gaze away from ourselves, our relationships, and our culture, and direct our gaze toward eternity. For Christians, this means trusting our lives to what God has done in Jesus of Nazareth. As we turn toward God in conversion, we change inwardly and outwardly to reflect Christ. We are aware of the moral seriousness of this life. What we do with the brief time we have here matters far more than we know in eternity. We leave behind our former way of life. Often, progress is slow as God forms us into the whole persons God intended as bearers of the image of God. The fruit of this life is piety toward God, love toward others, and a moral life.

            Justification before God establishes a new relationship with God through Christ. In Christ, God becomes a loving Father. We receive forgiveness of sin and we are clothed with Christ. God embraces the sinner. Any genuine relationship between human beings brings a change in both partners in the relationship. As our relationship with God changes to one of justified sinner, we begin the process called sanctification immediately. This means nothing less than our relationship with God changing us. Since our faith puts us in line with what God shapes in us as a destiny, it is not arrogant to recognize that God now works in us to form us into what God intends. God does not need to change, for God has already turned toward us in love before we were aware of it. The work of faith, hope, and love begin in us in justification, because our relationship with God opens us to the possibility of this kind of change. As friends of God who become part of the family of God, we find ourselves renewed daily into the image of Christ. Our confidence is in God, not in our achievement or even in any confidence that we have.   

Such acceptance is part of our growth in Christian living. It is not something external only. It must happen within us as well as for us. It is a creative act of God, even if we remain short of the intended wholeness of life that God intends. This acceptance by God puts us on the path to a right ordering of our individual and communal life. Acceptance does not look only backward at God’s choice and acceptance of us in Christ, but forward in opening up a new life of grace. It involves human cooperation with the initiative of God.

            Contrary to practices of the churches of the Reformation, there is no reason to subordinate other descriptions, such as regeneration and adoption, to justification. Paul presupposed faith fellowship with Christ in the verdict of justification, which may give credibility to the view of Schweitzer that Christ-mysticism is at the center of the teaching of Paul. Each of the terms has a relation to baptism. The declaring righteous of those who are linked to Jesus Christ by baptism and faith has only a partial function in descriptions of the event that is elsewhere called regeneration (also, reconciliation and peace with God). To describe this relationship as adoption takes us deeper. Declaring righteous is just one element in establishing reconciliation. Being in this relation is the true content of the new relation to God because of regeneration. The core of this participation in Christ is the relation of Jesus to God.

Justification tells Christians, as believers but not yet perfect, that they can already be sure of participation in the future salvation. It omits from faith every human attempt to get right with God and the self by human power or action, or even to get right with self alone in this way. This critical and polemical function of the teaching of justification gives it continuing relevance in church history. However, describing wholeness of life in Christ does not have to limit itself to this language, as we see from the writings of John and the Orthodox Church. Christian life as a whole is a life in faith, the faith that lifts us up above ourselves to fellowship with Christ and therein to hope and love.

            The teaching of justification played an important role in the debate between Martin Luther and the Roman Catholic Church. The term comes form courts of law. Combined with concepts of imputed righteousness, it becomes confusing and misleading. Justification links us to the future, as God puts things right for us as individuals and for humanity. The goal is victory over all hostile powers and the coming of the reign of God. Our better self will not grant us the verdict we need. Only God can give us the verdict of acceptance. The awareness of sin is the presupposition for hearing from God that God loves us as children of God. The paradox of salvation is that we need to accept an acceptance that God has already extended. Another way to speak of this acceptance is forgiveness. This forgiveness takes place through the initiative of one party removing a cause for estrangement, restoring a good relationship. God’s choice of humanity implies this acceptance. This is not only a teaching that one is supposed to believe. It represents the personal assurance in which God addresses us personally, in spite of our sin as children of God. When we experience guilt and sinfulness that looks at forgiveness and a new beginning, we experience our need for acceptance. When we experience frustration with meaninglessness and our inability to find that we matter, we experience our need for acceptance. We cannot escape guilt or meaningless on our own. Acceptance is a movement of grace, based on the reconciling act of God in Christ. This acceptance is external to us, in that we cannot find security even in religious piety, but only in the declaration by God of our acceptance.

            The Reformers wanted to make clear that our ability to stand before God as persons accountable for our lives does not rest upon the completeness of our Christian life, for living in a human world always contains a proleptic quality. The incompleteness of the Christian life we lead means that if we are to stand before God, it will be because of grace, which in turn means the love shown to us in Christ. This reality moves our attention from what we are able to do and accomplish and directs our attention toward Christ.

            My wonderment is this. Have we moved far enough from the battles of the Reformation that we can now say that we are accountable to God for the way live out our lives? Each of us tells a story with our lives. The question is whether we have trusted in what God has done in Christ and have allowed that story to influence our lives. We are responsible, then, for whether we have honored God in the body, lived by the rule of loving God and neighbor, bearing the fruit of faith, hope, and love, practicing virtue and avoiding vice, and so on. We stand before God with our faith and our “works,” namely, what we have done with our lives and how we have touched the lives of others. Do we not need some sense of accountability before God if we are to take this time and place in which we live with moral seriousness?

            Our relationship with Christ and with the Christian community has, we hope, made us people who have moved closer toward what God wants us to be. The gaze inward often brought about by pietism, Catholicism, and the Orthodox, needs the balance of recognizing that no amount of inner searching of the self or soul will bring perfection. The overly sensitive conscience at this point can lead to paralysis and blindness to the needs of the people and culture around us. Frankly, some Christians need to enjoy the world God has made, and enjoy the place God has for them in it, far more than they do.

            For me, the battle between faith and good works that the Reformers fought needs to be set aside. The questions regularly raised suggest the insufficiency of viewing forgiveness of sin as the center of our Christian life. We need forgiveness, of course. Yet, we long for an actual healing and transformation that a relationship with Christ begins. Our relationship with Christ transforms us and shapes us into the people God wants us to be. The focus remains upon Christ. The fact that the transformation continues throughout life recognizes that the life we lead now is not perfect, and thus acknowledges our continuing reliance upon Christ for continued growth.

            Yet, we justly wonder about what this position before God might do to our desire to continue the process of transformation. Grace seems so forgiving that it may actually encourage sin.

Fifth, participation and transformation

Our desire for the best life we can lead meets a friend in God, who also desires the best for us. Humanity has a longing to be free to love, to be with others, and cherish them. God also longs for humanity to experience such joy in friendship, affection, and community. However, we need to renounce our drive toward autonomy and re-establish our connection with God. How can this happen? The church has a responsibility to help all persons become aware of the grace that surrounds them. God has left no one alone and without God. Individuals generally find some awareness of the disorder of their lives. We discover that disorder in our alienation from other people and our participation in the alienating forces of society. The healing and fulfillment of human life is a cooperative affair. As we heal our relationship with others, we discover healing in our relationship with God. The church needs to point to God, as we know God through Jesus as the source of the healing and wholeness for which we long. The key is for the church to take its stand with Jesus, and invite individuals to take their stand with Jesus, as suggested in Luke 12:8. The church then invites persons to lead their lives observing the Ten Commandments, bearing the fruit of the spirit, and growing in faith, hope, and love. The church loves people into a relationship with Jesus. Do you see such a surplus of love in the world that you have no desire to share the good news? Further, the church helps people deal with the anxiety of death by pointing to the victory God gave to Jesus over death. Our fellowship with Jesus does not need to end with death. Our lives have significance even beyond death. Death is not the dark door that shuts forever behind us, but the opened door through which we enter into true life. I can be as anxious about death as anyone is. However, in my better moments, I have confidence that Jesus will never be a stranger to me. I shall recognize his familiar voice. 

            We receive the grace God offers through Christ by faith, as we gain confidence in the love of God toward us, founded on the promise of God in Christ and to which the life-giving Spirit leads us. The word of promise we find in the bible and in contemporary preaching becomes a mirror in which we discern who God is. As long as we are pilgrims in the journey of life, our faith is implicit, for it does not reach its fullness. We grow in this faith as we have calm, teachable spirits. In fact, the more we grow in calmness before God, the nearer we are to God, for we have confidence in the love of God. Christ is not alien to us. Christ dwells within, making a home within us. Of course, events can disrupt this fellowship. It is not an unbroken, upward journey. Rather, these relationships will have their twists, turns, and difficulties. Yet, the focus is on the nearness of Christ and fellowship with him. Something of our individuality and uniqueness lives in the heart of God. The life-giving spirit is available to all and leads us to the abundant life Christ offers.

            God has not added something to Christians that non-Christians do not have. God works in human life in such a way as to enhance the capacities already present in every human life. When we speak of Christ living in us, or the Spirit dwelling in us, we recognize that our discovery of who we are as human beings comes as we direct our gaze outward, and ultimately toward Christ. We recognize the need to de-center the self, contrary to much of modern psychology. As we engage in relationships with others, with organizations, with a culture, and with God, we become more the self God intended. Such relationships keep drawing out of us capacities already present in us in tacit ways.

            Christians need to acknowledge humbly that they have participated in horrible atrocities from which their relationship with God did not keep them. Martin Luther himself developed strong anti-Semitism as a German that was part of a culture that led to the atrocities of the 20th century. Christians do not have some additional portion of their nature as human beings that make them qualitatively different from those not Christian. Rather, they engage in relationships with God in Christ and in the Christian community that they hope will form them into the people God intends for them to be.

            Christians also recognize the proleptic nature of that ongoing transformation. The mind, emotional life, will, and behavior of the Christian is not qualitatively different from anyone else. Any difference is present because of the quality of relationship within the Christian community and with God in Christ. The person not engaged in such relationships may close themselves off from the importance of such relationships, or may find them met in other religious communities. I suspect some danger in suggesting that such persons have a “hardness” in them that Christians do not have, for again, the church needs to confess its own participation in terrible human atrocities in which it lived out its own hardness of heart. The suggestion that a great difference exists between the Christian and the non-Christian is right in the sense that one hopes the quality of relationships within a Christian community will enable each individual to move toward the best human life the individual can lead. Many human communities care little for such matters. The insight is wrong to the extent that it suggests Christians are better than people who do not participate in Christian community or who participate in other Christian communities. The ways of God with humanity are such that the image of God, although marred, is not destroyed, and as such, a tacit search for God is present in us all, even when we do not know that God is the one for whom we seek. Christians can be every bit as stubborn and resistant to the divine will as anyone else, and in fact, some outside the church respond to the divine will in profound ways when they do not know they do so.

             Personal participation and commitment are central to the human quest for knowledge of the true, the good, and the beautiful. We cannot avoid making decisions and commitments along the journey of life that are beyond what we know scientifically, logically, and mathematically.

            The point of what God is doing in the world is to bring transformation of humanity individually and corporately toward being what God intends. The purpose of this conversion is to transform us into the destiny God has planned for us. Our lives become signs, however faint and weak at times, to what God wants to do in all humanity at the end of history. We cannot travel so badly that we will not make some progress toward the goal. The work of the life-giving Spirit and the grace of God is toward the health, healing, and wholeness of individuals and human communities. Sin is a disease that affects humanity today. If God is going to be active in human life and history, God needs to be active in a way that brings healing and wholeness in some provisional and proleptic way today. Humanity needs healing from the disease its sinfulness has created. This healing does not simply occur with the acquittal by God in the future judgment, but is an actual healing that begins in human life and community today. Humanity needs to know that its life with God does not require the perfection of human life. Christianity can always be grateful to the Reformers for that. Our relationship does not depend upon us, but upon God. Any healing is always partial and proleptic, for that is the nature of the work of God and humanity in this world. Human beings are creatures of time. If we understand creation properly, God has structured us in a way that we in fact have a restlessness and longing for the eternal. God wants humanity to be in relationship with God, and has placed that desire in us, and through the grace that goes before salvation, beckons us to make that turn in our lives toward God. Whenever we try to satisfy ourselves with finite things, we find they are not enough. Aristotle notes that humanity has an end, to find its true happiness. Aquinas would say that we could define that end as a vision of God. The point is that, as those made in the image of God, nothing short of a relationship with God will bring humanity to its fulfillment and completion. We can in fact see this in the desires of humanity.

            The transformation of individual and communal life is a transformation of behavior as well as one’s standing with God. To do good works simply because it is the will of God misses the point that the intention of God is the transformation of the world. The disease that inflicts humanity requires healing, and the grace of God is at work to bring that healing. Christ is the physician of the soul, and the church has the privilege of offering the healing of the human condition through Christ. Such healing involves a life that bears the fruit of the Spirit, and that walks in the path of virtue rather than vice. To teach that humanity is so weak that it cannot do good works is to deny the power of the image of God in which God made humanity. Humanity aims at happiness, and directs individual and communal life toward that happiness to some degree in this life. To the extent that humanity moves in that direction, we find the grace of God at work in the human race.

Sixth, sanctifying grace working in faith, hope, and love

Christian life is not a thing to which we gain a secure possession. Faith needs continual renewal in new situations. This renewal occurs as we return to the beginning of Christian life in grace and as we look forward to the gracious future toward which God calls us. We find the fluid boundary between church person and good person in the world in someone who was baptized as a child, was brought up within the church, and continues to live as such. This person remains an unfinished task of slowly incorporating the faith of which he knows. A person is always a Christian in order to become one. The personal relationship one has with Christ in faith, hope, love, conscience, sacramental life, preaching, and practice one seeks becoming a Christian.

Sanctification or holiness is not a unique event, but the manner in which gradually we grow toward wholeness. It refers to the progressive influence of the Holy Spirit. God wins us back, pressing forward into the surrounding territories of the self, by influencing various sector of our feeling, thought, will, and even unconscious life. True saints prove their discipleship by not severing themselves from the world. Rather, discipleship results in the special intensity and concentration of spirit with which they give expression to their unity with God in outpouring of loving service to others. Perfect love of God becomes desire to share the lot of others. Protestants have for too long created biblical and theological knowledge that has little importance from the standpoint of the way one lives.

The Spirit of God has an ecstatic character. Yet, this statement does contain the idea of irrational states of intoxication. Ecstasy can mean that people, while outside themselves, are supremely with themselves. Every living thing lives outside itself, that is, in and by the world around it. The Spirit gives life by lifting us above ourselves. Spiritual experiences like artistic inspiration, or sudden insights through illumination have the same character. Such experiences give an inner freedom. In spite of our disillusion, we constantly open ourselves to what is around us, to the world. Our faith in God lifts us above ourselves inasmuch as God is powerfully present to us as the light of our final future and assures us at the same time of our own eternal salvation. We are linked with others in the fellowship of believers whose common setting is faith in the one Lord. The ecstatic integration of this fellowship by the Spirit into the common praise of God can mediate the sense of an initial removing of alienation between this and that individual and therefore also of the antagonism between the individual and society. The ecstatic character of spiritual experience does not eliminate the rational structure of humanity. Such experiences humanity to do that which humanity could not do on its own. Human beings cannot demand the presence of the Spirit, either in religion, in culture, or morality. If we could command the Spirit of God to come at our command, that spirit that came would be no more than the human spirit in religious clothing. The tradition speaks of inspiration or breathing and infusion or pouring, both material images open to magical distortions. The coming of the Spirit does not disrupt the structure of the human being. Intoxication is an attempt to escape the genuine responsibilities of ecstasy. Creativity is the dividing line; intoxication depresses creativity while ecstasy gives rise to creativity.

            Such expansion of the human mind and spirit is important in terms of both knowledge and apprehension of truth and in terms of impact upon others.  Could we not use a higher level of imagination and thrusting out into fresh creative and innovative realms?  What greater time than this for the achievement of “souls on fire,” not the fire which is merely of this world, or the false fires of human concoction or construction, nor the fires enflamed by demonic or evil forces, but rather the fire which is the illumination, contagion, warmth, and power of the Holy Spirit of God!  It may not be an error at all that causes Paul to use alcohol and drunkenness in comparison with the operation of the Spirit: “Be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.”  William James wrote, “Sobriety diminishes, discriminates, and says no; drunkenness expands, unites, and says yes.”[2] That is the potential of those filled with the Spirit.

            As I speak of the role of the Holy Spirit, I trust that the bible and the best of my heritage infuse what I have to say. I want due emphasis upon reason and the role of faith, and a concern for how the life of the Spirit connects to the whole of life, as well as what is particular, lively, dynamic, and unpredictable.

            I look to the Jewish and Christian heritage for guidance in the primary emphasis to the role of the Holy Spirit discovered there.  That means that I emphasize, not just a religion of the human spirit, but rather of the Holy Spirit.  While this includes or even emphasizes the experiential side of religion, it does not permit subjectivity to predominate.  This also suggests a contrast with other ways of examining religion.  We have creeds, but we fellowship, worship, and serve without creedal agreement.  We disagree on matters that, to some, are of great importance.  We may have other differences of opinion that we do not normally share as communities of faith.  We are not all from one organization as Christians.  Yet, most Christians willingly and gladly join with people of other communities of faith.  We regard our fellowship as embracing all people who are open to God and to the Spirit, even though our ethnic differences often show themselves on Sunday morning.

            Thomas Merton once said that everything humanity is and does is “wounded with contingency.”  If this is so, human beings must be constantly open to the fresh breeze of the divine.  For whatever God is, God is the richest source from which we have our beings and are fulfilled as persons.

            The delightful thing about the doctrine of holiness in the mystical tradition, as well as from John Wesley, is its emphasis upon the perfection of love.  However, the question is whether the emphasis is upon the relational dimensions of love or upon some kind of internalized or interior life.  If we specify relation, then we clearly emphasize others; but if the interior life dominates, then preoccupation with self is the prime activity.  Human beings do not spirituality that encourages even further preoccupation with our favorite topic – us. Many practices of Oriental spirituality have come into the West with great profit to the spiritual formation of many persons. Yet, too much preoccupation with the self may bring the activity of the Holy Spirit to a screeching halt, as the yogic posturing of gazing at one’s navel seems to provide evidence. We do not a spirituality that makes us obsessive about us. We need a spirituality that helps us focus on others.

            Some denominations have the hidden assumption that in some manner regeneration and entire sanctification, as two definite and distinct crises, are the essence, the experiences par excellence of all religion, at least in this world.  Some will add that one such experience will have the element of speaking in tongues. Thus, we have the ceaseless rounds of people seeking these in some curious sense final experiences of the Spirit.  At least the popular mind frequently cannot get away from this.  Humanity does not have final experiences, except at death. If we could, we would be in heaven. Spiritual growth may have many such experiences that move us to further love toward God and toward others. Every experience of God is proleptic in that it remains open to amendment, deepening, and broadening in the future. Every experience of God is proleptic in that it is a taste of the fullness we will experience in God in eternity.

