For those of you who know the Enneagram, I relate strongly with the type 5, but also with 6 and 7, all of which fall into the head center (the other centers being heart and gut). As such I live most of my life in my own head, a fact that my wife will confirm to be quite true – to which I thank her both for her gracious acceptance and her encouragement to explore the world beyond my own mind. I’m an extreme introvert and struggle immensely with interpersonal interactions.
When I became a Christian I wrestled deeply with the implications of Christ’s message and the challenge it posed to my natural personality. For a long time I felt like just being myself was sinful. I’m naturally so anti-social that most of the ‘community mandate’ of Christianity scares the living daylights out of me. I took some comfort from the fact that history was dotted with mystical hermits who felt quite justified living isolated lives committed to the God of Christianity. But I also realized that in my own life, with a wife, two kids, and a job, I would never be able to adopt the solitary lifestyle of a detached recluse. I also never felt completely comfortable with the hermetic model since I wasn’t sure whether it actually did justice to the relational focus of the Christian Faith.
All of this caused a great deal of internal pressure both to follow my own heart and to conform to the seemingly extroverted character of biblical Christianity. In the end I’ve decided to go with my own heart – and something quite interesting has started to happen.
As I’ve become more and more comfortable with just being me I’ve also felt a shift in my ability to move towards people. It seems as though my introverted psyche felt attacked by my desire to be less introverted and thus expressed itself even more. But once I accepted my introversion as normal and natural it allowed that part of myself to let go a little and allow other elements of my internal world to express themselves again.
A similar struggle and shift seems to be occurring within my mind-body dichotomy. My “headiness” and intellectual pursuits have often been condemned by my ego as un-masculine and weak. The result has been an overwhelmingly single-minded focus on all things mental and intellectual to the absolute disregard for my physical body. From this has come a distrust of gut and heart reactions, which are both quite bodily, and a biased favoring of the powers of the mind and intellect.
Here too I’ve been experiencing a shift towards acceptance of my mind as a wonderful tool through which to engage the universe – and again this acceptance has led to a quieting of my mental voice so as to make room for my body to once again be heard. This in turn has led to a greater freedom to experience embodied reality and embodied spirituality.
This growth has been fruitful in many areas. I’ve found new energy to engage my wife, my kids and God with my whole body instead of just my mind. I’ve started exercising again and doing yoga, and I feel a deeper desire to use my body to encounter the world around me.
My relationship with God has experienced its’ own development through this process as I’m trying to bring my prayer life out of my head and into my body as the temple of God. I’m starting to feel a more consistent move within myself to express my praying through my breath, my body posture or movement, groaning, tongues and listening to the movements of desire and energy within my body. While I’ve experienced similar initiations in my prayer life before it seems as though my internal battle between body and mind kept them from deepening into what they now seem to be becoming – an embodied spirituality.
This embodied spirituality has caused me to reconsider my body both generally as a human body and then also more specifically as a male body. The flip-side of this is that I’ve also realized how dominated the Christian Faith seems to be by male images of God.
While other faiths seem to generally have a well balanced approach to the masculine and feminine aspects of both the human race and of God – I’m thinking here of Taoism, Buddhist and Hindu Tantric spirituality, Kabbalah etc. – this seems less true of Christianity. Partly this can be accounted for by the fact that the relationship between the Father and Son is one of the central realities within Christianity. This can therefore eclipse other more feminine aspects of the Divine. Certainly I don’t think this exclusion of the feminine is a wholesale reality within Christianity – Catholics for example include Mary quite deeply within their understanding of the divine economy – but even here, Mary is still only human and not actually part of the Divine Identity as such. And it is also true that feminine images of God exist in the bible, but they are usually only cited as a defense against feminism and not to encourage any real exploration of the Sacred Feminine.
I think a helpful place to begin looking for the Divine Feminine is in the revealing of the Shekhinah in the Old Testament and the Holy Spirit in the new. While both the Old and New Testaments reveal God as Masculine, Father, Son, King, Warrior etc., the mystical traditions of both Judaism and Christianity have looked to the Holy Spirit to provide the necessary balance to the “male” God. That isn’t to say that the Holy Spirit is actually female, but that she provides one of the best opportunities to envision the female characteristics of God. God is pure Spirit and therefore without gender. But perhaps a better way to say it is that God is pure Spirit and therefore contains within God’s self both male and female. Since the Father and Son provide such obviously male images, perhaps the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life and Rebirth, the Helper and Companion, the Sustainer, Giver of Gifts and Producer of Fruit, is a fitting model for the Sacred Feminine.
