Sunday with Ron Rolheiser
God’s Quiet Presence in Our Lives
The poet, Rumi, submits that we live with a deep secret that sometimes we know, and then not.
That can be very helpful in understanding our faith. One of the reasons why we struggle with faith is that God’s presence inside us and in our world is rarely dramatic, overwhelming, sensational, something impossible to ignore. God doesn’t work like that. Rather God’s presence, much to our frustration and loss of patience sometimes, is something that lies quiet and seemingly helpless inside us. It rarely makes a huge splash.
Because we are not sufficiently aware of this, we tend to misunderstand the dynamics of faith and find ourselves habitually trying to ground our faith on precisely something that is loud and dramatic. We are forever looking for something beyond what God gives us. But we should know from the very way God was born into our world, that faith needs to ground itself on something that is quiet and undramatic. Jesus, as we know, was born into our world with no fanfare and no power, a baby lying helpless in the straw, another child among millions. Nothing spectacular to human eyes surrounded his birth. Then, during his ministry, he never performed miracles to prove his divinity; but only as acts of compassion or to reveal something about God. Jesus never used divine power in an attempt to prove that God exists, beyond doubt. His ministry, like his birth, wasn’t an attempt to prove God’s existence. It was intended rather to teach us what God is like and that God loves us unconditionally.
Moreover, Jesus’ teaching about God’s presence in our lives also makes clear that this presence is mostly quiet and hidden, a plant growing silently as we sleep, yeast leavening dough in a manner hidden from our eyes, summer slowly turning a barren tree green, an insignificant mustard plant eventually surprising us with its growth, a man or woman forgiving an enemy. God, it seems, works in ways that are quiet and hidden from our eyes. The God that Jesus incarnates is neither dramatic nor splashy.
And there’s an important faith-lesson in this. Simply put, God lies inside us, deep inside, but in a way that’s almost non-existent, almost unfelt, largely unnoticed, and easily ignored. However, while that presence is never overpowering, it has within it a gentle, unremitting imperative, a compulsion towards something higher, which invites us to draw upon it. And, if we do draw upon it, it gushes up in us in an infinite stream that instructs us, nurtures us, and fills us with endless energy.
This is important for understanding faith. God lies inside us as an invitation that fully respects our freedom, never overpowers us; but also never goes away. It lies there precisely like a baby lying helpless in the straw, gently beckoning us, but helpless in itself to make us pick it up.
11 thoughts on “Sunday with Ron Rolheiser”
JMJ/Christian Monist would probably explain it as cross-syncretism of the two main Greek schools of thought — Plato and Aristotle — into the Church.
Plato came across as all-but-denial of the physical universe in favor of the much-more-important Spiritual Realm, always looking at the Unseen as the Perfect Archetype and the Seen as its poor-quality copy. That would lead to Uber-Mysticism; the Body is Nothing, the Soul/Spirit is Everything, and as for the physical Cosmos? It’s All Gonna Burn Anyway. (Add desire for Signs & Wonders to PROVE the above and you get a lot of Pentecostalism and Charismatics.)
Aristotle came across as Intellect and Reason is What’s Important, and Everything Can Be Reasoned Out without limits. That would lead to Airtight Systematic Theology (Calvin to Darby) and Spiritual Engineering Checklists, with God All Figured Out.
In Transactional Analysis terminology, Plato is the Child (spontaneous, non-logical, emotional, intuitive), Aristotle is the Adult (pure rational intellect), and both aspire to be the Parent (authority and tradition).
In Star Trek terminology, Plato is a combination of Jim & Bones and Aristotle is Spock.
In My Little Pony characters, Aristotle is early-season Twilight Sparkle and Plato is Pinkie Pie, as thrown together in the first-season episode “Feeling Pinkie Keen”.
And with today’s trend towards all-or-nothing One True Ways it’s all one or all the other, sometimes swinging from one extreme to the other like a pendulum, never coming into balance.
Plus it’s the denial of the mystical among Christians that push the mysticially-natured among them to non-Christian mystical traditions. Which then reinforces the denial and taboo.
I can’t exactly answer why, but here’s a guess…
To the fundamental evangelical: Mysticism = Eastern religion (Buddhism/Zen + Magic = Unholy
Just a guess.
“I made a comment on FB the other day that drew this critical comment from a Christian friend, paraphrased, “You make Jesus sound almost mystical.””
Rick, is there not some prejudice AGAINST ‘the mystical’ among fundamentalists? I do know that some are uncomfortable with ‘contemplation’ and some are fearful of the influence of people who practice it as a way of prayer.
