Friday, February 12, 2016

Her faith is mine

Since the 1990s I have communicated with German relatives at Christmas time. This last December Eva Igelmund wrote that their tulips were rising from the ground, almond trees were starting to bloom, and birds didn't know if they should stay or go south. I laughed upon reading this, but it also is sad and frightening to see predictions of global warming that I read decades ago come to pass.

In a later email she reported that the forecast for Christmas weekend called for 62 º F. Germany lies at a slightly higher latitude than Minnesota’s, but western Europe is warmed by the Atlantic Gulf Stream. Minnesota reaches temperature extremes because it is in the middle of a continent. Lake Superior is the closest large moderating body of water. Because of Eva's news I was actually glad that winter returned to Minnesota in January after an unusually warm December.

Eva summarized her relationship with religion and in doing so summarized mine. She gave me permission to translate her German words into English. Describing herself as a free spirit, she writes,
Although born and bred Catholic and from earliest childhood interested in spirituality, I began to question as a young child. Or did I perhaps question for that reason?

I read extensively and tried many paths, stayed away from the Catholic Church for a time, but never from God. Since then I have made my peace with the institution, knowing that its officials have the faults and weaknesses of us all.
I live an intense life of faith, celebrating daily worship by maintaining contact with the Creator/Jesus/God/One Source of all Being. From day to day, the face of this power shifts as my moods shift, depending on my experiences and sources of inspiration.

My childhood image of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, now gives way to images more diffuse, ineffable, exalted, unbelievably near and trusted, but formless Being. Whatever the form imagined, uniting with it brings solace, power, joy, confidence and hope.
Eva’s words delight me, as they could be my own confession of faith. She states my thoughts and feelings as if she were in my mind. That she says them in German intensifies their meaning for me and the pleasure of having words convey thoughts.

If anyone would like to see Eva’s statement in German, email me. Hit the contact button at 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Reader Response

First, I apologize for not posting since the new year started.

A lot of people like to email me directly rather than post comments. Technical difficulties prevented my posting some great ones—substantial thoughts worth sharing. Even tech helpers were unable to figure out the problem. I persisted and found a genius to help me.

Here are some responses I have permission to post. First we go back to Christmas (After 6 weeks of trying, I refuse to give up posting these).
Responding to “Virgin Birth, Incarnation,” Michael Huberty wrote,
Loved this provocative post. “The only way we grow as Christians…” Indeed; recognizing mythology, even beautiful mythology, is key (which I, personally, found rather threatening, at least as first).
 I did not know Godfrey, but heard much. There was, in the early ‘70s, when I was a student at SJU, a sort of mythology encircling him, too. Thanks for giving me much to ponder about the Incarnation on this hallowed feast. Happy Christmas. 
Paul August Jasmer, OSB, wrote,
The quote from Jung, “God becomes manifest in the human act of reflection,” almost gives me impression that it could have been inspired by Eastern church ways of being with mystery. By contrast, it seems that the West is more dependent on creating dichotomies (a kind of either/or rhetoric, as handy as distinctions can be at times).
Yet there are no restrictions to divine manifestation, as it can occur in familiar and unexpected ways, no matter how strenuously we try to build fences around divine mystery. Thus, I also like the quotation of becoming “the eyes, hands and feet of Christ” because it echoes Isaiah 52:7—“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who announces salvation. . . .”
Another example is the tagline of the ELCA which draw on that same vision, “God’s work, our hands.” To bring this calling closer to the season, I heard in a homily at the abbey this week that we are like Mary, in that we as Christians are also called to give birth to Christ, in our times.
Thank you also for your recollections of our confrere, Fr. Godfrey Diekmann OSB, with whom I picked berries, watercress, and mushrooms, besides taking his course in “Birdcalls of the Patristic era” (as some colloquially referred to it). The divine mystery be manifold in our paths! 
Now back to “Let’s Hospice Our Church.” Bob Wedl wrote,
I see the younger generation as open to the views of others, willing to help those in need, accepting differences, etc.
 Do they go to church? No, of course not. . . . Why would they? There is little of value in the church for them. But they do practice “the faith.” 
Don referred to the “Western patriarchal myth” and wrote,
The words of Scripture and the liturgy do not fit our culture, despite the document on the liturgy of Vatican 2. The words reflect the Western patriarchal myth. Elizabeth Schüssler Fiorenza addresses this issue of the translations of the Bible as injurious to women so should women cease reading it. 
He also responded to my editing note.
Church is a word used indiscriminately for institution and people’s faith. Instead of “church,” I use institution, primarily because the “church” is first the people not the hierarchy, the clerics. We must make this distinction.
 Words are important, and “the church” does not belong to clerics. To me, this is not an academic distinction; rather, it is an attempt to clarify our belief statement, “I believe in the church, one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic.” 
Don refers to a worshipping community with whom he prays socially and says that,
being outside the hands of the local bishop has been a grace. . . .  
I want statements of belief to truly symbolize our faith. The Church as institution is not a symbol of salvation. It can be sacramental as defined in the document of the Liturgy; however, in the past 30 years or so, it has not acted in this way. 
Institutional Christianity may die but I expect the allure of Jesus will continue for a long time. I hope he'll be joined by feminine images of the Divine. We can see a balancing process happening in our media as they highlight more and more female heroes.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Virgin Birth, Incarnation

