TT 810 Theology I.

Christian Doctrines

Professor Wesley Wildman

Spring, 2000   

 

“A Burning Kiss From God”

Theological Construction

 

Judit Gellérd

 

Introduction

The Human in God’s Context

Unitarian Christology

The Church

 

Introduction

 

            Whence the courage and urge of humans throughout the ages--and now me--to attempt to create yet another metaphor, sing one more hymn of devotion to God, when silence alone is the appropriate language for the ineffable depth, the infinite height, the ultimate horizon that God is?  The courage stems from love, the most integrating experience of human life as a reflection of the divine life.  Love is the language beyond words, beyond thoughts, a state of blessedness.  Love is that ultimate courage to trust God when we pray: “Thy will be done.”   It is the surrender to the mystery--the trust with which Jesus surrendered to the Father’s will when his life shattered.  It is the intimacy of our utter vulnerability before God when we cry out with a roar of pain in our loneliness. 

            Swimming in an immense ocean, I am sustained.  When I question the meaning of that effort in the view of the total unknown at the other side, in God I get the determination and strength to continue.  Death must be the same.  It is God in the tormenting yet magnificent longing.  God is the abyss and the ground of being, experienced as a loving One.    And “God is not only the ground of being, but also its goal,” Rahner adds.[1]  Life spent outside of the awareness of God’s presence is utterly wasted.  

 

The Human in God’s Context 

            Throughout my childhood I was tormented by an unquenchable sensation of thirst--not literal and not quite physical thirst, yet in its intensity it caused physical suffering, as a continuous background of my life.  I could not identify this feeling until my teenage years, when I realized that it was an intense longing. Being separated from my parents from very early childhood, I explained this thirst as a longing for their presence, for my father’s preaching about God and Jesus and goodness of humanity.  Indeed, my father was an illustration of how to walk in the faith of Jesus.  But I was never tempted to identify him with an anthropomorphic god-figure.  God is utterly transcendent for me.

            Through a powerful and transformative mystical experience, I finally realized the ultimate nature of my longing.  I “tapped into” a new God-consciousness.  My life’s metaphor in this context is the image of an immense sea and I am a shimmering drop of it.  The essence of the sea is in me, and I am part of the sea, intimately connected, inseparable, with the same identity, yet an individually delimited drop.  I cannot exist by myself, only in the embracing of the immensity of the sea.  If I were separated from it, I would cease to exist, or my longing would still be an invisible yet intimate thread of connection.  As a human I am a “drop” of the divine. 

            What does it mean to be a drop of the divine?

            It means that I bear the blueprint of God’s image.  This awareness creates an overwhelming sense of optimism as well as responsibility to become that God-image.  This divinity in me makes it possible to comprehend God, though in my limited way.  The awareness of divine potential is a power latent in the human being, implying that one’s task is to activate it.  In Tillich’s notion, it is the Spiritual Presence which--though fragmentarily present--gives the unambiguous divine dimension of my essential human nature.  The medium of the “activation” or progression from fragmentary to full, that is, toward perfection, is the church as a Spiritual community.  The church, the representation of ultimate concern and bearer of sacraments, is the framework of God-human and human-human relationship.  It is the church where Jesus is present in the communion: axiologically as an ultimate ideal of human perfection, and existentially as one who surrendered to God in faith and trust, and loved the world to the end.      

            From a human perspective, the reality of God and human is inseparable.   God is in us and we are in God.  This is more than an intricate entanglement or interconnectedness, more than gnosticism’s divine spark in humans.  In our perception, Schleiermacher’s notion of absolute dependence upon God, in fact, is a merging of identities.  Therefore I cannot talk separately about God and humans--God “out there” interacting with us “down here.”  God is in us; we are in God.  There is no “compartment” and aspect of my being separate or alien from God.  Being conscious about it or not, accepting or rejecting it, God permeates my nature as a biological-spiritual being, in my loftiest ideas, and in the darkest of hours.  Liberation means the recognition of our divine nature and the path that is uniquely ours in harmony with God’s suggestive, impelling force [impetus], the divine creativity.  This recognition is inspiration, enthusiasm, zest for life, or Bergson’s élan vital.  It is Tillich’s ecstasy of being grasped by the Spirit which breaks into my human spirit, elevating me to self-transcendence.  This is the blessed state of healing, becoming whole, that is, salvation. 

