On becoming our God

I’ve heard the notion of “you become what you worship” spoken of from a lot of different sources lately. I’m curious as to why I never heard this growing up. Maybe I did and just wasn’t paying attention. I’d really like to see specific examples of this explored more. It seems like a really good (and useful) spiritual principal. Since we all end up having a distorted view of God, do we “become” like this false image? I guess it’s mostly an image of him being not as truly good as he is. Or maybe or more defined one, like an image of our own father.

Every man becomes the image of the God he adores. He whose worship is directed to a dead thing becomes a dead thing. He who loves corruption rots. He who loves a shadow becomes, himself, a shadow. He who loves things that must perish lives in dread of their perishing. The contemplative also, who seeks to keep God prisoner in his heart, becomes a prisoner within the narrow limits of his own heart, so that the Lord evades him and leaves him in his imprisonment, his confinement, and his dead recollection.

-Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, Ch.14 Sec.3

So what’s the point? To discover if this is the root of some of my own failings and sin. Then changing this image may be the doorway out, as opposed to just striving harder to be a “good person”, which as we all know, doesn’t really work.

Ever feel rotten?

Now we still have the desire to do the right thing, for we are created in God’s image and inwardly seek the things of God. But that godly desire is trapped and imprisoned with a wall of disordered flesh, emotions, and destructive thought processes. The spirit is no longer our primary driving force. It is covered over or forgotten.

Our bodies and souls are also changed by the Fall. The soul is disjointed and confused within itself. The body loses its original God-given beauty and innocence, a loss we try to cover over with often futile efforts to cosmetically enhance our appearance. In short, Adam and Eve’s banishment from the paradise of the Garden of Eden isn’t a long-ago fairy tale. It’s an existential, cosmic reality, and it’s something we experience in the here and now of everyday life.

-John Michael Talbot, The Music of Creation, p.40

Don’t stop with theology

Here, John Michael Talbot recounts the experience of a friend of his:

I remember how a monastic brother in our community once told me about his own experience of God’s love. He was out walking the mountain roads and wooded trails that surrounded our monastic hermitage. Suddenly, he was overcome with a sense that God loved him so much that even if he were the only person on earth, Jesus still would have sacrificed his life to atone for his sins. The brother was overwhelmed, and began to wep tears of gratitude and joy. But mixed with his joy was sadness, for he had turned away from the God who loved him so much.

This this dear brother’s tears became a mingling of sorrow and joy together. For him, the atonement was no longer a theological abstraction. It was intimate and personal. He knew the vicarious and atoning death of Jesus on the cross was God’s ultimate expression of love for HIM! This was more than a legal contract. this was pure self-sacrifice. This was love.

Theology is often where we start in our quest to understand things, but we can’t stop there. May we understand the atonement as deeply as this brother did.

-John Michael Talbot, The Music of Creation, p.90

I think there are quite a few people who love the Lord, genuinely strive to obey him, and even know their theology pretty well. But, they have never had an experience like this. “Oh, I’m just not an emotional person.” they say. “God made all people different and my experience of his presence just looks different.”

And of course, that is true, but my guess is that they don’t quite buy their own words. If they are humble (and they very well may be), then they will doubt the fullness of their own knowledge of God. Perhaps what this brother experienced, the same thing I’ve read about other saints experiencing, maybe it’s something that they are missing. If they desire a deeper relationship with God (a difficult thing to put your finger on), they will wonder if a connection with him might look something like this.

The fact that some rather flaky individuals with no grasp of even the most fundamental theology claim to have to have these types of experiences all the time is a major turn-off to these folks. Nonetheless, they will likely still wonder that if they REALLY understood they atonement, they might cry about it too. At least a little bit.

(This person is partially autobiographical of course. Obviously not the part about them being humble.)

Jesus taught parables, not systematics

Straightforward propositional communication – which is precisely the kind that bombards us every day – leaves little room for mystery. It proclaims, “This is the truth,” reducing the mystery and wonder of Truth to concrete theological or philosophical statements. Parables, on the other hand, clearly point to the truth, but without violating the mystery of Truth. This allows each of us to experience the truth of Jesus’ words in a manner that’s personally meaningful and transformative.

Parables are very simple. They communicate to children as well as to scholars. And there was always something about children that Jesus loved. Once, when a group of children was brought to Jesus, he said, “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” This wasn’t an endorsement of childishness. Rather, Jesus was reminding all of us to honor the joy and awesome wonder of creation and creation’s God. Likewise, Jesus’ parables are childlike without being childish.

-John Michael Talbot, The Music of Creation, p.102

Jesus taught with parables, and even when he did explain them, his insight was not particularly thorough. You can’t read the Bible like systematic theology. Paul wrote some line-upon-line instruction in Romans, but even that isn’t near as propositional as we would like it to be sometimes. Would it have been nicer if Jesus had ivory tower talk that we could then reword for the popular masses? Well, since his was the only undarkened intellect to walk the face of the earth, I vote we stick with what he did say (parables), and not try too hard to explain them.

It only enhances or illuminates his words to a certain degree. After that, it diminishes his words with the flood of our own.

Our meddling intellect

The poet Wordsworth get’s a lot of love from Owen Barfield. He is probably quoted and admired more than anyone frequently than anyone else I’ve seen so far in his writings.

…but perhaps the most brilliant, even epigrammatic, expression which has ever been given to the everlasting war between the unconscious, because creative, vital principle and the conscious, because destructive, calculating principle, is contained in four lines from a little peom of Wordsworth’s…

-Owen Barfield, History in English Words (Reader p. 42)

Here is that peom Barfield is talking about, with the pertinent verse in bold. (It’s a good one!)

The Tables Turned
by William Wordsworth

Up! up! my friend, and quit your books,
Or surely you’ll grow double.
Up! up! my friend, and clear your looks;
Why all this toil and trouble. . . .

Books! ’tis a dull and endless trifle:
Come, hear the woodland linnet,
How sweet his music! on my life,
There’s more of wisdom in it. . . .

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can.

Sweet is the lore which Nature brings;
Our meddling intellect
Misshapes the beauteous forms of things–
We murder to dissect.

Enough of Science and of Art,
Close up those barren leaves;
Come forth, and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.