Recently Maureen Dowd in the NY Times (12.26.12) wrote an article called “Why, God?” I frequently like to read response comments after the article online. In this case, there were many supportive and predictable ones, but there also was a large number of agnostic/atheist, rather mean spirited, reactions to Maureen’s column. I was interested to see so many such critiques were based on “objective” science and so on. . . all the old tired rationalistic scientific arguments against God we have heard for over two hundred years, not much new.
For over seventy years science has developed many experiments that destroy the ultimacy of rational certainty. Much science (meaning historically scientia moderna or just “new knowledge”) points ontologically to a blank parenthetical horizon between tentative conclusions and ultimate Truth. At that fearsome point, the scientists, poets, mystics and faithful people all together may raise their hands in awe knowing that we can see no further into the mystery. The first time I encountered such a notion was when at fifteen years old, I met Professor Carlton Berenda who, having encountered Heisenberg’s Indeterminacy Principle,lost his faith in the absolute predictability of science, becoming a philosopher and mystic. Fortunately I got to be a pupil for seven years from high school through studies I did at the University of Oklahoma in the history and philosophy of science. He taught me that in the face of mystery, we are all subject to subjectivity!
Ms. Dowd ends her column: “What I do know is that an unconditionally loving presence soothes broken hearts, binds up wounds, and renews us in life. This is a gift that we can all give, particularly to the suffering. When this gift is given, God’s love is present and Christmas happens daily.”
Loving presence is the closest to truth we can achieve, this God/Love presence and without the need for a reason or concept of love or an idea about God. So no creeds, no ecclesiastical authority, no weight of history, no law, no science, no nothing precludes this unconditional being/love. To me, then, the Book of Common Prayer has it right about prayer as ultimately adoration. Further, the Church’s essential role is to be with us all in finding the ways and means, the mission, to be present more fully with one another. The work of clergy in general and bishops in particular is less about management than it is about authentic presence that may help us in our “official” and personal relationships to see the way to Love lit and nit together.
It seems to me that little about our formal descriptions of ecclesiastical roles helps at all and hinder us being present unconditionally. Perhaps a new year is once again a time to be more present for us all and for the whole Episcopal Church and its clergy to do more real presence without the incumbrances of battered and terribly inadequate institutional rituals,roles and rules. The first step might be to remember who Jesus spent his time with and organize our lives around the abundance found in the nearness of sharing presence with the poor, the sick, the destitute, the marginal, the spiritually humble, the ones who teach us well to be well.