To the self-surrender of God in the cross corresponds our surrender to God. This is the human, ethical side of holiness or sanctification. The norm of this service is in Romans 12:2: be not conformed to this world. The transformation through which our action becomes sacrificial service of God consists in our letting ourselves be transformed through the renewal of our minds. It involves continual turning from a previous life and toward wholeness of life in Christ.

Sanctification involves increasing awareness of one’s own situation, a process of increasing freedom, a process of maturing us to the point of becoming aware of others and their needs in new ways, and a process of transcending oneself through contact with the holy in devotional practices such as meditation and prayer.

Moralism robs Christians of their liberty. Quietism robs Christians of the joy of discipleship. Faith becomes visible in the fruit of the Spirit, a humbling reality, for we always fall short of the claim of God upon us. Incompleteness is part of our life on earth. Therefore, this is not the basis of faith or the confidence of faith.  Saints prove themselves, not so much by their doing as by their being, as people who live from the love of God in Christ. Yet, the world needs saints active in the world.

Paul often wrote of the trilogy of faith, hope, and love as the expression of Christian life. I will follow the themes that Paul establishes.

First, faith is trust. We can characterize trust by a reference to the future, because those who trust believe that the future of their own being is made secure by the one in whose hands they place themselves. Faith is commitment to acceptance of the gracious movement of God toward us. I want to focus our conception of faith in the light of the reconciling work of God in Christ, recognizing that faith is not imposition external to the human condition, but a reflection of human life. The world religions have their commonality at this point. However, the content of Christian faith is Jesus Christ, his word, deed, and fate as an expression of the reconciling work of God. Faith leads to personal maturity, to community, to making more sense of life in the world. The extent to which faith lacks these qualities, it is an expression of the disorder of human life, and is an illusion. Christian life is both obedience and freedom.

Christian life is obedience as it conforms to Christ. Christian life is freedom from the tyranny of things and the frustration of meaninglessness of life that is impotent in the presence of guilt. Asserting freedom and autonomy loses them through an idolatry of the self. A life of obedience opens up new possibilities of freedom from that which is most oppressive and distorting, becoming the persons God intended us to be.

Faith becomes a personal communication of self-knowledge that we are sinners. Sincere followers of Jesus note with sadness that it has developed so little in them. This fruit is rather a bud than ripened fruit. They look forward to a future in which the faith begun will find fulfillment. It is impossible to stand in the faith without moving toward the goal. Faith carries the future within itself. The God whom we apprehend in Christ through faith we can never apprehend apart from the saving end that God has determined for Christ. It is acceptance of this communication rather than an act of knowing.

Our present Christian life is vastly different this ultimate future of God that has already dawned in Jesus Christ.  Even the maturity of the teaching of the church awaits the future preached by Jesus. For example, the church did not develop a mature teaching of the Trinity until the fourth century. 

Second, we also relate faith to knowledge. Faith is not scientific knowledge, nor is it the kind of knowledge that we normally term objective. Reasonable faith is not a blind leap, but a step taken in the light of all the thought and consideration that we can bring to bear on it. The future will show what is constant and therefore finally true.  The future will teach us what abides and what stands the test of time.  Therefore, faith is the form in which we relate to truth.  Faith determines our relation to truth.  We cannot know such matters in advance. 

What we know, the use of our understanding, can take us to a certain point.  Faith ventures beyond that boundary.  Faith stands between an initial knowledge that we have and a deeper knowledge that the future will reveal.  Faith does not mean acquiring information or assenting to a doctrine.  We can acquire information without personal involvement and maintain our distance. 

Third, faith has a connection with historical knowledge. Martin Buber is wrong when he contrasts the faith of the Jewish people with the faith of the Christian. Both focus upon “belief in” rather than “belief that.” However, both presuppose saving history, the Jewish people in the God of exodus and return, and Christians in the God of Jesus. Mere historical knowledge is inadequate precisely because it fails to grasp the deeper meaning of that history.  Thus, we direct our faith to God and to the future that God will bring.  Such an act presupposes knowledge and an assent to the proclamation of the gospel.  We must appropriate personally the significance of the history of Jesus as a promise of forgiveness. 

The knowledge of the history of Jesus depends upon the apostolic witness. Theology must insist that Christian faith have its basis on presupposition in the historical revelation of God.  Therefore, knowledge of those facts of history and assent to them form the presupposition of trust.  We have faith only in God.  Yet, that faith comes through the historical self-revelation of God and through our knowledge of it. 

All historical knowledge is, at best, a matter of probability.  Historical knowledge is insufficient.  The age of the mediating of all historical knowledge by authority has ended.  The church needs to accept the relativity of historical knowledge.  We must be ready to examine constantly the historical foundations of faith and to revise contemporary presentations where necessary.  The sense of truth that faith has recognizes that our knowledge is provisional.  This can be an occasion for deeper reflection on the nature of Christian truth.  In fact, all historical testimonies and interpretations have their own perspective and are relative.  Rather than accepting ancient authority, historians developed principles of reconstruction of the past. One could show the historical content of the biblical traditions to be generally valid only by taking part in the process of forming historical judgments. If under these new conditions, Christian theology clings to the authoritative form of establishing its teaching, especially as regards its historical foundations. If it accepts the change in the understanding of historical knowledge as a presupposition and basis of saving faith, then it must alter a whole series of principles and assumptions that are related to the traditional view of the link between authority and knowledge of the historical foundations of Christianity.

We must not absorb the object of faith in the act of faith, nor base it on this act of faith. Christian theology must insist that Christian faith has its basis and presupposition in the historical revelation of God. Knowledge of the facts of history in which God revealed God’s self are essential presuppositions of Christian trust. The basis of faith and our present provisional knowledge of it are different.  In contrast to the dogmatism of absolute truth claims that dominated the history of Christian thought for so long, recognition that historical knowledge is limited and provisional can be an occasion for Christian faith to move toward deeper reflection on its own nature in its own provisional situation this side of the future God has defined for the world. Therefore, we accept a variety of theological constructions. In the act of trust, we entrust our future well being to that on which we put our trust.  We assume the object of our trust will prove trustworthy.  Christians who are aware of their own historical nature will realize that their understanding of this sustaining basis is generally provisional and in need of correction regardless of the final truth of the basis.

We distinguish between fact and interpretation (symbol), which already demonstrates awareness that interpretations are historical and provisional. Christians also may be aware of the distinction between the basis of faith and our present provisional knowledge of it. Our own faith knowledge becomes a mere thought of faith. This justifies a plurality of theological constructions. Awareness of such relative and provisional knowledge of faith is justified when there are cogent reasons for the conviction. Among the dynamics of interpretation, not all the effects left by historical figures define their uniqueness. We move from acquiring knowledge to worship. The results of such historical research into the purely factual are never the basis of faith or theology. In the act of trust, we entrust the future well-being of our own existence to that on which we put our trust, with the expectation that it will prove trustworthy.

Fourth, faith also has a relationship to the assurance of salvation. The assurance of salvation through faith does not rest on logic, sense experience, human experience or self-certainty.  The Christian tradition speaks of rest in God, in the midst of doubt. Faith implies a doubt, in that faith is not a position secured once for all. Faith continually renews itself. Faith can accept questioning of the knowledge of its object as an assault on the brokenness of its knowledge by God himself and with a readiness to receive further instruction about the basis of its confidence.  The assurance of faith anticipates the future consummation of individual life with God.  The assurance of faith lives in tension with the process of experience.  That assurance is under assault from the relation to God, the historical basis of faith, or to the subjectivity of its own relation to faith.  Such questions reveal the broken knowledge of God that we have.  We need further instruction as to the basis of that faith and our confidence in it. 

Confessional conflict between denominations shattered the binding character of the bible.  Knowing the truth demands a path, a process of experience and reflection.  Rather than speaking of certainty in such matters, let us reflect upon the nature of the confidence that we have. Confidence is a provisional form of the sense of truth that transcends itself as full truth only in the concept.  Christian tradition rarely analyzed the link between the assurance of faith and the rise of confidence. We gradually integrate truth into increasingly broader contexts.  Truth demands a path, a process of experience and reflection. Anticipation of the totality of the context of life and world conditions the confidence in the truth of every assertion or judgment that we make.  Truth is one, no matter how many individual truths we observe in their inter-relation.  The confidence of judgment is provisional and anticipatory.  We must test it in the further course of experience.  We must expose it to the danger that we might undermine its truth and prove it empty.  

A rational account can never do full justice to what is present as a whole in feeling and to what is articulated in religious ideas. After the manner of feeling, we have to confess that the consummation of the world and our own lives has dawned in the history of Jesus and that it is present to faith even if still provisionally by suffering and death. If the gospel speaks in this way to our feelings, we can accept it as the promise of God. When that happens it is plain that faith in it, trust in Jesus Christ, is God’s own command, and thus in faith we can be sure of the truth of God in Christ notwithstanding the assaults to which this faith is still exposed.

Hope is not simply optimism. Hope is too realistic to be carried by naive optimism. The expansion of knowledge and technological development is not the salvation of the human race. We cannot overcome evil so easily. Hope is in the activity and presence of God in the world, not in the activity of people. The foundation of this hope is in Jesus, who demonstrated the reconciling work of God in the cross. Hope looks forward to the final reconciling activity of God. This does not mean hope is otherworldly or escapist. Hope has to do with where we are now, in the midst of this world. The fulfillment of hope depends upon how we cooperate now with the work of God. This cooperation is another risk that God takes, and this is not a matter of indifference. Hope is part of the saving work of God because it recognizes the threat of dissolution into nothingness.

Hope implies the incompleteness of life as it is now.  Hope has confidence in the possible fulfillment of that life.  Hope contains an element of self-transcendence as people move beyond themselves to the object of their trust. Note the close connection between faith and hope in Romans 4, Paul’s reflections on Abraham. Faith depends on the promise of God. It becomes saving faith only as we accept the promise as pertaining to ourselves. The hope rests upon faith. Hope reaches beyond what is present to something that is not yet visible. Romans 8:24-25; II Corinthians 5:7; Hebrews 11:1). Since this is part of all hope, it is part of our being human. Self-transcendence characterizes human life. We have dissatisfaction with all that we now are and have, in the sense that everything we see is frail and perishable. We are on the way to a future fulfillment that transcends all that now is. We vacillate between hope and despair. The pressure of the not yet in the tendencies and latencies of material processes forms the ontological basis of the impulsive nature of life, hunger, and dreams. Perishing has its basis in becoming, and in the uncertainty of life.

We cannot accomplish on our own and by our own action the wholeness and fulfillment of our lives. Nor can we expect the random happenings of life bring this fulfillment. The hope of fulfillment transcends what is possible for us to do or in the ordinary course of life. Such hope goes beyond normal human experience. We cannot base this hope on uncertainty. Paul found the promise, not in himself or in the course of events, but in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

Faith lifts us above our entanglement in the vicious circle of sin and death by uniting us to Jesus and giving us a share in his Spirit. We then acquire a hope beyond death. We then establish a perspective from which we can overcome the egotistical structure of human hopes. Christian hope is not simply for oneself.  Such hopes are often at the expense of others. Individual hopes may be met, but in the larger context of the saving and reconciling work of God in Christ. Faith in Jesus Christ frees us from imprisonment in self and lifts us above the self.  Faith gives rise to a hope that is concerned with the cause of God in the world that has the salvation of all humanity as its goal. 

Christians believe in the salvation promised them in the resurrection of Jesus and that means new life after death. Their hope is finally in God and in fellowship with the eternal life of God. The belief in individual immortality can lead to the criticism of an expanded sense of self and egotism.  This occurred because people separated personal immortality from universal eschatology. 

At the same time, the belief in the individual and the modern concept of human rights has its roots in the love of God for the lost.  This Christian teaching believed in the infinite preciousness of human beings.  Individuals cannot achieve their identity in the totality of their existence without others. We realize our social destiny only when all individuals have attained unreduced identity. This union of individual and social identity has no possibility of complete fulfillment in the present conditions of this limited human life.

We cannot fully overcome natural and social evils, even if we can modify them. Individual hope for the fulfillment of our lives breaks off individual life and leaves it behind, only as a fragment of the intended totality. Humanity achieves its fulfillment as a common future only when all individuals of all ages may participate. When Christian groups focus upon this-worldly hopes, it is inevitable that conflict and special interests emerge. Only a focus upon future hope can bring increased Christian unity. Eschatological hope encourages the drive for a present, provisional fulfillment of that hope.  It also recognizes the limits that any such fulfillment can achieve. 

      We do not take heaven seriously.  Preachers give few sermons on the topic.  We have thought that such talk is “other worldly” and therefore not relevant to this world.  Our desire to make this world better may have blinded us to the truth that we are, like John Wesley, “a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air.”  Advances in health care and self-care have made life in the world longer.  However, it is certain to end for all.  We are spirits come from God and returning to God.  Heaven may not hold much interest for us.  We need to integrate salvation in this world and the next in preaching, teaching, and daily living.  Too many of us have lost the joy of our salvation.  Part of the reason is that we no longer believe with much certainty that we have all come from God, live with God now, and return to God at the end.  Could such a belief reduce anxiety and stress?  Would our priorities change?  Would we embark upon an intentional life of discipleship?  Christians at their best look life and death full in the face without fear because they know to whom they belong and where they are going.  We are on a journey to somewhere.  Do I dare suggest that eternity with God (heaven) is a destination worthy of our attention and our hope? 

Love is the culminating quality of the Christian life. Love is also the quality of human life that brings our humanity to completion and perfection. The life of Christ is an expression of love. Love is not simply union, although this can be part of what love means. Love leads to community. Love is also letting the other be. Union can be little more than another form of tyranny destructive of genuine community. Forcing union, where people need freedom to be, is indeed tyranny and egocentrism. In this sense, love enables or empowers the other toward the full realization of their potential. This love is costly, for it means spending one’s own life for the sake of the other. God becomes the third party in every relationship of love. Genuine love of another leads him or her to God. We envision beyond external differences the union participation of the person in human community and their connection to God. When we love God in and through the other, we purge love from self-centeredness and become the love that, as Paul suggested, seeks not its own.

Christian hope gives wings to love, broadening beyond simply love of self. The imagination of love feeds off hope. Our love for God is a response to the love God has shown in Jesus and leads beyond to participation in the love that God has for the world. The bible often declares that God is love, as in I John 4:8, 16, II Corinthians 13:11. The command in John 13:34 has the same effect. Note also Paul in Romans 5:5. Jesus also spoke of this love, as in Luke 15, Matthew 4:44-45, his sayings on forgiveness all testify to this focus. Such love includes the enemy. Aristotle focused upon the equality and reciprocity of friendship love that does not do justice to the relation between God and humanity. Our love for God is not a separate theme of the love of God for the world and our sharing in that love by loving the neighbor. We must beware, however, that this love can have its selfish dimension, as well as forgetfulness of the world that God loves. 

If Christian love is essentially a participation in the love of God for the world, then we have to ask whether we can distinguish at all between love of God and love of neighbor.  However, this can lead to a moralistic interpretation of Christianity.  The relation to God can fade out as a distinct theme. Some thinkers would welcome this result. Balzac suggested the possibility of the Christian atheist, and Rothe the possibility of “unconscious Christianity.” However, if Christian ethics are desirable, can they exist independently of Christian teaching?

The question remains whether faith as trust describes in a clear way the love of God that is required of us and that is fitting in the relation of humanity to God. Faith implies the love God as a presupposition. Yet, faith does not contain all aspects of love. Faith includes love of God, and thus elevates us to participation into the family relationship that Jesus had with God. We love God by letting God be God for us. God becomes our God. Love of God and neighbor are not different realities but two aspects of human participation in the same love of God. In this sense, Aquinas and Scotus are right. However, since they did not explain the structure of this love in the context of the Trinity, they could link the orientation from our participation in divine love. We may even think of eros, in all its brokenness, as yearning for fellowship with God and as a dynamic running through all creation, consistent with early Greek authors like Dionysius the Areogapite and Maximus the Confessor.

Love also has a close connection with grace. I do not mean just the grace that leads to forgiveness of sin. I refer to the lifting up of our lives into fellowship with a gracious God, and participate in the gracious turning of God toward the world. The East (Irenaeus and Athanasius) understood grace as the participation in God that is brought about by being made like God.  Augustine viewed love as grace in the sense of this exaltation of our being to God and this movement by God.  However, the history of theology has never clarified how the love turning of God to us relates to the gift of grace that believers receive. Grace relates not merely to the personal encounter of God with us, but grasps us and is assigned to us as a gift. Precisely as gift, grace is identical with God, that is, with the Holy Spirit who is given to us. The same is true of the love that the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts. Of course, the objection that this would mean that God become part of our created reality is not removed. However, only the effects and impulses count as part of our human reality. Does not the idea of the Spirit as gift say something about the nature of this indwelling? Only because of our elevation to Christ by faith can we say that Christ is in us. In addition, this faith manifests the love of God that became known in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that renews us inwardly after the pattern of Christ in which our destiny to be the image of God. The traditional teaching of the church concerning grace has not paid enough attention to the unfolding of grace in the history of Jesus himself. We cannot view the imparting of grace as separate from that history. The issue in the grace of God is the attitude and love that God demonstrated to us in the history of Jesus. Believers share in that grace through faith, which establishes fellowship with God. Grace is not a quality or power different from Jesus Christ. Jesus himself is the gift of divine love to whom believers are conformed by the Spirit. They draw into this relation to God, reconcile to God, and freely participate in the love of God for the world.

Faith is not the end, but the means.  The end is love.  John Wesley once said, "Let this love be attained, by whatever means, and I am content; I desire no more.  All is well if we love the Lord our God with all our heart, and our neighbor as ourselves."[3]  We live in a time when people do not seem to evangelize.  One question we might ask is this: "Do you see such a surplus of profound Christian love in the world that you see no need to share the good news?"  We hide behind words like tolerance and diversity.  I wonder how long we can avert our eyes from the suffering, evil, and hate that so dominate the world that we get off our backsides and make a difference. 


