March 26, 2006

fear of god

One of our members (Zach Alexander, Quaker Anarchist) had (its gone now) a sub-title to his blog: Fear G-d not people. So I would rather he spoke to this issue.

Where I'm coming from is that scripture speaks of the fear of God as a positive as the beginning of authentic spirituality. I can speculate on the concept all I want. I can cite learned tomes. Experience is a tad thin.

One book: Rudolph Otto The Idea of the Holy (Das Helige). The entire book is an attempt to deal logically and in some ways anthropologically with what is basically an emotion: the sense of the numinous. What do you want? He's a German theologian/philosopher from early 20th century. The only way they know how to deal with emotion is write book length logical analyses with extended footnotes.

Contemporary spirituality wants us to see God as a close relation Father-Mother-Brother-Friend -- and the teachings of the gospels encourage this. But this is only a part of the story. The story of Annanias and Sapphira speaks to another approach to the divine. And while I'm not sure I fully understand it I'm not ready to dismiss it as contamination from more primitive religions either.

The numinous happens when we have a sudden awareness of how infinitely small we are before the majesty of God and how infinitely unworthy we are before the holiness of God. The closest experience to this I can witness to was one day waiting for a bus. A low lying storm cloud passed overhead. It was dark and foreboding and it was close enough you could see the edges seethe like they were boiling hot. There was a yellow-green tinge to the sky -- which sometimes marks tornado sightings. I was fascinated with the storm cloud but also felt fear at the same time. And not just of the storm cloud. This was an encounter with God as well.

What do I do with this?

See now that I, even I, am he; there is no god besides me. I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and no one can deliver from my hand.(Deuteronomy 32:39)

Blows that wound cleanse away evil; beatings make clean the innermost parts. (Proverbs 20:30)

The experience of the ancient world was that healing was painful. And in healing the spirit wounding the spirit may very well be the first stage of growth. Spirituality in traditional mystical literature speaks of three stages: purgation: getting rid of the spiritual toxins (sins) -- exposing them and abandoning them; illumination: growing in virtues and enlightenment; union: union with God.

Dante went through the inferno, and then purgatorio, before getting to paradisio. With the exception of those fundamentalist folks stuck on the Purgative Way -- with the mea cuplas and the Jesus save mes -- most moderns want the illumination and the union without the purgation. You can't get a rotten tooth yanked without being well dosed with novacaine and laughing gas.

So we have these warm fuzzy experiences and call this the presence of God. And this may very well be so. But when we have those negative fearsome experiences. God is there too. Closer than hands and feet, but also wholly other and Holy Other and what do we do? Turn on the stereo. Have another beer. That image of God is pathological now. And instead of inspiring us to deeper spiritual life -- it drives us deeper into sin and what Pascal called divertiment -- escapes.

Rudolph Otto is out of print. Modern day spiritual directors light scented candles to make us feel welcomed by God's holy spirit. I may be mourning a spirituality I never have had. And can never claim for myself.

I do not have answers here. I only sense I'm asking questions in an area others on the spiritual path aren't asking.


At 7:42 a.m., Blogger david said...

It occurred to me after writing this that I could have said it all very simply. There are two fundamental responses to God: a sense of awe and separation and a sense of warmth and intimacy. Traditional Christian and biblical witness seems to say you start with awe and end in intimacy. Older rule-bound spiritualities get stuck in awe; contemporary spiritualities seem to seek intimacy without awe.

Two other things we have gained in modern spirituality. 1) The importance of a non-judging support group for our spiritual walk; 2) The understanding of things like the grieving process for understanding the changes we go through as we grow spiritually.

We give up to make room for the new I suppose.

At 1:09 p.m., Blogger crystal said...

St. Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises have those three parts too - purgative, illuminative and unitive. The weeks of purging are very uncomfortable (at least for me) - he has one meditation where you contemplate the lost souls in hell! :-)

I do feel the "awe" sometimes. Once a had an experience kind of like your storm cloud experience. God seemed right in front of me, and he as dangerous as a live wire ... not angry or mean, but so rawly powerful that it was scary.

At 1:26 p.m., Blogger Serinah said...

The post spoke to my heart. Maybe your thoughts and questions were meant for rational reflections, I don`t know. It did not make me think, it made me feel that Im not alone. Even if I misunderstood your point, the ideas are out there. I`m not alone.

I have too, always thought that when ppl start their journey with god there is fear and awe and the intimacy comes later. For me it was not like this. I`ve always had intimacy and fear. But since I discovered the awe and my love for God something went missing and I have been puzzled by question what it was.

Your thoughts helped to clear some disturbing clouds away from over my head. I know it is not the intimacy I`m missing, at least not the kind of I`ve had in the past, I`ve simply outgrown that feeling, but I`m convinced that finding your blog is an answr for my prayers. In a way, `cause I rearely speak in words to him. Just seems pointless.

I`m not really sure if it was so well related to what you was really saying in your post but I felt the need to respond.

I think I`ve bee looking for believers who are not giving simple answers. I don`t have this kind of ppl around me and certainly not in my church. I need to find them elsewhere.

At 2:49 p.m., Blogger david said...

hello Serina. and welcome. I hope you find this place helpful.

what sort of church do you go to in Estonia? and what's a butt monkey (and do i want to know?)

and I like buffy the vampire slayer too. though when i wrote fanfic it tended to be trekkie.

At 3:19 p.m., Blogger Serinah said...

I go to a small freechurch.
and no, you don't want to know about the monkey. ;)

I started blogging to let the steam out, so there's alot of rubbish on the blog. There's 2 options: I either forget about the it in a while or change into rational being again. Right now, I don't want to be.

You've wrote Buffy fanfic? Great! I like this place already. :)

We have derived from the original post, haven't we? Sry. :)

At 9:21 p.m., Blogger anonymous julie said...

There are two fundamental responses to God: a sense of awe and separation and a sense of warmth and intimacy. Traditional Christian and biblical witness seems to say you start with awe and end in intimacy.

Seems that people tend to either/or when what's needed is both-and. Remembering our unworthiness puts the awesomeness of Grace and intimacy into a meaningful perspective rather than an entitlement one.


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