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Mystery And Process Theology


Yvonne
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I have been reading an old thread on process theology. I find the more I apply (what I now know to be) process theology, science, and modern biblical scholarship, the more I find I'm losing touch with the awe-inspiring mystery of my beliefs. One of my favorite books has been The Cloud of Unknowing. I find myself being derailed sometimes by theology that isn't quite doing it for me. I strongly relate to the mysticism of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, but again, the theology isn't right for me. In an effort to find some of that mystery back, I find myself looking into Esoterica and New Age. I have respect for both, but neither have given me anything I can relate to. I find myself being sort of hybrid progressive Christian/Buddhist, doing neither one any justice – primarily because I do not have a good understanding of either. Any thoughts?

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A quick note before bed. I read on a Process website that process thinkers may need to create new stories that have personal meaning, sort of out of nothing. My theology is a desert but I am telling stories all around the topic. Picking up any story that makes sense in the moment. There are stories I will tell others I will not and I am learning to re-frame others. Most of mine are based in the Evolutionary Christianity movement and its conversations. I think process and evolution share many themes.

 

Dutch

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Hi Yvonne,

 

I do think one's theology has to make room for the feeling of mystery and awe. Unfortunately, feelings of awe come and go like wind, or spirit, I think. I suppose spiritual practice can, over time, deepen one's awareness of life. "Drink heaven and earth deep tonight."

 

Process theology gets very abstract, but at base it affirms our subjectivity. I think it does a pretty good job at theorizing about the universe in terms of a collection of genuine subjects, rather than just a jumble of objects. But theory is not reality, and what can we really say about the nature of things once they've lost their pretense of being "objects out there"? "Beheld most intimately and most personally," life springs clear from nowhere at all. "If you want to know where the flowers come from, not even the god of spring knows."

 

I think I too am a hybrid of the type you identify. :lol: If you wish to, I'd be interested in understanding more specifically what you've found lacking in the traditions you've touched on. In the absence of this understanding I can only continue to ramble on about what I think about such things, which probably isn't of interest to anyone but myself. :D

 

Thanks for sharing,

Mike

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I do think one's theology has to make room for the feeling of mystery and awe. Unfortunately, feelings of awe come and go like wind, or spirit, I think. I suppose spiritual practice can, over time, deepen one's awareness of life. "Drink heaven and earth deep tonight."

 

I agree, the feeling of awe is etheral, but I think a sense of mystery is a wonderful thing. I'm just having difficulty marrying my theology with that sense of mystery.

 

Process theology gets very abstract, but at base it affirms our subjectivity.

 

Ain't it the truth! I think that's where I'm getting bogged down - in the abstractions. My "old theology" was that of a very conservative Catholic Church. One for whom even the Catholic mystics were too "out there". When I found the mystics, I was elated, until I found process theology. :blink: In Esoterica and New Age I find too new many things that are just a little too far from my POV so I don't "get" it.

 

I think that what I am finding is all so complicated. :unsure: IMO, the simplicity of their faith is what so many fundamentalist are drawn to.

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Hi Yvonne,

 

Thanks for clarifying some of the things you're finding difficulty in.

 

Ain't it the truth! I think that's where I'm getting bogged down - in the abstractions. My "old theology" was that of a very conservative Catholic Church. One for whom even the Catholic mystics were too "out there". When I found the mystics, I was elated, until I found process theology. :blink: In Esoterica and New Age I find too new many things that are just a little too far from my POV so I don't "get" it.

 

I think that what I am finding is all so complicated. :unsure: IMO, the simplicity of their faith is what so many fundamentalist are drawn to.

 

I think I can understand your mixed feelings about philosophy and abstraction. I do think life really can be (and is) as simple, or as complicated, as we make it (even though most of us, including myself, probably don't know much about how to stop making it complicated!).

 

By this I simply mean that there's no shortage of questions we can ask about reality. That much is obvious. :) Each question represents a different route -- a different method by which to know reality. And that's perfectly fine so long as we're not placing false expectations on what such methods can yield. Reality will "answer" differently according to the different kind of questions we ask it -- the methods we decide to use. In other words, the particular answers we gain will depend on these methods -- these "ways of knowing."

