Monday, July 07, 2014

The Religion the Almighty and Me Works Out Betwixt Us

I've been getting more than the usual interior static about what I Am. Of course I would like to settle it once and for all, so I can move on with my life. Surely there must be a shorter answer than Improvisational Esoteric Judeo-Christian Orthoparadoxical Bohemian Classical Liberal Neo-traditional Retro-futurist in the First Church of Perpetual Slack.

What I really want to believe is contained up in the mysthead, in the immortal words of the Reverend Harry Powell. There is a scene in which a slightly skeptical listener asks, hey, wait a minute, just what religion do you profess, preacher?

Harry's face hardens and he responds with a menacing, The religion the Almighty and me worked out betwixt us.

Which doesn't usually work out well. The best you can usually hope for is some ego-flattering new age mush, or an idiosyncratic jumble of truth and fantasy.

Here's Reverend Harry conversing with the Lord about his next move. Yeah, you could say he has a purpose-driven life, but so does any psychopath.

Hey, wait a minute Mr. President. Just what kind of constitution did you swear to uphold?

The one I works out betwixt what it says and what I wants it to say.

This problem still comes up all the time, and I am far from resolved about it. For example, I know for a fact that I have provoked many readers to turn or return to orthodoxy or Catholicism -- wife included -- and yet, I cannot do so myself. Why is that? And is it just a lame excuse? And if you are excluded from the general mandate, what makes you so special? What makes you different from a Harry Powell, or worse, a Deepak Chopra?

I notice that the Happy Acres Guy has confronted the same issue, which essentially comes down to the source of authority and the means of salvation. He tried, he really tried, to turn himself into the authorities and go straight, but he just couldn't do it:

"I put aside my protestant prejudices, drawn by the Catholic writers that speak to me and to the truth behind it all. And not incidentally intending to poke my finger in the eye of progressives by joining the most traditional organization."

That last one is indeed a major draw -- to join the one institution that is at antipodes to the depraved values of the demonic left. If the left hates it so much, it must be true! Although as soon as you say that, the Pope comes out with some vague, innumerate economic blather that gives aid and comfort to the demon class (and will of course further immiserate the poor).

And I certainly revere those many illustrious Catholic writers who "speak to me and to the truth behind it all." Not just the most beautiful art but most of our deepest thinkers came out of the church. Then again, one of my favorites, Meister Eckhart, ran afoul of the church. Speaking of HA, I found a helpful comment there from the Meister, which very much comports with my sentiments:

"We ought simply to follow where God leads, that is, to do what we are most inclined to do, to go where we are repeatedly admonished to go -- to where we feel most drawn. If we do that, God gives us his greatest in our least and never fails."

Yes, no doubt. Cosmic Slack, and all that. But consider the mischief that can result from a misinterpretation of simply doing "what we are most inclined to do." Here we need to specify that he means vertically, not horizontally.

As we have discussed in the past, the soul is in constant trialogue with its ground and destiny; or situated in the space between the two, to be precise. We know the soul by paying attention to its spontaneous and yet specific inclinations and aversions. We are always oriented to the divine attractor -- O -- but in our own unique way, thus combining the universal and the particular, the one and the many, God and Incarnation, Father and Son, etc.

In fact, even more than an incarnation, we are an incarnotion, i.e., an idea or notion of God. While one could theoretically understand how natural selection could account for a universal type, it can never account for the unique form of our soul, which again navigates in the hyperspace of the vertical in order to discover and potentiate itself by assimilating truth.

"Even if God is in all ways and all things evenly," asks Eckhart, "do I not still need a special way to get to him?" Well, yes and no. I would say that it cannot only be special, or else you are living in your own private Idaho. Rather, the special must embody the universal. With that caveat in mind,

"Whatever the way that leads you most frequently to awareness of God, follow that way; and if another way appears, different from the first, and you quit the first and take the second, and the second works, it is all right. It would be nobler and better, however, to achieve rest and security through evenness, by which one might take God and enjoy him in any manner, in any thing, and not have to delay and hunt around for your special way: this has been my joy! To this end all kinds of activities may contribute and any work may be a help; but if it does not, let it go!"

