Showing posts with label understanding. Show all posts
Showing posts with label understanding. Show all posts

02 May 2012

Understanding the Almighty

Augustine comes as close as anyone in writing down what the Almighty is really like. This is not a trivial task! Read this extract from his 'Confessions' and see how he uses paradoxes to crack open our minds to see.

Portrait of AugustineJob found it was hard to truly know Yahweh. How can anyone know the creator of the universe? We can't - unless he reveals himself.

'Then Yahweh spoke to Job out of the storm. He said, "Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer. Where were you when I laid the Earth's foundation? Tell me if you understand..."' (Job 38:1-41:34)

The following text is a translation from Augustine of Hippo. It was written at or just before the year 400 AD when Augustine was in his mid forties; he manages to convey something of the nature of the Almighty. It's the first chapter from Augustine's 'Confessions' and has the title 'Confession of the Greatness of God'.

I have based it on 'The Confessions of St Augustine: Modern English Version'*, rewritten as a light paraphrase in my own words. I hope it will be easy to read and understand.

As you read it, notice the way Augustine uses phrases like 'always busy but always at rest' or 'you pay debts when you owe nothing but in paying them you lose nothing'. By hinting at Yahweh's impossible behaviours he opens our minds to the flavour and aroma of his nature.

You are incomparable Yahweh!

So our praise of you has to be higher than our human nature.

Your power is magnificent.

Your wisdom is limitless.

We, such lowly beings, want to praise you. What is a human being, just a tiny speck of the universe you made. Every one of us contains the evidence of approaching death. Our short lifespans speak of our sinfulness and spell out to creation that you reject pride.

But although we are so lowly we desire to praise you, even though we are just a minute fragment of this universe. You arouse in us delight in your praise. You created us for yourself and our heart can't rest except in you.

Please, Lord. Let us know what comes first. Is it that we must cry out to you first before we can praise you? Must we call out to you before we can comprehend you? But who can call on you without knowing you first? If I don't know you I might not understand who you are.

Or, do we call on you in order to know you? Romans 10:14 says, 'How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone telling them?'

So we know those that search for the Lord will praise him because those who search will find him and those who find will praise him. I'll seek you by calling out to you. I'll call on you with faith that really knows you, because you've been explained to me. My faith will call on you, Lord, the faith you gave to me. You breathed life into me by faith through the birth of your Son and his word as the One who explains you.

Who is Yahweh but Yahweh?

Who is Elohim but Elohim?

The Most High, the best, the most powerful and omnipotent, merciful but just, hidden yet present with us, most beautiful yet also most strong.

You're still - but you're incomprehensibly active. You can't change - but you change everything. You're never new but you're never old. You make everything new but defeat the proud with old age, even before they see it coming. You are always busy but always at rest. You continue to gather although you don't need a thing! You support, fill and spread. You create, feed and bring maturity. You go on searching although you already have everything.

Your love is not yearning, your jealousy is not bitter, you regret with us but don't reproach yourself, in your anger you remain calm.

Everyone else fails to complete their plans but your purpose is steady. You receive what you found but hadn't lost. You have no needs but rejoice in what you gain. You're not grasping but you require excessive payments so that you can be in debt. But there's nothing we can give that isn't already yours! You pay debts when you owe nothing but in paying them you lose nothing.

What have I managed to say, my Mighty One, my life, my holy joy? What can any mere human say about you? But woe to anyone who doesn't speak because silence is very eloquent.

I want to rest in you. I want you to come into my heart like strong wine so that I forget all my anxiety and fully accept you, the only good in my life.

What do you mean to me? Help me out in expressing it. What must I mean to you that you require my love so much that you become angry and threaten utter misery if I don't give it? It's so painful not to love you.

So be merciful to me and explain, Lord, what you are to me. Tell me, 'I am your salvation' and tell me loudly enough that I will hear. Look, Lord, my heart is open before you. Open the ears of my heart and tell me, 'I am your salvation'.

And after you speak, let me take hold of you quickly. Don't hide your face from me. Let me die in order that I won't just die. But let me see your face.


*New Spire edition, 2008, ISBN 978-0-8007-8762-2

30 July 2011

RESPONSE - Are you listening?

Listening is a skill that can be intentionally developed. Julian Treasure gives a fascinating TED presentation on this, but are there parallels between listening with our physical ears and listening with our spiritual 'ears'?

Julian Treasure on 'listening'Yahshua told his followers about the importance of spiritual hearing and seeing. He spoke about people listening and listening but not hearing, looking and looking but not seeing. We are all prone to this.

Julian Treasure presents a compelling TED Talk on listening. I suggest you hear what he has to say and then come back here to continue reading.

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Did you enjoy his presentation? I certainly did!

