Archives for July 2012

Between the Lines: A Conversation with Dale Goldsmith

© Corliss Metcalf

We recently got the chance to talk with Dale Goldsmith about his new Brazos book, Speaking of Dying: Recovering the Church’s Voice in the Face of Death, co-authored with Fred Craddock and Joy V. Goldsmith.

Last week we interviewed Joy V. Goldsmith, Dale’s co-author, about why they wrote this book and about how we can best talk with the dying. You can read that interview here.

Dale taught for several years at McPherson College and at the Baptist Seminary of Mexico. He is the author of New Testament Ethics.

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In your book, you use the acronym TABLE to explain how to help someone die well. Can you talk about those points? How would you define “the art of dying well”?

Joy has been working with medical professionals in their efforts to improve care for the dying. A centerpiece of such care is good communication—open, honest, informative, and inclusive of all participants in the drama of dying. In that environment, she and her colleagues had developed an approach to which they gave the acronym COMFORT.

When we were wrapping up our collaboration in a summary that could contain the heart of a Christian hope of a good dying and the best practices shown in the work of health communication researchers, TABLE came to mind. It reminds the reader that talking of the dying and with the dying conveys awareness of the concerns and condition of the terminal patient by means of careful and unhurried listening. What is unique to the church’s ministry is its own fellowship and support—the body of Christ and the profoundly meaningful understanding and strength offered in the Eucharist.

Of course, the notion of an “art of dying well” is not new. The practices of the early and medieval church can be helpful reminders of what Christians should and can do today: prepare for the fact of dying long before that specter appears by acknowledging its certainty, imagining what it might mean to meet God, arranging for death, and including others in one’s final hours.

While moderns hope for a quick and painless death while asleep or jokingly ask to be taken in the moment of some supreme pleasure, such desires reveal a selfishness. That selfishness limits any productive contribution from the dying person to the world and community from which she or he is departing.

We include a variety of well-attested things that can further contribute to a “good dying”: medically provided symptom management to control pain; clarity about the nature and purpose of care offered at the end of life; the availability and presence of loved ones; the completion of unfinished business; the resolution of conflicts; addressing existential and spiritual questions; and a faithful trust in God to be the one in charge of dying, death, and resurrection.

We never suggest that dying is easy or that an “art of dying well” can be easily learned. What we have attempted is to remind the church that practices are available and that this ministry is crying to be offered.

 

Are there resources the church should use to help those who are dying?

This is easy: there is an embarrassment of riches in the church’s tradition to enrich the church’s ministry to the dying. In fact, it is this treasury of resources that provides the basic outline for the book Speaking of Dying.

First and foremost, Jesus Christ’s life—lived under the threat of his own dying—offers the example of how death and dying should be thought of in the fullness of the gospel.

Scripture is the next resource, offering the whole story of God’s creation, patience, and redemptive activity in Jesus and insights into the earliest Christians’ understanding of death and resurrection: that Jesus carried on his mission despite his awareness of his impending death, and that Paul was dismissive of many close calls threatening his life because of the more compelling need to bring the gospel to the world.

Then there is the vast, sweeping history of the development of the church’s ministry to the dying in sacraments, pastoral care, and practical advice. These traditional materials had universal distribution and were the support of the dying until modern times, when dying became a taboo subject and modern medicine inspired the false hope of avoiding death.

Also, individual Christians throughout the ages have left personal legacies sharing their own faith as they faced dying. We offer ten examples, from St. Paul to Bonhoeffer. While their stories differ in detail, they all placed their hope in Jesus Christ, Lord of the dying and firstborn of the resurrection.

Finally, the church accepts the secular offerings of modern science in symptom control and of contemporary research in health communication that can enhance end-of-life quality.

Care for the dying need not be outsourced; the church has what it needs to minister richly to those at the end of life.

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For more information on Dale’s book, Speaking of Dying, click here.

