Quote for the Day

It is common for those who argue for and against the existence of God to assume that the word God is used by believers to refer to something that we can point toward, distance ourselves from, and dispassionately reflect upon. However, one can reject this idea of God as nothing but a form of idolatry . . . This approach questions any expression that would reduce God to the realm of objects. Here no theistic rendering of God is allowed to lay claim to God, for God dwells above and beyond all names. God is rather approached as the ineffable source that is received but never conceived. God is thus not approached as an object, but rather encountered as an absolute subject who transforms our relationship with all objects. Just as the light in the room cannot be seen but rather allows us to see, so God is not directly experienced but rather is the name we give to a whole new way of experiencing . . . Hence, religious experience is not really experience as such but the opening into a different way of experiencing.

— Peter Rollins, The Orthodox Heretic and
Other Impossible Tales

Pentecost and Ecstasy
What Has Not Yet Been Revealed
Sanctity and Struggle, or, Why Saints Have Chaotic Inner Lives (Hint: It's Because We All Do)
In Memoriam: Kenneth Leech
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Al Jordan

    Yes. This has come to be my understanding and experience of God. That God is not elsewhere and other, but within, and here and now and that in which we live and move and have our being. God experienced thusly is infinitely within and infinitely without and where the infinite within and infinite without touch, we have consciousness. Meister Eckhart says it best for me: “There is a something in the soul of man wherein God dwells, and there is a something in the soul of man wherein we dwell in God.” Ultimately, God is mystery but at the heart of that mystery is benevolence and illumination. I trust the mystery, not as something to be possessed but to be possessed by. It is into this benevolent mystery that I will ultimately surrender myself.

    Peace and Presence

  • Shadwynn

    Wonderful quote!

  • Jaime McLeod

    Yes. Yes. Hallelujah. Thank you, Carl. Thank you, Peter.

  • zoecarnate

    Damn, that’s a good quote. But I’ve gotta admit, it’s definitely neoplatonic – which is not a bad thing! But it’s certainly a point of creative tension for those of us who would ‘amen’ Brian McLaren’s lament that Christian faith has been co-opted by a Greco-Roman narrative instead of a more Hebraic understanding of God and life and meaning. Let’s face it, this particular Greco-Roman narrative is more poetic and chill-bump inducing for us these days than a highly personalist God who loves us, yes, but also makes demands and is sometimes jealous and – for Christians – ends up being awfully named in revelation and Incarnation. It would seem, a la Hebrews 1, that Jesus is indeed God’s speaking of Godself – and yet Pete’s point (which is really an apophatic point, a neoplatonic point) feels so salient in our over-God-spoken culture (particularly in the South).

    What’s a pomo un/believer to do??

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Well said, Mike. I’ve felt all along that the splendor of Christianity is precisely found in the tension between Hebrew monotheism and Greek philosophy (and, to a more submerged extent, Greek paganism) and so I think we have to live with the messiness of both Brian’s critique and Peter’s poetic evocation of the apophatic. Try to reduce Christianity to one or the other and something precious and vital is lost. I think the power of Brian’s critique lies in the fact that, for too long, the Greco-Roman narrative reigned supreme, and the God of Plato kept the God of Moses entirely marginalized. We just need to be careful not to allow the pendulum to swing too far in the opposite direction.

  • Jaime McLeod

    @zoecarnate: I’m not even a Christian (Zen Buddhist, if you want to know), so take my comment with however many grains of salt you like, but apophasis goes far back beyond neoplatonism. There is a strong current of apophastic theology in many major religious traditions, including and especially the more mystical streams within Judaism, all the way back to the book of Genesis.

  • Al Jordan

    Would anyone care to explain (briefly) Greco-Roman narrative and neo-platonism for us who are less erudite and esoteric? Am I missing it when I conclude that this kind of intellectualization (conceptualization) is what Rollins is pointing to when he talks about objectification of God? Be gentle.

    “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to be added, but when there is nothing left to take away.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/carlmccolman/ Carl McColman

    Al, to answer your question I would recommend Brian McLaren’s most recent book, A New Kind of Christianity. One of his arguments is that Christianity, as a whole, has been trammelled by an excessive interpretation of the Gospel and the New Testament through the cultural and philosophical assumptions of the Greek and Roman minds. I think he does a wonderful job explaining these assumptions, where they come from, and why they are problematic for Christians, both historically and in our time. Meanwhile, Neoplatonism or Neo-Platonism is a form of philosophy that follows the teaching of Plotinus, a third century interpreter of Plato, who is generally credited with articulating a more explicitly mystical approach to Plato’s thought. When the church fathers (especially Augustine, but also Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite) got their hands on Neoplatonism, they gave birth to the wisdom tradition that has directly influenced the course of Christian mysticism, influencing such great mystics as Meister Eckhart, the Cloud of Unknowing, and John of the Cross.

    Sorry if that is still heavy on the eggheaded side of things, this is a tough topic to do justice to in a brief and simple manner. Like I said, Brian’s treatment is quite good and alone worth the price of the book.

  • Al Jordan

    Carl, thanks for your reply and suggestions. I haven’t read that particular book by McLaren and that sounds like a good place to start. I’m already on the same page with his argument that the Gospel narrative has been excessively interpreted but now I will have a source other than my own intuitive conclusions to point to. I am more familiar with the wisdom tradition but not its historical connection to various early Christian thinkers. Thanks again.

  • http://heartofflame.blogspot.com Yewtree

    OH YES! fabulous quote.

  • Soltera

    At first, he lost me at the light, as my theology walks in the garden in the cool of the day. But upon re-reading, being “in the upper room” with Jesus, would be exactly an “opening into a different way of experiencing,” as a result of His presence rather than a direct relationship. The directness of the experience is the heat on the skin of that light.