This prayer is inspired by Elaine Padilla's Divine Enjoyment: A Theology of Passion and Exuberance; the spiritual alphabet of Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat for Spirituality and Practice; and process theology. The prayer combines aspects of each. Please use freely and amend as you desire.
Padilla's book is brilliant and enjoyable to read. I read it on Kindle; my apologies in advance that in the quotations below I do not provide page numbers. I encourage you to read it as well.
But I best warn you that it is not an easy read if you have an overly-linear mindset. It consists of choral motions, twists and turns, evolutions and revolutions. Of her style she writes:
"My baroque style of writing, typical of Spanish poetry, may seem disruptive: the book’s arguments on divine enjoyment unfold through a series of choral motions. Evolutions, revolutions, and twists and turns give shape to the structure in which this basic idea moves from beginnings, to endings, to another set of beginnings."
In reading Padilla's book you must enjoy swimming: letting images and ideas wash over you, getting a sense for the choral motions. It's theopoetics, after all.
Still, her understanding of divine exubrance is relatively easy to understand, even for the non-specialist, if you consider her organizing framework. In discussing God's exuberance, Padilla emphasizes five themes:
Pain: Groans and Birth Pangs of the Divine Enjoyment
Yearning: Traces of the Divine Erotic Existence in the Cosmos
Permeability: The Open Wounds of the Lovers’ Flesh
Intensity: Passionate Becomings of the Divine Complex
Impropriety: Incarnations of Carnivalesque Passion and Open-Ended Boundaries
My sense is that the spiritual alphabet can help people of all faiths and no faith appreciate and interpret Padilla's five themes, adding more to the image of an exuberant God. For example, in the spiritual alphabet “C” is for connection, including the emotional connections that are both pleasurable and painful, “Y” is for yearning, which is inevitably a feature or eros; “I” is for Imagination, which opens the door for carnivalesque impropriety; and “P” is for play, which does the same. Padilla’s gift is to invite us to see these and other moods and modes in our own lives and, of course in God.
Toward this end she finds the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead especially helpful. There are at least six ways of understanding God in process theology. God can be understood as:
a companion to the world's joys and sufferings
a guiding and animating energy in the cosmos
the cosmos itself, as interwoven with divine love
the ongoing song or life of the cosmos
the spirit of creative transformation
the primordial mind of the cosmos
Process theologians add that God is filled with what Whitehead calls "feelings" and "subjective forms." This is true of God as the primordial mind who feels all the timeless potentialities which may or may not be embodied in the unfolding of the cosmose; it is true of God as the ongoing life of the universe who feels and then weaves together all the stories into a single, ongoing story; and it is true of God as a companion to the world's joys and sufferings, sharing in all that is experienced by living beings on earth or in any plane of existence. Amid all of this God makes "decisions" on how to feel and respond to the world; process theologians believe that God's howness, God's way of being, is love. The upshot is that God is a Thou not an It. God, too, has an inner life.
This does not mean that God's inner life is human-like, but it does mean that it is life-like. In process theology all beings are becomings filled with feelings and subjective forms; and their lives include what what Whitehead calls subjective immediacy or self-enjoyment.
Even God self-enjoys. God self-enjoys by loving the world and loving life. God is exuberant. This divine enjoyment is not isolated or self-enclosed, it is nourished and partly composed of the experiences of others. God is in the cosmos, yes, and the cosmos is also in God.
The idea that the cosmos is in God -- that is, within God's own inner life -- is especially important to Padilla and to most process theologians. It means that God's very life includes pleasure and pain. She writes:
"Although the dictum that all things are imbued with the divine presence is nothing new, the concept that God is capable of becoming in relationship with the cosmos has been little explored with regard to its sequela of divine enjoyment. Introducing a tint of Latin American feminism, I bring a balance to life’s pain and pleasure, and place the cosmos more intimately within the inner existence of God as the source of fertility and vitality."
Padilla invites us to consider the possibility that passion and exuberance are fundamental to how we can enjoy life, albeit in a way that shares in the suffering of others and doesn't hide from the tragic side of life. She wants us to find our way into what she calls a new order of love. She invites us to long for this new order, responsive to
"an intimate and vulnerable God who incites us to daily enact communal life as a remembrance of events that speak of life fully, and places in us a longing for things yet to be manifested according to a new order of love."
At one point she speaks of this new order of love, this exuberant way of living, as zest for life. She writes:
'Every generation must recapture and reignite a zest for life abundant if it is to overcome systems of belief that seek to impose a reality contrary to deeply relational, interdependent, egalitarian, and communitarian forms of living.'
Here we are reminded of the Brussats and their spiritual alphabet. In their alphabet “Z” is for zeal or, to say the same thing, zest for life.
The Brussat’s description of zeal is worth quoting in full, because it resonates in many ways with Padilla’s sensibilities.
"The spiritual practice of zeal means being fully aroused by life. We tap into the divine energy that pulsates within us and around us…This spiritual practice includes a wholehearted delight in the senses and a passionate love for who we are and what we have been given.
We are encouraged in its pursuit by our companions on the path and the countless teachers who stretch our souls. Our zeal moves us to live compassionately and to serve others. It shows up in our prayers, rituals, family life, and community activities. Zeal is the last practice in our alphabet and appropriately it incorporates many of those that have come before it.
Zeal means living abundantly — and we are more likely to do so when can pay attention, live in the present, have gratitude, and experience wonder. Zeal is an energetic and committed response to opportunities and challenges that come our way. How much more likely that is to be when we have regular practices of devotion, when we are committed to justice, when we have a faith relationship with Spirit, and when we see life as a quest.
Zeal is the essence of the meaningful life. As a wise teacher said long ago, the last shall be first.*
Let the Brussats have the last word. This zest that is sorely needed in our time. A zest that is exuberant, that has fallen in love with life itself, that finds life in God and God in life. Hence the prayer offered at the outset of this page. May we, too, partake of the divine exuberance.