The Weekly Hit List: July 27, 2012

Just War as Christian Discipleship by Daniel M. Bell Jr. was reviewed in the July 2012 issue of Interpretation.

A subscription is needed to read the full review, but here is an excerpt:

“Daniel Bell, Jr. does a great service for the church, the academy, and civic discourse about war in this book. Dissatisfied with the way in which the Just War criteria have devolved into merely a public policy checklist for politicians in the modern nation-state, he invites Christians to look deeper.

“The church cannot abdicate responsibility for moral judgments about the justice of initiating or prosecuting war to the secular authorities. These decisions are far too important and central to Christian faithfulness to be left to the state. Therefore, he holds out the promise and possibility of Just War as a form of  Christian discipleship.”

 

Quick Hits:

Gary Colledge, author of God and Charles Dickens, was interviewed on the Pilgrim Radio network.

Part 1

Part 2

Living into Focus by Arthur Boers was recommended by Michael Hyatt.

Cross-Shattered Christ by Stanley Hauerwas was recommended on Mason Slater’s blog.

 

Ebook Specials and Other Offers:

July ebook specials are currently running for multiple Brazos Press and Baker Academic titles. All of these ebooks are at least 50% off (and, in most cases, 70% or more):

A Cross-Shattered Church by Stanley Hauerwas
Good News for Anxious Christians by Phillip Cary
Testing Scripture by John Polkinghorne
Power Failure by Albert Borgmann
Is the Reformation Over? by Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom
Transforming Conversion by Gordon T. Smith

You can read more regarding the special ebook sale prices at www.brazospress.com/ebookspecials.

Lectionary Reflection for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Psalms for All Seasons, commenting on Psalm 14:

Psalm 14, which is nearly identical to Ps. 53, is a wisdom psalm that exposes the folly and pervasiveness of unbelief and faithfulness, particularly the failure to acknowledge God (v. 1), human corruption (v. 1) and oppression (v. 4).

It culminates with a strong expression of desire for God to deliver and restore the people (v. 7). The psalm is quoted by Paul (Rom. 3:10-12) to demonstrate the universality of human sin.

 

A prayer for reflection:

Patient and loving Lord,
in a world where many deny your very existence and fearlessly break your laws,
we trust that you are God Most High and that you will judge the world with justice.
You are sovereign—we are not; you are holy—we are not.
Help us to see the foolishness of earthly wisdom.
Through Jesus Christ, lead us home to you. Amen.

 

©2012 Faith Alive Christian Resources. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Between the Lines: A Conversation with Joy Goldsmith

© Scott Dean

We recently got the chance to talk with Joy V. Goldsmith about her new Brazos book, Speaking of Dying: Recovering the Church’s Voice in the Face of Death, co-authored with Fred Craddock and Dale Goldsmith.

Joy is associate professor and chair in communications studies at Young Harris College. Her books include Communication as Comfort and Dying with Comfort.

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Could you briefly describe your motivation for writing Speaking of Dying, as well as what each author brought to the book?

I remember watching my sister, Pastor Janet, sitting just feet away from the pulpit—nodding in and out of a pain-killer-induced sleep. I was her keeper. Her caretaker. Central to my thoughts, though, was, “How can this church expect her to function in this role of assumed vigor and health when she is at Stage 4 cancer and so obviously failing?”

I also recall driving her from the hospital after a grueling day of blood transfusing, a result of depressed blood levels via chemotherapy. She was slated to preach that evening at a special service. I dropped her off directly at the church door; she was robed and miked, and she walked into the sanctuary without a minute to spare. This hospital-to-church shuttling could not be normal or good, could it? But it had become our norm.

After this service, she stood in the vestibule greeting congregants and hearing their troubles as they exited. I could not help but juxtapose this woman with the one who had been pasty and limp on her back during the previous eight hours with two IVs flowing into her body. She was dying, immunity suppressed beyond safety, requiring a blood transfusion, yet standing up and shaking hands with her needy congregants. There was no acknowledgment of her state, her decline, her dying.

