Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Love/love II

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by Henk Hart

"Night Light" by Henk Hart

Life, light, and love are a trinity of God-speaks into our reality. One of the message bearers is the full moon, whose bright light fills the night. When it is night in our life, the night light tells a good advent story.
When, now almost ten years ago, I had written down how my experience of love/Love had impacted my life an awareness came over me that something was missing. It took a few days to discover that the piece of text in front of me missed the dynamic of what I tried to say. The words and phrases, so it seemed, were asking me to let them dance. And so they guided me lovingly to find another shape for them. Together with the two preceding blogs (one, two) they complete the triptych that introduces a series of blogs related to love/Love.


At heart,
a human life
gains without measure
in depth and scope
exposed to giving
or receiving
primeval energy
of all that is.

In the embrace of Love
vessels of love
become aware:
irresistible energy
compels us
be centered
in all we do
in Love’s embrace;
to seek for ourselves
and others
peace, justice, joy, life,
fulfillment, patience,
hope, light, and healing.

Love begins,
guides us
to set our priorities,
distribute our energies,
choose our relationships,
value our involvements.

Love fills us,
its blessed awareness
whenever and wherever we follow
step by step but irresistibly,
bids darkness recede—
light spreads.

We become driven by Spirit—
Ruah, Wind, Breath
blows where it wills
harvesting without exception
light and life
wherever it blows.

Growing in trust
the Presence of Love
in our life
bit by bit
our presence as love
in the Presence.

I experienced Love
dawning forcefully
at the dark edge of the abyss
in their last journey.

The doom of death
revealed depths unknown
of Love.

Who are you?
fullness of evil?
part of life?
final separation
from self and other?
Why do we weep?

Death’s deepest sense persists
as ineradicable persuasion:
new life emerges for us all
after our death.

Daisies bloom another spring,
so do we.
Our death is singular,
no circling cycles,
no seasons,
we die
then live forever.

The birth of Love in our life,
foretaste of eternity:
this inexpressible joy will be ours

What is hereafter
after their death?
In my brain
survival beyond the end
is dead.

In my heart
a compelling reality
anticipated and celebrated
in music, in song.

Tears well up
with songs of visions of redemption,

No remnants of a childish faith,
a final maturation
of our trust
of Life and Love.

In Love's world
our tears of weeping

trickle into rivers of joy.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016


1 comment:
by Henk Hart
"For the love of bees," photo by Henk Hart
Jim Olthuis’s exaugural address on creation as an act of love, "Creatio Ex Amore," opened our hearts to knowing love as having no boundaries. When all creation flows from love, love must flow to all creatures. The bee keeper shows us how.
Last week’s blog briefly told the story of how, really for the first time, hitherto unknown love became a reality in our lives virtually overnight. This week I share how after some years I wrote down briefly, as a marker, what the presence of love/Love had come to mean in my life.

After love/Love exploded in our lives while waiting for death, I was powerfully drawn to search for the meaning of love and Love. I now know that, at its core, a human life gains immeasurably in depth and scope when it is exposed to giving or receiving love as the primeval energy of all that is. Once we begin to be in the embrace of Love and begin to experience ourselves as vessels of love (I mean: to BE), we become aware of an irresistible energy that compels us to become centered, in all we do, in that embrace; to seek for ourselves and others peace, justice, joy, life, fulfillment, patience, hope, life and much more. Love then begins to guide us in setting our priorities, distributing our energies, choosing our relationships, valuing our involvements and in so doing fills us with a blessed awareness that whenever and wherever we follow this guidance we find that, step by step but irresistibly, darkness recedes and light spreads. We become driven by a Spirit (Ruah, Wind, Breath) that blows where it wills and that without exception harvests light and life wherever it blows. The more we trust the Presence of Love in our life the more we ourselves become a presence of love in that Presence.

