Episcopal-101 begins with and exploration of what I term Christian Essentials. Of course the Bible is part of what is essential, but I am separating it and it will appear in its own section within the course. A companion book Welcome to the Episcopal Church by Christopher L. Webber provides a narrative overview of what makes the Episcopal Church distinctive. In the Christian Essentials, I want to explore 5 key questions:
- Who is God?
- Who is Jesus?
- What is the Trinity?
- What is the Nicene Creed
- What is Baptism?
1. Who is God?
God is the Creator of the Universe as pictured in the first two chapters of Genesis. As I write this I note a flare-up in the debate between evolution and creationism. Our Anglican approach to God as creator pictured in Genesis is theological being based in an understanding that the Genesis accounts are truth as metaphor, not truth as science. I find it regrettable that the closure of the Canon of Scripture prevents us placing a third (big bang) account, which also, operates as truth as metaphor, alongside the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2.
The first two chapters of Genesis form independent narratives with different origins but each offering an account of the creation process. Chapter 1 envisions God as the one who brings order to chaos, which is pictured as the void. As God brings order to the chaos, separating earth from sky and air from sea, God fills the new order with different elements of life, mineral, vegetable, and animal. In making human beings God reaches the peak of the creative process. All the elements of creation reflect the goodness of God. In the human race, however, God fashions a part of the creation to be not only a reflection of Godself, but more importantly to be the part of creation capable of knowing God in the intimacy of relationship. Humanity is capable of both self-awareness and awareness of God.
We also learn something startling about God in the making of humanity as recorded in Chapter 1. What is startling is that God refers to Godself as we. God is revealed not as solitary but as relational for which the pronouns we, and our, are appropriate. God is a self-sufficient community of mutual love and the creation can be seen as the material self-communication of that love i.e. the sharing of Godself beyond the boundaries of the Divine Community. The creation that takes material shape within an ordered dimension of time, space, and matter is none other than an expression of love.
The second creation story takes up the theme of creation in a different way. In the first story humanity is the last act of creation. In Chapter 2 humanity is the first act of creation. The rest of creation is set between the creation of the first man, Adam, and the first woman, Eve. Eve is created to enable human beings to live in relationships that mirror the communal nature of God. Like God, human beings are made to be essentially relational. This second creation story envisions a complementarity between male and female that reflects the relational nature of God. Yet, God is neither male nor female but the principles of masculine and feminine energy can be found within the divine nature. Therefore, the complementarities of masculine and feminine being present in all human relationships, same gendered as well as cross gendered reflect the relational nature of God. We will explore this further when we come to discuss the Trinity.
In chapter 2 we learn something further about God. In this story, Adam and Eve are placed within the protected space called the Garden of Eden. In chapter 3 we learn of the dramatic happening in the Garden of Eden. Eve eats of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and shares the fruit with Adam. Christianity refers to this event as the Fall. I would like to suggest that instead of the Fall we think of the events in the garden as humanity’s premature coming of age. All I want to emphasize here is that this section of the story tells us that God’s original plan for humanity included giving us free will. I suspect that God did not intend for humanity to be so willful in the exercise of freedom of choice. Yet, viewed from a relational perspective, it indicates that God intended us to possess a true capacity for relationship. Relationships cannot exist between parties where one is free to accept and the other is not. Freedom of choice is a necessary ingredient for any true state of relationship.
Who is God? This is a back-to-front way of really asking, who are we or what does it mean to be human? The answer to this is that to be human is to be made in the image of God. To be fully human is to be most like God. We are made for relationship, with one another and with God. We possess the necessary element for relationship which is the freedom to choose or not choose. To be Christian is to know that to be human is to be most like God.
Spiritual Reflection Exercises
Over the coming week try, to spend some time each day reflecting on the following questions. The way to do this is to find somewhere to sit quietly at home or elsewhere and bring your attention to the rising and falling of your breath. Imagine the breath as deep within your belly rather than in your chest and simply observe yourself breathing. Through observing our breath we come easily into the presence of God for God is the breath that brings life. We also become aware of something so naturally a part of us that we hardly ever notice it happening. Breathing offers an image of the presence of God, present to us all the time yet, hardly noticed by us most of the time.
After a few minutes of settling begin to contemplate the questions. You don’t have to do all of them at one time. Let the question percolate in your thoughts and notice images or connections that seem to arise naturally for you. At the end of your time, end with an expression of gratitude for your life, your loves, and for your desire to come to know God more deeply.
- What does it mean to me that I am made in the image of God and how might this realization change my view of God and or my view of myself?
- Is it important to me to discover that God is relational and a community rather than solitary and individual? If so how does this change relating to God for me? How might this affect how I relate to other people?
- Understanding that I have free will – freedom to respond or not to respond to God – how might this help me in the experience of life – day by day?