- Love is the essential inner character of holiness, and holiness does not exist apart from love
- Mildred Wynkoop.
For if we love another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
- I John 4:12
I am the life that’ll never, never die; I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me-I am the Lord of the dance, said he
- Sydney Carter, "Lord of the Dance".
Karl Rahner referred to us creatures as homo orans or humanity as prayer. What would such a statement mean in conjunction with Biblical passages such as the one above or to quote Mrs. Wynkoop again, "...that holiness has to do with persons in relationship"(25). What gleanings are there in these three seemingly disjointed points in combination with ideas such as holiness and God as triune? My thesis will build steadily on such thoughts as those fore mentioned. I will start with a brief look at modernity and how the residue of modernity has affected us in all the gamut of life. This will follow into a sketch of where we are now (i.e. postmodernism). This rough draft of postmodernism will lead into where we are in the context of spirituality. Is this spirituality simply a new label with modern traces and or a precursor to something deeper yet misguided? The final sections will bring in a Wesleyan bent by keying in on holiness and prayer as, in the words of C. S. Lewis, a taking part in the dance. The dance is that of humanity living in the triune God. "In his Sacred and Profane Beauty, the Lutheran phenomenologist of religion Geradus Van der Leeuw claims that dance is lived meaning; in it, body and spirit commune both with each other and with the world. Dance is the rhythmic mimesis, or representation of a theological reminiscence: that God is love, that is, movement" (Murphy 233). That living and ecstatic habituation in the Trinity is prayer and what flows from such a living, is the redemption and sanctification of the world and ourselves.
My purpose in all of this is to show how prayer is not an objective closet experience of a few saints. Prayer is participation in the Trinity. In this participation is societal redemption and not merely a spiritual agenda. Prayer as participation in the God who breaks forth is also the essence of what a holy life means. It is this holy habituation in which humanity truly becomes human. These three fold aspects interpenetrate one another in the beautiful, mysterious, and manifold aspect called the dance. It is this dance and in the unfolding of this dance I now wish to explore.
Me, Myself, and I. A few musings on modernity
Modernity is difficult to define since it was more of a movement of reaction against assumptions. "Western civilization had reached a state of maturity which led it to call into question fundamental assumptions" (Thornhill 7). Humanity was now finding a new confidence in the reasoning subject (the I) and the elements of reason such as math and scientific rational. The empirical could penetrate and clear away such ideals as miracles and healings. Divine revelation was no longer a mandate since the naked ideals of Christianity could be deduced sans the supernatural. Immanuel Kant referred to the enlightenment as an emergence from self-incurred immaturity. "Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another" (Thornhill 9). This immaturity, this clinging to the past authority’s and myths is overcome by "sempere aude", the courage to think. Modernity was more of an ideological movement than a period. This movement arose as disillusionment with Medievalist thinking. The shackles of antiquated myths and the church as the focal social sphere were being thrown off and in its wake humanity turned inward to the self and outward to rational explanations for existence. Ellen Charry writes, "My argument is that the modern self has been constructed around the themes of self-sufficiency and emancipation of a rather shallow sort that fails to take account of the needfulness of the self beyond autonomy and freedom. It is a hermeneutic of release that provides no larger context for transformation and growth" (Volf 96). This broader context of sorts, which is needed for humanity to be actualized, is the foremost failure of modern thought. It remains in residual forms in postmodernity. But, I am getting ahead of the game here. In such a brief paragraph, what can be learned about this movement? The enlightenment was a time of restlessness. Medieval assumptions and indeed long held notions about humanity, God, and the cosmos were being questioned. It was a detached and sterile time as humanity used reason and empirical propositions to challenge the old way of knowing. Even spirituality changed as humanity began to look for God inward with the mind and rational deductions. "The privatization of the religious led to the erasure of God-talk from the public arena-privately one could believe what one wished, but these beliefs had no "street value. Secular ethics and politics flourished in the wake of flagrant humanism" (Ward xxi). Eugene Peterson writes that intimacy is what is lacking in our spirituality; indeed our moorings are still rooted in modern "turning to I" thinking. God was reduced to Being and the highest in the great chain of beings. God was conceived of the summation of Being and by realizing our place in this chain we could realize where we are and who we are and who God may be. Catherine LaCugna writes about personhood in modernity this way:
The Cartesian method isolated the self from the world beyond the self, and presupposed that the self can be a self by itself, apart from relationship with anything or anyone else. Following Descartes, John Locke defined person in terms of self-consciousness, and Leibniz thought of personhood as an enduring self-awareness that is present to itself and knows itself despite external or bodily changes. Kant completed these definitions with the note of morality: a person is a self-conscious moral subject who is responsible for his or her actions. This understanding of person was consistent with the idea of God as unipersonal, the first cause and the ultimate referent of human subjectivity (251).