 

This brings me to my real point: If we're seeking some sort of ultimate religious truth, most methods won't have much to say. Mysticism deals with a very different methodology than, say, chemistry. Mysticism says, "I want to know Reality" (in the biblical sense of intimate union). Chemistry says, "I want to know something about a conceptual object called a molecule." In both cases, reality discloses and gives itself to us -- it's not some object out there that's alien to us. But only in the former case does Reality "answer" with Itself. I don't think there's any other reality "out there" that needs to be known. Objectivity is ultimately just another method. I think all we need to do is open to that intimate knowing, and explore the implications thereof. For mysticism, our very asking of the question contains the answer, because we are the answer (and the question).

 

That said, I don't think process theology is something one need worry about, unless one is driven to ponder the kinds of questions that Whitehead and his followers were (and are) trying to account for. These questions deal with rather special questions in philosophy. Process philosophy developed as an alternative to the scientific materialism that characterizes a lot of modern culture. Like many other metaphysical constructs, it tries to provide a systematic and coherent picture of reality. It provides a picture, I think -- a nice picture -- but whatever truth it may or may not convey, at the end of the day it's still just a picture. But that picture isn't something that stands against the traditional mystics -- not to my knowledge, anyway. It seems to provide a framework by which to affirm a vision of reality already very close to what the mystics have talked about with their own language and according to their own concerns. And this is important: process philosophy, like chemistry, has its own concerns that aren't by any means identical to the mystics', and therefore not viable to replace the mystics' (not that it's even trying to). Process philosophy, like any philosophy, is a purely rational exercise, whereas mysticism seeks to bypass that and get straight to the nitty-gritty.

 

Process philosophy is simply a philosophical system that tries to defend a particular vision of the universe as inter-subjective, where "mind" has a fundamental place in the cosmos. Among its aims is to demonstrate that psyche, in some sense, permeates the universe. These are very "mystical" claims. Even so, I don't think it pretends to give an "ultimate answer", because it recognizes the divine creativity at the heart of reality. In a worldview where mind is truly affirmed, there can be no pretense of ultimate answers, because the mystery of subjectivity permeates all of reality. As such a mystic can easily, I think, be a process philosopher as well. And, I think that once that kind of affirmation is reached intellectually (however you get there), you can ditch the abstractions for the real thing. It is, after all, just a way of thinking "about" reality. And as long as you are "about" reality, you're missing reality itself!

 

As for NewAge, if it seems rather confusing, I don't think the fault lies with you. NewAge is basically a recent emergence in Western history. Certainly a lot of its ideas are old -- borrowed from Eastern and Western philosophers and mystics -- but it more or less represents a very grassroots development of alternative religion/spirituality in the modern (post-Christian?) West. If you're looking for something with meat, it would probably be better to look to the sources (the aforementioned mystics) than to rely on "NewAge" in itself. I do not mean this as an insult to NewAge thinking, only that it would be best to look to where NewAge gets the best of its ideas from.

 

That's all I got for now. Hopefully there's something you could use in there. :lol:

 

Peace,

Mike

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This brings me to my real point: If we're seeking some sort of ultimate religious truth, most methods won't have much to say. Mysticism deals with a very different methodology than, say, chemistry. Mysticism says, "I want to know Reality" (in the biblical sense of intimate union). Chemistry says, "I want to know something about a conceptual object called a molecule." In both cases, reality discloses and gives itself to us -- it's not some object out there that's alien to us. But only in the former case does Reality "answer" with Itself. I don't think there's any other reality "out there" that needs to be known. Objectivity is ultimately just another method. I think all we need to do is open to that intimate knowing, and explore the implications thereof. For mysticism, our very asking of the question contains the answer, because we are the answer (and the question).

 

(snip)

 

Peace,

Mike

 

 

In my view, this is an excellent summation. My experience has shown "that in Christ is hid all knowledge and mystery". In Christ is that union you speak of. (that anointing which is a smearing together with God) Perhaps some other religions use other words but the results to me are the same.

 

Joseph

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In Process Thought, the mystery is in creation and creativity. Whitehead speaks of nature and "it's miracle of organization." As Jung put it, mind and matter are equally mysterious. For Whitehead and Jung, a sense of mystery leads to a sense of humbleness for what one does not know and perhaps, cannot know.

 

Myron

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I think for any of us that begin to move beyond 'religion', attempts by those before us to articulate in some codified form, the essence of the numinous, the divine mysteries, we hit a crisis point at which a paradigm shift is required to continue forward. This where we have encountered the problem with any attempt to describe in indescribable. In Paul's words of the man caught up unto the third heaven, we are groping blindly in the dark for 'something' not lawful to speak, ie, for which there are no human words to convey.