            I use God and Spirit interchangeably in respect of my Transylvanian Unitarian tradition in which God and the Holy Spirit ontologically are not separate.  God is Spirit, symbolically speaking.  The Spiritual Presence of Tillich for me is the presence of God.  I can reconcile the two by viewing my spirit in the process of divinization under the power of the Spirit which gradually “replaces” my own spirit, taking over my being, I overcome existential estrangement from God.  Thus my life will be filled more and more with the unambiguous dimension of God’s presence.  It will never be realized less than fragmentarily in me, for only Jesus was entirely, fully “possessed” by the Spiritual Presence.  However, my personal growth, my evolution is a process of realizing God’s self-revelation in the wondrous mysteries of my life.  My life is all I can best comprehend, and the world is but a reflection distilled through my utterly subjective perception.  The microcosm of this creature that is me, with all the infinite depth of complexities, in my perception relates to the macrocosm as the God-in-me relates to God, the infinite, the timeless, the “ground of being.” 

            God is the ground of my most subjective personal being.  This is “the God” we try to hold captive, keep small as we are, hold tied through “commanding” prayers, setting agendas and calling God to responsibility.   Praying for small things--things!--and expecting that our prayers be “answered” diminishes God, an obsession in us to try to control God’s ways.  God’s “answers” to our prayers come much more indirect ways than the simplistically interpreted post hoc, ergo propter hoc situations.  It takes suffering and resulting wisdom to grow into a deeper “understanding” of some of God’s mystery.  A friend who is the caretaker of his relatively young wife, now paralyzed and speech-impaired, reflected on this disaster--as outsiders label it--as God’s genuine blessing for him, a chance for him to grow into full humanness, as he puts it.   He is grateful for his cross and not only does he carry it gracefully, but gives an extraordinary testimony of “understanding” the mystery and complexity of God and human relationship.  Lacking bitterness, he makes the life of his suffering wife happy through his deep and loving commitment.  This friend has a sense of how to collaborate with God in a seemingly tragic, but for them, a deeply meaningful relationship.  He affirms the Chinese wisdom of the inseparability and relativity of good and bad. He is in the light of grace, whatever form it might take, because he can love.  Rahner reflects on this: “We hate incomprehensibility because by definition it does not surrender to us.  Love, however, is the surrender by which we definitely relinquish control of ourselves and of everything else. For one who loves and knows what love is, the loveless person is damned.” (p 80)

            Prayer for me is a mode--or, at least an exercise--of unconditional surrender to God’s will, in the assumption that God has a greater perspective over my life.   In prayer I simply “connect” with, sharpen my awareness of God within, somewhat mystically.  If I ask for anything, it is God’s love and the capacity and will to love God with all my heart, all my mind, all my soul, all my strength.  “Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to thee.”[2]  In the fullness of love for God, my love for humans is naturally born.  By virtue of this agape I am a drop of the divine, for in love the Spirit/God penetrates my own spirit, and it is God who prays in me.  I experience blessedness by ecstatically participating in the transcendent unity with God.  It is in this light that I understand the mutuality of God-human co-dependence.  The God is in us, we are in God model inherently bears this reciprocity, in process theological sense.  God’s loving impetuses in processes of our life are eventually answered by us through our choices of love or hate, of God or against.  Every “yes” makes the unambiguous dimension in us less fragmentary, a step toward true and divinized human perfection.  We are truly co-laborers with or saboteurs of God by virtue of our God-granted freedom.  My ultimate wish in prayer is an enabling sensitivity to avoid “frustrating” God, and to be able to harmonize, coincide, co-will, and co-work with God.  The axiological dimension of this is my belief that if the desire of God-human harmony--which for different religious traditions might be formulated in different words--were the sole promoter for all and every human being, the Spiritual Presence would penetrate into all aspects of the world, transforming the secular into sacred in all dimension of life, and thus the ideal that Christians call “Kingdom of God” would be an attainable reality on earth.