But that was a decade ago. These events changed my trajectory in life. I was, at the time of her illness and pastorate, studying theater. Upon her dying, my passions shifted, and I became more and more interested in understanding death avoidance and end-of-life communication in America. My relationship with my dad, a New Testament scholar/pastor/academic, enjoyed shared ground for healing and grieving in talking and thinking about events in Janet’s church as well as his. We merged our thoughts and concerns with those of her favorite seminary teacher, Fred Craddock—living just minutes from me now in north Georgia. Our three roads somehow crossed at the right time and the right place.

 

What should one say to someone who is dying? Conversely, what should one not say to someone who is dying?

There is good evidence that those patients and families of dying patients feel disconnected from their communities, their churches, their world. There is also good evidence that understanding life events and losses is accomplished by finding meaning in those events. People enable other people to find that meaning. The great news is that we don’t have to know what to say or not to say. The bigger need is a deep presence with those suffering. Being there, listening, and sharing space and time are the loving acts that will supply hope, meaning, and connectedness at the end of life. Most needed is a mindful presence.

Typically we find purpose and cause in doing, saying, and acting. Once a point is reached in illness when there is little left to do, we can feel awkward, aimless, and inept. That is the very point at which our deep listening and presence can connect the dying and their families back to their purpose, their community, and their hope. This is the point at which our words and our silences communicate love that outlasts the experience of dying.

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For more information on Joy’s book, Speaking of Dying, click here.

The Weekly Hit List: July 20, 2012

Peter Enns, author of The Evolution of Adam, was interviewed by The Discarded Image.

Following is an excerpt of his response to the question, “How much value should opinions of what is orthodox or what is heretical drive or limit one’s consideration of new ideas?”

“That’s a tough question, in part because orthodoxy and heterodoxy are not always as clear across the Christian spectrum as we might like to believe. . . . I think one’s exploratory thinking shouldn’t constantly reinvent the wheel, but be in conversation both with the broad Christian tradition and with those who disagree on the basis of their perceptions of what that tradition requires. . . .

“. . . when perceived systems of orthodoxy are seen as unquestioned arbiters of new ideas, the truth is not going to be served, and therefore God is not going to be served. Rather than, ‘What you say challenges our system, and so you are wrong,’ I would like to hear, ‘What you say challenges our system, yet we assume what you have to say is worth listening to. We do not know exactly where this will go at the outset, but let’s trust each other as we take this journey together.'”

 

Quick Hits:

Psalms for All Seasons was reviewed by Worship Leader.

A Public Faith by Miroslav Volf was reviewed in Signs of the Times.

The Bible Made Impossible  by Christian Smith was reviewed on Lawrence Garcia’s blog.

Dale Goldsmith,  co-author of Speaking of Dying, was featured on the Princeton Alumni Weekly blog.

God and Charles Dickens by Gary L. Colledge was recommended summer reading on Her.meneutics.

Exploring Ecclesiology by Brad Harper and Paul Louis Metzger was recommended by Andy Naselli.

Lectionary Reflection for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Psalms for All Seasons, commenting on Psalm 89:

Psalm 89, the final psalm in the third of the Psalter’s five books, features two contrasting sentiments.

The opening verses offer praise for God’s covenantal faithfulness (vv. 1-17), after which the psalm pivots dramatically into a sustained lament about the demise of the monarchy and an experience of God’s abandonment (vv. 38-51).

In light of the foibles of human kings, it is significant that many of the psalms that follow focus on God’s sovereign rule than on human kings.

 

A prayer for reflection:

Faithful God, you are the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Your Word remains true, your love remains constant;
your plan and purpose stand unaltered.
Remember us in our present distress.
By the power of your Holy Spirit make us ready and willing to live this day for you.
We pray this through the power of Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

©2012 Faith Alive Christian Resources. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Is Christian Just War Just Like Jihad? – by Lee C. Camp

The following article is written by Dr. Lee C. Camp, author of Who Is My Enemy? and Mere Discipleshipand was originally published on Patheos.com in August 2011.

