We treat God like a transaction… we only spend when there is a sale….. And yet we don't understand why young people aren't buying it anymore.
Let's face it. We have a pattern of relegating our relationship with God to scheduled spiritual times (e.g. church service, prayer at meal times, funerals)… and then getting back to all our other moments (e.g. shuttling kids to soccer, working with a boss, making dinner, paying bills). In this pattern, God is only useful so long as he helps us accomplish the rest of our life. Church becomes like fuel for our empty tanks and our relationship with God becomes something like a movie ticket and concession stand.
If the heavens are "high" and the earth is "low", we can tend to treat religion like the “High Life” and to treat the "secular" aspects of our lives like “Low Life”. We have Sunday morning and then we have 6.5 other days. At our discretion we approach "God", who in our estimation resides in the High Life, so that we can receive a transaction from him. And then at our discretion we take action in the reality of our everyday Low.
We set times either to take action for ourselves or to receive from God.
But we struggle with the implications of a receptive action (or an active reception).
We like to segregate… create seperation for ease… or for control. If religion is in its place, then we are free to take phsyical action during the rest of the week… and are free to treat religion according to our preference for the Low Life. We like to control our religious contexts… allowing God to receive from us our time and agendas as if God is lucky to have us pay attention to him. In this way, I suppose, we have created a time according to our own schedule when we will allow God to act… and then we will decide if we will receive from God.
Consider our tendency this way for moment:
We like the active voice in English because it denotes action (especially if the action is beneficial to us)…
We sometimes like the passive voice in English because it denotes reception (especially if the reception is beneficial to us)…
… But I don't think we enjoy the middle voice… Because the middle voice denotes participation in the action and the reception.*
One of the things I have loved so much about the heritage of Celtic Christianity is the emphasis on the Middle Life… a concept that describes “real life” as happening in the intersection of God with flesh. As we wake up, we interact with God. As we prepare meals, we interact with God. As we walk, as we sit, as we joke, as we sing, as we drive, as we work, as we toil, as we laugh as we cry, as we tire, as we languish, as we cough, as we renew, as we weaken, as we love… We offer ourselves intimately to the activity of God in our lives.
Eugene Peterson has said that in reality “we neither manipulate God (active voice) nor are manipulated by God (passive voice). We are involved in the action and participate in the results but do not control or define it (middle voice).”**
This is the posture of a Christian in the middle voice… Our active reception of God in this life we live. “Church” was never meant to be segregated from our “real life”.
Therefore, as we approach Scripture, we don a posture of “willed passivity”***. We offer a willingness to have our every action intersected with God. The result is an entry into what Eugene Peterson refers to as a life of “humble boldness” (or a “bold humility”).
* I first considered this while reading Eugene Peterson’s book, The Contemplative Pastor in a section entitled “Between Sundays”.
** Peterson, 104
*** ibid., 105