A Theology of Resiliency: A Reflection

When distilled into its finest pieces our universe has no mechanics to ground the depth of human experience. Powerful emotions, such as love, or existential desires, like justice, have no elementary particle. There are no atoms of hate or quarks of mercy. Yet human beings have evolved into creatures of symbol and creativity that participate every day in acts of spiritual creation; namely, a will to meaning which elicits a physical difference in creation. Facing a clockwork universe, “I rebel, therefore we exist.”[1]

In the context of a spiritual humanist theology, when I choose to wake up in the morning motivated by a radical agape impacting others, I take the invisible (love) and make it visible (charity). This does not happen through magical or miraculous intervention, but through a recognition of and participation in an interconnected reality.[2] My caritas emerges as a holy act that shifts the course of the universe: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, forgiving the enemy – none of which makes sense in a mechanistic reality. This is at the core of spiritualities like the Christian call to love my enemy and do good to those who hate me.[3]

And it is the root of a spiritual humanist theology of resiliency. It is a panentheism of participation where the ground of being exists in all creation and is at work in active partnership through all creation. When my belief and faith in justice bends the arc of history, I engage with the holy. Because through my will for justice (which exists in concept) I have breathed new life into the world (by creating justice). I become a conduit for an underlying divinity that isn’t outside of space and time but intimately connected to it. God is in and of the machine.

Neurologist Victor Frankel, who survived the holocaust, wondered how some human beings held hope in the depths of the worst of suffering. He found it was rooted in an unwillingness to give into despair. That despite even the horror of a concentration camp, “We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.”[4] A refusal to accept the terms of the universe and rather create something new.

Human resiliency then is a psychospiritual practice, rooted in our DNA and cultivated in community.[5] It resists passive and active events of oppression and harm. It grounds powerful prophetic action, like Rosa Parks refusing to relinquish her bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama sparking the civil rights movement in the United States. And Sophie Cruz, who at five years old had the courage (and community) to deliver a letter to Pope Frances in his visit to the White House, advocating for a change in immigration law and becoming a face of the immigration reform movement.[6] It embodies a range of spiritually motivated events of resiliency, even from the smallest of decisions like waking up in the morning committed to being a force for good in the world.

Because it is only through my actions that good, or love, or justice, or mercy, will ever take place in the world. They will not emerge from a metaphysical beyond, or be captured in a neoplatonic form made manifest. My actions exist as a sacrament: an outward symbol of an inward grace. Grace being my recognition of my own existence and inheritance as undeserved and unearned, which inspires from me a stance of gratitude paid forward into the world. A theology of resilience recognizes the worth and dignity of all, inspires empathetic action in the face of suffering, and is grounded in the psychospiritual power found in all creatures of symbol and creativity that will benevolence into existence.


[1] Camus, Albert, and Anthony Bower. The Rebel An Essay on Man in Revolt. Vintage Books, 1956.

[2] King, Martin Luther, and James Melvin Washington. A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. New York: HarperOne, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.

[3] Luke 6:27, NRSV

[4] Frankel, Man’s Search for Meaning

[5] Levine, Saul. “Psychological and social aspects of resilience: a synthesis of risks and resources” Dialogues in clinical neuroscience vol. 5,3 (2003): 273-80.

[6] The Washington Post, “Meet Sophie Cruz, 5-year-old who gave the pope a letter because she doesn’t want her parents deported,” September 23, 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2015/09/23/meet-the-5-year-old-who-gave-the-pope-a-letter-because-she-doesnt-want-her-parents-deported/?utm_term=.c823f004272d

Ending a relationship…

Not actually me.

I used to be a religious man. I was a Christian; a Catholic to be precise. I did my best to read the bible. I enjoyed the community of ritual. I even entered seminary for a brief time. I wasn’t perfect; far from it. But I tried, and repented, and tried again. When I was young, it was easy to believe. As I got older, I began to struggle with dualism and dogmatic concepts. My religious views said one thing. My rational mind said others.

Recently, a friend of mind told me that the Church was making it very hard to be a believer. In fact, he was considering Atheism. I told him that was a ballsy move. It was a similar statement of belief in an un-provable objective truth. He countered that the Church was making a good case for him leaning on the atheist end of agnosticism.

I found this to be a much better statement. And a true one.

Subtle, right?

For the last 5 years I have been struggling in much the same way. I would go to Christian services, but I could no longer say the words. I felt like a liar when asked to repeat the Apostles’ Creed or to sing the Gloria. It felt wrong to go through words and motions I no longer felt and no longer believed. Trust me, I tried to believe. I WANTED to believe.

It was sad.

It was like the end of a relationship where you hang on, not because you want to, but because you feel you have no choice. What would my family think? What about my friends? What about my church community? There was no more love. No more commitment. No more emotion. Just guilt and shame. And more guilt. And more shame.

yeah… it’s a hard sell…

But I had run into the same issue my friend had. The Church had made it too easy to lean on the atheist side of agnosticism. Not just because of the hypocrisy in the patriarchal leadership, sex abuse scandals, or outdated views on human sexuality. I had serious doubts regarding trinitarianism, the nature/concept of sin, transubstantiation/consubstantiation, and the existence of an afterlife. For those unchurched, these are foundational beliefs for any Christian. If you don’t believe in them, you are not part of the club. You are what people lovingly refer to as an apostate.

 

And then they damn you to hell.

Why won’t you just love me?!?!

I no longer believe in such things. But it still hurts. People who I love, because of their faith, are confident that I am going to burn in fire and torment for eternity. It doesn’t matter how much good I do in my lifetime, how much peace and love and reconciliation I bring to others, or how many good deeds I do. Because I am no longer a believer, I am going to hell.

This bothers me because these are the same people who say they love me. They BELIEVE I am so wrong and so flawed that I would deserve eternal damnation. Then they say, “But I don’t want you to go to hell. It’s just the truth. I’ll pray for you.”

That’s like a southern person saying, “Bless her heart.”

Trust me, that’s not what they’re really saying.

non religious does not mean non spiritual

So I do the only thing I can do. I forgive them. Just because I am no longer a religious man, does not mean I am no longer a spiritual man. My experience tells me I have emotional connections and responses not only to other human beings, but to my community and world. I find inspiration, beauty and joy in the mundane. I still encounter the peak experience. I have a need to explore what it means to be human. I recognize that there is an extra dimension to my existence, and I want to investigate what that is with a rational mind and an open heart.

I have found a church and community that encourages this. Unitarian Universalism.

These are their beliefs:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Much like a new relationship, it’s all sparkles and rainbows. It’ll be hard getting over my ex. But it’s time to move on. I’ll let you all know how things work out for the long haul. But at least I’m moving forward.