Authentic Spirituality

            The process of continuing modernization in the secularized societies of the Western world has produced increasingly widespread and intense feelings of alienation among their individual members. The development of industrialization and bureaucratization presents modern society to the individual as an immensely complicated and anonymous system that does not care for the personal needs and problems of the individual. As traditional social structures such as the family, where the individual occupied a meaningful place, dissolve or lose their power as centers of orientation, the individual often feels homeless and abandoned in the personal center of his or her life. Personal identity becomes a problem.

            Many seek help from the psychologist. Yet, the psychologist has few tools with which to help people toward a meaningful life other than the meaning one creates for oneself. The loneliness and potential fragmentation of the ego leaves little hope for psychology to provide a lasting solution.

            Religion is a response to the profound question of human life. What is humanity? What is the meaning and purpose of our lives? What is goodness? What is sin? What gives rise to our sorrows and to what intent? What is the path to true happiness? What is the truth about life in the context of eternity? Hinduism expresses its answers in myths, philosophical enquiry, and asceticism. Buddhism expresses its answers in acknowledging the insufficiency of this finite world to provide satisfaction to the hunger of the human mind and heart. It seeks freedom through enlightenment. Moslems share with Christians and Jews a belief in one majestic God who speaks to humanity. They view Jesus as a prophet and Mary as his virgin mother. Jews share with Christians the faith of Abraham and Moses. Christians cannot call upon the Father of us all and at the same time reject our fraternity or family resemblance with people of all faiths.

            The matter of spirituality seems remarkably relevant to the spiritual needs of the alienated human individual in modern secular society. However, Christianity will have to makes changes in its approach to the post-Christian modern culture in which the church now lives. The church has done this before. For example, Christian Personalism shows a concern for the individual human person and for the eternal value of the person. It made an analogy between the creative freedom of God with the human person being creative and free in the image of God. Even the Enlightenment view of individual freedom, though still dominant, seems increasingly beset by difficulties because of the growing awareness of the social conditions of human identity and the epidemic feeling of the shallow and arbitrary character of formal freedom.

            The particular change in spirituality Christianity needs to make is its emphasis upon human sinfulness. Modern people rarely agonize over their sinfulness. The conventional wisdom of modernity is that of pluralism and tolerance. It includes individualization of lifestyles. The reduction of Christian and religious influence the civil society has led to the reduction of the sense of sinfulness. Moral standards are part of private life, thereby weakening their ability to provide social cohesion. Of course, due to the family and community background of some persons, agonizing over sin will continue. Yet, for many modern persons, their own sinfulness is not an obvious experience. Christians need to remember that the concept of sin does not belong to the immediacy of personal experience, but rather to the explanation of such experience. It is not true that based on immediate awareness every individual should admit his or her sinfulness. Rather, we do so only retrospectively, based on a Christian understanding of ourselves, that we identify a certain structure of behavior as sinful. The experience of oneself as a sinner presupposes an understanding of human nature. Since the Christian understanding of humanity is no longer part of the modern view of humanity, the church is not effective in its witness when it calls people to reflect upon the individual experience to provide an experiential basis on which to argue for other Christian assertions.

            In world religions, Christianity needs to connect with Buddhism at the point of anthropology. Both religions promise liberation of the human person from bondage in this world. In conversation with Judaism and Islam, the focus needs to be upon God. With Hinduism, the conversation needs to be an understanding of reality.

            Buddhism and Christianity differ on the structure of existence, especially of human existence and human subjectivity. The modern autonomous self is critical of traditional authorities though still uncritical in relation to itself. Post-modernity has a fragmented sense of self. Christianity has a possible answer to the modern sense of self in the famous phrase of Luther, that God justifies us outside ourselves. Faith places us outside self, because in the act of trust our existence is built on the one to whom we entrust ourselves, to whom we quite literally leave ourselves. Luther liked to describe faith as an event carrying us beyond ourselves. The human subject cannot become a new person within the structure of the self. Rather, that possibility becomes real as we move beyond what we were before, finding our true freedom and authentic self beyond ourselves. It suggests that the death of ego is necessary in order to come to one’s authentic self or true identity. Conformity with the self-giving love of Christ on the part of the believer characterizes the relation between Christ and the believer. Such conformity continues through participating in the love of Christ in relation to others, bringing believers into the community of the church and the world. We find the primary metaphor for this conformity in the body of Christ. Buddhism focuses on the experience of the human self as alienated and fragmented. Dialogue with Buddhism can free Christianity from overemphasizing penitential piety that tends to pervert the good news and deprive it of its joy and enthusiasm.

            The Trinity helps Christianity address the question of how God and the world are different in such a way that each is not separate from the other. In this way, the dialogue between Buddhism and Christianity that begins in anthropology moves toward a discussion of ultimate reality, for the question becomes one of obtaining self-identity. The Buddhist will wonder why Christianity insists on the uniqueness of a historical person. Zen wants identification with emptiness rather than Christ. One question would be whether the wisdom of the wise and the Nirvana of the wise still opposed to the world of emergence and decay, the world of Samsara. The Christian might also ask Buddhism: Does not the movement of negation inevitably constitute a new opposition at each turn? Buddhism may create a form of dualism between the enlightened and unenlightened life in the world of Samsara. In Christianity, the mystery of divine involvement in the positive actuality of life is seen as affirmative of human existence. God affirms individual existence for eternity. Christians rely upon the loving promise of the Father. The presence of God in Christ is definitive in its overwhelming affirmation of finite existence. The historically unique in every individual life is important to the degree that the divine affirmation of finite reality encourages hope for a definitive future of individual existence beyond this transitory state, the hope for a resurrection of the dead and for a renewed heaven and earth. All of this puzzles the Buddhist. The hope for the future rule of God is a place that marks the difference between Christianity and Buddhism. This hope is the foundation for the Christian longing for the transfiguration of this world into the glory of God.

            The Christian and Jewish concern for sinfulness has its basis in naming everything that resists the spirit of transformation into the glory of God. In Christianity piety, that which resists transformation within us is sin, and we justly have sorrow, pain, and repentance. Yet, concern can also lead to morose worry over one’s sinful condition and perversely justify oneself by confessing oneself a sinner. God loves to forgive sin, and we love to sin, so apparently both divine and human get what they desire. However, we need to understand sin in the context of divine affirmation of the individual and the world, desiring the transformation of self and world. By faith, that affirmation and joy become present in the individual now. The divine affirmation of the individual is the basis of the transforming and historical character of the Christian message. Therefore, we can realize our authentic self only outside ourselves and in Christ. The Christian emphasis upon Christ shows where ultimate reality impinges upon the human person.

God calls the church to lead a life in the world and with the world, while yet distinct from the darkness that often afflicts it. This life requires a life of piety and contemplation. Although the church all too easily slips into moralism and ritualism, the life of piety is not the means of salvation, but rather the fruit of the saving purpose of God in the individual and in the community. While Luther focused upon justification, the focus of Calvin was the Christian life. Yet, even in the period immediately after the Reformation, the focus became right doctrine and shifted quickly away from right living. Pietism and Puritanism recovered the centrality of Christian life. Christian life is the arena, the field, in which God works out the gift of salvation. One aspect of this salvation is the demonstration of this salvation in daily living, through which God receives glory. The saving purpose of God for the end of history becomes part of the lives of individuals and the life of the community, even if in a broken and provisional way. Religion is far from residing in the purely external. It requires a lively faith, sustained by piety. Such a life is both a gift and a task. The gift is what God has done in Christ. That gift transforms our lives through a life of piety, through works of love, through faith, and through hope. That transformation occurs because the love of God lives in us through the Holy Spirit. This transformation shows itself in identification with the suffering in the world. Within the context of a life of piety, doing good to others is the result of placing ourselves in the place of the person who needs help, entering into the suffering of the other person as if we ourselves underwent that suffering. Contemplation, meditation, and silence reinterpret our lives as lived in the presence of God. The awareness of God pervades all activity, with silence preparing the way for hearing anew the World and the Spirit.

Such piety does not remove the paradox and conflict inherent in human life, and therefore in Christian life. Question and doubt assail faith; death assails life; self-destructive forces assail the life-giving power of the Spirit.  Such a life of piety does not find rest in enthusiasm or extraordinary experiences, such as stigmata, dreams, miracles, visions, speaking in tongues, or dancing in the Spirit. Works of love do not become simple social activism or humanitarianism. Health and wealth are not the immediate products of this life; Christian life is not just a technique to learn; sanity, healthy living, emotional stability, absolution from bad feelings, all of which may be good, are not the obvious products of Christian living.

Piety is our reverent attachment to the sources of our being and the steadying of our lives by that attachment.  We must absorb and interpret the past that has made us, so that we may hand down its heritage reinforced.  The true objects of piety are those on which life and its interests really depend.  Parents first, then family, ancestors, and country, finally, humanity at large and the whole natural cosmos.  It helps to call thought home.  It saves speculative and emotional life from hurtful extravagance by keeping it traditional and social.  In honoring the sources of life, piety is retrospective.  It collects food for morality, and fortifies it with natural and historic nutriment. 

Spirituality is the aspiring side of religion.  It is nobler than piety, because what would fulfill our being and make it worth having is what alone lends value to the being’s source.  The philosopher’s task is to discover an escape from worldliness that shall offer a rational advance over it, such as fanaticism and mysticism cannot afford.  Worldliness is arrest and absorption in the instrumentalities of life.  Instrumentalities cannot exist without ultimate purposes, and it suffices to lift the eyes to those purposes, and it suffices to lift the eyes to those purposes and to question the will sincerely about its essential preferences, to institute a catalogue of rational goods, by pursuing any of which we escape worldliness.

            The split between personal piety and communal worship and liturgy has become a source of weakness in our understanding and experience of spirituality. This personal devotion shapes the enthusiasm of the pietists of the late 1600’s. England and Germany imported it to America, and it dominated the first and second great awakenings and shaped the revivalist tradition. For many persons in the pew, the acceptance of Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior is what the gospel is all about. Such personal piety is only one form of spirituality. The flaw is that it lacks connection to worship, baptism, and the Eucharist. We are social beings. In our times, we so focus upon the individual expression that we do not experience the depths to which we depend upon community. We cannot separate personal and communal life. In spirituality, we have lost the connection between personal and corporate prayer.



Spirituality as love

            Religion has its root in a feeling of uneasiness with the various limits of our lives. We are finite and temporal creatures, bounded by physical and cultural limits. We become aware of that which is beyond the boundaries, and slowly recognize that the infinite and eternal embrace us. Something is wrong as we are. The solution somehow resides outside of us, making a proper connection with that which is beyond.

            Christian spirituality suggests that aim of one’s life is to become a human being who reminds others of their source and destiny in Christ. The focus is authentic spirituality, a possibility through relationships with others and with God. Authentic spirituality refers to the orientation of one’s life toward Christ, an orientation never fully realized in the present. The assurance of forgiveness that justification brings provides the foundation for authentic spirituality. The fact that forgiveness of sin in justification includes those whom we have harmed suggests that authentic spirituality is also in community. Authentic spirituality is for this world, enabling us to turn toward this world with love and grace. Since God has left no one alone in this world, the potential is present for every person to respond to this love and grace, to this life-giving Spirit. The human predicament is a social predicament, in that we express our sin toward others. The healing of the human predicament is a social healing, in that the reconciling work of God in Christ seeks the healing of relationships within humanity as well as with God. Laws and rules will not provide the integration and direction that spirituality requires. Rather, the wisdom the bible provides in terms of loving God and neighbor, of honoring the body, of cultivating virtue and avoiding vice, of pursuing peace and justice, occur in the context of Christian community. No one can have any degree of authentic spirituality without participation in Christian community and loving embrace of the world that God loves. Authentic spirituality is nothing less than love actualized in our character and in our action. The life-giving Spirit calls all Christians to the fullness of that life.


Mark 12:28-34 (NRSV)

28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

John 13:34-35 (NRSV)

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

1 Corinthians 8:1-3 (NRSV)

 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge; 3 but anyone who loves God is known by him.

1 John 4:19-21 (NRSV)

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

1 John 3:10-24 (NRSV)

10 The children of God and the children of the devil are revealed in this way: all who do not do what is right are not from God, nor are those who do not love their brothers and sisters.

11 For this is the message you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. 12 We must not be like Cain who was from the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own deeds were evil and his brother’s righteous. 13 Do not be astonished, brothers and sisters, that the world hates you. 14 We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. 15 All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them. 16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.

23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NRSV)

4 Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7 It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8 Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.


Texts like these suggest that, although forgiven sin is a crucial beginning, it is not the sole purpose of God in this world for humanity. Humanity has a disease from which it needs healing. The healing of that disease draws humanity closer to that God intends for the individual and for the human race. A loving orientation toward God and toward others starts us on that path. This love includes family, friends, and neighbors. This love includes the enemy and the outcast. Spirituality is nothing less than love. Genuine happiness in human life is the assurance that we are on this path.

            Spirituality consists of moving humanity nearer to what God intends. Spirituality is the human capacity for relationship that transcends the purely biological and genetic. For that reason, we cannot separate the spiritual from the unspiritual, for everyone has the capacity for developing such relationship. We do not possess spirituality. Rather, we receive, wait, and trust. Spirituality expands our awareness of self and world in such a way that it shows itself in action oriented toward actualizing what God is doing in the world.

            Clergy receive little training in spirituality. The focus of clergy education is church management, psychology, and some biblical and theological studies. The church gives little training to clergy in this area of life, in spite of the expectation of people in the pew that clergy have the ability to offer spiritual guidance and contact with God.

Christian Fellowship

Christian fellowship is a means of grace that theologians recognized only relatively recently.  In fact, John Wesley came to understand this as a distinct means of grace only later in life.  Why?  He experienced such grace in the Methodist Society and class meetings.  Small groups of Christians, meeting for study, for accountability, for support, for prayer, was central to the growth of early Methodist.  These groups ought not to be idealized. They can be  important means of grace.  They can also be cause for dissension and division. Since the time of Wesley, it has become much more common to consider such Christian fellowship as a means of grace in its own right.

            Christian fellowship, or involvement in discipleship/covenant groups, is an important part of leading a life of discipleship.  The purpose of this interaction is to help people live the holy life and   bringing Christianity into ordinary life.

            The favorable impression made on those outside the church often arises from the fellowship and friendship that people experience within the church.


 (Acts 2:41-47 NRSV)  So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. {42} They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. {43} Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. {44} All who believed were together and had all things in common; {45} they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. {46} Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, {47} praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

(Acts 4:32-37 NRSV)  Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. {33} With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. {34} There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. {35} They laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. {36} There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means "son of encouragement"). {37} He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.

(Acts 5:12-14 NRSV)  Now many signs and wonders were done among the people through the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. {13} None of the rest dared to join them, but the people held them in high esteem. {14} Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women,

(Acts 9:31 NRSV)  Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.


This quality of fellowship has a close connection with the new life in Christ and in the Spirit. One Spirit animates this fellowship.


(Rom 12:3-5 NRSV)  For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. {4} For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, {5} so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

(1 Cor 12:4-7 NRSV)  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; {5} and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; {6} and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. {7} To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

(Eph 2:17-22 NRSV)  So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; {18} for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. {19} So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, {20} built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. {21} In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; {22} in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

(Eph 4:15-16 NRSV)  But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, {16} from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.

(1 Pet 2:5-10 NRSV)  like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. {6} For it stands in scripture: "See, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." {7} To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner," {8} and "A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. {9} But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. {10} Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.


We teach and learn, impart and receive, in the context of this community of believers. Since the church has an influx of persons, it requires persons to move from receiving to giving, from learning to teaching. People new to the community have profound influence upon others who have been in the church much longer. This mutual influence keeps the community alive and open to the future. We share what Christ has done through us with others, and also receive that gift from others. This is the cooperative element of Christian community of friends. This mutuality leads us toward common vision and mission. This fellowship is a sign of the future community of humanity that God intends. Many human associations end. Such is not true of Christian fellowship. What we recognize in the other is a common love to Christ. This supplies a unifying principle that is not interrupted by other forces. In this sense, the Christian community shares in the common spirit of any human endeavor toward the advancement of what is good, true, and just. The Holy Spirit is not something external to human nature or human community, but rather is the gift of God to humanity that brings us to our fulfillment. Yet, beyond this common spirit of human endeavor, we share in the gift of the Holy Spirit, given to all, and is indeed the condition of anyone sharing in the common life of the church. This gift of the Spirit to the community and individual does not cause higher and lower forms of Christians, for the Spirit is one and works toward the common good. Although we must acknowledge a connection with the common spirit of the human race, we must also acknowledge that the Holy Spirit lifts Christian community toward the divine destiny for the human race. The gift of the Spirit answers the need of the incompleteness of the human quest and suggests the direction and fulfillment of human hopes and dreams for the reign of what is good, just, loving, and true. The Holy Spirit unites with Christ, the fruit of the Spirit being nothing more than the virtues of Jesus himself applied to the individual and the community.

Many forces exist within the church that inhibits this work of the Spirit. The effects of the event of reconciliation are partial and hidden. They do not transform this world into the kingdom of God. Even in individual cases they are subject to the ambiguities of human life in a not yet perfect world. The new existence of Christians is without ambivalence only beyond the self in Christ and in the sign of the participation of believers in him through baptism and the Lord’s Supper as preliminary signs, as well as in the liturgical life of the church as a whole. The same is true of the fellowship of the church. In it the salvation fellowship of the reign of God is a reality present only in the form of a sign, namely, in its Eucharistic worship and in the celebration of the Supper. Hence the organized form of church life has also the task of serving the presence by sign of the mystery of Christ’s salvation.

Believers live in the world as those through whom Christ in present and at work by the Spirit.  The church does not exist only at worship.  It also exists in the everyday life of the world.  That which constitutes baptized believers and the worshipping community must be demonstrated in everyday life.  The ambiguity of the world makes this demonstration tenuous.  Faith has a hidden impact upon the everyday life of believers, and therefore a hidden impact upon the world.  Only in worship does the ambiguity of everyday witness dissolve.  The fellowship of believers needs organization and order.  The ministry of leadership supplies the link between everyday life and the worship life of the church.



A modern life and prayer

            The Bible ascribes all the activities of the universe to the influence of God.  The idea of a rational, scientific operation of the universe is not available to the biblical authors.  Some of us may still have the belief that God says to the sun each morning: “All right, it is time to get up.”  However, most of us have become aware enough of science to know that the universe operates according to its own system.  The world begins to look like a vast machine that runs itself.  Does such an awareness of scientific laws push God further way?  The new knowledge of the universe and of history that we gain makes us realize that our more childish notions of God became inadequate.  We need a larger view of God to meet the new need of this modern, scientific world.  Without such honest reflection, we may abandon, in a practical way, any thought of God all together.

