My Theology - Anne Marie Lee - 30th Oct 01greenspun.com : LUSENET : Experience into Words : One Thread
From the Faith History I have written it will be clear that I have had to shed layers of negative and oppressive teaching from both institutional Church and society in order to reach the point of freedom at which I stand presently. The work is not yet over.
So, Who is God?
Firstly, God is neither male nor female. God is Spirit. By that I mean I cannot reach Him or know Him directly through my senses but I do know Him and I feel Him in ways which I will attempt to describe in story form. I believe that God is One, presenting Himself in Three forms, Three aspects of One. God the Father whom I know through God the Son, Jesus. I haven't seen Jesus personally but I believe what others, who have seen Him, have written. And God the Holy Spirit who I like to think is the manifestation of the Love between Father and Son. I have an image of Jesus in human form. Of the Father I have no visual image but a sense of infinite love, power and gentleness. The Holy Spirit is water which flows in and around us finding Her own level, permeating wherever there is an openness to her. For me the Holy Spirit is the feminine dimension of the Three since Jesus took on the male human form and called God, Father.
In the later half of the eighties I worked in the North Inner City, as a nurse, amongst the most wonderful people I have ever worked with. While I was there I had many direct experiences of God, if you like, catching me by the scruff of the neck and keeping me up on my feet The poverty was stark. Unemployment was very high. In the geographical area I covered only two of the children had made it to university. Most of the children dropped out before the end of primary school. Children's play in the inner city at that time was learning how to break into cars and drive them around the area. Six and seven year olds were doing this. Young people missed out on jobs because they had the wrong address, the wrong accent. - At that time there was no greenery in the area. No gardens, no window boxes. Nothing but grey graffitied walls. The tenement houses had open front doors and stone steps to the upper floors with an overpowering smell of urine in the hallways. The purpose built blocks of flats were no improvement. The area was utterly depressing. Many times I came back to my car to find a window smashed and I had to pay for the damage. But the people were wonderful. There was a great community spirit, they made light of their predicament and laughed a lot. If there was something they needed, even a piece of medical equipment, which they couldn't get legally they managed to get it illegally. Their resourcefulness was admirable (to me at least). Many a time I had to refuse the offer of items which I knew came off the back of a lorry. They were very good to one another and supportive in times of illness or distress. They fought hard too. They were all poor together. For many years I worked and lived between two worlds which had very little knowledge or understanding of each other. God was right there in the middle of all of it.
Through a couple of stories I can attempt to tell you how God revealed Himself to me and supported me in those times: In one large block of flats in the area the neighbours told me there was a man who could do with my help. He lived by himself in one of the flats but was quite 'odd', I was told. I had his name but he had no phone, as was the case with most people there. I knocked on his door but he never replied, nor did he reply to the numerous notes I dropped in. One day when I was feeling particularly low I was passing his door and I knocked, not expecting an answer. The door was opened widely by a man, about ten years older than me, with a broad welcoming smile on his face. The Holy Spirit in him leaped out and bounced off the Holy Spirit in me. That is the only way I can describe the electrical exchange that occurred on the doorstep that day.
He invited me in and explained that in the last couple of weeks he had been coming in from Finglas daily, to look after his uncle Jem. I did my professional bit and assessed the situation to see what supports I could offer, and there were many. Then Jimmy, as I came to know him, began to sound me out as to where I stood spiritually. He also felt the electrical exchange at the door and wanted to explore it. He had had a serious illness which meant that he had to take early retirement from work but subsequently he claimed to have been cured by a miracle. The medical people were puzzled by his sudden improvement in health and had no explanation to give him. Jimmy was very involved in the Charismatic Movement. For the next eighteen months, until uncle Jem went into a welfare home, Jimmy, without anything being said openly, was a great spiritual and emotional support to me. Through him God was reaching out to me. And I have no doubt God was working through me for him and his uncle. At least he used to say I was a God send to them!!
Another time while I was still working in the inner city, I was driving across the Stillorgan dual carriageway at a set of traffic lights one evening. It was around five thirty on a late autumn evening. The setting sun was very low in the sky and beaming directly into my eyes virtually blinding me. With no warning and for no reason that I could think of I had this very real and extraordinary experience of Jesus leaning down out of the sky and putting His arms around me in a warm embrace. Daft as it may seem, that experience meant everything to me at that time. It comforted and affirmed me. It lifted me out of the terrible place I was in and the memory of it is as clear to me today as the experience was then. What actually happened there? I don't know. What I do know is that God communicated with me.