Note the evolution he implicitly describes: we begin in the unique, the particular, the individual, but end -- if we are lucky -- in the universal. This makes sense to me. By way of analogy, think of language. Let's stipulate that you can more or less convey truth in any language. Nevertheless, in order to do so, you must speak a particular language. You cannot do so with Language as such, which is pure abstraction.

Thus, suppose there is a Religion As Such which embodies the truth of reality. Well, as with language, you need to "speak" -- i.e., practice -- a particular one. But even then there are loopwholes. Alert readers will recall that in the Cosmogenesis and Cosmobliteration sections of the book, I endeavored to playgiarize with a kind of universal language beyond language in order to convey truth as such.

Recently I read an intriguing essay by Rebecca Bynum called God Descending. The reason I find it intriguing is that it is so Coonlike that it appears to me that we are in the orbit of the same attractor, although naturally coming at it from different angles, being that we are not the same individual. In it she expresses the wholly orthoparadoxical view that

"Just as we, in our limited ability, ascend toward God [↑], so does God descend toward us [↓], invading and encompassing his entire creation. Though God exists as an absolute, eternal being outside the confines of time and space, there must be some part of God, or level of God, that exists within those self-imposed and self-created confines -- a God of time and space. Thus creation remains a part of God, not separate from him."

This is an Exact Truth, a truth beyond which there can be no truthier. She continues:

"Ultimately of course, God the Father is eternal, absolute and unevolving, but within spacetime, he exists as actualizing potential -- he is both actual and potential.

"Therefore, as we participate in our own self-realization by growing in the spirit, that is to say, as our God-given potential becomes actual in time, we are adding our own small mite to the great actualization of the evolving God. We have been created as unique beings -- there is no one else who can contribute exactly the same bit of actualization to God and thus in a very real sense, God is dependent upon our growth, and our increasing ability to bear the fruits of the spirit, for his actualization."

My only quibble would be that she contradicts herself, in that she first refers to God as being "absolute and unevolving," and then suggests that human beings add "to the great actualization of the evolving God" (emphasis mine).

The only way to reconcile the contradiction, in my opinion, is with recourse to some version of Hartshorne's process theology, whereby God is essentially an "evolving Absolute." I don't want to get sidetracked into a defense of that proposition, but I will say that there is no other kind of God in whom I can believe. So it may well be my own limitation, but it is my own, dammit, and not somebody else's.

In fact, this forms the basis of the very multiundisciplinary religion the Almighty and me works out betwixt us, so back off! I'm lookin' at you, Bob.


julie said...

For example, I know for a fact that I have provoked many readers to return to orthodoxy or Catholicism -- wife included -- and yet, I cannot do so myself.

For the past year, though with little consistency, we've been going to the local Catholic church. I suggested it, because I want the little ones to have a grounding in faith, and the truth is I am terrible at guiding them on my own. But to my surprise the husband is quite interested; not enthusiastic, exactly, but he genuinely seems to believe it's the right thing to do. No small thing, considering nearly every church day features a (mostly) quiet battle with two kids who'd rather be doing pretty much anything else. Anyway, this from a guy who once referred to the Catholic church as a cult; now, as far as he's concerned, it's Catholic or nothing. Not my doing - he came to this conclusion on his own.

But even now, each Sunday is as much an inner battle (for both of us) to get out the door as an outer battle with the kids. We both need to sign up for RCIA, but haven't done it yet. So on that corner, we haven't had any experience with the local version of catechism. We go, but we're still on the outside; from here, the priests seem like decent and reasonably intelligent folk and the community is strong. It may look a lot different once we get around to taking classes, though.

For what it's worth, I don't consider any of the time I've spent here to have led me in the wrong direction.

Gagdad Bob said...

