Wednesday, 19 April 2017

We have this treasure in jars of clay

In the last week I read two articles about the nature of faith, one by a Buddhist, one by a Quaker/Buddhist/Christian.

The Buddhist (Stephen Batchelor) was writing about the prevalence of deities in Buddhism – Shakyamuni Buddha, Avalokiteshvara etc. He argued that these are projections of human qualities, developed into personifications and deified.

This is similar to (or the same as) the Christian theology of the Sea of Faith movement, which (if I’ve understood correctly) sees the divine as a human impulse projected and worshipped as a separate entity.

It also reminds me of a phenomenon Rudolf Steiner describes – the Arising Angel. Steiner proposes that every community accumulates a corporate personality – something more than the sum of the individuals composing it. This ‘arising angel’ has the clarity and purpose of an entity.

The second article I read is not for citing, because it was the private post of a friend on Facebook – but he was writing in response to another article asking whether anyone had first-hand experience of actual miracles. My friend said that despite his own experience of involvement in the church – and he has in the past been part of those wings of the church signed up to belief in signs and wonders – he has never seen anything he could hand-on-heart call a true miracle.

And then last night I watched again the wonderful Star Wars movie Rogue One, with the unforgettable character of the courageous, selfless blind Chirrut Imwe walking through the crossfire, “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me”.

What I think is this.

We, as humans, necessarily experience life bounded by conditions of time and space – that’s a condition being physically alive imposes on us. That’s why we experience time as linear. Actually (I think) everything happens all at once – but in order not to crash our systems we have to pass through the everythingness of it all one event at a time. Anything else would be a physical impossibility. And we are all one – with each other and with God. We appear separate, but we have our individual being in the sense that a wave does; it is a discrete wave but it is also part of the ocean. The ocean is in the wave and the wave is in the ocean. The ocean informs (literally) the imagination of the wave, but that doesn’t mean the ocean is merely the projection of the wave’s imagination. It’s there all right – that’s why the wave is.

I believe that the idea of God as a projection of what is in humanity sounds appealing because it is the exact opposite of the reality – if it were just a little out it would sound odd; because it’s a mirror image it looks plausible.

I believe that the reality is that we are what God has put forth – one might say, ‘imagined’ – and holds in being, with the quirk that because God’s nature is eternal, we (being the product of the mind of God) are too.

I agree that religion is rife with personifications, both in the sense of anthropomorphism and in the sense of using the faith community to advance personal agendas both unwittingly and intentionally. “Thus saith the Lord” is a jolly good method of getting your own way.

And miracles?

I have seen miracles. Personally, first-hand – miracles of healing that were instantaneous and defied medical explanation. I’ll tell you about just two.

The first involved a teenager who loved music. He played trumpet and piano, and he enjoyed sport – especially running. But he had arthritis. Gradually he stopped being able to join in running at school, then he could no longer play the piano, eventually it became too hard for him to lift up the trumpet and work the keys.

However, he had a school friend. This school friend – also a teenaged boy – had been through hard times. His alcoholic father had died and his mother had a complete breakdown (had to be hospitalized). Though he had two older sisters, they were not able to give him the care he needed. Alone at home with his bereavement he fell into despair and attempted suicide. We knew him because the man who was then my husband was his teacher at school. So he was discharged from hospital into our care. During the time he lived with us, he opened his heart to Jesus. He came with us to numerous meetings for worship and watched the healing and prophetic ministry. And he brought us his friend from school, asking for him to be healed.

Knowing that only God can heal, we made no promises. We said we could only do what we had learned – announce healing in the name of Jesus and see what happened. So I and my husband and the lad who was living with us all prayed and announced healing for the lad with the arthritis. And he got better. Right then.

When he said he was better we sent him for a run round the block, which went well, then made him play something on the piano – which went equally well. As time went on, my then-husband was able to monitor at school how things went – did it last? Yes, it did. He was well again. I believe that was a miracle.