This December 2009 piece I had re-posted on Christmas 2015 but lost it while wrestling with technical difficulties. They are preventing further posts.  I hope soon to get this problem fixed.

Godfrey Diekmann, OSB,  exploded with this statement in the students’ dining hall at St. John’s.
It’s not the Resurrection, dammit! It’s the Incarnation!
An editorial in National Catholic Reporter reminded me of this story in The Monk’s Tale, a biography of Diekmann by Kathleen Hughes. When I was at the School of Theology, she came onto the Collegeville campus to gather stories for her book about our colorful and inspirational professor, Godfrey, as he was known by students and fellow professors. The first-name basis at SOT is one of my fond memories of those years, and I’m proud to have my own memories of Godfrey Diekmann, who played an important role in contemporary Church history.

Godfrey passionately preached the implications of the Mystical Body—that we share divinity. This is the Incarnation, and Christmas is the feast of the Incarnation. In the traditional Christian perspective, God’s entry into time and history happened at the birth of the Nazarene, Jesus. But let’s not worship an external God-image, which is a form of idolatry. We incarnate or embody the Divine. We are the eyes, hands, and feet of Christ, and I don’t mean a man, and by “we” I don’t mean only Christians. Divinity resides in the heart of the Hindu, Inuit, Muslim, Sikh, animist, whatever. Eternity is enfleshed in all creation, and our distinctly human task is to consciously advance this process of Incarnation.

When I said something like this in a blogspot a long time ago, someone commented that non-Christians would object to being called “the eyes, hands, and feet of Christ.” I have to agree. I’m doing my best here to bridge Christian doctrine with other spiritual systems, and I inevitably offend one side or the other. Speaking as a Christian, I’m comfortable with Christian terms, but I have no patience with traditionalists bent on preserving the literal and exclusive understanding of our religious doctrines.

A Buddhist interviewed in Sacred Journey (summer 2009), said of the Dalai Lama,
He feels that even if someone is beating his body, underneath the cells of his body is the realm of pure light that is blissful. . . . welling up from the core of the reality of life, an infinite sustaining energy, which is what I think all highly spiritually developed people tap into, whatever they call it.
How well this captures incarnational possibility!
I think that, if Godfrey were working in this new century with its wealth of alternative spiritual voices, he would have listened. He would have synthesized the Dalai Lama’s view with Paul’s “Christ lives in me.” And he might even have seen the link with secular humanism, which more than religions has advanced human dignity and human rights around the world.

