Interview of Luigi Gioia by Seth Price
Podcast "Can I Say This At Church"
Luigi 0:00 So we need to believe more and more deeply that our God is different. The God of Jesus Christ is never a God who's going to take vengeance is never a God of such crude retribution. And the whole of the history of salvation. The heart of the Bible is a testament to it. God took people where they were so at the point in which they believed that if you do wrong, you're going to be punished and if you are right, you're going to be rewarded and takes them progressively to Jesus with the message that whatever you do, wherever you are, I am with you. The only thing I want is you to be with me and there is no length I'm not prepared to go to rescue you and to bring you with me. Seth Price 1:11 Hello, you beautiful, beautiful people. I'm glad that you're here. Glad that it's March. I'm glad that it's Lent, at least I think by the time this episode releases, it will be Lent. I am Seth, your host. So excited for the conversation today. One of my favorite things on this show is when I engage with thinkers and voices that are way outside of my normal sphere of influence. And today's guest is that so I spoke with Luigi Gioia, who is a lecturer of systematic theology. He currently is at the University of Cambridge. He is so fun to talk to and I'm glad that you get to hear it. When I got Luigi his book, I didn't really know what to expect and you'll hear this as the conversation unfolds here in a few minutes, I had no idea that I needed to read what I was reading at the time that it was sent to me. And that is one of the most fascinating aspects of this show. And I tell people often in real life, doing this show is extremely helpful for me because it's cathartic, and it's tough, but it is a pleasure doing this show is, is changing me in ways that I was unexpected. And this conversation is no different. So at the same time that last week's episode with James P. Danaher was being read and interviewed. I was reading Luigi’s book at the same time, called Touched by God. And between just the knowledge and the interweaving of contemplative prayer, and the Gospel of John, the parables, epistemology and truth, my world was like rocked! Like I don't even understand how to explain it to you. And you hear me allude to that in the show, but I'm gonna try to write it down, but I honestly don't know how to explain it. Before we get going on this episode, I wanted to just read you one of the parts of the books that I liked the most Luigi quotes, theologian El Meskeen and I love what he says on prayer. And so before we dive into this, I'd like to read that to you. And so he says that prayer is the expression of a deep love between you and God. God's love attracts your heart to prayer, and to his presence and your love consists an offering to God the same love. Initially the manifestation of love in prayer, is shy, maturity in prayer, coincides with the maturity of love. And so as we begin Lent, listen to this conversation on prayer, let's go. Seth Price 4:13 Luigi Gioia, I'm thankful that you're on the show. I am excited to talk with you. I was thrilled when another name that I struggled to pronounce emailed me about about your book. I don't remember how to say her name, but I was excited to get it, excited to read it. And honestly, it was if I'm honest with you, Luigi it was what I needed to read at the time that I was reading it. So I read yours with another one at the same time about truth and prayer and how the words matter. And so the two just mix together well. And so thank you for writing it. And thanks for coming on to the show. Luigi 4:49 It's a pleasure. It's a pleasure. Thank you very much for having me. Seth Price 4:52 Yeah, so a lot of my audience is either in New Zealand, the United States or Canada. There's a small subset there in the UK, and I know that I believe you're in the UK? Luigi 5:01 I am in the UK. So Cambridge right now at my college. Seth Price 5:06 I wanted to just briefly set the stage so that those that are listening as they hear you talk, they'll kind of know where you're coming from. And so kind of what is your upbringing, you know, theologically and personally that has made you the follower of Christ that you are today? Luigi 5:20 Well, I grew up in the south of Italy in a family where my mother is deeply religious, and my father, as I often say, was and still is the most anti-clerical person I've ever met in my life. I was then we really just when I was a child, very religious, very practicing when I was a child. So I would go to church quite often, but it was not a personal faith. And I kind of had a major experience of conversion when I was 16 at a period of my life where I was rather under the influence of my father. I had become very anti-clerical (and) I reacted against the church. And I was trying to read and find arguments against Christianity. And one of the ways in which I decided to do it was by reading the Gospels or reading Scripture, and trying to find in Scripture arguments against Christianity. And that was really the greatest mistake of my life depending on how you say it, because I soon changed my approach to Scripture. So I was reading it as a kind of story or a collection of myths and I was trying to find flaws or problems in it. And as I was reading it, it was the first time I was reading it, you know, gospels from beginning to end and seeing the continuity, seeing the story. I became first very interested, then moved, and then somehow I felt there was someone speaking to me through these words, it was not just me reading about something, but a feeling that someone was trying to tell me something through these texts. And I still, to this day, cannot describe exactly what happened. But I know that in the course of that week, or 10 days in which I, every day, would spend some time reading scripture and becoming more and more engrossed in this reading, I started to pray, I started to talk to God. And