But I don’t understand WHY that is?
If He is to remain in us and we in Him, it would seem that a mystical perspective is a critical imperative, at least in our current experience.
Hello Rick Ro.
when you ask some Christian people ‘Is Jesus ‘God’?’, be ready for some strange answers.
I think that five hundred plus years of dividing and splitting and producing thousands of different denominations has left some Christian people a long way from the doctrines of the early Church on ‘Who Christ was’ and on the ‘Doctrine of the Holy Trinity’.
The best some can do is to tell you that they believe that Jesus is the ‘son’ of God. Some don’t get the Holy Trinity, or the divinity of Christ clearly, no. Some groups are so far away from the early Church that they deny much that was taught by the Councils and posited in the Creeds.
I don’t think that all Southern Baptists have a clear understanding of the mystery of the Incarnation; hence the ease with which they feel called to separate themselves from those who are not of their kind.
If they saw the Incarnation in the same light as eastern Christianity saw it, they would comprehend more fully that Our Lord makes us the brothers and sisters of all mankind. This ONE teaching was lost to many evangelical people and the results have been catastrophic for their witness.
–> “Simply put, God lies inside us, deep inside, but in a way that’s almost non-existent, almost unfelt, largely unnoticed, and easily ignored. However, while that presence is never overpowering, it has within it a gentle, unremitting imperative, a compulsion towards something higher, which invites us to draw upon it. And, if we do draw upon it, it gushes up in us in an infinite stream that instructs us, nurtures us, and fills us with endless energy.”
I made a comment on FB the other day that drew this critical comment from a Christian friend, paraphrased, “You make Jesus sound almost mystical.”
I replied with a number of different aspects of Jesus’ time on earth (and perhaps even outside space and time) and concluded, “How can I NOT see him mystically?!” The paragraph I’ve quoted above would be further evidence of that.
” God lies inside us as an invitation that fully respects our freedom, never overpowers us; but also never goes away. ”
“” In spite of the all-powerful strength of God’s merciful hand,
which touches, enfolds and bends the souls with so many inspirations, calls and attractions,
the human will remains perfectly FREE, unfettered, and exempt from every form of constraint and necessity.
Grace is so gracious, and so graciously does it seize our hearts in order to draw them on, that it in no wise impairs the liberty of our will…
grace has a holy violence, not to violate our liberty but to make it full of love…it presses us but does not oppress our freedom…”
Christmas in July! I love it!
Puer natus in Bethlehem, Alleluia.
Unde gaudet Jerusalem. Alleluia.
Hic jacet in præsepio, Alleluia.
Qui regnat sine termino. Alleluia.
Cognovit bos et asinus, Alleluia.
Quod puer erat Dominus. Alleluia.
Reges de Sabâ veniunt, Alleluia.
Aurum, thus, myrrham offerunt. Alleluia.
Intrantes domum invicem, Alleluia.
Novum salutant principem. Alleluia.
De matre natus virgine, Alleluia.
Sine virili semine; Alleluia.
Sine serpentis vulnere, Alleluia.
De nostro venit sanguine; Alleluia.
In carne nobis similis, Alleluia.
Peccato sed dissimilis; Alleluia.
Ut redderet nos homines, Alleluia.
Deo et sibi similes. Alleluia.
In hoc natali gaudio, Alleluia.
Benedicamus Domino: Alleluia.
Laudetur sancta Trinitas, Alleluia.
Deo dicamus gratias. Alleluia.
A Child is born in Bethlehem;
Exult for joy, Jerusalem!
There, in a manger lowly, lies.
He who reigns above the skies.
The ox and ass in neighbouring stall.
See in that Child the Lord of all.
And kingly pilgrims, long foretold.
From East bring incense, myrrh, and gold,
And enter with their offerings.
To hail the new-born King of Kings.
He comes, a maiden mother’s Son.
Yet earthly father hath He none;
And, from the serpent’s poison free.
He owned our blood and pedigree.
Our feeble flesh and His the same.
Our sinless kinsman He became,
That we, from deadly thrall set free.
Like Him, and so like God, should be.
Come then, and on this natal day.
Rejoice before the Lord and pray.
And to the Holy One in Three.
Give praise and thanks eternally.
Helpless as a baby, as that baby in the straw. At the same time, God in his own timing, and against the wishes of many, probably most or even all, comes in the life of that baby, to save and redeem humankind and creation; that is, he comes out of the life of God to reside not only inside us but also in the outer world we ourselves live in, in a very specific time and place, among certain bodies and not others.
Ah, the paradoxes of God.