Creed for a Poor Christian

I came across this recently and want to share it with you.

I can’t understand all the things we’re supposed to believe in, and that bothers me. Most of the things – doctrines, I guess – are found in the Apostle’s Creed, and I get nervous reciting it because I’m not sure if I believe it or not. I do accept and want to practice all the things Jesus taught, especially his “new commandment”:  Love one another as I have loved you.

It’s clear that whoever wrote this was struggling with an intellectual acceptance of some doctrines in our Creed. So I’ve written a kind of poor person’s creed that doesn’t challenge the intellect, but is limited to the basics of what Jesus taught.

Creed for a Poor Christian

*   I believe in the divine Trinity: God the Father Almighty who created all things; Jesus Christ his Son and our Savior; and the Holy Spirit of Love who binds them and us together.

*   I believe in loving my neighbor as myself and as God loves us.

*   I believe in forgiving anyone who causes me pain.

*   I believe in praying for those who hurt me.

*   I believe in the truth of all that Jesus taught and modeled, and that by following his example I build up his Body, i.e., his sacred Presence in this world.

*   I believe that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in me at all times, and that I carry the Trinity within me to all I encounter.

*   I believe that Christ lives in every human who lives, has lived, or ever will live in this world.

*   I believe that God desires happiness and unending life for all souls he has created, and that this is why he sent his Son to teach us how to live as his children.

*   I believe that Jesus came so that we might learn how to live in harmony as children of God.

*   I believe that Christ taught what he heard from the Father and that because of these teachings he accepted rejection, cruel treatment and execution, so that we too might learn how to endure suffering and persecution and use them for our transformation into holiness.

*   I believe that, different as we are from one another, all people can and must love one another as we love God, and especially as God loves us.

*   I believe in these articles of faith and that living by them will increase the flow of grace in the world so that all will be at peace with one another.

I believe that the one thing necessary for us is obedience to God’s law of love as taught and exemplified by Christ; that his command is the most important to obey and cherish; and that doing so will draw us into an unending place of joy and love.

Amen.

Worthy?

Looking back at it, it was quite amusing. There we were, my classmate and I, having a serious discussion about which of God’s infinite attributes would “win out,” Mercy or Justice. Today’s reading from Exodus seems related to that sophomoric discussion from my college days. 

In today’s Mass readings (16th Sun. Ordinary), there’s Abraham, politely but persistently bargaining with the Lord about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. [Genesis 18] And not just bargaining. He’s actually instructing the Lord, challenging him to live up to his promise of Mercy. “Surely you wouldn’t think of destroying these wicked cities when there are innocent people among them! Far be it from you!”

How bold! But obviously the Lord knew that Abraham’s argument was futile: there were not even ten good people in the lot, so the Lord kept his plan and destroyed the cities. (Another situation where a human tries but fails to “change God’s mind.”) Unfortunately, the lesson we’re left with is that this kind of justice wins out over Mercy. Apparently, collateral damage didn’t matter to the Lord of the early Hebrews.

That is, until Jesus came with his message of a liberally merciful Father. We are so ready to punish. It usually helps us feel holier than those other wretches. We can’t understand God wanting to spare sinners, like the woman caught in adultery. The Gospel is full of God being “unfair,” but his brand of perceived unfairness is most often aimed at people who know and admit they’re sinners. No matter what they’ve done, they’re forgiven. 

Saint Paul’s letter to the Colossians (also read this morning) has this to say on the issue of our sin:

Even when you were dead in your transgressions. . . he brought you to life along with him, having forgiven us all our transgressions. He obliterated the bond against us, with its legal claims, which was opposed to us; he also removed it from our midst, nailing it to the cross.

Do I read this correctly? Is St. Paul saying that even though we broke the rules (the bond with its legal claims), Christ erased it all by nailing it, with him, to the cross? Again, St. Paul writes these uplifting words to the Romans (Chapter 5):

Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

It’s time.

It’s time to realize that it’s not a matter of our being “worthy.” Once God’s Mercy is experienced, we can’t help but let God take us over completely. 

🎵🎵
O Lord, I am not now worthy . . .

Presence

A friend asked me why I hadn’t posted anything in a while. I squarely put the blame on an absent Muse. I’ve certainly been trying! So she (the Muse) decided to show up today, suggesting a topic that we’ve written about before: Presence.

It all started when a fellow blogger linked his readers to a talk on YouTube given by Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now. When I checked my book-case, that book was still there, but only half read.

