About saholst

I am on a spectacular, curving journey to combine art, farming and priesthood into a community calling for the healing of our planet.

Good Friday – Stations of the Cross

Following the Way of Jesus in Downtown Duluth, MN

by Mark Daniel Hakes and Chelsea Froemke (from the Loaves and Fishes Catholic Worker)

 

First Station: Jesus is Condemned to Death

Location: Courthouse

 

Reading – Matthew 27:22-26

Pilate said, “What would you have me do with this Jesus, whom some call the Anointed One?”
The crowd shouted, “Crucify Him!”
Pilate responded, “Why? What crime has this man committed?”
Still the crowd shouted, “Crucify Him!”
Pilate saw that unless he wanted a riot on his hands, he now had to bow to their wishes. So he took a pitcher of water, stood before the crowd, and washed his hands.
“You will see to this crucifixion, for this man’s blood will be upon you and not upon me. I wash myself of it.”
The crowd responded, “Indeed, let His blood be upon us—upon us and our children!”

So Pilate released Barabbas, and he had Jesus flogged and handed over to be crucified.

 

Prayer

God of justice and mercy, we ask forgiveness for the many ways we wash our hands of the suffering of those around us. As a society, as Christians, and as individuals we have ignored injustice and condemned our siblings to live lives marred by addiction, violence, physical and mental health issues, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and so much more all perpetrated through our complacency with oppressive systems and structures. Today, we ask that our eyes, our ears, and our hearts be opened and that as we walk with Jesus to his crucifixion, we might learn to walk more closely with our neighbors.

 

Second Station: Scourging and Crowning with Thorns

Location: Sacred Heart Center

 

Reading – Matthew 27:27-31

The governor’s soldiers took Jesus into a great hall, gathered a great crowd, and stripped Jesus of His clothes, draping Him in a bold scarlet cloak, the kind that soldiers sometimes wore. They gathered some thorny vines, wove them into a crown, and perched that crown upon His head. They stuck a reed in His right hand, and then they knelt before Him, this inside-out, upside-down King. They mocked Him with catcalls, saying “Hail, the King of the Jews!” They spat on Him and whipped Him on the head with His scepter of reeds, and when they had their fill, they pulled off the bold scarlet cloak, dressed Him in His own simple clothes, and led Him off to be crucified.

 

Prayer:

Creator God, we acknowledge that we are on occupied land. Here, in front of a building that symbolizes the forced assimilation of Native people, we ask forgiveness for the ways we have stripped Native communities of land, culture, language, and religion. Disregarding the humanity of the people before us we have mocked them and attempted to cloth them in the trappings of the dominant white culture. Help us to notice how we continue to participate in the scourging of our Native siblings. May we link arms with them against those things that threaten our common home and work to finally end the exploitation of native lands and lives.

 

Third Station: Simon of Cyrene and Wine with Bitter Herbs

Location: CHUM

 

Reading – Matthew 27:32-34

As they were walking, they found a man called Simon of Cyrene and forced him to carry the cross. Eventually they came to a place called Golgotha, which means “Place of the Skull.” There they gave Him a drink—wine mixed with bitter herbs. He tasted it but refused to drink it.

 

Prayer:

Sheltering God, we stop here to notice our friends who are forced to carry their belongings, everything they possess from place to place. We give thanks for the many people among us and in this community that offer those who find themselves homeless shelter, food, and hospitality. May we strive to not forget people’s humanity and remember to give them more than just our leftovers.

 

Fourth Station: Peter’s Denial

Location: The Flame Nightclub

 

Reading – Matthew 26:33-35

Peter said, “Lord, maybe everyone else will trip and fall tonight, but I will not. I’ll be beside You. I won’t falter.”
Jesus looked at him with compassion and replied, “If only that were true. In fact, this very night, before the rooster crows in the morning, you will disown Me three times.”
“No!” said Peter, “I won’t deny You. Even if that means I have to die with You!” And each of the disciples echoed Peter.

Prayer:

God of many names and many identities, too often we have we denied our queer siblings, disowning them from our families, churches, and lives. We give thanks for places like this that have provided a sanctuary for people who are hiding their identities out of fear of revealing who they are. May we strive to make our churches and homes places of radical refuge. Help us learn how to be people who welcome, accept, and embrace the rainbowed diversity you have created.