Carl Jung led the way toward integrating Christian doctrine with secular spirituality. He showed that our thinking I, our ego or conscious mind, needs to become aware of our unconscious totality, our Higher Self. And this inner Self “cannot be distinguished from God-images,” Christ, of course, the prominent example. How do we achieve this union of ego with divinity? Jung, the depth psychologist, said, “God becomes manifest in the human act of reflection.” But I like the Christian image of becoming “the eyes, hands, and feet of Christ.”

We are called to become Mothers of God in a Virgin Birth.
Now a response to my latest posts that came to me by email. I got permission to quote Ron Ohmann because his comment may help others to understand my message:
Thanks, Jeanette. Although we enjoy the prevailing Catholic/Christian "take" on Christmas, we remind ourselves it is largely mythology. It really is beautiful mythology which is why it has such strong cultural appeal, I suppose. But, as thinking Catholics who read Bp.J.W.Spong, yourself, and others, we are, I believe, more realistic regarding Christmas and other aspects of Christianity. It is, I feel, the only way one can truly grow spiritually as a Christian. Happy New Year, Ron

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Solstice Gift

In the fourth century, Christians envied the feasting of pagans in honor of the sun's birthday at the winter solstice. Christians created their own feast in honor of Jesus, whom they called the "true sun." This was the birthday of Christmas.

Whatever the meaning of Christmas for you, I hope this poem by John O'Donohue infuses you with hope appropriate to this solstice time of new beginnings. The poem fills me with courage to face new possibilities. John O'Donohue was an Irish poet and priest.
     In out-of-the way places of the heart,
     Where your thoughts never think to wander,
     This beginning has been quietly forming,
     Waiting until you were ready to emerge. 
     For a long time it has watched your desire,
     Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
     Noticing how you willed yourself on,
     Still unable to leave what you had outgrown. 
     It watched you play with the seduction of safety
     And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
     Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
     Wondered would you always live like this. 
     Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
     And out you stepped onto new ground,
     Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
     A path of plenitude opening before you. 
     Though your destination is not yet clear,
     You can trust the promise of this opening;
     Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
     That is at one with your heart's desire. 
     Awaken your spirit to adventure;
     Hold nothing back; learn to find ease in risk;
     Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
     For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
This is my Christmas present to you, dear readers.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Let’s Hospice Our Church

John Chuchman is a Catholic, to my observation, a Catholic like I’m a Catholic.  It’s our spiritual home, come what may. It remains our blood family, no matter what differences we have with it. John and I exchanged books and I quote extensively (with permission and editing license) from one of his—Let’s Hospice Our Church:

            We are in a demographic collapse
                        of the priesthood.
            Anecdotes abound throughout the Church
                        about how the collar
                        trumps intellectual competence.
When are we going to pay attention?
The wheels are coming off the bus,
 and we are debating whether the seats
on the bus should be cloth or leather.

                        Priests are on anti-depressants.
            Congregations feel betrayed by Church leadership.

            It is no secret there is a widening chasm
            between official Church teachings
                        on human sexuality
            and the actual behavior of the vast majority
                        of the Catholic population.
            We don’t believe, deep down
            that the Church’s teaching is correct.

            The Magisterium has heavily invested its authority
            in maintaining these traditional teachings.

                        The Church is simply irrelevant.
The younger generation has simply decided to move on.
                        The Church is dying;
a new Church is being born.

            Hospice consciousness requires that we recognize
                                    the transition,
                                    the loss,
            the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression.

            Hope requires the willingness to work
                        for a non-guaranteed future.
            Prophets listen to groans of the people
                          and posit an alternate future.