            God is “pulsing” in the world.  Can we sense this pulse and synchronize our life-rhythm to God’s?  This is a fundamental quest.  In this sense each of us bears responsibility toward humanity. And the responsibility is not just personal, but, in the bodhisattva model, is for others, too.  Our synchronicity will never be perfect, for we are limited in “knowing” God.  I have learned form Huston Smith that humanity is incapable of reaching in knowledge any higher than the upper limit of its own stage of evolution allows.  We perhaps can “peep” a little higher through the intuitive function.  For us the ultimate superlative is something like “larger than life.”  But what significance does our short-lived life have, be it magnificent or miserable, in the “life” of God, the eternal, whose time is not linear, and for whom the universe is a thundering, reverberating simultaneity of an eternal harmony like of a symphony’s grand finale.  We, the human race, after we are long gone, will be perhaps “remembered” by our lingering leftover, thought-to-be-eternal OHMMMM chanting in unison, for thousands of years, that God loved so much.   In this eternal reverberation humankind seemed united and loving, in harmony with God and everything in Him.  Perhaps out of nostalgia, God then will once again say: Let there be light, and let it be for a new humanity.  God would be lonely without us, tragic and amusing, unanswerable-question-humans.

            The sense of worthlessness can occasionally become overwhelming and lead to a loss of optimism.  So much evil in the world stems from this very sense of human frustration, of nothing-matters-anymore-why-not-destroy pessimism.  I think the most dangerous existential temptation in one’s life is not power, but the painful realization of how insignificant, how ridiculously trifling I as a human being am in the context of God and even of humankind.  My inflated self-importance here and now, my struggles for accomplishments, seeking recognition, believing in making difference in the lives of others--and of the world!--all the lofty ideals and grand plans for the future, the care of chiseling my character and trying to live up to my highest potentials--can ultimately succumb to the “And so what?” cynicism.   Writing a book, ten books, the book which I perceive as my destiny--so what?  What difference does it make if I immortalize my experience, and a fading history of evil and darkness of ethnic genocide and the heroism of resisting it with integrity--or if I stay silent?  But why even exist at all?  Why not protest against being thrown into the world unasked?  Or just exist “low-key” and refuse the hassle of chasing dreams?  Is life all about earning the daily bread?  It is not worth living without a higher dimension?  Yet, what a privilege is to even ask this question!  As honest as it is for me, I am aware how cynical it could sound for someone whom life denies the very privilege of having the daily bread, the sacred sustainer of life.  Millions are starving as I ask this question.

            It is a dangerous exercise--if one does it consciously--to step outside of one’s own inner universe’s sense of meaning, and let be lured over the abyss of non-being as an alternative.  (Stop the earth, I want to get off!--was our adolescent rebellion.)  Psychiatrists put a label of depression on such attitude, yet this temptation is so existentially relevant and deeply human, that one is probably tempted by such pessimism in the course of one’s life.

            This experience of dangerous freedom was very real during communism when self-destruction was the only available freedom of a person.  Rahner characterizes it in these words: “Freedom is not about choosing any object, but rather is the freedom to say yes or no to oneself, deciding for or against oneself.  It is always a self-realization in the direction of God or a radical self-refusal toward God.” (p. 103)   But I add that there are some--my father was one--who chose non-being, rather than compromise their integrity, and in order to be faithful ’til death to one’s most sacred principles of not harming others out of weakness.  It is a paradox of “radical self-refusal” with a motif in the direction of God.  Was my father’s active martyrdom cowardice, failure in trusting God, a desertion of God, a lack of faith?  One might be tempted to say so.  But I believe that he had the burning kiss from God even in the moment of agony.  He did not give up life, but chose non-being to serve God by loving and protecting his people, refusing to be instrument of evil.  With his whole being, he tried to shield the vulnerable who were trusted to his stewardship by stepping out of being, sacrificing himself out of love.  His choice also carried the ultimate protest against dehumanization.  Death was more dignifying even in suicide than separation from God by collaboration with the evil and the consequent guilt. 