I find it interesting that even biologically the first life-forms where single-celled, neither male nor female. But that as life developed the creator saw fit to split the unity of the “one” and to create from it both male and female. And then later in the biblical story of Adam and Eve we see this same division of one into two. The original Hebrew should be read in a way that sees God creating a genderless “earthling”, who He later separates into male and female. He does this, not by removing a “rib” (which is an often used yet untenable translation) but rather by removing “one side”, as the Hebrew actually denotes.
I see so much potential in this for both men and women – instead of seeing God only as beyond gender, we can see that the very image of God in us includes both the feminine and masculine. That our very sexuality forms an integral part of our spirituality both as individuals and as couples. That just as there is no separation in God, it is the union of male and female that provides the clearest vision of the whole Godhead.
Through the image of the Sacred Feminine woman can see themselves as absolute equals in sharing with men the image of God. Men have easily seen themselves in this light. Maleness and Godhood stand side by side all over the biblical text. Both in sonship and fatherhood, kingship and priest, men have multiple accounts from which to draw divine likeness. All women have been offered is a rib, and a male rib at that. But in the creation account, understood as the division of One Divine Image into equal parts – Male and Female – we have a truly empowering vision for all women, created in the image of God, to embrace their sexuality as divinely inspired.
Likewise men can also benefit from contemplating the Divine Woman. It is through the Sacred Feminine that men can best understand their own passionate desire for that part of creation that carries with it the potential to realize the fullness of the divine image – male and female united as one. In a world plagued by pornography and the sexual exploitation of woman, we could all stand to gain from a re-emphasis on the image of God in woman. We need to move beyond both shameless exposing of the feminine image, on the one hand, and the complete disregard for the beauty and splendor contained in every female, on the other. The answer is not a prudish renouncement of the power of female sexuality – by hiding the image under a burqua or disfiguring it in business suit and tie so that male and female can no longer be distinguished. No – a far harder task it to celebrate without exploiting, to welcome the passion it evokes without turning that passion into promiscuity or licentiousness. We need to recognize that the passionate male response towards woman does not come from sin, or evil, but from a deep desire for transcendence.
And so begins my own journey towards embodied spirituality and the embrace of the Divine and Sacred Feminine.
This is my first attempt to reflect on my experience of belief. I want to try, as far as I can, to avoid discussing theological concepts or models of belief. Reflecting simply on what I have experienced as a believer. In this first post I recall growing up believing in God.
For introducing me to belief in God I must thank my parents. And also the Methodist church I attended for much of my childhood. Even though my parents were not very religious, Christianity was cultural and an expected part of growing up. When I say they were not religious I don’t mean to imply that they were atheists either, but simply secular through lack of engagement with their own beliefs.
We attended a Methodist church for no other reason than that my parents viewed it as an English equivalent to my Father’s N.G. (Dutch Reformed) denomination in which we were baptized as babies. As far as Sunday school is concerned, the thing that stands out most vividly in my imagination is worship, especially a song called “Jehovah Jirah” and another called “Love the Lord your God”. I can remember enjoying these and other songs, and sang many of them outside of the Sunday school setting – which is strange given my complete inaptitude for all other forms of music.
At home, my mom sometimes read bible stories to us and at night, I will forever remember the “Now I lay me down to sleep” prayer. How, as a young boy, I pictured my soul leave my body as I lay down to sleep – hopeful that it had made its’ way to God. And that should anything happen to me while I lay there in my bed, at least my soul was safe in God’s hands.
I also remember the need, sometimes, to pray that prayer, and later the Lord’s Prayer, over and over again. These repetitions arose from concerns that I had become distracted, and had allowed the prayer to be completed on autopilot. This of course seemed problematic since perhaps auto-pilot prayer didn’t have the same power as self-navigated prayer. If this was true then perhaps God hadn’t heard that He needed to “keep my soul”, or “forgive my trespasses”, or “deliver me from evil”. Thankfully I never let the autopilot continue once I had noticed it, and usually I was satisfied that the prayer following the discovery was done with sufficient devotion and care to reach the ears of God.
