Sunday, March 22, 2009

pondering truth...part 1

“But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” John 3:21 NASB

"Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive."Dr. Howard Thurman

Oh, I have a feeling I am in way over my head on this one. My husband even headed the other way when he heard I was having a theological discussion with myself. Nevertheless here I sit in my safe little space pondering some pretty big questions. What is truth? What is authentic? What is God’s work?

I am also wondering about our human nature to go for either simplistic answers and/or responses that are so convoluted there is only argument without conversation. I continue to be profoundly affected by those who dismissively reduce Christ to the simple statement, “All you have to do is believe" and imply the rest is gravy. I do not choose to throw the Christ-child out with the bath water, however, mustn’t we look at the paradox of life? Things (e.g. life, truth, religion) are immensely simple AND oh so very complicated.

So, what does it look like to practice truth? How do you or I define “truth”? Who am I? How can I be a better person? Am I a horrible person? Pondering the existential questions of life, can they all be simply answered by turning outward and accepting Jesus Christ as Savior? It helps – at least it can – and it can cause much more guilt and shame if we feel like we're not getting it "right." Shame taken on as being evil, bad people when we don’t measure up or feel happy all of the time - when the rest is not “gravy.” Does the judge come from without or within?

Today’s reading John 3:14-21 is about the light and being willing to look into the darkness. What of those who refuse to look inside, fearing there is nothing there? It is fear that keeps us from looking. Why are we afraid to look at the core? What if nothing is there or what if it’s all darkness inside? What if we think it's all goodness and it's not? Who is the judge?

“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world.” (John 3:17) We already do that for ourselves. Richard Rohr says, “Much of patriarchal Christian interpretation has been trying to avoid pain; it thought birth pangs were unnecessary. That’s why we couldn’t hear Jesus.” Sometimes we have to look inside and that can be terribly painful. It’s reminiscent of the pangs of childbirth. Is it easier for women to make the connection between life and pain? It is often easier to focus on doing and being successful (whatever that means) than looking inside ourselves. What if the real self is nasty and ugly? What if it is the depraved sinful self that fundamental Judeo-Christianity sells? Or...what if it is good beyond measure. What then? What if it's both?

John 3:21 offers, “But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” It all seems to be about defining what truth is. A few years ago in a workshop designed for personal healing I noticed that as I came closer and closer to remembering my own personal truth, I intuitively reached for the light. My arms raised of their own accord as in flight – a sense of being lifted from the ground – moving toward the light. It may have been a dimmed old light bulb, but even with my eyes closed I was moving and reaching toward a brilliant light. My own light shining and love flowing through me and out of me – permeating every pore, vessel, atom of my body. Filled with light. To me, this is eternal life. End without end. It is truth.

I have decided this will be a two part series...so check back in for the rest of these ponderings. In the meantime, feel free to ponder alongside. How do you define truth? Light? God's work? Authenticity? Other thoughts?

photo from musee d'orsay 3.08

12 comments:

hmmbrd said...

big stuff! I was struck by your musings on the simplicity tendency. I think there is a simple, everyone-can-grasp-this part, but there is nothing simple about us and certainly not God.I think the boiling things down to black and white, them or us etc is a thing we all fight against (or not). I agree this is so universal and so HUGE... The God we ponder is HUGE. the fear we have around this is HUGE. I would imagine that is why we grasp onto what feels manageable and also what a number of people can agree upon. then we just say 'okay that is enough'. we plug our ears and say "lalalalalala" to avoid having to deal with more.
All this to say, i think truth IS and our search is ongoing.

SUNRISE SISTER said...

This is a heavy duty post and begging off with a lame brain after "printing" all weekend is going to be my response for the moment.....I'm eager to see part II as well.

xoxo

lucy said...

hmmbrd--you make me smile in a very good way! the ongoing search...yep. there are some things i can wrap my mind around, but it gets really hard to try and explain them. you have done a very nice job here!!!

SS--you can beg off for now, but i may not print part 2 until i hear more from your un-lame brain :-) hope the printing was fabulous!

Barbara said...

Let me take a stab in the dark (pun intended -- I'm shameless!). Truth is somehow consonance with Reality -- capital R reality, the Ground of our being. I don't think Truth is something we can grasp or encapsulate or put into a fancy box with a lock upon it. I like what Hmmbrd wrote: Truth IS. When we live in consonance with our deepest yearnings, our hearts and minds are undivided. That is, for me, living in the Truth. I believe God is in there (somewhere).
I also believe God is very, very simple. But that doesn't equate with comprehensible. Ultimately, I believe we mortals are better with complexity than with simplicity.

tinkerbell the bipolar faery said...

I was borne of a devoutly Catholic mother. I found, as I grew up and went to church every Sunday, that none of those people seemed to want to look into the dark, mysterious core you spoke of.

I always got told, just have faith. No one made an effort to explain, or interpret ... it was the same old party line. Its almost like they're afraid to explore, or really make sense of things, because of what they might find.

Having faith doesn't mean following blindly and ignorantly, does it? I don't think it does.

As for truth, I'm inclined to think its the process ... or maybe that light that guides us. Its so divine or sacred it almost defies human description.

Tess said...

