Saturday, December 29, 2012


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.


  1. Thanks Ron. Your article enhanced what I already have experienced in the closeness of God in the Incarnation. The prologue to John has a right. "The word was made flesh and dwelled among us." This is a mystery that can only be apprehended by faith, which then axiomatically brings the nearness of God.

  2. I read your post here and wrote a response... then posted it in Bob's Incarnation blog. Sorry. I'll get the hang of this. Here's the post where it belongs:

    If I may be so bold to respond.

    I too, was drawn to Maureen Dowd’s article as it was widely shared on Facebook. I might add a few adjectives... arrogant and intolerant... to your description of the agnostic/atheist responses. I would conjecture that many of these are former believers injured and alienated by existing radical/intolerant unloving church dogma which has driven many to not be ‘near.’. Many are also people that have stroked and developed their intellectual side to the detriment of their spiritual side. Hence the belief that “objective” thought trumps spiritual faith and abstract concepts like “grace” and “unconditional love” do not fit into their “real” world.

    I love the inferences of the teaching that “in the face of mystery, we are all subject to subjectivity!” That horizon you denote where tentative conclusions and ultimate truth join sounds very close to Hegel’s dialectic ‘absolute truth’ to me, but where beliefs and faith-based truths are brought as thesis to the building of the pyramid. If only we could all throw our hands up and see that truth. But then, the awe comes in great part from the ‘mystery.’

    Maureen refers to an “unconditionally loving presence.” On first reading I think of that presence as being God... then I realize she’s presenting both the idea of an individual being with another in a spirit of unconditional love as well as that of our unconditionally loving God being with us.

    Your fourth paragraph begins with “Loving presence.....” And I read “Being a loving presence.......” I suspicion that some of those agnostic/atheist individuals can be a loving presence for someone in their lives, and that what they are really objecting to in Maureen’s article is their preconceived notion of a rigid dogma behind much organized religion. Their mean spirited responses may be driven by whatever bad experience drove them to look away. If they were more closely in touch with their own spirit, they might recognize this in themselves.

    You refer to “authentic presence.” Authentic presence is a little difficult for me. I think of Thomas Wojick’s article about the courage to be vulnerable as defining authentic presence, and I think you are referring to unconditional love as the/a criteria for having an authentic presence. A quick google search here brought me to Jean Watson’s Caring Theory, and I found myself totally engaged. She refers to authentic presence in the context of nursing and caring for patients.

    I agree with your assessment that formal descriptions of clergy roles can hinder, but would add that they should be treated as guidelines and be driven by mission statements that allow for flexibility. It seems true that a focus on being a loving presence for each individual we encounter will bring us all closer to God.

    I thank you for the intellectual and spiritual stimulation and for inviting me to this blog site.

  3. Ed, what a superb and thoughtful response! Your comments alone made the essay worth writing. I hope to write more of a reply in a day or so as I have time. Sorry I could not make it to Steve's open house as I think that is where you and Bob met. My wife, Catherine, and I embarked on a new venture for four sessions in four days including the time of the party to learn the practice of TM. I hope it will increase our capacity for compassion. Cheers.

  4. Ron, Thank you for the kind response. My wife and I took the classes in the early 80's. The muscle relaxation and mantra focus techniques have stayed with me. I no longer do this daily, but often breathe and relax myself from stress and to help me focus inward to solve problems. I believe my overall health. ability to handle difficult times, and energy level at age 65 is part of the result.

  5. Here's my subjective take on it: why should I pay to be bored? The songs are boring, the people essentially a group of old ladies of both sexes and the clergy tedious self-important twits who think that someone invisible is talking to them and who feel compelled to tell the rest of humanity how to live.