Monday, February 08, 2010

Practical Adoration IV


Having lost the plot, the churches have undertaken researches that, while fascinating from an historical point of view, are blown entirely out of proportion. However else the life and teachings of Jesus—his ethics, his parables, his purpose—may be interpreted, they unfold the process of going into the silence of adoration and its transfiguring effects on ordinary life. To go deliberately into silence, any silence, with religious intent or for simple relaxation, one must set aside judgment, law, and what one thinks one knows. Hierarchy has no meaning, nor do space and time. To be silent, as anyone who has meditated will confirm, we must become self-emptying—that is, we must let go all thoughts, even those by which we constitute what we think of as our selves. The layers of self peel back and fall away. If we are proud, we might see this loss as humiliation; if we are fearful of what we may find in the silence, we may think of this effacement as a kind of death, as our attention is stretched beyond all our noisy complexity.

The sort of person we become and the sort of belief we develop are largely dependent on the relationship we choose to have with silence. It is in silence alone that we come to the intransitive, open-ended faith that John writes about in his Gospel. [9] What happens in the silence, whether we are immediately aware of it or not, is literally transfiguring: all the signs by which we live our lives—words, images, ideas—are mutated, shuffled, and reintegrated. We emerge from each journey into silence a new creation. [10] And it was a new creation, not heaven, that the first Christians were looking for. Early Christianity was not philosophically complex: it was the religion of the poor and uneducated. Jesus is the Way into the silence where we are en-Christed, and from which we are resurrected into the new creation that permeates each moment. Read the New Testament with silence in mind; you may be astonished at what it reveals.

Ask anyone who practices silence: it is liberation from the often cruel and noisy stereotypes of cultural context, especially the religious context. Perhaps one reason Christianity was a scandal in its day was that its emphasis on “forgetting” and silence was contrary to those of the surrounding cultures, which were based on a collective social memory ritually and nosily reenacted. [11] Christianity should still be a scandal in our day.

The habitual trajectory of religion seems to go something like this: the founder has an insight derived from silence. Perhaps two percent of his or her disciples actually practice; the rest latch onto language about the practice as a substitute. The next generation begins to fossilize this language without understanding the process it refers to. Some of the people still practice silence, while the lazy majority continues to concentrate on the language, deluding itself that language is the same as practice, often literalizing what can only be metaphorical. The two (or more) groups come into conflict, which makes them vulnerable to hierarchy, legalism, and ritual. The majority welcomes these chains and becomes dependent, sacrificing salvation for safety. Inevitably the usual distortions of money, power, and persecution come into play, and practice becomes limited to a hidden, often persecuted few.

Cultures that co-opt religion to serve as social glue have lost the balance of silence necessary to a healthy and humane mind, and with it, the possibility of realizing our shared nature with God. Those who try to restore this balance, like Socrates, are frequently killed for their efforts. In 1310 Marguerite Porete was burned because in her logophasis she transgressed the clichéd vocabulary of her day, which some clerics sought to make legally binding. She refused to defend herself—how do you explain the process of silence to someone who has never practiced it?—and in silence went to the stake.

If institutional churches are to halt their rapid decline, those who direct them must actively and intentionally return to adoration as their primary goal. Rules have no meaning without a vision of God (Prov. 29:18). Church officials need to examine every word and gesture of liturgy, the education of clergy and laity alike in the light of the vision of God. They need to realize that their present hierarchical structures are infantilizing and untenable. [12]

The rest of us need not wait for the institutions. If we seek to make adoration the pole star of our lives, then we must accept that we are forced to sit very lightly to organized religion even while engaged in trying to wake it up, to heal the damage, to turn sorrow into joy. It is not easy to swim against the cultural stream, but if we bear the name of Christ, it is our vocation and the logophasis of our adoration.


[9] This insight into John's use of the pistis-words for "faith" is from an unpublished paper by Judith Lieu, given at the Oxford Classics Seminar on Faith in the Ancient World, Autumn, 2006, Oxford, England. Paul promotes the same idea using the word “hope” in Romans 8:24–25.

[10] The hymn in Philippians 2:5–11, however else it may be interpreted, describes this process.

[11] See, for example, Joan Breton Connelly, Portrait of a Priestess: Women and Ritual in Ancient Greece (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2007).

[12] See Garry Wills’s excellent book, What Jesus Meant (New York: Viking, 2006).


Blogger monk said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:53 pm, February 12, 2010  
Blogger monk said...

Thanks and thanks again; was given the link to your blog by a retired anglican priest friend; myself a hermit for about 40 years.


I have a non-denominational list ofr monastic subjects, practices, spirituality of about 465 members at Yahoo

and two small offerings for fellow solitaries on the internet at:

3:57 pm, February 12, 2010  

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