Going back to Mr. Ward for a moment, I believe he sums up this movement perfectly in writing: "Man becomes interpreter, measurer of his world-a world stretched out around him, Like Keats’s Cortez standing on a peak in Darien with the Atlantic on one side and the Pacific on the other, buoyed up by the adulation of his fellow conquistadors" (xxiv). I wish to move on now to the vague, overused, and yet relevant theme of postmodernism. Once again, I will not deal exhaustively with the mechanics and myriad definitions of what postmodernism may be. It is here however that new understandings about personhood arise and for that I look to people such as John Zizioulas with gleanings from other sources as well. It is also here where notions about God and spirituality also begin to change. It is here that the residue of modernity may still be seen.
Emerging from the self-marooned island called modernity
Graham Ward writes: "Postmodernism reminds modernity of its own constructed nature; the arbitrariness and inability of its constructions" (xxvi). I want in this postmodern section to deal with the idea of personhood and God to form the definition of postmodernity and form the crux for the following sections. "Modernity is a way of life grounded on fundamental values which were encouraged by the reformation: individuality, rationalism and asceticism. Postmodernity represents ‘an oppositional movement against the rationalizing tendency of the modern project’ and against ‘grand narratives and ‘teleological views of history" (Godzieba 325). In 1953 John MacMuarry delivered the Gifford Lectures and what arose from that were his formulations on what humans are. John saw the human as a person in relation and rejected the modern idea of self as subject and world as object. The modern person sought withdrawal into the self and away from the world of action.I will place withdraw as a formative experience later on. John replaced the "I think" with "I do" as the definition of a person. "MacMurray’s philosophy of the person implies the ethical requirement of overcoming egocentrism by orientation to the other (hetrocentrisim)" (LaCugna 257). MacMuarry was foundational in his approach. He placed the person in the context of relations and those relations and orientations are the definition of what a human being is. John Zizioulas picked up this theme some time later. "A person is not defined by what it is in and of itself but when it breaks those boundaries in a movement of communion" (LaCugna 260). Pointing to oneself as a means of definition of existence is this boundary Zizioulas speaks of. "In postmodernism the autonomous individual of the enlightenment is being supplanted by a more holistic vision of humanity" (Knight III 53). Knight writes on, "...participation in the community with its network of practices and relationships is what constitutes the personhood of the individual" (53). Person hood is not only constituted to the other but also toward God. In his new book, Altogether gift: A Trinitarian spirituality, Michael Downy refers to humanity as theonomous: from God and for God (72).