 

Fifth Station: Jesus is Crucified

Location: Clayton, Jackson, McGhie Memorial

 

Reading – Matthew 27:35-39

And so they had Him crucified. They divided the clothes off His back by drawing lots, and they sat on the ground and watched Him hang. They placed a sign over His head: “This is Jesus, King of the Jews.” And then they crucified two thieves next to Him, one at His right hand and one at His left hand.
Passersby shouted curses and blasphemies at Jesus. They wagged their heads at Him and hissed.

 

Prayer:

God of the innocent condemned, as we contemplate Jesus’s death, we remember the crucifixion of three innocent men on this spot; Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie. We decry the continued lynching of our black and brown siblings, often at the hands of those sworn to protect all of our community. We declare with full-throated conviction that Black. Lives. Matter. and we call on all people, but especially those of us with power and privilege, to work to dismantle the racist systems our country, state, city, and churches are built on.

 

Sixth Station: Repentant Thief

Location: Building for Women

 

Reading – Luke 23:37-43

The soldiers at the cross called out, “Hey, if You’re the King of the Jews, why don’t You free Yourself!” Even the inscription they placed over Him was intended to mock Him—“This is the King of the Jews!” [This was written in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.]
One of the criminals joined in the cruel talk, saying, “You’re supposed to be the Anointed One, right? Well—do it! Rescue Yourself and us!”
But the other criminal told him to be quiet. “Don’t you have any fear of God at all? You’re getting the same death sentence He is! We’re getting what we deserve since we’ve committed crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong at all!” Then turning to Jesus, he said, “Jesus, when You come into Your kingdom, please remember me.”
Jesus responded, “I promise you that this very day you will be with Me in paradise.”

 

Prayer:

Mother God, we ask forgiveness for the ways we are often like the cynical thief subjecting women to ridicule and public humiliation when they’ve made decisions about their own health and their bodies or when they have come forward to speak their truths and expose the sins of others. May we be like the repentant thief who calls out injustice and centers the stories of those oppressed and victimized. Help us to stand firm in our faith, trusting women with their own health and stories, and embolden us to work to end sexual violence and intimidation whenever it occurs in our churches, our community, and our world.

 

Seventh Station: Jesus entrusts Mary and John to one another

Location: Federal Building

 

Reading – John 19:25-28a

Jesus’ mother was standing next to His cross along with her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus looked to see His mother and the disciple He loved standing nearby. Jesus called to his mother, “Dear woman, this is your son (motioning to the beloved disciple)!”And then to John, His disciple, He said, “This is now your mother.” From that moment, the disciple treated her like his own mother and welcomed her into his house.

 

Prayer:

God of borderless love, we stand in front of the Federal Building which houses the offices of Border Control. Open our ears to hear the cries of your children who, seeking security, safety, and a new home, are instead separated, rounded up in raids, led to detention centers, and deported. Give us courage to resist and the strength to stand with and for your inclusive love. May we embrace them and welcome them into our common home, just as John did Mary. This is the work that Jesus calls us to. This is the Way of Jesus.

 

Final Station: Jesus Dies on the Cross

Location: City Hall

 

Reading – Luke 23:44-46

At this point, it was about noon, and a darkness fell over the whole region. The darkness persisted until about three in the afternoon, and at some point during this darkness, the curtain in the temple was torn in two.
Then, Jesus shouted loudly, “Father, I entrust My spirit into Your hands!”
And with those words, He exhaled—and breathed no more.

 

Prayer:

God of the voiceless, the people we have lifted up today are often silenced by conditions outside of their control. Here on the steps of City Hall, we call on all of our leaders to work for an end to the structures and systems that marginalize and oppress. We recognize, however, that like Pilate, our leaders are often swayed towards injustice by the screaming voices of hate. As we prepare once more to celebrate Jesus’s resurrection and the recreating power of Jesus’s Way of Love, may we be strengthened to continue building a new world in the shell of the old and may we recognize the face of our Savior in those around us. Amen.

 

Go in peace, friends.