To this day this habit continues and will often manifest as repeated grace during the first bite of the meal, as I move the focalized prayer at the table to my heart, and there reiterate my gratitude for God’s provision. Likewise, the Lord’s prayer is still at times susceptible to autopilot transmissions, and still I feel the need to bring my focus back to the prayer and repeat whatever was spoken without intention. These early struggles are also discernible in my need to sometimes overemphasize my intention, or meaning, in prayer – in case God misunderstood me and thinks I’ve communicated something unacceptable.
I remember the first time I was hurt by “the church” or rather by members of it. It was the usual bullying that many of us experience at various times when we are young. My experiences unfortunately connected to those who were part of the body of Christ – but also just little boys like myself. And though I no longer connect the hurt to the church, the bullying itself has left deep scars.
I also remember my first unanswered prayer. Oh, there may have been others before this. But this one was different. This was something very personal and something very painful and I wanted deeply for God to change it. I prayed and prayed and prayed, waking each day to find the prayer unanswered. I have no idea how long it went on for or when I finally realized God wasn’t going to answer the prayer. It was an unspoken prayer and nobody knew that I was praying besides me and God. I also have no idea what I thought of God because of this but I do remember the pain of living daily with a reality that I deeply desired to escape and finding no God to take the pain away.
Until I was 16 my outlook on life was narrow and finite. I believed everything I had been taught and had no reason, nor any desire, to believe differently. That was until I read a newspaper report linking God to a part of the brain. Innocently my eyes had fallen onto one of the headlines of the open newspaper lying on the dining-room table. It read something like, ‘Scientists discover God linked to part of the Brain’. In an instant my world changed. Suddenly my clear and solid vision became blurry and unstable. For the first time that I can remember, I had encountered something I had no tools to engage. My childlike faith was never taught about the supposed conflict between science and religion. I had grown up believing that both were true, along with history, geography and everything else. This brief moment would launch me into adolescence in a way that left the rest of puberty looking quiet tame in comparison. In many ways it was the death of my childlike faith.
Above, Beyond, Within.
The Hands of God
Caress my soul.
floods my being,
a peaceful stream –
The Fountain of Life.
Glowing Light Within
Rising to my throat
The Sound of Joy.
By Jacques Rothmann
My heart is burdened.
I know Your love, Your grace, Your patience, Your kindness, Your mercy…
I see all these people around me, so few of them know You, and even those who do seem to be getting themselves into strange places that put their relationship with You in danger.
I find it so hard to judge, but also so easy. But the easiness always gives way to distress and doubt and struggle.
How can so few be chosen, how can Your love not reach them, especially those who carry your name and share Your love with others…I’m confused!
You are Who you Are
and nothing need be said.
But for doubt,
though it assail me at times in season
I hold on.
without you there is nothing,
nothing was or will be.
Life is Light.
Something, Anything, Everything.
LORD you are!
By Jacques Rothmann
I wrote this as a reply to my friend Chris on his blog, Scarecrows in the Melon Patch. I’m posting it here because it expands on my thoughts from my previous post, clarifies some of my thinking and provides links to some sites that give much more detail than I can include here:
I completely agree with you that to go the route of purposefully rejecting clear biblical revelation is akin to spiritual suicide. I have no confidence in any secular, philosophical or mythological approach to the scriptures or their full revelation of God.
All that I am suggesting is that maybe (and I only say maybe because I’m still grappling with a lot of this) our understanding of Jesus could benefit from a reevaluation of who and what the messiah was and is. Our understanding of Jesus affects our understanding of the gospel & the nature of God and any misunderstanding of one effects all three. The position I am explaining is called Biblical Unitarianism or Christian Monotheism (This should not be confused with Universal Unitarianism – which teaches that everybody will be saved).
Biblical Unitarians believe in the full inerrancy of the scriptures and the need to maintain a strict biblical faith, which includes a belief in One God YHWH, His messiah Jesus, and our need for salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection. So I am not advocating an evolutionary approach or any other non-biblical model.
