Tuesday, 28 January 2014

What is Atonement?

How do you as a Christian understand atonement? 

A popular dictionary designed specifically for juveniles defines Atonement as The act of healing the broken relationship between God and human beings.  Through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we have been made one with God.

According to ‘A Course in Miracles’ The idea of Atonement rests on the notion that there has been a rupture between us and God. We see the evidence of this all around us. We live in the world of the rupture, where every creature walks alone, feeling split off from the Whole, cut off from holiness and goodness, severed from the Source of life and power. Every creature has to scratch out a living with tooth and claw and brain, rather than merely rest in the boundless lap of its Creator. We may not know when this rupture happened, but our entire experience of life tells us that we are living in its after effects; we are riding its shock waves. Where is God? How do we reunite with Him? Every religion, spiritual path, healing modality, and self-help system is trying to answer this question in one form or another. Even every product hawked on TV is trying to answer it. Don't they all promise us that we will feel whole and loved, and that we will belong? In other words, don't they all promise us "Atonement"?

Some adult Christians, today have adopted the more conventional or traditional definition which suggests that Atonement is achieved by paying for our sins; by Jesus paying on the cross for the sin of our break with God.

We may no longer believe, or may have never believed, that Jesus died for our sins. But we probably still retain, at least unconsciously, the underlying belief that reconciling with God means paying for our sinfulness. This hidden belief causes us to view the spiritual life as a series of sacrifices through which we try to make it up to God. In this light, all of our spiritual study, our lengthy meditations, our daily good thoughts and good deeds, add up to a single, massive attempt to atone. Through it all, something deep within us is trying to say to God, "I'm so sorry. Please forgive me." On an even deeper level, this is why we dream into our lives disasters, disease, aging, and death. We hope that if we punish ourselves enough. God will take us back.

This is why the Franciscan definition of Atonement should be such a profound relief. Yes, there did seem to be some kind of rift between you and God. And yes, the cause of that rift needs to be wiped away in order for reconciliation to occur. But—and here is the relief—the wiping away occurs through realizing that your split with God was never real in the first place. Nothing ever happened to your relationship with God. The only split that occurred was between your image of yourself and your image of God. This means that the split occurred only in your mind, not in God's. The real you and the real God have remained completely at peace and at one since the very beginning. What amazing news! The rupture never occurred. The world of the rupture is no more than a bad dream. There is nothing to pay for, no need for sacrifice. And therefore, all of your study, practice, meditation, prayer, good thoughts, and good deeds can be aimed, not at making it up to God, but at undoing your deep-seated delusion that there is something to make up for.

This is how l understand the Franciscan way of atonement. It strongly suggests that we need to take personal responsibility, towards all others and ourselves for our deeds, actions and words? As Anthony de Mello, S.J. would say 'God won't do for you, what you can do for yourself'.  In this way we may finally come to understand the true meaning of At-Onement

Update: February 05/2014

 Fr. Richard Rohr recently (January 21, 2014) posted the following wonderful reflection on the  of subject Oneing on his Daily Meditation e-mails as follows:
 The divisions, dichotomies, and dualisms of the world can only be overcome by a unitive consciousness at every level: personal, relational, social, political, cultural, in interreligious dialogue, and spirituality in general. This is the unique and central job of healthy religion (re-ligio = to re-ligament!). A transformed person unites all within himself or herself, so they can then do the same in the outer world. My favorite Christian mystic, Lady Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), used the Old English term “oneing” to describe what happens between God and the soul. As Julian put it, “By myself I am nothing at all, but in general, I am in the oneing of love. For it is in this oneing that the life of all people exists” (Showings, 9). She also says, “The love of God creates in us such a oneing that when it is truly seen, no person can separate themselves from another person” (65), and “In the sight of God all humans are oned, and one person is all people and all people are one person” (51).  This is the perennial tradition. Our job is not to discover it, but only to retrieve what has been discovered—and enjoyed—again and again, in the mystics and saints of all religions. As Jesus put it in his great final prayer: “I pray that all may be one” (John 17:21).

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