I have experienced that Love dawns (!!) most forcefully when I lived at the edge of the abyss of darkness. In Esther's and Anita’s last journey the doom of death revealed unknown depths of Love. This experience has started in me a steady meditation on two meanings of death, as the ultimate concentration of evil and as a normal stage in the course of all that exists. And at this time I am inclined to see the two meanings used as a metaphor for each other. Death can then be a metaphor for the concentration of all evil as experienced in our final separation from self and other. But the other sense then seems to persist in us in our ineradicable persuasion that new life emerges for all of us after our death. Not only do daisies bloom another spring, so do we. And so strong is this persuasion that we interpret our death as a unique event, not occurring in eternally circling cycles, but happening only once: we die and then live forever.

So when we experience the birth of love in our life, we can feel that as foretaste of eternity: once this inexpressible joy will be ours forever.

Ever since Esther's death I have struggled with "hereafter." Slowly an awareness has ripened in me of our "future life" as inaccessible to our understanding, but felt as a compelling reality, especially when anticipated and celebrated in music. The tears that well up when we sing of visions of redemption, reconciliation, resurrection, and rebirth speak to me not as the left-over remnants of a childish faith, but as a final maturation of our trust of Life and Love. In God's world our tears of weeping trickle into rivers of joy.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

God, Virtue Ethics, and Rhythm

by Caleb Ratzlaff

There are countless ways of understanding God’s nature. New atheists such as Daniel Dennett, for example, reject a variety of theisms that defines God as a supernatural agent who desires humanity’s worship. Peter Rollins, a self-identified emergent Christian defines God as “that which we cannot speak of [and] the one thing about whom and to whom we must never stop speaking.”* Rollins finds inspiration in Christian mystics such as Meister Eckhart, tending away from anthropocentric understandings of God like the one Dennett rejects. Like Dennett, Rollins aims to disturb conventional theism while, unlike Dennett, maintaining a semblance of orthodoxy. Jack Caputo, taking these ideas a step further, conceives of God as an “insistence” with little agency in the world other than the ability to disturb and haunt our actions.

Conceptions of God play a critical role in shaping our moral lives; some theists practise an escapism because their God shuns the world, while others become champions of social causes because that is what they believe God desires of them. This post will work backwards, so to speak, considering how our daily attempts to act ethically can shed light on God’s nature. To this end, I will employ virtue ethics’ approach to moral life, a school of ethics that emphasizes virtues, opposed to an emphasis on the need to follow rules (deontological) or an emphasis on the consequences of one’s actions (consequentialism).

In a nutshell, virtue ethics claims that we should always make decisions that encourage health. On a personal level, this means being concerned with one’s character, believing that if one engages in the daily practice of care, for example, one will be prepared to act caringly when a weighty ethical situation demands such action. Similarly, on a societal level, a subscription to virtue ethics would aim to develop life together in ways that encourage healthy relationships — for example, by building neighbourhood landscape that create opportunities to practice hospitality.

But what does this ethical school have to do with our conceptions of God?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Filled Fully With God's Love

by Henk Hart

The preceding half dozen blogs focused on finding God. I asked many questions, I wondered and wandered, and sometimes I found my way. When I did I often wrote of love and found God as Love. The next few blogs will especially focus on finding our way in loving, on finding God in Love. The joy of being with God and of trusting God's being with us are movingly illustrated in Old and New Testament in the life of sparrows. Psalm 83:4 expands the joy of being home with God by including “even the sparrow” who builds a nest on the altar in the temple and in Matthew 10:29 Jesus encourages the disciples by reassuring them of God’s presence even with lowly sparrows falling to the ground. So the picture I’ve chosen for the first of the following love/Love blogs is dark and cold, bare shrubs wrapped in snow and fog. The chill of that scene notwithstanding, however, is the promising presence of a home for the sparrow, on the bare stem in the centre.

The blog that follows tries to tell a story of being filled fully with all God’s fullness. I learned that expression from Ephesians 3:17b-19, where the author is confident that in following in the love of Christ we will come to know the unknowable, namely that we will be fully filled with all the fullness of God. I read this as meaning: As we grow in cruciform love, the image of God, who is Love, will be fulfilled in us. In the last weeks of our daughter’s life we experienced this knowledge-transcending love. With that short story I hope to share the deepest meaning of the blogs that follow.