 

Song Texts:

 

 

  • Bless the Lord, my soul, and bless God’s holy name. Bless the Lord, my soul, who leads me into life.
  • We adore you, Jesus Christ, and we bless your Holy Name; truly your cross and passion bring us life and healing.
  • Wait for the Lord, whose day is near. Wait for the Lord: keep watch, take heart.
  • O God hear our prayer, O God hear our prayer, when we call answer us. O God hear our prayer, O God hear our prayer, come and listen to us.

 

 

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Risking Resurrection: Cultivating Eucharistic Vision

This is a post by Jacob Taylor and was originally posted on the EcoFaith Recovery blog. Jacob’s work is primarily concerned with the intersection between watershed literacy/eco-spirituality and Christian discipleship. All photographs in the post are his.

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“Christian hope begins where every other hope stands stiff before the face of the Unspeakable.” Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable

A few months ago I began hosting weekly “Eucharistic contemplation” hours at my house. It initially began as an excuse to invite friends over to participate in two symbols/rituals that are really important to me, and through which I make sense of my life – silence and Eucharist – and to cultivate some spiritual community in a home that can otherwise get a bit lonely. Over the past couple of months it’s become an anchoring point in my week and a brilliant means of connecting with others in my community who are also, for whatever reason, drawn to these mysteries. Every week it’s a profound joy to set the Table, stoke the wood fire stove in the living room and lay out candles, icons, and burning myrrh or palo santo wood in preparation for everyone to arrive. We’ll read a section of the Bible from the lectionary or a salient excerpt from a saint (the likes of Berrigan, St. Teresa, Merton) and sit in silence for 30 minutes of centering prayer and meditation, then close out the gathering with a poem or Taize tune. It’s a simple, stripped-down gathering that continues to be a well of refreshment and grounding.

As we’ve been gathering, and as I’ve continued my monthly EcoFaith meeting at my church, the question that continues to linger in my mind in our meditation and all our conversations around sacrament, ecotheology, justice, and discipleship is, “what does it mean to live Eucharistically in this moment?” Given the circumstances, socially, ecologically, personally, whatever, what is the Eucharist inviting us into in this moment, right now?

Whatever else it is, I understand this symbol to mean that Christ is unrelenting in his solidarity with the pain of Creation, and that he embraces our (and all the earth’s) collective groan for healing all the way to death and back. And as we make that reciprocal embrace of Christ’s suffering in ingesting the Elements, we conscript ourselves into the same to-the-death solidarity, and retell the story of redemption in our bodies. We eat and drink God’s given-ness, and in turn give ourselves back; in mystery, we participate in the very life of Christ by pouring ourselves out for the world.

Of course this sounds nice, but the question that won’t leave my mind concerns what we do with this story, practically, in this historic moment. Certainly I don’t need to ramble off statistics here about how terrible things look for the climate or belabor the prospects of continual war, political balkanization, and extractive economic practices. We are by no means in a crisis of access to this critical information. Instead, we find ourselves continually confronted with the choice (as my mentor Ched Myers puts it brilliantly in his book Who Will Roll Away the Stone, Orbis 1994) of discipleship or denial, given that all of this is happening. Will we continue to warm our hands with Peter in the courtyard at the imperial fires of privilege and first world comfort and entitlement, or will we run, finally, to the cries of the scourged One inside? 

The earth and its inhabitants continue to groan under the heavy foot of human violence and domination. The invitation I see in the Eucharist is to imbibe and emobody the counter-narrative of shalom/reconciliation and claim our bodies and lives as this-much of the world, this (personally speaking, of course) 5”11 150 lbs of humus already in alignment with the reign of God. This much made new and participating in the making-new of all things. We are invited to not only believe in the resurrection, but to risk it, and this affirmative choice empowers us to put our lives in the way of the death-dealing forces of the world (read: the System) without fear of being overcome. Christ has conquered death by death, and whether we live or die, we exist in his Life, liberated from the tyranny of death’s intimidation. The Eucharist stands in history as an interrogation of both the politics of domination and the self-congratulating spirituality (Christian, post-Christian, new age, “non-religious,” whatever) of cheap grace. Indeed, Father Berrigan said a person should first consider “what they look like on wood” before they get serious about following Christ. Each generation, and each would-be disciple, must make the connections between this commitment and their lived experiences, personally, socially, and historically. It is always as particular and specific as this moment.