by the end of that period, I can say that I believed. I had come to faith. So it was a very personal journey that led me straightaway to want to give my life to God in the way available at the time the south of Italy, which was to join the Catholic Church as a monk, there was a small Benedictine community in southern Italy. I started to go to this community to have small retreats to have time times of prayer and to talk to people to monks there. And within a year, so when I was 18, I decided to join monastic life. And that led me to a long journey where I was, alternatively in Tuscany for three years, then in France for 19 years. And then I was again in Rome for another seven years in different monastic settings. And in the meantime, surprisingly, I didn't expect that but after 10 years of mastic life, my superiors decided to send me to Oxford to do my theological studies. So I was exposed to a lot of Catholic, kind of very conservative doctrine, especially reading a lot of Thomas Aquinas who is really the major think of conservative Catholicism. Then in Oxford I worked a lot with people, Anglicans, there who introduced me to St. Augustine in particular. So Rowan Williams has been one of the most influential figures in my life. Then I was exposed to Calvinism to a form of Calvinism and then I became friends with evangelicals of angelical Anglicans, who kept inviting me to the meetings and to the gatherings, because they were very interested in Catholic teaching and Catholic spirituality. And just to add another element to this idea about where I come from. After that, some 10 years ago, I was called to go to Rome to teach in one of the so called Pontifical universities. So these are the universities, the universities acknowledged by the Vatican as teaching in the name of the church. And I was training people or teaching to people from all over the world from over 90 countries, and there was teaching Trinity Christology, anthropology and spirituality, theology of history. But by and large, I was always interested in the spiritual aspects of theology. This has been my teaching. And then three years ago, I was invited as a visiting scholar here in Cambridge, thanks to Rowan Williams, who has become a friend in the meantime. And since then, after that, they asked me to stay so I am still here at the moment. Seth Price 10:40 You asked me before we started recording what denomination I called home and I gave a very vague but honest answer. And so I hear a lot of changes throughout, at least, the knowledge has been poured into your head. And so I'd asked you the same question. So what form of, I guess Christianity do you find that fits the best for you? Luigi 11:03 Well, I mean, an Italian is a Catholic- is a Roman Catholic- (laughter) just you know, as a Catholic, you're born into it. But this gives you a great freedom. So it's not as identitarian the Italian form of Catholicism is not as identitarian as the one I discovered in UK, for instance, or in America. So I've always found very difficult to identify myself in a position to say, well that I'm Catholic means I'm not Protestant, or I’m not Baptist, or I'm not Anglican. On the contrary, I’ve been brought up into a form of Catholicism which really etymologically is really all embracing and honestly and sincerely interested. When I went to Oxford for the first time in my life, and it was my 30s I started to meet Anglicans, evangelicals, Methodists, and I was fascinated I started to go to the to the services on Sunday I would go to three different places I would go to a Catholic Mads, I would go to a hard evangelical kind of almost Calvinist kind of service, where the preaching was very good, but quite hard. And then I would go to a charismatic in evening, a charismatic evangelical services. Well, yeah, just because I wanted to be exposed to these different denominations, not so much or not only from the viewpoint of doctrine, but from the viewpoint of spirituality. I really wanted to understand how they relate to God, how they understand the way God acts in their lives, how they understand Scripture. And I realized that the best way to do this is not so much by reading books about them about different information but by become friends, and by praying wave and by sharing religious kind of experiences with people from across the different denominations. And this has been fascinating because when you pray with someone in a friendly context, you cannot judge them. And you are much more receptive to everything which is positive in his or her experience. Seth Price 13:20 I'm gonna borrow because you're a professional like you actually speak for a living, you know, and you lecture for a living. So I'm gonna borrow that segue that was beautiful, into prayer. So yeah, so yeah, I'm man enough to know when you did it better than me. So, you if you've written a book that I guess… Luigi 13:36 I won’t ask you for a copyright for that. (Laughter both) Seth Price 13:41 Yeah, the way that you phrased spirituality and the way that the different denominations do it the way that the different forms of Christianity do it has really been a big part of my Christianity over the last few years, mostly because I read a book that made me question the way that I pray and then I read another book that was a different view on prayer, and then I read another book on contemplation. And then I spoke to, you know, a Christian that embraces mysticism in a more cosmic type of way. And we talked about prayer and intentionality and being present and like eye gazing. And either way, I'm always uncomfortable with it. But I find a lot of growth in that uncomfortability. And so when I read your book, which is relatively short, although it took me longer than I expected to read a short book, because I would read a few pages, and then you would quote theologians that I'm not familiar with, like some of the names that you quote, and some of the things that as you were reading, you know, impacted