What I am saying is that by starting with the premise that Jesus is God we automatically read that understanding into the biblical text. For the last 2 or 3 months I have been listening to audio readings of the New Testament. When I started I decided to approach each section with an open mind, listening for a clear indication that Jesus was God, without reading my own assumptions into the passages. What I found consistently was that Jesus always refers back to the Father alone as God and so does Paul (even in Romans 1-3) and the other N.T writers.
There were a small handful of texts that I had to listen to a few times over as my mind automatically reverted to the old paradigm. After listening again and sometimes checking the Greek text and doing a little background study I am yet to find any conclusive evidence that Jesus is YHWH.
There are some passages (like John 1) that may suggest (though other interpretations can be suggested) Jesus pre-existed before being born. Even if this is true it doesn’t necessarily make him YHWH. It is well documented that Jews considered those aspect of reality, like the law, the messiah and the election of Israel to have existed “eternally” in the mind of God. In addition the bible also says that John the Baptist was sent from God and Jesus asks rhetorically whether John’s Baptism was from heaven or from men – neither of these mean that John or his baptism pre-existed in heaven before John was born.
In response to Jesus’ use of ἐγὼ εἰμι and the desire of the Jews to stone him I can say the following. I relooked at each case in which the texts describe the Pharisees, scribes, chief priests, lawyers, Sadducees and Jews wanting to kill, seize, or stone Jesus. I also looked at Jesus’ use of the aforementioned phrase. There is no significant connection between the use of the phrase and the attempts on his life. It is often used and usually translated as a self description without causing the Jews to attack him. Instead the attacks usually occur after another form of provocation which I will highlight hereafter. It is also clear that all translations are not equal; a short sampling will show what I mean:
In John 8:24 Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah and uses the term ἐγὼ εἰμι to identify himself as such. The ESV translates correctly and those that follow exhibit progressively more bias:
- “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” – English Standard Version (©2001)
- “I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am [the one I claim to be], you will indeed die in your sins.” – New International Version (©1984)
- “That is why I said that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I Am who I claim to be, you will die in your sins.” – New Living Translation (©2007)
- “That is why I told you that you will die in your sins, for unless you believe that I AM, you will die in your sins.” International Standard Version (©2008)
Later in John 8:58 (still part of the same conversation in which the term is used three times and usually translated correctly twice), the majority of translations make no attempt to indicate that Jesus is still referring to himself as the Messiah and instead the reader is left with no other option but to think Jesus is referring to himself as I AM.
It is also interesting to note that in the Greek LXX the focus of God’s self-revelation in Exodus is not even really on the “I am” but on what follows ego eimi ho on, translated as, “I am The One Who Is.” (Ex. 3:14 NETS). As such Jesus’ use of the first part of the statement without the next is nowhere near the divine name of Exodus. The truth is that the messiah existed, whether physically or potentially in the mind of God way before Abraham was ever born. Therefore Abraham placed his hope in the coming of the messiah as did every other faithful God follower throughout the ages.
With regard to the Jews constant accusation of blasphemy, similar accusations are made numerous times throughout the bible (falsely and correctly) and not once is it used to indicate that the person is claiming to be God.
Rather, in every one of the accounts where they do try to kill or capture Jesus, he has done two key things. 1) He has openly denounced the religious leaders (and those who follow them) for their false spiritual system – going so far as to claim that they are the children of Satan. As such he is claiming that their so-called worship of YHWH is in fact false. 2) He also affirms his Divine appointment as Messiah, claiming direct authority from God in everything he says and does.
So in effect Jesus is saying: “I condemn you and because I have direct appointment and authority from God in all that I do – God condemns you.”
It is this outright condemnation of their entire false system (which the Pharisees, Sadducees and the like rule and propagate) that outrages them and creates in them the desire to kill Jesus. They accuse him of being possessed and he tells them that he represents God. They accuse him of blasphemy (dishonoring God) and he counters by telling them that they themselves are committing the unpardonable sin by declaring the work of God’s Holy Spirit to be the work of Satan – again condemning them.
They accuse him of blasphemy, not because he is claiming to be YHWH, but because the religious elite and those who follow them are claiming to represent YHWH and instead Jesus is telling everybody that they represent the devil.
