Today's Wisdom

Those who do not pass from the experience of the cross to the truth of the resurrection condemn themselves to despair! For we cannot encounter God without first crucifying our narrow notions of a god who reflects only our own understanding of omnipotence and power
Pope Francis

Monday, February 1, 2010

Haiti - A contemporary story of Job

This past Friday, we discussed how is it that God allows such evils as the earthquake in Haiti...One person had expressed her hope in an email "In spite of all the 'darkness' that has happened I cannot help but see the Light in what is happening. So many countries (some of which are enemies) have come together to help restore and bring faith and hope back to this broken nation. I see Christ working in such marvellous ways. Sometimes we must remember that before the Resurrection came the Crucifixion." Haiti, in fact, turned out to be the place where God, as always, brought good out of evil - The Red Cross reported that 3 days after the earthquake, it had already received $8 million in $10 donations by text messaging from young adults using their iPhones. What do you make of this outpouring care? Some of the donors are literally kids who wanted to share. Many organizations and countries pitched in an act of solidarity - The face of God shone on many hearts, even when they did not explicitly recognize it. We went back to Job whose trajedy in the Old Testament reminds us of our own. Job was an upright man and was blessed with abundant family life and material richness. For his great piety, Satan said to God "Is it for nothing that Job is God-fearing? Have you not surrounded him and his family and all that he has with your protection? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his livestock are spread over the land. But now put forth your hand and touch anything that he has, and surely he will blaspheme you to your face." When God permitted the calamity to happen to Job and Job lost his family and his belongings, he, unlike us, remained loyal to God. The tempter went again and said to the Lord "Skin for skin! All that a man has will he give for his life. But now put forth your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and surely he will blaspheme you to your face." And God permitted Satan and "Satan smote Job with severe boils from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head." What was Job's response? He refused to curse God and was suffering in silence, but you can see how great suffering touched upon his soul and made him utter the words "Why did I not perish at birth, come forth from the womb and expire?" Only then you see Satan no more. Only then Job lost his battle...A long discussion emerges between Job and his friends - in particular a long admonition by Elihu...But wait for the end of the war - It is a story that shows the human trajedy of everyone. At the end, God responds to Job's questioning "Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its size; do you know? Who stretched out the measuring line for it? Into what were its pedestals sunk, and who laid the cornerstone, While the morning stars sang in chorus and all the sons of God shouted for joy? And who shut within doors the sea, when it burst forth from the womb; When I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling bands?" Job responded by addressing the Lord "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be hindered. I have dealt with great things that I do not understand; things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know. I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you. Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes." The Book of Job then proclaims "the LORD restored the prosperity of Job, after he had prayed for his friends; the LORD even gave to Job twice as much as he had before. Then all his brethren and his sisters came to him, and all his former acquaintances, and they dined with him in his house. They condoled with him and comforted him for all the evil which the LORD had brought upon him; and each one gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. Thus the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his earlier ones." The story of Job tells us of God's outpouring and unflinshing love, in spite of every evil small or great, because He alone can cure us. He alone can give us a blessed life. The entire Biblical story is online here for your reading. It simply reiterates what St. Paul says "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose." (Rom 8: 28)

