The Atheistic Questions: Genesis

Saw this classic on a preview for a TV sitcom:

“If God made Adam and Eve and they had Cain and Abel, then where did Cain and Abel’s wives come from?”

Genesis Roelandt-Savery

The little girl preparing for the Sacrament of Confirmation seems to have bewildered and flustered her “very Catholic” mother with this question. But, any “very Catholic” person should know the answer… Continue reading

A Stranger Appears in the Making of the Bread

Mary Series: Part 1

Picture it. Nazareth. 1 BC (or maybe a few years earlier.) Alone in the simple home where she lives with her parents, a young peasant woman kneels upon the earthen floor making bread dough in a wooden bowl, completely unaware of the extraordinary conversation that she’s about to have.[i] As the ingredients come together and form in her hands, she hums a song of thanksgiving and praise. Briefly, never losing focus on her task, she thinks of the day in the future when she will be making bread in Joseph’s home. For she is betrothed to a kind and hard-working carpenter, a widower with several children of whom the young virgin looks forward to taking care.

Yes, this woman is Mary, who will be the mother of Jesus – but she isn’t yet. Right now, she is a prayerful and thoughtful girl, a good daughter and neighbor and practitioner of Judaism. She speaks Aramaic and understands Hebrew, has been taught the Sacred Scriptures and the fine skills of nurturing and caring for a family and a community. She is intelligent and considerate, never overthinking with needless worry, nor deeming any detail or any person as insignificant.

Mary begins to knead the dough, firmly but gently, when, suddenly, she is interrupted in the making of bread by the appearance of a strange visitor standing before her. Bearing peculiar salutations of mysterious portent, the stranger is illuminated all through as though by secret sunlight. Mary, bathed in the radiant glow, remains kneeling on the ground, transfixed.

Now, this stranger isn’t entirely strange to Mary. She has an unadulterated communion with the spiritual that was divinely given to her, and safeguarded in her, since her conception. She recognizes this being before her as an angel, a supernatural creature charged with bearing divine message. She knows, then, that the words spoken by this angel express the very mind of God. And this angel is hailing her, telling her that the Lord is with her, and calling her “Most Favored One” or “Full of Grace”.

Imagine being saluted by one of God’s heavenly hosts. Imagine hearing, unmistakably, imagine knowing, that you are specially gifted and favored by God. This is what is happening to Mary, but it doesn’t cause her to be puffed up with pride. Innocent as the day she was conceived, she is trying to figure out what it means and is troubled with the wonder. In full knowledge of her lowliness as a creature before the Uncreated Creator, she is humbled, disturbed in her heart by this greeting of honor.

Human beings are naturally afraid of the unknown – and Mary is human. Although she is divinely blessed by unique, supernatural grace, her intellect, imagination, and will are limited – just as with every human being. Born of working-class parents, she is the least worldly person of whom you can think, but she is rich with inherent wisdom – and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom. The human mind cannot comprehend or fathom the Mysteries of God. The visiting angel knows this and sees Mary’s reaction. She is told not to be afraid. Believing that this is God’s message for her, the young woman listens and trusts. And her natural concern is quieted.

Now, the messenger of God says to Mary, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Mary is innocent, but she’s not naïve, and she’s no dummy. She knows how babies get made. And she also knows that, though betrothed, she is, as yet, unmarried, still a virgin, and has absolutely no plans of sexual intercourse anytime soon. So, she naturally wonders how she is going to become pregnant. It isn’t that Mary doubts the angel’s word, nor even the possibility of her becoming pregnant. But, she doesn’t know by what process the pregnancy will occur. Did the angel come suddenly to tell her of something that will happen later, in the future? Will Joseph, then, be the father of the child? Or will her pregnancy occur in a more dramatic, or even mysteriously miraculous, way? The words which with the angel described this child that she is to conceive and bear – “called the Son of the Most High… and of his kingdom there will be no end” – sound messianic to the young woman’s ears. Such a child would, it seem, deserve a miraculous beginning. But… How? What will be involved? If Mary was troubled before by the angel’s greeting, she is now sincerely, deeply, very curious. It is because of the young woman’s faith in the Divine Word and Order that she seeks, with the wonderful sparklings of the human mind, to peer into the workings of the universe, both within and beyond.

And so, at this moment, Mary, her dark, bright eyes looking up to the figure of light, opens her mouth to speak. In speaking, she knows that she will be communicating with God Godself through this divinely appointed messenger. She knows this and doesn’t hesitate to show her humble ignorance in asking her question to the Mighty One. She, like any true scientist that ever lived or ever will live, simply wants to know how something works.

Mary says to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?”

The angel, who is called Gabriel, has heard this kind of question before, just six months earlier, in fact, in human time. But that question, asked by Zechariah, concerning the angelic announcement of his wife Elizabeth’s forthcoming pregnancy, was not an honest question, was not an innocent desire for an understanding of the truth. And Gabriel had justly punished the man for his sarcastic response to God’s message, for his doubt in the power of God in the face of earthly limitations. Zechariah had been struck mute, unable to speak a further word until the prophecy delivered by Gabriel had been fulfilled. Mary, who is now asking the angel how God’s will for her pregnancy shall be accomplished, is honest and innocent and just in her asking. Her question is real, born from the virtue of her human curiosity, and Gabriel receives the question graciously. The young woman shall not be punished, but, rather, rewarded with an answer from God.

The answer that will be given will seem to only raise more questions. However, instead, from her heart, Mary will raise forth the most perfectly human response to God of all time.

*          *          *

            Prayer: Almighty and all powerful God, I am but a lowly creature before Thee. May I trust in Thee and not be afraid. I pray that I, like Mary, daughter of Anna and Joachim, may be pure and open to Thy Divine Will for me. In my lack of understanding, may I have faith. In my desire for understanding, may I earnestly seek… and find Thee. Amen.

