Wednesday, January 16, 2019

What Is the Chief End of Humanity?


Something that surprised and delighted me when I became a Presbyterian in 1970 while in college was the first question and answer of the Shorter Westminster Catechism, adopted as part of the Westminster Standards by the Scottish General Assembly for use in the kirk (church) in 1647 and by the first Presbyterian synod of the American colonies in 1729.

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy him forever.

I had earlier been enthralled with the denomination’s then most recent confession of faith, The Confession of 1967, that confirmed my own beliefs in its call for reconciliation of all regardless of race, religion, or nationality.

But that such an early church document from the seemingly somber and sober Presbyterians and their Scottish heritage could use such words as “glorify” and “enjoy” in relation to God and the practice of their faith pleased me no end!

My Yale Divinity professor and subsequent friend, Henri Nouwen, would write of his stay in a Trappist monastery in The Genesee Diary that his spiritual director, John Eudes Bamberger, challenged him to take as his koan, “I am the glory of God.” He clarified, “In your meditation you can ask yourself, “Where is the glory of God? If the glory of God is not there where I am, where else can it be?” Interpreting the second creation story of Genesis in which God breathed life into the first human being, he told Henri, “We live because we share God’s breath, God’s life, God’s glory.”

The early church teacher, Irenaeus, declared, “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

Two of my prayers in Coming Out to God, ably edited and encouraged by Alexa Smith, took as their starting point this question about the chief end of humanity. The first may be used collectively with the italicized unison response; the second as a personal prayer.

Day 33

O Creator,
we glorify your name
and enjoy you forever.
You have immersed us in your world
and baptized us with your Spirit.

We see your beauty reflected
in our community and in your creation:
We enjoy you forever.

We feel your love in the warmth of sun,
the smiles of strangers,
the hugs of friends,
the bodies of lovers:
We enjoy you forever.

We taste your refreshment
of sleep, of breath,
of food and drink:
We enjoy you forever.

We smell your fragrance
of flower and field,
of flesh and flavor:
We enjoy you forever.

We hear your voice
from the winds of nature
to the winds of spirit:
We enjoy you forever.

O Creator, open our eyes
so we may see your goodness.
Sensitize our numbed senses
so we may feel your goodness.
Overcome our blandness
so we may taste your goodness.
Break into our vacuum
so we may smell your goodness.
Unstop our ears
so we may hear your goodness.

O Creator, our Creator,
we glorify your name
and enjoy you forever.
Alleluia!


Day 43

“What is the chief end of [humanity]?
To glorify God, and to enjoy [God] forever.”
And what is your chief end, O God?
To glorify us, and enjoy us forever?

Isn’t this heretical? At least presumptuous?
Forgive me, God, if I’ve wrongly described your agenda.
But, from the day you made us cocreators in Adam and Eve
to the day you made us heirs with Christ,
it seems you’ve been sharing your glory
and enjoying our participation in it.

Our courtship was rocky:
we kept running from you,
dating others less worthy,
pursuing our selfish desires
and our greedy lusts.*
Finally, you moved in with us in Jesus,
became our lover,
saved us from destruction
and gave up your life for us.
Now we’re haunted by your Ghost,
who brings us together,
different as we are,
reconciling us one with another
and with you.

“The world is charged with the glory of God”
(to slightly modify Gerard Manley Hopkins’s line).
So are we, because you have visited us,
and our faces shine with the Shekinah, your glory,
that lit up Moses’ face and made him veil himself.
Why are we afraid to lift the veil
and show ourselves and the world
the glorious riches of our spiritual inheritance?

God, help us lift the veil,
removing all that obscures your glory graciously given
in our creation, redemption, and inspiration.
By so doing, may we glorify you,
our glorifier in heaven,
and enjoy you forever.
Amen.

*In Christian tradition, “lusts” applies to every manner of greediness: money, power, possessions, etc.

On this upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I’ll be reflecting on how King and the Civil Rights Movement helped inspire and shape my own ministry during Sunday’s 11:00 a.m. “Celebration of Life” for the First Existentialist Congregation (UU), 470 Candler Park Drive, Atlanta, GA 30307. You are welcome to attend!