I watched a number of Tolle’s brief but substantive talks, covering topics that plague virtually all of us: depression, negativity, anxiety, anger, etc. Difficulties arise when the mind – frequently our own worst enemy – dwells on past hurts, issues, events that disturb our peace. We keep replaying these old news reels, thus keeping them alive to hurt us over and over again. Thoughts about the future can be a joyful exercise but are problematic when they produce anxiety or fear. Tolle proposes that these negative states can be tamed by learning to live in the NOW. The NOW, after all, is the only thing we have: the past is gone; the future is unknowable.Tolle definitely has made a new fan of me.

However, after seeing the Mass readings for today (16th Sunday of Ordinary Time), the reality dawned on me that what Tolle teaches is most helpful, but not really new. This is not to denigrate either Tolle or what he teaches, because we all need to hear the same thing repeated at different times, in different words, to different audiences in different eras. This morning, for example, we heard the stunning passage from Paul’s letter to the Colossians. He imparts the “mystery hidden from all ages, now, finally revealed to all. This is the mystery of Christ in you.” Christ’s miraculous presence in us.

This is the work of our divinization as we take on the mind and attitude of Christ.

 This is the Presence of grace. Even better: the divine Presence of the Divine Christ.

Some are fortunate to have found this ongoing presence of Christ within, so that everything they do, say, hear, teach, comes from that Presence. Here are just three persons who were given the grace to exemplify what it means to live in the Presence, with Christ in them:

  • St. Ignatius: Ignatian spirituality is rooted in the conviction that God is active, personal, and—above all—present to us. We don’t have to withdraw from the world into a quiet place in order to find God. God’s footprints can be found everywhere—in our work and our relationships, in our family and friends, in our sorrows and joys, in the sublime beauty of nature and in the mundane details of our daily lives. It’s often said that Ignatian spirituality trains us to “find God in all things.”
  • Brother Lawrence, Carmelite monk, Practitioner of God’s presence: “It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God.”
  • J.P. deCaussade, S.J.: Author of Sacrament of the Present Moment (also known as Abandonment to Divine Providence), and spiritual director to nuns of the Visitation. He counseled them that the smallest deeds, even outside of prayer, were transformative when performed in union with Christ.

Jesus, of course, lets us know how to find peace in all that we do. In today’s Gospel, he tells Martha that her anxiety, not her chores, is what keeps her from finding joy in Christ. Mary, sitting quietly at the feet of her guest, is fully and peacefully connected with him. They are both present to each other. — How easy!

The Fatal Tree

Programmed to send me papal news alerts, my smartphone recently notified me that Pope Francis had approved a new translation for a significant part of the Our Father. Our English translation prays: “. . . and lead us not into temptation.” This is not consistent, says the Pope,  with what Jesus taught us about his Father. Pope Francis has changed that phrase to “. . . and do not let us fall into temptation.”

Thanks be to God for having sent us Jesus so that we could soar above the God of Genesis, the God of tests, threats, and even second guessing as in the following passage:

Yahweh God caused to spring up from the soil every kind of tree, enticing to look at and good to eat, with the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden. . . Yahweh God gave the man this admonition, “You may eat indeed of all the trees in the garden. But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you are not to eat, for on the day you eat of it you shall most surely die.

This narration unfortunately presents us with a Divinity who is deliberately setting up his first humans for a fall. One more example of how scripture, though divinely inspired, cannot be literally true in the light of what Jesus taught us about the nature of God.

First, the forbidden tree is designed to be like all the others: enticing and nutritious. Second, the Divinity places it right in the middle of the garden where Adam (and later, Eve) can’t help but run into it at every turn. Third, why would the Divinity allow the serpent into what was supposed to be an ideal garden?

Last and most puzzling is that having created humans in his image, Divinity endowed them with intelligence, along with its handmaidens, imagination and curiosity. Wouldn’t it be a good thing to know the difference between good and evil so we could choose appropriately?

Good and evil, right and wrong. This dualistic thinking, according to Richard Rohr, OFM, has produced untold miseries among humans. In a recent meditation from his blog, Father Rohr writes:

The dualistic mind, upon which most of us were taught to rely, is simply incapable of the task of creating unity. It automatically divides reality into binary opposites . . .
“Really good” thinking then becomes devising a strong argument for our side’s superiority versus another country, race, group, political party, or religion. It seems we must have our other!  (Center for Action and Contemplation, June 2, 2019)

Back to the creation story, what does the Lord say to himself at the end of each day’s creation?
               God saw that it was good.