There are so many good reasons to do that. For starters, you're plugging into western civilization at its source. In a way I envy my son, who is being exposed to this ambience in his formative years, whereas for me, it's a leap into the unfamiliar. In a way, it's hard for a non-Catholic to become Catholic for the same reason it's hard for a non-Jew to become a Jew. If we had defaulted to the other side of the family and converted to Judaism, I would still be hopelessly WASP and everyone would know it. I am middle class suburban whitebread through and through.

Jack said...

This post hits home. I tried twice (really: 1.5x) to go through RCIA. I just couldn't make it across. I am not exactly sure why.

I started reading Charles Taylor's "A Secular Age" which is attempt to answer that question, but not surprisingly got bogged down. (Though I might recommend, "How (Not) to be Secular" by James K.A. Smith as a very readable introduction.)

Part of my contradiction is that I have my own views about how Catholicism should be. For example...better music! I don't think I could stand a lifetime of listen to such awful, music. Then the architecture: it seemed more of a spiritual bus station than a place of holiness. The Mass itself seem drained of any life and the reciting of the creed sounded like the Borg, etc and so forth.

So it seems that without having chosen it so much, my problem is that I am a radical "protestant" who thinks *my* version (however half- or ill- informed it is) is wiser, deeper, more spiritual than what is actually on offer.

I realize that this is pure arrogance on my part. Yet I don't know how it is overcome.

Gagdad Bob said...

And it's also difficult for me to reconcile my Americanism -- with it's liberalism and individualism -- with external authority, whether church or state....

Leslie said...

Throughout my life I have felt, "led". This has cast me as independent or overly liberty-minded. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I think what you are saying here is what is going on. I delight in so many things, and am attracted to others, that one-size-fits-all theology chafes. I look for what is True and beautiful. I can do no other. Maybe it is my Amercanism, as well. Thank you for this essay.

Gagdad Bob said...


Amen to the better music and architecture. At what point does the church fritter away its authority? Of course they would say "never," but that's an a priori response that may not satisfy outsiders.

Lately I've had the image of the Church as a very necessary arc that transported the the truth through history. In fact, the arc is still very much necessary, but I'm not sure if I need to personally get on board, since I can swim a little.

Gagdad Bob said...

But of course there are riptides and tsunamis in life, in which case one may need to seek refuge in the arK...

Gagdad Bob said...

Although that was a typo, I suppose the arc is an ark and vice versa...

Gagdad Bob said...

I suppose you could say I always swim within earshot of the ark.

julie said...

Re. the church being the underpinning of Western civilization, yes, I think that's why we're so much in favor of it for the kids. He grew up pretty much unchurched, so I have no idea at all how it comes across to him. But he seems to like it well enough so far.

I, too wish there was better music, though; having sung so many different choral versions of the Mass over the years, the music they have at our church seems awfully haphazard...

julie said...

"Just as we, in our limited ability, ascend toward God [↑], so does God descend toward us [↓], invading and encompassing his entire creation. Though God exists as an absolute, eternal being outside the confines of time and space, there must be some part of God, or level of God, that exists within those self-imposed and self-created confines -- a God of time and space. Thus creation remains a part of God, not separate from him."

I like Father Stephen's explanation of the one-storey universe. If one is truly aware of this, one is never but a moment's thought away from church. Of course, that being the case, it can make actual church - comprised as it is of other people - seem like an artificial separation of the sacred from the everyday. And of course, a great many people treat it as exactly that.

Jack said...

but I'm not sure if I need to personally get on board, since I can swim a little.

Similarly, I might describe myself as a Catholic fellow traveler. Rowing my little dinghy, as best I can, alongside the Ark.

Which, yes, has probably has meant I have been (and am) far more easily caught up in dangerous cross-currents (aka self-delusions) that might not affect those in the main Ark nearly as much.

Gagdad Bob said...

Hey, experience is a hard master, but we fools will have no other.

julie said...

I like that description, Jack. As good as any of the way of the hermit :)

ted said...

