Friday, August 18, 2006

The Thin Places

I'm still working on reading N.T. Wright's Simply Christian, which is a great, great book. In the chapter on God, Wright discusses God's presence and some of the ways that people have thought about it from pantheism and panentheism (God in and a part of everything) to Platonistic dualism (We are here; God is up there somewhere and until death, never the twain shall meet). His consideration is a dimensional one. God exists in His dimension and we in ours, but occasionally the line between the two is thinner than at other times. It is at these times that we know God's Presence.

Wright's predominant times for these are during the church sacraments (Communion/Eucharist, Baptism, etc). I'm comfortable with that and that idea, but I'm not comfortable with limiting God's presence to those times, or rather, our awareness of that presence. These thin places occur within our everyday walks, as well as those special occasions, whether sacramentally or the birth of a child or being dumbstruck by the grandeur of nature.

I think we must be on the lookout for these times to prepare and plan for them, but also realize that they will take us by surprise as well. Those wonderful times when tears spring to our eyes unbidden, when the barrier between heaven and earth is so thin that the beautiful presence of God breaks through in wondrous ways.

5 comments:

Thomas+ said...

Hey Phil,

Of course I would agree with you that God can (and does) meet us any time, anywhere, and that we can in no way limit God to specific moments that we have predefined. No doubt, no debate.

The difference, though, with the Sacraments (especially the Big 2) is that we believe God's grace is definitley conferred, regardless of what my experience happens to be.

So, in your excellent examples, the difference between "normal" time and "thin" time is my emotional recognition of the sacredness of the moment. But, in our theological system (Tom and I are Anglican, and we come from a reformed catholic theology), the place is "thin" because God says it is so. We believe that when we do our part by obeying Jesus' direct commandment to perform a physical act (baptize and celebrate communion), that God backs this act up through the power of His Holy Spirit.

So, there is not question whether or not the baptism or communion "counts," no question as to whether or not I have met God, even if I don't know with my head or feel with my emotions that I have met Him. He has met me in a place often to deep for my words, tears or thoughts.

While you may or may not disagree with this theological notion, I hope this helps (a tiny bit) to explain what he is saying.

Phil said...

Thomas, when I wrote this on Friday, I almost entitled it "To Thomas"...

What is sounds like you're saying is that God confers His presence during the Sacrements regardless of the state of the person participating in them. Would that be a correct interpretation?

Thomas+ said...

In response to Phil's question: God doesn't just confer his "presence," he is always more present than we are. He confers his grace. He confers his grace in baptism and communion regardless of the intention, thoughts, or ideas of the ministers.

Regarding the recipient, grace is conferred, but the grace must be received by faith if it is to have a healthy effect. So, if you don't receive communion by faith, recognizing the Body of Christ, then you may end up eating your own condemnation (in the Bible!)

The point about the minister is a foundational theological point of the early church, going back to the Donatist controversy. In fact, just for fun, here is the 26th of the 39 Articles of Religion (a foundational element of Anglican thought):

XXVI. Of the Unworthiness of the Ministers, which hinders not the effect of the Sacraments.
Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ’s, and do minister by his commission
and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving
the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness,
nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith, and rightly, do receive the
Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ’s institution and
promise, although they be ministered by evil men.
Nevertheless, it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that inquiry be made of evil
Ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and
finally, being found guilty, by just judgment be deposed.

DJG said...

I am reading this book now too. I am finally in chapter seven. I am loving it, but can't seem to find the time to read!

Phil said...

I don't think I disagree at all. In fact, I like the point that God's presence can be a part of the situation regardless of the state of the minister is interesting, and funny, because I wasn't really thinking about the minister at all. I was thinking about the layperson in the congregation. Funny about how the different perspectives that you and I have can work into that.

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