More than one responder to the previous post mentioned the last stage of the grief process—acceptance. Yes. In fact, Christians are far from accepting the demise of our great religion, but in its present form it will not continue. This the signs clearly show.
Many of my readers agree.
Deb commented,
very symbolic article for the future of Christianity as a world religion unless there is change.
Steve Applegate said,
The Church has no one but itself to blame. It persists in being a medieval institution. It could make key changes to become relevant again, but it chooses not to do so. If it passes from the scene, I will miss the one thing it excels in—worldwide missions to the poor.
Anonymous was struck by the title of my email invitation, “The Church is dying,” before she even looked at the title, “Let’s Hospice Our Church.”
I think the church is in the midst of a transformation/revolution—a repudiation of the old, out-of-date ways of being, in favor of a new system that is in fact truer to its original intent. The old has to die so the new can be reborn.
And many people fight change, maybe out of misunderstanding, maybe out of literal interpretations, maybe out of fear of “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
But according to Ecclesiastes 3:
To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.
a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up;
a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to get and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away;
a time to rend and a time to sew; a time to keep silence and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate; a time of war and a time of peace.
Clearly, we live in a time of change. Unless Christianity adapts, it will eventually die. I’ll state my belief more starkly. I believe that it is dying right now, and I accept this. My generation still derives spiritual benefits from our religion, but this will diminish in succeeding generations as a new spiritual paradigm takes shape.
After I posted this, Mike emailed this information. Pope Francis seems to agree with me and my readers. I had read this and then forgot about it. Thanks, Mike.

*Editing note. As usual when I quote emails, I take the liberty of changing mechanics like punctuation, capitalization, etc.
Readers who pay attention to mechanics may think that I use upper and lower cases inconsistently with certain words, but I really try to be consistent. I consistently write “Church” when I mean the Catholic Church, and I write “church” when I refer to all Christian churches. I critique both.                      

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

I thank my readers

My readers keep me going, as I often say in reply to their gracious compliments. John Chuchman kindly forwarded an email to me.
Clancy's book reminds me of a simpler version of Ilia Delio. She writes of the relationship of science and spirituality in a way I can more easily understand.
Just what you said... "Every poem is vulnerable to myriad explanations out of the poet's control."
Which, to me, is a good thing.
Love, Sue
The quotation sounded familiar. I guessed a sentence of mine in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky had been adapted to the discussion they were having about John's poetry. As he included Sue's address, I emailed her.
I can't find the quote in my book but I think I said it of Jesus' parables.
She replied,
Yes indeed, that quote is from your book, page 120, Image and Symbol. I have it underlined and dog-eared as are many pages. I sent that particular quote to John, our resident poet laureate!
I found the quotation, word for word, not adapted. She went on,
So engrossed in your book. I love how you have portrayed Jesus as a man full of life as we know it and live it....laughing, partying, hanging out with the wrong crowd, ridiculed and suffering the ultimate. 
Your writing brought home to me how far we have removed ourselves from his true story. How he would smile at your words and nod his head in agreement.
Asking permission to quote her, I replied,
Yours are some of the nicest things said to me about the book.
The exchange sent me back to God Is Not three Guys in the Sky. Sue’s quotation comes from a section entitled, “Image and Symbol.” It discusses a repeated theme of mine—that religious language cannot possibly be factual.
Mystics like Jesus have always used poetic imagery to symbolize the indefinable spiritual realm. Metaphor and symbol reign in expressing the Reign of God behind physical reality. 
I cannot imagine life without exchanges with readers. They form and inform me. In my replies to  questions and comments, I find my own convictions, which I may not have known before or had not found words for.
Don, another helpful communicator, wrote,
Such respectful exchange is good for the soul. . . . I like the saying, "How do I know what I am thinking if I do not read what I am writing?"
Thank you, readers, all. And may souls less fortunate find some blessings on this feast of Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Carl Jung’s Theology

I am still having mental conversations with instructors and writings at the School of Theology I attended 30 years ago. One instructor and I debated about spiritual health throughout my two years there. She thinks religion is necessary for spiritual health; I do not. In my opinion, some atheists have greater spiritual health than many religious people.

Carl Jung influenced my thoughts about this. I discovered his writings before I entered the School of Theology. Almost immediately after meeting his thought, I started calling it theology and when I entered the SOT I wished it would be included.
If faculty and students in seminaries and schools of theology studied Jung, they could gain better understanding of religion and of themselves. They might stop treating church doctrines as facts and instead find the metaphors and symbols they contain to inform and guide us.

