Daily Prayer :: Water

Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

May 17, 2021 — Anticipation of loss

Lectio Divina: Grief and Art

As I have written about on several occasions before, art is medium that may offer another way to engage in prayer-through the vision of the artist and depiction of things that call our attention to elements of life and spiritual longing. We will use art this week as a source for exploring prayer and our relationship with God through our grief process.

I have been thinking recently about our processing of grief as this pandemic year extends into another with little relief worldwide and so many losses that we have yet to account for. We will be processing the ambiguous, stressful, and confounding losses that we have all been suffering for some time to come.

Lectio divina is a prayer practice from the meaning of the words, “divine reading”. Christine Valters Paintner asks us to expand the notion of lectio divina beyond scripture to include art, poetry, music, and other art forms; I invite us into that expansion here. By contemplating art in this way, we implore God to “Give me a word” to keep carrying our burdens, in this case grief. So, I ask us all this week to pause, look, listen fully and cultivate presence to whatever ‘IS’ in our lives and hearts right now; to honor love through our grief and through images that speak to divine longing in the face of the inevitable-loss and death. Find the time and space to look slowly, listen with the fullness of your heart and respond without judgement to what is stirring as you engage in this practice. We will learn together through the next seven days.

David Kessler’s work is called, “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief”

Christine Valters Paintner’s work is called, “Lectio Divina-The Sacred Art: Turning Words and Images into Heart-Centered Prayer”

Today’s Bible reading

Luke 2:49-50

“Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them.

More thoughts for meditation

In this passage, Jesus left his parents during the Passover Festival in Jerusalem and was later found in the temple courts. Anxious, his parents asked the 12-year-old Jesus why he left them, why he treated them in this way? This anticipates the questioning of his early death and the grief one feels knowing that to love, you must let go.

Millais has depicted a youthful Jesus injured and within the carpenter’s studio of his father. While this is quite a different place than the temple in Jerusalem, it speaks to the everyday experience of sanctity of place. In his day, Millais, among a new group of artists (The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood), wanted to displace the life of Christ from an idealistic, romantic space and place Him in an ordinary space where we can relate to Him more naturally. Obviously, this is still a Western, Euro-centric vision of a boy and family, but try to step into the image of a carpenter’s shop next to the fields and farms that sustain a community. This is an image of the everyday life of the child of Jesus. He is hurt and surrounded by people who want to care of him in ordinary ways.

In talking about grief, David Kessler writes, “…no matter how deeply religious or spiritual we are, sometimes we want to be left in the humanness of our pain. There will be times when a grieving person does not want to be told that their loved one has gone to a better place or has gotten their heavenly reward or is with Jesus. For some people such words may be comforting whenever they are spoken. For others, never. And for still others, only at the right moment.”

Jesus was a living person who came to be with us in flesh and blood. Let us see him in full color and in the light of day and anticipate that we will experience the grief of his death, just as we experience the grief of other losses in our lives here-and-now. Let us not idealize Jesus and his family and instead, see them being people just like us full of love, activity, loss, and sadness.

Suggestions for action

Observe the painting above and take the time to notice what arises in you as you do. The first step of Lectio Divina is to listen. Listen and consider the state of your own grief feelings in the present moment. What human and spiritual longings and questions arise? How can we be present for our real feelings of grief in our lives? And how can we support ourselves and our friends and families in very real, human ways? Ask God to give you a word to help you name your grief right now. Repeat the word and hold it in your heart without asking what it means, exactly or what to do with it, just let it live in you.

May 16, 2021—Identifying with Jesus

This week, we are learning from J. Denny Weaver’s text The Nonviolent Atonement. Working through it may offer us a chance to add or improve our work on atonement theology (find it here). I suggest reading our document if you need a primer on atonement. From the cover: The Nonviolent Atonement challenges the traditional, Anselmian understanding of atonement—along with the assumption that heavenly justice depends on Christ’s passive, innocent submission to violent death at the hands of a cruel God. Instead, J. Denny Weaver offers a thoroughly nonviolent paradigm for understanding atonement, grounded in the New Testament.