With a requisitioning of who we are and the demise of a metanarrative, modernity clings close. We seek and desire community but find we still are an island to ourselves and live within our own constructed narratives. "Given the questioning and breakdown of larger frameworks of meaning and of long-held values and assumptions, it is not surprising to find ourselves hungry and wandering" (McGarthy 195). The reemergence of spirituality is a good example of this misguided wandering and confusion. Much of what passes as spirituality comes in the guise of the "new age". "Much of new age spirituality is marked by privatization and commercialization" (McGarthy 198). "A quick tour of the local bookshop will likely display all these proclivities for individualistic quests for something ‘inner’-inner self, inner child, even (in one case I noted recently) the inner wolf" (McIntosh 5).Rowan Williams, in drawing from Ernest Becker’s work, The Denial of Death, refers to experience and individual spirituality as enslaving and supporting of the lies fashioned before us. Williams refers to this as a diet of spiritual salt water (70).As can be seen, the idea of the person as a human constituted by relation to the other (and I might add, God) is coming to the front. However, residue of modernity can still be seen in compartmentalized and individualistic spirituality. "Postmodernism denies that knowledge is secured through distancing oneself from the object" (Knight III 58). It is clear then much of our spirituality is pseudo-spirituality. "Fraudulence is rampant. Our leaders, ignorant of human nature, promote pseudo-intimacies that dehumanize. Our celebrities offer a pseudo-transcendence that trivializes" (Peterson 35). "Spirituality", according to Peterson, is "the alert attention we give to a living God and the faithful response we make to him in community". (40). What about God in this time of flux and emergence?
David Tracy writes, "God enters postmodern history not as a consoling "ism" but as an awesome, often terrifying hope beyond hope" (Godzeiba 322). Unlike the unmoved principal or a deity conceived by the rational being, God comes to the forefront of postmodernity transcendent, holy, and intimate. Even more so, God is love (as St. John so boldly declared). According to Heiddeger the god of philosophy (the god of modernity) is one neither can pray or sacrifice to...nor can one fall to his knees in awe, play music and dance before this god (Godzieba 322). "The postmodern God is emphatically the God of love, and the economy of love is kenotic" (Ward 598). We see here a God who breaks into every aspect of existence and creation; a God that is community and participation. Again Ward writes, "…the operation of this love provides a redesciption of the Trinitarian God and the economy of salvation" (598). God emerges in postmodern conception as a God in relation and not a god akin to geometrical principals, the highest being in the chain or the mover. As the person of postmodernity realizes he or she is a person in relation to all of creation, so this person sees God, experiences God as holy and immanent. We merely not just dance in this God, but God dances with us.
Departing to dance alone. Finding strength in the solitary ballet.
Looking away from the world is no help toward God; staring at the world is no help either; but whoever beholds the world in him stands in his presence-Martin Buber (italics mine).
It would appear to be a contradiction to speak about individual times of prayer and solitary spirituality in the light of all I have just written However, we will see that being alone does not mean forgetting, ignoring, or not recalling the fact we of the other. The late Robert McAfee Brown called individual spirituality the ‘great fallacy’. He comes down hard on so called dualistic existence in which there is one realm (i.e. daily, physical existence) and then the inner realm (spiritual matters). There is an exterior reality that is left behind when the inner chamber is entered. He overturns the great fallacy by what he terms "withdrawal and return". Brown cites the examples of Moses and Jesus. Moses was not commissioned to pitch his tent after his visit from God in the burning bush. Moses was told to return to Egypt. "In the case of Jesus, each instance of "withdraw" is the vehicle for a "return" to new levels of activity…" (Brown 45). "The best way to understand "withdrawal and return", therefore, is to see it not as an oscillation between two different worlds, but as a way of concentrating for a time on a part of the single world we inhabit"(47). Henri Nouwen wrote in the book, Reaching out: "communal and individual prayer belong together as two folded hands" (113). In this world of bytes, anxiety, hectic and rushed lives, we must agree that times of clarity, refreshing, and refocusing are needed to maintain sanity, direction, and above all our love for others. "According to Nouwen, prayer is wrongly associated with a pious and devotional attitude and nothing more. Prayer deteriorates into an individual line of communion upward where the pious soul is strengthened apart from its social environment. This is the residue of modernity that characterizes a good majority of spirituality in our present day. It is the pseudo-spirituality that is salt water to the soul and leads to a shallow, narcissistic existence; the withdrawal to the subject and not returning to a diseased world.