A relative who learned how my wife and I cared for our daughter in her last weeks said: I could not do that. I understood. I thought the same when Esther asked us to help her die at home. No more hospitals. We were perplexed and afraid. Seeing our hesitation she asked: is your love not big enough?—How could we refuse?—But could we do it?

In death’s face love filled us to overflowing. Ephesians calls this love unknowable and also says that in our loving God makes it fully known.

Changing Esther's bed and clothing in the middle of night while giving her affection revealed the paradoxical character of death’s agony matched by love's treasures. Her pain riddled body and immobility often required 2 hours for us to clean the bed, bathe her, and provide whatever comfort we could. In these trying hours, in the dark of night, the rest of the house asleep to find strength for tomorrow, we found the unfathomable depths of love making possible the impossible. When she was vulnerable in her literal nakedness, weeping for her lack of control, too tired even to breathe, our fragile care revealed what, in all its depth, all great religions write about love: the light that shines in this darkness is the healing sun of God's love filling us.

Our dance together forged boundless bonds. In these despicable hours she smiled most. We whispered "I love you" and said more than we knew. We experienced love's bonds banish pain and nurture peace. Witnessing God loving us as children we cried tears of joy, moved by the mystery of love. In the darkest and heaviest moments for a caregiver, the stars see love through the windows of a dark house with lights on in the bed and bathroom. When Esther was finally back in a clean bed, washed of her pain, angelic peace on her smiling face, sleep came before she felt the pillows. Love unknowable became known. We could love because we were loved.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Spiritual Challenge of a Trump Presidency

by Dean Dettloff

The Temptation of St. Anthony, Niklaus Manuel

Along with the rest of the world, a lot of Americans woke up yesterday morning to the surprising news that, barring some miracle, Donald Trump will be the 45th president of the United States. Yes, despite being an accused sex offender, identifying black people with “inner cities,” seriously suggesting banning all Muslims from the US, making fun of people with disabilities on the campaign trail, calling Mexicans rapists and planning to build a wall between the US and Mexico, and more, Donald Trump will enjoy a majority Republican Congress as he looks to implement the platform of anxiety and opportunism he ran on. It appears the baffled double-take of referenda like the UK's Brexit vote or Colombia's rejected peace agreement is becoming the norm. Surprising though the results are, the disorientation seems almost natural following the embittered struggle of the 2016 campaign season, an affair that brought out the worst of the American populace and stirred up a mixture of fear and resentment unlikely to stop swirling any time soon.

What are American people of faith to make of this situation (I ask Ground Motive's significant Canadian readership to permit me to address my fellow Americans)? Now that we know Donald Trump will inherit that swirling mixture of fear and resentment, we are faced with two choices. Either we do what Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, among most other elected officials, advise us to do—accept Trump's presidency, painful though it is, and greet it with an open mind and willingness to cooperate. Or we do what a variety of Americans have already started to do—take to the streets and demonstrate, materially, an unwillingness to accept the presidency of a candidate who just days ago was being called unfit for the office by Clinton and Obama themselves, and try to build alternatives.

Many Christians have already begun to take the first strategy by appealing to Providence and praying for wisdom for Donald Trump in his new position of power. Trump won the election fair and square, even if he lost the popular vote, and the magnanimous thing to do is accept the results. The spiritual challenge suggested here is one of forgiveness and fidelity, reaching across the aisle in a spirit of good sportsmanship and charity. God is in control, so the view goes, and that means, for whatever reason, Trump could prove to be the negotiator many take him to be.

To accept the results of a Trump presidency under the assumption that God will sort it out without any help from us... is to take a view of divine sovereignty that serves the interests of polite society and party politics.

