Participating in Original Goodness — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Participating in Original Goodness

Life as Participation

Participating in Original Goodness
Monday, September 6, 2021

Everyone and every thing is created in the “image of God.” This is the objective connection or “divine DNA” given by God equally to all creatures at the moment of their conception. The philosopher Owen Barfield (1898–1997) called this phenomenon “original participation.” [1] We could also call it original innocence, unwoundedness, or use Matthew Fox’s brilliant term, “original blessing.” As Genesis 1 clearly and repeatedly states, creation is good. So how do we first see and then practice this original goodness?

Paul gives us an answer. He says, “There are only three things that last: faith, hope, and love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). In Roman Catholic theology we called these three essential attitudes the “theological virtues,” because they are a “participation in the very life of God.” They are given freely by God, “infused” into us at our conception. In this understanding, faith, hope, and love are far more defining of the human person than the “moral virtues,” which are the various good behaviors we learn as we grow older. For all of their poor formulations, Orthodox and Catholic Christianity still offer humanity a foundationally positive anthropology. We are made out of the faith, hope, and love of God—to increase faith, hope, and love in this world. If you have a negative anthropology, as some Reformers, and many cynical Catholics do, even a good theology cannot really undo it.

From the very beginning, faith, hope, and love are planted deep within our nature—indeed they are our very nature (Romans 5:5; 8:14–17). The Christian life is simply a matter of becoming who we already are (1 John 3:1–2; 2 Peter 1:3–4). But we have to awaken, allow, and advance this core identity by saying a conscious yes to it and drawing upon it as a reliable and Absolute Source. Again, image must become likeness. We must participate in the process!

I offer these words from Ilia Delio who draws her insights from her deep study of the Jesuit scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881­–1955):

Teilhard held that God is at the heart of cosmological and biological life, the depth and center of everything that exists. . . . Our nature is already endowed with grace, and thus our task is to be attentive to that which is within and that which is without—mind and heart—so that we may contribute to building up the world in love. Every action can be sacred action if [it] is rooted in love, and in this way, both Christians and non-Christians can participate in the emerging body of Christ. . . .

Our lives have meaning and purpose. . . . We either help build this world up in love or tear it apart. Either way, we bear the responsibility for the world’s future, and thus we bear responsibility for God’s life as well. [2]

In other words, we matter. We simply have to choose to trust reality, which is to finally trust both ourselves and God. They must work as one.

[1] Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry, 2nd ed. (Wesleyan University Press: 1988, 1957), 40.

[2] Ilia Delio, The Hours of the Universe: Reflections on God, Science, and the Human Journey (Orbis Books: 2021), 41–42, 43.

Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope for, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 60, 65.

Story from Our Community:
The Perennial Tradition of spirituality helped me imagine how our participation in the missio Dei is found in creation. I’ve experienced the movement of the Spirit using things in our lives that we feel safe with and love so much in order to show us God’s unconditional love. Thank you for your Daily Meditations. They inspire me. —Ashley C.

Image credit: Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Figuras en el Castillo (detail), 1920, photograph, Wikiart.
Image inspiration: We cannot see where these women have come from or where they are going. What is captured here is a moment of participation: taking each step, one at a time, together.
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