Toorak Uniting Church

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Inner Being, Outer Space

Psalm 139: 1 – 6, 13 – 18
Rev. Dr Christopher Page
15 January 2012

Throughout Christian history the idea of intimacy with what we name as God has dominated much of our thought. The Christian view of God, which finds its roots in the Jewish experience, is of a divine connection, a relationship with the creator, the redeemer and the sustainer of life. Of course it is quite erroneous to suggest that the Old Testament God is a God of wrath, and the New Testament God, the God of Jesus is a God of love. Just a brief reading of the Psalms alone with put flight to that point of view. While many of the images and names given to God in the Biblical narrative are decidedly anthropomorphic, (human qualities and characteristics,) nevertheless, using familiar language is a legitimate way to express our deepest feelings and the desire in the human heart for a relationship with the very source of life itself.

The Psalm that was read a little earlier has to be one of the highpoints in the human struggle to find words that express intimacy and closeness with the divine. Let me read it:

You have searched me and you know me, O Lord.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am wonderfully made;
    your works are awe inspiring, I know that full well.
I was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. (Psalm 139)

The poet is not saying that God is some eye in the sky, watching to make sure you follow the rules and don’t mess up. Nor is this God searching for human foibles or failures. On the contrary. This is a psalm that places the creative spirit of life, at the centre of life, but most importantly, at the centre of my Life.

Sometimes modern theology can often be critical of the individual or personal experiences of my life. There can be an over emphasis on the collective, or the community, at the expense of my unique way of seeing the world. Of course some of us have such a unique way of seeing the world that we probably need to listen more carefully to the views of others and perhaps modify our own views a bit. But I am a real believer in trusting your own inner being and being aware of the personal, particularly when we talk about relationships

There is in fact a philosophical school called Personalism? It celebrates the uniqueness of a human person and recognizes that we all have a sense of self, of who we are. We have consciousness and are aware of our inner life, our motivations and our actions. We are eye witnesses to own selves.

Falling in Love
But you know I have an even more specific and practical way of knowing that I am aware of my life and my experience of life and that I want my life to be connected intimately with others, the world and the source of all life we call God. You know how I know? I have loved and I have been loved.

Have you ever fallen in love? How many times says someone! It may have been a romantic experience where you fell head over heels for someone. For me it was my first girl-friend – well my wife of course that goes without saying, but a little earlier in my life it was "Jennifer Rivers," (name changed to protect the innocent!) Oh dear, that first flush of love. Somehow it was a mingling of longing, fear, excitement, anticipation and a dozen other feels and emotions. Oh how that 15 year old broke my heart! Enough!

Interestingly, one of the great Jungian analysts’ Robert A Johnson, said that romantic love is a primal religious experience and that it is both a form of revelation and even an experience of rapture. It mimics what Johnson says is the great quest for a connection with God. Our hearts desire is to fall in love with the one who graces our life and makes our life larger than we thought it could be.

Of course it could also being looking into the eyes of a child, a grandchild or a niece of nephew. Love is born and nourished and nurtured in our relationships. Or even falling in love with life itself. The sunrise, the sunset, the starry night, or the afternoon thunder storm. All show the beauty, wonder and sheer power of the universe in which we live and it can evoke in us a deep connection that can shape and reshape our lives.

Each of the experiences I have mentioned find their meaning in the over used word - love. That was what the Psalmist was attempting to communicate in his poem, his hymn of God’s intimacy with us, me a human being.

You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

And I think that’s what is central to our understanding of the world in which we live. That it is all about love. Perhaps it is not the right word to use when we are referring to our relationship with the universe, I don’t know, but I can’t at this point in my life, find any word that is better.

Over the summer break, I had a chance to read a couple of books and one of them was John Haught’s, Making Sense of Evolution: Darwin God and the Drama of Life. The book is an attempt to marry the theory of evolution to our new emerging Christian theology. Not an easy task, but vital for the future of Christian faith. What I found fascinating among other things, was the language that Haught used to bring these two ways of being in the world together. He wrote about the drama and narrative, and the story of evolution. But also he imaged the world emerging through the evolutionary process from and into what he called, "the persuasive love of God." I am not really doing the justice to what he wrote, nevertheless I found it enthralling and engaging, even captivating, this idea of the pervasive movement of love in and through the universe. Here’s a brief quote:

"From a Christian theological point of view, life and evolution are the universe’s response to the presence and promise of divine persuasive love. Life is the story of a divinely inspired struggle by creation to realize something of great and ever-lasting consequence: the transformation of the universe, and human existence along with it, in to the dwelling place of God…"

For Haught this is not the "God up there" of early Christian doctrine. Nor is it the "God out there" This God is mystery and while beyond human comprehension, well at least as this point in the evolutionary tale, is still intimately connected and involved in the life of our world and in my life. A God that is all encompassing and all pervasive in life, not just human life, but the life of the universe.

At this stage in our human consciousness it is probably only poetry and the imagination that can take us forward on this journey. That’s why this psalm about our inner being resinates not just with the world view of 3,000 years ago but with our contemporary way of looking at the world.

your works are awe inspiring, I know that full well.
    I was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

While this is still maybe the language of the pre-scientific world it translates into our world with poetic imagination. And it is the language of the heart – the language of intimacy and love, that which we still crave even today in the modern world.

Michael Leunig’s poem Love is born in Dark Places, while very different arrives at a similar place to that of the psalmist:

Love is born
With a dark and troubled face
When hope is dead
And in the most unlikely place
Love is born:
Love is always born."

Inner Being and Outer Space
While this psalm speaks mainly of the intimate connection between the divine and inner human life, being knit together in my mother’s womb, it also hints at that larger world, beyond my mother’s womb and beyond my world. George Stuart in the hymn that we began our service with expresses this quite well:

Outer space and inner being
Both have secrets they conceal.
Galaxies so grimly awesome,
Deep emotions that we feel –
All in God are judged as sacred;
It is God they all reveal.

A healthy and whole person is not only connected to the sacred within, they are also connected to the sacred without – connected to the world, to the universe. Again for John Haugth’s book:

Most traditional and modern and contemporary theologies and spiritualties have failed to connect human life to what is going on in the universe…

We can participate in the great work of creation because it continues today. And that work is all about love. We respond to God who is not, up there, but rather, up ahead. God drawing us into a new way of being in our own lives and the lives of future generations that are yet to come and in the life of the universe.

© Rev. Dr Christopher Page, 2012

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