            Through our modern, scientific view of the world, we push God further back into history.  If we think of God at all, God becomes the engineer who started the universe and history.  God does not have direct involvement in the universe or in history.  To the extent that we think in this way, we hinder our life of prayer. 

            The modern, scientific view of the universe and of history seems to exclude a belief in the guiding providence of God.  Yet, this connection between our lives and the general purpose of God is vital for a life of prayer.  If God cannot mould people and events, then what is the use of praying? How does God act in a world, which we can explain by other causes?

            To take these reflections a step further, how can God shape the course of nature and history without interfering with the perceived natural laws that guide them?  Are miracles possible, given our modern, scientific world?  Without belaboring the point, maybe we need to consider the possibility that what we view as a miracle (interference in law) may be the fulfillment of a higher law that we have not yet understood.  The world we can see is a surrounded by a spiritual world we cannot see, and only dimly understand.  Belief in the providence of God ought not to be confused with the arrogant assumption that providence must be used as we wish.  With all the questions we may have, we pray with the confidence that God can mould events and people to fulfill God’s own purpose. 

            In the background of this discussion is the issue of petition in prayer.  Petition is among the primary tendencies within in us that lead us to pray.  Yet, the modern, scientific view of the world becomes a hindrance to such prayer.  We live in world of cause and effect.  For many people, expecting God to change anything in answer to our request is absurd.  Scientific measurements of the universe become increasingly precise.  Where we have questions, where mysteries still confound us, we do not doubt that the answers will come through science.  Such realities are true, whether dealing with other galaxies, or with our own earth.  In fact, we can even look at the operations of our own bodies and minds and notice the operation of natural processes.  Definite petitions to God seem absurd.  For many people, communion with God grows difficult. 

The Bible does not help us much with such difficulties.  After all, just as the Bible assumes the existence of God, it assumes the element of petition in prayer.  We can explain this reality by recognizing the difference between the biblical world and our own world.  Yet, we need to recognize that not even the scientific view of the world is as predictable as we might like.  We can use our knowledge of the laws of the universe to explain phenomena that seem unexplainable.  We can use such knowledge to do things that do not seem possible.  For example, why does some water run up hill?  How can we make heavy substances float upon the water or fly through the air?  We influence the universe with our own will and personality.  We can use such rules of nature, not simply obey them.  They serve those who have the knowledge and will to use them. Too often, we think of cause and effect in the natural world as a rigid system.  We need to appreciate the influence that our own will and purpose has molded and shaped natural laws.  We have used our creativity and knowledge to effect massive changes upon the earth.  We have made natural law the servant of personal will.

             Such reflections may lead us to reflect upon the ways God may influence nature and events to move toward God’s own purpose.  We explain the operation of the universe and of history with increasing precision.  Yet, we use such knowledge to our own purpose.  Do we really mean to say that God is less free than we are to use the laws of the universe to God’s own purpose?  If this is true, then providence is possible.  Though the Bible does not deal directly with this issue, we can share its confidence in the freedom of God to help people.  God must not answer many prayers.  There are no good prayers God cannot answer.  God does not remake the world for the asking, not because God cannot, but because God must not.  It may be convenient for us today that it does not rain, but that does not mean, in the great scheme of the universe, that it would be for God to abide by such a request.  We can have confidence in the freedom and power of God.  However, due humility will restrain us from making a presumptuous application of this truth to prayer.  We need to pray about everything, in submission to the will of God.  This is both more humane and more Christian than falsely limiting our prayers to what we might think permissible.  Our faith is not in prayer in itself.  However, prayer in faith asks everything in submission to the will of God.  It desires never to force its wish on God.  Rather, it seeks to align its wish with the will of God. 

            Intercessory prayer is an experience of connectedness and mutuality, because it is praying in God who lives in relationships. In intercession, we meet others in the participation of Father, Son, and Spirit. We enter into the life of prayer already going on within the communion of God’s being. We pray to the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit. This is why the everlasting God has time for us. Now, if this is the experience of intercessory prayer, no theory of God’s action can be non-relational and non-mutual. We can agree that at least some happenings that stand out as special acts of God might be of such a kind as to draw our attention to the overall purpose of God for our lives and the life of the world. However, people who talk constantly about what the Lord does in a way that implies special intention and even intervention n every detail of the day’s events are denying the freedom of the world and its inhabitants to be themselves. God does not act in a coercive way. God acts in persuasive ways. How do we receive this persuasion? How do we come into the sphere of the attraction of divine persuasion? It consists in our being exposed both to the purposes of God for the world and to the sufferings of God with the world. The activity of God as persuasive makes sense of intercessory prayer. Our hopes, expectations and longings for someone are assumed into God’s own persuasion, augmenting and amplifying the urgings of God’s Spirit, so that together God and the interceders begin to work transformation. Whether we want someone to act justly and generously, or to be comforted, or to be strong in the face of adversity, God is the means of communicating this desire to them, and of making it effective within God’s own pressure of grace where on its own it could achieve little. At the same time, the one praying is becoming attuned to the desires of God, prompted to act appropriately to change the situation with practical deeds of help. Paul said that the weakness of God is stronger than human strength in I Cor. 1:18-25, suggesting that persuasion is the form of activity God has chosen in this world. God knows the strength of persuasive love. The issue is whether love is stronger than evil. The resurrection of Jesus gives us good reason to believe that this is the reality. God is not a self-victim of the universe, even if we can perceive a risk of tragedy within the triumph. In the blend of tragedy and triumph, God leaves things open, making space for our contribution to the creative project. God knows at any moment all that one can know about the future. God also knows the strength of love to bring the best possibilities about, those that will make for the greatest flourishing of life and the richest emergence of values. However, God knows these as possibilities, not as actualities, because they have not yet happened.


Prayer as friendship with God and world

At the beginning of such a discussion on prayer, we need to be quite clear. The test of prayer is bearing fruit, not how good I felt.  Especially, do we bear the fruit of compassion and love? Everything said here has the objective of helping us be at this point.

            The practice of prayer is not so simple as words sometimes make it seem.  For example, prayer assumes the awareness of the presence of God.  Yet, this is often not as automatic as we might wish.  The sense of God’s presence is often a laborious achievement of the spirit.  We ought not to take God’s presence for granted.  All of us have moods when the vision of God grows dim.  We need to recognize that this is a familiar experience, and therefore not become discouraged.  To surrender to such moods is to leave ourselves open to failure in Christian discipleship.  Still others do not seem to feel easily the presence of God.  We need to recognize that there are many ways of praying, even in the bible.  The best of the saints experienced times when it seemed like their prayers were little more than talking to empty space.  Prayer calls us to our own hearts.  It is in our hearts that we communion with God.  We focus upon our search for God.  We need to recognize that God is searching for us.  Read Luke 15.  According to the way most of us pray, the shepherd is lost, and the sheep have gone out to find him.  We are the ones who wander.  God is the one seeking us and bringing us home.  God’s search for us is before our search for God.  Prayer is not groping after God.  Prayer is opening our lives to God.  Finding God is really allowing God to find us.

Prayer gets us in touch with God, causing us to swing like a needle to the pole star of the Spirit. It gives us focus, unity, purpose. We discover serenity, the unshakable firmness of life orientation. Prayer opens us to the subterranean sanctuary of the soul where we hear the voice of the Lord. It puts fire into our words and compassion into our spirits. It fills our walk and talk with new life and light. We begin to live out the demands of our day perpetually bowed in worship and adoration. People can sense this life of the spirit, though they may not know what it is they feel. It affects the feeling tones of our preaching. People can discern that our preaching is not the performance of thirty minutes but the outlook of a life. Without such praying, our exegesis may be impeccable, our rhetoric may be magnetic, but we will be dry, empty, hollow.

There is no need for hurry. There is no need for words, for like good friends you are just glad to be together, to enjoy one another’s presence. As we grow accustomed to his company, slowly, almost imperceptibly, a miracle works its way into us. The feverish scramble that used to characterize our lives is replaced by serenity and steady vigor. Without the slightest sense of contradiction, we have become both tough with issues and tender with people. Authority and compassion become twins and infiltrate our preaching. Indeed, prayer permeates everything about us. It is winsome, life-giving, strong, and our people will know it.

The openness of a person to God in prayer has an impact on God. The point is not external change, but in communion with God, uncovering our participation in darkness in the presence of God and thereby opening ourselves to more of God. Our wishes experience transformation in this form of prayer.

The prayer I propose is growing friendship with God. God adopts human beings into a new family, where new relationships need to develop. Prayer becomes a delight at the heart of the relationship. God made human beings as conversation partners with whom God can relate.  God has made human beings for a heart to heart relationship with God. Close friends talk often and spend time with each other. Conversation is central to friendship. A healthy relationship with God involves making prayer central rather than incidental. Prayer is the means for our growing in this friendship with God.  [The contrast to this is God as a judge who acquits sinners, and prayer becomes a duty for pleasing God. Our relationship with God is not primarily a legal one. An acquitted person will feel grateful to the judge, but will not want to develop a friendship.]

            To pray is to change.  It helps us face our own darkness, that shadow side of our personality.  Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform us.  Prayer is to become what we are.  Prayer is often an isolated part of life.  Prayer is to unite all of life.  It is integration of God, self, life.  God is the ground of our being.  God is at the center of who we are.

            Prayer is the expression of human desire.  Every wish, with God, is a prayer.  In this sense, our wish may be good or evil.  This recognition makes it clear that everyone prays.  Prayer may be either heavenly or devilish.  Prayer becomes the inward measure of our quality.  The greater we are, the wider and deeper and finer are our desires.  The prayer of dominant desire always tends to attain its object.  This is true, in the first place, because a central craving organizes all the faculties of our lives about itself and sets mind and hands to do its bidding.  Desire is the elemental force is in human experience.  Such prayer also calls us into alliance with forces from outside us.  Prayer is costly.  Prayer is hunger and thirst.  Prayer is our demand on life, elevated, purified, and aware of the possibility of divine alliance. 

Our prayers are often unreal because they do not represent what in our inward hearts we sincerely crave.  Our prayers are not true prayers at all.  They do not represent our dominant desires.  We ask God for the right specific result.  We do not desire it deeply within our hearts.  Prayer that is not dominant desire is too weak to achieve anything.  We pray that a sinful habit removed, while at the same time not take the steps necessary to remove the habit from our lives.  We may petition God for forgiveness, yet not take the steps necessary in genuine repentance.  We may pray for our friends, yet they cannot count upon us to be sensitive and generous to them.  Do we care about our friends at all?  We may ask for great and noble things in prayer.  Yet, if our character does not match that for which we pray, our prayer is not sincere.  We may pray for missions, while at the same time offer nothing else that might aid Christian mission.  We may pray for peace, while at the same time not become devoted to the cause of peace in the human family.  We retain prejudice against people of a different race or economic class. 

            Does God take a personal interest in us?  This is a major step of faith in our walk with the Lord.  Prayer will never have the sustaining power in our lives that we need until we experience prayer as sustaining our friendship with a God who cares for every one of us.  Until we come to this experience of prayer, it will be a duty rather than a privilege.

It can be difficult to believe God loves us as individuals.  We seem too small and insignificant for God to spend much time with us.  The universe is so vast!  To experience the power of prayer is to believe that even in the midst of such a universe, God cares for each individual soul more than the material world in which we live.  In God’s sight, the vast expanse of the universe does not compare to our own soul.

            What is “big” enamors us, for “big is better.”  Fortunately for us, God cares for the soul, the beings into whom God breathed life, is of infinite value.  The multitudes may overwhelm us.  Why does God choose us from the multitude and focus upon us?  Yet, the Bible speaks of that God.  God’s care and knowledge of the whole creation does not preclude God’s care for and knowledge of you and I.  In the midst of the vast expanse of the universe, God has a unique place for every life, a unique reason for why we are here.  Prayer is the personal appropriation of this faith that, indeed, God does care for us individuals.  God is no longer a theory.  God is the one whom we place our trust.  We enter fellowship with God, not just believe the creed of the church about God.  In true prayer, we move from the intellectual affirmation that God exists, and place ourselves at God’s disposal.

The urge to pray comes from the sense of a reality that transcends all that is in the world.  Prayer always takes place in the context of community. Even in private, we are aware of the needs of family, church, community, and world. We sense that a connection to the world of the sacred can keep, save, and heal human life by union with that world.  Lack of prayer hampers the free response of believers to the love of God that finds expression in prayerful address to God.  It also restricts the sense of the relation between love neighbor and love of God.  Prayer integrates neighbor love into the relationship of the believer to God.  Through prayer, the believer participates in the love of God for the world.  Prayer prevents the practice of neighborly love from becoming simply our own moral works.  Prayer is a mode of discourse in that it expresses the deepest moods and aspirations of our lives; it refers to situations in our lives; we bring these into the presence of God and God graciously comes to us. God initiates prayer. What we do or say has the character of response. Prayer is not a special department of life. Prayer gives shape to the mysterious nature of the relation between God and humanity. Far from withdrawing from life, prayer is way of concentrating, focusing, meditating, on the realities of life.

            If we think of God in terms of power and authority, the focus becomes law and power.  If we think of God in terms of the head of a community that seeks the wholeness of humanity, the focus becomes love.  This love brings all the treasures and glories in heaven and upon earth as an offering to the beloved, the love whose law is the wish of the beloved one, and whose power is the unlimited power of the imagination. God is the love that satisfies our wishes, our emotional wants.  “God is love:” this, the supreme dictum of Christianity.  This is the absolute divine power, the certainty that the inmost wishes of the heart have objective validity and reality, that there are no limits, no positive obstacles to human feeling, that the whole world is nothing weighed against this divine love. God gives vent to stifled sighs. This open-air of the heart, this outspoken secret, this uttered sorrow of the soul, is God. God is a tear of love, shed in the deepest concealment over human misery. God is an unutterable sigh, lying in the depths of the heart. 


Forms of prayer

One form of prayer uses positive images of God (kataphatic) and tries to clarify and affirm these images. This way of affirmation emphasizes the human capacity to reach God through creatures, images and symbols. It affirms points of contact, intimacy, and vocation that unite, affirm, and move people to action. Yet, the affirmation of particular forms can freeze those forms into an ultimate dimension, into idols that close it off from the dynamic quality of the Spirit.

Another form of prayer emphasizes the way of negation, calling all creatures, images and symbols of God as inadequate (apophatic). We know God best through obscure awareness. This path strips away what God is not, while still using some positive names for God. The person engaging this form of prayer yearns fro the God and an all-encompassing clarity. It reacts against the glib, slick, and commercial approach to religion that finds language about God all too easy and self-assuring. It also reacts against the analytical and scientific focus of our culture that no reality exists behind the endless series of phenomena we experience in life. It recognizes a reality behind the holy words and symbols of the church, but senses that reality as too much other, too much mystery, to have a particular thought or theory grasp it. It prevents idolatry of a particular image or theory. It rejects authoritarianism and bland, herded collectivism. No political or culture system will grasp a person engaged in this form of prayer and spiritual reflection.

A third form of prayer is the way of analogy, which identifies and enlivens spiritual life with metaphors, analogies, and approximations.


The Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer is commonly recited in worship services all over the world.  It is in danger of being turned to the “babbling” which Jesus criticized.  We need to immerse ourselves in the mood, spirit, style, and content of this prayer.  This prayer is a model.  Let us take a look at the prayer as Jesus might have originally given it.

Our Father ... your name be revered.  Impose your imperial rule, ... Provide us with the bread we need for the day. Forgive our debts to the extent that we have forgiven those in debt to us.

The use of the word “Father” was something reasonably distinctive to Jesus.  There are many times in the Bible when it is said that God is “like” a mother hen, a rock, a hen, a shadow, and many other images.  Rarely is it said that God “is” a particular image.  One of those times is when God is referred to as “Father.”  It is not that God is “like” a father.  God “is” Father.  In this case, we are called to re-imagine the concept of father.  God is not “like” a human father.  God “is” the Father of us all.  Some persons have difficulty with the father image in the Bible.  We must remember that the use of “father” in reference to God is intended to redefine “father” in light of who God is.  The issue, however, is to reflect upon the meaning of God as the one who has been committed to caring most deeply for us.  It is such loving behavior that is intended to be called to mind when this image is used by Jesus.

The traditional use of “hallowed” is archaic, yet it rolls easily off the lips of most congregations.  We often begin praying in such a lazy way.  We ought to ponder the reality of the presence of God.  Prayer begins with God, not with us and our needs.  Before we start telling God our troubles and trials and petitions, we focus upon the glory of God.  To “hallow” is to praise God, to be in gratitude, for what God has done.  To “hallow” or “revere” is to give honor, to set apart, to focus, upon the reality and power of God.  Without such an experience, we simply offer pious prayers with little meaning.  The traditional use of “who art in heaven” was added by Matthew.  The phrase can be taken too literally.  Gerhard Ebeling, in On Prayer (1960), p. 50, has said of this passage:


To proclaim God as the God who is near, as Jesus did, is to put an end to the idea of heaven as God’s distant dwelling place. . . . It is not that where heaven is, there is God, but rather where God is, there is heaven.


We pray to the God who is near to us.  We find God in the depths of our being, in our minds, our spirits. 

Thy kingdom come is a broad petition.  It refers to the reigning activity of Christ in human hearts and society.  This is a big petition, a huge desire.  To pray in this way is to focus one’s mind and heart in such a way that it becomes real in our lives.  We have no choice about the kingdom of God.  It has already come in Jesus.  God is the one who brings the kingdom.  It is a result of God’s design and doing.  Wherever the reign of Christ is experienced, the kingdom of God is present.  This is not a prayer for those who want things to stay the way they are.

Thy will be done is the primary limit to prayer.  Jesus was expansive in regard to petition in that he could also say, “Ask, and it will be given . . .”  We often jump to the limits of prayer before we have the faith to reach out with bold petitions.  We are often timid in that for which we ask.  However, this is a legitimate limit to prayer.  Remember the story from Mark 14:36, where Jesus prayed that the cup of suffering would pass.  That was the petition.  Yet, he made sure that he submitted to what God wanted in this situation.  We are to put ourselves in the center of the will of God.  To pray “Thy will be done” is to pray, “Here I am, Lord, send me.”