In our family we also relied on miracles for healing my then-husband’s back. He had a dodgy back and in the summer, when he had hay-fever with constant sneezing/asthma and a lot of concerts (think lugging about boxes of sheet music, instruments, music stands etc) he usually put his back out. All the doctor could offer was lying on the floor and painkillers through a long slow recovery.

When he first did this, we came across a ‘natural healer’, a man with a gift of healing. I don’t know what his religion was. We went to see him with my husband walking like a crab and all bent sideways; we came out with him perfectly aligned and walking straight.

In subsequent years the summer challenges continued to create back problems for him, but we had moved to a different part of the country and no longer had access to that healer. But in our new location we had become connected with friends in Christian healing ministry. One friend in particular – Margery – prayed for and announced healing for my husband’s back on two occasions when he hit the same problem. Again, we got an instant result.

I think those were miracles. I have other examples I could share with you, but this post is already long.

Let me just add what I think miracles are. I do not subscribe to the ‘God breaks his own rules’ view. I do not believe a miracle is a suspension of, or deviation from, the natural order. I believe that it would be an intrinsic impossibility for God to break his own rules. It is our ‘normal’ state that is aberrant. We were meant to be like Jesus, with everything fixing itself up all around us, brought to peace by our arrival. The suspension/deviance/aberration is what we call ‘sin’ – that imaginative dislocation from the ocean informing our wave.

But it can be healed. “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me.”   And the Force – or the Spirit, or God, or however we want to conceive Divine Being – is what I come from and am made of; but is also so much more that the small aspect of the holy I call “me”.


Anonymous said...

‘“Thus saith the Lord” is a jolly good method of getting your own way.’
Oh, isn’t it just!!!!!!!!

I loved Rogue One! And that wonderful scene with Chirrut Imwe made me think immediately of prayer, and the power of spiritual protection.

I found this very helpful, Pen. I wrestle with the mysteries (as we all do) of what exactly a miracle is. Like many, I have grown weary and suspicious of the ‘signs and wonders’ stuff: but I cannot rule out the impossible. With a faith based on the resurrection, that’s pretty much a given!

- Philippa

P.S. I lent ‘The Road of Blessing’ to a friend, who I knew would love it. They did, and have now ordered their own copy.

Pen Wilcock said...

Yes - 'mystery' is a good word; for the whole of life, really! Thanks for recommending my book to your friend! x

Joanne Carmichael said...

Hi Pen

I just purchased your book In Celebration of Simplicity The Joy of Living Lightly. You recommend that we contact you if what you say witness in mine. I just want to say thank you for I completely witness what you are saying in this book, ESPECIALLY what you say in the foreward. I just love it and it is such a confirmation for myself in my current Oblate journey. There is much to say on this and would love to share more with you, how can i do this?

many blessings


Pen Wilcock said...

Hello, Joanne. Thank you for stopping by. All comments left here come to me to check before publishing. If you leave another comment giving your email address, I will delete the comment so your contact details are not made public, then get in touch with you by email so you can write to me.

Heidi said...

I love Star Wars and your blog, but I did not expect to see a Star Wars reference here. I nearly fell off my chair :)

Pen Wilcock said...



Anekha said...

Hi Pen,
I have never heard of the Sea of Faith movement.... interesting. If there is religion with the God element rationalised or removed ( if i understand right?) do you know of any religious movements that go the other way?
In my own spiritual journey I have found myself unable to accept the mainstream religions because I have come to believe very strongly that prophethood is a problem. I feel that raising a man to the status of God gets in the way of the love of God. And the argument for Truth in religions seems to stem a lot from which prophet is the True prophet if you know what I mean? The miracle of Christ's wisdom and teaching and movement is more profound to me if I believe that he was just a man and not the son of God. Ditto every other prophet from other Faiths and even the Bahai Faith which I was a member of until last year.
Do you know of any approaches to Faith without prophets? Having realised I cannot ever truly claim membership of any religion because I do not accept the divine nature of Prophethood ( It's kind of important to most Faiths) I still long for a spiritual way of life and feel a bit lost without teachings and a way of life and the rituals of prayer and worship. You are so knowledgable in the different approaches to spiritual life you might know how others have tackled the path I find myself on.
That said, when I felt called to this I felt God say to me that it was a path I would walk alone... But i am still interested in how it might make sense theologically.