We must not see times of refreshing and silence before God as a world denying or a forgetful time. The contemplative Thomas Merton wrote, "The love of others is a stimulus to interior life, not a danger to it" (46). The genuine kenotic love of others should drive us to times of silence. Such times of withdrawal into silence however are not empty or random times. Reformed theologian K.H. Miskott refers to such times as "filled silence" and Douglas Steere calls it "relentless clarity".
Communal and individual prayer is indeed two folded hands and seeing it as such is the overcoming of the ‘great fallacy’. Shutting out the world while I focus solely on my needs, wants, and perhaps trivial matters is a shutting out of God. Beholding the world in him and him in the world is where I wish to take this treatment next. This is a Trinitarian ethics of prayer.
Don Saliers writes in his work, The Soul in Paraphrase, "knowing God requires worldly embodiment" (85). Knowing, in this context, is participation and this has more to do with who God is than who we are. However, knowing who God is (triune, a community of overflow) we realize who we are. "The God who is love (ipse amore) does not remain locked up in ‘splendid isolation’ of self love but spills over into what is other than God…"(LaCugna 353). This was my very critique of the modern self. The modern person lived the great fallacy and defined itself by turning to inward realities. "Instead of the Cartesian ‘I think’…beginning with Gods love means I am loved, therefore I am (Olthuis 244). This is the rethought doctrine of humanity put forth by Zizioulas and MacMuarry. There is a two-fold sense in the two quotes above. One is God is not a distant, unmoved, firmly fixed deity. God is love and that love is excessive and spills over into creation. That being the case, beginning with this love, defines who I am to God and to the other. This takes me to the quote I began this section with; knowing this excessive God is participation. In such thinking, it is safe to presume that this excessive existence and participation is the accurate characterization of holiness and a holy life. What such overflow or excessiveness would look like is where I am headed next.
Michael Lodahl in his essay, And he felt compassion: holiness beyond the bounds of community elucidates such notions as holiness as participation. Lodahl exegetes the parable of the good Samaritan and pivots the exegesis on Jesus’ words, "go and do likewise", which echoes the Deuteronomic code of, "do this and you will live". Jesus challenges the pervasive holiness-as-separation ideology. "To be perfect-a rather inadequate translation of the Greek teleios: complete, fulfilling ones purpose, on target-is to love without boundary" (Lodahl 161). This boundary, first mentioned in the thought of Zizioulas, is the boundary of the self which tries to define itself according to itself. "It must be confessed that there is a tendency among Christians to interpret holiness as withdrawal from society, civic concerns, "bad" people, and everything secular" (Wynkoop 29). Just a few pages earlier she writes in regards to Wesley’s view on holiness…"holiness has to do with persons in relationship" (25).
What is it that is done? What is done is a loving without or beyond boundary. In the Samaritan parable, holiness as separation is seen as perversion of what true holiness is. Holiness is answering speech that demands wine and oil be poured on the Samaritans wounds. "Do this and you will live" is defined in our relationship to one another in loving and living excessively. You may be wondering, "What has this to do with prayer"? Then it seems the great fallacy remains in you! There is a priestly element here. Our "go and do likewise" is mingled with our beholding the world in God. Ora et labora is translated from Latin as "pray and work". "The phrase Ora et labora comes out of the monastic tradition and out of a culture that placed God at the center of reality" (Halvorson 93). This is the definition of participation and worldly embodiment. Life is struggle, rejoicing, weeping, and all of the myriad emotions and experiences humanity may know. We behold the world in God and indeed God in the world and never shall the twain shall be separate. "…Holiness is realized by living in communion as Christ’s body through the Spirit amidst the vicissitudes and interruptions of living in a highly complex and fragmented world" (Downey 101). Jesus saw the whole polyphony of human life as prayer. Whether feeding, healing, rebuking, or praying before dawn, he was a priest offering up all of existence to the Father. He was not tainted by the bleeding woman nor was he defiled by eating the loaf with drunks, whores, and the IRS. In the very life of the Christ we see the abundance of God spilling over into wounded, broken down, abject peoples. They were taken into the very life of God and were changed forever. Mark McIntosh writes, "In Jesus, the finite and broken fragments of human existence are taken up into the healing and person-constituting fellowship of the divine persons" (162). Their lives became living prayers alluding to the grace, compassion, and restorative streams plentiful and flowing from God. Notice though, Jesus did not send them to seclusion or a cloister environment. He said, "go and do likewise". Knowing the Father meant worldly embodiment and such embodiment was the epitome of a holy life lived to the full. Jesus lived an excessive life and in his excess a community of pleroma was born.