Give us this day our daily bread is the first petition for daily needs.  In Luke 12:15-25 we have the best example of trusting God for our needs.  This is a commitment to not worry about such matters.  We are to live our lives entrusting ourselves and our basic needs to God.  God is the giver.  God is the one who gives us what we need.  God keeps on giving day by day.  We are dependent upon God for all of life.  God is provided the resources for our needs to be met.  This does not mean we are to work any less.  It means we dedicate the use of our talents to the giver of life.  We receive from God by faith all that we need to meet the demands of life.

Forgive us, as we forgive is a prayer for pardon.  There have been several translations for this part of the prayer.  “Debt” recognizes our indebtedness to God and to others.  “Sin” recognizes the ways we have morally fallen short.  “Trespass” refers to entering places we do not belong.  Whatever word we use, there is no way any of us can repay the debt we owe.  We cannot make it right on our own.  Forgiveness comes from beyond us.  Sin is separation from God.  Forgiveness is reconciliation with God.  Forgiveness is a gift of God.  In Jesus, God has already forgiven us.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil seems like a strange petition.  This is not a prayer to be excused from the trials of life.  The cross teaches us that Christians are not exempt from such experiences.  However, it is a prayer to not be abandoned in the midst of such trials.  It is that feeling of being abandoned which makes temptation so fearful.  It is not a prayer for special treatment.  Evil is what threatens to destroy us.  This is a prayer for the future, for strength to meet the challenges of the future.


Thanksgiving and praise

Thanking and glorifying God belong together.  Christian prayer has retained the stress on thanksgiving because of its link to the Eucharistic prayer.  It is a response to the grace of God in all of human life. It arises when we experience something good and undeserved, such as the beauty of nature, the delight of family and friends, or any other experience of tenderness and love. Thankful people are a joy. They have an inner sweetness that invigorates others in the home, the place of work and social gatherings. Thankful people sweeten their social space.

Petition is a modification of the prayer of thanksgiving.  Christians deal with petition only based on thanksgiving and adoration.  We lay the aspirations for a better life before God. Many petitions wither away when we genuinely bring them before God. We cannot separate our petitions from the rest of life. We must never regard prayer as a means to getting our own way; if a prayer concerns our corporeal advantage, we ought to say it both with a trust in God’s wisdom and with a submission to this wisdom. The greatest utility of prayer is indisputably a moral one, because through prayer both thankfulness and resignation toward God become effective in us.


Unanswered prayer

            The Bible has accounts of unanswered prayer.  Moses prayed to enter the Promised Land.  Note Lamentations 3:44 and Habbakkuk 1:2.  Paul wanted his thorn in the flesh removed in II Corinthians 12:9.  Even Jesus prayed for removal of suffering at Gethsemane.  The Bible also recognizes that whole groups of people will experience lack of answered prayer.  Note Isaiah 1:15, James 4:3, Job 27:8-9, Jeremiah 11:14. 

            Complaint about unanswered prayer is nothing new.  Yet, it is unreasonable to allow such experiences to cause the abandoning of prayer.  After all, much of the greatest praying is not petition at all.  Think of prayers for adoration, confession, thanksgiving, consecration, and communion.  Petition is only one aspect of the experience of prayer.  Prayer is a gift of communion between God and us.  Prayer brings transformation of us, even if we are disappointed in external results.  Further, we are not wise enough to substitute our wish for the will of God.  Imagine what the world would be like, if God answered all our requests positively.  God must deny many of our prayers.  No is as real an answer as Yes.  Another reality is that we often fail to see how often God answers our prayers in ways that we do not expect.  In fact, we may not even like the way God answers our prayer. Often, we seek a specific result in prayer.  God often gives us an opportunity to be the channel for answered prayer.  God may grant us wisdom sufficient to get what we request.  We childishly look at prayer as a way to bypass the use of our own intelligence and work.  Results come only as we think and work toward the desired end.  Consider what this world would be like if prayer could accomplish everything.  We jump to the conclusion that our prayer is unanswered.  In reality, many of our greatest desires demand time, patience, persistent search, long waiting as conditions of their fulfillment.  We too soon give up on a prayer as unanswered, when what we need is patience and persistence.  We are not ready for the reception of the gift that we desire.  God cannot give to us until we are prepared and proved our spirit by persistent prayer.  We become disappointed in not receiving that for which we ask.  We measure the value of prayer by external changes.  Yet, the saints of prayer knew that the value of prayer is determined more by entrusting ourselves to God.  We who pray must be ready of have our requests denied.  God looks at the desires of our hearts.  God may not answer the specific request.  Rather, God may answer only the desire of the heart. 

            First, we think that we must help God to fulfill our prayers.  We think that we ought to suggest to God how God should go about giving us the answer.  What we think or do not think about this has no bearing on the hearing and answering of prayer.  Prayer is a burden because we have not learned that prayer consists in telling Jesus what others or we lack.  We do not think that is enough.  We feel that to pray cannot be this easy.  Therefore, we rise from prayer many times with heavy hearts.  Then we go on living in a state of suspense, looking intently for the answer to our prayers.  When the answer is does not come at once, we think that we must do something in addition to that, which we have already done before God can hear us.  Our life of prayer will become restful when it really dawns upon us that we have done all we are supposed to do when we have spoken to God about our need.  From that moment, we leave the need with God.  It is now God’s responsibility.  Instead of our former anxiety and worry, we will now often be able to experience a certain childlike inquisitiveness.  We have left the matter in the hands of Jesus.  Now, we can say to ourselves, “It will be interesting now to see how Jesus solves this difficulty.”

            Second, we make use of prayer for commanding God to do our bidding.  God does not permit us to issue orders.  God has not given us the promises and the privileges of prayer in order that we might use them to pound a demanding fist upon the table before God and compel God to do what we ask.  We are too impatient at all times and not least when we pray.  This is especially true when there is something urgent, either with us or with someone who is dear to us.  urgency often gives us boldness in prayer.  However, our impatience often leads us to plan the whole answer to our prayer.  It seems so easy to us.  in this particular situation we think that there can be only one thing for God to do if God is to answer our prayer.  The answer must come now.  It must come exactly the way we have planned it.  We think that we understand better than God doe when and how our prayers should be answer.  Without intending to do so, our prayers become a struggle with God.  We make use of prayer to convince God that we see the matter in the right light.  We make use of prayer to convince God that in this respect we are in the right.  It is this struggle with God that makes us so restless and anxious when we pray.

            Third, we forget to pray in the name of Jesus.  We need to do only one thing.  We need to tell God about our condition, about our faith, our solicitude, and our worldly and prayer-weary heart.  Then we pray in the name of Jesus.  We have learned that to pray in the name of Jesus is the real element of prayer in our payers.  It is the helpless soul’s helpless look into the face of gracious friend.  We can account for the wonderful results that attend prayer of this kind only by the fact that we have opened the door to Jesus and given him access to our helplessness.  We believe we can by means of our prayers influence God and make God interested in us, good to us, and kindly disposed toward us, so as to give us what we ask.  We think that God must find an earnest, urgent, burning desire within us in the event.

Prayer is actually a movement from focused and specific prayer to less specific and general prayer. It is a movement from making specific requests to a less focused desire for communion, contemplation, and union with God. It is a movement from the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary to meditation, to listening, the Jesus Prayer, and contemplation. The beginning of prayer involves Adoration (acts of love and praise), thanksgiving (recognition of the source of blessing), confession (awareness of our failure to love), intercession, and petition, the latter two having a specific end in mind.  

It is so easy to think of prayer as an opportunity to beg things from God.  At the time, what we ask of God may appear to be very important.  Upon reflection, however, we must admit that often we ask for trivial things.  Too often, we do not practice the kind of prayer we need the most.  That is the type of prayer that makes it clear that what we desire above all else is friendship with God.  In that sense, we are like children.  Our children begin their relationship with us desiring what we can give them.  However, I hope in every parent and child relationship we can look to those moments when we know that much more is involved.  That child recognizes the love of the parent, and the value of the relationship beyond any gifts the parent may give.  Yes, God desires to give us all the blessings this life can offer.  However, if all those blessings were taken away (many Christians have had that experience, either in persecution or other unfortunate circumstances) our friendship with God does not need to be affected.  Rather, we can learn that this is precisely what we depend upon for our daily nourishment.  In this sense, prayer becomes a matter of a continuous attitude we carry with us throughout the day.  For too many of us, God is remote and distant.  Only in this kind of prayer does God become alive to us.  The greatest gift of God in prayer is not things, but God’s own self.

We will reach maturity in Christian life when we cease coming to the Lord merely because of the things God may give.  Rather, we come into the love of God and the desire God to shape us into the person God would have us to be.  Thomas á Kempis offered a prayer in which he said: Whatever you bestow upon me, it is too small and unsatisfying apart from you, O God.  Whatever you reveal or promise to me, if you are not seen and fully attained, it will not satisfy me.  For surely my heart cannot truly rest, nor be entirely contented, unless it rest in you.  Amen.



Intercession is a form of prayer that goes against the individualism of the age, bringing us to a sense of inner community with others. We seldom end where we began. Prayer of this type is an incipient action, receiving clues and persistence to carry out those actions. Failure to be obedient here will lead to blockages in future prayer.

            Of all the forces in human life that consist of forming our dominant desire, none is more powerful than love.  The lack of a satisfying philosophy of prayer does not cause our prayers to become dry.  Rather, lack of love will turn our prayer to dullness and dryness.  Devotion to people and to causes has made dominant desire unselfish.  We can pray for ourselves in unselfish ways.  The ways our lives touch family, friends, and community make it clear that the happiness of others somewhat depends upon us.  Our bad habits or wrong thoughts affect the lives of others.  Nothing is simply a private affair.  The evil we do privately creeps out into the world around us.  Sinning, even in its most private forms, places poison into the public sphere.  Eventually, everyone is the worse for the pollution.  We do not carry the consequences of our sin alone.

            Thoughtful Christians in their intercessions are about a serious and reasonable business.  We start with two truths.  First, the Christian gospel about God recognizes that God desires good for all people.  God’s love is boundless.  We know God’s purpose of good sweeps through creation.  In our prayers, we desire God to carry us along as God works out this grand plan.  The second truth is that intimate relationships make the world of persons a community rather than an individual part. Life binds us together as a whole.  In this system of love flowing between persons, we place our dominant desire along side that of God.  No one can easily set boundaries to the influence of this kind of prayer.

            Some people claim that the psychological benefits of prayer are all that we have.  This does not lessen the value of intercession.  Rather, it elevates prayer for others.  We cannot understand it all, but we know that we do something creative when we carry the burden of others in prayer.  Intercessory prayer involves placing ourselves alongside God in an urgent, creative outpouring of sacrificial love.  Such prayer is love on its knees. 

The primary obstacle to intercession is moral.  We live for what we can get.  Our dominant desires are selfish.  Often, we give lip service to our prayer for others.  We pray as hypocrites.  If our prayers mean little to us, what do they mean to God?  If we took away all the intellectual problems related to praying for others, would we then pray?  Alternatively, would we still refuse to pray for others out of our failure to love enough?  Intercession is the result of generous devotion, not logical analysis.  We pray as much as we desire.  We desire as much as we love.

            Jesus prayed for others: children, the sick, his disciples, his enemies, laborers for the harvest, the whole community.  The knowledge that others are praying for us is one of the finest and most empowering influences that can surround anyone.  When trust in God and love for others co-exist in any of us, prayer for others inevitably follows.  Genuine intercessors have felt that they were not playing with a toy.  They knew they were using the creative power of God and opening ways for God to work God’s will.  They were convinced that their prayers brought consequences for others. 

Consider the power of prayer to renew us for service.  Are we not often shallow in our service and superficial in our influence largely because we do not escape the crowd long enough for the ministry of unselfish praying alone?  Allow me to illustrate.  A friend or acquaintance comes to us for aid.  They share their emptiness.  In that moment, we experience the poverty of our own lives.  We are barren, useless in this moment, not equipped to share with another in need.  We are not alone.  We are part of a community.  Take from our lives the gifts we receive from family, friends, acquaintances, work, cultural influences, we could see how small is the territory of our lives alone.  We are not separable from the larger social body of which we are members.  The Lord’s Prayer begins with the words, “Our Father . . .” In solitude, we are not alone.  We pray with an awareness of community.  Every relationship is a live-wire connection between one life and another.  Prayer at its best refuses the impossible task of separating the “I” from the “we.”  We carry the common needs of humanity to God.  We thank God for the blessings we experience as a community.  We repent of communal sins.  We strive for social justice and peace.  We pray for the victory of Christ in human affairs.  Praying for another is wonderful.  To do so in secret, and to do so with sincerity, one must truly care.  Praying with others is an intimate and penetrating a test of our live of prayer.  We heal personal relationships through prayer with others.  The need for kindness and forgiveness and loyalty become real. 

            Intercessory prayer means that we live, feel and suffer with the other person.  We struggle through those hindrances that restrain or prevent us from continuing in persevering in prayer. 



In prayer, we speak without disguise of that which weighs upon us, which affects us closely; we make our hearts objective.  That is the moral power of prayer. Concentration is the condition of prayer.  Yet, it is more than a condition.  Prayer is itself concentration.  Prayer is the dismissal of all distracting ideas, of all disturbing influences from without, retirement within oneself.  Only a trusting, open, hearty, fervent prayer helps us, though the help lies in the prayer itself.

            For many people, prayer means rest and quiet.  However, prayer is also a battlefield.  When people say they have no time for prayer, they do not realize that it is deals with the most decisive business of life.  We may take a relatively brief time of our day and devote it to prayer.  Yet, that time becomes the most powerful moments we spend.  When we hunger and thirst for God, we do so because we have a fight on our hands.  The desire of our heart may be in line with the will of God.  We must defeat the enemies we meet along the way.  A fight is on in the life of everyone who desires what is great and good.  The decisive part of this battle is not public.  Rather, what we most need is a private victory, in those secret moments of our lives.  Long before we struggle in public, we fought the battle in private all ready.  The decisive battles are hidden.  The outward conflicts are only an echo or a ripple of that more real and inward war.  For the saints, prayer is the place where they conquered faith and reestablished confidence in God and in themselves.  They struggled in prayer for right desire, which is the deepest need of character.  The battlefield of prayer is where they fought the war against wrong desire.  The saints fought the issue between the two conflicting motives that maser human life in prayer.  That is, will praise of the world or the approval of God motivate them.   They fought for the power to see and the courage to do the will of God.

            Prayer is the innermost form of the fight for character.  The most profound need of the world, from a purely secular standpoint, is clean, strong, devoted people.  We need the fortitude to endure in the battles of life.  We need the strength to deal with temptation.  For example, people struggle against their anger, passion, or irreverence.  Prayer is the inner battlefield where people often conquer most effectively the false worries, trivial anxieties, morbid deliberation and all the impure thoughts that irritate the spirit and make the body ill.  In prayer, we struggle for clear vision to see and strength to do the will of God. 

Most of us cannot understand how prayer can involve difficulty and anguish.  If we reflect, however, we see that it cannot be otherwise.  If prayer is as important as we have said, then our life of prayer must become the target of the various attacks of Satan.  We must not forget, however, that Satan has a willing partner within our own souls.  Our sinful nature hates God, as Paul reminds us in Romans 8:7.   For example, our slowness to pray ought not to make us anxious or bewildered.  It should remind us of the truth that the flesh lusts against the spirit.  We need to deal with this unwillingness to pray in the same way we deal with all sinful desires.  We need to lay our need before God.  In addition, we need to keep before us the hindrances to pray mentioned above, and deal honestly with them.  The first tension we experience in this regard is in our plan to arrange to be alone with God every day.  Some people claim we do not need special times for prayer.  God does not need us to do this.  However, we need to.  This is not formalism or unspiritual.  Such special times set aside for prayer does not rule out a more spontaneous form of prayer throughout the day. 



Contemplation is a means of intimacy with God.  It is a gift of God, presupposing a dying and a rising.  It is a way of breaking through the illusion that anyone or anything but God can fulfill our desire for holiness and happiness.  It is a slow relinquishing over a lifetime of desires that stand between us and full surrender to God.  A sign of contemplative living is the gift of peace.  It is fulfilled in charity.  Union with God through love means that there ought to be no conflict between adoration of God and loving attention to those in need, between compassion and competence.  St. Teresa counseled love for each other, detachment from all created things, and humility, are necessary for the contemplative life. 

            Centering prayer is where God is viewed as a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.  Thinking of God will never catch God in your arms. Union is a relationship.  It is always growing.  There is dryness, where meditation no longer has the joy.  Imaging no longer carries the meaning it did.  People want to be in God’s presence, and have no conscious things to say to God.  This is contemplative prayer, prayer of the heart, centering prayer. 

Sacramental Acts

Christians have a form of life reflected in prayer, worship, sacramental life, fellowship with other Christians, and living a moral life. Christian life has its formation in the grace available to all persons, the justifying grace of one who directs their attention to God as known in Christ, and in sanctifying grace that finds expression in faith, hope, and love. Yet, such provisional behaviors do not define the Christian life. Christians become open to movement of God in their personal lives and in their corporate lives. They can look at themselves honestly as sinners who have a relationship with God as shown in Jesus Christ. This freedom is an important place at which Christians need to arrive. As such, Christians refuse to make idols out of any ideology or any human hope. Christians accept the pluralism of the age because they recognize that all human discourse is on the way toward the fullness of human life that God will determine. As such, Christians will always be open to criticism, since the hope of the Christian is never present, clear, or distinct, and the present of the Christian is never the fullness for which the Christian hopes.

            Several sacramental practices are helpful in encouraging spiritual growth in individuals and can have a public dimension to them as well.

            Matrimony is a dying to all other potential partners and a commitment to one person.  There are many parallels between Christ and the Church, which use marriage imagery.  There can be little doubt that the Bible holds marriage to be sacred, a time when two people receive special grace from God in forming a family and may also become a means of grace to others as a couple.  I do not want to idealize marriage and family.  There are struggles of an interpersonal nature and struggles of faith.  However, through them, we can become stronger, more faithful people who bring God’s grace to each other, to children, and to others.  Only where we grasp the sign quality of marriage in faith can we Christians who are married have a share in the salvation of Christ in our marriage.  It points to our determination for fellowship with God that is realized by Jesus Christ and in the relation of the church to him.  Marriage is for the whole field of sexual life the norm to which all other modes of conduct and forms of life must be referred.  For this reason, individual Christians and the church can tolerate homosexuality, but they cannot regard a homosexual relation as of equal ethical value and validity as marriage.  A lasting marriage has become a witness of Christian life in our modern, secular society.  Therefore, what Paul teaches about marriage in Ephesians 5 takes on new relevance. 