            We are in God--this is the second part of the premise--in our life and beyond.  This is an ultimate inseparability.  “In him we live and move and have our being.” (Romans 17:28 - quotation attributed to Epimenides.)  There is nothing outside of God’s presence, and there is no place or state where we are not intimately with(in) God.  Even when we painfully experience separation, when we deny and reject God.  When one experiences God in love or in a mystical union, any claim for “God’s nonexistence” seems absurd.  Of course God does not exist.  God is more that existence, more than being.  And even the “more” is inadequate.  Tillich is unsurpassable in his definition of “God is the ground of being, being itself, beyond essence and existence.”  And that we are part of this God is our bold claim.  Yet stating that we can “shield” ourselves from God, seems an even greater lack of humility.  

            I am born as a child of God, blessed with inherent goodness, purity, dignity and a “toolbox” to become fully human, indeed worthy to this status.  My tradition and I personally do not acknowledge an effect of the “original sin” on my life.  The “case” in the garden happened because of human nature, our not-yet-developed humanity.   We all can similarly sin and disrupt our relationship with God.  For the broken relationship we are personally responsible and we can straighten it up with sincere repentance and reliance on grace.  Divine grace, manifested in love like a fountain with the abundance of living water, added to my tears of repentance, cleans me.  Washing the feet of his disciples, Jesus answered Peter: “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except his feet, but he is clean all over.” (John 13:10)   I am Jesus’s disciple, bathed and pure at heart by virtue of my faith and love, bearer of the Spirit, though fragmentarily.   This sense of purity is an empowerment and liberation--also responsibility to protect it, to restore it.  I affirm the Japanese Shinto tradition which, though does not know a totally transcendent “God,” but has a more immanent sense of the sacred in the notion of kami.  Shinto has simple and powerful rituals of purification (O’Harai) with a “duster” or under a waterfall (Misogi.)   The assumption is an inherent goodness in every human being. Life’s impurities compare with dust to the body--one cleanses the soul and body in a ritual that straightens the heart’s intention and restores the relationship with one’s inner self.  I too practice the constant “readjustment” of my relationship with God and toward my neighbor in a Pauline sense. 

Unitarian Christology[3]

My optimistic Christian humanism is rooted in the Transylvanian Unitarian notion of axiological Christianity: “the disruption of the ontological structure of medieval Christian theology and in recognition of a value-orientation, value-accomplishment--an axiological emphasis of the gospel.”[4]  “Values” also translate as life’s meaning. 

At the core of non-Trinitarian Christology is the insistence on the human Jesus of Nazareth, and the consequent unity of God.  God is one, not triune.  Harnack’s argument is precisely the historic argument of Unitarians, that Christology was not the proclamation of Jesus.  He made no self-reference in the Christological sense.  The gospel was only about the Father, but not the Son.  Although the Trinitarian hypostases are denied, experientially there is at least a “triangle” operating in Unitarianism: God, experienceable only in absolute and indivisible unity; Jesus, the ultimate human ideal or the “New Adam,” as Unitarians name Tillich’s notion of the New Being; and the Holy Spirit, the acting, creative power of God manifested through love (agape). I personally view the Holy Spirit as the bond of love between God and Jesus, God and humans/world, reciprocally, and also among us humans.  

Jesus, however, was not merely a human among humans.  Jesus bore both the divine transcendence and the human immanence.  He was God’s son in whom the wholeness, fullness of divinity--without distortion and limits--dwelled, “his human spirit was entirely grasped by the Spiritual Presence.”[5]  “This makes him the Christ, the decisive embodiment of the New Being for historical mankind.” (Ibid.)

 In Unitarian theology, Jesus’ primogenitus nature is to be understood not ontologically but axiologically, that is, he was first in dignity, glory and honor among created beings.  Jesus was the first to reach what God prepared for humanity.  In this sense he is called in Hebrews “firstborn,” (Heb 1:6) “pioneer.” (Heb 2:10; 12:2) Jesus’ humanity is to be viewed not in “reducing” him to mere human level, rather elevating humanity to a Jesus-likeness, in its potentials.  Axiologically put, Jesus not only “descended” from “heaven,” but brought heaven with him and in his reconciliatory work, he uplifted humanity to Christian dignity.  Heaven is no longer a ontological notion but the summary of the divine qualities in humans, grasped by the Spirit--that is, an axiological notion. 

