Friday, September 26, 2014

'So Real' - Moving Beyond Mere Belief

Dear Parish Faithful,

I recently came across this very intriguing text that I wanted to share with everyone:

"I knew you that you existed but did not believe it was so real."

To my mind, this anonymous text has a certain "modern" feel to it; as if somehow similar in meaning and intent to the title of C.S. Lewis's autobiographical work, in which he describes his slow conversion to Christianity with the title Surprised by Joy. It also brings to mind the 17th c. French philosopher, Blaise Pascal, who wrote in his Pensees  - in which he records his "conversion experience" - that he has encountered "not the God of the philosophers, but the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob."

Yet, the actual source of this text is described as follows:  "Graffiti on the side wall of a church near the catacombs of St. Callistus and St. Sebastian on the outskirts of Rome." That would place it somewhere in the 2nd or 3rd century of the Christian era.  Be that as it may, I would only add: quite a piece of graffiti!  One brief sentence that has more content than some long and laborious theology books.  Whoever scratched these words on that catacomb wall had an experience of the overwhelming and "awesome" presence of God, wherein God is no longer simply a concept or even an object of belief; but an actual living presence that almost takes one's breath away. 

I believe that this is the image of God that Jesus presented in His teachings - a God that was "so real" that He could be called "Our Father."  With an experience like that of our anonymous wall scribbler, we can then understand the teaching of Christ about leaving everything aside to continue that relationship, to which nothing can really compare. A God that is "so real" is not the kind "you have to wind up on Sunday" - to quote an old progress rock band's lyrics.

If we can actually ever "lay aside all earthly care" just at the Liturgy, then perhaps such an experience of God is not beyond our grasp.  I believe that our common hope as Christians is to move beyond a belief that God exists into a living relationship with the living God "who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth."  (I TIM. 2:4)

Image: Procession in the Catacombs of St Callistus, Rome. (Wikipedia)

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