I apologize that my last couple of posts have not been entirely clear. So let me be crystal clear about the main point. If you read this blog from the beginning, you would have to conclude that I am an individual who has come to a point in life where I am unwilling to live a life of pretense. Clichés do not cut it anymore. Either everything must change or I will live out my days as an unsatisfied, depressed pauper living a powerless life centered on myself, where only death will provide relief. St. Teresa puts it quite vividly:
I was recently told by a great theologian that souls without prayer are like bodies, palsied and lame, having hands and feet they cannot use. Just so, there are souls so infirm and accustomed to think of nothing but earthly matters, that there seems no cure for them.1
I no longer believe that I have been saved simply so that I may go to heaven when I die. I believe that being saved means that a way has been made for me to re-establish the kind of relationship with God that Adam and Eve had in the garden. I have argued in the last several posts that the forty years that Moses spent in the wilderness produced exactly the same sense about life. When he saw the burning bush, he was ready. When I sat in that first Elder Board meeting, I was ready. Ready for what?
I am ready (desperate) for a conversational relationship with God where, though He is invisible, He can be seen and heard. I need God’s presence in my life, not as a theoretical entity, not as a presence that is simply assumed by some leap of faith. I cannot read the Scriptures and continue to believe that I live in a universe where God, who rightly holds THE central position and is THE most important person in that universe, has purposely hidden Himself from His people, where He never speaks, where He never reveals His presence in real ways to individuals who are willing to do what it takes to seek Him.2 This is the context in which I read the Scriptures:
But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6)
My understanding of this verse is not informed by hermeneutically sound exegesis (although, it could be!), but by my need to establish, maintain, and sustain a real relationship with the Invisible. I believe that the room to which Jesus refers here is not a room in a house. He is speaking allegorically about my soul. “But you, when you pray, enter into your own soul, and pray to your Father who resides in your soul, but who is hidden from everyone else, and your Father who engages with you there, in your soul, will be your reward.”
St. Teresa’s analogy of the soul is valuable:
I thought of the soul as resembling a castle, formed of a single diamond or a very transparent crystal, and containing many rooms, just as in heaven there are many mansions. If we reflect, sisters, we shall see that the soul of the just man is but a paradise, in which, God tells us, He takes His delight. What, do you imagine, must that dwelling be in which a King so mighty, so wise, and so pure, containing in Himself all good, can delight to rest? … As far as I can understand, the gate by which to enter this castle is prayer and meditation.1 (emphasis mine)
No, wait. God lives in heaven and when you pray, you should pray to your Father in heaven. That’s what Jesus said in the Lord’s prayer!
So here’s my problem with your claim. For many decades, I shared this view of prayer, but I can endure such a view no longer. Why? because it is a serious (fatal!) impediment to making contact with God. This view of prayer has the following implications: I am on earth. He is in heaven. I am visible. He is invisible. Generally speaking, we do not perceive invisible things as being real. As long as I view God as being “up there”, He remains distant, far away, untouchable. As long as I am on earth, I cannot go to heaven. I cannot be in His presence. Some of this is true and some is not and I do not intend to argue the theology of these perceptions. Nevertheless, these perceptions are widespread amongst evangelicals and, for me, they have had a real and profoundly negative impact on my life and my view of God: He is not here with me but resides in a distant place.
The truth is that God lives inside of me and this changes everything.
What? No, God lives in heaven!
Of course. That is the truly weird thing about all of this. God lives in heaven, but He also lives in me. I do not know how this can be, but it is true:
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you… (I Corinthians 6:19)
And, even more weird, is the fact that all of God lives inside of me, not just part of Him. He has taken up residence inside my body. A truly alien life form exists within me. There are two people living inside my body.
The body exists to house the soul. St. Teresa describes the body as the setting and the soul as the diamond. The setting is necessary while we walk on this planet, but the diamond is the truly important part. Furthermore, it is at the level of the soul, not the body, that there is interaction with God: soul on soul.3 The body is the temple, an edifice, a building; it is within this sanctuary that communion and worship occur. I have found St. Teresa’s allegory of a castle to be enormously useful: my soul is a castle and God lives inside this castle. It is inside this castle that we commune, one with another.
The condition of the castle can vary remarkably. Like any house, it can deteriorate due to neglect. Like any house, the castle, which is my soul, requires maintenance, just like the houses that we live in. We all go to more or less great lengths to maintain our homes so they are comfortable, nice places to live and so that they will last a good long while. We make sure the roof doesn’t leak; that there are no drafts through the windows; that the outside walls are painted to prevent moisture incursion; that the foundation doesn’t crack; that the basement doesn’t fill with water. We paint the interior walls and put up pictures to make a cheery place.
It turns out that maintaining my soul so that it is a decent place for me and God to live is much, much, much harder than I originally thought. It would be closer to the truth to admit that I never thought about it.
1 Saint Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle or The Mansions, ed. by B. Zimmerman, Grand Rapids, Christian Classics Ethereal Library. St. Teresa’s understanding of the soul as a castle was very likely informed by the Imitation of Christ by Thomas a Kempis, wherein he writes, for example, “Therefore, faithful soul, prepare your heart for this Bridegroom that He may come and dwell within you;…”
2 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
3 God has a soul? Yes, it appears so: “‘I then will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense altars, and heap your remains on the remains of your idols, for My soul shall abhor you.” (Leviticus 26:30, my emphasis) I will not, here or elsewhere, deal with the distinction between soul and spirit because such a pursuit would be fruitless and distracting. It is sufficient for me to think of my soul as that part of me that is “not body” and that all of God is “not body” since He has no body. My body was created to house my soul and, apparently, it is quite amenable to housing God, as well. C.S. Lewis addresses the question of “Why is there a need for a body?” in The Problem of Pain. He argues that my body keeps my soul distinct from your soul, which is housed in a separate body. If you want more detail about this, you will have to read the book.