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.

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.

*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:

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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.

1 comment:

  1. As a Minister of the Church of Scotland, I particularly appreciated this blog post!