Sunday, 29 March 2009

The E N L I G H T E N E D

"That's our motto here at the Tyrell Corporation - more human than human".
Dr Eldon Tyrell, in the Ridley Scott film, Blade Runner.

"See to it that you do not become a captive of empty and deceitful philosophy which detracts from the substance of the faith. Watch out for those who would woo you with such 'spiritual' teachings, for they would draw you away from the truth.

The whole fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily in Christ, and He is within you, allowing you to put off the old and avoid the false, so that you can live in the faith...
So mark those who seek to pass judgment on you regarding what you eat and drink or your 'spiritual' activities, for these are nothing compared to the reality now yours in Christ....

No one must be allowed to disqualify or berate you because you are not an ascetic or dualistic about spiritual things. You are united to Christ, so reject submission to their taboos regarding what you shouldn't touch or taste which derives from their folly.
They may have an appearance of piety and godliness, but they are of no value to your faith".

Paul to the Colossians.

Ever have a moment in the theater or the cinema where you encounter a sense of wonder at something 'larger than life'? It usually happens for me when I'm engaged with Science Fiction, and, because I have a pretty vivid imagination, I've found it can and does occur when I'm reading a good novel or enjoying a piece of music or a work or art. There's nothing wrong with that - in fact, some aspects of creation are most certainly 'there' to assist us in elevating our thinking to a place of astonishment and reflection. There's a difference, however, between something that makes us truly engage with reality and a device which encourages us to totally escape from it.

I'm currently re-reading Umberto Eco's dazzling series of essays, 'Faith in Fakes', in which he reflects upon the growing popularity in our times of what he defines as 'hyper' reality - experiences or frames of reference which are deemed 'better' (more stimulating and engaging) than what they represent - a trend evidenced, for example, in museum exhibits, total immersion entertainment and holographic development. Whilst much of this is fascinating and intriguing, Eco raises the question as to why we are so enticed by the entirely false - devices which are deliberately engineered to deceive us.

Such a propensity has to be a consequence of our current condition.
"in some sense", notes C S Lewis, "as dark to the intellect as it is unendurable to the feelings,
we can be both banished from the presence of Him who is present everywhere and erased from the knowledge of Him who knows all - utterly and absolutely outside. On the other side, we can be called in, welcomed and received: we walk along that razor's edge between these two possibilities. Our longing is to be re-united with something in the universe from which we know we have been cut-off" (the weight of glory).

The deep need is for remedy, but the spoiling of nature - of the very fiber and propensity of each of us - means that the 'pull' is towards a fake rather than substance, to revel in the 'appearance' of wisdom rather than the astonishing and actual embodied appearance of THE reality.

Christianity leaves us with no confidence in our own abilities or activities.
If we fall prey to the conceit of self righteousness to any measure, the scriptures make it clear that
we have totally fallen prey to the illusion of being 'good' when whilst we avoid His explicit summation of what and where we are whilst so distanced from Him.
Salvation is not in ourselves - we must be found and rescued to be called and welcome.

Christ in the flesh - and the profound ramifications of this - is where the Gospel begins.

The same is true amidst the earthly church.

Deceit leads us to seek harbor in the perilous zone of our notions, dreams and aspirations, to view godliness as something we acquire by Gnosis or obtain by pious merit. Reality is something both far more troubling and truly correcting.

"We can truly become human because He became so - to conform us to life through His death and resurrection. We were never intended to become gods. That is the illusion".
(Deitrich Bonhoeffer - Ethics).

Longing has it's place. Dreams can allow us to look further and deeper, to remind ourselves there is more behind the daily grind, but such gifts must never bend us away from the true nature of life, or deeper still, the reality and nature of our redemption.

Monday, 16 March 2009

Seeing the Splendor

"The world is a smiling place, when we recognize the one who lavishly furnishes it with such good gifts". Augustine.

I find myself often being reminded these days how easy it is for spirituality to be deemed 'right' in such a manner that it essentially 'falls between two stalls ' - that of the Gnostic, on the one side, who teases with the promise of a higher existence or purpose if we abandon the material, and the legalist on the other, censoring anything and everything with an 'infallible' list of things that are never allowed. The language and methods may vary, but the results are always the same - closure of the material world as the principal means to us of conveying the spiritual.

It's amazing, when we consider the vital truths of our faith - of God making the material, inhabiting it in the staggering event of the incarnation that He might redeem it from a real event - the fall - that we can be so closed to the testimony of the 'natural'. The Psalmist knew how immediate this testimony is in so many of the deepest moments of worship, and the Prophets follow suit, often using this canvas as the backdrop to bringing the word of God. The Apostle begins his major apology on the very nature of essential truth by starting here (Romans 1) and Jesus Himself teaches us often about what the coming kingdom is like by drawing from this source.

The reality, of course, is that like those outside of the faith, we often chose a course of detachment from these aspects of the physical because they bring God too close - they make the measure of the message of the Word too immediate for comfort - that He is here, and walking amidst what we encounter.
In a world which is constantly drowning out the 'message' of creation through urbanization, we can often stifle or almost entirely silence that testimony, but it leaves our souls bereft of wealth.

The beauty of life is indeed seductive - it is easy, as Solomon notes in his observations, to become woven into a revelry in the tangible benefits of life which numbs the truth they point to,
but they can also awaken and refresh the soul to the abundant supply of the one in whom we 'live and move and have our being'.

As we travel through this realm, enjoying all the grandeur, the sensual richness of its diverse tapestry of 'moods' and treasures, let us engage with such in a manner that makes us, as those truly made free by the one who is renewing all things to Himself, delight in our Lord and Saviour, that the wealth we share now, may become but the foretaste of the marvel that is fast approaching.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

The Sweet Foretaste

"Whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is lovely, whatever is pure, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things".

Philippians 4:8.

We all have them - those moments of deep 'stillness' and reflection, usually when we're sitting amidst creation, soaking in something of the majesty and wonder of this place we inhabit. My late wife often spoke about how 'getting philosophical' (considering what we are) often seems so natural when we're in those times.
The psalmist, of course, knew all about this.
From the cry of a babe, to the magnitude of the expanse above, David observes the significance of a divine work which both humbles and delights his soul.

Whilst beneath the throne of heaven, we have been given a place amidst creation that literally 'crowns' us with a role and value that is astonishing - to be able to understand and express the marvel of being the handiwork of God.
We interact with the world and its domains in a manner that is unique - for either good or ill - something we perhaps are beginning to appreciate as we take in a small amount of the astonishing diversity and splendor which surrounds our days.

The marvel does not end there. As we consider our own existence - the well-nigh miraculous manner in which our own bodies and minds are woven, we can again agree with the poet that we are designed with a gently present yet awesome intent - to be creatures which truly honor our relationship to our Creator through the realization such reflections provide.

We witness futility and wickedness in ourselves and the world, and we know that it requires release from these evils, due to our waywardness and refusal to seek peace with the one who adorns all things with beauty in its time, but we cannot run from the tug (which He has placed) of eternity in our hearts.

There is mercy and freedom from the tyranny of sin in His redemptive work in Jesus Christ, and this alone allows us to truly begin to inter-act with life once more as those adopted into the joy of it's approaching redemption.

This is the context, the framework, which allows us, when we taste the excellence of the earth, to turn heavenward with our musings, and marry them to genuine thanksgiving for who we are, and what is to come.