Everything that God made he saw as good. If God made it, there was no way it could be bad. Could evil be in the eye of the beholder?

After centuries of spiritual evolution, we still ponder the issue of evil in our world. Here are strong statements from three holy Christians, giving us an insightful perspective about the coexistence of good and evil.

Julian of Norwich, Revelations
We are securely protected through love, in joy and sorrow, by the goodness of God. . . . All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.

St. Paul, Romans 8:28
We know that all things work together unto good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

Thérèse of Lisieux
Everything is a grace!

To hear them, it sounds as if they are unaware of the real presence of evil. Rather, what they’re saying is, “Yes, evil exists. But that doesn’t mean that it must triumph! These three saints know how to confront evil, certain as they are of God’s faithful and loving providence.

True, we have shut ourselves out of Eden, this good place, where ignorance had truly been bliss. In our pride, we claim to possess the secret of the good. In the arrogance of our presumed knowledge, we set ourselves up as the Supreme Judge of what is right and what is wrong. Mostly, we find ourselves in the right and others in the wrong. No longer is everything good.

Thus was division, dis-unity, born. From division came wars, oppression, and even a divinity who takes sides as we pray for enemies to be slaughtered and for ourselves to be given the means to slaughter them. We have made for ourselves a god who has our same  biases.

In the Beatitudes, however, Jesus teaches us how we can transcend a variety of negatives and use them as keys to the kingdom of God. The poor will be given the kingdom . . . the meek will inherit the earth . . . the merciful (forgiving) will receive mercy.

Can evil be transformed into good? Hardly. Can we escape evil? Not while on this planet.

Instead, by allowing God to nurture his presence in us, we are enabled to find greater intimacy with God, even in the presence of evil. Accepting God’s grace which is his life in us, all things – even evils – can truly work together unto good.

What might have been a fatal error, in Christ has become a happy fault.

And God Rested

The ancients who wrote what we call Scripture perhaps didn’t fully realize the profound truths they were inspired to pass on to us — nor do we! God’s “resting” was not to say that he was “finished,” that his work was done. A human artist may recognize when his opus is finally completed. He  breathes a sigh of relief, walks away from his easel to clean his brushes, and frames his painting. Hopefully, he’ll be able to sell it.

God’s work in his universe, and in each of us, is never finished. Scientists are never finished with their exploration of the universe, and the more they learn the more they discover what is yet to be learned. Scientists are continually searching to understand the present by examining the past. Revolutionary concepts, such as those offered by Copernicus and Galileo, are constantly being overturned and humbly accepted.

In caring for our spiritual life, a most useful exercise is to pause now and then to review this life of ours to see how it has changed (hopefully for the better) since its beginning.

Already I’m at a loss with this question: what is or was my beginning? The writer of Psalm 139 is astonished at his own being, recognizing that God knew how his little self would turn out long before anyone else knew of his existence  — or even cared.

You formed my inmost being;
you knit me in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, because I am wonderfully made;
wonderful are your works!
My very self you know.
My bones are not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
fashioned in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me unformed.

My beginning was in my mother’s womb, as her beginning was in her mother’s womb, as her beginning was in her mother’s womb, as her beginning was in her mother’s womb, as her beginning  . . . etc., etc., etc.

This discovery suggests that my being, my essence, began much earlier than I thought.

Where would I be if it were not for the chain of that first creative copulation thousands of years ago? That chain has brought me to this very moment where I’ve been enabled to be aware of it. The traits I have  — physical, intellectual, emotional (and moral?) — didn’t come merely from the two humans through whom I’ve been generated into this short hour of life.

Because life has come from a living chain of other lives, it’s important to look into our own being, looking back at least as far as the few years of our short life, to examine where we’ve been and how we got to what we are now. And if this is beneficial at the materially human level, how much more enlightening would it be to trace the evolution of our spirituality. When we dare to examine our origin and history, our relationship to God and the people in our life, so much of our past is clarified, understood, appreciated, and even forgiven — as long as we approach this special study with the desire and courage to clarify, understand, appreciate and forgive all that has preceded this moment.

God may have rested, but he did not stop altogether. Out of a superabundance of LOVE, God continues to create. Nor can we stop or let go of that creative hand that is leading us carefully toward the end he wishes for us. Our destiny is to co-operate with God, work with him on this project of creating ourselves. Having been made in his image, we have been given all we need. All we need to do now is to accept His invitation to the Feast prepared for us from the beginning.