The good news is that we humans have the same divine potentials as Jesus had, with the consequent responsibility to follow Jesus, our ultimate exemplar. [imitatio Christi]   As Imre Gellérd put it: because we can follow Jesus, we therefore must.  This “ought-to-be”-ness is an imperative precisely because of the possibility that Jesus has opened for us.  Humanity reached its ultimate perfection in Jesus.  “Human, this transcendental being elevated by grace, reaches its unsurpassable climax in Jesus. . .” Rahner writes. (p. 63)  Jesus is the utmost limit of continuous perfection.  Jesus is who sets the ultimate goal before us, perfection.  Jesus, too, progressively became the obedient son--that involved death--moving toward his call and maturing in faith into perfection.  Thus every human being is capable of being perfected.  Jesus himself is the goal and the way to reach that goal. “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith...” (Heb12:1) Unitarian humanism views perfection as a reachable goal, at least in principle. This possibility lures the human spirit in its eternal progress, growth, continuous self-evolvement; the spirit irresistibly moves toward the summum bonum, that is, toward lessening the fragmentariness of our unambiguity through the Spirit, taking over our spirit, and progressing toward an ever more fullness in divinizatio.  Transformation happens step by step and by personal efforts.  Salvation is not automatic and will always be fragmentary.  Salvation/healing is the path and every step on it we choose to take toward God.  It is a path and not an escalator; one has to walk on it, taking personal responsibilities to grow into divinized new humanity, from homo naturalis into homo divinus, bearing the Spirit of God, the divinity of Jesus.  This happens through serious inner crises and struggles, like gold is purified in fire.  One acts in harmony with God’s inspiration in becoming fully human not out of fear of God’s judgment but out of love and gratitude for God.  Humanity matures into new creation [New Being] by the power of God, filled with the Spirit of God. 

For Tillich “Jesus of Nazareth symbolizes a universal human possibility, which can be achieved without specific reference to Jesus”[6]  For Tillich the important factor was not Jesus’ historic reality, but that “the New Being [New Adam] was and is active in this man.”  Tillich’s “degree Christology” best characterizes my own Unitarian position, that Jesus is the historical manifestation of the New Being and the symbol of mystery of being. In this sense Jesus is the mediator.  The New Being[-ness] comes from God, but cannot be God, for God is the ground of Being.  Thus Jesus is the symbol of our perception of God.  He is also our perception of our idealized, future becoming.

Although Unitarianism, especially since the Enlightenment, strongly emphasizes the value-setting moral teacher in Jesus, for me, his example of self-giving love in his death, the surrender before God in love is just as important if not more.  Rahner’s existential dimension to the opportunity and obligation to imitate Christ is at the core of my Christology.  For Rahner the imitatio consists primarily not in the “imitation of particular moral virtues and acts” [of Jesus], but “first and last an imitation in the acceptance of human existence.” (p. 347) “Human existence is here finally and gloriously blessed and the skeptical human question, fashioned in guilt and futility, is transcended.  The courage to hope is sealed.” (p. 64) 

            Freedom is at the heart of the Unitarian view of value or meaning: “God has given us the spirit of free will.  It is not enough to avoid evil; good must be done.  And it is not enough to stay good--one must grow in human values.”[7]  Tillich puts it in this way: “God’s directing creativity (providence) in the case of man works through his freedom.  Man’s destiny is determined by the divine creativity, but through man’s self-determination, that is, through his infinite freedom.” (Vol. 2. p. 130)  It is the encoded possibility of choosing God at each moment of our life, in each action or non-action.  “Freedom in its origin is freedom of saying yes or no to God.” (Rahner p. 99)  God has given us the talents, the moral compass to recognize the good that leads toward our salvation/healing when we work toward it, make efforts.   If freedom is fruitful when we do opt for God, it is the same precious freedom that we abuse when evil is our choice.  But positive or negative, the choice does not come from God, it comes from us by virtue of our freedom.  As the daily bread is the fruit of our work, we pray not for the bread as an automatic feed, but for the capacity to work for it.  The child   is born with potential, but it takes parents--and a village--to raise that child, for God or against God.  Rahner’s notion of God being at the core of each choice--for God or against--makes parents’ responsibility even greater.  For their choice is also on behalf of their children.  Creation is ultimately good, but there are us humans who bring out the potential in creation toward the godly, the fully human.