Hail, Mary, Full of Grace, pray for all seekers of truth who seek to peer into the workings of the universe, both within and beyond.

Christina Chase

 

[i] I am no expert on the customs of the area at this time. And my narrative does not aim for historical accuracy as its most important goal – rather, I aim to take the history written in the Bible and use my flawed imagination and intellect to bring it more fully to life in my heart. I am also aware that some of the details I am imagining are less than congruent with an early account of young Mary’s life, The Protoevangelium of James, which I have only read in fractions, but which I believe is a rich and fruitful account. Read it here: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0847.htm

God As a Sentence

I don’t get the Holy Trinity.  So far beyond the grasp of my logic, and even my imagination, that when I think about the Trinity too much, I feel the foundations of my Christian Faith start to shake.  But, that’s a good thing.

Sometimes, too often, we who believe in God tend to picture an omniscient deity sitting above the clouds, or hold an image of the outstretched and encompassing universe in our heads, or sense some feeling of ceaseless and potent energy, and are too complacent with that as our understanding of God.  As an explanation for who God is, the Mystery of the Holy Trinity also renders some images, but to make cognitive sense of them as One God is… well, impossible.  And that really bothers me sometimes.  When I first believed in the existence of God, I believed that God is one – and I was done.  That was fairly simple.  But, the Christian understanding of God as both singular and Triune … that’s just mind-boggling.  Yet… shouldn’t God be mind-boggling?  For, as St. Augustine says, “If you understood him, it would not be God”.  The Trinitarian understanding of God is justly incomprehensible.

The Mystery of the Holy Trinity – that there is only one God, and that God is one in 3 Divine Persons – is absolutely a Mystery.  It’s not something to be solved, like a murder mystery that needs a good detective to figure it out.  It’s something to be marveled at, something to be pondered in the heart, something to be accepted in faith – it is Mystery, ineffable, of infinite depths.  When I was falling away from my faith, I asked my mother many questions about God and her invariable answer was, “It’s a mystery.”  At the time, I thought this was a kind of brush off, a copout in the face of something insensible, and I rolled my eyes.  I had no appreciation for true mystery.  It wasn’t until I truly believed in the ultimate reality that we call God that I understood the truth of my mother’s answer.  Mystery is inexplicable and inexhaustible.

My mother had also warned me about the danger of asking too many questions – for it seems she had also experienced the shaking of faith.  But, it’s good to wonder, to seek understanding even if just partial.  Many small Catholic colleges (I’m thinking of a particular one, Magdalen College in Warner, New Hampshire) want to shake the faith of their cradle Catholic students.  The hope is to shake them out of the complacency of conditioning, to get them out of the rut of rote, to cause them to ask reasonable questions so that they may open their minds and have deeper and truer faith.  And this can lead them to what St. Anselm calls “faith seeking understanding.”

Anyway, that’s why we Christians have so many attempts to illustrate the Mystery of the Holy Trinity.  There’s St. Patrick’s 3 leafed Shamrock, the 3 forms of H2O, and the contemplation of lover, beloved, and love, just to name a few.  Much Catholic theology, especially seen in the works of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, emphasizes the relationship aspect, saying that we understand God as relational, a communion of persons, the giving, receiving, and sharing of self in love.  Thinking about this the other day, I still couldn’t wrap my head around it.  (Duh.)

Finally getting to my ultimate reason for this post, my conclusion was simply this: all that has ever been and all that ever will be is loving.  More of a verb than a noun.  I think it’s the noun aspect that bothers me when thinking about Triune God.  God is not 3 things.  We say that God is 3 persons, but not in the sense of human persons, not in the sense of separate individuals.  To get me out of the human thought of what person is, I tried to think about God as verb, as loving

Thinking about God as action led me to think about verbs.  And the intrigue with this thought is that verbs usually only make up part of a sentence.  A verb is not a complete sentence, even an imperative like, “Eat!” implies a subject and, if the verb is transitive, it also implies a direct object.  Most words alone are not complete sentences.

I.

That is not a complete sentence.

You.

That is not a complete sentence.

Love.

That is not a complete sentence.  (Well… I suppose if it is an imperative… But then it implies a subject, the person who is being exhorted to love.  And the verb love needs an object to which it is directed.  There may be a question of whether the verb love is a transitive verb or an intransitive verb… But, if it’s viable, it’s a philosophical question not a grammatical one.  We can, of course, think of love as a quality that flows through us – but that is more of a noun.  In the sense of loving, love is a verb.  So, if this sentence is an imperative, then the implied subject is being told to love something or someone (abstract or concrete) the object being likewise implied.)

Because we know that God is love, it does seem to me that we could let this one word stand by itself without a sentence.  Love.  But, then… What if this love is revealed to us, is communicated to us…?  Let us then say that it takes on sentence structure for our sake.  And, therefore, as a word alone it is incomplete.

I love you.

That is a complete sentence.  Each part needs the other in order to be a sentence.  Every part of the sentence is essential to the whole.

This one sentence might be a good way to have some kind of a glimpse-like understanding of the Holy Trinity (mysterious and ineffable as that limited understanding may be).  Being only an analogy, however, it is totally imperfect.  Being an attempt to explain the sacred mystery, it is utterly inept.  We are merely human with finite brains and finite understanding.  God’s ways are infinitely above our ways.  God reveals Godself to us and we receive through faith.

If we understood the Holy Trinity, then it would not be the truth about God.

I’m curious about other analogies or explanations of the Holy Trinity….  Inept as they may be, I believe there is worth in exploring them…