you I was like I never heard this I was cheated out of something. Because I've never read this. And I wonder where I would be today had I had I had something years ago. So kind of why did you write Touched by God? Like, what's kind of the genesis of that and what are you trying to do? Luigi 14:50 Really, it is the kind of urge that came from inside me, really. I've been blessed, I have to say by a desire or which at some points in my life was bordering on obsession about praying; about somehow welcoming God's presence in my life, acknowledging it. And, I remember very early at the moment of my conversion, starting to pray and yet questioning my prayer. But questioning, not judgmental, not anxiously, just saying to myself, okay, it's very important in prayer that that should talk to God and I started to do it straightaway. But I was wondering, do I have to do all the talk? How is God actually talking to me? How and when am I listening to him? And I was reading as much as I could on this topic. I was questioning people and this has been a long journey, a very long journey. I mean, it's taken me years and years and years to find answers that really, I would say satisfied me because to this day, I'm still not satisfied. I'm still kind of, and it would be really bad sign if I felt or I've reached the point where I don't have to question myself or question prayer anymore, or read more. But it is true that after a number of years, and reading a number of authors, and carrying on praying and growing as I hope in my life of prayer, I found that there was something in my experience that spoke to other people. So particularly in the past, well, starting some 20 years ago in the monastery where I was in France, we had many young people who came for day retreats, so we come in morning stay until the evening and they would share parts of our lives and the same time we would give to them small teachings on Christianity and particularly I was asked to give a teaching on prayer. So I really I can say that I've been speaking to prayer to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of young people. And this has been a very good school for me, it has forced me to hone, really, the way in which I can communicate this expense which is so central to my life. And then in the past 10 years, I've been invited to preach what was called retreat in Catholicism, kind of motivational give motivational talks to Christians all over the world, Philippines, Korea, China, Australia, Canada, in Syrian, and in States as well. And, and I realized that each time I was talking about prayer, even if I had the feeling that what I was talking about was quite simple, really. It spoke to people. People really said to me that this helps them and so there you have a sense of responsibility. So you feel well probably if I've been so almost obsessed by prayer all of my life is because God wanted me to go a bit deeper into this experience or share it with other people and help other people with it. And this is really is the fundamental kind of reason behind both books Say it to God and Touched by God. Seth Price 18:26 I find, talking about prayer is, as you said a minute ago, simple, but it's also deceptively hard to do it. What's the word I'm looking for? To say, I'm gonna go pray is fine. But then to come away, feeling like I've connected with God I find frustrating. Often, where I leave and I'm like, Man, that was, I don't know if that was a waste of my time or not. And it's probably not and in hindsight, it usually never is. But at the moment, I often find myself frustrated by how hard something so simple should be like I feel like it should be 2+2=4. And that's probably the logical part of my brain being like, just input these into the prayer bucket. And these results will be yielded. And that is never the case. And you talk well on that, you have a few chapters where you talk on feeling, and silence and how we often pray, and we don't feel anything and so we come away longing. And can you break that apart to get like, what do I do with that feeling when I pray, and I spent a week praying about something. And in that, and I feel nothing, I feel distant? Luigi 19:33 The experience of what we can call the absence of God or not feeling anything is indeed one of the main obstacles to a life of prayer, I acknowledge that. And it is something that in one way or the other comes and goes. So you never reach a point in life of prayer where you sail through it, always motivated, always enthusiastic. Especially when you will lead a very busy life, which is happened to me in the past few years since I've been especially here in Cambridge. But even when I was in Rome, I remember that I had my time of prayer every day. But each time it was so difficult to stop doing what I was doing just to go, I mean, to take time for prayer. And I remember at the beginning saying to myself, it's such a waste of time, this is such a waste of time. And yet it was not just that I wanted to do it. There was something that I would feel I was missing in my life if I was not praying, which was not exactly a feeling I felt as I was praying. So sometimes as I was praying, it might be very dry. It might be me saying things to God and me praying for other people or me just also, I mean, as I tried to describe my last book, trying to stay silent in God's presence. And yet at the end of it feeling, as you described, not special, nothing special. And yet, I would see that when I did it, my life has a sense of fullness, which I missed immediately if I missed these times of prayer not once or twice, but you know, over a few days. So when I talk about the peace and the joy that comes from prayer, I'm describing really a range of feelings. So there is really a sense of joy that can fill us fill our hearts as we are praying, there is really consolation that we can receive as we are praying. And, you know, Jesus says, I've come to give you my joy, and if he has promised this to us