Elsie Steelberg is staff psychiatrist at Prairie View’s East Wichita outpatient clinic.
Preparing for this seminar has been challenging and mentally stimulating andI must saypleasurable. I've struggled with trying to understand God as creativity and how this would help my patients.. Yesterday's lectures, conversations and discussions were helpful in thinking of God as creativity and mystery - and for me it has answered some questions, particularly as to God's relation to our world in the context of the evolutionary process. This winter in China, my husband and I contemplated why 2200 years ago God was involved with Israel and not with the millions (billions) of people in China whose beliefs are totally different. I find that thinking of God as creativity helps in some understanding of God and the various world belief systems. I especially appreciate the warmth Gordon Kaufman brings to serendipitous creativity.
Also, the concept that God is mystery and beyond our understanding has long been something I believed. I like the hymn which speaks of "the wideness of God's mercy," and especially the verses
But we make God's love too narrow by false limits of our own,
And we magnify its strictness with a zeal God will not own.
For the love of God is broader than the measures of the mind
And the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind. (2)
Some years ago, I heard Sallie McFague speak, and later I led a seminar on her book, Models of God. (3) I appreciated her descriptions of the various metaphors for God as mother, friend, lover - as a way to help us understand aspects of God, but that God was still a personal God. At the end of that workshop one woman said loudly"all right ladies, let's now go back to our hotels and read our Bibles"clearly not in agreement with what I had said. However, three women came up to say it had been helpful, having been abused by their fathers. The previous year I had spoken to the same convention on depression and a comment in the evaluation said, "next year, get someone who believes God can heal everything." I declined to speak the third year. I cite these reactions because they are indicative of the difficulty people have of thinking of God in other ways.
In dealing with patients I do not bring in religious input unless that is where the patient is. We see people with very severe depressionssome feel alienated from Godsome are obsessed that they may be "lost," may have committed the unpardonable sin. This is not necessarily a spiritual issue; it may be an obsessive disorder. Others have gone through or are experiencing tragedies, often overwhelming losses: emotional, financial, divorce, deaths of loved ones including suicide.
For those who believe in God, what has seemed most helpful is the belief that God is with them through these trials. Not that God caused the trials or will make things all right again, but that God shares their suffering. I do not know how God as creativity can meet this need for these individuals in the same way. For some, I have used William Sloan Coffin's response to his son's death, which he related in the Christian Century, that he was comforted in thinking that God was weeping with him when his son drove off the pier and drowned. I understand that Coffin may not now put it this way, but it seems to me that in his time of grief this was helpful.
It was Pascal who said, The heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing, and perhaps Coffin's understanding at that time was of this nature.
I do particularly appreciate and agree that humans need to be responsible for the world - the environmentto save and not destroy it. Human beings can be the comfort needed by those in pain, but many do not have that support system. We say God uses people to do God's work and that we should not pray for what we should be doing. But how do we pray to creativity? Do we expect answers? Or do we simply expect change in ourselves?
How do we pray for a world hit by tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, or the disasters of war? What gives people hope to survive?
If I think of my patients and ask how "serendipitous creativity" would be helpful in the therapeutic process, at least two categories of questions ariseuniversal and personal.
If God enters into the equation, say to question why a good God would let this or that happen, God as creativity is helpful in setting life and its problems in a greater range of vision. Probably, if one does not have a belief in a personal God the why questions will not arise.
For all my patients (and me) a more personal question is: how does one pray? Prayer is rooted in communication and communication suggests a person to person relationship. An I and a Thou. We appeal for help for ourselves and for others. We want guidance. These find expression in prayer. We want a perceived response, not God whispering in James Dobson's ear to tell George Bush what to do, but a sense of assurance that we are not alone, that we are heard, that we can trust ourselves or others or some situation beyond our control to God or creativity's care.
However, this also raises the issue of how and why we expect God to respond. I recall an article in the Christian Century some years ago in which a woman prayed in the hospital chapel for her family member undergoing brain surgery. Then she wondered about others having surgery and would God heal if no one was praying for them. It bothers me when someone survives an accident and thanks God for being saved while others died.
To conceive of God metaphorically, as Sallie McFague does, does not mean we will fall into the trap of making God a super girl-Friday. The listening, calming, accepting, warning characteristics of a Mother, Father, lover, soul-mate, or at least some listener-advocate may provide a helpful orientation.
I have mentioned appreciating the warmth Gordon Kaufman brings to serendipitous creativity. It would help to have this fleshed out. Gordon says that he is tone deaf to so-called religious experience, "the experience of God," or "God's presence." Does this mean there is no such thing (a category mistake, you say), or by recognizing that there are those who are not tone deaf is it possible that you will have one appreciation of the arc of creativity, others may diverge? If so, is it possible that there are two tracks to reality, personal and philosophical, Hebraic and scientific, the heart and reason? The psalmist says, My heart says, seek his face (27.8) and this is against a long Hebraic tradition that no one has or can see God's face. We are again in the realm of metaphor.
Gordon says he is tone deaf to religious experience but he does not seem tone deaf to the needs of other humans, emphasizing in his book that "we are to love and give ourselves not only to our human neighbors and enemies but also to the wider orders of life in which we find ourselves."
Gordon Kaufman's closing sentence in the Preface to In the beginning… Creativity(4) has a sense of human warmth and personal relationship. He writes, "Only if we can continue to see God as active in the world as we know it, and thus active in relation to us humans living in this world, will it be possible for us to orient ourselves, and significantly order our lives, in relation to God - that is to live with a robust faith in God."
My question then is: How does he correlate the warmth and personal relationship of that paragraph with the more intellectual and impersonal presentation of God and creativity and mystery in the rest of the book?
1. I am grateful to my husband for the help he gave in dealing with the theological concepts and to friends and colleagues who participated in spirited discussions.
2. Frederick W. Faber.
3. Sallie McFague, Models of God: Theology for an Ecological, Nuclear Age (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987).
4. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
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