‘Events of Grace’

Posted: October 20, 2020 in Uncategorized

‘Events of Grace’

Matthew 22: 34-46

It matters if someone loves us. It matters that we love ourselves. No human experience is more fundamental than the transforming ‘event of grace’ of being loved. Indeed, there is a considerable body of theological opinion which claims the very heart of the Christian message is that Jesus of Nazareth shows the unconditional and gracious love of God.

Before I go on, I want to explain if I can what I think an event is and make the claim that when we name something as grace or grace-filled we are in fact naming an event that is dynamic, moving and complex. In other words, we are naming that which is our living God as the loving action. A key thing to remember here also is that an event is uncontainable. It is free to transform all that it encounters. This understanding of grace and event for me is what enables a hermeneutical opportunity within which to explore what grace is and how it works. In naming something ‘grace’ we limit it by what we know and restrict it by its relationship to history, circumstance, and setting.

Careless thoughts

conceived only to fuel

my deranged ramblings

incessant mutterings of a shattering mind

bending backwards, almost breaking,

risking the chance of ever fully mending

hoping and praying

for a sentence that’s pending approval

Whereas the freedom of event enables unfettered, unlimited, unconditional opportunity. Whether the grace of God enjoys a merely passing historical privilege is relative to the event it harbours. It can remain a name if it fails to become an event which brings everything together in meaning, description and practical manifestation.

Allowing the rising of the sun

Paving ways for thriving wishes,

unbarr­ing gates for soaring dreams,

unlocking latches for poetic engagement

relieving the heightening of language

dulling anxieties of grieving hearts.

constantly seeking unshakable utterances,

promising goodness, happiness

and titillating sanity.

Anyway, having I hope given some depth to an event of grace I want to go back to our Matthew text especially to the second commandment “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”, section, and I want to draw on a sermon Rex Hunt gave some 40 odd years ago. He notes that his sermon was influenced greatly by Eric Fromm. It was centred on the theme of love, especially the value of self- love and self-acceptance as part of the traditional text expressed in the biblical: ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’.

The first claim Rex made was that it is OK to love others as well as OK, and not a problem or ‘sin’, to love yourself”. The second was that: “love of others and self-love are not mutually exclusive of each other. 

If it is a virtue to love one’s neighbour as a human being of worth, then it must be a virtue, and not a vice, to love oneself, since one is also a human being of worth”. He then went on to suggest that a clue to understanding what love is, is expressed in the saying of Matthew’s Jesus: ‘love your neighbour as yourself’.

Rex notes here that a better translation might be: ‘love your neighbour, just as you are to love yourself’. And that: “respect and acceptance of our own integrity and uniqueness, love for and understanding of our own self first, cannot be separated from respect and love and understanding for another person”.

One of the challenges here is to move away from an evangelical/fundamentalist position which claims that self-love is selfish love, whereas the radicalness of Jesus’ statement is that self-love is not the same as selfishness. A selfish person is interested only in her or himself and wants everything for him or herself and we have a merging of individuality and narcissism where one needs to be at the centre of everything. A selfish person does not love herself too much, but too little. For selfish persons are incapable of loving others as well as incapable of loving themselves and this confirms what we know about community. No human alone can create community. “Interactions among humans and between humans and the natural world creates communities.” (Peters i2002:36)

Rex notes that he concluded his sermon with these words: “Self-love, the love referred to by Jesus when he said ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ – requires the affirmation of one’s own life, happiness, growth and freedom, because all are rooted in our capacity to love.  Then, and only then, can we go on to love our neighbour”.

Having briefly affirmed that need for self-love in the process of creating community and of enabling love of one’s neighbour my hope is that one might see that an event of grace or a grace-filled event contains more than just what one does and includes who one is.

I now want to tackle the other stream in the text; that of the image of God.