Pen Wilcock said...

I think you *might* find the Unitarian Church accords with your beliefs. I'm not 100% sure. You'd find kindred spirits in the Quakers too. I also find the Tao a luminous source of insight.

For myself, though others might disagree with me, I also think there is elbow room in the Christian Church in general for your approach - many Christians believe as you do, emphasising that their faith is the religion *of* Jesus, not a religion *about Jesus*.

It might help if I sketch out for you briefly how I see things. The New Testament makes plain that Jesus was the 'eldest of many brothers' - ie exactly the same in kind, just leading the way into the new and living Way. He is also called a 'second Adam', by which is meant a regular human being, but in the case of Jesus one who flows in perfect accord with God's heart. Jesus himself said there was nothing he did that we couldn't do - and even greater things; so that implies being no different in kind. My own reading of the New Testament infers that to understand Jesus to be a hybrid god-man, not a human being, is mistaken in understanding what Jesus is, what everyone else is, and what all creation is. The only difference is his perfect alignment with the pattern God is always making - but that one difference makes all the difference. It is this alignment that allows the miracles, the resurrection, and the reconciliation of all creation. We could join in, but most of the time don't. But it's a question of choice and habit, not kind.
The Judaeo-Christian tradition also has its prophets, but things changed after Jesus's ascension. Part of what he did in dying on the cross was to open the channel that made it possible for the holy Spirit to be 'poured out on all flesh'. This means that now the whole people of God bears the prophetic honour and responsibility. Included in the package is the priesthood of all believers - as we are all in Christ we all share his priestly role - it is vested in us.
The church in its organisational dimension tends to hierarchies and orders, but there is no mandate for this in the New Testament. It's just our human frailty showing. As I understand it, church should manifest in circles of informal trust, with no difference in status between one person and the next.
The key thing is - and this is really important - because of the resurrection, Jesus is actually alive and available to ask. It might feel a little silly doing it, but you can actually talk to him. He is full of grace and at one with God, so it is safe to ask him into your heart and life. Then you can take your way together, and you will not be alone, even if you find no organisation that is right for you. Unless you really don't want to, I would encourage you to do this (ask him in). He respects your boundaries and will not cross the threshold without your specific invitation; but when he is invited into someone's life his presence changes everything; he brings wisdom, joy and peace. Then you can talk to him about your concerns and your searching, and he will help you to find the way. He is not a prophet. He is not different in kind from you. He is here so that you can be your fullest self. What he did was open the way.

Buzzfloyd said...

Anekha, perhaps druidry might also be helpful to you, depending on your leanings? I'm a member of OBOD, which is open to people of all religious paths who wish to learn the practices of druidry.

Their website is here:

Anekha said...

Thank you Pen and Buzzfloyd for taking my questions seriously an taking the time to write me your thoughts. I really appreciate it! I will learn a but about Druidry Buzzfloyd, thanks.
Coming from outside Christianity but being raised and living in a Christian society it is such a baffling religion. Every Christian I meet has a different take on what the 'One Truth' is... It confuses me a lot! It is very hard to embrace 'the one truth' and 'the word' when you can't get a handle on what that is specifically.
I also don't understand ( not in response specifically to your reply Pen) but generally speaking why prayers are to Jesus and not to God? Why do Christians have a relationship with Jesus and not just with God? I thought that Christ talked about directly praying to God and not needing the intersession of priests and rituals etc... and that the Holy Spirit returned to be with us... ( I may have oversimplified this) So why do we need to pray to Jesus and not just to God? I struggle with this a lot.... It feels in prayer Jesus and God are used interchangeably and I am not sure why or where they are delineated or distinguished from each other. It must seem a very ignorant question, but it is hard to find someone I can ask this without offending. I am not trying to disprove or argue a point, but just to understand something. It is a genuine question.

