Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

When I turned 50 I begin to realize that I cannot tell people what to believe or what to do. I look back and feel humble in the face of all the mistakes I’ve made and regrets that I’ve accumulated. But that’s not the end of the struggle. In the past 3 years I’ve experienced what I call spiritual desolation. I’ve made numerous heart felt petitions to God, those prayers that came from the depth of my soul. And again and again and again the answers never came. Opportunities passed right before me. I remember nights of pleading with God, pleading to the point where I just could not find words to speak. Pleading in exhaustion. And the lack of answers just passed right before me. I learn something within this period of spiritual isolation. Perhaps God does not solve your problems, remove the obstacles, fix the issues. Perhaps problems and issues remain and we just have to try our best to face the problems and be willing to face consequences. And the question remain, where is God in all these?

I’ve come to believe that there are those random moments in our lives where we sense that there’s something infinite, it is feeling of how small we are and yet we are a part of this Infinite Being from which we draw a deep sense of meaning. And we do not really know where our lives will lead. We do not know how God really works. But in those random moments, we know that we are a part of something infinite.

There is a second movement to this journey for me. How do we know that God is here when we face disappointments, and regrets, and our frailty as human beings, and when nothing is going the way we hope, and we are tired? We know that God is here when in the midst of these troubling events and struggles and mistakes we long to be an instrument of God’s love. In the midst of our pain, we complain to God, we beg God for answer, we request, we negotiate, we get upset, and there we are on our knees pleading with God to be an instrument of love.

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Over the past many years I have been able to witness lives of many people who have been through the reality and the complexity of life whether it be life’s difficulties, strained relationship, mental illness, terminal diseases, and other forms of trauma.  The one constant variable is the newly acquired perspective in life, the realization of the reality that life’s is really not in one’s control.  Many of taught me the importance of learning to manage this reality and find a space to flow. 

It has also taught me that in the end even in the midst of all that we wish to have happened in our lives, there are too numerous that remain beyond our ability to make certain that they happen.  We are left with the ability to navigate through live as best we can. But in many different ways it has returned as a gift of life, a place that invite us to remain in the present, to be here. 

I learn that we can not change how people think or feel.  We can try.  But those changes belong only to them within the scope of their decision.  We cannot plan life for our children. We can try but in the end they have their own lives and their own calling.  We can envision how we wish our family to move toward but the dynamic within the family has a way of finding its own path as well.  We do not direct although we may so wish so very deeply.  We cannot even make people we wish to help be helped the way we really wish.  It is up to them to interact with the very help we offer and it is beyond us to determine. 

So ultimately I think all we have is this capacity for compassion.  It is truly all that we have within our own ability.  We have that possibility to act compassionately.  And in this act of compassion we are not able to determine how people will act, respond, or interprete what we do.  It is the only thing we know deep in our hearts.  And our hearts may be the only witness.  It is all that we have and when we come to this realization it may just be the most liberating thing we have gained for ourselves.  It is all that we  have within our control.

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I personally believe that life is a journey toward God.  Events, images, symbols, feelings and stories that we experience in our lives are signs (and at times archetypal in nature) that guide us toward greater understanding of who God is.  And that our final destiny is to become aware of who we are in God’s presence.  There are numerous religious/spiritual/philosophical literatures reflecting this journey that one has to go through.  We see this reflected in Derrida and Foucault’s deconstruction, Heidegger’s movement toward poetic expression in his later philosophy, Chuang Tzu and Lao Tzu’s teaching about the path toward nothingness, and Kierkegaard’s rebel against Hegel’s Absolute Idealism.  Theirs were the necessary journeys toward authenticity.   Further the path also involves a clear distinction between finite and infinite where we come to see God as the Other Person, or in Kierkegaard’s term, the Wholly Other.  In these random encounters with God we have a glimpse of God’s kingdom and it is during these encounters with the Divine that we experience a taste of freedom and joy.  What prevent us from seeing God more clearly are the dark unresolved issues within our psyche.  As we are able to work through these issues, God becomes clearer and clearer to us.   There is a reciprocal process at work here. The clearer we come to see ourselves as we are, the greater clarity we have of God.  I think this is why, in my estimate, theology is biographical.  And to try to understand a theologian without his/her personal text is to miss seeing the whole picture. 

Because the unresolved issues often create hindrance to this development, greater clarity of God is often confessional in nature.  There seem to remain a residue within our psyche of those dark places of perhaps guilt, loneliness, pride, sadness, abandonment and complexes.  These elements are parts of who we are.  And the various plots of our lives are often dictated by the unconscious drive to solve the unresolved. The activities we engage in, the level of psychic energy, the choices we make, the extent of our rumination often speak of these places within.  When they are not attended to, they find ways to channel themselves externally.  And in these preoccupations, we confuse God with our psyche and we write our theology.  But through God’s grace, grace happens in people’s lives.  Grace is that sacred space that grants permission for confession.  Grace makes it possible for us to take a descending journey into the deeper parts of our psyche.  Grace is the pursuit of our bare narrative, a portrait that has not been retouched by us in our attempt to avoid anomaly.  It is within this confessional space that the fragmented self gradually comes to find itself.  And in this rediscovery of the authenticity of the self God stands before us as Wholly Other.  It is at this juncture that divine transference is slowly being absorbed by Divine Transcendence.  No doubt, it is a gradual process but it is a beginning.

