God as Policeman or Lover

Sebastian Moore, OSB

Sebastian Moore, OSB

In the eyes of Views from the Edge, the  late Dom Sebastian Moore, O.S.B. (12.17.1917 – 02.21-2014) of Downside Abbey, England, is one of our time’s more interesting thinkers.

Steeped in the psychology of Carl Jung, the spiritual discipline of the Benedictine Order, the theology of Bernard Lonergan, S.J., and the mimetic theory of Rene Girard, his eyes were penetrating, his vision both deep and far-reaching. During a long life os spiritual searching, he wrote in his book The Inner Loneliness:

[O]nce you see the self as naturally self-centered, you deny that the self wants God above all things, and you degrade God from being the fulfiller, the lover, into being the policeman. Paul’s conversion, through the stunning vision of Jesus he had on the road to Damascus, was from God the policeman to God the lover.

[The Inner Loneliness, Crossroads Press, 1982, p.49]

We met briefly in 1971 at a meeting of campus ministers in Milwaukee. He was chaplain at Marquette University at the same time I served as campus minister at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Gathered at the Episcopal Campus Ministry Center at UW-Milwaukee, I wondered who this strange monk was who seemed to observe everyone very closely without saying more than a word or two. I’m not sure I even knew his name. I just knew he was unusual.

Twenty-six years later, during a period of personal and professional turmoil, a therapist mentioned the name Sebastian Moore. I purchased The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger and saw his picture on the jacket. His perspective left me in awe and anchors me still. I’ve been knocked off my horse on the way to way to Damascus. Every real conversion is the turning from God the policeman to God the Lover.

Poem on working with Autistic Gabriel

Poem by Sebastian Moore OSB, Downside Abbey, England

Poem by Sebastian Moore OSB, Downside Abbey, England

Dom Sebastian Moore OSB, a Benedictine Monk at Downside Abbey, England, was featured yesterday on Views from the Edge. The poem in the form it appears here was featured in an Archbishop’s e-newsletter. In his later years Sebastian Moore has come to express himself increasingly in poetry. This one is from his book The Contagion of Jesus: Doing Theology as if It Mattered, Orbis Books, 2007.

A Song for each kind of day

Scheduling Calendar - differrent kinds of days

Scheduling Calendar - different kinds of days

Two years ago during my step-daughter’s final months with terminal cancer, I spent three days in quiet reflecton at Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN.Worshiping with the Benedictines was part of the structure of my day, the chants and readings opening space for fresh air to enter my angry soul…except for…the Psalms. Outrageously violent, vindictive, intolerant, self-righteous…horrible expressions of emotions I had gone there to revoke.

One day following morning prayer, I asked my Benedictine spiritual guide “Why do you read them aloud? Over and over again. They’re horrible.”

“Yes,” he replied, “because they’re real.” And words to this effect: “All those emotions are in us. Every one. Only if we recognize and remember can hate be transformed into love, fear into trust, self-centeredness into compassion. The gospel makes no sense unless it is a word spoken directly into these parts of ourselves we wish weren’t there, the sides of us we deny or from which we take flight into illusions of perfection.”

The words of another Benedictine, Dom Sebastian Moore of Downside Abbey in England, had hit the mark once before during the greatest personal crisis of my life – a time filled with the greatest joy and the greatest sorrow at the very same time. The words are heavily underlined in my copy of Moore’s The Crucified Jesus Is No Stranger. They were a lifeline to a drowning man.

“We have to think of a God closer to our evil than we ever dare to be. We have to think of God not as standing at the end of the way we take when we run away from our evil in the search for good, but as taking hold of us in our evil, at the sore point which the whole idealistic thrust of man is concerned to avoid.”

Or, as Steve concludes his poem, “there is a Psalm for each one of our days.”  Here’s the poem.

“A Song for Each Kind of Day”

Steve Shoemaker, April 12, 2012


One Hebrew word for “god” was “jah.”

(It was a time of many words

for god–and many gods.)  To say

“hallel” was for all to sing praise,

so HALLELUJAH meant “Praise God!”

(or “Thanks to you, oh God!”– for some

words could be truly translated

more than one way.


And so, a Psalm, or Song, that offered thanks or praise

might well be paired with a lament:

a cry of pain from one who prays

for help, relief, from gods who sent

disaster.  (But, of course, some Psalms

wisely acknowledged that some wrongs


were caused by those who sang the songs!)

There is a Psalm for each one of our days…