Anekha said...

I have looked at the Unitarian Church, but its not for me.... Its a little too pragmatic and constructed for my liking. I will look more into quaker philosophy. I have read about it in the past and I do feel I would have kindred spirits there. But I need to look at it again and go deeper I think.
Thanks again.

Pen Wilcock said...

The One Truth - gosh! My husband says "all truth is God's truth", and I like that. It means every kind of truth - just being honest, living with integrity, saying what you mean and being trustworthy - these enfold you in the truth that comes from God.

For Christians, the doctrine of the Trinity came about from putting together the different aspects of how Christians experience God. We think of it as God in the big sense - the creator of everything, the ground of our being; then God recognised in Jesus; then God who is part of us, our spiritual nature, the aspiring, loving inner wisdom we have. Sometimes that's expressed as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Sometimes as Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer. Or we might say God who is beyond our capacity to imagine, God who is within us as our own divine spark, and God recognised in our fellow human beings. The Holy Spirit aspect of God is (I think) also discernible in beauty (eg music, art) and in the wonder of the natural world.

So it's an experiential and empirical thing really - in its formative centuries the church decided we had these three primary strands of encountering God.

Christian prayer is said to be to the Father (God), through the Son (enabled by our common humanity with Jesus), in the power of the Holy Spirit (that aspect of God which draws us to prayer in the first place). But many people feel more affinity with a human face, so they relate better to the idea of Jesus, and they can feel his presence close to them - so they make their prayers to him. It's not theologically correct, but I think God knows what they mean and doesn't mind.

The relationship with Jesus is because Christians believe that through his suffering and death all creation is reconciled to God. It's about opposites. I think I'd better write this in a new comment or I'll probably exceed the word length!

Pen Wilcock said...

It's not a mere accident that Jesus died on a cross made of wood - 'died on a tree', it's sometimes said. Trees balance two worlds - the dark hidden realm deep in the earth, and the airy light realm. They transpire, and by maintaining a balance, by enabling the crossover of elements and nutrients, they sustain life.

This has resonance with the death of Jesus. He died lifted up in the airy realm on a cross, then was laid in a cave tomb, in the darkness of the earth. Because of his integrity, the truth of his soul patterned faithfully upon the heart of God, instead of death encompassing and absorbing him, Jesus absorbed and encompassed death. He took it into himself, because it had no foothold in him - there was no nook or cranny of deathliness in him; in Jesus was the light of life, which is how we are all intended to be (and one day we shall be). So the cross of Jesus became a crossing place - a new and living way - between this passing physical world and the eternal dimension. We are all connected to Jesus because he was human as we are, but his faithfulness has tapped in to the eternal dimension, taking him beyond time and place into the always-and-everywhere. In him all things in the physical realm hold together.

Because of this, he becomes tremendously important to us, and he mediates God to humanity. But he doesn't stand between us and God - that's the whole point - he has opened the new and living way for us, so that nothing stands between us and God any more. Because of Jesus, we can go directly to God. But also, because he has penetrated the heart of death without being consumed by it, Jesus is alive, so we can talk with him if we want to.

But you are absolutely right that we can speak directly to God, that the Holy Spirit is given to our hearts, and that we do not need rituals or priests or any kind of mediator - because Jesus has opened the new and living way. Even so, his Name (which means his person, his being) has tremendous power. It's immense. Calling for his help when you're in a fix makes all the difference. But Jesus doesn't demand attention - it's fine for Christians who like to just pray to and focus on God without factoring in Jesus, to do so.

Anekha said...

Thank you for taking the time to explain all that to me Pen. I really appreciate you explaining it in a way I can understand. And I thank you for your heartfelt invitation to Christianity, I appreciate it even though I won't accept it. Your explanation helps me understand where you are coming from, though i don't believe in it.

Pen Wilcock said...

Well, I love what you bring when you stop by here - your spirit. x