is because he wants to give this to us. But there is also a much more subtle and pervasive sense of fulfillment and peace and joy almost unnoticeable, that fills our lives that we often take for granted as Christians, but which we miss immediately if we stop caring about cultivating a relation with God. And this is also something that we've noticed the difference that makes praying whether we feel it's something or not, whether we feel something or not, as we pray, is something that we notice when we talk to people who really have no belief and feel alone in their lives in the trials of their lives. To me, whenever this happens, I feel what a huge difference makes for me whether I feel anything or not to know that I'm not alone, that God is with me. And this gives me a piece which might not be always felt that socially makes my life different. Seth Price 23:05 Thinking about prayer, I was thinking about our conversation last night, or I was thinking about our conversation for today last night, and as I'm tucking my daughters into bed, and I'm thinking of all of the news today, specifically on the Catholic Church, but also out of the Baptist Church and all of these things of a touching-a physical embrace- unwarranted and unwanted and I'm worried that to have a concept of praying in a way that we can touch God is tainted in a way because of the way that touch has been abused physically. And so I'm curious how you would either break apart the difference between physical touch and the spiritual touch, or if they even can be broken apart? And I'm not even sure that I'm asking that the right way. But I'm hoping that you're hearing what I'm understanding because I'm trying to trying to be able to relate everything that I talked about on this show, I always try to relate back down to my children, and I struggled to be able to as I thought last night, communicate well in a way of protect yourself against unwanted touching, here's how we physically know what we want. Here's how we emotionally know what's safe and wholesome and fruitful. Luigi 24:11 Yes, I mean, this is something that obviously can imagine. I've been asked already several times. And indeed, when I decided to call this book Touched by God, some of my friends started to make jokes about it, you know, and as you can imagine. Seth Price 24:32 I definitely don't want to joke about it, because that is a very serious topic. Yeah, this is not a Super Bowl. I don't want to be flippant with it. Luigi 24:41 Yes. Well, my answer to this would be that many times, many, many times in my life, I had to realize and this has been really something that has been very hard, that in situations where I was really trying to help someone, someone I deeply loved, I would hurt this person. And it could be a friend, it could be a person with whom I have a member of my family. I don't have children so I can’t talk about children. But I know that a lot of parents without wanting it and really out of love for the children end up hurting them in one way or the other. And this is a very painful experience because how is it possible that with the best intentions and when you're really trying to love someone, you end up hurting him or her? The answer to this is that human love is wounded and that it is unavoidable that when we love we also hurt people. And jokingly, but since we're the same time, I say often that there is only one way we can be sure of never hurting anyone which is not loving anyone. If you never love anyone you will never hurt anyone. But if you accept, to love and to be loved you accept the possibility of hurting or being hurt and thank God we have forgiveness. This is why forgiveness is such a fundamental element in love. There is no possibility of love in this life, in this heart, without forgiveness. So just in the same way, just as we cannot give up love just because we love comes hurt, just in the same way we cannot give up talking about touching and the importance of touching in our lives just because it is so abused and abused precisely by the people who should be trustworthy who should be able to to give protection and advice to people while in situations of vulnerability and so on and so forth. Touching is the essential component of identity. We will not become the people we are unless we have been touched by parents in the most formative years of our lives, we would not be able to talk, we not be able to relate, we would not be able to feel emotions at home had we not been touched in the right way in the first years of our existence. As we grow, we become more and more selective and less than less dependent on physical touch. So we still have that level of intimacy with you know, our partner or our children, or some very, very good friends in certain situations. But touching remains just as important for us in a different way to the point that we use the word “touched” or being touched, most of the time, not physically but metaphorically. So we say this word touched me, this story touched me, this example touched me. And I also found out, and this was quite surprising for me, that in neuroscience apparently metaphors of touch kind of awake, the same part of brain, which is involved in physical touch. So it is so similar, being touched emotionally or metaphorically to being touched physically that the same part of the brain is involved in this operation. So when it comes to God and our relationship with God, there is something very similar to what happens in our daily lives. Just as in our daily lives the thing that becomes more formative, or keep kind of motivating and helping us, is being touched by this word, by this podcast, by this news, by this declaration from a friend whatever it is, so in relationship with God the way in which God reaches out and touches us is through his work from Scripture, through the stories he tells us. This is why Scripture is not a treatise, it's not so much a book where we find explanations is a book where we find