The first engagement with this task is to ask a question. What is your image of the god you understand as God?  What is the god ‘God’ like for you? Or what picture, if any, do you have when you hear “one of the most complex and difficult [words] in the English language, a word rich with many layers and dimensions of meaning” (Kaufman 2004:1. Here perhaps is God as event as opposed to name, In naming we restrict God to the limits of history and culture, whereas God as event enables the unconditional, the timelessness and I would claim ‘the Almost’.

This is not to say that culture has no part to play in it but it does restrict it to the naming as opposed to the event. This is also not new as traditionally we have always had at least three different strands to the way the word god has been used in English-speaking societies: (i) the biblical strand (ii) the philosophical strand (iii) the popular strand. So, the question we asked at the beginning of this section is a language and cultural question. How do we speak about the god we name God in a way that communicates in our culture?

Rex Hunt says that for him the journey has been changing as his experiences have changed and I think that is the same for me also. Rex suggests that for him he used to think of God as ‘anam cara’ or soul friend as modern Celtic spirituality says.  (O’Donohue 1997) Or as ‘Caring Friend’, as some Process theologians suggest, who nudges, calls, lures, pokes us onward.  I have to admit that process theology has been important for my own journey in this regard. The traditional church or biblical language for ‘anam cara’ is the word ‘love’. And a loving God has always been balanced by a fearsome, in control, all-seeing, God.

In more recent years, I have intentionally, like Rex, added to my thinking and moved away from using human-like metaphors in addressing God, to using more neutral language, such as energy, force, Spirit. Rex has used ‘creativity’. Creativity in cosmic evolution. Creativity in biological evolution. Creativity in cultural/symbolic evolution, and I have in finding that limited have begun to use Serendipitous Creating to designate both the randomness of evolution and the dynamic, event-like process. I have also wrestled with the name of God being ‘Almost’ which combines both name and event. In the end these are attempts to find an understanding and language which can enable us to explore what it means to be religious using insights from Darwinian thought as well as being more appropriate to our newer worldviews and ecological and scientific thinking. As Gordon Kaufman suggested “our God language and God thinking, our ‘theology’ must take into account what we have learned about the evolutionary character of our world and ourselves…”. (Kaufman 2004:123)

Most scholars would I think agree that, both ‘process’ and ‘creativity’ are the metaphors we most often use today when we want to speak about or address, God. And with that change in language has come a host of other changes, all of them away from the traditional g-o-d language of much of our upbringing. But both life and religious issues are not only answered intellectually. They are also answered “with our whole being, with the way we live our lives”.  (Peters 2002:92)

Karl Peters says many people today are asking: What kind of person do I want to be? Reflecting on this question, he says he wants to be friendly, loving, caring, compassionate, curious, open to new possibilities, intelligent, and, in so far as is possible, wise.  What has now become good for me he says, is not so much what I can acquire.  It has become what I can be”.  (Peters 2002:92)

What I think he is suggesting is, that we can become ‘events of grace’ when things come together in unexpected ways “and give rise to new relations of mutual support.” (Peters 2007.) And, that, I think, is pretty close to the self-love and love of others – that we are called to be as ‘events of grace’ as expressed in the saying: ‘love your neighbour, just as you are to love yourself’. It matters if someone loves us.  It matters that we love ourselves. It matters that we live in a web of relationships with others and with nature.

Almost is about something that is not yet

It is about to be but not yet

Its promise is in it’s all but

And its approximately

An event of grace is something that is not yet but insists that it is about to be. Its promise is in its serendipitous creating and not in its naming, in its dynamic living process as opposed to its identifiable result. Or as John D Caputo might say, it does not exist but rather insists. Its efficacy is in its transforming as grace-filled event. Amen.

Notes:
Fromm, E. The Art of Loving. London. George Allen & Unwin, 1957.
Kaufman, G. In The Beginning… Creativity. Minneapolis. Fortress Press, 2004.
O’Donohue, J. Anam Cara. London. Bantam Books, 1997.
Peters, K. E. Dancing With The Sacred. Evolution, Ecology, and God. Harrisburg. Trinity Press, 2005.

rexae74@gmail.com

Comments
  1. David Kelly says:

    Amen!

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