But this strategy is not so much a challenge as a luxury. It is especially easy for white Christians to make this suggestion, as we (since I'm a white Christian myself) stand to be least affected by a Trump presidency. For those who fall on the other side of Trump's campaign rhetoric, this strategy is tantamount to self-sabotage. To accept the results of a Trump presidency under the assumption that God will sort it out without any help from us, or to make voting the end-point of Christian political activity, is to take a view of divine sovereignty that serves the interests of polite society and party politics. It enables the privatization of religion so necessary for the smooth functioning of American projects, unimpeded by the annoyance of faithful believers whose shaping narrative is profoundly at odds with the story of exclusion and paranoia told by Trump. It rejects any prophetic vocation, as the prophets of the Old Testament certainly were not afraid to demonstrate their refusal to accept their leadership (whether by Isaiah's protests in the nude (Isaiah 20) or Ezekiel's odd theatres of resistance). What appears like an appeal to fidelity on the part of many Christians is in fact a betrayal, trading in the Gospel of a God executed by the state for good manners and civic duty.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

God, Church, Religion

by Henk Hart

"Take off your sandals." --Photo by Henk Hart

We are now in the 500th year of the reformation started by Luther. Part of its gift has been the availability of Bibles in every language. Sometimes that is explained as the official church losing control over what people would believe. But that’s true only in part. By means of councils, synods, confessions, and other official channels churches have kept and are keeping a fairly tight lid on orthodox teaching and proper beliefs. More and more, however, people exercise much greater freedom in deciding the shape of their faith. That seems an unavoidable influence of our times. When the tension between what churches consider proper and what believers none the less decide for themselves becomes too great, churches become emptier and memberships decline. I have a notion that if churches would encourage and participate in the questioning and searching that is more and more common in our world, the birth of more widely shared forms of faith could give rise to a global culture once again looking for wisdom in living a life of faith. That could be considered as attending to unfinished business of the Reformation. The United Church of Canada is in the process of deciding whether a pastor in that denomination should be defrocked for being at odds with its most recent statements of faith. Perhaps we are now living in times when such conflicts could also be addressed by engaging in a 10-year open dialogue and reflection on how faith could be shaped as a gift whose power is self giving love.

1. Do we invent God? That is not where I think I am. "Invent" sort of always sounds to me like "whole cloth" creations ex nihilo. I don't think that's true about what we "make" of God. The big unanswerable questions of life and our need to deal with them are not our inventions. Nor can we invent whole cloth how we deal with these questions. These issues and our needs in my view point to realities beyond us that, I take it, are real. Our struggle with these issues does not lead to any satisfaction unless we can experience them helping us move in a direction that bears fruit. However, that said, most of the realities humans relate to as God are mysteries we do not and cannot make fully accessible, even though we also cannot live without lasting intimations of what that “divine” reality is like and what it does to our lives. In light of that, I think, we do give shape to (which is not to say, we invent) whatever we experience the mystery to intimate, reveal, tell us. In the course of that, I think it is also helpful to say that in this very process we become who we are. God-in-heaven shapes us from the-earth-we-are. And in that mysterious process of mutuality, it seems entirely right to me to say that we experience God in ways to which we ourselves give shape. Is God a God who cares? I would suspect that this is far from a universal acknowledgement among people. A God who cares may emerge from eons of careful and reverent listening within some tradition. And, obviously, a God who cares is infinitely satisfying in our dealing with the big issues. But a God who cares also presents problems to tsunami victims, to those who suffered under Hitler, Stalin, Ceaucescu, Milosevic, etc. None of our God experiences are, I think, certain, settled, and safe. To entrust ourselves to the divine mystery as we have learned to know it always remains a vulnerable risk. And that, it seems to me, is just what helps us understand the mystery as divine: it transcends our domination and at the same time is our dominus.

2. Religion as a way, a path, is peculiar neither to the Japanese nor to me. Psalm 1 opens the Psalter with that theme, indicating its pervasive characterization of Israel's walk with God. Jesus refers to himself as the way that gives life in truth. The early Christians were, in Acts, referred to as people of The Way. That designation is dear to me.

