One uncomfortable truth which emerges from this inquiry is that we cannot sustain the emotions that hold us together without accepting the risk of suffering the emotions that tear us apart.
All life involves risk! Maybe that is the fundamental problem with people today?! (Sorry, that is really judgemental and generalised.) Maybe that is the fundamental problem with me!? Life always involves risk because it always involves faith.
So my point? I think we have become a society that likes to watch because we like to play it safe. It is much more fun watching someone else do the risky thing. More fun watching the “love story” or the “adventure movie” than loving or acting ourselves. But can we really grow (spiritually or emotionally) if we never risk? With the risk of being wrong can we ever really be right? Without the risk of hate can there ever really be love?
I have been thinking of rewatching Christopher Nolan‘s Batman series. I have enjoyed them in the past and, since we are back in lockdown, I have a little spare time. And Existentialist Comics has a great comic on the connection between Kierkegaard and Batman.
A movie is an experience. I think we sometimes over look the depth of some movies. I like the no-brainer movies too. But there are movies that make people think and, I think, the church should acknowledge that and work with it rather than against it. I think Jesus (and most certainly Kierkegaard) would use examples from modern movies to illustrate His points.
I have always thought that the three Nolan Batman movies had much philosophical depth. And I really like Batman as a superhero. So I did a quick Google and found this: The Dark Knight: Why So Existential? The post draws some very good connections with Fear and Trembling. It is well worth a read!
I might write more about Batman as I make my way through the movies.
To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us—and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful [person] knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude (20 in my edition)
“Not by hearsay but by experience”. Yes, that does make all the difference. I feel that is something I would like to be able to say. To experience Jesus is the aim of it all. To really know Him above all.
All of that reminds me of a Kierkegaard quote which I think I have already used:
I do not dare to call myself a Christian; but I want honesty, and to that end I will venture.
“What do I want?”, The Moment
To be honest, like Kierkegaard, I dare not call myself a Christian – my life does not reflect Him nor does my thinking. My life does not conform to the Pattern – my life does not follow Jesus. I try! I try by doing Christian things and choosing Him when I have the choice. I try by allowing myself to be swept along by His Love. I try by living with hope that in God all things are possible.
I am helping with our youth group tonight. As with all things, I feel rather under-qualified for the task and more than a little out of my depth. I am hoping to be a wall-flower and just stand in the corner.
I was thinking about what God asks me to do when I feel I am rather useless. God has more confidence in me than I do. And often, I think, it is more about leaping into the river and just allowing God to carry me along.
There is always an element of risk in ever relationship. I like certainty but I know that is an escape from the risk. There is risk in relationship with people, revealing myself, and there is risk in my relationship with Jesus, Him revealing who I am.
There is risk because tomorrow is a mystery. So in that mystery I am called to live my relationships. I am called to be “me”.
So maybe a Kierkegaard quote:
God is present in the moment of choice, not in order to watch but in order to be chosen. Therefore, each person must choose. Terrible is the battle, in a person’s innermost being, between God and the world. The crowning risk involved lies in the possession of choice.
I have been reading about the idea of the locus of control. In brief, it is “the degree to which people believe that they, as opposed to external forces (beyond their influence), have control over the outcome of events in their lives“. I find that a challenging idea as it appears to not include any room for the Divine – that there is a Person outside of me that is in control of everything.
I think in his Journals Kierkegaard says that an all-powerful being is not all-powerful if that being cannot choose to not use all of their powers. And we Christians call that choice “love”. For me to love God, to choose Him, I must be free and God allows that freedom so that I can love Him. I know people theologically disagree – and I was raised in a tradition that does not agree with that idea of freedom. But I find that a comforting and challenging idea – I am free to love people and to love God without limit.
So back to the locus of control. Rather than not allowing for the Divine, it calls on me to “own” my choices. As I have worked with my counselor I have been encouraged to move beyond a “victim mentality”. And that movement has really helped me face my depression and my anxiety. These are not choices but how I react to them and how I live with them are my choices. In the past, I have made the wrong choices and those choices have hurt people.
So this morning I stumbled across this quote from Thomas Merton:
Today I seemed to be very much assured that solitude is in deed His will for me and that it is truly God Who is calling me into the desert. But this desert is not necessarily a geographical one. It is a solitude of heart in which created joys are consumed and reborn in God.
Sign of Jonas, 52
I think as Christians we can find our locus of control outside of ourselves. Christians have swallowed the scientific world view and elevated the “objective” to the role of the Divine. Simply to surrender to an idea, to a community, to a tradition, and to simply conform. Faith becomes an intellectual movement of non-questioning and just “doing”. Faith becomes an impersonal act. Of course, it is human nature to create that outside according to my experience and expectations. And, maybe even worse, it is human nature to expect that my “conforming” pleases God.