A few of my posts related to Martin Luther King Jr. and Racial Justice:

Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by reader donations. To support this blog: http://mccchurch.org/ministries/progressive-christian-reflections/
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Copyright © 2019 and Coming Out to God copyright © 1991 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Communion of Life

Grant Park, where I often walk or run.

As a follow-up to last week’s post, “Thank You for the Body that Loves Me,” I present another meditation on our earthiness, another in a series of reflections from my earlier books that I hope may lift our spirits in this new year. The series opened with “Peace of Mind” and will continue throughout the season of Epiphany and, who knows, maybe beyond.

The late gifted editor Stephanie Egnotovich at Westminster John Knox Press helped me “birth” a number of books, for which I am grateful. In 1998, she came to me with an idea. Sitting next to someone on an airplane reading a kind of generic book on spirituality, she asked him about his selection. As I wrote in my acknowledgments of what became Communion of Life, “He explained [to her] that he had no religious background and was attempting to discover spirituality.”

“Why don’t you write something like that for spiritual seekers?” she asked me.

Not knowing this was a common plan for New Age books, I chose a mythology that no one would take literally, that everything consists of earth, air, water, fire. And I wrote 12 cycles of meditations on earth, air, water, and fire.

I was so self-conscious of this adventure that I showed them to no one until complete, and then only to Stephanie. She loved them, and took them to marketing at the Press. The marketing department loved them even more, she said, and though later admitting their limitations with this very different market, we proceeded with this experiment.

Stephanie herself paired my meditations with the outstanding art of National Geographic photographers, so I can honestly say without self-pride that Communion of Life: Meditations for the New Millennium became the most visually beautiful book I’ve ever helped create.

Cycle Three: Day 9 Earth

Tangible earth,
You touch yourself through us.
We grasp your hand,
Stroke your fur,
Prune your branches,
Cast your stones,
Bury your seed,
Birth your children.

But it’s not just us,
It’s you in us.
You have developed your sense of touch
Within our bodies—
Communing through us
With air, water, fire,
In pleasure, buoyancy, and passion;
And communing through us with yourself
Delightedly, painfully, compassionately:
A communion of life
Giving rise to soul:
More than the sum of your parts.

Earth—in us, in me,
You have become sensual and sensitive.
Blessed earth!


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Copyright © 2019 and Communion of Life copyright © 1999 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Thank You for the Body that Loves Me

Folsom Street Fair Communion, 2006
when I served MCC San Francisco as interim pastor.

Both my sexuality and my spirituality conspired to persuade me that embodiment is good, a sacred trust, a holy way of being.

My sexuality impelled me to love another intimately, physically, even worshipfully at its better moments. My spirituality, being incarnational, inspired me to love others personally and politically, wishing them shalom: health, well-being, justice, equality, peace.

Out of this context came this prayer in my book Coming Out to God, Day 4, which may be used individually or collectively, using its refrain as a unison assent.  Saint Ignatius counseled imagination in the spiritual life, and so I invite you to imagine, while using this prayer, your body as a temple; who your “lover” may be, whether a past or present or hoped-for simple healing touch or full-bodied lovemaking; who truly serves as your spiritual community; and finally, contemplating the cosmos as our ultimate sanctuary.

Day 4

Thank you for the body that loves me.

My own body:
It tingles me with pleasure
and sends pain as a warning;
it takes in food and air
and transforms them to life;
it reaches orgasmic bliss
and reveals depths of peace.

Thank you for the body that loves me.

My lover’s body:
it surrounds me with safe arms,
and senses my needs and joys;
it allows me vulnerability,
and enables my ecstasy;
it teaches me how to love
and touches me with love.

Thank you for the body that loves me.

My spiritual community’s body:
it embodies your presence
by embracing mine;
it incarnates your hope
by empowering prophets;
it inspires me with stories
and enchants me with mystery.

Thank you for the body that loves me.

The cosmic and mystical body:
it calls me to communion
with creatures and creation;
it manifests your glory
and mine as its child;
it upholds my feet
and heals my body.

Thank you for the body that loves me.


Progressive Christian Reflections is entirely supported by readers’ donations. To support this blog: http://mccchurch.org/ministries/progressive-christian-reflections/
Scroll down to the donate link below its description. Thank you!

Copyright © 2019 and Coming Out to God copyright © 1991 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.