            Perfection [divinizatio] means also a strive toward integration of the human personality in its approach toward God.  To overcome estrangement and self-transcend in faith and love for God with our whole heart, our whole soul, our whole mind and all our strength (Deut. 6:6) is life’s only worthy goal.  As Rahner calls, “Surrender to God’s incomprehensibility in love.” (p. 81)  Every act of love is an “exercise” toward the surrender.   The Unitarian notion of perfection in my view is perfect love toward God and humans, a state of blessedness.  The second component of following Jesus in our journey toward a fuller degree of the Spiritual Presence, is faith.  When faith an love are fully realized, it brings about an integration of our life.   It might happen in a mystical experience of God’s presence or perhaps in the moment of death.  If it takes death to experience the wholeness and love in fullness, then death is not terrifying, but a crown of life. 

           

The Church

            Jesus’s death on the cross is a turning point in salvation history because of its consequences: faith and the birth of the church as Spiritual Community.  Without the receiving side, there would be no “Christ event.” In a finite fashion and fragmentarily, the church as a Spiritual Community has been the embodiment of victory over ambiguity and estrangement, through in fragmentary fashion.   The Roman church is the one which identifies its historical existence with the Spiritual Community, and therefore bears the attributes of unity, holy and universal.

            In a Unitarian concept, the church is a spontaneous sacramental-spiritual community where theonomy is present, the “neighbor” is defined and related to in an “I-Thou” way, and the acting principle is acceptance and agape.  The church’s business is people’s ultimate concern.   Salvation is the church’s ultimate function, in the original meaning of the world salvus, that is, healing, making whole, healing from guilt and its consequences.   Rahner states: [The Church is a] “concrete manifestation of God’s salvation of humanity.” Although there is salvation outside of the Christian church, the healing quality is ultimately, completely manifest in the church.  It is through the mediation of the church that the bond of love, the essential manifestation of the Holy Spirit, manifests and radiates, overflows into the world as a basic organizing principle of God-human, human-human and human-world/nature relationships.  It is the church where the reconciliatory nature of grace manifests and overcomes the estranging effect of sin.   The bond of unity between people created by the Holy Spirit leads to the unity of the church.  I affirm this unity, the wholeness in the sense of the word “catholic,” [kata holos] that is, universal, for everyone.  Whether I worship in a Roman Catholic or Unitarian church, I sense this fundamental unity of the apostolic church.  And for that matter, I feel at home a synagogue and mosque, in a Buddhist or Hindu temple, in a Shinto shrine and Native American sweat lodge.  

            The church’s essential Spiritual reality is concretely manifested in history through social groups of people who form churches--ecclesiae.  The church bares an inherent paradox which according to Tillich is “the fact that they participate, on the one hand, in the ambiguities of life in general and of religious life in particular and, on the other hand, in the unambiguous life of the Spiritual Community.  (Vol. III. p. 165)  The church’s integrity is measured by the effectiveness of protecting itself from profanization.  Since the Christian gospel is not an abstract message, it always comes through national and ethnic cultural categories.  In this sense Tillich emphasizes the difference between church for everyone and from everyone.   Diversity is fundamental to the church’s universal nature, and it must be fostered.  In the specific Transylvanian context, the church as historic institution has played a key role, besides spreading the gospel, also in protecting and nurturing its cultural tradition and language of its people.

            Transylvanian Unitarians strongly identify themselves as Christian without recognizing the Christological paradox.  My modest attempt here is to try to argue for its Christian essence from a different angle.  For my tradition it is rather the “Synoptic Jesus,” the teacher who is being upheld as the beacon self-salvation, the ultimate cohesive power within the Church.  It emphasizes Jesus’ life model over his suffering and death.   But I view the life of Jesus as inseparable from his death by virtue of his ultimate surrender to God and willingness to die on the cross in the hope that humanity may live in a new awareness of the power of love.  Through his self-sacrifice in love, Jesus conquered existential estrangement and re-established the unity between God and humanity. Rejecting Jesus was humanity’s NO to God, to which God’s response, the final word, was a YES to humanity by pouring out his Holy Spirit into the church, thus resurrecting Jesus.  In this way, Jesus’ death has an ultimate meaning, it is not just a martyrdom among many.  Whether one personally accepts or not Jesus as the Christ, by virtue of belonging to the church, one affirms this Christian principle indirectly.