Today’s Bible reading

I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me.—1 Corinthians 15:10

More thoughts for meditation: quotes from The Nonviolent Atonement

Redefinitions, reemphases, and rehabilitation of Anselmian atonement

“In [William] Placher’s view, since Jesus has already borne the ultimate punishment, the criminal justice system need not focus on punishment as the means to remove guilt… Because Jesus was ultimately punished, ‘we should stop punishing the guilty.’ Christian political activity should focus on rehabilitation rather than retribution.”

”This interpretation does not foster abuse or glorify suffering, Placher argues, because Jesus suffered voluntarily for a good cause… on the question of a vindictive God, Placher notes that the New Testament emphasis is not on God’s need to be reconciled to use but on ‘[our] need to be reconciled to God.’”

“As a counter-proposal to the [aforementioned] feminist argument, [Thelma] Megill-Cobller suggests that the God depicted as abusive does not represent the entire atonement tradition. ‘I propose that there is today in the wider tradition an ongoing conversation over reinterpretation of penal imagery for atonement, a conversation which speaks against the hegemony of the image of a punishing God.’ Megill-Cobbler’s answer is to shift emphasis from the image of a punishing God and penal substitution, which is particularly strong in Calvinist and Reformed traditions, to the image of God who identifies with victims. Christ bears punishment. Christ bears punishment with us rather than instead of us, and it was humankind rather than God who demanded that Jesus be put to death.”

Response to Placher and Megill-Cobbler

“Stated most briefly, for Anselm the atoning death of Jesus repaid the debt that humankind has incurred to the honor of God so that order was restored in the universe. But Reiger argues that Anselm’s case for the necessity of the death of the God-man to restore order is more than an argument based on ideas and first principles of logic. It is actually about asserting philosophical superiority of Christianity and demonstrating the superiority of the Christian social order—the Christian empire—over against Jews and Muslims.”

“A paramount problem for Anselm is to show the necessity of the incarnation, namely, that the God-man was the only possible way that God could have saved sinners, but to pose that argument without making it necessary or a requirement that God act in this way. The idea of requirement or obligation seems to place limits on God, which is unthinkable in light of God’s omnipotence.”

“Emphasizing the Father’s sharing of the Son’s suffering obfuscates the fact that the logic of satisfaction still requires that the Son offer a divinely arranged death to pay a debt to the Father’s honor or to submit to punishment to satisfy a divine legal requirement. Make no mistake about it. Satisfaction atonement in any form assumes and depends on divinely sanctioned violence.”

Defenses of traditional atonement

Daniel Bell

“Bell disputes satisfaction atonement understood as a transaction, or as a matter of balancing debt and payment. He argues that the versions of satisfaction atonement harmful to women and children are due to turning ‘an an economic order of charity, plentitude, and ceaseless generosity intro a merely human economy of debt, lack, and loss.’ When rightly understood, ‘Anselm’s account of the atonement is finally not economic. It is not a matter of debt, of juridical equity and restitution, of compensatory loss or penal suffering’ Rather the argument goes, Jesus’ sacrifice is about restoring humanity ‘to participation in the divine life,’ and ‘thus Christ’s sacrifice becomes the donation of obedience and praise (the return of love) offered by the son to the Father.’ This is a ‘substitutionary’ role, as the ‘Son offers worship’ to the father on our behalf that we cannot offer. Bell develops this understanding of Anselmnian atonement as a response to exploitative capitalism. Jesus’ model of refusing to cease suffering, Bell argues, becomes the model that Christians should follow in defeating capitalism.”

Final thoughts on Narrative Christus Victor

“[Jesus’] saving life shows how the reign of God confronts evil, and is thus our model for confronting injustice. While we do not save, we participate in salvation and in Jesus’ saving work when we join in the reign of God and live the way Jesus lived… Being like Jesus does not mean passive submission to suffering. It means actively confronting injustice, and in that confrontation we continue with Jesus to make the rule of God visible in a world where evil still has sway.