stories and fairly simple stories. Very, very good down to Earth Jesus talks through parables, Jesus does things so that by reading it, rather through these words through the Scripture, God tries to convey to us the extent to which we are important for him, the extent to which he loves us, descent which he wants to be part of our lives. And especially, that which is to me the absolute core of the Biblical message is that he is with us, and he cannot be other than being with us. This is really his name and He is a God who longs for speaking to us for talking to us. And is a God whose longing is to have an impact in our lives and to be in a covenantal relationship with us. So in this sense, touching is just central and is absolutely fundamental. Now it is misused, abused and it is often the place where we are most hurt; and it is also the place where unfortunately Christians, Catholics, but you know, unfortunately I wasn’t aware of this time for the Baptist’s as well have, you know, for a variety of reasons, very complex reasons I've misused it. But at the same time, just as with love and hurt, you know, just because these realities can be misused or rather I would say this, the extent to which they can be misused and can hurt people is is directly proportional also to the way in which they can have a positive impact in people's lives and if they're used properly. And it is necessary to reflect and talk about and to learn how we can use them properly. Seth Price 31:14 Say someone's listening and they hear that; a nd I will say, Luigi that's beautiful. And I agree that there is a direct tension with (touching). And I only say this because as a father, my son and I are almost identical in every way. And I'm always on a razor's edge of being in a loving manner or in a non-loving manner. And it really (is) much more different than my wife or my daughters, like just a razor's edge because it's like looking at a mirror. And I'm not usually prepared for that. And I don't mean a mirror physically, he does look like me. I mean, he's my son, but just emotionally logically the way that he processes things, and I've never realized how sensitive I was until I saw how sensitive I am. And I'm not saying that right, but that's the best way I'm going to say it. Say as a child, I didn't have a “really loving relationship” and I'm not saying that this is the case for me? So for me touches something that I recoil from-emotional touch, physical touch-if I'm listening to a song on the radio, and it begins to touch a part of me that I'm not content with, I just turn it off. And I'm like, you know, I feel called to follow Christ. I want to pray. I want to do so. I hear you, Luigi, saying that as I do there's going to be touching happening here either emotionally, spiritually, and neurosciencely-that's not a word-in my brain, from what I'm hearing you say? And I'll have to find that research, that's going to evict almost in a physical response from an emotional impulse and a brain impulse. And so if I'm not equipped to handle that, well, as a Christian, what can I do? Like how do I plug myself in safely and intentionally so that I can continue to practice prayer and begin to work through that outside of just throwing out the baby with the bathwater and much like that song on the radio that I didn't want to be touched by, just turn the power off and just disconnect? Luigi 32:59 Yes. Well, I don't want to be naive, nor absolutes about it. I know for a fact that I know people who stay away from Christianity, just as we stay away from many other things because they've been hurt because the messages come across to them in a way that has led them to feel kind of judged, excluded, or considered unworthy to be loved. And it is true that this might be an obstacle they will never overcome in their lives. And just in the same way, if someone has had a traumatic experience, in his or her relationship with his or her father, will struggle to be told when you pray you should say “our father“, so there is no magic kind of solution to this problem. The only thing I can say is that I also know, and I remember this case very well, this woman many years ago from Asia who had had this very difficult relationship with her father, and who came after a teaching on prayer and on the Lord's Prayer came to see me and said, you know, you, you have no idea how hurtful it is to hear that, you know, the way we should praise “our father”. And you know, I apologized to her for not being sensitive to this, and the conversation didn't end very well. And yet the same woman five years afterwards, I met her again. And she said to me, you know, as it happens, I really tried and the experience of a father with God being father has somehow healed me and I found consolation in it; and this has led even me to reconcile myself with my earthly father before he died. So I mean, these things can happen. On the other hand, it is true that in Scripture, God bless himself as father, but also his brother, and his friend, and even his mother-someone that walks with us. And in all these cases, it is quite clear that we are dealing with images, because God is every of each one of these things and is beyond any of them. And he does that precisely because he wants us to have at our disposal and array of of images that can help us to find ways in which we can let him closer come closer to us. But it is also true that some people will never be able to do this and not because of their faults but just because they've been to hurt in their lives. And then I really feel a sense of almost all and deep kind of respect for the way in which God has, I believe, remains present in the lives of people who seem to be completely impervious to his action or to his presence to His word. To me one of the core beliefs or the core sentences of Scriptures is that God wants everyone to be saved. And if this is true, and I believe it is true, I also believe that God has His ways of acting and being