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Every so often I change my definition and understanding of spirituality.  How does one define spirituality?  There are numerous attempts out there but perhaps the most meaningful will have to be one that speaks most meaningfully to us or one that we are able to arrive at its definition through our life experiences.  I used to define spirituality as the search for meaning in relation to Divine Transcendence.  I still hold on to this definitioin but lately there emerge other dimensions that makes me rethink my understanding of spirituality.  While preparing to teach spirituality and mental health to mostly graduate psychology and marriage and family students, I came to the conclusion that perhaps spirituality is what happens to us when we come to realize that life is sacred.  By naming life as sacred, I mean its value is inherent in being itself.  It does not need external validation to be sacred.  Sacredness is what it is in itself.  And spirituality is that place when we come to realize deep within our soul that life is sacred.  While attending a conference at the University of Adelaide I had the priviledge of hanging out with and listening to Ken Pargament for about a week.  The one emphasis that he made constantly was that for spirituality to be true to itself, it needs to reclaim the sacred otherwise it may remain just another good social science practice.  I personally think thereare numerous significant implications  to the view that life is sacred.

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There are many occasions in the gospel where Jesus affirmed the need for faith and praised those who have faith even in the unseen.  I personally want to see and touch and feel. And this call for faith is certainly a very difficult invitation. How long must one hang on to faith when we can’t see things happening? How long should we hold on to faith when nothing seems to take place, when the land is barren and the fruits do not seem to yield?  Yet in the book of Hebrew faith is that element of things not seen. 


How long will you continue to push and support and give and help and hope when that which you work for seem to bear no fruits?  How long will you continue to offer and advise and pray and beg and love and encourage when the nothing seems to change?  Will there be a time when you just feel so exhausted and discouraged, when you experience doubt, when you find it difficult to hang on to hope and move on?  Faith seems to suggest believing that something is happening and that which happened may be invisible to the eyes.  Faith seems to suggest that God is working and supporting and helping even when we witness no apparent changes.  Faith is just hard.  It almost requires that we give and continue to give only in faith holding so deeply to hope in that which cannot be seen.  Faith asks us to act and continue to act when the visible seems unchanged but to believe that things happen beyond what we can witness.  It is that calling to be that witness to the unseen that is happening and do not give up.  Hold on.  Faith is hard. In Bhagavat Gita Krishna gave similar advise to Arjuna.  We can only hold on to dharma through our action.  Let’s leave the fruits to the tree.

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I just returned from Society for Pastoral Theology annual meeting.  The last night of the meeting I had dinner with three very good friends discussing spirituality and health.  As theologians we all felt that often the discussion regarding spirituality and health have been dominated by social scientists (although great, there’s often something lacking).  The discourse is often, good faith brings about good health.  One of my colleagues mentioned that she was going through unexplicable pain and it went on and on and on.  After much prayer and meditation she came to the conclusion that she needed faith to move on with her life even in the experience of pain itself.  I became very excited listening to her because not long before I have had an interesting revelation about myself and my life.  I have struggled with low grade depression all my life.  And at some level there’s this sense that there will always be a level of emptiness and loneliness as a part of me.  No matter what I do and how fulfill life can be, that emptiness will always remain.  I came to the realization through my prayer that perhaps it is all about realizing that life sucks and yet one has to move on. Life sucks and will always be, atleast for me.  Not that there’s nothing fulfilling and good and wonderful.  There are but a sense of emptiness is often present.  It is like Kierkegaard and his awareness that melancholia was his calling that finally liberated him from major depression.  It is time to move on and live with the level of emptiness.  It is time to do something more beneficial and accommodate the fact that life is never apart from tribulation.  By moving on to a greater level of spirituality I am thinking about the Holy Grail.  For those of us who love Da Vinci Code, this grail represents the feminine.  Perhaps that longing the feminine through the touch of compassion, those words of encouragement, “the look of love.”  All these qualities are that which give us strength to move on.  In the conclusion to the book “He” by Robert Johnson where the author reflected on the mythological figure of the Fisher King.  The knight upon entering the castle and locating the Holy Grail has only one question that has to be answered.  And the question is, to whom does the Grail serve?  And the answer is, the king himself.  Johnson concluded that in life the one thing that really matters, that defines meaning in life is to ultimately serve God.  Reflecting on this story helps me realize that perhaps it is time to ask myself, to whom does the Grail serve?  There will always be issues and deep introspection in my life but one must finally realize that life is bigger than my life.  That one’s calling is ultimately moving beyond one’s deep introspection and engaging in tasks that serve communities, the people with whom God resides when God said, when I was weak, when I was naked, when I was imprisoned, when I was hungry…you came to me.  

This version of spirituality is rooted deeply in 2000 years of theological reflections beyond the world of social sciences.

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I started another blog “sirojdonothing.blogspot.com” and would like to invite those who are interested in the topic to join in the conversation.  This blog aims at engaging conversations on the profound wisdom of nothingness, emptiness, and finiteness in the way we approach life.  It is also an exploration of Chuang Tzu’s writings and his paradoxical approach to life and reality.  Victor Mair from the University of Hawai’i commented that while Lao Tzu is for the general public, Chuang Tzu is much more profound.  I certainly am biased toward Chuang Tzu and his stories are words that capture the soul in a way that are transforming.  This attempt of mine is written in “Do Nothing: Inner Peace for Everyday Living” which will be published by Templeton Foundation Press this coming March 2009.  So drop by when you have time or when you do not want to do anything or when you have nothing to do.  There is something about nothing that is much more profound for our life then we normally pay attention to.  And when we get there we will find a place that transcends the descriptive function of words.

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