Creo en Dios!

People often ask me why the title of my blog is in Spanish – especially people who know I don’t speak more than about 10 words in that language.

I did explain the origin of the name in a post I did during my first week of blogging, but that was almost six years ago, so I thought I’d share again the answer to that question:

I pondered about what to title this blog.  (Titles have never been my strong point.) I realized I wanted something simple, yet foundational.  And what is more foundational than the first line of the Creed – I believe in God.  Yet what I titled the blog was not the line in my native English, but “Creo en Dios!”, the actual words my lips form every time the priest holds up the cup during the consecration.  They have been forming those words ever since I re-read Thomas Merton’s Seven-Story Mountain about seven years ago. [Seven when I first wrote this – not almost 14.]

In Seven-Story Mountain, Merton describes what is clearly one of his foundational religious experiences.  It occurred while he was attending a Mass in Havana in around 1940.  The rows in the front of the church were filled with children.  At the moment of the consecration, the voices of the children joyfully rang out, “Creo en Dios!”  Hearing that, Merton was struck by a deep realization of what had just taken place on the altar – a realization of God made present.  The realization, he says, was to tangible that it struck him “like a thunderclap.”  He felt as if he “had been suddenly illumined by being blinded by the manifestation of God’s presence.”  His first articulate thought: here is Heaven, right in front of me.

Creo en Dios.  I believe in God.  Not a God way out there somewhere, but God present, right here, right now.

No brief description here can capture Merton’s beautiful telling of this experience. If you don’t own a copy of Seven-Story Mountain, you can read the portion to which I am referring here.

Forgiveness of Sins

At the final gathering of the Creed series at St. Thomas last week, much of the discussion we had following the reflection I gave on the final section of the Apostles’ Creed focused on the question of forgiveness. Although my reflection had centered primarily on our acceptance of God’s forgiveness of our sins, the discussion centered on the related issue of our difficulty in forgiving others. I’ve had a lot of things on my mind between now and then, but I keep coming back to this issue of forgiveness.

I think both the fact that we spent so much of our discussion last week on those three words in the creed and the fact that I keep coming back to it reflect the truth of something Richard Rohr wrote: “If you don’t get forgiveness, you are missing the whole mystery of God.” Whether we articulate this to ourselves or not, I think we intuitively understand that

Forgiveness is the great thawing of all logic, reason, and worthiness, and the primary way we move from the economy of merit to the economy of grace. Forgiveness is a collapsing into the mystery of God as totally unearned love, unmerited grace. It is the final surrender to the humility and power of a Divine Love and a Divine Lover.

Rohr suggests that if we don’t get forgiveness, we are “still living in a world of meritocracy, of quid-pro-quo thinking, a world of performance and behavior at which none of us succeed, if we are honest.”

The meritocracy/quid-pro-quo attitude of which Rohr speaks affects both aspects of our difficulty with forgiveness – our difficulty forgiving others and our difficulty accepting that we are forgiven by God. Forgiveness is not about desert. And it is not about justice. It is about unconditional and unlimited (and unearned) love.

And really getting that – really understanding it to the core of our beings – takes some doing. Someone suggested at the end of our program that we think about an entire retreat in daily living on the subject of forgiveness. Seems like a good idea to me.

I Believe in The Holy Catholic Church….

Yesterday was the final gathering at the University of St. Thomas of the Fall reflection series on the creed I offered at UST, at St. John’s Episcopal and at St. Hubert this fall. Our focus during this final session was the final part of the Apostles’ Creed, in which we express our belief in “the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.”

We began the session (as we usually do) by giving the participants time to share in small groups a little bit about their prayer experience during this past week. After that, I spoke about each of the elements of this portion of the Creed, which Pope Benedict (while still Cardinal Ratzinger) called developments of our profession of belief in the Holy Spirit.

Following my talk, we had a terrific discussion that covered several elements of these lines. We spent a lot of time on the issue of forgiveness – and our difficulty both accepting God’s forgiveness and being able to forgive others. After our discussion, I made some comments to draw the series to a close.

