Godtalk: In relationship with God


Credit: Robert Dickow via Unsplash

There are two extremes that the Christian must avoid,” says Bishop Geoffrey Robinson.*  “One extreme speaks only of personal self-fulfillment and denies the example and words of Jesus about taking up a cross. The other extreme speaks only the negative language of denial and renunciation and does not allow for the proper self-love without which true growth is not possible. There is a middle ground and it may be found only when we reject both extremes and try to combine into one the two ideas of renunciation and self-love       

Imagine that I go to a symphony concert where the orchestra and a soloist play Tchaikovsky's piano concerto. If the pianist is very good, there can come a moment when everything around me fades away and I am taken up into direct contact with Tchaikovsky alone, who speaks to me through his music. At that moment the pianist could paraphrase the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Galatians, 'I live now, not I, but Tchaikovsky lives in me'.

It is Tchaikovsky alone who can support and continue this moment, for it is his music alone that contains the inspiration, the genius, the divine spark that no one else in that hall possesses. Take this away and the music would come to an abrupt halt, for no one else can supply it.

At the same time, it is at this moment when we have forgotten the very existence of the pianist that the pianist is most fully alive, most fully all he or she is capable of being. There will have been a vast amount of hard work, and, therefore, of self-denial and renunciation, before this moment became possible, and it would never have been possible if the person had had a narrow and indulgent idea of self-fulfilment. On the other hand, there would also have to have been a basic self-love, self-esteem and self-confidence, or the pianist would never have had the courage to begin the long journey to this moment, let alone complete it.

“I have chosen Tchaikovsky deliberately, for he was homosexual at a time when it was not possible to be open about this fact and he suffered greatly from this tension in his life. This suffering is so much part of the music he composed that I do not believe any pianist who knew nothing of suffering could really take me to that moment when I was in direct contact with Tchaikovsky himself The pianist would not need to have had exactly the same experiences as Tchaikovsky, but would need to have known anguish, helplessness, fear and anger.

“In a similar way, people could be in a position to say the words of Paul, 'I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me' only when they had combined these different elements in their lives. Jesus alone would supply the spiritual inspiration and genius and they would have to be constantly connected to this source of spiritual energy.

They would  need to have a basic love of self and belief in self, as Jesus certainly did, for without this growth would not be possible. They would have to make every effort to become all they were capable of being, with all the renunciation and self-denial this would involve. And, like Jesus, they would have to open themselves to the full pain and tragedy of the world around them and seek to enter the depths of its mystery. They would need to experience their own brokenness.

“There is a long history behind the few thoughts I have expressed here. Much of that history was negative and went too far with the idea of denying oneself. In recent decades the reaction has gone too far in the opposite direction. For the next millennium it is essential that the church find and articulate that middle ground that gives the only true freedom to grow.” 20/11/15

*  from CONFRONTING POWER AND SEX IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH,  Bishop Geoffrey Robinson, 2007