            Matrimony grows the church physically. In matrimony, the spouses have the opportunity to help each other experience all that God wants them to be, as well as to raise and educate their children. Their path to holiness is that of faithful love, sustaining one another in grace. They treat their children as gifts of God whom they treasure and train in faith and virtue. Matrimony usually includes the exchange of symbols of love between the couple. Marriage itself is a symbol of the unity between Christ and the church. The cause is the mutual consent of the couple expressed in a public service. Marriage becomes the arena where we raise children, learn faithfulness to another human being, and work through the various changes of life with another. The teaching concerning the idissolubility of marriage is one that the church needs to put aside. Humanity lives provisionally with all its decisions. Just as Christian churches imperfectly reflect their union with Christ, marriages reflect imperfectly the relationship between Christ and the church. The church is far from gracious when it requires couples to stay together, even when it harms each other and when it harms children. The Christian ideal remains one man and one woman faithfully and lovingly remaining married and helping each other toward their happiness. When marriage is no longer a means of grace to the couple, when in fact it becomes a means for bringing out the worst in each other in a persistent way, I think it better to end it. Life is too short to spend it this way. People want happiness, and if two people make a mistake in judgment about the one with whom they can be happy, they need to be honest about it, the church needs to be honest, and we need to allow it to end.

The practice of feet washing has its symbol in the towel and basin, its action in the actual washing of the feet of another. It is a sign of service. The Gospel of John is the biblical basis for this practice.  Jesus washed the feet of the disciples as a sign of cleansing and of servanthood. The practice continued in the churches of Asia Minor as a regular part of their life together. Some churches through the centuries washed the feet of persons newly baptized.  However, it was most common in the monasteries, where the head of the monastery would ask the feet of the newly admitted monks.  Normally, the monks washed the feet of each other on Maundy Thursday as part of the Lenten observance.  No less of a theologian then Bernard of Clairvaux (1091-1153) urged the acceptance of this practice as a sacrament.  It became part of the practice of royalty, who would invite the poor to a banquet, and then the king would bow before them and wash their feet.  Often, this was accompanied by a great public display of the action.  This misuse caused Martin Luther to reject the practice, and Protestant churches have generally followed him.  However, the Church of Brethren continued the practice as a sign of cleansing and servanthood.  The practice is seeing a comeback in Protestant churches as part of the Maundy Thursday service.

            Penance deals with the continuing spiritual disease of sin and brings a cure. Penance offers a reminder of the mercy of God and offers forgiveness of sin. Penance contains acts of the one experiencing repentance, such as sorrow for sin, sharing one’s sin with another, as well as acts of piety like prayer, fasting, and charity. The words needed at this time refer to the promise of forgiveness from God. Christians can have the confidence of offering to each other the assurance of forgiven sin.       The confessional had the advantage of not allowing any excuses or extenuating circumstances.  The word of forgiveness was expected and given.  We can confess our sins to each other, placing our sins into the heart of another, and receive mutual comfort, counsel, and sympathy. Then we pray to God for each other. God will forgive, even if punishment follows, as that of a father lovingly correcting a child.

            An examination of conscience can be an important part of the process of confession.  Sorrow is necessary to a good confession.  A determination to avoid sin is also necessary.  Such awareness of our own sin makes it impossible for us to be offended at the confession of another.  When we live in this spirit we do not need to tell others that we will keep privileged information privileged.

            The experience of which the penitent makes confession is a blind experience, still embedded in the matrix of emotion, fear, and anguish. If it were not for confession to another, we might shut up an emotion inside. Language becomes the light of the emotion. Through confession, one brings the light of speech to the consciousness of fault. The confession of sin reveals guilt as a sense of unworthiness. Guilt arises from the experience of sin, which includes all persons and indicates the situation of humanity before God. The experience to which believers give expression in confession creates strangeness of language, for believers confess being oneself, but alienated from oneself. Confession becomes the language of interrogation. Sin makes me incomprehensible to myself.

            The practice of penance as a ritual did not become common until the sixth century.  It opened the door for repeated confession and repeated reconciliation of sinners with the church.  One can misunderstand it as making one’s private peace with God, whereas the purpose is the reconciliation of the individual to the body of Christ. Luther brought penance and baptism back together.  He described it as the practice of daily appropriating the conversion and regeneration accomplished in baptism.  Penance and absolution focused on the relation of individuals to a pardoning God.  The Council of Trent missed the biblical point Luther made.  Baptism was the basic act of penitence in conversion. 

            A person dies to sin and commits himself or herself to a new life.  The intent here was to provide an opportunity for persons to receive the grace of God in forgiveness of sins.  In one congregation, I did something that they believed showed I did not care.  I asked them to forgive me.  Most of the people responded the way you would hope Christian people to respond -- with grace and forgiveness.  It might be in a liturgy, it might be in conversation with a friend or a pastor, but each of us can confess our sin and receive God’s forgiveness.

            Confession is a difficult discipline for us because we view the believing community as a fellowship of saints before we see it as a fellowship of sinners.  If we know that the people of God are first a fellowship of sinners we are freed to hear the unconditional call of God’s love and to confess our need openly before our brothers and sisters. 

            Extreme unction refers to a cure of soul or body. We need to remember that every healing in a human world is provisional, for we will all die. Every healing is proleptic, in that it is a sign of the healing God wants to bring to humanity. This means that every healing is open to future improvement and deepening, or to eventual degeneration.

            The anointing for the sick commends the ill to the Christ who also suffered and experienced resurrection. Extreme unction usually has an oil for anointing. The anointing can be upon the portion of the body affected by illness. It can lead to a calming of mind that can also affect the body. The Epistle of James urges prayer by the elders on behalf of those who are sick.

            Extreme Unction or Healing is a dying to the power of sickness and death and our affirmation of God’s victory over those forces in Christ.  The intent here is to dedicate the person who is sick to God, thereby conferring the grace of God. 

            Mark 6:13 recognizes states that Jesus gave the apostles authority to anoint with oil the sick. James 5:14-17 encourages the elders of the church to anoint the sick with oil and pray for them. Anointing mediates divine forgiveness. Anointing strengthens the soul of the sick in order to bear the trials and hardships of sickness, and sometimes regain bodily health. Until then, they were practiced in isolated parts of the church as sacraments until they gained such recognition. 

            What is the place of healing in the modern social world? Roman Catholic and Reformed churches followed the lead of Aquinas and limited the operation of the gifts of the Spirit to the early church so that, as Luther said, the greater works could be done, namely, converting, preaching, and teaching. With Protestant conservative and liberal thought aligned against healing ministry, it fell to sectarian groups to promote this ministry. In the 1800’s, New Thought (Phineas Quimby) Christian Science (Mary Baker Eddy) and the Pentecost movement revived healing ministry. In the 1900’s, psychological healing, connecting the health of mind and body, has found new support. Medical professions increasingly that piecemeal healing is not always appropriate; many physical illnesses can have a psychic factor. The literature notes the influence of stress upon the body. However, vast cultural upheaval can affect physical and mental health as well. The body absorbs the anger, resentment, and hostility; the fear and anxiety; the guilt and self-punishment; and the egotism and self-centeredness of the person.

            Few people today doubt that human beings have layers of mental experiences that lay below our consciousness. Such layers can have profound impact upon the mental and physical health of the individual. However, what people might likely debate is that we have layers of mental experiences above or beyond consciousness. Unconscious experience connects consciousness backward, in particular, to childhood experiences that continue to shape life today. However, our consciousness may connect forward by intuitions and insights to realities that lay beyond us. In his sense, healing ministry in the church can tap portions of our mental experience that otherwise would be lost to us. Yet, this healing ministry does not find its limit in a sacrament of healing. As one becomes part of caring community, discovers new friends in the journey of life, participates in the sacraments, one can receive the healing presence of Christ.   

            The cure of emotional life occurs as we become increasingly Christ-like in character and in response to situations. We need to rise above lust and pride. We enter a process to refine, purge, toughen, and mature us, being steadily shaping our moral life and our sense of meaning and place in the world. Medical reports show that unresolved guilt can cause all sorts of abnormalities of body and mind that need healing communities to help people accept forgiveness and live without crippling guilt. Churches need to reject moralization and load people with guilt that causes sickness. People can also fall into destructive addictions. An addiction is a compulsive behavior that traps a person. Grace can heal when persons are assured that God understands and forgives them and will help them find a way to escape. People find healing in an accepting God and a loving community. Increasing numbers of people identify themselves as victims of childhood sexual abuse and other forms of abuse. A welcoming community of friends who listen is an important ingredient in healing. Persons burdened by shame need the resources of faith to accept forgiveness for their imagined or real complicity. For complete healing, the abused will need to become able to forgive the parent, relative or stranger who abused them. They may need the help of a counselor to help them face and deal with the trauma. In a community of mutual forgiveness they may see that they can forgive and heal the sin that hurt them. We need reminders that God accepts us, even though our sin has caused hurt to God. When we are willing to absorb and let go of the sin that hurt us, rather than trying to make the other person pay, there is power to forgive. Such a willingness to let go of sin is the best cure for the hatred, anger, jealousy and resentment that cause many physical and spiritual ailments.

            The cure of social life occurs as we grow in our love and concern for the natural and social world in which we find ourselves. We cannot separate individual and social world, so the cure Christ offers includes participation in society. Our participation in the social world involves in its positive expression of human worth and dignity and in its darker forces of oppression and alienation. The church can do this through fostering values consistent with the future toward which God is moving humanity and by creating a genuinely moral environment.

            Cure of the sick involves inner healing that may require exposure of the blocks to health in personality. The weight of the past reveals pain and hurt from which one needs liberation. Prayer can free people from such captivity. Another obstacle to health is moral, in the form of sin from which one needs to turn. Another obstacle may related to certain sicknesses in society that become part of the lives of many people, and for whom the church needs to remain open to bring healing.

            The power to heal is not limited to a special class of Christians. Love is a healing agent, and anyone who loves contributes toward healing of others. Faith can help bring healing of relationships, memories of childhood traumas, alcohol and drug abuse, and discouragement because of failure, unemployment and dependency. Faith can introduce wholeness into every situation. Touch and anointing with oil can be healing action. Listening can be a healing action. We become impatient and want to give advice out of our own agenda. God can heal people as we stay with them and give them our close attention. The person should be encouraged to express feelings and concerns in conversational prayer.

            Some are not healed, as the martyrs Stephen and James bear witness. Paul was not healed from his thorn in the flesh in II Corinthians 12:7-9. A motto for the disabled: We are weak in him, but we will live with him by the power of God, as Paul stated in II Corinthians 13:4. God works through every weakness, whether in personality, intellect, morality, or physical. People are wise and foolish, strong and weak, whole and inform. All are valuable to the community. Each has a gift in the body of Christ. The hospice movement has helped more of us recognize the importance of dying with dignity. Heroic methods of keeping the body alive at any price can no longer be accepted. There is a time to live and a time to die. Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord and God has chosen for us a new creation.


Internal habits

            I cannot speak of spirituality without some metaphors. For example, if our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, we might think of having an inner sanctuary. We need to re-learn, or learn for the first time, practices and habits that discipline our lives toward what God intends. These habits orient our lives toward worthy ends. We cannot bring authentic spirituality to our worldly involvements without this center to our lives. With this center, our engagement in the world makes us increasingly receptive to the gift the Spirit would give, if only we were open. This presence in our inner sanctuary, where we cultivate respect for our individuality and refuse absorption into the crowd and culture, we become increasingly aware of the pain and character of being lost that much of the world experiences. Presence in this inner sanctuary frees us from the delusion that society, community, boss, or parent are responsible for the barriers and problems we face in our lives. We become increasingly aware of our responsibility to act as a moral and spiritual agent, moving ourselves nearer to God and influencing others toward God as well. At the edges of our lives, even as Christians, we may hear a quiet voice or the gentle breeze of the Spirit, beckoning us toward an increasingly authentic life.

            There are five pre-requisites for effective spiritual formation.  An individual should possess certain abilities to make the spiritual direction relationship a profitable and liberating process.  Spiritual directors often acquire these personal qualities during the spiritual formation process itself.

            The first ability is affective prayer.  One of the most vital functions of the spiritual life is the ability to pray with the heart. Head-knowledge does not fill and satisfy the soul, but the felt understanding and relish of things within.  What we seek here is the involvement of the whole person in prayer.  We need to be real before a real God, alive with all the inner and outer motions and commotions that make up an enfleshed spirit as we are: a physical body, human feelings and emotions, rational mind, and deep intuitions.  Without affective prayer, the self-awareness that is so necessary for spiritual growth and discernment is most rudimentary and under-developed.  There can be little personal experience of spiritual consolation or spiritual desolation, no contrasting action and reaction of the spirits, so necessary to Christian decision-making.

            Often there is a human explanation, a psychological basis to the problem.  The person is simply not in touch with his or her life of feelings.  They may use feeling words, but the actual felt experience is missing.  Self-awareness is minimal.  The person may have shallow human relationships.  The person may have a cerebral approach to life, be an intellectual observer of life, a basic detachment.  The person may also have reluctance to face reality, apathetic involvements with little interest, challenge or vitality.  Survival is the game, so risk little, lose little, ride the surface because there is danger in the depths.  The person may also have a commitment to work as an escape from personal involvement and a flight from life’s interior mysteries.

            There are also some folk whose affective life is quite normal and fundamentally healthy in every arena save that of the spiritual; their prayer life and their commitment to religion and spiritual things has remained adolescent, often stunted in growth and stereotyped in expression.  These are often the victims of poor religious training, faulty instructions on the interior life of prayer and piety.  They often have distorted images of God.  Sometimes their spirituality has been so stoical that feelings were dangerous and not to be trusted.  Prayer was a saying of prayers at the least and a real struggle with the heart, at the best.  Some of these good people never got beyond the cognitive stages of prayer.  They exercised a form of meditation focused on the intellect, will and memory as the level of communication with the Lord.  They never realized, that with help, they could be led into a deeper, more intimate and satisfying relationship with the Lord.  No one explained the personal approach of contemplation and imaginative prayer as possible.  These are the Marthas of the Christian life, the dedicated, committed doers in the Lord’s ministry.  Since they fill their lives with busy activities, they have little sense of a prayer of quiet.  They have little idea of the immense reward for them in centering prayer and the more passive forms of listening.  These people deserve more intimacy in their relationship to the Lord than they are now experiencing.

            The second ability is reflection on experience.  This takes the individual a stage further in the contemplative process.  Not only is there felt experience in prayer, noticing inner facts and feelings, but there is the added ability of re-looking at it as happening to us, of integrating it into our consciousness, and the growth awareness that the relationship with God and others does grow in depth and in breadth, as in Eph. 3:14-19.

            Not everyone has this sensitive ability.  Obviously, the very young and immature do not possess it.  Sometimes defective training and education do not foster it.  Even though latent, a good deal of personal freedom and discipline may be needed to encourage its growth.  Some persons seem to possess it but never use it intelligently.

            There are those individuals who never seem to learn from their lived experiences because of some block, some inability, either innate or conditioned, to appropriate through reflection the varied happenings that mold their lives.

            There are people whose life experience remain a constant flux, which never seems to form any coherent pattern or reveals any underlying plan.

            Therefore, we are speaking, of an ability that is proper to mature persons, who have succeeded in transferring this reflective, insightful capacity from life in general to their Christian prayer relationship in particular.

            The third ability is the articulation of experience.  This is not completely separate from the above stage of reflection.  It is given a different heading because of the need to communicate our innermost movements, feelings and thoughts to another, subjectivity seeking objectivity, trust seeking to entrust.  Reflecting on experience can be seen as articulating to the self, as part of the subjective process of understanding, appropriating and ordering one’s experiences.  To move from there is sharing the experiences with another presupposes the ability to establish a relationship of trust with another person, and a steady conviction that such communication is worthwhile.  Often people really do not share, they relate general incidents, report on things seen, heard, or thought about.  For whatever reason they avoid telling another how they were affected by the facts they noted.  One never gets a real insight into the felt-experience of the other.  So often when people come to report their happenings in prayer they have paraphrased Gospel stories instead of being touched by the real people who speak from the inspired word.

            The fourth ability is spiritual discernment.  This growing ability flows from and makes use of all that we have noted above.  The reflection and the articulation of experiences begin by being merely descriptive, and end by being interpretive, and this is the art, science, or give of spiritual discernment.  Discernment is essentially the task of the person at prayer, not the spiritual helper or director.  It is certainly a cooperative venture, in and through conversation and dialogue, clarifying issues together, sometimes praying together, and asking God’s light and guidance.  The helper may play a greater or lesser part in the process, depending upon the experience and skill of each of the members of the relationship.  But the director or helper remains always a facilitator, enabling the person at prayer to sort out the movements, to take more and more responsibility for interpreting the inner experiences that are happening in one’s prayer life and in one’s life of prayer, and any decision that may emerge from it.

            The fifth ability is sustaining solitude.  Perhaps the single most significant element in spiritual experience, the back-drop to all forms of prayer, is solitude.  Most authors list silence of the heart, inner space and outer stillness, as the most important climate for a relational spirituality in our time.  Solitude and silence are the essential conditions that favor deep retrieval for personal integration of all facets of human and divine relationship.  It is truly a desert experience to enter into deep inner quiet.  Its biblical symbol has a double meaning.  The desert is the privileged meeting place between God and God’s people, between the Lord and the chosen ones throughout the ages of faith.  The desert is also the place where evil dwells, and the place where testing of Christian values goes on.  This is where the person at prayer enters into struggle and darkness at all levels of the heart, where Jesus is always the final victor.

            The director or helper accompanies the individual at prayer into the situation of silence and solitude, to be the companion in the often lonely ordeal of coming face to face with he living God, while allowing the desert to have its religious affect on the person.  This is a conflict of spirits.  Not everyone can sustain that meeting, the conflict, or the solitude of the heart in which religious growth takes place.  No one should enter the desert imprudently or presumptuously without hearing a call or having strong desires.

            Life with our orientation toward God provides a center from which we can live in a fragmented world. Our fragmented sense of self can find a dimension of togetherness and wholeness. The integration of the fragments of our lives into a meaningful story, with God as the one to whom we are accountable for our story, is part of becoming authentic spiritually.