We are the representatives of and, in mystery, the very living presence of Christ in the world. To live eucharistically is to participate experientially in both the enormous love and grief of Christ, and reciprocally, to receive his word of solidarity with and love and grief of Creation. Prayer (mental prayer or just listening in silence) is the process of widening the aperture of our spirits to a more expansive experience of both the profound compassion and the pain of God. It is a deepening of the human spirit, and a coming home to the truth of our very being, which is hidden in the presence of God — whose heart has been called “the open wound of Love.” In the Eucharist and in prayer, we come home to wholeness. We re-member what has been disjointed, cut off, exiled, and forgotten. In silence, we model Mary in consenting to the active word of God already at work in us, and we surrender to the mystery and beauty embodied in the Elements. 

This things are too precious to be left in the hands of those who would relegate their significance exclusively to detached, otherworldly concerns. The kingdom of God is among us now, here, and is beckoning us to join the work of reconciliation, to risk resurrection and meet Christ along the way. In every situation, “though the earth gives way, and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea” (Psalm 46) may we have the vision and the courage to live these questions with integrity, curiosity, and the very given-ness of our God. Maranatha!

Bridge-Building and Radical Forgiveness: Standing Rock and Beyond

This is a post by Jacob Taylor who is a native to the Maketewah watershed in southwestern Ohio. His work is primarily concerned with the intersection between watershed literacy/eco-spirituality and Christian discipleship. All photographs in this post are his.

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I decided to take a break from a few years of relative FB silence to voice support for anyone considering making the jaunt to Standing Rock. I’m really happy to share information from my (limited) experience there.  If it’s been on your radar, I think it’s a really good time to start making plans. If it’s not, there are a lot of avenues for you to extend support to that struggle from home, for real.

On another note, amidst a lot of heaviness, I feel an immense gratitude for all of the demonstrations of courage, solidarity, and bridge-building I’ve witnessed in the past two days. I sat in a mosque basement last night (I would’ve maybe never found myself there were it not for the election results) with a group of Muslim sisters and brothers to talk about how we can support each other in the coming days, and for every tearful voice that said, “I’ve never felt more vulnerable in my life” there was another that said “today I feel strong. Today I feel love towards those who would demonize me. I choose to extend compassion and listen to the pains and concerns of those who would cast a vote against my life.” We wept and laughed and ate pizza and it felt like holy sacrament.

Last week I stood on broken glass with 500+ Christian clergy members against a giant police and National Guard barricade to renounce our complicity and silence in the midst of so much earth-pillaging in ND. I heard a Lakota elder, pointing up over the hill towards the construction workers currently ripping up native sacred sites and in the process effectively endangering the water supply of 18 million people, and towards the militarized police defending them, say “we must pray for them, for their well-being and and for the well-being of their families. We must forgive them because they don’t know what they’re doing.” As a group, in ceremony, we acknowledged and mourned five centuries of profound violence, and pledged solidarity with the indigenous represented and renewed covenant with earth. We found out that the number of clergy enrolled in the Standing Rock delegation was 544, exactly the number of years since the Doctrine of Discovery.

There is reason for real concern. Anguish, even. But for despair, never. We’re about to dive head-first into some deeep and old historical traumas and wounds, and we’re going to bleed in the process. But we’re going to start the long work of healing. We’re going to bind up each others’ wounds and keep struggling towards Shalom. We’re going to build stronger bridges and alliances, more sustained resistance movements, give longer hugs, plant bigger gardens, and we’re going to call each other to unprecedented gestures of courage and solidarity. Our work has never been more cut out for us. This struggle is old as time, and as Canadian patron St. of heartbreak L. Cohen (rip) said damn, we have the music. And damn if I can’t see a couple stars out tonight. If even just a couple. You are loved. You are strong. Together we are stronger. Kyrie Eleison, now and tomorrow, come what may. God of Life, give us vision and courage.

Spirit Alive at Standing Rock: Nathan Holst’s Experience

This is a post by Nathan Holst.  Nathan works in faith formation and does racial justice work in Duluth, MN.  Nathan an his partner Sarah have led presentations at Call to Action events.