You can stream the podcast of the talk I gave yesterday below. You can also download the talk here. (The talk runs for 17:04).

I Believe in the Holy Spirit

Yesterday was the fourth meeting at the University of St. Thomas of the Fall reflection series on the creed I am offering at UST, at St. John’s Episcopal and at St. Hubert this fall. Our focus this week is on the third section of the creed, in which we express our belief in the Holy Spirit.

Fundamentally, to say that “I believe in the Holy Spirit” says that I believe that the spirit of God is present and alive in the world today; I believe that the spirit of God resides in me and I believe that the spirit of God resides in us. This past Sunday, I spoke about each of those, after which we had (as always) a wonderful conversation in which others shared their reactions to my talk and the material they had prayed with this past week.

Yesterday at St. Thomas we began the session (as we usually do) by giving the participants time to share in small groups a little bit about their prayer experience during this past week.

After the sharing, my colleague Chato Hazelbaker, who comes from an Evangelical tradition, shared some reflections on what this portion of the creed means for him. He shared some very personal experiences that help him afffirm his belief in the Holy Spirit and about what it means to say that the Holy Spirit is in us, with a particular emphasis on the way in which the Spirit seeks to guide (or “recalibrate”) us.

This week, I am again linking two podcasts. You can stream the podcast of both the talk Chato gave yesterday and the one I gave at St. John’s Episcopal this past Sunday. (Note that on Chato’s there is a brief delay between the end of my introduction of Chato and when he begins speaking.) You can also download the talks here (Chato’s talk, which runs for 27:34) and here (my talk, which runs for 15:15). You can find a copy of the prayer material the participants will pray with this week here.

Chato’s talk:

My talk:

I Believe in Jesus

Yesterday was the third meeting at the University of St. Thomas of the Fall reflection series on the creed I am offering at UST, at St. John’s Episcopal and at St. Hubert this fall. Our focus this week is on the second part of the creed, in which we express our faith in Jesus Christ.

What we, as Christians, fundamentally affirm here is the reality that we encounter God in and through Jesus Christ. That doesn’t mean exclusively through Jesus – it doesn’t mean there are not other ways we encounter God. Many of us encounter God in nature, in music, in poetry, in all sorts of other ways. BUT, however else we encounter God, the focal point of our encounter with the divine is Jesus Christ. When we meet Jesus, we are face to face with God.

During this past week, the participants prayed with reflections by a number of spiritual writers on this part of the creed. We began the sessions (as we usually do) by giving the participants time to share in small groups a little bit about their prayer experience during this past week.

After the sharing, my colleague Jennifer Wright shared some reflections on what this portion of the creed says to her. Part of her focus was on the ways in which this portion of the Creed elaborate on both Jesus’ humanity and his divinity. (She used the whiteboard to illustrate and I attempted to recreate her attempt to illustrate her talk, which you can find here.) Her talk gave me much to think about and I suspect I’ll post some more about it sometime in the next several days.

This week, you get two podcasts for the price of one. You can stream the podcast of both the talk Jennifer gave yesterday and the one I gave at St. John’s Episcopal this past Sunday. You can also download the talks here (Jennifer’s talk, which runs for 14:37) and here (my talk, which runs for 17:14). You can find a copy of the prayer material the participants will pray with this week here.

Jennifer’s talk:

My talk:

I Believe in God…

Yesterday was the second meeting at the University of St. Thomas of the Fall reflection series on the creed I am offering at UST, at St. John’s Episcopal and at St. Hubert this fall. Our focus today was on the first part of the creed: I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth. (As I explained in my post last week, we are using the Apostles’ Creed for purposes of this program.)

During this past week, the participants prayed with reflections by a number of spiritual writers on this first part of the creed. We began the sessions (as we usually do) by giving the participants time to share in small groups a little bit about their prayer experience during this past week.

