The resonances to this particular quote are several:
The Easter experience of a young friend of mine fighting her second bout of cancer and she’s barely in her twenties. When she showed up with her head swaddled in a turban at Easter Mass, a well-meaning, very pious individual insisted on assuring her that ‘it’s all in God’s hands, but it’s a mystery,’ all my friend had to do was pray. And that’s when my friend lost it- out there in the Church parking lot.
Another would be my deep concern for another very dear friend who has pretty much isolated herself and is living through some pretty rough duhkkha- the hollowness of life right now. This individual too was a child of the Church- a long time ago, and has done rather well for herself- materially. Only her conspicuous consumption is getting pretty close to the limits of its anaesthetic effectiveness, and her ‘management skills’ are keeping us all at what I’ve been calling a dangerous distance in my practice.
And then there’s the on-going scandals and revelations about sexual abuse- both pedophilia and misogyny in the Church of Rome http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/12/us/12abuse.html?pagewanted=1&hp
The quote is from Dietrich Bonhoeffer's 'Letters and Papers from Prison' and for me speaks to all of the above suffering.
My haunting/wrestling/ prayer has been referencing this quote in two separate parts:
Jesus asked in Gethsemane, 'Could you not watch with me one hour?' That is a reversal of what the religious person expects from God. Humans are summoned to share in God's sufferings at the hands of a godless world. We must therefore really live in the godless world, without attempting to gloss over or explain its ungodliness in some religious way or other. We must live a 'secular' life, and thereby share in God's sufferings.
I admit, reading what might almost be mistaken as yet another rant about ‘a godless world’ and more particularly ‘God’s suffering at the hands of a godless world’ was almost enough to have me clicking ‘Delete’. But this was Bonhoeffer, an old friend whose personal integrity & suffering humanity go unchallenged in my house, whose ‘suffering at the hands of a godless world’ is part of the historical record. .
The cutting edge for me- once again, too often of late- was to find another ‘official voice’ of organized religion objectifying and vilifying God’s creation for their own ends. Yes, Bonhoeffer does go on to tell us:
‘We must therefore really live in the godless world, without attempting to gloss over or explain its ungodliness in some religious way or other.’But once again, there’s that distant objectification of God’s creation, and if that weren’t enough, he goes on to tell us we must live’ a 'secular' life, and thereby share in God's sufferings.’
Now before anyone rushes unnecessarily to brother Dietrich’s defense, let me assure you I am only too aware of the conditions under which the sainted man was writing- from a nazi prison, there for his heroic resistance to a godless regime if there ever was one. Rather, what I was so deeply shaken by was the implicit duality in the first part of his quote- both in its analysis and its proposed solution and the ramifications of this duality.
My reaction, of course is a reflection of the time in which I live, and so the weeks during which I have returned again and again to this quote have been as much as anything an expression great respect with which I cherish Bonhoeffer’s integrity. That said, however:
A godless world?
A concept I would suggest which is both an insult to the Creator and his/her Creation; possible only if one has reduced God to an idol; revelation to a time-limited offer, and Life itself in all its dazzling diversity to a static reality contained by the limits of first century c.e. understanding.
A godless world?
A dualistic lie implicitly denying not only of the living, active presence of the Holy Spirit herself among us, but of God’s love for her/his Creation- a love embodied most tangibly in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And just how much of this ‘godlessness’ is a self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuated by the vested interests of official religon ? A inevitable outcome of the objectification, not only of God’s creation itself, but more specifically of the transactional codification of the life of faith, the objectification & denigration of our sisters and their bodies, the manipulation of Scripture, the objectification and wanton exploitation of our universe, and most recently of the vilification of God’s gay and lesbian sons and daughters- all at the hands of those who claim to speak ‘officially’ for the Living God?
I would be far from the first to suggest that ‘organized religions’ just might bear an inordinate share of responsibilities for the suffering, the sorrow and the grief of God; a possibility which informs my understanding of much of what is going on currently in the Vatican, the halls of Lambeth and certain councils of Islam.
To quote another dear friend ‘the vested interests see it as a breaking apart, the ordinary person of faith sees it as a welcome, long overdue breaking-open.’
Which brings one to Bonhoeffer’s solution: a ‘secular’ life.
More us/them- a paradigm I believe God and creation itself has grown impatient with, a prissy conceit, objectification and inequal sharing of resources which life itself can no longer sustain.
At the risk of stating the obvious I’d suggest there’s but One life, One Creation, One God and one race- the human one, anything less is an obscene lie.
As one of the many hundreds of thousands of alienated Christians in this province very pointedly asked me recently- ‘Where’s the Church following its own example in this disgusting mess: confessing, repenting, doing penance- maybe even making reparation? South Africa had its ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission founded by the very victims of its ‘godless’ past, you telling me they knew better than God’s ‘official mouthpiece’ ? Sounds to me like the Vatican needs your Desmond Tutu to teach them a thing or two.’ If only!
But thankfully, brother Dietrich doesn’t end there.
To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be human--not a type of human, but the human that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.
Which I guess was what I was trying to explain to another ‘alienated Christian’ over Easter- that the real and only question is what we’re doing with ‘the one inescapable sacrament.’
Startled, she started listing off the seven sacraments of the Church. ‘And which one of the seven is inescapable? Baptism perhaps?’ she chuckled.
‘The gift of life, ‘ I suggested, only after a pause for dramatic effect, ‘all the others are detailing.’
This has perhaps been one of the most challenging, most interesting and most engaging Lents of many for me personally, which in some small part might be reflected by what I’ve just written. The errors and any inaccuracies in this post are mine, but the offering, at least in part is made in love and very real gratitude for the ongoing love and prayers – for the priesthood of two much beloved siblings in Christ- P.S. and M.W., whose personal integrity and passionate, prophetic faith are a constant source of blessing for me personally, and a wondrous, if underappreciated gift to our Church