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Religion & Culture | Shedding a different light on God, man and prayer

Published:Sunday | September 11, 2016 | 9:00 AMDr Glenville Ashby
Dr Martin Schade
“Prayer is about listening. It is a relationship with God. Be quiet and let God be.”
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His every word seems to be expressed with palpable passion.

It is understandable for a man who might have stumbled on the nuggets of spiritual truth. His search for meaning has consumed his life.

He was a Jesuit priest for 11 years, a calling of which he speaks almost romantically. The Jesuits tailored him, carving a man of enviable intellectual depth. He served the Order as a vocational director, among other influential duties.

But his religion had set alight an irrepressible passion for wisdom. "I just could not contain my God in a Catholic box," said Martin Schade, a Tokyo-born Jamaican resident who has served his adopted country in a pastoral and academic capacity.

At St Michael's Theological Seminary he was a much sought after philosophy lecturer. Today, he is a senior lecturer at the University of Technology, School of Humanities.

Schade has long transcended the Catholic fold. He is a husband, minister of all faiths, a philosopher and educator. A Martin Schade interview demands reflection. You have to follow that train of thought every second of the way, lest you are derailed.

His recent book, Incarnation, is a philosophical odyssey that rivals, if not challenges, the work of Friedrich Hegel and some of the most incisive thinkers of the ages.

 

Bar raised

 

Schade has no doubt raised the bar on existential philosophy. His book is readily sought in academic circles. Its thesis, though, risks being lost to the multitude. He understands my concerns on this matter.

He cautions against misconstruing the Incarnation that has Christ-like connotations, and describes an exalted state of being, an essence - a synthesis of all that is. It is towards this state that we must all strive.

"We are not spiritualised beings; we are incarnated beings," declared Schade. "Everything has some form of materiality - even a ghost, spirit, or God.

"God is both transcendent and material. When we leave this world we will still have our individuality."

He cements his argument with a quote from Aristotle: "There is no form without matter (or) matter without form."

"We must rid ourselves of dualism," he added. Schade attributes this negative attitude towards matter to Plato whose work influenced St Augustine and St Paul. It was the latter who said in Romans 7:24 - "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?"

Schade makes mention of St John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila and their spiritual ecstasies. "They brought all their emotions, their body - everything to the 'altar' and 'saw' God," he said.

"They did not compartmentalise themselves into matter and spirit, or shed the body to experience the divine." It is here that the teachings of Kama Sutra - experiencing God through copulation - are briefly discussed.

 

GOD IN ALL THINGS

 

Schade chides the dualist thread that has become part of Western Thought. "I am part of all reality," he emphasised. "We must find God in all things. God is immanent and therefore we must be glorified in all our actions."

He assails biblical literalism and the depiction of God in anthropomorphic terms, a practice that he considers a moral evil because it leaves us spiritually spineless.

Schade sees God as good, loving, a purity that will never subject his creation to an infernal abyss.

He views hell as a state of being that we create.

"No one is in hell," he argued. Schade sees the essential goodness in us. "Nothing is profane," he wrote in the provocative, Riddum of Creation: An Incarnation Expression of Caribbean Theology, published in Caribbean Journal of Religious Studies (April 1998).

"All is sacred in its origin. Our starting point is Original Grace, not Original Sin. Grace is received at the moment of creation and at the conception of the person."

Still, he remains deferential and unassuming at times. "I am not going to play God. I do not express knowledge of all things. I am concerned about the now; about ethics, philosophy and metaphysics ... and how I can help others. I want to be as perfect as I can in that area - helping others (to experience their essential goodness)."

Interestingly, his thesis emerged from in-depth study of dialectical materialism that theorised that social forces can be interpreted as a series of contradictions and solutions.

"The world is dialectical," Schade charged, as he explained how he utilised this principle in understanding spirituality and the destiny of humankind.

He later recalls his struggles with the dictum: Unity in Diversity, having only understood what he refers to as "uniformity" within the Catholic Church.

He details how we are one despite our uniqueness. He then uses the term Ubuntu - a philosophical belief in the bond of humanity through sharing - to define his faith. "I could have well called my book 'Ubuntu'," he declared.

 

Essence and uniqueness

 

Of Rastafari, he is amiably responsive. The 'I-n-I' principle, the essence and uniqueness of every individual resounds with its utterance. "If only we all could comprehend the magnitude of its meaning".

I am corrected when I use the term 'Rastafarianism.'

"Glenville," he interrupts, "never ever use that word. There is no ism here." It is his way of telling me that the I-n-I principle is not an 'ism' or philosophy.

It is truth. My mind hearkens back to God's words to Moses: "I am that I am." (Exodus 3:14)

"My essence is my existence. I am because we are a community," Schade teaches. He asks us to love ourselves. "I realise that too many of us do not." It is an explosive message that is lost in a world driven by self-centeredness.

His thoughts on prayer are equally poignant. "Everything has a preface," he said and paused.

"Prayer is about listening. It is a relationship with God. Be quiet and let God be. As you enter this relationship, you must know who you are: be quiet, find your space, and get to the centre. Know that you are the centre of the universe."

He continued, after some reflection: "Prayer is not asking God to do something for you. Maybe you can ask for grace ..."

He paused and proceeds to challenge his fellow Jamaicans to refrain from saying, "Not my will but God's will."

"God's will and our will do not oppose each other. God wants us to share in the same will. God needs us to be gods." And fittingly, he ends by citing St Irenaeus: "The greatest glory of God is a full human being."

- Dr Glenville Ashby is an academic member of Religion Newswriters Association and author of Anam Cara: Your Soul Friend and Bridge to Enlightenment and Creativity. Feedback: glenvilleashby@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby