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Looking for wonder, or then again, maybe not

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"Open your eyes and look for wonder. Pray that the eyes of your heart be enlightened, and look for wisdom. Presume you see only in part, and what you cannot see or understand--because of your soul’s myopia or because of your pain--God sees and understands. In the fullness of time, you will."

The above quote from Brother Curtis Almquist of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist came to me in email this past week. I signed up for their series of mini-meditations known as "Brother, give me a word." Since I began getting the daily emails I have found them to be rather innocuous most of the time, but this particular thought from Brother Curtis is thought-provoking, don't you think?

Since Pope Francis was chosen TIME Magazine's Person of the Year, there has been quite a bit of enthusiasm expressed about him in the media. I am not yet ready to admire a Pope who excommunicates a priest for supporting the ordination of women, which Francis did last September. I think that he is doing what the American Republican Party says they want to do: express the message "better," but don't actually change the message.

I also note the continuing undertone of anger among those who post on pages like the Huffington Post, ranting against religion. It isn't just that they don't believe and want to heap scorn on those who do; I'm used to that. There seems to be a lot of anger with the Church that cannot present Christianity in a way that appeals to the unchurched. We get endless arguments for literal fundamentalism, which is not a possible way to approach any religion.

People who believe that we live in a three-story universe with the earth in the center of it could not conceive of cosmology as we know it today. That is not their fault, but it is the Church's fault if it cannot cope with the state of scientific knowledge at any given time. In other words, the Church has to address itself to physicists as well as theologians if it wants to get across a coherent message.

The denial and hostility directed at science by spokesmen for the evangelical Church is alienating and angering many people who are happy to take them to task for their ridiculous views. But the intellectual foundation of Christian theology is not "out there" for educated people to assess. This is not our fault; I suspect that Bishop John Shelby Spong has little time to write free posts for online media, nor do other world-class scholars. But I wish they would.

So every Christmas rolls around to a world that is less and less endowed with the capacity to wonder. This capacity makes it possible for us to live on a higher level of consciousness than animals--I have pointed out that, although the human being pauses to look up in admiration at a magnificent waterfall, the passing deer simply drinks from the river and moves on. It is our ability to sense what J. R. R. Tolkien, a devout Catholic, called the Numinous: the other-worldly, mysterious and beautiful Unknown that we all wish we could enter into.

C. S. Lewis wrote once that, "...God willing, one day we shall all get in." He meant that in some way human beings may acquire the ability to enter into the rapport that we long for with out pets, with nature and even with those we love. And Christmas comes around and we have to stop, shut out the shop-shop and just feel the trembling awareness that a long time ago, a baby was born who had the capacity to change everything that happened after his time.

I write that Jesus could re-frame our relationship to God. He thought of God as a loving father who forgave much, like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. He spoke of God as someone who would always stop and pay attention to help us, like the Good Samaritan. We as Christians are one step beyond Judaism with their Law, before which they all stand condemned. We believe not only in goodness--God's goodness that is so much above and beyond our own--but in grace:

"You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

"Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." [Romans 5:6-11]

Jesus himself said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." [Matthew 5:43-48]

As long as we believe in doling out love and keeping track of how much we have given, how much we have received, and who owes us, we do not really love. This is called a Stroke Economy in Transactional Analysis, a psychological discipline, and it cannot be maintained. If we cannot love unconditionally (in appropriate relationships), we will never know what it is to love freely. That is, we will not know what it is to love without caring if it is going to be justified or even returned. Yet this is what Christians claim about the love of God.

"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world." Those words from St. John, who was Jesus' close relative, a cousin or even possibly his brother, express a sublime idea that is simply too much for many people to accept. Knowing ourselves as we do, it is sometimes hard to believe that we deserve anything; but Christianity, as Lewis said, offers you everything for nothing. I am offering you the Lottery and you won't even take a penny!

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