Spiritual Discipline as a means of grace

A hunger or longing for God runs counter to that which a secular culture values. As society increasingly focuses upon granting individuals more freedom and channeling that freedom toward wealth, prestige, power, and fame, longing for God and spiritual connection suggests that something else is far more important to the attainment of happiness. We live in the most affluent culture the world has ever seen.  If having stuff created happiness, this ought to be the happiest nation on earth.  Yet, our culture shows that when we surround ourselves with many things, we want more.  We never have enough.  If we achieve the goal of one thing, we go on to the next. Many people do not how to explore a relationship with God. We may not want to face our role in the expression of the sinfulness of our age. We do not want to confront what spirituality may force us to see.

God has not added something to Christians that non-Christians do not have. God works in human life in such a way as to enhance the capacities already present in every human life. When we speak of Christ living in us, or the Spirit dwelling in us, we recognize that our discovery of who we are as human beings comes as we direct our gaze outward, and ultimately toward Christ.

We recognize the need to de-center the self, contrary to much of modern psychology. As we engage in relationships with others, with organizations, with a culture, and with God, we become more the self God intended. Such relationships keep drawing out of us capacities already present in us in tacit ways. Spirituality must not become another occasion to focus upon our favorite topic – us.

            We can continue growing in this life of discipleship through the means of grace.  They help focus our hearts on the right objects.  If the goal of a holy life is love, then one must use the means to get there: baptism, prayer, worship, preaching, the Lord's Supper, family life, healing, and Christian fellowship.  The means of grace are not a way to control God.  We can choose to use those means of grace that God consistently uses to draw persons toward goodness and God.  Unless we use these channels of sustenance, it is unlikely that we will experience the joy or fruit of discipleship.  God freely offers this grace.  God has given us the means of grace to offer the fruits of grace to every believer.  The urge to find spiritual power and inner security without any major shift in lifestyle is not unique to our age. Spiritual disciplines empty the self so the radiant spirit of God can enter in.  An awakened heart returns to the old ways of rebellion and death without the regular practice of the means of grace.  The means of grace give access to God's active presence in the world.  They provide the pathway back to God for those who have wandered and prevent us from wandering away in the first place.  God gives us the means of grace for our salvation.  They are gifts that we must use if we are to enjoy the benefit.  Do you want a more vital relationship with God?  Use the means of grace.  Do you long for the assurance of sins forgiven?  Use the means of grace.  Do you feel a great need for God's intervention in your life?  Use the means of grace.  Do you want to experience growth in your Christian life?  Use the means of grace.

Acceptance of who we are is an important step in life.  In accepting the reality of our imperfections, a new freedom can take place.  We need to cut ourselves some slack.  When we fall short in a particular instance, we need to realize that life is a process.  The perfectionist does not have inner peace.  The need for perfection and the desire for inner peace conflict with each other.  Whenever we attach ourselves to having something a certain way, better than it already is, we are, by definition, engaged in a losing battle.  Rather than being content and grateful for what we have, we focus on what is wrong with something and our need to fix it.  When we zero in on what is wrong, it implies that we are dissatisfied.  The act of focusing on imperfection pulls us away from our goal of simplicity.  This strategy has nothing to do with ceasing to do our best, but with being overly attached and focused on what is wrong with life.  It is about realizing that while there is always a better way of doing something, this does not mean we cannot enjoy the way things are.

Thoughts are powerful.  We are always thinking, just as we are always breathing.  These thoughts are in a continuous dialogue with reality.  If we identify our thoughts with reality, we have created our own world.  If our thoughts are only thoughts, we have no basis for communication with other human beings or with the world in which we live.  Thus, our continuous thoughts have contact with what is real, but they do not comprehend the totality of what is real.  Our thoughts shape our experience of life.  Reality is neutral.  Our thoughts provide the context for the meaning we give to reality.  Therefore, circumstances do not determine our well-being.  It is only the thoughts that accompany such circumstances that determine our well-being.  Our thoughts act as the filters through which we experience reality.  We develop a pattern of thought, linked by concepts, beliefs, expectations, and opinions.  They become our view of the way life is.  We accept familiar ideas and disregard the rest.  We do not need to change this pattern of thought.  We do need to recognize the arbitrary nature of them.  We can also expect others to hold stubbornly to their views. 

These thoughts generate feelings and moods.  We listen to our feelings and moods only for insight into the sometimes hidden thoughts that created them.  If we have negative thoughts, such telling ourselves we cannot do something, we face the largest obstacle we will ever face.  We can either analyze them or ignore them.  However, our thoughts are only thoughts.  They cannot hurt without our willful consent.  A negative thought about the past can hurt us today only if we allow it to do so.  This does not mean that what happened in childhood was not bad.  It may have been awful.  However, it has power over today only because we give it that power.  Too many people act as if the past has the power to run their lives.  However, the past, as it exists today, is nothing more than the thoughts we have about it.  The past is nothing more than memory.  We recreate the past through our thinking about it. 

            We begin with a consideration of habit. A habit is behavior that endures in a person over time and becomes difficult to change. It is a disposition one has toward certain ends. A habit is an ordering of one’s life toward acts conducive of certain ends. A habit may be well disposed or ill disposed toward an end. A habit only has potential toward an end. A habit in regard to the body is toward health, beauty, and so on. One can also develop cognitive habits, such as reasoning, imagination, and science. The will also develops habit toward matters, like justice. While first principles may be known naturally, other habits must be learned. Actions, especially discipline of desire and emotion, can help form habit. Yet, one act is not enough to form a habit. Habits will increase and diminish, given one’s participation in the end that gives the habit its character. One may also develop some habits quite highly, but leave others less developed. We can diminish a habit by acting upon contrary principles or ceasing its use in our lives. A habit orders one’s life toward an end.

            We orient ourselves toward an end beyond ourselves. That end is happiness. We have penultimate ends that we often make ultimate, such as wealth, honor from others, fame, power, a good for the body, pleasure, the development of the soul, or any created good. Any of these can be used for good or evil. Further, their attainment does not lead to satisfaction, for our desires seem infinite. We can find happiness only in what lies beyond us, as infinite and eternal. Human life never possesses happiness, but only partially and imperfectly experiences it. Practical and scientific knowledge will give us a degree of happiness, but both point beyond themselves, through both contemplation. In this sense, happiness is participation in divinity, as that which is beyond, in the eternal.

            The spiritual disciplines are the normal means by which we intentionally open our lives to the Spirit of God. The risk of doing this is that we may simply be talking with ourselves. We may mistake the voice of God for our voice. Yet, followers of Jesus Christ take this risk every day. Most of us find that genuine transformation and healing of the disease of sin that we face today requires this disciplined openness to God.

            The value of a journal in spiritual discipline is that we so easily invest ourselves externally in the activities of the day that we never pause for a few moments and ask ourselves questions about what we brought to the events to the day, as well as what we can learn from them. A journal is a way of holding that experience for a moment, reflecting upon it, and learning from it.  It is a way of working through bad experiences and bringing ourselves to the point of healing forgiveness.  It is a safe place to share our thoughts, our images, and our feelings.  Such a journal allows us to have a record of memory, as well as to reflect upon events in life more deeply.

Pascal once said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from our inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”  To achieve simplicity and peacefulness in our lives, we need to spend time alone.  This practice can help us develop an intuitive heart.  We need to learn to listen to the inner voice that is our greatest source of wisdom and grace.  Inner peace translates into outer peace.  It helps to balance the noise and confusion that infiltrate much of our day.  Those who set aside this time find they can manage their lives much better.  When they do not get this time alone, they notice the difference.  We can learn simple meditation practices that help quiet our minds. 

Finding time to be alone is not an easy matter for many people, including Christians. So much irrelevant stimuli and randomness occurs as we immerse our lives in the world. If we grow in our inner life, we must penetrate below the level of the obvious. Solitude is the stronghold of the strong, providing a place for life to flourish. Even busy lovers find time to be alone and write letters. We need that time alone with God and with our real self. Solitude is an important dimension of prayer.  We are called from loneliness to solitude.  We can cultivate an inner solitude and silence that sets us free from loneliness and fear.  We can still our bodies, a discipline that people of the west view as an eastern form of prayer, while in reality enables genuine stillness of soul. We can still our mind and thoughts of the busyness of the day and the plans for the future. In silence we become objects for ourselves and we see others increasingly clearly as they are as independent individuals. Nothing contributes more to this objectivity and subjectivity as the gathering, unifying, and simplifying of the self that takes place in silence. There is solitude of the heart that can be maintained at all times.  We must seek out the recreating stillness of solitude if we want to be with others meaningfully.  We must seek the fellowship and accountability of others if we want to be alone safely.  We must cultivate both if we are to live in obedience.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said:


Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. . . . Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. . . . Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils.  One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.


We must seek out the recreating stillness of solitude if we want to be with others meaningfully.  We must seek the fellowship and accountability of others if we want to be alone safely.  We must cultivate both if we are to live in obedience. 

Without silence, there is no solitude.  There is a transforming power in silence.  With this discipline, we learn when to speak and when to refrain from speaking.  When we practice this discipline we can say what needs to be said when it needs to be said.

We need to learn to take advantage of the little solitudes that fill our day.  We can find or develop a quiet place designed for silence and solitude.  One’s words can be few, but full.  As a discipline, we can try to live an entire day saying no words at all.  We can spend such solitude reorienting our life goals.  The fruit of such times is increased sensitivity and compassion for others.


            Study is an analytical process by which we observe and change our habits of thinking.  It involves a certain amount of repetition of the practice, concentration, comprehension, and reflection.  For example, understanding, interpreting, and evaluating a book or others objects of study are important elements of study.  There may be times when we pay the price of one barren day after another until the meaning becomes clear to us.  However, this process can revolutionize our lives.  Whether the object of study is the Bible, or some other great spiritual classic, or a great commentary or theological work, or any of the human and social science, we can grow in our walk with God through them.

            The West has an emphasis upon informational thinking.  This is where one thought builds upon another, where we seek to master the object of study.  This is undoubtedly true.  The West has made great advances in the sciences that would have been impossible without this form of thinking.  However, we need to balance this form of thinking by meditative thinking, or formative reflection.  This occurs when we hear a word from beyond ourselves, and listen for the transcendent meaning in that word.  To embark upon this path, we need to calm down physically, psychologically, and spiritually.  Then we need to focus upon an object of meditation, such as nature, a reading, an event.  Then we need to personalize this meditation into our lives here and now.

            Prayer is the most vital ingredient in the whole discernment process; that essential listening act, an open stance of availability to respond to God’s inner gift of life, power and love; need for inner space, so that one’s level of sensitive awareness can develop, to be able to recognize the stirrings of the Holy Spirit.  Prayer is our way of gaining access to the riches of God’s love and grace. On page 146 of volume two, he gives some guidance to prayer, concluding in reflections on the Lord’s Prayer. The form or structure of one’s prayer before the Lord is not the vital factor here; it is the time, space and personal commitment given to listening to God’s Word. Prayer means being real before the real Lord, allowing God to take us just as we are, flaws, sins, vices and virtues; it means being attentive to the presence of God in and within the fabric of our lives, asking for the grace to be generous, to be utterly trusting of his power in us.  It is the prayer of St. Paul:


(Eph 3:14-19 NRSV)  For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, {15} from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. {16} I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, {17} and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. {18} I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, {19} and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.


            The goal of spiritual discernment is contained in John 8:31-32, “If you make my word your home, you will be my disciples, you will learn the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Sifting is taking the time to sort out the various inner feelings, motions and leadings; testing the spirits and seeking objective validity for our inner promptings; our knowing becomes more sure; our interpretation more accurate: separating real wheat from the chaff.  The understanding and interpretation of the inner spirits is not always graceful.  Everyone experiences at times the driving force of these thoughts, sentiments, desires and random impulses; the inner noise of these motions often blocks out the quiet inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  At times, we find ourselves afraid of inner silence: we know not what ghost we will find there, so we tend to avid the dark depths of our own souls, and prefer to stay on the surface.  Like St. Paul in Rom. 7:15, we feel pulled here and there by many desires and needs we do not fully comprehend.  Even if we correctly interpret these inner affections which are prompted by the Spirit, we can easily fail to remember the implicit and most important message in every divine impulse, illumination or feeling, namely that God loves us uniquely.

            Fasting in scripture is a matter of abstaining from food.  Normally, such fasting referred to abstaining from food, but not water.  In most cases, fasting is a private matter, between the individual and God.  There are, however, times for corporate prayer.  There are also times in the scripture for regular fasts.  Note that in the Sermon on the Mount, fasting appears to be part of devotion, along with charity and prayer.  Also, in Mt. 9:15, it is clear that Christians are expected to fast after Jesus was gone.  Where are the people today who will respond to this invitation? Fasting has long been an important aspect of prayer.  To fast is to abstain from eating and drinking for a shorter or longer period.  Fasting implies merely that our souls at certain times need to concentrate more strongly on the one thing needful than at other times.  For that reason, we renounce for the time being those things that may be both permissible and profitable.  Fasting is entirely in line with what we have said above about the necessity of having quiet and secluded seasons of prayer.  We resort to fasting in order to set our distracted minds free from material things and the distraction of our environment.  We give the Spirit an opportunity to search out our whole inner being and speak with God about the things that grieve the Spirit.  In this way, we can re-establish unhindered communication with the Holy Spirit and receive a greater inflow of divine power.  One may feel the need to fast during times of great temptations, before one makes an important decision, while planning and carrying out difficult tasks, and before great and mighty acts.

Simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward life-style.  It begins with an inner focus and unity.  It is interesting that the modern hero is the poor person who becomes rich, rather than the rich person who chooses to become poor.  We need courage to articulate new, more human ways to live.  Simplicity is not a dream, but a vision of the future that Christians can recapture today.  The church needs to recapture it.

We will not get everything done.  Many of us live our lives as if the secret purpose is somehow to get everything done.  We take life so seriously.  People are frustrated and uptight about almost everything.  We have certain expectations of the people around us.  We become frustrated when life does not go the way we want.  We stay up late, get up early, avoid having fun, and keep our loved ones waiting.  Sadly, some people put off their loved ones for so long that others lose interest in maintaining the relationship.  We convince ourselves that our obsession with the “to do” list is temporary.  Once we get through the list, we will be calm, relaxed, and happy.  In reality, this rarely happens.  As we check items off, new ones simply replace them. We need to learn to do one thing at a time.  We need to learn that we can say “No” to requests by other people.  We need to learn flexibility when circumstances demand that we change our plans.  The fact that there is always something more to do is a sign of success.  It means our time is in demand.  If we become obsessed with getting everything done, we will lose a sense of inner peace and well being that God intends.  In reality, almost everything can wait.  Nothing is quite so urgent as we believe now.

The purpose of life is not to get everything done.  Rather, we need to enjoy each step in the journey of life.  We need to re-define what the nature of a meaningful accomplishment.  We need to re-define success.  It is more important to fill our lives with love than to get everything done.  When we die, we will still have more things to do.  Then, someone else will do it for us.

Humility and simplicity in life go hand in hand.  The less compelled we are to prove ourselves to others, the easier it is to feel peaceful inside.  It takes an enormous amount of energy to continually point out our own accomplishments.  Such bragging actually dilutes the positive feelings we receive from genuine accomplishment.  The less we care about seeking approval, the more approval we receive.  People are drawn to those with a quiet, inner confidence.  Such persons do not need to be right all the time, or steal all the glory.

Let other people have the glory.  A sense of calm comes over us when we cease needing all the attention directed toward ourselves allow others to have the glory.  Our need for excessive attention is that ego-centered part of us that says, “Look at me.  I am special.  My story is more interesting that yours.”  It is that voice inside of us that may not come right out and say it, but that wants to believe that “my accomplishments are slightly more important than yours.”  The ego is that part of us that wants to be seen, heard, respected, considered special, often at the expense of someone else.  The next time someone tells their story, notice how quickly a story comes to our minds that will draw attention to us.  We need to surrender our need for attention.  Instead, we need to share in the joy of someone else receiving the glory.

Everyone is enlightened -- except us.  To adopt this perspective means that everyone we meet has something to teach us.  Perhaps the obnoxious driver or disrespectful teenager is here to teach us about patience.  The punk rocker might be here to teach us to be less judgmental.  Our job in life is to determine what the people in our lives are trying to teach us.  If we adopt this perspective, we will be less annoyed, bothered, and frustrated by the actions and imperfections of other people.  Once we discover what someone is trying to teach us, it is easy to let go of our frustrations.  Instead of asking, “Why are they doing this to me?” we can ask, “What are they trying to teach me?”  We need to look around today at all the enlightened people.

Let others be right most of the time.  It takes a lot of energy to defend our positions and prove that we are right.  Needing to be right, or needing others to be wrong, encourages others to become defensive.  The pressure is on for us to be even more defensive.  We want to prove to others that we are right.  Alternatively, we want to prove others are wrong.  Many people approach life as if it is their job to show others how their positions, statements, and points of view are incorrect.  However, we need to think about this more logically.  Has someone ever corrected us and then we said to the person, “Thank you so much for showing me I am wrong and you are right.  Now I see the truth!  You are great.”  Do we know people who have thanked us for proving them wrong?  Most of us hate others to correct us.  We do want our positions respected.  Of course, sometimes we need to be right.  Usually, however, it is simply our egos creeping in and ruining an otherwise peaceful encounter with another human being.  We can practice giving other people the joy of being right.  We can stop correcting others.  When other people express opinions, we can let them stand.  The people in our lives will become less defensive and more loving.  They will appreciate us.  This is far more important than a battle of egos.

Everyday things are holy.  If we want to find ugliness, we will find plenty of it.  If we want to find fault with the circumstances and the people around us, we will find plenty of reasons.  However, the opposite is also true.  Everything in life carries with in the image of God.  We can train ourselves to see the extraordinary in the midst of everyday life.  Most of us find it easy to see this truth in the beauty of a sunrise or on the beach.  However, in the difficulties and tragedies of life, we typically find this perspective more difficult.  Just because we do not see the image of God in a situation or person does not mean it is not there.

We become what we practice most. Over time, our behavior determines the kind of person we become.  If we build into our lives negative habits of thought and behavior, that is the person we become.  However, if we build into our lives more positive thought and behavior, that is the person we become.  The internal and external habits that we build into our lives have the power to shape us.  

Reflecting upon what we have instead of what we want is a good way to gain perspective.  No matter how much we have, our desires will expand.  We will never be satisfied.  Rather than wishing a spouse had different qualities, focus upon the gifts of that person today.  Rather than wishing for more stuff, be grateful for what we have.  Rather than complaining about the job, appreciate it for what it is. 