“Above all, in narrative Christus Victory salvation and justice are no longer based on the violence of justice equated with punishment or violent death. Salvation does not depend on balancing sin by retributive violence. Making right no longer means the violence of punishment. Justice and salvation are accomplished in narrative Christus Victor by doing justice and participating in God’s saving work. There is no longer any need to discuss whether those who killed Jesus were in some way carrying out the will of God even as Jesus was enacting the will of God. And most significantly, God is obviously neither the agent of Jesus’ death nor the ultimate punisher.”

“Identifying with, following, or imitating Jesus may indeed be costly; it may indeed entail suffering and even death. But that suffering is not suffering that is salvific in and of itself, and it is not suffering whose origin or object is God or happens because in some way God needs it without compelling it. This is suffering that is the byproduct of opposing evil, as Jesus’ suffering and death was the result of opposing evil.”

 (From Chapter 7, Conversation with Anselm and His Defenders and Detractors)

Suggestions for action

Pray: Move us Lord, to follow in your radical way. Let us persevere as we endure suffering, hardship, and even death as You did. Help us Lord.

In the closing of the text, Weaver says, “The resurrection of Jesus is an invitation from God to participate in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.” We have that very opportunity in Circle of Hope. Our community provides us a practical way to participate in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Feel able and proud to do that today. Over the week, we’ve worked through big (and long) ideas. If you were only to catch some of it, that’s OK. Rest today knowing that you are participating in something bigger than you by being with and a part of Circle of Hope. Pray that God keeps using it.

Today is Brendan Day! Be inspired for your journey by the great navigator at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.

May 15, 2021—Saving us through his life

This week, we are learning from J. Denny Weaver’s text The Nonviolent Atonement. Working through it may offer us a chance to add or improve our work on atonement theology (find it here). I suggest reading our document if you need a primer on atonement. From the cover: The Nonviolent Atonement challenges the traditional, Anselmian understanding of atonement—along with the assumption that heavenly justice depends on Christ’s passive, incent submission to violent death at the hands of a cruel God. Instead, J. Denny Weaver offers a thoroughly nonviolent paradigm for understanding atonement, grounded in the New Testament.

Today’s Bible reading

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.—Galatians 5:22-26

More thoughts for meditation

How does narrative Christus Victor intersect with womanist theology, that is theology developed by black women?

A response based on Delores Williams work, a leading womanist theologian:

“Examining the role of Hagar as surrogate provides Delores Williams with a fundamental critique of Anselmian atonement theology. In the version of European Christendom exemplified by what Williams called ‘mainline Protestant churches,’ sinful humankind was redeemed because Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for humans, taking their sin and punishment upon himself. Viewed from Williams’s womanist perspective, this means that in substitutionary atonement, ‘Jesus represent the ultimate surrogate figure.’ When attached to Jesus, surrogacy ‘takes on an aura of the sacred.’ Given the exploited experience of black woman as surrogates in both white and black contexts, womanist theologians do not want to endorse any understanding of Jesus’ work that models surrogacy. ‘If black women accept this idea of redemption,’ Williams asks, ‘can they not also passively accept the exploitation surrogacy brings?’

“In Williams’s construction, the image of Jesus on the he cross ‘is the image of human sin, an ‘image of defilement, a gross manifestation of collective human sin.’ Clearly, it was the human representatives of evil, not God, who were responsible for the death of Jesus. And Jesus did ‘not conquer sin through death on the cross.’ In the wilderness, Jesus conquered sin ‘by resistance,’ by resisting the temptations posed.’ Thus, Jesus conquered sin, Williams says, ‘in life, not in death.’ And as God did not intend the death of Jesus, womanist theologians can then show black women that ‘God did not intend the surrogacy roles they have been forced to perform.’ Rather, in Jesus, God has provided a vision of how to live rather than how to die.”

