Panentheism, finding God in everyone and everywhere (XII)

This is the twelfth in a set of reactions to “How I found God in Everyone and Everywhere”, a collection of essays edited by Andrew Davies and Philip Clayton, for which there is currently the “Cosmic Campfire” book group, a crossover between Homebrewed Christianity and the Liturgists, studying the book over the next few weeks. If you haven’t yet read my first post, you should probably read that first!

Those who are following these as they come out will notice that I haven’t yet posted my tenth and eleventh reactions. As with the ninth on Matthew Fox, the schedule of sessions with the authors demands that I try to post this before Tuesday evening. The others will come eventually!

The twelfth and last essay is by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson. Tripp Fuller has sometimes referred to Brad Artson as “his rabbi”, and insofar as a Christian can have a rabbi, I share his feeling. I read and listen to R. Artson’s work with fascination. He is a (possibly “the”) Jewish process theologian.

Reading his essay, however, does not deal very much with how process interacts with Judaism; among a set of personal reflections, his strikes me as perhaps the most personal of all. Like me, he was an atheist at an early age (though he was largely brought up as such whereas I rejected the religious teaching I was thrust into) and like me he had a transformative experience. His, however, was extremely specific; he felt and saw himself as present at the Exodus (“The vision was visual, clear and experiential”), whereas mine was definitely of the “what on earth was THAT?” type, requiring a huge amount of later processing (and repetition) in order to make sense of it. The image of a return is something which permeates the essay.

I see there something extremely Jewish – the insistence on the particular, which has to precede the general. The Talmud states, after all, “Whoever destroys a single life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved the whole world.” I’ll come back to that, which isn’t something R. Artson quotes, but note that I think this is a principle which Christianity could do to pay more attention to.

He then immerses himself in practice, at the suggestion of R. Gold, which is again the Jewish approach, and again something I feel is undervalued in Christianity; Judaism is overwhelmingly interested in orthopraxy and not very much in orthodoxy, whereas we have “sola fide” running through our theologies. We ignore at our peril the well established psychological mechanism which is summed up as “Act as if” – what you do consistently will eventually affect your thinking and your belief. Following that, he turns from politics to rabbinical studies, and I think of Hillel’s statement “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another. That is the whole Law. The rest is commentary. Now go and learn.” I spent a lot of time in politics myself, albeit at a local level, which for me was, I’m sure his own involvement was for R. Artson, intended as a means of being rather more positive about the Golden Rule, and doing good things for others. I then turned to study later; he made that transition much earlier in life.

He was then faced with a problem in theodicy in the very particular case of his son Jacob, who is autistic, and found a solution in process theology. “What process theology offers me in addition to extended community is a way to make sense of my son’t struggles and triumphs. It allows me to affirm that Jacob isn’t being judged or tested, that he in fact is like all of us, living with the random workings out of a natural order, and that meaning isd to be fashioned by his response to life, not by happenstance. I realise that since God is self-surpassing and engaged in everything, every instant, every moment, that Jacob also can be self-surpassing. Indeed, he is!”. He writes in lyrical terms about how this concept of God allows him to delight in existence; indeed, I could see there that it lets him love God again (which I inevitably link with Hillel’s statement, having learned something like it as the second part of the Great Commandments), having written of his two years not talking to God. “All life is a mixture of delight and suffering, and consciousness itself brings about the capacity to delight and the capacity to mourn”.

We see there both the return which is the overriding theme of the essay and the insistence on the particular; it is through this specific experience that he loves life and loves God. I am uplifted by his words – and thank him for referring to Christianity as the “younger nephew” of Torah. I am always ready to learn from what I suppose must be our auntie.


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