present in the life or the lives of everyone. And I don't need anyone to be openly a believer or to welcome you know, Scripture, or to go to church. I don't need anything of this to believe that God is acting in people's lives. And I have to say that the thing that strikes me most when I talk to people, even people in great pain, in intensively tragic lives, is the extent to which my faith allows me to believe well, God is there, even if you don't know it. I wish you would know it because they would do this would bring your great consolation, but I know that God is present in your life anyway because weather is paid and suffering, is where the God is. In the end, there's going to be some ways in which this is going to be valid in the lives of everyone. I believe it even if I don't know how this belongs to God's ways. Seth Price 37:14 I want to build off of where you were going there with with pain, and when you're praying and how you deal with that. So you have a chapter, and I referenced it before we started talking about the inner nagging and in it you touched on something that I hear a lot, especially over here and I don't want to call out you know, that “name it claim it” kind of Christianity of, if you have pain, if you have strife and struggles you just doing, you're just doing church wrong, like you're not being a good Christian, you're doing it wrong. And so you quote a sentence in Psalm 119, where it says, you know, it was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. And you kind of walk through that a bit. And then the part that got me is you say, this travesty of Christian faith keeps such a stronghold on us because it is the core of the pagan sense of sacred that has plagued mankind ever since the first religious feeling dawned in the conscience of our early ancestors, and so I'd like you to rip that apart a bit because I've never heard that, especially the part where you talk about the pagan sense of the sacred and how that relates to mankind. Like I just never really thought about it that way. Can you rip that apart a bit? Luigi 38:17 Well, yeah, what we are talking about his guilt really. And guilt is something that belongs to anthropologically to who we are what we are, again, because human love human upbringing is wounded. And again, because the way our society works, the core is that as human beings, we have this sense that if evil happens to us it is because in one way or the other, we have done something wrong or we have upset some divinity, some spirit, some being out there, and we have to do something to satisfy or to pacify this, this being if you want to establish the order. And this is anthropological, you find this in all religions and one of the explanations that are many explanations of pagan sacrifices, especially blood sacrifices is this one. So I've read some anthropological kind of studies of blood sacrifice in African kind of cultures, where blood is used as a token, is the only way of “How do I kind of get in touch to reach a being I cannot see a presence which is out there and can hurt me” other than by giving them something that can go from this world to that world and blood is one of the ways in that I give some life to them etc, etc. This is why I took the I call about the pagan sense of sacred too. Every human being comes with this sense of a world inhabited by forces we cannot control. And by the fact that if something happens to us, it must be because we've upset one of these forces and it is taking vengeance on us. Now, I think that my understanding of Christianity is that it cuts through this pagan understanding of this spontaneous way we have to relate to reality and evil in particular, all the bad things that happened to us are left to their mystery. So there is no explanation for evil, there is no reason for evil. If there was a reason it will not be evil. Evil by definition is darkness, is absence of light. So of course, there are times in which we we receive a damage because we do something wrong. So if I throw a stone in the air and I stay there, I mean, the stone is going to fall back on me and there is only me to blame. But if there's that tsunami, if an accident happens to me, if I got an illness, if you know in relationship there is something that goes wrong, this just belongs to the reality of our life on Earth; it's unavoidable. In the life of absolutely everyone there's going to be a number of these events, which thank God most of the time, in most lives, don't happen all the time. You know, in some lives are particularly plagued by the sufferings or populations in some areas really, just particularly kind of exposed to it. But in most lives, this doesn't happen every day. But it happens and what he's happens really it is a challenge to our faith. If we are Christian, I think it is a challenge to our faith, not to project this pagan understanding or this pagan explanation on to God. And believe that “if this is happening to me is because God is punishing me because I deserve it”. Because even if I had done something wrong, the God we believe in is not a God who takes vengeance, is not a God who if you've done something wrong, you're going to pay for it. No! He is a God who, on the contrary, only wants us to live and wants to change us not by punishing us, but by persuading us of the extent to which choosing good is something that makes us happier, more fulfilled. And He will always try and attract us by persuasion, by love, and by coming to help whenever we put ourselves in situations which we are wrong. The problem is that most forms of Christianity today have very little reflection on these issues. There's too little spirituality this is what I constantly fighting. We do not realize the extent to which the forms of Christianity we preach or we live are contaminated by this anthropological, fundamental, pagan, universal way of apprehending divinity and apprehending relation between the bad things that happened to us and belief in a