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Is Christian Just War Just Like Jihad?

When it comes to questions of war and peace, is American Christianity more like Muhammad or Jesus?

Since 9/11, such a question has seemed outrageous to many Americans. But perhaps the offense is grounded in some unhelpful assumptions.

Here in the Bible Belt, many argue that Islam is inherently war-mongering and oppressive, and that it is waging a “holy war” against anyone that refuses to embrace Muhammad.  Others around the country assert that all religions are inherently concerned with the same ethical core, pursuing “love” and “peace.”

Both these stereotypes are deeply problematic, and their assertions ironic. Consider the second one first: the assertion that “all religions are basically saying the same thing.” It is clear that the founding narratives, what we might call the “story logic” of Christianity and Islam, are fundamentally different when it comes to the employment of violence and warfare.

The Jesus story entails a Savior responding to the injustice and violence of the world through suffering love: do not return evil for evil; love your enemies, and do good to those who do evil to you.

The early church took this at face value. Centuries later, Gandhi would claim, “The only people on earth who do not see Christ and His teachings as non-violent are Christians,” but this was certainly not true of the early church. In fact, as the Yale historian Roland Bainton has summarized, “All of the outstanding writers of the East and the West repudiated participation in warfare for Christians.” Moreover, Bainton notes, this was a novel development in human history: “prior to the advent of Christianity there is no record of anyone suffering death for a refusal of military service.”

The Muhammad story begins with a similar stance: when suffering in Mecca, Muhammad counsels the early Muslims not to retaliate, but to suffer patiently. As is commonly known, Muhammad and the early Muslims leave Mecca, emigrating to Medina where Muhammad takes a role of leadership, and in this position of power, Muhammad permits retaliation and war-making. Moreover, retaliation became seen as that which would check and limit oppression. Justice, taught Muhammad, requires the brave employment of measured force.

So the very basic narrative of the stories differs significantly: in the Jesus story, doing good to those who persecute you is consistently taught and practiced, while in the Muhammad story, retaliation becomes an accepted practice.

This difference is heightened by the way in which the two narratives speak of vindication, of victory: the New Testament claims that Jesus was vindicated through resurrection, on the other side of a humiliating defeat in crucifixion. That a Messiah, an anointed one of God, should suffer such humiliation is what the apostle Paul said was “foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews.” But the resurrection was what we might call the “stamp of approval” by God the Father: this enemy-loving Jesus was indeed the anointed one, the Son who had obeyed God’s will. This “story-logic” might be summarized as cross-vindicated-by-resurrection.

The Qur’an, on the other hand, assumes that the faithfulness of Muhammad and the Muslims was evidenced in their military victories, especially when small Muslim minorities overcame military odds, defeating larger forces. This “story-logic” might be summarized as martial-power-vindicated-in-military-victory. Given that justice should triumph over persecution, given that God is on the side of the right against the purveyors of wrong, this logic assumes that military endeavor, undertaken by those who are doing God’s will, would and should win. In continuity with this logic, the Qur’an denies that Jesus, whom Muslims honor as a true prophet of God, was crucified.

These, then, are two very different stories. Clearly, on questions of war and peacemaking, the New Testament and the Qur’an go different directions, with different ethical implications.

But this is clearly not the end of the story, nor all that needs be said. The mainstream of the Christian tradition did not continue to reject war-making. Along with the alliance of Christianity and the Roman empire in the fourth century, the Christian “Just War tradition” (JWT) emerged. This tradition employs earlier Greek and Roman notions, and argues that war is always lamentable, but sometimes the common good requires followers of Jesus to engage in war-making. Even then, war should be practiced only for the goal of justice and cessation of violence, within certain limits carefully observed. The JWT became the mainstream conviction of the Christian tradition from the fourth century until today.

