To Whom Does One Pray?

We start out in life as a child to our parents, then as a parent to our children and finally as a parent to our parents.  This arc is normally accompanied by a psychological shift from childish dependency to adult responsibility.  Rarely do we undergo a parallel shift in our spiritual life.  As Freud pointed out long ago, we see God through the eyes of a child.  

Freud, or course, was an atheist, but his point is well taken.  Much of what passes for religion is pure Oedipal psychodrama, with the Old Testament Jehovah cast in the role of stern Victorian parent.  An Oedipal subtext may also be found in the Christian myth as God’s son is sacrificed to atone for sins against the father.   Throughout, we remain in a state of fearful dependency, offering up our bloodless little sacrifices to appease an omnipotent parent.

The Christian doctrine of atonement is a monstrous libel upon God's good name.  What kind of father would demand that his own son be sacrificed to atone for sin?  Who condemned humankind for sin in the first place?  In reality, God condemns no one; we stand condemned in our own eyes and then demand human sacrifice to blot out our transgressions.  Jesus did not die for our sins; he died for daring to speak the truth.

What we need is not atonement but at-onement.  In a passage from the Gospel of John, not long after he declared that “I and the Father are one,” Jesus prayed that his followers “may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us.”  With psychological maturation, we become our own parent; with spiritual maturation, we become one with God.  We discover the place St. Catherine of Genoa describes where “my Me is God, nor do I recognize any other Me except my God Himself."  There is no longer an external entity to whom we pray or offer sacrifices, no longer a relationship between parent and child or even "I and Thou." There remains only God in the first person, at once boundless and unfathomable, a God who steadfastly refuses to be named, revealing himself finally not with a name but with an affirmation that sounds from the depths of our own being: I AM.

John 10:1, 17:20-26

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