There was a third incident in those years. Again I was at a very low ebb and I was looking for a way out of that job. A transfer to the suburbs where there would be less stress. I was being sucked into the depression, the despair, the hopelessness generated by the knowledge that my presence made very little difference to these people. I was wrong in that last assumption but only knew that in hindsight. One day I walked into a drug treatment centre which was in my catchment area and which I used to visit regularly. A new social worker had been appointed to the staff there and as I was introduced to her I again had that experience of the Spirit in her greeting the Spirit in me. At a later stage, when I got to know her better we had a discussion about that first meeting and her experience was the same as mine. It appears to me to be another aspect of 'Knowing'. It is a more profound experience than the 'Knowing' I have previously described. Again God worked through her to reach out to me. I am also aware that God works through me for others and I am usually aware when this is happening.
There are two ways God communicates Himself to me. Directly into my soul like an electric shock as described above. That communication is usually for me alone, when I am in need, whether I know it or not. The second way is the 'Knowing' experience. This is usually for the benefit of others and it is a prompt to do something or just be there for someone. These two I would describe as natural theology. I see people as part of nature and was delighted to hear Sr. Marion O Sullivan OP say so in a lecture she gave recently. Now, there is no doubt that I am influenced to some degree in this by what I have learned from Scripture and the Church, but that is for another time.
When God communicates with me it is as, one of the three, and in His Oneness, simultaneously. I talk to Jesus, maybe a little disrespectfully at times. My favourite place is the house of Mary and Martha when Jesus is visiting, but their door is open to me through Scripture and here I am trying to describe how God communicates directly with me. As I said at the beginning I had to shed a lot of Church teaching to meet God in the first person and address Him personally. The Holy spirit fills me and sometimes overflows in me. She is like a current of electricity which is switched on at a low level all the time and connects with herself in others with whom I have contact. She is actively there in my leisure, pleasure and relaxation too. When I am in the garden, looking at natural scenery, listening to flowing water, birdsong, music, and doing housework (which for me is more often a pleasure than not since I don't do too much of it).
The greatest gift God has given to me is people. I spent the first half of my life trying to reach up or out to something greater than myself which couldn't be found in substandard human nature, or so I picked up from those whom I thought had knowledge. Then I discovered the beautiful gift of my fellow human beings. Yes, sometimes we must dig to find the beauty but it is worth the effort because God planted Himself right in here among us and if I want to find Him I must keep digging.
"Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merciful Father, the God from whom all help comes! He helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help those who have all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God." 2 Cor. 1: 3-4
To be continued.
-- Anonymous, October 30, 2001
Just a thought on My theology A.M. As of now I work with a group of people in an anti social setting- a sub culture of anti social behavior, crime and violence. I agonize about the situation and like you I feel that much of the problems are born from poverty and deprivation I suppose that this can also be applied to much of the present world crisis. My concern is that we can begin to glorify and use this viewpoint to reduce reponsibility in the "victims". My car windows have also broken and I find it difficult to address the issue. While we should apply Christian values I feel we must be firm and strong in pointing out the wrong that is being done--there are hugh arguments on both sides
-- Anonymous, November 05, 2001
Anne Marie Lee 22nd Nov. 01
Tom, A word on your response to My Theology.
Two things struck me when I read your response: 1, That because of their poverty and deprivation we might be tempted to glorify these people and excuse their criminal behaviour. 2, that we focus on them!!
Some Bishop in Latin America said it is no sin to steal if what you steal is food to feed your family because you are too poor to buy it.
Gandhi said that oppressed people need first to own their feelings of rage and even hatred and be willing to fight against their oppressors. They need to be energised by their anger. Then they can freely renounce violence for a non violent alternative that transforms the energy of their anger into a dynamic and resolute love. (P.119 The Powers That Be. Walter Wink.)
I'm reading a book at present where a Hobo (street person) comes into a large firm of lawyers and holds nine of them hostage. He is black, dirty, malodorous, and carrying a hand gun and dynamite strapped to his waist under his overcoat. He doesn't seem to have a clear motive. He is not interested in robbery. He wants them to call him Mister and asks one of the nine what he had for lunch today and what it cost. When he gets the answer "thirty bucks" he says "You could feed a hundred of my friends for thirty bucks, you know that?" He then asked what their annual salaries were and wanted to know what they each had given to feed and shelter the poor of their city. None of them had given anything out of very high salaries. (The Street Lawyer. By John Grisham)
Those of us who have had small children will remember teaching them to share. Was this only for childhood, like Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy?
I feel poor and marginalised people are to be admired and praised for their courage and resilience in living life as they do. I am indirectly responsible for their criminal behaviour because I don't actively work to change the status quo and make their circumstances more equal to mine.
When they smash my car window they are expressing their anger and frustration and, as Gandhi says, maybe that is what they need to do in order to come to a place where they can take control of their circumstances and begin to love again. I vent my anger and frustration, when I see my smashed window, by bursting into tears and maybe ranting and raving verbally for a while. I'm entitled to do that to get rid of my anger until I can get a grip and come around to love again.
