Fertility and Divinity

With the grass being so lush and green this Beltane, with all the heat and rain, I’ve been meditating on YHWH as the source of life and fertility.

In the process I’ve stumbled across a critique of Karl Barth by Walter Brueggemann, where he suggests Barth overplayed his hand in depicting YHWH as god of history in contrast to the Canaanite deities as gods of fertility. He particularly draws attention to Genesis 8:22, Psalm 104:27-30, and Hosea 2 as examples where YHWH is depicted as guarantor of the cycles of the seasons and the fruits of the earth.

In the process I have also been reflecting on places where YHWH is depicted as receptive rather than active, playing host rather than guest, inviting outsiders in. In particularly I’ve been reflecting on the YHWH of Jesus, who was often a quite motherly father.

On the jealousy of God

A few thoughts on the jealousy of God. In order to understand the jealousy of God properly it is important to understand it in relation to other qualities of God, such as the goodness of God, the justice of God, and the self sufficiency of God. Being uniquely self sufficient, the jealousy of God has nothing to do with any neediness on God’s part. On the contrary, it is motivated by our need for God. God wants the best for us and won’t settle for second best.

God is like a loving father who’s daughter is enticed away from him by a modelling agent, who turns out to be a pimp who just wants to exploit her. The pimp definitely does not have the daughter’s best interests at heart, unlike her father. So the father jealousy seeks her back. He has no interest in sharing her with the pimp. If he were less jealous, if he were more open to sharing his daughter with the pimp, he would not be as good or just.

Perfect Vision

The following is an exerpt from Sangharakshita “Vision and Transformation” where he expounds on The Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. This is his explanation of the first of the eight steps on the path. I found it interesting because here he communicates it through a series of images rather than concepts.

So what is this Perfect Vision? One may say it is a vision of the nature ofexistence, but what does this vision reveal? What is the nature of existence? This question is difficult to answer because it is easy – only too easy – to answer. This is not to be paradoxical. What it means is that only too many concepts lie ready to hand. There is so much Buddhist philosophy available. One can so easily use a few technical terms, refer to this system or that, and say this is the nature of existence according to Buddhism. But this is too slick, too easy. We must beware of the temptation to produce our concepts too readily. What one is trying to communicate is not simply a set of ideas, not a system of philosophy in the academic sense, but what the Buddha himself, in his own language, quite unambiguously called drsti – a vision.

There are two principal ways a vision can be communicated – through images and through concepts. In Buddhism there are three main images of the nature of existence. These are the Wheel of Life, the Buddha, and the Path. Since these images communicate a vision, it is helpful, in absorbing that communication, if we can ‘get the picture’, instead of just ‘thinking’ them in an abstract manner and assuming they have been understood.

The Wheel of Life
The Wheel of Life comprises four concentric circles. Within the central circle,
which forms the hub of the wheel, are three animals, a cock, a snake, and a pig, each biting the tail of the animal in front. These animals represent the three poisons of greed, hatred, and delusion which control our minds and make the whole wheel of mundane existence revolve. Outside the hub is a second circle, divided into two equal segments, one black and one white. The white half represents the good or ethical path leading upwards, to states of happiness. The black half represents the bad or unethical path leading downwards, to states of misery. The third circle is divided into six segments representing the different ‘worlds’ or spheres of existence within which, according to Buddhism, sentient beings are continuously reborn. These six worlds are those of the gods, titans, hungry ghosts, hell beings, animals, and humans. The outermost circle of the wheel, which forms the rim, is divided into twelve segments. These are the twelve nidanas, or links in the process which is called Dependent Origination, or Conditioned Co-production. These show in detail the whole process of birth, life, death, and rebirth.

This is the first great image, the first great symbol. This is what we begin to see when we have a vision of the nature of existence. We see the whole of mundane conditioned existence going round like a great wheel – a Wheel of Life, a Wheel of Death – with ourselves as well as all other sentient beings caught up in it. We see that the Wheel of Life in fact is us, is sentient,
conditioned existence.

The Buddha
The Buddha is usually depicted seated on a lotus flower or beneath the Bodhi tree, the ‘Tree of Enlightenment’, with its great spreading branches and its canopy of beautiful heart-shaped leaves, his body radiating light of various colours. There are also more elaborate versions of this image. One of the best known is the mandala of the Five Buddhas, which comes from the more esoteric teaching. In the centre of this mandala is the White Buddha, with theDark Blue Buddha to the east, the Yellow Buddha to the south, the Red Buddhato the west, and the Green Buddha to the north. There are even more elaborate versions of the image in the form of a ‘Pure Land’, or ‘Happy Land’ – Sukhavati – with its presiding Buddha flanked by his attendant Bodhisattvas, its rows of wonderful jewel-trees, its magical singing birds, and many other marvels.

The Path
The path of spiritual progress – or spiral path – connects the two images we have already described, that is to say it leads up from the Wheel of Life to the Buddha, or to the mandala of the Five Buddhas. These then are the three great images through which Buddhism communicates its vision of existence. Perfect Vision is a vision, first of all, of our actual present state of bondage to conditioned existence as represented by the Wheel of Life. It is also a vision of our potential future state of Enlightenment as represented by the Buddha, or the mandala of Buddhas, or a Pure Land. Finally it is a vision of the path or way leading from the one to the other – a vision, if you like, of the whole future course of evolution.

The Holy Spirit and the Trinity

In theological texts the doctrine of the Trinity is often dealt with as part of Theology Proper. Personally however I find it more logical to deal with it as part of Pneumatology. For it’s not until the Holy Spirit is explored more fully that the relationship between the three persons of the Trinity can be explored more fully. And indeed one of the more debated aspects of the doctrine of the Trinity – the filioque clause – is focussed on the Holy Spirit. So, I tend to deal with monotheism as part of Theology Proper, the doctrine of the Incarnation as part of Christology, and the doctrine of the Trinity as part of Pneumatology.

Is sin contaminating your gospel?

I have heard some Evangelicals say that an essential aspect of evangelism is raising unbelievers awareness of their sin. I consider this potentially erroneous for a few reasons.

Firstly, it is a mistake to presume that the sins you are most concerned about are the sins they need to be most concerned about. Newsflash, sometimes what you don’t see is more important to their life situation than what you do.

Second, it is a mistake to presume that they unaware of their sins. This may not be the case at all. They may not call it sin per se, but most people are aware there are ways in which they fall short, even if only by their own standards.

Third, it is a mistake to presume their sins are the only sins that need acknowledging. This is a big mistake. If you focus exclusively on their sin you are likely coming across as judgmental and self righteous. Far better to quickly acknowledge your own sin and the fact that only God is righteousness. Make sure you’re holding God up rather than yourself.

Fourth, it is a mistake to presume that the unbeliever is unaware of any of your sins. If you focus on their sins and downplay your own, don’t be surprised if you get called a hypocrite, just as the Pharisees were by Jesus. And know this: the accusation will probably be justified.

So, I am not saying we should sweep sin under the rug and downplay the problem. On the contrary, I am saying sin is more pervasive than we realise and we should be wary of the sins of judgmentalism and hypocrisy weaving their way into what should be good news.