According to Julian, hearing is something that our ears do pretty much autonomously, but listening requires intent, focus, and deliberate attention. But Jesus says that even though we listen (pay attention) we still may not hear (understand in depth). He says there are those who pay attention and hear the words but the spiritual meaning eludes them.


The process, I believe, is
  1. Physical hearing
  2. Listening (paying attention)
  3. Spiritual hearing (spiritual understanding)
To make this clearer, suppose you are in the crowd and Yahshua is speaking. Unless you are profoundly deaf, the words he speaks will enter your ears and the brain will receive the information. This is item 1 in the list above. If you are distracted by your child, someone else talking, or thinking about that job you need to do when you get home, the process may stop at that point. You have heard but you have not listened.

But perhaps you were paying attention to Yahshua's words. You not only heard with your ears, but you noticed what he was saying. Perhaps you were puzzled, or offended, or confused by what he said. Although you heard the words clearly and they entered the attentive, thinking part of your mind, they made little or no sense. This is item 2 in the list.

But item 3 demands an additional awareness that has nothing to do with the physical world of ears and brains. It requires, but goes far beyond, simply understanding the words that were spoken. Spiritual understanding is given and received, not merely earned by paying attention to words. If you lack spiritual understanding, ask Yahshua to provide it.

The process is physical hearing > listening > spiritual hearing. That's why Yahsua said they listen but don't hear. He sometimes healed the physically deaf, he also heals the spiritually deaf. He is willing! So ask.

Julian Treasure hints at step 3 but doesn't explore it. Yahshua took step 1 as a given and focussed on step 3.

Physical reality always points to a spiritual reality; that's why Yahshua spoke so often in parables. Understanding the physical truth can help us grasp the parallel spiritual truth. The need to pay attention to physical sounds points to the notion that we also need to pay attention to spiritual 'sounds'.  We need to listen intentionally to the Spirit of Christ in the same way we listen to the words of the people we meet. The Spirit is a still, small voice. We have to pay close attention to him.

In the physical we are exposed to sound, listen to the sound, and understand the meaning in our minds. In the spiritual we are exposed to truth, pay attention to the truth, and comprehend the truth in our hearts.

So let's explore how Julian Treasure's thoughts on listening might apply to spiritual listening (paying attention to the truth).

We are losing our listening - The church has substantially lost the ability to listen spiritually. Many believers are not even aware that listening is possible, others have no idea how to go about it.

Making meaning from sound - A process of extraction, recognising the Holy Spirit's voice among all the other spiritual noise around us. What is 'spiritual noise'? Where does it come from? What will happen if you listen to the wrong sources? How can you distinguish the Holy Spirit's voice?

Filters - These define what we pay attention to. How, for example, might our craving for authority, security, or independence affect our spiritual attention and listening? Can you think of more filters?

Awareness - Are you tuned in? Are you aware of Father's presence, of his nearness, of his love, of his sorrow and grief, of his purity and holiness, of his exuberant joy and laughter?

Sense of eternity - If listening with your mind provides your main source for a sense of time, might spiritual listening be the main source for your sense of eternity? I think so!

Recording - Writing, sound recording, and video recording reduce our need to pay attention (we can always go back to check). Do you depend too much on books, speakers and musicians to provide your spiritual questions and answers? Do these sources reduce the effectiveness of your own, personal, spiritual listening?

Conversation - Do you wear spiritual headphones? Are you regularly having good spiritual conversations with Father and with one another, or are you isolated in your hearing?

Soundbites - Are you conversing spiritually or are you substituting this with 'personal broadcasting'. Do you speak and listen or just speak? We are supposed to ask in prayer, but are we supposed to only ask? Is your spiritual communication two way? Is it a conversation or just an expression of need?

The quiet, the subtle, the understated - Do you hear the still, small voice? Do you pay attention to him?

Listening creates understanding - We cannot understand without paying close attention. Do you want to grow in spiritual understanding? Are you prepared to pay the price of proper listening? There are serious and frightening dangers attached to not listening. What are they? Hint - lack of physical listening may lead to anger, even war. What might lack of spiritual listening lead to?

Techniques to improve listening - Silence or quiet, channels of sound, savouring the mundane (hidden choir), appropriate listening positions, RASA, teach listening (encourage others to listen). Can these or related methods help us improve our spiritual listening?

You might like to listen to Julian again with a view to spiritual listening. If you like, follow through the headings above as you do so. We need to listen to the Spirit of Christ in everything, every sight and sound and smell and touch - in pain, in comfort; in turmoil, in peace; in activity, and in stillness. If we are a hearing people, if we are not spiritually deaf, spiritual life will be rich and fulfilling and new every single day.

Go for it!

(Related post, 'RESPONSE - The need to listen')

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