I find there's no easy answer to this, but the question is beautifully eternal. I have swam with Buddhists, Christians, Integralists/Evolutionaries, and the "Spiritual, but not Religious" tribes. All have their limitations to my unique potentialities. But I do still go back to Schuon's essential idea of method and doctrine. For today, I find the method of Dzogchen and the doctrine of Catholicism (with some process theology) the best I can come up for my trajectory. And then that could change tomorrow.

Gagdad Bob said...

Very good point: doctrine + method, or truth and a means of assimilating it. It seems to me that the two need not necessarily come from the same tradition, bearing in mind the idea that there exist different yogas for different personality styles. I like the idea of Christian Yoga, but it sounds way too new agey. I see MOTT as very much in that vein of Christian Yoga; Abhishiktananda too, another one of my favorites.

Jack said...

"Hey, experience is a hard master, but we fools will have no other.

I have persisted in my folly...and yet, oddly, I still wait for the second part of Blake's promise.

But why change course now?

Brazentide said...

I would recommend Fr. Robert Barron's 'Catholicism' series as a precursor to RCIA. It approaches the subject with a production value and immersiveness that is reminiscent BBC's 'Planet Earth'

Jack said...

RE: Doctrine and Method.

I like to consider the possibility of a Socratic Christianity (not really a Platonic one, so much. Or not *necessarily* a Platonic one). Meaning the more I attempt to question Christianity in an informed way, the closer I seem to come to it. That said, it can be *slow* going.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes: relationship and dialogue. I think that's what it's all about. Supposing you want to "talk to O"? How you gonna do that without linguistic and symbolic forms?

I seem to be having that conversation in every free moment.

Jack said...

"I would recommend Fr. Robert Barron's 'Catholicism' series as a precursor to RCIA."

I have watched it twice. I find Fr. Barron very helpful. Yet, with all due respect, he may have done *too* good of a job. By which, I mean that the reality of my local parish paled in comparison to vivid, life-giving presentation made by Fr. Barron.

My father was an Adman for 40 years. He would say nothing kills a bad product faster than good advertising. I don't mean to say at all that the Catholic Church is a bad product. Quite the contrary. But again, the reality I found on the ground was a bit different than the view from the heights given by Fr. Barron.

Gagdad Bob said...

When someone asks, "what about the sacraments?", I want to say that their purpose is to pierce the vertical vale and activate the descending energies, which I have other ways of doing. You know, like blogging. Don't know if that's a preposterous dodge on my part.

Gagdad Bob said...

Or at least not a complete dodge.

Petey said...

Beware of autopullwoolery.

julie said...


Jack said...

RE: The sacraments.

That does get to the heart of it, as it is quite clear that the Eucharist being literally true is at the center of Catholic life.

And yet I get caught up in the music, architecture etc. i.e. in the aesthetics. What is it I am really looking for? Spiritual entertainment?

I would prefer a Latin Mass, with Gregorian chant. That, I tell myself, would be the real thing. But perhaps that is rejecting the meal because I don't like the plates it is served on.

I have to ask myself again and again what I have been looking for when I have sought out Catholicism?

julie said...

Re. the Eucharist, we don't partake, out of respect. Bu we have talked about a couple of things that seem... I dunno. Maybe like you said, rejecting the food for the plates. Anyway, where we sit, Eucharist is always served by a young woman. Deaconess? Which probably shouldn't matter, but weirdly almost does. And nobody gets wine but the priests. I didn't pick up on that at first, but my husband noticed. When I was a kid, everybody who wanted it shared the wine. I suppose I can understand why, but there's a part of me that finds it sort of incomplete.

Probably being all too picky, I know.

Jack said...

Julie RE: The Way of the Hermit.

That does seem to be what calls me the most. (as I sit here typing on the internet!). During my first try at RCIA, what I had the hardest time with was the very PUBLIC nature of Catholic worship. (and as an aside, the very public, people-packed nature of that particular RCIA program.) Too many people!