Perhaps with Hinduism as an exception, religions view their way as unique, often at least in some respects exclusively so. When it sometimes seems that we can all too easily and too quickly switch from one "way" to another, I suspect we then refer to ways of thinking or expressing ourselves, rather than to the complex wholeness that is a religion. The OT's "no other gods," or the NT's "no other name" point, as full fledged ways to walk, to Jesus' saying that we cannot serve both God and Mammon, at least not successfully so. Syncretism as a thought experiment seems possible, but as a way of living (not as an individual but in intentional community with others) it seems undoable to me. When we say that we think we are not limited to one or another way very long, we cannot mean, can we, that people are Muslims for a short while, then Christians, and soon also Hindus? That does not seem true to life.

3. Some are skeptical about churches as exceptionally graced. I'd dare say that such churches are not as rare as we think. Good solid churches in which people worship with joy and are built up as members are not, I think, rare. Of course, not all of us would feel at home in all of them, because of social practices, theological views, etc. I do think that the life span of a church's bloom may sometimes be short. But I suspect that 4th Presbyterian in Chicago or Riverside in New York have been going strong for an enviably long time, as has People's Church in Toronto. So I base my expectations on what I think is an achievable reality. I see no reason why we should expect less of the church than we do of Carnegie Hall, Roy Thompson Hall, the Concertgebouw, Cirque Du Soleil, Tafelmusik, etc. That does not mean we should find them in every village. But it does mean, I think, that we have lots of living models of excellence. I know quite a few that feel palpably alive, spiritually energized, enthusiastic. No feelings of dead space, stale air there. The quality of the experience seems crucial to me here. But it can be a small very informal group on an attic as well as a huge church in Chicago or a "base community" found in Amsterdam's Dominicus, or even Amsterdam's liturgically rather traditional Wester Kerk. Sometimes the liturgy is so good that the sermon is not crucial. Music seems a very important ingredient. I can feel these qualities even in places where I'm not at home.

4. Now for the climax. God as person. Since I deeply believe that all we know about the Mystery can only be expressed metaphorically, I have slowly become more tolerant of the vast array of metaphors that are dear to people of all kinds, conservative or progressive. And since I also believe that people can likely best relate to a God who is like them or to whom they are alike, I think God as person is a supreme metaphor and consequently it plays a huge role in the life of the church, as it has for ages and ages. However, I have for myself become too conscious of the idolatry of the (logical) consequences we attach to the God-as-person metaphor. It is very difficult, also for me, not to relate to such a God as "really" a person. And for several decades now that has slowly begun to interfere with my being blessed by that metaphor.

I think only humans are persons and to be a person you need heart and lungs, brain and anus, nose and ears, etc., etc. Raccoons have those. But having these is not enough to be a person. I think that what makes people persons is lacking in raccoons. So for me, since God is never thought of as having the characteristics we share with raccoons, God is not a person. And since raccoons do have these but lack whatever else it takes to say "I" and to recognize other "I" sayers, raccoons are also not persons.

But perhaps God is person in its original sense. In ancient drama actors spoke through a mask and thus became the per-sona whose role the actor played. And we take it that anything whatever can be the mask through whom God speaks. In that way God is not limited to three personae because God speaks to us through sun and moon, sea and forest, desert and field, lion and ant, ruler and child. Panentheism encapsulates all this in a wondrous vision.

I certainly can find hope in God. I do believe that whatever is the mystery we name God, God is (the source of) love, life, peace, grace, justice, joy, and all those other positive forces that all of us yearn for and know would fulfill us, make us happy, give us life, etc.

Heady stuff here. But all of it is for me at the core of hours of daily awareness and reflection.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Experience of God

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by Henk Hart
"A garden, God's primordial meeting place." --Photo by Henk Hart
Many committed people of faith no longer resonate with traditional meanings of the word “God.” Some books written by Christians reject the classic notion of God altogether. This seems a good time for Christians to have focused discussions on who in their world God is. In the blogs I’ve submitted thus far I’ve shared my private and personal thoughts, in the hope of stimulating others to share their thoughts. Unfortunately, churches do not encourage such discussion. If they did perhaps less people would leave. This seems like a time to find God anew. Maybe churches can become gardens.
Can we talk with God? Does God hear? Does God answer? Can we know we’ve been heard? For many Christians God is no longer a specific personal being. They experience God as light, or force, or life. That way God is meaningful. For them (and for me) the questions just asked become irresistible, especially when we think about prayer.

