He did not mean that we're pretending there is a God when we know there isn't. Nor did he mean we aren't sincere in wanting to worship God or wanting to be in a supportive faith community.
Rather, what he meant was that we were practicing (pre-tending) for when we'll all be gathered around the throne of grace and will be praising God.
"There will be one day," he said, "when all of us are gathered together like this, from every nation and every land, every tongue under heaven, and there will be none of us missing our mothers, none of us will be standing there longing that we were never able to be be a mother. There will be no tears, no heartache. We'll be singing beautiful songs together with all the heavenly host. (But for now) we're pretending. And it's a good thing."
When that time eventually comes we'll be tending (no longer pre-tending) to that privilege, tending to that task. For now we pre-tend to it.
In some ways, he was asking the old question of whether we can believe our way into a new way of acting or act ourselves into a new way of believing. I think he was leaning toward the latter idea, and offering us examples of how some Christians practice listening for the voice of God (voice not in a literal sense heard with our ears but heard with our hearts).
These Christians, he said, talk with God the way we sometimes talk to our dead loved ones at cemeteries. They pull up an extra chair, pour an extra cup of coffee and both talk to God and listen for God's voice.
They pre-tend to the privilege of speaking to and listening to God, something they trust they'll get to do in eternity.
Some of the more aggressive atheists these days say people of faith are delusional, full of make belief. No. That's not it, though we can't offer scientific proof that the God we worship exists.
Rather, what we're doing is pre-tending to the joyful task of living in the presence of the living God.
Imagine that. Well, imagine that if you know how to use your imagination.
(The photo here today is of an Easter service at my church.)
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RELIGION MONEY FOR KIDS
We have failed here to mention that the Dalai Lama recently received this year's Templeton Prize in religion, but now's a good time to catch up on that because he's just announced that he's giving away most of that $1.7 million to help needy children in India. Thus maybe doing something that will win him another award.
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P.S.: A reminder: From 2:30 to 4 p.m. this Sunday I'll be speaking about my family's 9/11 experiences and acceptance and understanding of anger for Anger Alternatives at the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Library. All are welcome to this free event, but because space is limited, get reservations by calling 816-753-5118 or by e-mailing [email protected]
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Another P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it, click here.