But it turns out that the Qur’anic and classical Islamic limitations on war-making happen to parallel in many ways the Christian JWT. In fact, John Kelsay, who has done perhaps the most work in the U.S. comparing the Christian JWT with classical Islamic teaching, calls the parallels “striking,” and maintains that a notion of justifiable war is “an aspect of the foundational narrative of Islam.”

So perhaps it is true that the mainstream Christian conviction regarding war-making is more like Muhammad than Jesus.

But there is even yet a more important question, which I think is terribly important in our late modern, western context: Do we American Christians even take seriously this so-called Just War tradition and the limits it places upon war-making?

Consider the limit found in both the Christian and Muslim mainstream limits on war: civilians are not to be targeted. This limit has been, in gross ways, ignored in the West. It was General William Tecumseh Sherman who in the U.S. Civil War popularized the notion that war is an engagement not merely between two armies, but between two societies. Thus Sherman burned and destroyed his way to the sea in order to “make the South howl.”

Ironically, this logic developed steadily in the arguments of Osama bin Laden: early on he argued that his gripe was not with the American people as such, but with the U.S. government. But increasingly, bin Laden obliterated that distinction: a democratic citizenry is responsible for the deeds of its government, and thus become legitimate targets.

This very logic was at work in Churchill’s willingness to target residential areas and burn German cities with firebombs, intentionally killing hundreds of thousands in their homes. Though Churchill expressed scruples against such wholesale destruction, he believed a higher justice to be at work, “that those who have loosed these horrors upon mankind will now in their homes and persons feel the shattering strokes of just retribution.” The logic leads, in similar fashion, to the U.S. destruction of Japanese cities through systematic firebombing of civilian populations, and ultimately the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The same logic led to certain U.S. diplomats justifying the economic warfare waged against Iraq between the two Gulf Wars, that according to the U.N. led to the deaths of some 500,000 children aged five and under.

So we come to a doubly troubling possibility: First, that the mainstream Christian Just War tradition may, in fact, be closer to the teaching of Muhammad than that of Jesus. Second, that we American Christians have too often failed to live up even to the ethic of the Just War tradition: we seem pleased with its logic that war may be justified, but ignore the limits it imposes upon the ways we fight.

Perhaps the question with which we began is not such a bad one to ponder at great length this September, as we grieve the violence that continues to mar God’s good creation.

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Lee C. Camp (PhD, University of Notre Dame) is professor of theology and ethics at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the author of Mere Discipleship and the host of Tokens, a popular radio show based in Nashville. Camp speaks regularly to university and church audiences and has served in various ministry roles in Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and Nairobi, Kenya.

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To read this article on Patheos.com, click here.

The Weekly Hit List: July 13, 2012

The Bible Made Impossible by Christian Smith was reviewed by Comment Magazine.

“Smith’s argument, however, is not simply critical. He offers a positive, even if tentative, plan for rightly dividing the word of truth.

While his main argument is that ‘pervasive interpretive pluralism’ violates the expectations that biblicism itself sets up, Smith appears also to think that biblicism helps generate (or at least exacerbate) interpretive pluralism.

Thus, his positive account functions, in part, to rein in some of biblicism’s more egregious results.”

 

Quick Hits:

God and Charles Dickens by Gary L. Colledge was discussed in the WORLD Magazine article “Victorian Culture Warrior.”

Stanley Hauerwas speaks on healthcare and dying in this The Work Of The People video.

James K. A. Smith, author of Letters to a Young Calvinist, was interviewed on Australia’s ABC Radio National.

Ben Witherington III wrote an article for Christianity Today on God’s grace and the gravity of sin: “‘Behavior Doesn’t Interrupt Your Relationship with Christ’: A Recipe for Disaster.”