 

 

The Lord’s Supper in Transylvanian Unitarian Understanding

From among the sacraments of the church, I reflect only on the Lord’s Supper, because it represents the essential elements of my tradition’s theology.  In Transylvanian Unitarianism the Lord’s Supper is a central vehicle toward personal and communal spiritual growth in our pilgrimage toward perfection or “divinization.”

Unitarianism insists on Jesus’ statement: “Do this in memory of me.”  Therefore, the Lord’s Supper is an act of remembrance, or a condition to bring up memories.   “It is like pictures left by our parents who passed away.  The Lord’s Supper is a picture in which Jesus’s face is shining back to us.  It is he who asks, calls, warns us, evokes desire, and opens up a whole world before us: the world of faith, love, purity, joy, perfection, truth, justice--a world of higher values, of God’s kingdom.”[8]

Remembering Jesus is a reminder of one’s commitment as a Christian to follow his example.  This urges one to evaluate one’s spiritual life and to meditate upon one’s relationship with God and one’s neighbors.  Communion is not an opus operatum.  It is a very personal act, a healing act of self-transcendence, and it is in this sense that brings salvation.  Preparation for the Lord’s Supper, available only four times a year, has as great a capacity for personal growth as the act itself.  The Transylvanian practice requires a week-long spiritual preparation consisting precisely in straightening up broken relationships.  The Lord’s Supper is the culmination of this self-reflection.  It is the sacred moment of being face to face with one’s conscience, when one renews one’s ultimate commitments.  In Imre Gellérd’s words: “[The Lord’s Supper] is an intense moment of communion with the divine and with our neighbor; a communion of ourselves with our highest values/meaning.  Jesus invites us to sit at the table and eat and drink, spiritually transform, so that we can prepare similar tables for others.”  Each communion has been a spiritual leap of an ultimately meaningful inner pilgrimage, a spiritual renewal, a breakup in self-transcendence.  

In the moment when I took the communion bread from my father’s hand, and I looked into his eyes when he handed me the chalice, my soul trembled under the power of the holiest moment.  It was a purifying fire and I felt transformed, healed, holy and whole--saved--always a little better human being.  Jesus was intensely present in our midst and within.

As a last act of my father, the day before his passion and death, he administered the Lord’s Supper to me.  Now every time I partake it--physically or mentally in Catholic mass--it is my father who is intensely present, he overlaps with the figure of Jesus.   This gift is his legacy to me.

 

 

 

 

Epilogue

The Partner Church Phenomenon

            My double-rootedness in two very different Unitarian traditions--of Transylvania and of the US--I serve justice to both by reflecting on a model, or rather a phenomenon within the Unitarian Universalist church of the US and the Unitarian church in Transylvania, in which the Spiritual Presence is at work. 

            “A church which is nothing more than a benevolent, socially useful group can be replaced by other groups not claiming to be churches; such a church has no justification for its existence.” (Tillich Vol. III. p. 166) One often painfully has to affirm Tillich’ judgement while attending UU churches in North America.  The lack of Christian identity--or any distinct identity--and being a haven of diversity in borrowed symbols and rituals from other traditions, many churches stay shallow in an ever broadening language of inclusiveness.  At the same time, social activism is a strong tradition of Unitarians.  So we started from the latter strength to help churches overcome their lack of depth of faith.  But ultimately it was Spiritual Presence which in a new interconnectedness of 400 churches slowly and now strongly has re-activated, thus transforming social-club-like churches into spiritual communities.

