Prayer as practicing relatedness

“What do I mean by prayer? I mean the practice of relatedness. On one side, prayer is our capacity to enter into that vast community of life in which self and other, human and nonhuman, visible and invisible, are intricately intertwined. While my senses discriminate and my mind dissects, my prayer acknowledges and recreates the unity of life. In prayer, I no longer set myself apart from others and the world, manipulating them to suit my needs. Instead, I reach for relationship, allow myself to feel the tuggings of mutuality and accountability, take my place in community by knowing the transcendent center that connects it all.

On the other side, prayer means opening myself to the fact that as I reach for that connecting center, the center is reaching for me. As I move toward the heart of reality, reality is moving toward my heart. As I recollect the unity of life, life is recollecting me in my original wholeness. In prayer, I not only address the love at the core of all things; I listen as that love addresses me, calling me out of isolation and self-centeredness into community and compassion. In prayer, I begin to realize that I not only know but am known.

Here is the insight most central to spiritual experience: we are known in detail and depth by the love that created and sustains us.”

- Parker Palmer, To Know As We Are Known: A Spirituality of Education, p. 11

 

Do all aliens go to hell?

Those aren’t stars. Those are galaxies.

The God I have experienced in my life is amazingly creative, artful, resourceful. Recycling, repurposing, making outstanding good from broken down, bringing order from chaos, turning even my worst screw ups into beauty and blessings for others. Nothing in nature goes to waste and the same seems to be true in my life. Everything seems to either be on purpose or effectively repurposed for good. Does this mean I live in Hunkeydoreyville? Not at all. I have experienced and been close to incredible pain and tragedy, including recent events, and past events that cause persistent, deep pain. Still, over the long haul, I would say things trend toward the good. I am convinced that left alone things only get worse. Things only get better when someone works to make them better. So I see this good-ward trend as evidence of God’s ongoing work in the world.

(Let me give a nod to my skeptical friends before I make a leap. It is entirely possible that I read things this way because of my own proclivity, that I choose to see what I want to see. It might be that I am misattributing things to God or (worst case) that I’m making all the God stuff up altogether as some sort of coping mechanism. I don’t really have a response for such a critique. It’s either really God or I’m making it up. Logically speaking it could be either and there’s no way to make a determination. But this is how I think about things, as God acting in the world to bring about good.)

Now if this God I have experienced is the actual God of the universe (not some local deity or figment of my imagination), then I don’t think it takes much to envision all that creativity, artfulness, and resourcefulness stretching across the universe. I wonder – literally I imagine with a sense of awe and wonder – at the infinite possibilities of what this God can create. It seems likely that beyond the far horizon the most amazing creations exist. What might an infinitely creative God create? What beauty, what goodness, what art? It boggles the mind.

This is what I thought the other day when I read Ken Ham casually dismissing the idea of aliens or at most flippantly consigning whoever they are to eternal hell (read it here if you must). Really? He can’t imagine God making other worlds teeming with life the way this one does? The God who specializes in accomplishing multiple goals with a single act could only manage to create this one (albeit wonderful) world? Or if sentient aliens do exist they are automatically hell-bound? Ken Ham and I have not experienced the same God. His is smaller than mine, mean, dull, and uninteresting. His god is not worth bothering with, much less worshipping. His god defaults to eternal judgment. The God I have experienced defaults to love (see John 3:16 for example) and exhibits grace that makes use of the full measure of divine power and creativity.

For a better take on this than Ham’s drivel, I recommend the C.S. Lewis space trilogy, which explores the ideas of a unfallen planet (in Out of the Silent Planet) and another planet facing an initial Edenesque test (in Perelandra). It’s a good way to stretch your thinking on these things and get a good scifi fix at the same time. It is entirely possible that God has created life beyond this planet and if so, those creatures exist in their own relationship to God just as we do.

Don’t settle for a small, mean, unrelational god. God is so much bigger, so much more loving and full of goodness than we have imagined.

(By the way, dear blog readers, I think I’m back. Look for more tomorrow. And feel free to comment.)