After the sharing I spoke a little bit about each of the four declarations in that first part of the creed: that God exists, that God is Father, that God is almighty and that God is creator of heaven and earth. After that, I opened it up for a discussion, allowing others to share their insights into one or another of those declarations.

You can stream the podcast of the talk I gave today from the icon below or can download it here. (The podcast runs for 12:59). You can find a copy of the prayer material the participants will pray with this week here.

What Does it Mean to Have a Creed?

Today was the first meeting of the fall retreat series I am giving at University of St. Thomas School of Law: Reflections on the Apostles’ Creed. (I am also giving similar programs at both St. John’s Episcopal and St. Hubert’s this fall.) The goal of the series is to get people to grapple with what it is they are affirming when they recite the creed. Because it is the most widely accepted formulation of the creed among Christian creedal traditions, I am using the Apostles’ Creed for purposes for our reflection.

In this first session, I spoke about what a creed is and why having a creed matters to us today. At the deepest level a creed is about what I give my heart to, what orients my life. The participants also spent some time during the session individually reflecting on their current understanding of the twelve clauses of the Apostle’s Creed and sharing areas of question they have.

In subsequent sessions we will talk about the different parts of creed. In anticipation of our next session, the participants will pray with reflections from a variety of theologians and other writers on what it means to them to affirm belief “in God, the Father Almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth.”

You can stream the podcast of the talk I gave today from the icon below or can download it here. (The podcast runs for 19:25). You can find a copy of the prayer material the participants will pray with this week here.

Spiritual Maturity (or A Colloquy about a Heschel Quote)

The other day I posted as my Facebook status a quote from Rabbi Abraham Heschel that I excerpted from an article I had been reading about a new collection of his writings. The quote read

‎When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion — its message becomes meaningless.

One of my Facebook friends commented yesterday that the quote represented as “deficient and defective understanding of Faith, worship and love in relation to creed, discipline and habit,” observing that “[f]or the spiritually mature, the interplay and interdependence between these necessities is manifest” and that it is spiritually narcissistic to think one can have faith, worship and love without creed, discipline and habit.

As I suggested to my friend, I think it misperceives Heschel to interpret him as suggesting one abandon the latter set of principles to the former. Instead, I think Heschel’s comment reflects a concern with the rampant spiritual immaturity (that can be found in both the lay and religious populations) that elevates the latter set of those terms without incorporating the former.

Ultimately, my Facebook friend and I agree that, in his words,

There are two poles of spiritual immaturity, if it can even be diginified with the term spiritual: the infantile ego centrism that elevates the individual’s personal whatever to the status of supreme “awareness,” and fundamentalism, which also elevates the individual’s personal whatever to the status of supreme “dogma”. Both ultimately destroy not only the soul but a just society, and both do it by placing the individual above all else….[W]e see far too much of this in Western society today.

I think our exchange offered a helpful clarification. I think it would be very easy for people to read Heschel as doing precisely what my friend warned against: justifying the abandoning of creed, discipline and habit, in favor of something that has the capacity to devolve into narcissism. It is equally very easy for those who sense such danger to overemphasize creed, discipline and habit to soulless dogma. It is one thing to talk about the interplay and interdependence, it is another to avoid falling to one extreme or another (depending on our starting point) – in talk and in deed.

Fully Human and Fully Divine

Over the last several months, occasioned by my dialogues on this subject with my friend Mark Osler, as well as my plan to offer a retreat on the subject in the fall, I have read several books relating to creeds. The most recent is Rowan Williams’ Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief, which I just finished reading. Rowan, as many already know, is the Archbishop of Canterbury and a prolific author, whose writings I have often enjoyed.

Rowans does not go through the Apostles’ Creed line by line, as do some other books on the creed I’ve read and discussed recently. Rather, his book is an exploration of his fundamental idea that “Christian belief is really about knowing who and what to trust” and that “Christianity asks you to trust the God it talks about before it asks you to sign up to a complete system.” Williams is convinced (and does a good job convincing) that the actual central teachings of Christianity all flow from that trust.