Dancing in the steps of the Messiah. A rhythmic community.
In this last section, I want to view all that has been mentioned thus far in a community (i.e. church universal) element. Again, as done throughout, I will draw on various sources. I want to show how transformed personhood overflows outwardly and inwardly. A community of pleroma is a community of prayer, struggle, joy, and feasting on the fruits of the kingdom which has come and will yet come. Such a community living habitually in the Trinity is called to share such fruits with those not yet dancing and feasting.
Mark McIntosh writes, "…the Christian community is led by the Spirit to hear and respond to God’s word, offering the power of Christ in the heart of the world" (157). Johannes Nissan writes about the essence of a community thusly, "it is not a question of "what should I do" but more important is the question "who are we and who are we to be"? (200). Just as the solitary person becomes in relation to others and to God, so a community becomes as it lives to and for the other and God. William Placher refers to community as people who tell particular stories (143). These stories however are not flippant little quips and anecdotes. These stories create meaning, bring life where life was not (meaning ex nihilio), and open the community to draw in the other. These stories are embodied prayers of the community. "These narratives of a vulnerable God are not safe stories" writes Placher (141). "The Gospel of the crucified Jesus is not a safe retreat from the storms of contemporary social issues but sometimes the most direct and radical address that one can imagine"(141). Alan Torrence refers to the narrative-transforming aspect of the community as "doxological and semantic participation in God" (356).
Kenneth Leech picks up this ‘radical address of the kingdom’ (my phrase) in his work, True prayer. "The immediate indication of the presence of the Kingdom is movement: the lifeless stirs, the blind see, the dead are raised" (69). The narratives the community preaches, sings, utters, prays, etc open the community and make it what it is and should be; the body of the Christ on Earth. The community is holy when it overflows its life into the lives of others and the life of the world. "Being holy is being alive in the glory of God that transforms" (Downey 106). Its existence is an erotic existence. Erotic not in the perverted and distorted sense our culture and world has made it out to be. Erotic in that is yearns for the holistic salvation of a fallen world; a Godly yearning to see, taste, and touch the Kingdom come in full. "To preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to the poor, to heal the sick, to accept the despised, to free the prisoners, and to eat and drink with the hungry is the festal procession of Christ in God’s history with the world (Moltmann 78).
"The church is the bride who dances with him" wrote Hippolytus regarding the church (Moltmann 73). To say the church, the communion of saints is rhythmic, is to say it lives, moves, and has being in the living God who is movement, who is dance. The church as such also carries with it the theology of holiness. In the opening quote, we are given clarity in what this community is and does. As it dances in God it invites others to join the blessed motion; in so doing it is made holy. "Holiness is a wholeness transfigured. It sees all life in mysterious interconnection and bids us to join in that dance which emerges in response to the rhythm of the kingdom" (Leech 91). The Kingdom of God has rhythm! The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus reverberate through the community of the redeemed. What would the church as movement, as love and prayer in motion look like? It would be opening up our love feast to the unemployed and destitute family living an abandoned Buick. It would look like a pastor sitting in a bar listening to real life, real stories, real pain and in turn uttering the narrative of a vulnerable God who walks among such as these and calls them "blessed". It would look like a congregation opening itself in agape to the gay man, the teenager in chains, black leather, and purple hair, the stepped on, burned out, the abused…the wealthy who think they have it all. In a simpler way, it looks like Jesus who listened, lived, and touched those who otherwise would have no one and nothing. It looks radical and is indeed radical. It is a radical dance of a holy and radical God who bids us, "I’ll lead you all in the dance said he".
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