From Karen Baker-Fletcher:

“Missing from Delores Williams’s view of Jesus ministerial vision that saves through his life rather than his death is the emphasis on resurrection that appears in narrative Christus Victor… Baker-Fletcher appropriated Williams’s challenges to traditional Anselmian atonement theology but added the important reminder that while ‘atonement theory is problematic, we are still left with the historical reality of the cross.’ She suggested that an emphasis on the resurrected Jesus refocuses the interpretation of Jesus’ death as well… emphasizing the resurrection shifts the focus to the power of God to overcome oppression. And it then becomes clear that persecution and violence suffered by those who resist evil and injustice is not salvific suffering nor a cross to bear like Jesus bore the cross.”

“A… point of convergence between womanist thought and narrative Christus Victory is the idea that it is not God but the forces of evil in the world that are responsible for the death of Jesus.”

“Jesus’ confrontation of evil and oppression does entail suffering, the suffering that his disciples may encounter as they continue the confrontation and which Baker-Fletch called a risk and a sacrifice… narrative Christus Victor entails the idea of forgiveness by God who wipes the slate clear without payment of the debt to the divine. This divine forgiveness becomes the model of forgiveness followed by those who live in the resurrection life of Jesus and is given flesh in such practices as restorative justice… The death of Jesus is not carried out within the will of God in order to satisfy a divine requirement for justice. Rather, the death of Jesus displays the character of powers of evil that oppose the reign of God.”

(From Chapter 6, Womanist Theology on Atonement)

Suggestions for action

Pray: Lord, allow your life to lead mine, and your resurrection to inspire me to live fully and freely.

Paying attention to our varying contexts and how they might intersect with our faith make us better missionaries. Considering black, feminist, and womanist theologies may be something you regularly engage in or not. Consider how your mind has expanded over the last three days; you might disagree with some of what you read and that’s OK. Our dialogue is what holds us together. Make a list of what you’ve learned, and consider other contexts to explore.

May 14, 2021—Good news for the poor

This week, we are learning from J. Denny Weaver’s text The Nonviolent Atonement. Working through it may offer us a chance to add or improve our work on atonement theology (find it here). I suggest reading our document if you need a primer on atonement. From the cover: The Nonviolent Atonement challenges the traditional, Anselmian understanding of atonement—along with the assumption that heavenly justice depends on Christ’s passive, innocent submission to violent death at the hands of a cruel God. Instead, J. Denny Weaver offers a thoroughly nonviolent paradigm for understanding atonement, grounded in the New Testament.

Today’s Bible reading

Read the Magnificat.

He has pulled the powerful down from their thrones

and lifted up the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things

and sent the rich away empty-handed.—Luke 1:52-53

More thoughts for meditation: quotes from The Nonviolent Atonement

How does narrative Christus Victor intersect with feminist theology?

In discussing Rosemary Radford Ruether

“Woman play important roles in Jesus’ ‘vision of the vindication of the lowly in God’s new order.’… the important Christological point, however, is that ‘theologically speaking… the maleness of Jesus has no ultimately significance.’… By his liberation of humanity and uplifting of the oppressed and lowly, he announced and display a ‘lifestyle that discards hierarchical cast privilege and speaks on behalf of the lowly.”

“Reuther concludes that Jesus did not ‘come to suffer and die.’ Rather Jesus conceived of his mission as one of “good news to the poor, the liberation of the captive,” that is, experiences of liberation and abundance of life between those who had been on the underside of the dominant system of religion and state in his time.’ Jesus’ means was not killing powers, ‘but rather to convert them into solidarity with those they had formerly dispersed and victimized.’.. Suffering and death are not redemptive. Rather suffering is ‘the risk that one takes when on struggles to overcome unjust systems whose beneficiaries resist change. The means of redemption is conversion.”

(From Chapter 5, Feminist Theology on Atonement)

Suggestions for action

Pray: Lord, let me know that my struggle to enact your mission may result in suffering or death, but that is not dependent upon those things.

Circle of Hope is committed to the kind of compassionate “conversion” Weaver describes Ruether as supporting. Today, search through our calendar and see if you can’t find an opportunity to express that compassion. There are many ways for Jesus’ love to be known in our world. If you do not find any to your satisfaction, consider forming a new compassion team.

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