Deep in the Shadows

This is about sleep paralysis.

Sometimes, late at night, I hear things. Evil things. The howl of ghosts and the silent screams of shadow people. Out of the abyss they come carrying their abominable burdens. Chains and locks of bondage that weigh them down to the netherworld.

As I lay paralyzed, my heart pounds and my mouth moves to scream, but I have no voice. I see them standing at the foot of my bed, darker than the midnight. A shadow of nothingness. A hole in the dark.

But their evil is palpable. Like eyes of malevolence, they gaze on me, unmoving. I imagine they are grinning with perverse delight at my terror. I feel the weight of evil as it falls on me like a metal door or a slab of marble for a tomb.

Whether in dream or vision or reality, I do not know, but the force of their presence is such, that it cannot be forgotten and changes me. This is a night mare. Steed of evil, bearing tidings of horror and abandonment to death. The shadows, darker than darkness, creep and cover me, trying to impose upon my very soul; to bind it with their chains and drag it down to hell.

Cold as ice, the blood runs in my veins. My heart pounds in my ears and every breath I take is a gasp as though the air were thin. I am mute with terror and despair fills my very being.

And, then, suddenly, it is dawn and darkness gives way to light. The shadows disappear and I sleep

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Eye Has Not Seen

Eye has not seen,

Ear has not heard,

Nor has it ever entered into the heart of man

the things which God has prepared for those who love him.

Some say nothing exists beyond the world seen with the eyes or experienced through the senses; that there is no life beyond what we daily experience. And, that life, in the end, is nothing more than chemical reactions in our biological matrix. There is no “heaven”, no “hell”, no after life, no resurrection, no God.

I do not fault those who believe this. I, however, do not find that explanation of things to be satisfying. There are hundreds or thousands of questions I can not answer. Questions that seem to confound the notion of a good and all loving God. Theodicy, as it is called, cannot be solved by human logic. I am not satisfied with that, but it is something I accept. This does not keep me from lying awake at night wondering why there is hunger in the world, or pain and suffering of innocents, or wars and famine and disease. I fail to understand how these things can be reconciled to an all loving, omnipotent God.

Yet, as strong an argument against the existence of God as that is, for me, there is a stronger more subtle and sublime reason I continue to believe. If there is a name for it, I don’t know what it is. It is the experience I have when I view a great work of art, or the wonder of a spectacular sunset, or grasp momentarily the indomitable spirit of some aged soul who has emerged from great suffering.

These are experiences that draw me out of myself to encounter the “other.” Beauty, aesthetics, wonder, awe. We all say certain things make us grateful or that we are thankful for this and that thing or experience. Whether it is purely *human* to say and feel such things and nothing more, I cannot say. But I feel, and I’d like to think, I intuit, that such feelings and aspirations are something more than biology. More than chemical reactions in my brain.

Religion as such is, and always has been, and in some sense, always will be, human and man made. There is no religion, per se, that is revealed as divine. Even in the Bible, in the Epistle of St James, it states, “Pure religion, and undefiled before God, is this: to visit the widows and orphans in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” Loving ones neighbor and living a good life. Elsewhere in the Bible, somewhere in the Old Testament, it says these words, “He has told thee, oh man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee, to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

“Be ye kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you.”

In America today, as in much of the world, Christianity has little to do with Christ. Any casual observer can see that Christians lead the world in hate and fear mongering. There is nothing of God in this religion. Nothing at all. Yet Christianity is not dead. There are little fountains of hope where the Way of Christ is remembered and practiced. It is not in the grand palaces of the Prosperity Gospel, nor in the old stalwart Churches of the old guard, but here and there, almost invisible. The ugly, the lame, the blind, the sick, the poor, the outcasts, the disenfranchised, the lonely…the dregs of society; these are places where the Spirit is moving. Not in the whirlwind, not in the fire, not in the earthquake, but in the stillness with a small quiet voice, God is speaking.

In times of great spiritual famine, such as today, when the Word of God is so rare that it has been forgotten, God calls his people to come out of Babylon. A small drop of water at first, then a trickle, a stream, and then a mighty river. When every effort has been made to induce God from heaven to no avail, he speaks to those who will listen. He who has an ear, let him hear. It is not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.

Christianity has sold it’s soul for a mess of pottage. It has exchanged the truth for a lie by courting political power and creating a god of its own imagination. It will die in the dust bin of history. Even now it is gasping for breath and grabbing at the air.

The end is near.

Christendom is dying and it is not a noble death, but an ignominious one. For more than 2000 years the Church has existed with saints and sinners in her pail. I wonder if she will survive this famine. We cannot hearken back to the past. Science has become the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We know too much now. To go back would be hypocrisy and an unconscionable evil. Having eaten the fruit of that tree, we are bound to live with the results. The old must die and fade into the misty memories of an early childhood.

