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Monday, March 18, 2013

More Pope Talk

My last blog hoping that the new Pope Francis SJ would lead RCs back to the universal church may have seemed a bit facetious to good Catholics. I certainly did not want to offend or claim that I know what the Pope should do. Just as I wouldn't dare to say what I would have done in his situation during the "Dirty War" in Argentina. Forgive me if I sounded presumptuous.

In trying to know a bit more (and perhaps revisit and revise my own RC memories) I read the Latin America Bishops Conference Aparacida document which he edited and also his lively discussion about that document. He uses a language which has become somewhat archaic to me; but I think I understand and appreciate it. The document and his comments show an openness to change and inclusiveness which I applaud. I am not enamored with the treatment of women and of priesthood as a separate class of holy men, nor with its dogmatic style. It still assumes many medieval trappings including its institutional infrastructure and absolutist morality. But I know we all have assumptions that need to be questioned.

We speak and know through metaphors--images that refer to and are backed by experience in the world, then revised by more experience and evidence, within a system of symbols or culture. Therefore when Francis and other Christians speak, I interpret what they say in terms of the culture I inhabit which is especially influenced by and expressed in the art and science of our post industrial era. But that is the nature of critical thinking, isn't it? Whether its criticism related to art, philosophy related to science, ethics related to morality, or theology related to religion. Interpretation and re-presentation is what theologians, ethicists, philosophers, and art critics do to actively further the enterprise of thinking and doing.

So I want to say to my Christian friends: in my critique I do not intend to demean, but actually mean, what you say--in terms that I and other members of my culture can understand and learn from. But I also want to point out the limits of your language and mine as well as the cultures which produce it.  That's how we learn and grow. All symbolic systems including all our institutions are in process of development in so far as we are. Otherwise they are dead and we are dead.

In every symbolic system there are blindspots. The symbols which we use to inhabit our world and achieve understanding of our universe conceal as well as reveal. We will progress when we apply critical thinking and transcend our words, teachings, institutions, formulations and our other creations.  We will regress when we let our creations rule us, box us in, keep us from learning, make it seem like we know or can know the "mind of God" (metaphor!).

The gods or God of religion are metaphors for valid human experiences and especially for the experience of transcendence at the core of our existence (more metaphors!).  In Catholic speak there are three dimensions to divinity: Father (Mother) or Progenitor of the Universe; Son (Word) or Progeny of the Universe; Spirit or Soul (Consciousness) of the Universe--all in one. Contemplatives and Mystics know that God cannot be known except as Mystery and Universal Love (and these are metaphors also.)

The most powerful metaphor for transcendence today seems to be "Spirit": Spirit of Love, integrating or Holy Spirit, Universal Consciousness.

In our congregation every Sunday we sing Carolyn McDade's wonderful hymn:

Francis I uses the Spirit metaphor often and seems to be saying in his writings: Let it happen, allow human imagination to progress, be open to newness, allow our present institutions to transform themselves, trust in our ability (god-given if you want) to live, work, think, and act together for our personal and communal fulfillment.

Spirit of life and love, you are already here in my own consciousness of myself in connection with all humanity and all creatures, with the earth and our universe. When we are truly open to or in touch with that presence, when we are truly here and now in relation to all that is past and future, all that is expressed and unexpressed, then we are intending and extending the mystery of infinity. And all is possible including our transformation to a just social order.

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