Is God in your brain? The Answer

Dr. Andrew Newberg of the University of Pennsylvania did much research re the mind’s relationship to God. Dr. Newberg wrote a book called “Why God Won’t Go Away” based on his experiments. In this work, also sometimes referred to as neurotheology, Newberg describes the possible neurophysiological mechanisms associated with religious and spiritual experiences. His initial research included the use of functional brain imaging to study Franciscan nuns in prayer and Buddhist meditators. Newberg has maintained that science and brain imaging studies are only tools to evaluate the brain during such experiences but do not necessarily negate such experiences. Here is an excerpt from an interview that Robert Wright had with Andrew Newberg. It is accessible online through my blog. In Newberg, there are levels of union with God: First we start by having a sense of feeling beauty (sunset, concert...etc), Second, we find a sense of community and love when we pray to God in Church. We have a sense of awe when we praise God in Church. Third: Prayer is a mild relationship with God and others. Fourth: intensive and long experience in prayers and meditation may lead a few people to have ecstasy and union with God (as St. Bernard says in his teaching on the 4 loves.) Two powerful questions: One: Dr. Newberg explains the feeling of oneness with God in terms of the brain lobes. Does not this mean that God is created in our brains? Answer: Dr. Newberg did not suggest that God is created by the brain. Here is what he said in the interview with Robert Wright (an agnostic) about where in the brain he detected the changes of brain activities during meditation by some nuns “That's part of the brain technically called the posterior superior parietal lobe we've sort of dubbed "the orientation area" and it is the orientation area that takes all of our sensory input -- visual, auditory, body sensory input -- and creates for us a sense of our self and a sense of that self's orientation within the world. Our model suggests that when people go through these kinds of experiences, particularly through a meditative or prayer type of practice, that by blocking the sensory input into this area you ultimately prevent that particular part of the brain from being able to do a good job at orienting the self and even creating the sense of self. If you block that out completely you would have a complete loss of any sort of definition or boundary of the self and we think that they may explain why people feel this absorption into some object of prayer or meditation, absorption into God, becoming one with something in the universe or becoming one with God, you have a loss of that sense of self and other or that sense of self and world by blocking the input into that area. I should stop here and go back to the point here that we're talking along a very reductionist path right now which I think is okay and I think is important but I think our ultimate conclusions are actually going to be very far from the reductionist...” It is clear from the above that he is talking about a mechanism in the brain that reflects in the body what is happening in the soul. He emphatically also says “When we look at a mystical experience as being a very profound spiritual state they’re usually associated with very powerful emotional responses whether they are ecstatic responses or very powerful quiescent kind of response or even some kind of combination of the two, they often are associated with a strong sense of becoming one with or becoming unified with God (or the Universe or some absolute nature of the world). Those are probably the main defining characteristics of the most profound types of mystical experiences. But we also look at all types of spiritual experiences along a continuum where we start with base-line reality and the individual discreetness of things in reality -- tables, chairs, cars and things like that -- all the way through very mild experiences that someone may have looking at a sunset or listening to a beautiful Mozart concerto. And then finally, on up to the very powerful kinds of experiences people get after many many years of meditation or prayer and where they ultimately do become absorbed into their object of meditation or prayer... Well a very obvious example is when people go to a church or synagogue and participate in some type of service where they may experience a fairly strong sense maybe of awe, of God, a very strong sense of love, a sense of community with the people that they are with as well as the sense of becoming part of something greater than themselves even though it doesn't necessarily mean that they have a complete loss of that sense of self.” Two: What Dr. Newberg says about experiencing God can be applied to any religion. Does this mean that Christianity is like any other religion? Answer: Dr. Newberg did not speak about the difference between religions. His expertise lies in neuro-scientific research. He himself rejected the reductionist idea of atheism that the brain activities create God. See above. It is not true that Christianity is like any other religion. Christianity is the most profound religion in the world. Christians conquered the world, not by the sword, but by imitating Christ who loved his Father and all people including his enemies. Christ is the one who taught us that God is our father, not a divine stranger. Christianity brought the highest moral values in history and shaped the entire civilization of the West. On the other hand, Eastern religions are man’s search for God while Christianity is God’s response and self-revelation to man. Islam is a Christian heresy (distorted). Although there are rays of truth in other religions, only in Christianity do we know of the true God – a God who is Love itself in the Trinity, a God who out of his love created us and not only that, but also came into history to share our humanity and suffer the most cruel death in order to make us participants in God’s own life. Not only do we have the great Tradition and the Bible, but also the sacraments based on Apostolic testimony and priesthood since the Church was founded by Christ as a perfection of the Judaic tradition. As much as Christians are privileged in the true faith, they are responsible to share this faith with non-Christians. But this does not mean that non-Christians who never knew Christ will all perish. Those who follow the dictates of their conscience and search for God, will find him since God does not wish that anyone should perish. The supremacy of conscience, affirmed in the Second Vatican Council, means that everyone must follow the dictates of his conscience, but only after he has done his best to make it well informed. The bottom line is this: Atheism will never conquer religion neither in philosophy nor in science nor in experience (phenomenology).

Today's Quote

"Behold I make all things new." (Revelation 21:5)


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