When we reflect on this it helps to consider that when God is experienced only in symbolic or metaphoric ways, then it is likely that God’s and our speaking and hearing also need to be taken in that way. We can speak from, or with, or in our hearts in ways that do not specifically depend on speech as sounds made with lips and intended to be heard by ears. And we can experience God hearing us as an experience of gratitude and blessing. We can be in a garden (a classic place for meeting God) and silently focus on what surrounds us and after a while know that our hearts overflow with the nurturing presence of the light (God), that we are soothed and uplifted by the gentle wind (Spirit), and that all creatures address us (Word). Such meditative experiences can gain in depth when we experience these realities in ways that can meaningfully be translated as Presence, Light, Uplifted, Wind. The capitalization accentuates the spiritual concentration of our experience, indicating a hightened and intensified form of being with these realities as they point beyond themselves to their source. And we can relate this to more traditional language and experience by saying that the triune God saw our gratitude and blessed us.


When our hearts yearn for healing and we enter a garden, the trees, the blooms, the skies, the light, the rustling leaves can all speak to our hearts and direct our yearning to a power that comes to us in and through all these. When our hearts open up to them, they intensify their presence in surrounding us. Their reality is magnified. They can teach/tell us that from beyond them and through them, an invisible and impenetrable mystery comes into our hearts, revealing the power we experience as Healing Power. We can say we experienced God.


To hear God in the garden we need to hear the silence, to see the light as light, to feel one with all the other creatures and to feel accepted by them as one of them. In such a space a crow’s cry can carry God’s voice, the rustling leaves can whisper God’s comfort, the air can surround us with God’s presence.


Someone said: “Today is Sunday, I want to be with God today, I will not go to church.” Is God not in church? Not necessarily, not always, and sometimes emphatically not there (of all places). God will be found where our hearts tell us to seek/meet God.

Someone said: “Today is Sunday, I want to be with God today, I will go to church.” Is God in church? That Sunday God wasn’t.

Someone said: “Today is Sunday, I want to be with God today, I will go to church.” Is God in church? That Sunday the congregation joyfully acknowledged that God was there. But someone did not meet God.

Someone said: “Today is Sunday, I want to be with God today, I will go to church.” Is God in church? That Sunday people were upset, angry, and irritated because God wasn’t there. But for someone God was.


When or why do we say “God?” All things, all that is, all reality is found to be interrelated, in relationship, in contact, in touch. We can think of nothing to which we are not, in some way, related. When all we do is think of something, it cannot be something to which we are not in some way related. Our thinking is relational. In their interrelatedness things are mobile. They move out of past into present toward future. They move in and out of specific relationships. Whence does it all come, where does it go? Beginning and end are unsearchable. Who can find them? They are not visible, though they can be envisioned. Yet in the silence of alpha and omega we can, if we know how to listen, hear beginning and end, origin and destiny. Our destiny is hidden in hope. Our hope can reveal a mystery we can trust. In the sounds of silence we can discern paths to peace, joy, love, beauty, life, health, goodness, promise, truth, grace, light. Walking on these paths can lead to wisdom. In wisdom we can meet God, in whom we live and move and have our being; from whom and unto whom we are. God is a name for the deep well with the water for all that lives. We can give thanks for the ways in which the water gives life, and for the fulfillment of all that lives in fullness.


If God is all in all and all things to all people, the ways of God and to God are infinite. But we are finite. Of all the ways we can go, we can maybe go a few in our life time, probably only one. Recognizing our neighbors on their way is a way of living with God and cultivating our own way is a way of loving ourselves.


If the way we are on is the way of Christ (called himself the way and his followers called themselves people of the way), it will be helpful to articulate our spiritual experience in language rooted in authentic readings of Biblical texts. That will help us create spiritual communion with other Christians. Such authentic readings must have a “classic” feel, a ring of being true and revealing, authenticated by the text, affirmed by others and affirming of them.

This piece is part of the Ground Motive project From Henk's Archives.