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Supernatural

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The Bible is full of instances of the supernatural. Demons. Healings galore, talking donkeys, water turned into wine. Visions. Forgiveness of sins; lives turned around.

legion

Image: Wikimedia (Public domain)

You’ll note that I’ve included purely human events into the supernatural category. There is nothing natural about complete repentance (although we sometimes forget this and think we can repent in our own strength), yet in the case of Zacchaeus and of Paul, this happened both suddenly and in astonishing proportions. Yet we’re less uncomfortable with these events – we’re less uncomfortable with some types of healings, visions, and events affecting, primarily, humans. It isn’t because we are more familiar with ourselves – rather, it is because we do not know much, rationally, about our natural selves. It is easy, therefore, to treat any supernatural event as an unexplained natural event.

Common wisdom has it that where the territory of science progresses, the territory of faith regresses. This may be true of creation myths, but as far as supernatural events are concerned, the opposite is true. The more we know in science, the harder it is to consider that some of the miracles depicted in the Bible are not, actually, a consequence of natural coincidences. For instance, assuming the Legion episode was a case of epilepsy works only as long as we can imagine epilepsy has a carrier pathogen which can be transferred to the pig herd. Being kept in the dark allows us to accept the supernatural as part of the normal world order far more easily than knowing about it.

The vagueness that is prevalent in popular conceptions of mental health issues does not help. It is just as easy to dismiss an event as a consequence of psychological trouble as it is to dismiss it as a supernatural event. But whilst we can hope to be in control (through medical advances, for instance) of the former, the latter is, by definition, not controllable by natural means. So it’s unsettling. If we accept that there are supernatural events, it means that even our healthy selves can be affected by them. It means that we are no longer in control.

That loss of control – even though it was only an illusion in the first place! – is why I’m still fairly uncomfortable when the spiritual refuses to stay hemmed in to the spiritual and turns into supernatural events. I’m out of my depth when that happens. But rather than investigating it more deeply, I tend to either brush it under the carpet or leave it alone.

Discerning the supernatural from the troubling yet natural takes quite a bit of skill, I’m sure. But just as much as it can be disastrous to mistake the latter for the former, so can it be the other way around.

Yet I still feel uncomfortable even discussing these issues. I’m not sure that discomfort is a bad thing, but it should not keep me from envisaging the possibility of ┬ásupernatural (including demonic) activity. What do you think?

Rejecting growth?

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Growth is natural. Where there is no growth, there is wilting and ultimately death. This is as true of the physical realm as of the spiritual realm.

Photo credit: Danya Bateman, reused under CC license

Looking back, there have been a number of events which made me grow up. Big steps, if you like. But most of the time, the growth was incidental: sometimes I didn’t choose to go through what I went through; and sometimes I got involved in some activities because I thought I could be useful there. How those activities would change me was never present in my mind. There is one salient exception to this – one time where I was specifically seeking change, but “all” I did then was pray about it: there was no effort or drive in that willingness.

In the past year, though, I started to consciously and consistently seek growth. It was tough at the start. Growth is scary, because with growth comes differentiation, and therefore the fear of going down the wrong track. It is scary, because of misplaced feelings of inadequacy: because my growth requires both my own and other people’s investment. What if I’m squandering other people’s resources? is a question I’ve asked myself a fair few times recently, although this may simply be an expression of my reluctance to grow.
But I ended up going for it. I applied for a gap year type scheme, after much deliberation and prayer. Even though that fell through (due to the uncertainty associated with being a doctoral student), it was the trigger in a chain of decisions that came later. For the past few months, I’ve said yes to pretty much every opportunity to move forward, and got involved in – even sometimes started – some activities deliberately to gain some experience and simply go further.

I ended up being at a state where I’d say yes for the sake of saying yes – not out of a misplaced feeling of obligation, but because I was indiscriminately welcoming all opportunities for growth, particularly where church was involved. I got a phone call about a new project, and said I was interested before stopping and thinking of it in terms of where it would lead me; and it is only after a few days of prayer that I realised it wasn’t “for me”, even though it was an opportunity for growth.
I rejected growth: I said no for the first time in a few months, and not on simple, practical grounds.

But I did not reject growth altogether: I still grow in other projects, and keep on seeking growth elsewhere. I got involved in other projects I potentially would have neglected otherwise. This was pruning, not restraining.

And sometimes, that’s necessary – for growth.

How do you seek growth?

How do you cope with saying “no” to those golden opportunities?