I loved this book and found much that I will continue to go back and pray with. I already talked about Williams’ beautiful discussion of God as maker of heaven and earth in an earlier blog post. Here let me mention just one other piece that particularly struck me as I read the book.

One of the things it is difficult to explain in a way that people can really understand (beyond merely saying the words) is the idea that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. Williams offers a wonderful image to aid that understanding and it comes from the world of music. He talks about a great performer, a singer for example. When one sees that person “at work realizing a piece of music, you are looking at a human being at the limit of their skill and concentration. All their strength, their freedom, and you could even say their love is focused on gbringing to life the work andn vision of another person.” The singer

is someone who is completely themselves, free and independent, and yet for this time the whole of their being, thier life, their freedom, their skill, is taken up with this myserious, different thing that is the workd brought to life. The vision and imagination of another person, the compose, has to come through – not displacing the human particularity of the performer but ‘saturating’ that performer’s being for the time of the performance.

Williams invites us to imagine what it might be like for the singer to devote a whole lifetime to “performance” in this way. That, he suggests, is the way to understand Jesus’ humanity:

He is performing God’s love, God’s purpose, without a break, without a false note, without a stumble; yet he is never other than himself, with all that makes him distinctly human taken up with this creative work….When the early Christians insisted taht we could not imagine sin in Jesus, they were not saying something negative but something positive; there is nothing in this performance that blocks out the composer….

There is one agent, then, one living reality, God’s word existing eternally in power and playing itself out in translated form in the human being, Jesus. Two ‘sorts’ of life, but in practice lived in one flow of action.

Perhaps because my daughter is singer, I love this image as a way of understanding what sounds like a difficult theological concept.

Williams does something similar with other concepts as well, such as original sin and miracles. I also loved his explanation of “angels” as a “shorthand description of everything that’s ’round the corner’ of our perception and understandingf of the universe.” This is a wonderful book and one I highly recommend for anyone interested in thinking more deeply about Christian creeds.

The Apostles’ Creed and Love

Yesterday morning, Mark Osler and I spoke at the “Rector’s Forum” at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on the subject of creeds. This was a continuation of a conversation Mark and I had at a Mid-Day Reflection at UST Law School a month or so ago; Neil Willard, the rector at St. Stephen’s had attended that first program and invited us to present our thoughts to members of his community. Having engaged in this dialogue publicly once before, Mark and I were both fascinated by the ways in which yesterday’s discussion differed from our prior one; it is clear that each of us have continued to think about the subject, benefitting greatly from the other’s thoughts.

One of Mark’s observations was that he found the Apostles’ Creed unsatisfactory as a Christian creed because it does not speak of love. As he expressed it, love is Christ’s central command and thus, he could not be comfortable with a creed that did not contain the word love.

I have no disagreement of the centrality of love to Christianity. And it is true that the word “love” never appears in the creed. For me, however, love is written in every line of the Apostles’ Creed.

“I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” I acknowledgement my relationship with a God who created me in love – who breathed live in me and who sustains my existence with every breath I take. A God who fashioned me in love and through whom I find the meaning of my existence.

“I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord…” I live with the reality that God loved me so much that God was willing to become human. To walk among us – to model for us what it means to live a fully human life – to show us what it means to love.

“I believe in the Holy Spirit…” I live my life secure in the knowledge that God is with me, in me, always. That I cannot be separated from this God no matter what.

The Apostles’ Creed may not be a perfect statement of faith for many people. Indeed, if I were sitting down drafting a creed from scratch, it might look very different from this one, which, after all, was a response to particular events and heresies of the day.

But I don’t see the absence of love in the Apostles’ Creed. Instead, in its affirmation of the Trinity, I see a statement that is drenched with God’s love for us. And, if we truly internalize the message of the Creed, we cannot help but share that love with the world.

There are some other points that came out in our discussion that I need to think about some more, so I’ll doubtless speak on this subject again. The only other thing I’ll add here is my gratitude to Mark for helping me to reflect more deeply on some fundamental issues of faith.