Turning life around

 

At one point or any another, most us have, or will in the future have to, turn our lives around.

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There is no such thing as a smooth run in life, where we get everything right the first time. If we think about life from the perspective of psychology, for example, there is an understanding that we reach a point in the growing up process, where we grow out of childhood, and need to take on a new maturity for the future. In depth psychology there is a particular emphasis on this not just at the stage of adolescence, but in the middle of life. I had my mid-life crisis a little early at age 38, but it did help at the time to realize that I wasn’t unusual to be going through such a thing!

Leave psychology behind and think about the last novel you read, novels are almost always telling stories about a life journey in one way or another – and they are never smooth. It’s the twists and turns of life that make it interesting! We love be entertained by Drama, but we are sometimes slow to accept that it is a normal and natural part of our lives.

Now then, think about the life journey from a spiritual perspective. There is no spiritual or religious tradition that I can think of, that does not incorporate an understanding of the need to ‘turn our lives around’ at some point. And here today, in these readings designated for our spiritual nourishment and growth in faith, we have stories of people making radical corrections to their lives.

Spectacularly, Saul becomes Paul. The persecutor of Christians becomes prime apostle to the gentiles (Acts 9:1-6).

The Psalmist praises God for his delivery from sheol, from the depths of despair to new hope. From grief, to joy (Psalm 30).

In John’s gospel we have the story of Peter’s forgiveness for his denial of the Lord on the night he was betrayed, his restoration to loving relationship with Jesus, and commissioning at the founding apostle of the Christian church (John 21:1-19).

Then in Revelation, we have the greatest conversation story of all – Jesus turning life turning around for the whole of humanity (Revelation 5:6-14).

In the story of Revelation, the narrator had been weeping, because he looked upon the devastation of the earth and saw no-one who could repair it. Much like we do at times when we look upon our world. When we pray again for Syria, or when we are confronted again by a friend who’s life is in tatters. Where will our help come from? Who can save us from such a mess?

Then, the narrator of Revelation sees a Lamb who had been slain. A curious image if this were a drama set in real time and space, but apocalyptic literature is more like the fantasy novels my 12 year old loves to read. The Lamb who was slain is the Prince of Peace in disguise. The author knows that his readers will recognise the symbol as referring to Jesus of Nazareth. This lamb, this Jesus is worthy and able to turn the world around. The heavenly creatures and elders sing of him,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,

for you were slain,

and by your blood you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation,

and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,

and they shall reign on the earth.”

But note the difference between Jesus conversation and the apostles’ Paul and Peter. When Jesus turns life around, it is not for himself, and it is not just his own life. Jesus brought about a new era for the sake of people from every tribe and language and nation.

Jesus’ turn about, lays the foundation for Paul and Peter, and for all of us. Jesus turned life around – once for all. His death is a conversation of life from grief to joy – once for all.

I spent the week contemplating the gospel of John and Jesus’ three-fold question of Peter – Do you love me? It is undoubtedly a story there for us to see that Peter’s betrayal is forgiven and is therefore an example to us that no matter what we have done to deny Jesus there is a way back into relationship with him. It is also a story that is probably there at the end of the gospel to give weight to Peter’s authority as founding apostle of the Christian church.

But as I thought about Peter’s story I couldn’t quite work out how to say something meaningful about our stories that didn’t seem trite or sentimental. Then I returned again to Jesus, to the story of Jesus and noticed this very different kind of restoration or conversation story – a conversation enacted for our sake not for his. There is nothing trite or sentimental about that. Thank God – because there is nothing sentimental when we are in the midst of the darkness of despair, and hearing the call to get ourselves out of darkness and turn back towards the light.

 

Jesus lights the way. That is why we will pray for Syria again today. That is why I will pray for my friend’s tattered family again today. That is why I will pray for healing again today – because from the eternal point of view, Jesus has laid the foundation for a new story for life.

Bernard Lonergan on Conversion as Falling in Love

In one of my recent essays I drew upon Bernard Lonergan’s conception of conversion as ‘falling in love.’   It’s something that I intend to explore further and, if I have seemed a little preoccupied with sex and romance, is partly responsible for that intellectual adventure.

Lonergan thought that being in love was the best analogy for religious conversion because it described the type of total absorption of the experience.  It’s prompted by something wonderful (God) and draws our whole selves into relationship with that Being.  It’s more than intellectual, more than feelings, more than physical, more than conscious, and in the end, we would give our very lives just to Be With our Beloved.  Being in love inspires us to see the world in a whole new light and we become open to adventure, to wonder, beauty, goodness and the mystery of life!

This is the relevent section from my essay (read the whole essay here) – reads like a MTh essay I must say – big words!!

Lonergan explicated an epistemological method which made very careful distinctions in the process of consciousness.  At the core of his hermeneutical method he describes coming to know something as a type of conversion.  Unrestricted questioning about all that is ‘other’ is “the radical intending that moves us from ignorance to knowledge”(Lonergan 1973, 11).  In other words, we cannot know new information about ourselves as subject or an other as object, without the prompting of our lack of understanding.  We cannot become conscious of what we know, until we are aware that we do not know.  Within Lonergan’s framework, he describes this as a process of objectivising, that is, externalizing, our subjective knowing within which there are three stages of cognition.  He refers to this as experiencing, understanding and judging.  The first is the world of common sense;  the second is the commencement of theories or hermeneutical constructs; and the third is an integration of the two (Lonergan 1973, 93).  The stages are not experienced as distinct but rather the beginnings of the next stage evolve in process with its prior stage as previous knowledge begins to fail the knower as an adequate epistemological tool for their life experience.

When Lonergan applies this epistemological process he distinguishes between intellectual, moral and religious conversion: knowledge that is cognitive, performative and transcendental respectively.  They are distinct and, yet again, not unrelated.  “To achieve the good, one has to know the real.  To know the real, one has to reach the truth.  To reach the truth, one has to understand, to grasp the intelligible.  To grasp the intelligible, one has to attend to the data” (From a 1969 lecture. In Lonergan 2004, 37).  In most cases, one can expect intellectual conversion to be prior to moral and/or religious conversion, but, Lonergan argues, knowledge of God is a special case because God subverts the process by loving us first (Romans 5).  “As this gift of love animates and subsumes all other forms of loving, it gives intelligence a clouded awareness of a mystery, to provoke its own kind of questions and to lead to its own kind of answers.  The gift of God’s love occurs as something of a holy disruption in the routine flow of life, with religious, moral and intellectual consequences” (Kelly 2008, 11)

In relation to the recent research on sex, romance and long-term love which I’ve been blogging about, I am really intrigued as to how those universal human experiences might continue to play out as analogies for the religious life.  For example, the passionate romance of new love subsides into something much stronger, stable and secure over the longer term.  That certainly describes my own Christian life.  And a marriage that has lost it’s romance and/or it’s sex is dry and monotonous – which seems to describe the spiritual experience of many Christians who are turning up to church but nothing is actually happening in their Spirit anymore.  There is also mature (able to look beyond ourselves) and immature (self absorbed) versions of sex, romance and long-term love so it’s important to distinguish between a teenage crush on Jesus and a gracious love affair.

I’m collecting a list of authors to read on this subject, so if you have suggestions let me know!

If you want a general intro to Lonergan click here to go to Wiki.  Or you can go here for an overview of his philosophical work.