Very recently someone said to me that if I have money in my pocket and food in my fridge I belong to six percent of the worlds population. I don't know just how accurate this is but isn't it an horrific thought?
It is not always about money, they can get that by foul means or fair. It is about education, empowerment, equality, job opportunities. They don't want charity; handouts. Charity demeans them. When you give handouts to people you are telling them they are not equal to you. Instead, find ways to enable them to achieve their potential. They should have the same percentage of intelligence and talents per head of population that wealthier people have, they just don't have the means to explore them.
When we serve the disadvantaged we need to do so from an understanding of their circumstances and culture. Today a girl I have been supporting brought her NCVA certificate in pre nursing studies to show me. She wants to be a Midwife. She doesn't have a Leaving Cert. When I first started making enquiries for her I was laughed at. Obstacle after obstacle was put up in front of her. She is now twenty two, a lone parent with two children. She comes from a family where her mother is an alcoholic, her sister a drug addict with a child in care and her brother in prison for dealing. She had been out of school since she was sixteen. She did her study at night when the children were asleep. I lent her books and helped her with her assignments. She is thrilled with herself and I'm thrilled with her for getting through the first leg of a long journey. I'm delighted with her for sticking it out against all the odds. We are now going to discuss the next move for her. There is no point in providing courses for the likes of this girl unless easy access to child care is available and opportunity for evening study. Her domestic responsibilities must be taken account of and allowances made.
I feel I only pay lip service to Christian values and I'm not proud of it. We mustn't focus on the disadvantaged, we must focus on us. Don't ask "where have they gone wrong? How can we convert them?" Convert them to what? Our selfish ways! Ask, rather, "where have we gone wrong? What do we need to do to be converted?"
-- Anonymous, November 22, 2001
Anne Marie Lee. Nov.26th '01 My Theology: Continued.
I have described two ways in which God communicates with me: 1, The "Knowing" experience, where I seem to be an instrument in God's work with others. 2, Direct contact like an electric shock, where the Spirit meets Herself in the person I meet, or where She communicates directly with me. This later seems to be just for me.
In these two all I need to do is be open to the experience, and to be directed by it where necessary. Now, I know I'm not as open as I could be. I also know that human nature holds me back, but it is my knowledge of human nature and the experiences of God that I have which allow me to separate God from Institutional Church. It is like moving items around from folder to folder on the computer. You click on to an item and its ghost lifts off and travels with the mouse until it is deposited in a different place. God travels with me, accepts me where I'm at. He does this directly and through people. I think I would put these experiences into the sacred theology category. They are dependant on Faith and Grace. God leads me and I'm more than happy to follow. The Institutional Church pushes me, or tries to, and I dig my heels in. I suppose there is a sadness in me for people who cannot distinguish between relationship with God and Institutional Church. They cannot cope with the Church and when they walk away, they walk away from God too. In my imagination a golden thread - the Holy Spirit - runs through the Institutional Church from the time of Jesus and this is what gives the Church its integrity. It was when I was with the Jesuits that I began to have this image. They showed me a different side of Church.
Maybe it comes down to commitment. I heard a Pastor on a Sunday Service on TV yesterday talking about a black athlete in an Olympic Games. The athlete fell in the last lap of a race and was unable to get up. A man ran out from among the spectators, lifted the young athlete up from the ground, held him upright and walked him to the finishing line despite his great pain. When interviewed afterwards the athlete said his country sent him to the Olympics not to start a race, nor even to win it but, to finish it. The man who helped him was his father. That is commitment.
In our world there is a lot of emphasis placed on love and our need to be loved which is admirable and true. We will flourish if we are loved. However it is my experience that commitment is a higher value than love. Maybe that is because the word love is misused and misunderstood. Commitment isn't understood either and too often goes untried. God loves us, we are told. I know that God has an incredible commitment to us. Love and commitment go together but somewhere along the line they have become separated in the minds of many people.
Looking at things from a purely human perspective, there are people I am committed to but I couldn't put my hand on my heart and say that I love them. The Institutional Church is a bit like that for me. I don't love it but I have a commitment to it.
"Love your neighbour as yourself." This request gave me a lot to think about over the years. What if I don't love myself? How can I love my neighbour?
Being committed is something you determine to do. Loving is something that happens to you. Often, in love, your mind has no control over your heart. With commitment your mind is in full control. Commitment is what gets you through the dark times, the depressions and disappointments. It gets you through the times when you feel there is no response, no return. This is so whether you feel the issue is spiritual or purely human. (Even though both intermingle all the time and faith is involved too.).
This may not make too much sense but it is clarifying things bit by bit for me. Thanks for bearing with me. AM
-- Anonymous, November 27, 2001