Panentheism, finding God in everyone and everywhere (X)

This is the tenth 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!

The tenth essay is by Marjorie Suhocki, who is a process theologian. What most struck me about her chapter was her personal story. She falls about halfway between me and my late mother, and her story of being expected to go out to work rather than pursue an academic career mirrors my mother’s – she had a place to read Music at Durham University (where I eventually got my BSc), but had to go to work to support the family when her father fell ill; like Suhocki, she returned to study later in life, although whereas Suhocki managed this in her 30’s (with three young children and an alcoholic husband, no mean feat), my mother waited until her 60s, and was content with a BA from the Open University. Suhocki’s achievement in doing the coursework aspects of a PhD in one year particularly belies her early thought that “I don’t have enough brains”. I am filled with admiration, and left with the feeling that possibly I don’t have enough brains to understand process adequately, whereas she clearly does…

I love her statement that “Theology is provisional; God is not” and her later quote of an article “On the other hand, this may not be the case at all” which she adds as a silent rider to all her work. Those very much sum up my own attitude to theology, and I will not doubt borrow them in the future. I’m also with her in rejection of two out of the three “omnis”, namely omnipotence and omniscience. She and I both cannot abandon omnipresence, which she talks of experiencing as do I; I like the fact that she differentiates this from the idea of a King’s rule pervading his kingdom, which is absolutely not the way the average mystic experiences it.

Regarding process, let me just quote her “I do not know if process theology has it right. Its intricate metaphysical system, in its attempt to describe the world, may or may not concur with contemporary scientific understandings of the world… What matters for me us that its relational analysis of the world is consistent with the way the world is in a metaphorical way. Its metaphysics provide not a road map, but a metaphor for the fundamental nature of reality. And that fundamental naure is relational, through and through.”. Equally, I do not know if process has it right; those who are following my set of responses will already know that I have particular difficulty getting my brain round proces metaphysics. However, once they leave Whitehead behind, I tend to find process theologians coming up with statements which I can readily agree – it works as a metaphor, in other words.

It is just as well. Her earlier statement “Whitehead’s conception of God as a singular actual entity with a reversed polar structure necessitated that the world be taken into God at all moments of its multitudinous entities’ completions…” goes straight over my head. Maybe, however, a less concentrated, more expansive account might break through my wall of incomprehension? I hope so – I have her “God, Church, World” on order now.

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