Liberating Process -- Bruce Epperly
For many years, my mission has been to make process theology accessible to everyday people. We live in a world of change and transition. We can’t step in the same river twice, and life comes at us fast. We need a way of making sense of movement, of finding just enough stability to live creatively in a world of change. I believe process theology, based on the work of Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, Bernard Loomer, and John Cobb provides one such pathway to making sense of the movements of life and finding God in the midst of change.
Though it seeks to describe our experience of reality, sadly, the language of process theology has been held captive by allegiance to the words rather than the spirit of Whitehead’s philosophy. This has reduced the circle of its impact to scholars, in particular, Whiteheadian scholars who argue over words such as “prehension,” “initial aim,” “concrescence,” “eternal objects,” and “primordial, consequent, and superjective natures of God.” These are good words and I have spent years living with them. But, I want to invite you to live process – not just speak about it. It has been said that the professions often conspire against the laity. This is surely true of professional process philosophers and theologians who debate about how many actual occasions can dance on the head of pin, rather than inviting people to experience the living world of divine and human creativity! Process theology can be lived and I invite you to live it with me over the next several weeks.
If you’re so inclined, you may enjoy my recently published, Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed. It invites you to live the spirit of process theology in the same way that Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living invites you into the world of process spirituality. Sometime in the next year a third volume will emerge – the working titles are Emerging Process and Process Theology – Unplugged and Unleashed in the Post-modern World. My goal is to transform the language and the experience of process theology so that it can be a force in healing persons and the planet.
But, this week, let’s start with the very nature of process itself. Stop a moment and just enjoy your experience right now. What do you notice? Do you notice movement and change, or changelessness? Do you notice many things or just one thing? Do you notice a sense of purpose or aimlessness? Is your experience creative or simply passive?
Process theology begins with the simple fact of experience in all its variety. Process theology believes that each moment’s experience is artistic in nature: you bring together a variety of stimuli into one concrete and complex experience that then gives way to the next moment of experience. Your experience is unique; no one experiences the universe from your standpoint or with your sense of value – of your sense of attraction or distaste. You are the artist of your experience; even when you think you’re passive, you are constantly bringing together many feelings, thoughts, and influences into one novel moment of experience. Recognizing this, process theology encourages you to claim your artistry and creativity. Process theology is the “artist’s way” of looking at the world: you are a creator, you are shaping your life even as the world shapes you, you are influenced by the world, but have a glimmer of freedom in each moment.
Freedom, creativity, and novelty are at the heart of process. Today, take time to liberate process thought from its language by living creatively, by seeing yourself as an artist of experience, by maximizing your own and others’ freedom to choose their self-creation. See the concrete limitations of life as the materials for personal and communal transformation and artistry. You are the artist of your own experience, after all!
Enjoy the process. Find meaning in the movement.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, healing companion, retreat leader and lecturer, and author of nineteen books, including Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living; God’s Touch: Faith, Wholeness, and the Healing Miracles of Jesus; and Tending to the Holy: The Practice of the Presence of God in Ministry. He has taught at Georgetown University, Wesley Theological Seminary, Claremont School of Theology, and Lancaster Theological Seminary. He is currently theologian in residence at St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. His most recent book is Process Theology: A Guide for the Perplexed. He can be reached for lectures, seminars, and retreats at firstname.lastname@example.org