            It was my mission and privilege during the past decade to have created a nationwide grassroots movement, the Partner Church Council. I guided two hundred North American Unitarian Universalist churches to form an one-to-one covenantal relationship with the same number of the Transylvanian [Hungarian] Unitarian churches.    The scale of revitalization of the Transylvanian church is unprecedented in its four-century history.  The underlying principle of the Partner Church program in post-traditional American churches is that giving the congregation a meaningful vision, a vision of transformation, and especially a focus grounded in deeper theological understanding, will encourage them to dream boldly, become generous as instruments of grace, and, eventually, will result in the realization of the church’s full potential.                   

American Unitarian Universalists--many of them secular humanists--long for and seek spiritual depth in their religion, historical depth in their tradition.  One place to find it is Transylvania.  The power of the Partner Church movement lies in this discovery of historic roots and of a faith that heals the “pessimism of the intellect with the optimism of the will.”  American Unitarian churches needed a focus grounded in deeper theological understanding to bring a heterogeneous congregation together and to give up a rigid culture of scarcity, always asking “Can we afford it?” rather than asking What are we called to be and to do?, and, then, How can we make that dream come true?  The covenantal relationship, through its inspiring and humbling experiences, provided precisely the needed focus to release American churches from a captivity of stagnation and to help them discover their own fuller potentials, changing the way congregations think and behave as religious community.  A church which has a vision and a focus of meaningful actions, which stems from a deeper understanding of faith, is worth attending.

            In our coming together, East and West, partner church with partner church, we remind one another to keep asking: “What is central?”  “What is the better way?” taught by Jesus.  And though we take pride in giving, providing each other gifts and hospitality, the gospel calls us to accomplish something more: to live together in mutual love and respect, centered in God and inspired by the Spirit.  A shared global awareness of this larger community has given a new context and meaning to the notion of Spiritual Community by evoking, accentuating the vertical dimension in these communities’ life, elevating churches and individuals from their estranged existence with their essence.  The hymn that Protestants and Catholics sing,

           

            “In Christ there is no East and West,

            in him no South or North,

            But one great family bound by love

            Throughout the whole wide earth.”

beautifully harmonizes with the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama:

 

      Today’s world requires us to accept the oneness of humanity.  In the past, isolated communities could afford to think of one another as fundamentally separate.  Some could even exist in total isolation.  But nowadays, whatever happens in one region of the world will eventually affect, through a chain reaction, peoples and places far away.  Therefore, it is essential to treat each major problem, right from its inception, as a global concern.  It is no longer possible to emphasize, without destructive persecution, the national, racial, or ideological barriers which differentiate us.  Within the context of our new interdependence, self-interest clearly lies in considering the interest of others. . . . For the future of mankind, for a happier, more stable and civilized world, we must all develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood.

           

          

 

 

 

 

 



[1] Karl Rahner, The Content of Faith (New York: Crossroad, 1999), 88

[2] “O, Sacred Heart Now Wounded”, Passion Chorale, Words: Anonymous Latin, 1656, music by J. S. Bach.

[3] Unitarianism’s human Jesus can best understood in the light of the Nestorian Christology and the Pelagian soteriology of the exemplarist view of Jesus.  It is Unitarianism’s tendency to abridge the ontological gap between Jesus Christ and humanity by minimizing sinfulness and maximizing the human potentials to imitate Jesus.            Macquarrie’s existentialist view of the doctrine of Trinity also resonates in me. He presents a “dynamic” understanding of God.  For him God is the primordial Being, “the ultimate act or energy of letting-be.”  The Son is the expressive Being, since the “Primordial Being” needs expression in beings.  This happens by “flowing out through expressive Being.”  The Holy Spirit is to be understood as the unitive Being, that is, to maintain the unity between the Being and the beings on a new and highest  level.  (Of course, God as “Being” is inappropriate and must be understood figuratively.)

[4] Imre Gellérd, A History of Transylvanian Unitarianism through Four Centuries of Sermons (Kolozsvár: Uniquest, 1999)

[5] Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press), Vol. III. p 144.

[6] Alister E. McGrath, Christian Theology (Blackwell Publishers), p. 345.

[7] Imre Gellérd, A History

[8] Imre Gellérd, “Liturgy” In Ending the Storm.  (Chico, CA: Center for Free Religion), 1996.