During his trial they finally find two witnesses to accuse him of saying he will destroy the physical temple and rebuild it in 3 days – which they considered blasphemy (again being interpreted as dishonoring God – not claiming divinity). When he reaffirms that He makes those claims (though not their interpretation of the claims) as the Messiah and that they will see his power manifested when He is Seated at the Right hand of God they consider this enough evidence to have him killed.
As to Jesus not correcting their interpretation of his claims to deity, I think he does. In the first part of John 10 Jesus asserts his appointment by God as the only way to attain salvation. At the same time he denounces the religious elite as hired-hands who have forsaken the sheep. Additionally he affirms that this teaching and his authority come directly from the Father.
The next part of the chapter sees Jesus again denouncing the false spirituality rampant amongst the Jews and reasserting his right to judge by declaring that He and the Father are united in their mission – he and the Father are one. I don’t think this necessarily means they are one God – though this is usually the way we read it because of our preconceived ideas. [He later prays that his followers would be one with him and the Father in exactly the same way that he and the Father are One but we don’t take that to mean the Trinity will be growing in number].
When the Jews pick up stones to kill Jesus they say that he is claiming to be “a god”. Our English translations translate it “God” but this isn’t correct. Whenever the New Testament speaks about YHWH they use the Greek τὸν θεός (The God). Whenever they speak of gods (sometimes of men and also of heavenly beings) they simply use θεός (in its’ various forms), which is the case in John 10:33 and elsewhere.
This is clear from Jesus’ reply in which he says being called a god is no big deal since the scriptures themselves call men gods (but not The God). Jesus says he is the Son of God because he has been sanctified and sent into the world by the Father. He proves this by doing the works of the Father and shows that they are united in their mission.
31The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. 32Jesus answered them, “I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?” 33The Jews answered Him, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” [a god]
34Jesus answered them, “Has it not been written in your Law, ‘I SAID, YOU ARE GODS’? 35″If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), 36do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’? 37″If I do not do the works of My Father, do not believe Me; 38but if I do them, though you do not believe Me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.” 39Therefore they were seeking again to seize Him, and He eluded their grasp.
To conclude all of the above I would say that I’m still not convinced that the Messiah had to be YHWH. I’m open to him being YHWH but apart from always believing him to be I’m not finding the actual biblical evidence. I also re-examined messianic prophecies in the Old Testament. Not one of these prophecies indicate that the messiah would also be YHWH. Rather, if anything, they assert that the messiah would be a human being.
It was Greek philosophy that deemed it necessary for Jesus to be God in order to save us. But the bible itself never says this. Jesus substitutionary death is based on his obedience to God and his sinless life – not on his being divine. If I am incorrect on this it shouldn’t be too difficult to show that his divinity was a prerequisite for his ability to save – but I am yet to find this expressed in the text. Rather, I find that just as “by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection from the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.” AND “There is one God and one mediator between God and men – the man Christ Jesus (emphasis mine from 1 Cor 15:21 and 1 Tim 2:5).
The last point to deal with is perhaps the reason we struggle more than anything with an alternative to the accepted understanding of Jesus. You allude to it when you say, “if it’s one giant colossal conspiracy cooked up by the… great Christian thinkers throughout history through whom Christianity has been ‘crafted’.” How do we deal with such a potential compromise of the biblical message without becoming cynical or disillusioned?
I suppose in a way it shouldn’t really surprise us. Protestants have long asserted that the early church went off track almost immediately after the death of the Apostles. My struggle to accept this fact is what drew me to Eastern Orthodoxy since I found it hard to believe that the church could apostatize so early in its’ history. But we already affirm this through our choice to disregard countless decisions of the historical church.
Consider for example that in addition to affirming the deity of Christ the Nicene council also promulgated 20 other doctrines for the entire church. The subsequent councils also promulgated volumes more. Yet we are convinced that most of these laws and doctrines are baseless and unbiblical but continue to stand by the decisions of these councils on matters of the Godhead. It seems to me that if we believe they were wrong about all these other matters they may have been just as wrong on such weighty issues as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – As Paul said, a little leaven leavens the whole lump.