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photo credit: Matika Wilbur

Spirit come alive

Let us follow the current

Trace the sacred sighs

In the call of the earth

With seven generations

Standing before us now

May the Spirit come alive

 

These words from a song I wrote years ago were ringing in my ears this last weekend as I came with folks from the All Nations Indigenous Center in Duluth to join thousands of indigenous people at the incredible gathering at the Standing Rock Reservation to protect the water (and burial sites) from the Dakota Access Pipeline, slated to run just North of the reservation.   There truly was an incredible Spirit coming alive in that space where elders, children, families were all tracing the call of the earth to protect the water for future generations.

Here is a picture of what it’s like there: the front line camp is right off the main highway, situated right next to a river. When you first enter, you see signs that clearly mark “No drugs, no alcohol, no weapons”. It is a space for families (of which there were countless) and a space of nonviolence (which was made clear to us again and again in our time there). As you continue on, there are flags from every nation represented flying high, which was reported to me to be between 90 and 150. Then there is the check in tent, a tent for donations, a tent for media, and the main circle gathering space where there are constantly speakers sharing their story with anyone gathered to hear. At night, this space is filled with musicians and spoken word artists, ready to lift each other up with their songs and words. Drum ceremonies and sweat lodges run constantly. Both by day and night you can find people gathered in their small, spread out camps based on tribal affiliation, but porous as family, always intermingling with each other. There are elders telling stories and making jokes, people sharing meals together, and building family as well as a movement.

As reported (best, in my estimation, by Democracy Now), on Saturday afternoon, shortly before we arrived there was a group of peaceful protectors who stood in front of bull dozers to stop them from destroying burial sites where the people managing the Dakota Access Pipeline knew there were burial grounds and still chose to dig. In some news outlets, this has been reported as protestors attacking security guards, when the story from Indigenous folks is that they were peacefully trying to stop them from destroying their graves, only to have dogs unleashed on them, as well as pepper spray. And as the Huffington Post asked, “How would you feel if a construction company bulldozed a family plot in a local cemetery that contained the remains of your family?” These are courageous men, women, and children that know what they are willing to fight for and stand in the way of the violence being done to their ancestors, being done to our water.

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Folks from Duluth’s All Nations Indigenous Center at Standing Rock.

On Sunday, we marched with 500 people on the highway to the edge of where the graves had been unearthed. We gathered in a huge circle for a ceremony for the ancestors who had been disturbed, where all the spiritual men and women leaders were called to the center. Singers began, followed by medicine men praying to the four directions, as well as dancers joining in this incredible prayer for the ancestors. It was like nothing I’d ever experienced, and as I was filled with awe and wonder at what was happening, I tried to imagine if I felt this way as a white person, what might all the indigenous folks who are there feel? So many of those who came with us from Duluth said at the end of the trip, speaking through their tears, “I feel home”.

So after leaving what then felt like family and returning to Duluth, I am back here wrestling with fire in my belly, which I see as the longing for justice for my relatives, and showing up in the best way I know how, trying to share what I experienced with my community. I am trying to get the word out to everyone I know, especially since many newspapers are either not picking up this incredible story or distorting the perspectives of those at the camp.

But I am also caught with a vision. I have seen, tasted the incredible culture of elders, spiritual leaders, nonviolent warriors, and families and I can’t help but wonder: where are my people? Where are my elders? What would it look like for my white community to have this kind of powerful gathering to protect our water? I heard African Americans speaking to their history, acknowledging the help they received from Indigenous people to escape slavery. Now they’re showing up to support them in this movement and putting their lives on the line in gratitude. Is there someone in my white community that can speak in this way, to share gratitude for when indigenous people welcomed them to this land, even when we repaid hospitality with brutality? Is there a path for us to regain our humanity and to have this same kind of historical clarity, to recognize our place in this great story?

I believe we have an invitation in front of us. There is an incredible gathering of tribes from across this land (and the world) standing up and protecting our water that gives us life. What is the legacy that we want to leave? What story do we want to give those who come seven generations after us? Though life can often be complex and simple answers sometimes elude us, the choice is still right in front of us, and those who come after us are waiting to see what we will do.

 

 

 

Call to Standing Rock

This is a post by current Young Adult Catholics blog editor, Sarah Holst. Sarah is a Masters of Divinity student and artist living in Duluth, MN.  She plans to be ordained a Roman Catholic Women Priest and start a survivor-centric, watershed discipleship church community.  Sarah is active in racial justice work in Duluth.

