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!

embracing guadalupen theology

I wrote this a few years ago and wanted to repost in honor of today’s feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.   My reflection looks at the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe as a “still speaking” text of liberation and wholeness.   ¡Que viva la Guadalupana!

Some music in honor of today:  La Guadalupana sung by Miriam Solis; a variation of the same song by Emmanuel and Alexander Hacha. 


As I reflect over one of my favorite images of Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, I realize the rich complexity and beauty within the apparition of la Morenita del Tepayac.  Just as in Galilee Mary’s yes and life pointed to God; so too in Mexico on a sacred mount Mary again points towards the path to God.   It is an apparition that does not have one meaning but speaks to us today on several levels.   The apparition has social, historic, and theological implications with new discoveries and meanings to consider with each look at the story.  Theologically, Guadalupe demonstrates God’s revelation through the unlikely hero, the need for safe space for divine encounter, and of the “un-boxing” of God’s revelation.

Throughout Biblical and Christian history, there are many examples of the underdog that saves the day.  In Guadalupe we come to see what God can do through the “nobody”, the outcast, and the rejected.  Just as God chose a poor Galilean Jewish girl to come into the world, God chose a poor indigenous man to reveal God’s plan for a new creation.  It is through the marginalized community that God planted seeds to fix the mess created by misguided, well-intentioned European colonizers—a revolu that is still being dealt with today.  Similar to stories in the Hebrew Bible, God demonstrates that God does not abandon God’s people but walks with the people and will provide a messiah. Mary, Joseph, Hagar, David, and Rahab are examples of people who were not hero material on the outside because of their gender, size, class, or fulfillment of cultural expectations but whose lives revolutionized their communities and history; Juan Diego is in this same line of known and unknown individuals that God uses to reveal truth, bring about change, and reflect divine love.  Though indigenous people were looked down upon and their culture seen as threat by Europeans, God sees potential and uses Juan to evangelize the Europeans and ultimately the world.   God holds up the rejected by calling an indigenous farmer to be a prophet, using the language and symbolism of the “conquered” to deconstruct harmful rhetoric, and comes to the people through Mary’s apparition as one of them through one of them to bring wholeness and liberation.

The story of Guadalupe reflects the need for safer spaces to connect with God.  Europeans came and destroyed the lives (on every level) of the Indigenous people of the Americas.  Native communities were flattened through a “salvation” of coercion and  humiliation—all in the name of God and in the name of progress, globalization, and evangelization.  People along with their traditions, beliefs, and way of life were completely eradicated because they were perceived to be less human (difference, like today, was seen as a threat to be silenced and conquered).  European notions of God, customs, dress, and education were forced upon tribes.  The conquest and colonization did not give people the space to desahogarse of their traumatic experience or grieve the loss of their livelihood as a community who became strangers in their own land—land that they had worked, bought with their sweat and blood, built homes on, and was a source of connection to the divine.  They were violated, blamed for being violated, and had no outlet to express these feelings. A dynamic that sadly continues today with other marginalized groups who are re-victimized by being blamed for the dominant group’s harsh treatment of them.

The missionaries’ church was not a place of encounter with God but a place of fear, pain, and terror.  Why would the indigenous people who were being evangelized and forced to convert want to come close to a god or deity who obliterated their sense of self, their land, their families, and their way of life?  Before any relationship with God could be created and fostered, it was necessary to establish spaces where people could heal and find God in travesty and tribulation.  God was not freely found but imposed—that is not healing, forgiving, liberating, or “whole-making” but just deepens the wounds.  As with other forms of violence, people than and now begin to believe the lies told to them by their oppressors.  It is beautiful and amazing how Mary greets Juan Diego; her greeting in his mother tongue begins to restore dignity that was taken from his people. Guadalupe provided a safe space by reclaiming a sacred site as a place of divine encounter, demonstrating that indigenous practices were not evil but good, and planted the seeds for a new beginning for both natives and foreigners.  Though the story of Guadalupe has brought healing and created a safer space, I believe that the Church needs to take a step further to apologize for its actions in the 1500s and not hide behind the image of Our Lady.  The story of Guadalupe shows how God reached out to create a sanctuary where people could encounter the divine on their own terms and through their own unique self and to begin a new creation from the pain of chaos and confusion (a message that has many implications for pastoral work today).

God’s work through the unlikely hero and the creation of safer spaces demonstrates that God’s complex and liberating revelation can be revealed to us through simple means that truly pack a punch.  Through Juan Diego’s testimony, the tilma with Our Lady’s image, and guadalupen roses God continues to speak to us today in a truly remarkable way.  We sometimes get caught up in the grandiose and in the bells-and-whistles; we often forget that God speaks in the “still small voice”.   Guadalupe was a reminder than and now that God can use anything as a microphone to speak God’s message of love and justice for all.  Guadalupe shows how God spoke and continues to speak through the rejected and marginalized to the Church and to society.  God’s message can come through the institution and hierarchy of the Church but it is not confined to it.  God speaks through the whole church choosing prophets from every level of church from bishops to forgotten campesinos.  The message of Guadalupe did not come from a learned philosopher but from a simple man eager to please his dulce Señora­—the message that was given was directed from the pueblo to the higher-ups (not vice versa as is often the case). God used Juan Diego and La Morenita to remind us that God’s revelation is bigger than the neat little box we try to put it in and is not limited to one person or a select few.

