Sunday, March 4, 2012

Mysticism vis a vis Theology

Recently I posted a series of relatively benign political statements on facebook. I guess all the heat of the Michigan primary boiled something in me. I felt like I was going to pop, so I tried to offer a smattering of 10 political thoughts that could hopefully be so wide ranging that they would either stir up some conversation (perhaps something like, "Josh, what do you mean by ________") or so wide ranging that it wouldn't be easy for someone to just pin me down to one club or team or box or caricature.

Attempting a political statement that way in our day and age of internet and twitter vitriol seemed instinctual and not premeditated. Upon reflection I've realized that the wide range of political thoughts is a kind of dialectical polemic. This is the way I've learned to take my theology, so it's no surprise that my politics are eking their less than formed nature in a similar way.

A dialectic is a statement of point and counter point in a manner of a 'both/and' summation rather than an 'either/or' where two counter points either cancel one or the other or both points altogether. It is a way of looking at two sides of a coin rather than the yin and yang, yet it does lean toward more of an Eastern way of thinking rather than a Western set of rational categories. Christianity, after all, began in a Hebraic tradition before it was spread throughout Europe.

Right there we might begin to identify a dialectic: East vis a vis West. The way I identify Christianity as originally of the East might lead one to read me as saying, "East good. West bad." This would be the same confusion and error that is made when we pit faith against reason or religion against science or the imagination versus reason for that matter (Romanticism against the Rationalism).

It seems just as overly simplistic to pit Mysticism against Theology or contemplative prayer against doctrinal formation. I'm sad there continues to be so much baggage with what people call "religion." It is popular to say, I am spiritual but I'm not religious. Yet this is by definition misguided. Anthropologically speaking a human being is essentialy made up of cult and culture. 'Cult' is the ordering of our spiritual being. 'Culture' is the ordering of our physical being. Even atheism is cultic in its negative view. Hermits, likewise, are just as involved in a kind of culture as the most cosmopolitan. They just chose to order their earthly existence in solitude. So the most mystical of persons are also doing a kind of theology, it just may not be as defined as other theologically minded people would like.

I will say, however, that theologians of any era have always been in desperate need of prayer just like the rest of us. Orthodoxy, the pursuit of straight, true doctrine is also the pursuit of straight and true worship. Ortho, as in orthodontist or straight teeth, plus doxa, as in glory or worship. Theology and doxology must be married. 

I am currently on a journey that is leading me into a joyful discovery of what might be characterized as the mystery of God's presence as revealed through vigil and prayer. My life is being transformed. I admit on one hand, that my theological formation does at times act like a kind of doctrinal radar scanning for half truths and mistruths. Richard Rohr, for example, is a resource I've just barely begun to explore. So far he has been very helpful. In the video below I completely sympathize with his sentiment that all seminaries might better be transformed into places that teach pastors to pray. This new season includes a bit of grieving. Little of my training has taught me how to come to the well and drink. Further, the work culture of vocational ministry itself contains little guarantee that a pastor will have access to time and rhythms for prayer and meditation unless he or she goes to great lengths to create that time. So the likes of Richard Rohr or Parker Palmer or Thomas Merton are a healing balm.

However, appreciating the kind of stream of Christian spirituality that Richard Rohr champions does not necessitate the abandonment of doctrine. An author and teacher like Rohr seems to fall into the prophetic tradition that rails against empty tradition in search of the true, "you honor me with your lips, but your hearts are far from me." Such mystical portions of the church do avoid an overemphasis on naming God, "the one before whom our words recoil." Yet it is interesting that the Roman Catholic church has always sustained within its fellowship some of the breadth between the Franciscan and the Jesuit, between the contemplative and the scholastic. Can such mystical teaching lead to confusion and even heresy? Sure. You can find many examples of mystical transgressions throughout the history of the church.

Yet, there is also such a danger in merely toting the doctrinal line as it were. Theological correctness can lend itself to stagnant, institutionalized, the-form-of-without-the-substance-of religiosity. I did a little search last night of "richard rohr" and "heresy" and found stuff like this "appraising ministries" site. I don't have much of an appetite for watchdog 'ministries.' After all it is the King of England that carries the title of "defender of the faith." I don't want it. Yes we are admonished to test spirits and to not be led astray (1 John 4, Ephesians 4 etc.), yet I am leery of giving too much attention to people and ministries who feel their primary calling is to sniff out and root out false teaching. In my experience these people are more interested in their own power and their control. They lead us toward fear and panic when the grace of God in truth leads us to peace and charity, patience and surrender and trust.

While my theological training can function as a kind of radar, the greater benefit of it is how it has led me to this place of prayer and how it guides me in it. My two knowings of God are becoming one. They work together instead of against each other. The Trinitarian godhead is the One in whom my heart is found. Further, I don't know if my faith would still be intact if it weren't for the clarity of my doctrinal formation. Who knows how the Spirit works? I have watched friends lose their faith, distance themselves from the Church, stray into dark clouds of confusion and suffer tremendously. These words have been an anchor and a harbor:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
    the Maker of heaven and earth,
    and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
    born of the virgin Mary,
    suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
    and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
    from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
    the holy catholic church;
    the communion of saints;
    the forgiveness of sins;
    the resurrection of the body;
    and the life everlasting.

Watch Richard Rohr on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

1 comment:

Ken Silva said...

"appreciating the kind of stream of Christian spirituality that Richard Rohr champions..."

The problem is Rohr doesn't teach Christian spirituality. He is an apostate Roman Catholic universalist.

I pray he'll repent and accept the actual Gospel.