Firstly, thank you so much for the quote by Howard Thurman (who I hadn't heard of but have now googled.)

And I think there's a deep connection between what he says - the world needs people who have come alive - and this whole question about being willing to look into the darkness and emptiness inside. Unless we can do this, we cannot truly come alive.

Which is why so many church communities (especially, no wish to offend, the charismatics) seem to me like the Stepford Wives of the faith world.

What worries me slightly about defining truth is how do we know? How do we know when we've gone deeply enough, might we still be deluding ourselves with what seems like truth.

I think perhaps there are layers of truth, like an onion, and each one seems true at the time - pungent and makes us cry but tastes delicious when cooked - until we get to the space at the centre, which is where real truth lives.

And even as I write that, I'm aware of a lack of truth, of attempting to write a 'clever' comment with the onion analogy...

Country Parson said...

Great Questions. Hang in there. Philosophers and theologians are in the business of exploring the meaning of truth, and you have joined them. Or, to be more accurate, they engage in the search for the meaning of truth discovering bits and pieces of it along the way. I suppose that one place to start is to separate the idea of truth from fact. A fact is a verifiable, repeatable event that can be described, measured (in some sense) and relied upon to behave tomorrow as it behaved today. The big problems with facts is that they are always provisional, but for our purposes we can feel comfortable relying on them in ordinary ways.
Facts are one element of truth, but truth has to do with meaning itself. Is there a core meaning to life, for instance, that encompasses the all and everything of life's potential. We can read Pilate's question "What is truth?" in one of two equally valid ways. He could have said it sarcastically, as one whose political life has convinced him that there is no truth, only that which is expedient. Or, he would have said it sincerely as a real and troubled question. We all use Pilate's words in both ways. As a Christian priest, I offer the option that scripture reveals elements of truth, and most especially through the New Commandment, the Great Commandments, and the Sermon on the Mount - about which I can write more than you want to read. More later if you want, and you might want to take a look at a couple of my recent posts.
CP

SUNRISE SISTER said...

Heavy duty post and since you're not allowing the "lame brained" excuse - I'll give it a little go......truth for me is not about black and white, although I do like rules to follow and believe in rules. But the truth for an individual is formed by their whole life experience , what they've been taught, what they've experienced - each person's measurement of truth could be a little different but enough alike to their both agreeing they are human and exercising their will to establish and live by what they consider truth. (I suppose there are those who live by deceit but if they know they were living by deceit rather than the truth (like Bernard Madoff - ponzi-scheme man) then they would still be knowing the truth....about the deceit, I mean.) Light for me is all about spirituality, and my spirituality is all about God. I think all light and enlightenment comes through and from our relationship to God - if that relationship is there we may not always see the light but the opportunity for seeing it is present.

God's work - oh my, God has so much work to do that by the grace of God we actually do some of it! Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, praying and visiting the sick, driving our neighbor to an appointment, checking the dogtags on a loose puppy in our neighborhood, adding extra cash in the offering plate even if we can't deduct it on our taxes, contributing more than once and then again when asked to by a worthwhile community resource......authenticity - if we can do some or lots of God's work and do it without caring who knows we do it, perhaps we are living an authentic life, waging an authentic battle against doubt and evil....other thoughts - oh, yes your questions are provocative!

XOXO

lucy said...

thank you for the fabulous responses. i will reply in more detail soon. in the meantime, please take a peak at part 2 :-)

the conversation is wonderful! peace.

lucy said...

barbara--i adore your "shamelessness" here! "When we live in consonance with our deepest yearnings, our hearts and minds are undivided. That is, for me, living in the Truth." i so appreciate you bringing in the word "consonance". funny how the term resonates so deeply with me, yet i often look at things in terms of "where is the dissonance."

tinkerbell--i am delighted you have shown up for this conversation. you have much to offer. "just have have faith" rings the same warning bells to me as "all you have to do is believe." and no, i do not think that means going "blindly and ignorantly." i know (for me) it has been in the searching, questioning and pondering that i have stepped closer to the resonating peace that makes up this complicated and simple thing called truth that "defies human description."

lucy said...

tess--i knew this was the place to have this conversation especially since you live half way around the world! i am thrilled to introduce you to the "thurman" quote. it is one of my absolute favorites and in many ways was a catalyst for this particular journey that began about five years ago.

there is wonderful humility and truth in what you speak...and you are quite clever too! (the onion analogy is a great one AND i don't think we ever really get to the center...AND we DO get there for fleeting moments). complicated stuff!

CP--you have offered so many wonderful observations here such as distinguishing between truth and fact. i love your thoughts about pilate and how he might have meant those words. i also found myself wondering about your words "hang in there." do i sound desperate...like i am trying to hang on (because that is not how i feel at all)? just curious.

and i have been reading your posts (although i'm not exactly sure what health care has to do with this particular topic, but i could probably find a connection if pressed ;-) your post on "self" and its comments were part of this conversation development.

i'd still love to know your thoughts on why we might be called "human beings" rather than "human doings."

lucy said...

SS--so glad your "lame-brain" subsided so you could comment here. i love watching the process you go through as you begin to write (at least i think i see that happening...since that is often what happens for me :-)

wonderful wonderful thoughts!! thank you so much for coming back to share!! xoxoxo