Maybe the Christian way of speaking about the locus of control is to speak about the “solitude of heart”? There is a place inside of me into which I can withdraw that I truly meet Jesus. And in this place, I surrender to Jesus. In this solitude, I listen to Jesus and have intimacy with Him. This place is not external to me but is the very nature of my being. My relationship is not only intellectual but personal and instinctive. Faith is personal and subjective. I experience Jesus in my “solitude of heart”.
One of the things I have found is that I like to escape. I often dream of a change of context in the hope that it will fix all my problems. A desire to run away from my problems and look for the solution outside – a new Prayer Book to make my prayer life perfect, a goal to reach to be happy.
But most of all I wish I was someone else. It is sometimes an overwhelming thought – “just will yourself to be not you“. I would like to escape “me”. The “me” that I see is all bad. I often wish I could be someone else – someone who is everything that I am not – comfortable around people, articulate, sociable.
While that thought is often very strong I am also aware that “me” is God’s creation. When I really look at myself I know that I have been blessed with many gifts – I am a good teacher, creative, and can see patterns. And, of course, real “me” is nothing like the imagined “me”.
I need to learn to love me for me because “me” is God given. I am not perfect, and there are many places I can improve, but it is not all bad. The person in the mirror is not a monster like I imagine him to be. The direction I need to move is upwards and inwards. “Me” needs to move towards the God who created me in His image and loves me completely in Jesus.
The name Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin, mandatum (to command). There are a number of things that Jesus commands – the washing of feet and the Eucharist among them. But maybe we miss the point? Are we looking at the signs and are not seeing to what they are pointing? Here is the second part of the gospel for today (in APBA):
When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The Vulgate used the word, mandatum, in verse 34: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another“. At the start of these holy three days the readings remind us that it is all about love. And they remind us that I am personally called by God to be a follower of Jesus and enact His love to those around me.
The washing of feet and the Eucharist are signs of God’s love. The washing of the feet is a sign of service and humility. In the Eucharist it is Jesus Himself who says “for you”. I am always drawn to those words, “for you”. These three holy days, the cross and pain of Jesus, are “for me”. This Jesus meets me personally and says “for you” – one on one. The love of the cross is personal and individual – Jesus loves me now.
What does this “love” look like for me? Jesus says “as I have loved you”. Love is the sacrificial giving of the self to the other. It is placing “you” above “me” in my choices and actions. Or, to put it another way, to be open to God working through me. To not close myself off from God. To allow God to be the middle term in all my relationships.
Worldly wisdom thinks that love is a relationship between a person and a person. Christianity teaches that love is a relationship between person-God-person, that is, God is the middle term.
In antiquity as well as in the Middle Ages there was an awareness of this longing for solitude and a respect for what it means; whereas in the constant sociality of our day we shrink from solitude to the point (what a capital epigram!) that no use for it is known other than as a punishment for criminals. But since it is a crime in our day to have spirit, it is indeed quite in order to classify such people, lovers of solitude, with criminals.
Sickness unto death, 64 (Hong)
I “googled” the word “solitary” and the only results I got were related to prisons. People who are being punished are removed from the general population as punishment. The only use our culture has for solitude is for punishment.
What of those who freely seek solitude? What of those who freely seek solitude for God? Are they misanthropists or religious fanatics?
I have become more aware that I need time alone for balance. Not doing yoga or chanting but time without other people to be “me”. Often I read (and drink tea) or simply close my eyes and allow myself to experience the world around me. Even the half an hour to say Morning and Evening Prayer by myself have become essential to my sense of balance.
But solitude is not the same as being alone. I can be with people and feel very alone – I have a general sense of “existential loneliness”. Solitude is something much more than the absence of people.
When I slow down and embrace the solitude, God speaks. And I return to the world with God’s strength to be a better “me”. In the solitude I hear God calling me to friendship with Him and with people He places in my life. Solitude is not an escape from the world but an openness to God. And whether I am with people or by myself I desire to be open to God in the situation. I need alone time for my mental health and I need solitude for my spiritual health.
“No generation can endure without religion. But then when the front rank, the militia of attackers who want to do away with Christianity (which enemies are by no means the most dangerous), has finished, then comes the second rank of the missionaries of confusion, those who either want to concoct a new religion or even want to be apostles. These are by far the more dangerous, simply because they are religiously influenced and religiously confused but to that extent are also in connection with what is deeper in human beings, whereas those others are irreligiously obsessed.”
Book of Adler
The Book of Adler has been on my list of Kierkegaard books to read. The whole situation is interesting. As with all Kierkegaard books I think it expresses some of the problems within Christendom today.
I am finishing a study on 1 John – a divided congregation struggling with the future. People have left and are now stirring things up. The elder reminds the congregation what (or who) is at the centre of their life together: Jesus and love. I think Kierkegaard’s term “missionaries of confusion” is a good way to describe the situation.