Brian LePort has continued to write a series of posts on the “historicity” of Adam, comparing The Evolution of Adam by Peter Enns and Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? by C. John Collins.
Jesus’ understanding of Adam: the options” is the latest post in this series.

 

Ebook Specials and Other Offers:

For a limited time, the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible series (a 16-volume set) is 40% off from Logos Bible Software.

July ebook specials are currently running for multiple Brazos Press and Baker Academic titles. All of these ebooks are at least 50% off (and, in most cases, 70% or more):

A Cross-Shattered Church by Stanley Hauerwas
Good News for Anxious Christians by Phillip Cary
Testing Scripture by John Polkinghorne
Power Failure by Albert Borgmann
Is the Reformation Over? by Mark A. Noll and Carolyn Nystrom
Transforming Conversion by Gordon T. Smith

You can read more regarding the special ebook sale prices at www.brazospress.com/ebookspecials.

Lectionary Reflection for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

This excerpt comes from Psalms for All Seasons, commenting on Psalm 24:

Psalm 24 is a psalm of testimony that announces three basic themes: our world belongs to God (vv. 1-2), true worship is offered by people of integrity and holiness (vv. 3-6, see also Ps. 15), and the world should welcome the coming of the sovereign and might Lord (vv. 7-10).

It can be understood chronologically: God made the world in the past, is worshiped now by people of integrity and holiness, and is coming to redeem the world.

Thus, the psalm insists that holiness is the proper response to the God of creation and future redemption.

 

A prayer for reflection:

Creator of all things,
keep us alert to the signs of Christ’s return and attentive to the needs of your people,
so that we may live with joy and purpose and eagerly welcome the King of Glory.
We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

©2012 Faith Alive Christian Resources. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Being and Becoming: Learning from the Mystics – by David G. Benner

The following article is written by Dr. David G. Benner, author of Spirituality and the Awakening Self and Soulful Spirituality, and was originally published as a part of the Patheos.com Book Club in March 2012.

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Being and Becoming: Learning from the Mystics

Most Christians find the mystics mystifying. Their language often makes it hard to identify with them, their lifestyle seems out of sync with modernity, and their message simply doesn’t seem relevant to life as most of us know and live it. It’s easy, therefore, to think of mysticism as a hobby for people on the fringe of life—spiritual gurus or others seeking esoteric spiritual experiences. But this easy dismissal would be unfortunate because the mystics are surprisingly relevant to modern life and their message is much more practical than usually realized. This is the reason Karl Rahner, perhaps the most influential Roman Catholic theologian of the 20th century, argued that “the Christian of the future will either be a mystic or not exist at all.”

However, before we attempt to learn from this rich Christian tradition let me take a moment to clear some common misconceptions. Despite what you might have heard, Christian mysticism is not about seeing visions or receiving special messages from God. Nor is it the pursuit of enlightenment or esoteric spiritual or religious experiences. In fact, its goal is not experience at all—or, at least, it should not be. The goal is simply knowing—deep personal knowing of God. The mystical or contemplative journey is, therefore, deeply relational. At its core is a longing for an intimate knowing of God in love. There is nothing that mystics desire more deeply than this.

What the mystics offer us isn’t primarily techniques or theories but wisdom—wisdom that is deeply congruent with biblical teaching but which emphasizes the interior dimensions of the transformational encounter with God that authentic knowing of God involves. Although it is immensely practical and includes practices, this wisdom can’t be reduced to those practices. For like any wisdom teaching, it starts at a place much deeper than what we believe or what we do. It starts with ontology—with our being—and moves out from there.

Being and Becoming
The starting point of the Christian contemplative journey is the paradoxical realization that there really is nothing to achieve and no where to go. This is because God is already present and we already exist in God and God exists in us. All that is lacking is awareness of this most fundamental reality of our existence. But, even that awareness is not something we need to achieve. It is a gift from God and is not something we can manufacture. But it is a gift that we can unwrap and this is where the wisdom of the mystics is so helpful.