We have indeed begun to grow up as a race. We would be fools if we despised Science and all that it has taught us and the great promise that it holds for our future. We must embrace it and change ourselves. A Christianity that cannot or will not change and adapt, is already a dead, lifeless, corpse.

As for me, I will continue to be awed at the mystery of reality, at its beauty and tragedy. I will continue to believe in the ultimate victory of good over evil, of light over darkness, of life over death. I will continue to follow Jesus as best I can, to love my neighbor as myself and to do good in the world. I think ALL of us can agree on those last two parts, loving ones neighbor and doing good. It matters not what one believes if one does those things. This is all that is required for a better world. A better humanity.

Loss and Gain

Someone recently asked on Facebook, “Why do some people beat others down to get ahead?”

People do this for two reasons: to get an emotional high and because it works. The survival of the fittest in its most animal expression.

These people are not endowed with, or at the least are suppressing, all that is noble and good that causes the human race to be somehow more than an animal.

To beat down others is to exploit weaknesses for self gain. It is also self destructive, in the end. What is left of such persons, when they have obtained the pinnacle to which they aspired, is little more than a shell of their former humanity. What does it profit to gain the whole world but lose ones own soul? A very apt question we should ask in these present days.

The joy of Christmas

Dear friends,

A gentle reminder for those of you who celebrate Christmas. After the giving and receiving and eating and joking and fellowship and fun are over, please pause to reflect that the joy you experienced is but a drop in the bucket compared to the good things which are to come.

Remember that the joy of Christmas is Jesus. Not just an ordinary man but the incarnate God Almighty who came to right all wrongs, lift all burdens, heal all wounds, satisfy all hunger and deliver all who are oppressed.

In the words of the Christmas hymn by Christina Rossetti,

“What can I give him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.

If I were a wise man, I would do my part.

What I can I give him, give my heart.”

It is in giving that we receive, in righting wrongs that we are justified, lifting the burdens of others that we are relieved of our own, tending to the sick that we are healed, feeding the hungry that we are fed ourselves, and in delivering the oppressed that we are delivered. Go, and carry the Incarnate God in your hearts and do good in the world.

The Virtue of Honesty

The greatest virtue of all is love. By it the entire cosmos will be changed. Yet there is another virtue that is prerequisite to love, and in that sense, more essential. That virtue is honesty.

Where there is a dishonest heart, Love is at best a mere sentiment and at worst, hypocrisy.

It is essential to be honest both with our neighbors and especially ourselves. Honesty is not mere recitation of fact. That is what the Greeks called truth. Honesty is more subtle. We speak of brute honesty, but that is not always what the virtue of honesty requires.

Honesty is in covenant with love and they temper one another. To speak honestly is both to love truth and to love ones neighbor. Yet, in point of fact, ones neighbor is more important than simple facts. So when we speak, we must first consider our neighbor. What is best for them? How would we wish to be treated if our positions were reversed? The answer to that question is the honest and loving one. We should not speak to our neighbors harm if he is innocent. Nor should we shrink back from justice when it is needed. But in general dealings, we should temper our words with kindness.

Facts are not always kind. But facts are not the measure of honesty. Honesty has an eye to our neighbor’s good. When we speak ill of them with the intent of casting shadow on them, even if we speak only the facts, we are not being honest. Honesty requires that we speak the facts as they are truly in proper relationship to our neighbor. Any other use of facts constitutes dishonesty.

This is called speaking the truth in love; love being that overarching motivation to seek the good of others even to our own loss.

Suppose a man has lived a life of failure. Whether by his own fault or not, he has arrived at a place where he believes the world would be better without him. The pragmatist will look at this man’s life and be hard pressed to disagree with him. Surely, he will reason, this man has been a blight to society and the world would be better off without him in it. Is the pragmatist correct? Perhaps. But though he is factual, he is not honest. Honesty remembers that every one of us has different gifts, abilities, capabilities, capacity for learning, ability to reason, etc… Further, honesty remembers that an individual does not gain his worth from society, but is intrinsically dignified as a human being. Thus in no way can the honest man assent to the judgment of the pragmatist. That failure of a man can be reformed, or taught, and honesty acknowledges this.

Now, this is a mere example not intended to speak to every possible scenario. I simply wish to illustrate that brute facts do not constitute honesty.

Think before you speak. Speak the truth in love. Be honest with yourself and each other.

Science and Faith

A couple of things.

One cannot know with infallible certainty, anything. Science is the only reliable objective method by which we may reach reasonable certainty about ourselves and the universe. Yet that knowledge is continuously challenged, changing, and sometimes upended.