            The exploitation of the poor and the accumulation of wealth are not in God’s will and purpose for humanity.  Slavery comes with an idolatrous attachment to wealth.  Jesus was opposed to the materialism of his own day.  Jesus saw the spiritual dangers of exploitation and accumulation of wealth.  The early church was concerned with the same issues.  Simplicity is the path that allows being free enough to genuinely enjoy the blessings of this life without being destroyed by them.

            Simplicity of lifestyle is the most visible, and therefore the most open to corruption.  At the heart of this discipline is the desire to seek the first the kingdom of God, and the trust that everything necessary God will add in proper order.  Nothing must come before the kingdom of God.  Freedom from inward anxiety is one of the evidences of seeking the kingdom of God first.  Such freedom is characterized by acknowledging that all we have is a gift from God, and will be cared for by God, and is available to others.

Life is not fair.  Such an insight can liberate us.  When we think that life should be fair, or that someday it will be fair, we feel sorry for ourselves or for others.  Such feelings lead to our role as a victim.  Instead, we need to have the courage to face the unfairness of life and to change it where we can.  We immerse ourselves in complaints.  We engage in conversation with others concerning the injustice of life.  When we recognize this fact, it encourages us to do our best with what we have.  It is not the “job” of life to be fair to us. 

The Buddhist teaches that the glass is already broken.  Everything that we see today will eventually vanish.  If we look far enough into the future, the earth itself will fall into the sun.  If we look at the immediate future, our favorite glass will break someday.  Everyone we meet will die.  Nothing lasts forever.

“Will this matter a year from now?”  Whatever circumstance we deal with is not happening right now, but a year from now.  Then, we need to ask ourselves “Is this situation really as important as I’m making it out to be?”  Once in a great while it may be, but a vast majority of the time, it simply is not.  Chances are, a year from now, what we care about so much now simply will not matter.  It will become an irrelevant detail in our lives.  Such a question can give us needed perspective.

In one hundred years, all new people will populate the earth.  In the great scheme of things, this is not very long.  Those who presently live out their lives will be dead.  New people will take their place.  The inconveniences of our lives may not become so large if we adopt this perspective.  What will happen if we have a flat tire?  What will happen if we lock ourselves out of the house or car?  What will happen if the computer breaks down?  What will happen if the house does not cleaned?  What will happen if we do not have the money this year to go on vacation?  From a one hundred-year perspective, such issues truly are insignificant.

Learning to live in the present moment is a gift we need to learn, though we rarely learn it just once.  Regardless of what happened yesterday or last year, and what may or may not happen tomorrow, the present moment is where we are.  Always.  Most of us have mastered the art of spending much of our lives worrying about a variety of things, all at once.  We allow past problems and future concerns to dominate our present moments.  We postpone our gratification, our stated priorities, and our happiness, often convincing ourselves that someday will be better than today.  However, someday never actually arrives.   John Lennon once said, “Life is what is happening while we are busy making other plans.”  Many people live as if their lives were a dress rehearsal for some later date.  It is not.  In fact, no one has a guarantee that he or she will be here tomorrow.  Now is the only time we have, and the only time that we have any control over.  When our attention is in the present moment, we push fear from our minds.  To combat fear, the best strategy is to learn to bring our attention back to the present.  Mark Twain said, “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”  We need to practice keeping our attention on the here and now.

            There is an outer dimension to simplicity.  Richard Foster has identified ten principles.  Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status. Reject anything that produces an addiction in us. Develop a habit of giving things away. Refuse to allow modern gadgets to dominate you. Enjoy things without owning them. Develop a deeper appreciation for creation. Be skeptical of debt. Have plain and honest speech. Reject anything that oppresses others. Do not allow anything to distract you from your main goal.

We need to keep asking ourselves, “What is really important?”  Often we allow relatively small things to get us all worked up, when closer reflection reveals their true nature. We focus on little problems and concerns and blow them way out of proportion.  It pays enormous dividends if we learn not to worry about little things.  Rarely are things as bad as they seem.  So many people focus on the small stuff, that they forget the magic and beauty of life.  If we regain our focus, we can simplify our lives.

Christian discipleship requires a good stewardship of financial resources.  Many in our culture live with a fear that they will not have enough to provide for their needs until they retire.  The scripture suggest that being in want is not the greatest danger we face.  Something is much more powerful and much more destructive than being in need.  We can have abundance of the goods of this world and believe they belong to us and not to God.  We desire comfort and ease.  Advertisers bombard us with the message that useless luxuries are in fact necessities.  Yet, the use of money is no longer a decision made by the believer alone.  The use of money is toward God and faithfulness to what God requires.  Part of moving toward mature Christian living is respect for the danger and benefit of wealth. 

We live in a time when much of the world, both secular and religious, has turned its back on the pain and suffering of the least and lost.  We have developed immunity and blindness to the enormous suffering of the world.  How is it with Christianity, as you know it?  Is there consuming passion for the poor, the needy, the prisoner, and the sick?  Does the Christianity you know have a passion that is second only to love for God?  It is far better to carry relief to the poor than to send it.  Such personal involvement with the poor will soften our hearts and help us to care for each other.

Submission carries with it the freedom from the need to get our own way.  The focus in the Bible is on the spirit with which we view other people.  We are free to value other people.  Their dreams and plans become important to us.  Self-denial is simply a way of coming to understand that we do not have to have our own way.  Our happiness is not dependent upon getting what we want.  Self-denial does not mean losing identity or self-contempt.  This theme is difficult for us because it runs counter to modern life.  Submission is a voluntary act of service to others. Its limit is when those to whom one submits become destructive or abusive. Human community has webs of authority, in which in some places we are at the top of the pyramid, and in other places in the middle, and in still others at the bottom. No matter where we are in human hierarchy, submission is an important Christian quality.

            One can find great liberty in serving. Many parables have servants in them.  Do we identify with them? Service enables us to say no to the world’s games of promotion and authority.  The point is not that we are to do away with all sense of leadership or authority.  True service comes from a relationship with the divine deep inside.  It is willing to perform small and large acts of service with the same spirit.  True service is content to remain hidden.  It has no need to calculate results.  True service is a life-style.  It builds community. Service is conducive to the growth of humility.  It is a way to discipline the desires of the flesh.  Such service is hidden and content with small things.  It has willingness to guard the reputation of others.  Common courtesy, hospitality, listening, and bearing the burdens of others are wonderful acts of service. 

                        Listen.  Bonhoeffer in Life Together says people are looking for someone to listen, but Christians are too busy talking.  “The ministry of a listening heart helping us on our way to God.”  We want people to talk about religious experience.  Prayer is a religious experience.  It may be rich, or it may be dry.  Communion may be a meaningful experience or nothing may happen.  Worship is religious experience, but may be meaningful or negative. Pastors hear complaints about not having enough time to pray.  However, it may be they wonder about what demands God will make.  Alternatively, they may be afraid to be bored.  The job of the spiritual director is to bring the conversation back to God.  How does the religious experience affect their lives?  Is it producing the fruit of the Spirit?

Nothing helps us build our perspective more than developing compassion for others.  Compassion is a sympathetic feeling.  It involves the willingness to put yourself in someone else’s shows, to take the focus off yourself and to imagine what it is like to be in someone else’s predicament and simultaneously, to feel love for that person.  It is the recognition that the problems of other people, their pain and frustrations, are every bit as real as our own -- often far worse.  In recognizing this fact and trying to offer some assistance, we open our own hearts and greatly enhance our sense of gratitude.

Compassion is something we can develop with practice.  It involves two things: intention and action.  Intention means we remember to open our hearts to others.  We expand what and who matters.  We expand our interest from ourselves to other people.  Action is the “what we do about it” phase.  It is not so important what we do as that we do something.  Service needs to become a more important part of our lives.  Genuine acts of service arise out of our own life context.  We need to become more open to helping those around us each day.  The small, quiet, often unnoticed acts of kindness could often be the most meaningful.  As Mother Teresa said: “We cannot do great things on earth.  We can only do small things with great love.”  Compassion develops our sense of gratitude.  It takes our minds off the small stuff upon which we train ourselves to focus and take far too seriously.  We cannot change the world.  We can make the world a brighter place because we lived here. 

We need to look beyond the behavior of others, when they act in ways we do not improve.  We need to become more interested and curious in the way other people choose to live and behave.  This does not mean we allow others to “walk all over us.”  It does not mean we approve of negative behavior.  However, we need to give other people the benefit of the doubt.  The behavior of others needs to bother us less.  In most cases, the behavior is innocently motivated.  Other people have their way of viewing the world.  We need to respect that difference.  We have enough to do with our own lives.  We do not need to try managing the lives of others. 

Doing kind things for others, and then not telling anyone, is a good gift to give to ourselves. While many of us do kind things for others, we are almost certain to mention our acts of kindness to someone else, secretly seeking their approval.  When we share our own kindness or generosity with someone else, it makes us feel like we are thoughtful people.  It reminds us of how kind we are.  It reminds us of how we deserve the praise of others.  We need to practice “random acts of kindness.”  This is a way to get in touch with the joy of life without expecting anything in return.  The best way to practice this virtue is to look into our hearts.  Only what comes from the heart, rather than external behavior, can this way of relating to others help us toward relating simply to others.

There is something magical about doing thoughtful and kind things and mentioning it to no one. We can do a favor for someone, and not ask for or expect anything in return.  We can dilute the positive feelings we have about doing kind things by sharing it with others.  We need to learn to give with no thought of receiving something in return.  Our goal in interacting with people is to build them up and to share the joy of life.  We need to refuse to keep track of the good things we do for others.  Such an attitude betrays a hidden desire to control the behavior of others through our good deeds.  Most of us keep score.  If we do something for another person, then we expect them to return the favor.  Too often, we are afraid that other people take advantage of us.  It is not important that we keep track of the good we do for another person.  It is important that we focus on the relationship we have with that person.

Choose being kind over being right.  We have many chances to correct people.  To do so may make us look right in our own eyes or in the eyes of others.  One way of dealing with this issue is to write down our five most stubborn positions and figure out a way to soften them.  Another way is to read articles and books with entirely different positions than our own.  We tend to believe that our position is the only way to look at life.  We need to learn to discover the grain of truth in the position of another person.  We need to relax and learn from opposing positions.  Too often, we dismiss the opinions of other people.  Yet, most people who share an opinion believe they have good ideas.  Almost every opinion has some merit.  We have reluctance to learn from other people.  However, some ideas are superior to others.  We need to discern those areas of life where we must stand firm.  Tolerance is a virtue in such matters.  We can learn from terrible ideas.  In general, we adopt the position of learners.  In particular, we behave as if our spouses, our children, our closest friends, no longer have anything to teach us.  Yet, these people know us best.  They can see self-defeating behavior in us before we see it ourselves.  We can learn from them by asking them to share with us their perception of our blind spots.  All it takes is courage and humility. 

Dealing with criticism is a difficult skill to learn. When someone criticizes us, we need to learn to agree with it.  Too often, we treat it as an emergency and defend ourselves as if we were in a battle.  However, criticism is nothing more than an observation by another person about us: our actions, or the way we think.  It does not agree with our perception of ourselves or of our reality.  Big deal!  We need to resist the urge to criticize other people.  Becoming critical of other people says more about our need to be critical than it does about the other person.  If we think about it, how often has anyone responded positively to our criticism?  I can hear them say, “Thank you so much for pointing out my flaws.  I really appreciate it.”  Criticism is nothing more than a bad habit. 

Spiritual Companionship

            I would like to discuss spiritual direction within the church. Spiritual direction, spiritual friend or companion, soul friend, guide, is a relationship that can serve a deeper personal spiritual life.  Spirituality refers to the subtlest dimension of our awareness.  It is concerned with helping people directly with their relationship with God.  In the past, spiritual direction focused upon the norms and practices of the Christian life.  Today, the focus is upon actual experiences of the relationship with God that people have.  It is that help given by one Christian to another which enables that person to pay attention to God’s personal communication to him or her, to respond to this personally communicating God, to grow in friendship with this God, and to live out the consequences of that relationship.

            Being a spiritual friend is being the physician of a wounded soul.  That wound must be cleansed (a clean physical environment, confession, prayer, silence). That wound must be aligned with the sundered parts (interior awareness of the person’s image of God and image of themselves and the history of those images, as well as the person’s prayer, then the person’s sense of calling to God, in human community, in ministry, and more immediate callings). That wound must be given rest (in journaling and prayer).  That is all.  The physician does not heal.  He or she provides an environment for the dominant natural process of healing to take its course.  The physician of souls is a midwife, providing the environment for the birthing and nourishing of a whole soul.  This can happen through confession, sacraments, guided retreats, the arts, scripture, spiritual reading, prayer and meditation, small groups, prophets, worship, teaching, friendship, counseling, and direction. 

            A community discovers a spiritual director.  The director is part of the community.  They need a deep faith in God.  The contemplative attitude of the director makes him or her eager to discover God’s ways with all kinds of people.  They need a surplus of warmth, showing itself in commitment, an effort to understand, and spontaneity.  They use the Bible as a source for prayer.  They have a rich experience to rely upon.  Some knowledge of the history of spirituality and of modern psychology is important.  The director becomes a sacramental sign of God’s presence.  The director needs to be in supervision in order to keep perspective on the relationships developed.

            When seeking spiritual companionship, one seeks spiritual maturity, the presence in them of the Spirit, willingness to listen, holiness, compassion, commitment to the needs of others, compatibility, honesty, confidentiality and kindness. Spiritual companionship is a gentle art, demanding willingness to listen attuned to one’s own real self. A rule to follow, one on one with another, would be reading the bible and Christian spiritual classics, time of solitude and silence, vocal prayer, and a plan of action or service.

            Spiritual discernment can be a gift.  What is difficult for most is given as a gift to some.  With this interior grace, given for service in the church, the person can intuitively grasp the inner quality of a spirit and rather quickly recognize it has of God or from another spirit.  The normal sifting process is not necessary.

            Spiritual discernment can be an art.  Some have an innate sensitive power in certain people whose temperament and personality are such that a grace operates in them whereby, through prayerful reflection on one’s life experiences, in-depth sharing with others, they come to trust and to use the intuitive gifts they have realized in themselves.  This discerning skill is developed, deepened and appropriated by personal practice and reflection.

            Spiritual discernment can be a science.  This focuses on learning the discernment process as a discipline; it is studied at the feet of a skilled and/or charismatic gifted leader who has had much experience in dealing with the workings of spirits in their own lives and in that of others.  It draws its learned discipline from scripture, church tradition, comparative human experiences and the life of personal prayer: all the helping grace of the Holy Spirit.

            Group direction can provide a sanctuary, a teaching, reflection, and accountability.  Ideally, the group will be between eight and twenty, lasting from one and a half to three hours.  There needs to be priority, consistent beginning and ending, silence, attentive patience.  Outside the group, daily discipline, reading, discrimination in sharing personal experience, bears the fruit of the spirit.  As a leader of such a group, one needs attentiveness to one’s own journey, trust in the Spirit’s guidance, caring for the group, respect for the uniqueness and shared journey of each member, flexibility, awareness of group dynamics, basic knowledge of the spiritual tradition.

            First, there is the experience of God.  The search for meaning, for a home, for roots, is a religious quest.  We cannot find that home, that rock, in any other human being.  This search is for God, a mystery that is experienced in our heart, mind, and spirit.  This experience of God is intuitive, subjective, and personal.  This journey involves an engagement with ourselves, with God, and with others.  The question is, do I, in my own experience, meet a mysterious Other to whom I can say: You are the Rock of my salvation?  How can we, on the basis of our experience, say with assurance that we believe in a God who does exist and who in Jesus Christ has touched our lives at the core?

            Attention to inner experience, a continuing concern for spiritual theology and spiritual direction, is of central importance.  Religion in general and the Christian tradition in particular, suggest that mutual communication and dialogue are at the center of this quest for meaning.  This relationship is as easy and as difficult as any other relationship.  Prayer nurtures it.  We become transparent, open, to the other.  God is shown to be trustworthy, and we become better able to express our own deeper attitudes toward God.  Prayer is not isolated from the rest of life.  It is affected by the total texture of our lives. 

            Historically, the church has been wary of private revelations.  How can we know whether we are hearing God or we are suffering delusion?  Can this relationship with God help us to make choices?  Discernment is nothing more than recognizing differences.  This helps us appreciate the simplicity and the value of discernment.  The discernment process includes comparing the present experience with other experiences that we know to be from God, the feeling of peace and serenity that accompanies the experience, and the fruit of the spirit it encourages. 

            A spiritual direction that stems from the heart of the Christian tradition has no axes to grind, no pet theories on which it depends.  It is primarily concerned with helping individuals freely to place themselves before God who will communicate himself to them and make them more free.  The focus of the direction is on the Lord and the way God seems to relate to each person, never ideas.

            The task of the spiritual director is to help the other pay attention to God, and then help the other pay attention to his or her own reaction to God.  The director encourages the other to ask what he or she wants from God.  Contemplation of nature or scripture can help the other become more aware of the living Jesus in their lives. 

            One helps the person notice and share with the Lord key interior facts.  Begin with how the Lord is working with the other, not with some plan in the mind of the director.  The atmosphere of just two people talking is essential.  Some people who begin direction are in a mild state of depression.  Others overlook the disturbance in their lives.  One of the most powerful inner facts is anger, which many want to avoid. 

            The development of this relationship involves resistance.  Discouragement, boredom, and depression are signs of the resistance in a person.  Prayer can be attractive and absorbing for a while, but can become dull and tasteless after a while.  The structure of our personalities is such that they resist new input from the outside.  Spiritual direction opposes this tendency to remain the same, and can therefore expect to meet resistance.  Many fear being lost in God.  The image the person has of God can be a source of resistance.  The director must recognize this resistance.  The contemplative attitude of the director will help here.  Directors can look to their own patterns of resistance.  It is best for each person to become aware of the resistance within as part of the pattern of prayer.  Resistance often revolves around some secret. 


[1] Antiquity linked conscience with the divine law, whether in Hellenistic Judaism or early Christian teaching. Conscience became, in Jerome, a fourth power of the soul, along with desire, feeling, and rationality. Aquinas linked conscience to the intellect and treats conscience as a knowledge of moral principles that is innate in the soul.

[2] William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 387.

[3] Letters, June 25, 1746, 203.