The Pagan and the Prophet Series: Self-Flagellation is Not Contemplative Living

Opinions expressed here are my own, not those of the church I serve or any other person.

   Twenty-five years or so ago I read Phylis Tribble's little book, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality. As prose goes, let me assure you, it is as turgid an offering as you could ever hope to hold in your hand. As deep (non-superficial) thought it is a helpful transmission of meaningful ideas with brilliant clarity.

   At least, that is how I remember the book, though I cannot find it now. Ms. Tribble's basic premise is this: Biblically and historically, Christian thought holds that God actually transcends all aspects of gender, while inhabiting each gender aspect fully. God is Perfect-Male. God is Perfect-Female. God is Father and Mother. God fulfills each gender role, while surpassing any selfish gender needs.

   At least, that is what I got out of it. Like I said, the book was virtually unreadable. When I picked up a book in those days, I finished it, word for word, verse for verse and actually sought to retain at least the basic premise.



   Humor Alert. See above.

   No, really, it was the tabula rosa thing. The greatest thing I had going for me then was my absolute certainty of my own deep, real ignorance. Early in life, I accepted the vast abyss of ignorance where I made my intellectual home. 

   Along my way from the ninth level of Dante's Ignorato, to the fifth level where I now reside, I have encountered various pilgrims whose progress is measured in religious terms and, thus, is incremental and synthetic. Religion is not so very helpful in spirituality. Religion, it seems to me here at the fifth level, is a cluttered closet of used-to-bes. I keep hoping the old clothes in my closet will come back in style, too, but when the style comes back, it will be in new fabrics and brighter colors. Retro smells of mothballs, whether it is fashion or religion and the stink trumps the style.

   My friend RobRe wants me to substitute ritual in this series when I mention religion but I like ritual too much to throw it under the bus. It is religion that repels me just now, quite because it is so malleable and damns ritual, which holds its spot and brings value to that spot.

   So, no, I am going to argue for contemplative living and call that the Way. Religion, ritualistic baggage and all, is (or should be) about progress. If I once dwelt the ninth level it is sensational progress to have achieved the fifth level. I am on my way out by the (top-down) grace of God, held back only by my inability to incarnate faith. The human reaction to grace, faith is intended to operate from beginning to end, just as grace, being divine, is intended to function from the top to the bottom. Man does not generate grace, he receives it. God does not operate out of faith. God sees too much to need faith. God receives man's faith offering. God generates grace.

   Faith living is about progress. Faith ought to be taking us close to God; not less far away from God or closer to God, even, but close to God. Faith is not synthetic or incremental. Faith is that experience that pushes us to the deep end and demands we swim. Faith is the expression of joy that enables us to swim in the deep end. 

   Faith will not let us beat ourselves (or our fellow's) up about our failures and call that faith. Remorse may feed repentance but even real remorse is no guarantee we will return to the Source. Remorse and repentance are worthwhile as they intertwine inextricably and clear the way for faith to take us to the Source. Contemplative living is progress, if it is faith at all.





2 thoughts on “The Pagan and the Prophet Series: Self-Flagellation is Not Contemplative Living”

  1. Early in my ministry I felt the same way and did the same thing, although with much more shallow works. In a moment of clarity I felt the clear impression of God to put down others’ books and spend that time in the scripture. Only in the last few years have I felt the release to return to wider reading (albeit with an effort to seek out more scholarly works).
    Of course, reading large amounts of scripture challenges many widely-taught ideas. I’m still sifting through some of the things I discovered.
    Thanks for pointing us to the crux of the Christian life — faith from first to last, grace from top to bottom. Good stuff!

  2. Oh alright, except If by faith, God envelope me in religious fervor dare I rite God in earnest conjuration? What did Elisha with the Elijah stole? But tie I my tie in earnest honor Godward, I!

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