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Yesterday at dawn, my partner Nathan Holst left with a group from Duluth’s All Nations Indigenous Center to bring supplies and support to the Sacred Stone Camp and Red Warrior Camp on the Standing Rock Reservation.  Over 5,000 indigenous people representing over 100 tribal groups have gathered at the camp in protest of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which not only threatens Standing Rock cultural and burial sites, but could possibly affect all people, farmers and ranchers that rely on the Missouri River for clean water.  This is a historic event, the first time the Seven Fires Sioux Nations have come together since Little Bighorn.  Even historical enemies, like the Crow Nation (which I am connected to), brought gifts and joined hands in the effort to stand for Treaty Rights and protect the land and the water.  This is a gathering both created and sustained on prayer.  Many believe that it is a fulfillment of the White Buffalo Prophecy.

I could have gone along, but opted to stay in Duluth so to not to miss the first week of classes.  Thus, I found myself in the position of reading Abraham Heschel’s The Prophets and receiving notice that things at the Red Warrior Camp had escalated.

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“To speak about God and remain silent on [Standing Rock] is blasphemous.”  “Few are guilty, but all are responsible.” -Abraham Heschel

The company behind the pipeline, Dakota Access LLC, had skirted the protestors’ camp and started “preparatory work” on another tract of land without completing standard procedures such as Environmental Impact Statements.  The company steamrolled through sacred burial sites.  When the Water Protectors heard of this, they ran out and bravely put their bodies in front of the bulldozers.  Private security officers, hired by Dakota Access LLC, were there and intimidated protestors with pepper spray and dogs.  Several people were bitten, including a pregnant woman and a young girl.  (You can watch Democracy Now’s coverage of the event here.) Nathan and the rest of the group from Duluth were fine.  I, at home at my desk, was outraged.

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The Last Time God Died: Anxiety, Consolation, and the Limitations of Spiritual Language

This is the final of a three-part post by Jay Aquinas Thompson: a poet, activist, parent, and an adult convert to Catholicism. He lives in Seattle with his family, where he attends St. Mary’s Church and teaches creative writing to women incarcerated at King County Jail. He keeps a blog at downdeepdowndeep.wordpress.com.

  1. Spiritual individualism and abiding grace

the_nones_are_alrightReally, the key question the Death of God theologians grapple with—“how will God be able to respond to this present crisis?”—is one plenty of Christians ask. But it’s a question that can be asked with too much urgency. The “present crisis” I often hear people of faith fretting about now is that of the “spiritual but not religious.” In my own community and time, the spiritual language among progressive folks is often framed entirely in terms of individual wellness. Many of us come to spirituality (from meditation to church to yoga) asking what belief and practice can console or enlighten us. The desire is to improve our well-being, rather than to engage personally and radically with our community or minister to the suffering Christ in our oppressed fellow-humans. For my own part, the longer my spirituality is confined to my own head, my own thoughts and feelings, the more it starts to spoil. I’m close with plenty of spiritually sensitive folks whom I want to call to vigorous and liberatory work in the world, but I believe it’s a misuse of energy to greet this (somewhat-gnostic?) spiritual individualism either as the herald of a new era or as a menace. The hype about our time is that this form of spirituality is our future; I don’t see it that way.

But I wouldn’t have come to this perspective without having watched Alitzer and Hamilton buy into their own era’s discourses, preoccupations, and intellectual frameworks so completely. This is not to deny the seriousness of Hamilton’s commitment to worldly service, and Alitzer’s pain at God’s perceived self-negation. In their book, Alitzer and Hamilton accept bourgeois liberalism’s claims about itself, and define their understanding of God’s “transcendence” so narrowly that it’s snuffed out of any possibility of being.

