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I am excited to share my review of The Naked God: Wrestling For A Grace-Ful Humanity by Vincent Strudwick with Jane Shaw.
Vincent Strudwick has been a monk, then priest and a historical theologian in the Church of England for nearly sixty years, twenty-five of them in the faculty of theology of Oxford University.
Jane Shaw is Professor of Religious Studies and Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University.
“If anyone, over the summer, would like to spend some time wrestling with the notions of God, humanity and the church, then I’d be happy to sit in the pub for three evenings, and lead discussion on each in turn, over a pint.” We learn that this book emerged from these discussions with Vince in the pub.
The Naked God is nicely divided into two parts.
Part One – “In these three opening chapters, the wrestlers explore and reframe difficult questions about God, the Bible, spirituality and the church.”
Part Two – “…we explore – from the wrestler’s perspective – the larger picture of global peril and disillusion with organized religion and the historic reasons for it.”
Let me share seven takeaways from this wonderful book.
“… we see ordinary human beings wrestling with the experience they had the Jesus, both intellectually and in deep soul searching, and in this process finding a new sense of direction, purpose and energy.” We see this wrestling and soul searching as we read through the New Testament.
“Faith is not the blind expectation that God will make everything all right for us, but a journey…” I agree! My life has been a journey. All has not been ‘all right’ for me too. However, I have not and will not be alone as I continue my journey. God will walk with me on this journey called life. I often remind myself to slow down and wait. What does God want me to do? What does God wish to reveal to me?
The Naked God
“So we say that when everything (describing God) is removed, abstracted and peeled off so that nothing at all remains but a simple ‘is’, that is the proper characteristic of God’s name.”
“God is Being. That for him (Meister Eckhart) was the Naked God, stripped of all verbal, religious and cultural clothing. Every generation put ‘clothes’ onto God to help their understanding; but the underlying reality of God- God as Being- still lies behind those garments. Each generation has to clothe God anew.”
“Eckhart encourages us to empty our minds of all concepts of God. If you have an ‘idea’ of God, forget it, he says.”
I take Eckhart’s advice when I practice centering prayer. Let me share the four steps of centering prayer in my words if you are not familiar:
- Select a sacred word as the symbol of your intent to open yourself to God’s presence and action within.
- Sit comfortably, close your eyes and internally repeat the sacred word slowly and silently.
- When you become aware of thoughts, emotions and physical sensations, return ever so gently to your sacred word.
- At the end of the centering prayer session, remain in silence for a minute or two before you resume your daily activities.
It is in Step 3 that I follow the advice of Eckhart. Note, I also let go of the sacred word and sit in the pure presence of God. I find that I enter the space between my thoughts. I let myself be with Being. I remove the clothes I put on God. I let God be God.
“The Christian church in its institutions, designed to make available the mysteries of God, has, I believe succeeded rather in locking them up.”
“In the Christian tradition, the starting point for understanding ‘Being’ is not the Bible but experience; and then comes reflection on that experience and contemplation.”
“So Jesus was always inviting his followers and the crowds to pay attention to their experience: Consider the lilies! Look at the fields!”
“Judaism put questions at the very heart of its faith. Christianity has tended more towards certainties.”
I feel fortunate to be a centering prayer practitioner. It has helped me ‘let go’ of my need for certainity. I do not need to always know. I am better able to just be present and enjoy life. God does not want me to worry. God wants me to experience the joys and beauty of life.
“As Henry Chadwick puts it; ‘In Jesus of Nazareth, humanity is granted a self-disclosure of the Creator, and the revelation of what God intends humankind to be.”
“Where are the Holy Spirit is, he said, there is embodiment. Holy spirit is always embodied, and this is how it is described in acts.” We are told this is a quote from Roland Walls.
“Each item in the Universe (including ourselves) is an utterance of the word of God in a particular and unique way.”
When we see Jesus we see God in human form. We see the human actions that we too are fully capable of: compassion, empathy, inclusion and joy for life!
“for prayer is opening ourselves to the Presence. What this means, I think, is getting rid of the idea that prayer is asking a Supreme Being to do things on our behalf, and replacing it with a conductor who (if we allow Him) empowers us to do things on His behalf.”
This is what centering prayer does for me. Silence teaches me who I am. Silence teaches me how to live. My actions are birthed in the silence of centering prayer.
“The Being of God is a relational being: without the concept of communion, it would not be possible to speak of the being of God.”
I commune with God during both verbal and silent prayer. I commune with God when I have a meal with family or friends. I commune with God when I take a walk in my neighborhood, nearby town or park.
Next Steps – Kingdom of God
“The word of God is not in the pages of a book, but is a living word when made flesh.”
“The world is the chosen place of God’s love, the nature of that love is disclosed by Christ in his life and death, and through the Spirit the eyes of everyone may be opened so that they may be that love in there every day life. This is the Gospel of the Kingdom.”
The Kingdom of God is each one of us when we do our part to be the eyes, the ears, the hands and the feet of Jesus. We feed those who are hungry. We clothe those who have no clothes. We provide a roof for those who have no place called home. We lend an ear to those who need to know we care. We are all the Kingdom of God in action!
I encourage you to read The Naked God. What actions will it birth in you?
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Since the time of the Desert Fathers in the third century, Finley begins, Christian mystics have practiced meditation as a way of opening to the direct presence of God in daily life. Legendary seekers such as Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila, and Meister Eckhart explored how meditation can lead us beyond the closed horizon of the ego, to an interior and holy refuge that is always available to us. On Christian Meditation, James Finley offers a gentle introduction to this all-transforming way of life, and the ever-deepening realization of oneness with Christ it leads us to. (Based upon his book, Christian Meditation.)
Thomas Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere: The Essential Guide to the Contemplative Teachings of Thomas Merton – Now James Finley, who for six years lived, prayed, and studied with Brother Louis, as Merton was known at the Abbey of Gethsemani, shares with us the gifts passed on to him by this towering figure.
The Teachings of Meister Eckhart: An Invitation to Experience God in Every Moment: The 13th-century mystic Meister Eckhart was the most brilliant Christian scholar of his day, but he was also legendary for the way that he opened listeners to the direct experience of God during his public talks. Today, his written wisdom remains alive as ever, ready to illuminate us. James Finley, one of today’s best-known teachers of the Christian contemplative tradition, invites us into Eckhart’s insights in the same way that this luminary teacher delighted in sharing them—through the spoken word.
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