 

We are all limited by human language in attempting to articulate what there are not words for. I find most useful to use a process of dialectic, and to examine various ways from different traditions that are human attempts to describe the indescribable, and mentally 'arrange' them in something of a circle arouund an inner 'open' space, where I find the common thread, central iidea, if that makes sense.

 

We can't even put into human words our own experience of the numinous, let alone try to find someone else's second-hand description that says it for us.

 

Jenell

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Saint Augustine quote

“Miracles are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.”

 

I feel theology is only there to help us discover new truths or gain knowledge about old ones through our own nature, spiritual practice and self-expression. Human bliss, liberation and enlightenment require the spiritual disclosure of truths surpassing reason. It seems the joy at this stage is comprehensive, abundant and full of a sense of completion. Jesus said no man could take away from him as he prepared to lay down his life for mankind. His greatest lesson was that love has no limit and that it gives itself to all. Science, theology, psychology, new age and the scriptures of many religions have helped me understand what is not understandable by saying the same thing in a different way.

 

I like St Theresa and John of the Cross's descriptions because they are abstract leading us through our minds to the soul.

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For Whitehead and Jung, a sense of mystery leads to a sense of humbleness for what one does not know and perhaps, cannot know.

 

Myron

 

I think those things which "one cannot know" represent the most fascinating and tantalizing aspects of philosophy. :D If we simply don't know something, there's not much you can say about it other than we don't yet have it figured out. But if we find that we can't know something, there's a lot more implications (and potential conclusions) we can draw from that.

 

Peace,

Mike

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Hi Yvonne and Mike,

 

Given that you identify with both Christianity and Buddhism as I myself do, I was wondering if either of you have encountered the Nag Hammadi scriptures. I have found that they present a good interface between Christianity and Buddhism and contain, for me at least, some very awe-inspiring myths and biblical exegesis. I identify with Valentinian Christianity in this regard in particular and so far have found the book "Beyond Gnosticism" by Ismo Dunderberg to be one of the best presentations of it.

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Hello Sean,

 

Thanks for the recommendation. To tell you the truth I haven't studied very much on Gnosticism, I've read a little about Gospel of Thomas and some of the possible East/West parallels there, but my knowledge of that subject is, unfortunately, very superficial at this point. I've had some interest in some of the apophatic mystics like Dionysius and Eckhart.

 

If you'd like, maybe you could start another topic and share some thoughts about gnosticism. I know there would be interest in that subject here. :)

 

Thanks,

Mike

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Hi Mike,

 

I also appreciate the via negativa, which I believe I first encountered during my time studying Kabbalah and its (non)concept of Ein Sof. In fact, studying Kabbalah, particularly as elucidated by Gershom Scholem, is what led me to Gnosticism.

 

I'll start a topic on Valentinian Christianity in the Progressive Christianity forum rather than the Other Wisdom Traditions forum so as not to perpetuate the idea that those Christianities that have been collectively labeled Gnosticism are less truly Christian than their orthodox suppressors and because much of Valentinian thought and practice aligns with the 8 points while also providing that rich store of myths and biblical exegesis I mentioned above.

 

Hi Yvonne,

 

I read your opening post again and this time noticed especially your mention of struggling with modern biblical scholarship. Have you ever read any of James L. Kugel's "How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now" or "Traditions of the Bible: A Guide to the Bible As It Was at the Start of the Common Era"? The former might be helpful with it's juxtaposition of ancient and modern interpretations of the whole of the Hebrew Bible and especially Kugel's argument that, while modern biblical scholarship is important for an accurate understanding of the Bible, the ancient interpretations are vital to its existence and continuing appeal. The latter book is his anthology and explanation of those ancient interpretations covering only the Torah. There is also an abridged version of this book called "The Bible As It Was".

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I read your opening post again and this time noticed especially your mention of struggling with modern biblical scholarship. Have you ever read any of James L. Kugel's "How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture, Then and Now" or "Traditions of the Bible: A Guide to the Bible As It Was at the Start of the Common Era"? The former might be helpful with it's juxtaposition of ancient and modern interpretations of the whole of the Hebrew Bible and especially Kugel's argument that, while modern biblical scholarship is important for an accurate understanding of the Bible, the ancient interpretations are vital to its existence and continuing appeal. The latter book is his anthology and explanation of those ancient interpretations covering only the Torah. There is also an abridged version of this book called "The Bible As It Was".

 

Thanks, I'll be looking for these!

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