Archive for December, 2013

Sharing God’s Burdens

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

I was recently looking over your little book on The Life Aligned, and I was struck by what you said (on pp. 14-15) about the “need” of His Endlessness. As you note, Gurdjieff calls us to conscious suffering as our part in an “extraordinary exchange” with the Higher. “Except for Gurdjieff,” you continue, “I am not aware that any of the great teachings tend to say much about that.”

It occurred to me you might be interested to know of someone else who also believed that God is (in some sense) in need and who similarly speaks of exchange. I just finished teaching a course at my university on the Oxford Inklings, a group of writers including C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. A somewhat lesser known, but quite provocative, member of this group was a man named Charles Williams. I had the students read one of Williams’s novels, The Place of the Lion, but also some of his nonfiction prose, including a piece called “The Practice of Substituted Love” (from his book He Came Down from Heaven).

Williams’s style is dense and a bit idiosyncratic, but in my opinion he amply repays the effort. He’s meditating on a passage in the Gospel of Matthew. Christ has been crucified, and a bystander comments: “He saved others; Himself he cannot save” (Matthew 27:42). Precisely! says Williams. God Himself must be “saved”, and He is saved when we enter into a “web” of relationship with Him, a web which Williams describes as one of “substitution” and “exchange”, in which we are called consciously to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2).

I do not mean to suggest Williams was a crypto-practitioner of the Work! Nonetheless, it’s interesting to find a Christian writer who unflinchingly, and rather “audaciously”, contends that the Higher needs us even as we need the Higher. In the Orthodox East, one would call this “exchange” a synergeia, a “co-working” with God.