When I started reading Jung I was still committed to the logic of atheism and happy to see he did not believe the same things I did not believe. He strengthened my disbelief by informing me that other religious trinities preceded Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by several thousand years.  He called Jesus a “demigod . . . like the Greek heroes." 

He pointed out that the Christian Lord follows the pattern of the Greek Lord Zeus. Both encourage their favorites to kill their enemies. The Lord in the Bible seems more bloodthirsty though; he has his people exterminating entire tribes and cities, leaving none alive (Joshua 11 and chapters in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy).

In Memories, Dreams, Reflections, the book I consider the easiest way to enter his thought, Jung observes that his father, a Protestant minister, suffered from religious doubts. He was blocked by,
lifeless theological answers . . . [not] capable of understanding the direct experience of God (92-93).
[M]y poor father did not dare to think. . . . hopelessly he was entrapped by the Church and its theological thinking. They had blocked all avenues by which he might have reached God directly.
His father didn’t have a clue about
the vast despair, the overpowering elation and outpouring of grace [that] constituted the essence of God (55).
Church ceremony, Jung complained, “contained no trace of God.”

Students in schools of theology who read Jung might remember that a father cannot have a son without a mother. They might engage in less talk of Father and Son as facts instead of metaphors. They might make fewer comments like the one a student made in my “Christology” class:
I wonder how the son felt when he was sent down to earth.
The instructor looked embarrassed as he tried to respond. Jung helped me to see that irrational details in myths are not meant to be read as rational facts.  This is the lesson missing in religious education. If theology students learned the symbolism in Christian God-talk, they might learn to use other symbols of Divinity—midwife or bee or breath, for instance.

In response to a previous post on Jung, Chris commented that Jung approved of patients turning to their religion. He’s right. Jung counseled patients who dropped out of religion to go back to it. It took me a while to know what to make of this and something else that confused me. Why did Jung arrange to have himself buried in a Christian ceremony when he died? This seemed incompatible with his exposition of Christian myth.

More study informed me that religious images have mysterious power that connects people with the Invisible Realm, which Jung explained, presides in the vast unconscious of every person.

Jung wanted us to be connected to religion because religious myths connect us with the mysterious Beyond lying in our unconscious. He was regarded as a mystic but he considered himself a scientist, one who researches observable facts. These facts, these outward signs, point to the Inner Realm that religion tries to mediate. Jung explained to me why I was preoccupied with religious topics when I tried to be an atheist.

November 20
Donald responded to my previous post:
I read Jung as one writing psychology, not theology. What differentiates theology is revelation, and Jung, as I read him, is operating entirely from human reason even when discussing religion. 
Donald is right. I had not thought of it before, but now I realize that I credit psychology for that reason. I actually trust it more. Why? I don't trust religious authority that accepts only official revelation or what is deemed to fit into official revelation. It rejects other types of revelation.

I do not think Jung operated entirely from reason. In Memories, Dreams, Reflections he recounts childhood experiences that fit the category of revelation. Go to my post "Jung on religion" for examples.

Jung, unlike Christian churches, credited the revelation of ordinary people. He took seriously dreams that foretell events. He saw meaning in incidents happening precisely when we need them, in animals sensing storms and earthquakes beforehand, in clocks stopping precisely at the moment of death, in glasses shattering at a critical moment (Memories, Dreams, Reflections 100). He showed that these supposed coincidences evince the spiritual realm.

This is exciting. I believe that in our everyday lives we are all receiving evidence of what I call The Other Side, only most of us are not alert to them. I hear many instances of people getting prompts from things around them precisely when they need them. Scientists and writers have spectacular instances of this. Religion does not accept these as revelation, and our secular culture would consider me flaky for saying it. 

I suggest readers who share my fascination with this subject go to posts in my index under "Paranormal."

Reading Jung, it became clear to me why I was preoccupied with religious topics when I tried to be an atheist. Spiritual reality was beguiling me at the same time that I rejected religion.