“Before God and with God, we live without God,” Bonhoeffer said. This is the unbearable paradox that Christians have to sit with after a century of organized horror, in the pervasive alienation of secular modernity, and in the countless small experiences of contingency, corruption, and death we encounter in a life. But it’s a paradox, not a death-knell: a call to make God manifest in the world through radical love, ardent faith, and spiritual self-renewal. “Abundance and destitution are two facets of the one face of God,” as Christian Wiman says, “and to be spiritually alive in the fullest sense is to recall one when we are standing squarely in the midst of the other.” This equanimity isn’t always easy to summon—in rapture or in desolation—but it’s a precious gift, in that it’s a call to the faulty communities of worship, the all-too-inadequate symbols of religion, and ordinary human love, whether God feels intimate or impossibly remote. We encounter Spirit only in corporeal things, and experience God only in history; and this idea can bring us overflowing peace, not just the anxiety that grips Alitzer and Hamilton. Or, to quote R.H. Blyth, writing from a radically different tradition: “Culture is our making the will of God prevail, but the will of God always prevails anyway, and when we know both, there is Zen.” The longer I sat with Alitzer and Hamilton’s book, the more limited it felt: the authors shedding tears at the graveside of old pieties, believing they were crying for God.
Image sources:

http://www.godisdead.info/

http://blog.oregonlive.com/lifestories/2012/02/william_hamilton_the_god-is-de.html

http://www.orbisbooks.com/the-nones-are-alright.html

http://www.reversespins.com/dionysius.html

http://www.amazon.com/My-Bright-Abyss-Meditation-Believer/dp/0374534373

The Last Time God Died: Anxiety, Consolation, and the Limitations of Spiritual Language

This is part two of a three-part post by Jay Aquinas Thompson: a poet, activist, parent, and an adult convert to Catholicism. He lives in Seattle with his family, where he attends St. Mary’s Church and teaches creative writing to women incarcerated at King County Jail. He keeps a blog at downdeepdowndeep.wordpress.com.

  1. Profane prosperity

As many New Things in intellectual life wind up, Radical Theology and the Death of God feels, in its anomie and consolation both, utterly of its very specific time. Their analytic philosophical language (either God is or is not, either the language of worship is factual or false) hadn’t yet been buffeted by Continental anti-foundationalism, nor anything like Derrida’s formulation of God in the language of desire rather than fact. Hamilton’s distinction between “God” and “world” bespeaks the cerebral, slightly anxious tone of Karl Barth and a discomfort with paradox. The book mentions Vatican II zero times, nor the experience of Third World Christians.

pseudo-dionysiusFor his part, Alitzer seems ready to enter a dark night of hopeless (or, literally, objectless) hope, but he doesn’t speak of the Desert Fathers, Pseudo-Dionysius, or any other apophatic Christians, who a thousand years earlier had found rich spiritual meaning (and consolation) in negation and the non-objectification of God. Likewise, though he began his career writing on eastern mysticism and Biblical eschatology, Alitzer’s repeated insistence in the “radically profane” nature of modern life shows no awareness of Buddhist ideas of the identity of the noumenal and the phenomenal. This is extra-surprising because he refers to Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s idea that “a religious life which would respond to the death of God cannot direct its prayer and mediation to a transcendent or numinous realm, but instead must open itself to a divine ‘center’ that fills the whole body of the cosmos, and a ‘center’ that has no existence apart from the movement of the cosmos itself.” This inward-not-upward motion completely eludes him in his insistence on dialectics: to fully enter the world, he believes, spirit had to cease to be. His heartbroken insistence leads him to muddle very separate ideas of the forgetting of, the ignorance of, the non-existence of, and the phenomenal presence of the transcendent.

Crucially—and this was the lesson for me the reader—Alitzer and Hamilton also share a very early-60s assurance that capitalist liberalism would keep its promises, and was in the process of creating a “grownup” society of generalized human thriving. This consoles Hamilton—at last, outgrowing our primitive need for a God who’ll fix things!—and depresses Alitzer, but they both accept it. They believe the hype about their own time, and frame their spiritual questions solely in the language of their own time. They even share the same bland assurance that the “Negro movement” will renew the church’s tradition of engagement with the world. Radical Theology is thus an odd mixture of liberal optimism and classic paranoia—in the sense of externalizing one’s anxiety onto outside objects. Instead, as history as shown, liberalism failed to keep its promises, and the social contract that once suggested universal well-being (or even American well-being) has been frayed to virtually nothing. Perhaps we “need” transcendence—and a radical vision of the present—after all.

Final reflections—on “the death of God” and our present era—in Part 3.