divinity or God. And this is a field in which more than any other we need conversion, we need constant conversion. To overcome guilt, we need a constant conversion. So we need to believe more and more deeply that our God is different. The God of Jesus Christ is never God was going to take vengeance, is never a God of such crude retribution. The whole of the history of salvation, the whole of the Bible is a testament to it. God took people where they were-so at the point in which they believed that if you do wrong, you're going to be punished (and) if you are right, you're going to be rewarded-and takes them progressively to Jesus with the message that whatever you do, wherever you are, I am with you. The only thing I want is you to be with me and there is no length I'm not prepared to go to rescue you and to bring you with me. Why would you not believe in such a beautiful message you would think? Well, precisely because we are wired in the wrong way. Precisely because we are wired to not believe that and this is why I think the place where we need the greatest and the deepest conversion is precisely this one, the extent to which we are prepared to believe in God's love, in God's forgiveness, and in God's willingness to be with us, whatever happens. Seth Price 45:10 So there's two things I want to ask you about as we must be coming close to the end of your time, two things that I want to ask you about-to rip apart. So you referenced images of prayer earlier. And so you have two images that you contrast in the book. One is rest and restlessness, and the other is mindfulness and responsiveness. So before you get into that, I often conflate mindfulness with contemplative practices. And so what is the differences between you know contemplative prayer, and mindfulness? Especially because mindfulness is all the rage everywhere, every book in Barnes and Noble or wherever. And so what's the distinction, or the interplay, between those two and then how does that impact as we pray the images of you know, rest and restlessness and mindfulness and responsiveness? Luigi 45:57 Yes, well, mindfulness, as I understand it, I'm not an expert on mindfulness by any stretch of imagination. But mindfulness is positive, insofar, as it helps people to slow down, to pay greater attention, to be less out there in the action, and more and more capable of staying somehow alone with oneself and not being afraid of silence not being afraid of emptiness. And discovering that what looks like emptiness at the beginning, in reality is filled by a sense of well being, and can be quite helpful to help us to go back to our daily activities, having some distance having some greater ability not to get completely swallowed by what we do. So essentially, mindfulness is paying attention, mindfulness is not to be afraid of silence. Contemplation, as I understand it, also is the ability (that) we acquire to see things we do not normally see, or to perceive things we do not normally perceive; and particularly God's presence and actionin our lives, and God's voice in Scripture, and possibly God's presence within us. These things are related. And spiritual tradition is very good on this because it uses the image of spiritual senses. It says that just as we have eyes that allow us to see and ears that allows us to hear in the physical realm. So progressively we acquire spiritual eyes or spiritual ears that help us to see and discern God's action and presence. And this is why, and incidentally, I think the healing of blind people or healing of deaf people that is so important in the Gospel. It is clearly an image of what revelation does, what God comes to do Christ comes to do on Earth, which is giving us eyes that enable us to see him or ears that enable us to hear him. This is said about them in the Gospel of Luke that their eyes were opened and they recognized him. So contemplation really is what happens when God opens our eyes, the eyes of our heart, or our ears, and enables us to recognize as I was describing to you earlier, I was telling you earlier, sometimes recognizing God's presence in history in lives, it's very difficult. But I think that contemplative outlook on reality is capable of seeing God where his presence is not evident. When I read Scripture, a contemplative attitude is that which enables me to see not just information about God or about the people of Israel, but to hear a voice speaking to me through these stories. And in prayer it is really this ability which we acquire, and many, many spiritual authors talk about this, of discerning God's action and presence when I'm praying. So it's not just a feeling, although feelings are part of it, but it is something that is very real, even if it is difficult to describe. And it is a sense that I'm here. I might not see anything. I might not feel anything, but I know that I'm not alone. I know that God is with me. And I know that God loves Me, yeah. And this knowledge becomes so pregnant, becomes so real, that this moment of prayer has an impact on my life and does transform it. Seth Price 50:12 As your life is transformed, and I'd like to close with this, you have a chapter on identity. And so I want to give you the last word on that. So as we're doing contemplative prayer, we're seeing aspects of God that we didn't see prior. You know, I live literally in the Blue Ridge Mountains here in Central Virginia. And it's beautiful and I have an easy avenue to just look out and see at least splendor that I didn't see yesterday if I'll pay attention, or I can just get on the interstate and ride right past it, but also with my daughters and with my dog or with my job or you know, other things as well. And so as we form a new identity with God, and in God, what do we call it to look like? Like, if we were to bring it all home of not the end results, but what is the end goal? need? What do we need to collect? Do as we as we reform an identity in God, Luigi 51:03 The element that strikes me most and