I spend a good amount of my non-work time in solitude. So going to Mass, it felt like there were just too many people noticing me. Which may have been simple curiosity, or maybe it was just my own weirdness (or both).

Isn't there a play at home version?

Gagdad Bob said...

When I think about the eucharist, I want to say: by virtue of what more general principle is such a thing possible? And are there other ways of incorporating -- or of being incorporated into -- the divine life? I can well imagine how such an act would have profound resonance for an illiterate peasant who has no other means to do so. I can also understand the unconscious resonances even in the most intellectually advanced person, since there are some profundities that words cannot capture.

Nevertheless... I guess I'm kind of a grazer, just grabbing whatever's around....

Gagdad Bob said...

Assuming a bell curve of humanity, it seems to me that all Raccoons are outliers in one way or another, which means that they are going to struggle with mass religion, which naturally must be addressed to the masses.

julie said...


Also, there's a part of me that wonders, is there really a qualitative difference between Eucharist at church, and eating one's meals while remembering, as the apostles were commanded? Maybe I'm heading onto shaky ground there, I don't know.

Gagdad Bob said...

If I am not mistaken, William F. Buckley had his own little altar inside his home, and would have the priest come over to conduct a mass.

Talk about the one percent!

Jack said...

"Maybe I'm heading onto shaky ground there, I don't know."

I know what you mean. That's were I think my own unconscious radical protestantism comes in.

About 5 feet from me is the Catholic Catechism. I have found much to admire and learn from in it.

And many I question whether the Catechism has got it completely right--by definition. If I don't think so, why not go find some (liberal?) brand of the Protestant Church to be a part of?

And yet...I am only drawn to Catholicism. (Maybe Orthodoxy...but that seems even more cultural remote to me).

Is it that I want both the certainty that the Catholic Church offers while being able to retain my own version of things as I see fit? This seems to be a characteristically post-post-modern dilemma.

I think I'm getting a bit dizzy just thinking about it.

Magister said...

For what it's worth, I look at the Eucharist as the Family meal. God sets it out, and He expects us to come to dinner. Yes, you can forage and eat tasty street food, and it's all good, but the dinner remains, and always will remain, what God puts on the table every day.

As for music and aesthetics and what I'm looking for? In a word, integrity. I long to see the whole thing sacred and entire, and like Jack, to me that means a Mass so intensely still and pointed that it makes me want to take my shoes off on holy ground. This is an ideal in the strictest sense because none of us are capable of confecting that ourselves. Even the best of our priests have off days, and Lord knows our cantors can sometimes barely sing on pitch. Our cathedrals (and I speak from experience) are sometimes built on a shoestring, and look it.

The only time I've come close to this is at a daily Mass downtown. No music, just the priest chanting his parts now and then, a small congregation from workers in the city, the vast, stained glass stillness, and the conviction that the day's readings and prayers were directed pointedly to me, laying all my many faults bare, and offering this beautiful divine hand on my shoulder. Then I left, with everybody else, and went back to work.

Now I just feel weekly approximations of that, and the extent to which they fall short doesn't bother me as much. When I die, soon enough, there will be plenty of eternity for the Real Thing.

julie said...


Yes, I know that feeling...

Gagdad Bob said...

Agree about the public dimension. Don't know if I really want anyone -- let alone Cardinal Mahoney -- touching my feet.

Jack said...

Magister. Well said.

julie said...

Yes, thanks Magister.

Jack said...

Don't know if I really want anyone -- let alone Cardinal Mahoney -- touching my feet.

I would have to concur.

Brazentide said...

"Also, there's a part of me that wonders, is there really a qualitative difference between Eucharist at church, and eating one's meals while remembering, as the apostles were commanded? Maybe I'm heading onto shaky ground there, I don't know."

It depends on what the meaning of the word IS is.

Rick said...

All of my excuses sux.
But I invented all of them.
So I musta had a standard somewheres.
Here are a few lately devised that I can't stand:
Where did I get the idea I had to like it?
What am I supposed to bring to this pot luck supper other than recipes?