Science is the realm of knowledge.

Theology is the realm of faith or belief. There are no accepted creeds of Christianity that begin “I know…”. They all begin with “I believe…”.

Faith has its own assurances that science cannot speak to. Yet science, unlike faith, is of such objective character, that only a fool rejects its findings. I dare say that we have an ethical, and hence MORAL obligation to accept the *clear* findings of science. The same cannot be said of faith. No one is morally obligated to believe, in spite of what many xtians say.

Faith is rightly understood to be a response to a perceived encounter with the divine. It cannot be subjected to the scientific method and therefore has no objective ethical obligatory requirement.

I speak as a xtian. I do not believe God has dropped a book in our laps that tells us everything we can and should know about him. There are no such books. Neither is there any divine authority on earth to tell us what to believe.

I do believe the cosmos speaks his name, but my experience is no one else’s experience and is probably irrelevant to anyone but me.

The long and short of it is that God may or may not exist. It cannot be proven by any means to the satisfaction of all or even of mankind in general. Therefore, we should get about the business of being better humans rather than trying to belittle those who do or do not believe.

The one thing we DO have in common is our humanity, and I think that is enough to warrant morality and good living.

Sin and the Problem of Natural Evil

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I cannot help but think the problem of sin was not the primary reason for the Incarnation, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Traditionally, the story line goes that mankind fell into sin through Adam and Jesus came to redeem man from it. It’s all pretty transactional. Adam sinned, we inherited the guilt of sin and it’s consequences, Jesus came to deliver us from that and give us new life.

That’s all fine and good, but what about the problem of evil? It just doesn’t work to say that all evil in the world is because of the moral failure or sin of Adam. Nope. I don’t think Adam is to blame for hurricane Maria’s devastation of the Caribbean. Hurricanes aren’t caused by moral failure. They are purely a natural phenomenon; yet they produce tremendous evil and suffering.

Looking at Holy Scripture in the light of modern scientific knowledge, I have arrived at an hypothesis. God created the cosmos in a state of chaos. As Genesis tells us, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1:2) The pattern we see throughout the first chapter of Genesis is of chaos being brought into order. Generally, Christians have concluded that the creative work of God is done and that he simply sustains the creation by his Spirit. I think this is incorrect. It appears to me that the Genesis pattern is the pattern for the whole of history and future of the cosmos. God is not finished creating; he is still bringing order to chaos and hastening the creation to it’s final eschatological end of perfection in order and symmetry.

The Big Bang is how science describes the initial creative event. Evolution is how science describes the rise of life and various life forms. I’m not certain there is a name for the evolution of the cosmos as such, but I believe it is a reality.

I admit,  I may be off the mark here, but it seems to me that primitive history was far more barbarous and “evil” than today’s world. It is now theorized that birds are the direct descendants of the dinosaurs. Consider how brutal the world of the dinosaurs was. Bloody life and death, day in and day out. Yet through a series of events still not fully know, that world has passed away and the descendants of that world are likely the beautiful feathered singers we call birds. The chaos of those days has evolved into an ordered beauty.

This scenario is a microcosm of the whole of history, I think. Sin, as moral failure, only became a reality with the rise of consciousness in humanity. Prior to that there could have been no moral or ethical values. Yet, looking back, we see there was great brutality and evil. It was not a world which was ordered and peaceful. So, when Holy Scripture speaks of “sin”, I think it is this larger, broader perspective that is ultimately in view. Jesus did not come simply to erase our transgressions, but to right all wrong. He came to bring “shalom”: to make things as they should be.

It was in his humble submission to the brutality, the evil of this world, this cosmos, that he entered into death and triumphed over that evil by his resurrection from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus both demonstrates God’s approval of Jesus and his life and work, as well as seals forever the victory of God over the powers of sin and death.

The notion that sin is primarily moral failure fails to address the idea of natural evil. It personalizes sin in the extreme and removes the redemption of God from the cosmos and places it merely on the souls of mankind. The personalization of sin has, at length, brought about a myopic view of the world to the Church. Christians are unable to deal with natural evil without invoking God or Satan as it’s cause. Natural evil is seen as judgment and a culprit is often found to blame it on. Often the culprit is a social minority seen as “sinful” by Christians. Christians fail to remember that judgment begins with the House of God. Only when His house is set in order will he judge the world.

So, to sum up, the word “sin”, in my opinion, should include natural evil. Especially in light of modern scientific discoveries that show us the chaotic brutal past that is our history on this planet. The cosmos is moving towards it’s consummation of perfect order and symmetry as the redemption of Christ plays out in history.