I think one of the signs that impresses me most in people who I think are Christians in the right way, is what I would call generosity. And when I talk about generosity, what I mean is not just which is all already something really very, very beautiful, the availability to give my time and to give my energies for other people and to be loving and to be patient, etc, etc. Generosity for me is, is I don't need to diminish other people to feel better. So as a Christian, I don't need to think that people who don't believe in God are worse than me. Because otherwise what would be the point of being a Christian or as a Catholic, I don't feel the need to think oh, Protestants must be less good than I am because otherwise what would be the point of being a Catholic? Generosity is, on the contrary, rejoicing in how much God is present, and beauty and truth is present, everywhere and sometimes even rejoicing in the fact that is more present in other places only in other lives or in other stories then it might be where I think I can find it. So in my Christian denomination, this is a mystery. I don't know why. But this means that I am open and ready to learn from anyone from the viewpoint this view of my belief, in solidarity with my community. But that element of generosity I think, is what we like most in our world today. We are mired into identity conflicts, because identity has become defining oneself in opposition to others and becoming more and more entrenched in this polarized view of the world politics, of gender issues, so on and so forth. Whereas we need freedom. All Christianity I think gives us a confidence that the more we come closer to God, I would say or the more we are given these eyes that are able to acknowledge God's action and presence in history and in lives, the more we become able to be open to let anyone contribute and work with everyone else in the building of our society today, in a way, which is, I hope, slightly more conciliatory that what we are seeing today. Seth Price 53:36 Yeah, there's not a better spot, I think. Both in Europe, and in the West, there's so much non-conciliatory attitude and mindset and so I can't think of a better call than to end with that; that would be a goal that we would be more generous is a great word. And I will say as I've tried to intentionally with last few years become more generous, and it always feels so good. Even if it's small, like just tiny. It doesn't mean it's not like I need to be a millionaire and give away money. If I guess I could, but just time like, what's your mean time like what you're doing here? Has… I'm not saying that well, so it doesn't matter. So where would you? Where would you point people to Luigi to engage with you converse with you obviously, the book is everywhere fine books are sold, and I'll have links to that in the show notes. But where would you point people to for resources or to connect with you as they try to intentionally engage in a contemplative type of prayer as they wrestle through that? Luigi 54:39 Well, I am on Twitter and I try on Twitter to put links to everything I do, the talks I give to podcasts and the interviews I give. So if anyone googled my name they will easily find my Twitter account. And also I have a website where I also put information and links to everything and these are connected directly to me. So through these, anyone can write to me and I'll try and do my best to answer Seth Price 55:09 Well, thank you for your time. And I know we've had to reschedule this and my dog has interrupted us a few times. Um, I don't believe any guests has ever actually seen the dog. I think you may be the first one. I think they've heard the dog thought. So there we go; but thank you for today and for your time. I'm greatly appreciative. Luigi 55:29 This is wonderful. I really loved this interview. I loved the interaction. Thank you very much Seth. Seth Price 55:54 I’m beginning to come to the realization that I can't fail at prayer. And if you you've listened over the past few months, you'll hear me saying that I get so frustrated with it. I'm beginning to see glimpses and facets of a faith and an understanding of prayer that says to me, Seth, you can't screw this up. I'm here with you. We're praying together. Just talk to me. And I'm finding that wholesome, and I'm finding it beautiful. And I'm also finding it a bit scary. But I'm really, really excited that I believe I'm turning the corner of living in some constant (in the fear of some) threat, that I don't do prayer right. I don't know that there's a wrong way to do it. I hope and I pray that your Lent, as we lead into Easter is intentionally filled with the presence of the Divine. That each of you will grow over this season in ways that you didn't think possible. Thank you so much for listening today. If you didn't, I'll ask you again. Tell your friends about the show, rate and review the show on iTunes but really just tell people about it. I love watching, you know, different countries pop up in the in the in the analytics and new conversations and emails from people the feedback is so encouraging, but more so I'm so happy that other people besides just me get something out of the show. So tell your friends, rate and review the show on iTunes. If you get anything out of any of these episodes, consider supporting the show on Patreon. You'll find links to all that in the show notes. Special thanks to William Matthews, whose music you heard interwoven throughout this conversation today. his newest release is called Kosmos, hands down and it's one of the best albums that I've heard in some time. It's one of the few albums that I recommend that when people listen to it, they turn the lights off, close their eyes, and just listen with intention. Multiple times like huh, it's anyway, listen to that album, you'll find Links to the day's tracks on the Spotify playlist for the show. I'll talk with you all next week. Be blessed.
CAN I SAY THIS AT CHURCH PODCAST