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.
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”.