The story of Guadalupe has multiple meanings and was an event in history that continues to speak to us today. It’s messages take on new significance with each reading of the events that took place.  Hopefully we continue to learn, listen, and live what Guadalupe said and continues to say to us today as individuals, community, and church.   ¡Que viva la Guadalupana!


 

delfin bautista is a native of Miami, FL, delfin is of both Cuban and Salvadoran heritage.   delfin is a social worker and activist theologian who is passionate about engaging the intersections of religion, gender, sexuality, race, and justice.   delfin is a former member of CTA’s Vision Council, Board of Directors, Anti-Racism Team, and 20/30 Leadership Team.  delfin is coauthor of religion and spirituality in Trans Bodies, Trans Selves and also serves on their Board of Directors.  delfin currently serves as the Director of the LGBT Center at Ohio University as well as serving as adjunct faculty in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies.  delfin is also a contributor to Believe Out Loud’s blog and “preaches” on their blog “La Lucha, Mi Pulpito.”

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.

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

This is 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. Theology and “the assumption that man needs God”

 

christian_wiman_abyssThe risk, of course, is that we might believe the hype about our own intellectual era. Attached as I am to Simone Weil, Christian Wiman, and other intensely atheistic Christian writers, I imagined I’d have fun reading the Death of God theologians—the school of ecumenical 60’s Protestant theology that claimed that God was no longer accessible in human life, was absent. But I found that what this absence means, and how it is to be understood, is very different for different Death-of-Godders. I spent this last winter reading Thomas J.J. Alitzer and William Hamilton’s 1966 essay collection, Radical Theology and the Death of God, expecting to be braced, spooked, and shaken up; instead I learned to relate to my own time differently in how watching how Alitzer and Hamilton related to theirs.

As different as hot and cold, prophet and community man, Alitzer and Hamilton nonetheless share touchstones: Bonhoeffer’s prison letters; Kierkegaard’s assault on the placid, reasonable, bourgeois social construction of Western European Christendom.

william_hamiltonFor Hamilton, the “death of God” means the exhaustion of old ideas of transcendence—the eclipse of their explanatory necessity or intellectual plausibility—and the subsequent withering of the old forms of church. Hamilton defines religion not as its rites, nor as a site and source of symbolic vocabulary for spiritual experience; religion, instead, is “any system of thought or action in which God or the gods serve as fulfiller of needs or solver of problems” or “the assumption that man needs God.” But, Hamilton writes, in a dawning world of scientific knowledge, political comity, and material plenty, we Christians no longer need God-the-transcendent-problem-solver. Therefore, we no longer need religion as he has defined it. Instead, he celebrates that our society has (citing his interpretation of Bonhoeffer’s letters) “come of age.” In our era, “it is to the world and not God,” he writes, “that we repair for our needs and problems.” With the transcendent being no longer housed in the forms of Christian worship, we Christians are called instead to find Christ in the world: to build a pluralist and religionless Christianity, centered in Jesus’s love ethic. And now that we no longer need God, he adds, we can perhaps now “delight in him.”

thomas_altizerFor Alitzer, the death of God is more immediate and painfully felt. He agrees with Hamilton that God is no longer necessary in our culture of human thriving and technological progress. He draws on Hegel’s theory of dialectics to suggest that Spirit had to empty some of itself to make any appearance in the Flesh, in tangible forms such as revelation. The final, ultimate negation of Spirit was Christ’s Incarnation and the Cross. In becoming Flesh, Spirit is no longer accessible to us. And—though this idea anguishes him—he writes that a Christian God who can’t be found in every moment is dead, since Christians enjoy no eternal covenant but the presence of the Spirit, which it’s no longer possible to feel. Further, the explanatory power of science, which cheers Hamilton, breaks Alitzer’s heart. The discovery of the autonomy of nature and the infinity of space have destroyed the intellectual confines of Christendom, because “the world is [now] no longer meaningful by means of anything which might lie beyond it.” Alitzer yearns for a new inbreaking of the Spirit into the world, a future Hegelian “synthesis.” But, until then, we must enter a spiritual “dark night” and accept the “radically profane” nature of our current world. Until then, Alitzer believes that “the Word that is silent in our time is a Word that has been negated by the Word itself.”

More in the next post on how believers often see their own era, for better and for worse.

10 Reasons I believe in the Sacrament of Marriage

Radical Discipleship

weddingBy Lydia Wylie-Kellermann,
(first published on Converge’s website a couple years ago)

Lately, I have found myself in conversations with friends about relationships and commitment. I’ve been hearing them say, “We will be together as long as it works and if it stops working, then it will end.” There seems to be a distrust and even suspicion of the act of marriage. These are friends who have relationships I admire and who are clearly in it for the long haul. I trust their decision making and discernment, but it has made me pause to reflect on why we choose marriage.

1. Community

A marriage is rooted within a community. We prayed that our relationship would be a gift to the larger community and asking for the help of accountability and support when things are difficult.

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