Within contemplative spirituality there is a tension between being and becoming. In terms of being, we are always, already, one with God, immersed in God’s presence and deeply enmeshed with God’s very being. Becoming is returning to this eternal state of being. It is being aware of what is most deeply the truth of my being and allowing this to become equally true of my identity. Consequently, even the metaphor of the journey is somewhat misleading. Of course, life is a journey and our spirituality is deeply part of that journey. But, it is not a journey of finding God because God is already present in Christ in my depths. If it is a journey of anything it is a journey of knowing—of knowing the truth of my being and knowing the transformational power of the life and love of God flowing through us.

So how is this practical? It is, in fact, immensely practical. It reminds us to relax and let go of our striving to know God—or our striving to achieve anything of spiritual significance. It tells us that the initiative in this relationship has been and always will be all God’s. Everything that God asks of us, God gives us. And everything that we most deeply seek is already ours in the God who resides at the center of our being. God having taken that initiative and being now fully present to me, my job is simply to open myself in trust to the God whose abiding presence is the very foundation of my existence. Because, if the eternal I AM were not present to me, I would not be.

Inner Space and Hospitality
The second important thing the mystics have to teach us is how to open ourselves in trust to the knowing of God’s loving presence that we seek. The answer is that we do this by making space for God. Christian mysticism is less about attaining unity with God and more about creating the inner emptiness where you can offer God hospitality. It is, therefore, more a matter of subtraction than addition.

This brings us to the important role of silence and solitude. These are not primarily things to achieve as they are ways of preparing ourselves to receive the gifts God has for us. Both are ways of stepping outside our usual patterns of self-preoccupation and distraction. They are ways of making space in the depths of our being. And the clearing of this space is our way of showing hospitality to the God who is already there but who has not been noticed in all the clutter and noise that usually fills that space.

The silence and solitude that are important are, of course, inner—not merely external. Scriptures speak of this as stillness. Think, for example, of the words of Psalm 46:10—”Be still and know that I am God.” Inner stillness is a way of communicating our intent to make space for God. Offering whatever inner stillness we have in the moment allows us to be present to the One who is present to us. And it results in a unique form of knowing that the mystics call contemplative knowing.

Contemplative Knowing
Any genuinely transformational knowing of God will always involve more than knowing about God. John of the Cross says that God cannot be thought but can be loved. Even though we will often feel the need to put words to our experience of the Mystery that is God, our words can never hold God. They may point in the general direction of God but that pointing will always be imperfect and limited. And looking at fingers that point toward God should never be confused with the ineffable mystery to which they point. That’s the limitation of words and of the mind in the encounter with God.

Knowing God who is love will always involve what the mystics call knowing in love or knowing through love. Love is its own form of knowing. We can be as certain of what we know in or through love as we can of any other form of knowing. In fact, it will usually resonate with things deep in our soul in a way that will confirm the validity of our knowing in ways that go beyond what we can ever experience with intellectual knowing. Some, therefore, speak of bringing our heart, not just our head, to the contemplative encounter. But we shouldn’t think of this as making space for feelings but making space for love—God’s love, God’s life. Contemplation isn’t thinking about something or other—even thinking about God. It is making space in our hearts for the touch of the Loving and Living God, and then allowing that touch to flow through the rest of our being—heads included—and out into the world.

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David G. Benner (PhD, York University; postdoctoral studies, Chicago Institute of Psychoanalysis) is an internationally known depth psychologist, author, spiritual guide, and personal transformation coach. He currently serves as Emeritus Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Spirituality at the Psychological Studies Institute, Richmont Graduate University. He has authored or edited more than twenty books, including Soulful Spirituality and Strategic Pastoral Counseling. Benner lectures widely around the world and has held numerous clinical and academic appointments. Visit his website at www.drdavidgbenner.ca.

To read this article on Patheos.com, click here.