So I goes when they get too much.
A reason also I do not like.

mushroom said...

This is all powerful stuff. I am as culturally Protestant as I could possibly be, yet the majority of my literary heroes are Catholic. I used to go to Mass frequently, and I have considered joining up.

I guess, though, to use Lewis' analogy from Mere Christianity, I feel rather at home in the hallway. Bob, maybe you are an usher, telling people, "Right this way."

By the way, I read "arc" as the Catholic Church being an arc or vector of history and it made perfect sense.

As far as being in the "Ark", that is Christ. However -- and I know this is my anti-authoritarian Baptist-ness showing, if a person has believed and confessed they are in Christ and are ourselves "arks" of the Spirit.

julie said...

Rick, maybe we should be more concerned if it all becomes too easy.

Brazentide, I see your point, but what's in my mind (and maybe didn't come clear) is not the meaning of is in that instance, but rather of this. Obviously, he didn't mean only that one meal, but rather bread and wine, blessed and taken in his name, done in his memory. If so, what would be the meaning if a group of friends, believers all, sat round a table preparing for a meal, and shared bread and wine in such a remembrance? Church dogma would have it that such a meal would not qualify as Eucharist; probably, it might even be heretical.

Me, I don't know, but quite frequently, when I sit down to a meal, I remember. That's all.

julie said...


Bob, maybe you are an usher, telling people, "Right this way."

Perhaps it's weird of me, but in this context Bob reminds me more of Peter Pan...

Petey said...

Petey Pun.

Couldn't help myself.

mushroom said...

There were a lot of manly British soldiers -- Tolkien being one, who carried their copies of Peter Pan with them in the trenches of the Great War.

So you might be right. As long as he doesn't start singing "I believe I can fly".

julie said...


If memory serves, at least one of the lost boys was drawn wearing a coonskin cap...

Rick said...

"Rick, maybe we should be more concerned if it all becomes too easy."

That's what I'm talking about.
You reminded me of this caller to Rush many years ago. Kid was saying 'man, you don't know, I've been filling out applications all over town. Went on 10 interviews (for a job). Nobody's hiring."
Rush said:
"What happened on the 11th time?"

Magister said...

Hey Mush, I married a Baptist so I know where you're coming from.

Speaking of arks, every time we go down South to see her parents, we go to service at the church she grew up in. The service feels a little odd to me, but the explication of the text is always superbly done and driven home, and afterwards, and on weekdays, the older people in the congregation are out in the world in the food banks, nursing homes, and so on. They're living it, and sometimes I feel like Christ is more animate in them than in Mass-goers fulfilling their "Sunday obligation." But what do I know. I can't presume. We have our Catholic Worker House, too, and our St. Vincent de Paul's, our nursing homes, our schools, and so on. Every baptized person is an ark, as you say.

All this has been on my mind lately because my boys are hitting adolescence and I want them to know in their guts where God is. The good news is that He's everywhere (coons!). The bad news is that there are so many things we do to make Him hard to see. Personally, I tend to make the epistemological problem bigger than it needs to be. I can see myself making a frowny face and saying "when, Lord, did I do any of this?" And He: "Amen I say to you, whenever you did these things to the least of your brethren, you did them to me." Then He'll patiently point them out, and I'll stand there feeling stupid.

As a Catholic who takes that bit about "this is my body" at his word, I think the Eucharist is a kind of ground zero steady-state thing where God sets Himself out there publicly through his personally-appointed apostolate. Yes, the whole world is a mess, even inside the church. So was the world when Christ came, and so it'll continue to be for a good long while.

Especially now that Obama has another two years to spike the republic.

Rick said...

Brazentide and Jack,
There is an episode in the Catholicism series where Father Barron describes the church as a being designed to even look like a ship. I forget which cathedral he shows an an example; Notre Dame I it is right there on La Seine. Or in one sense, parts it.

Paul Griffin said...

(Pardon typos, I'm stuck on a tablet these days). Wow, late to this party... someone mentioned James k a smith earlier, and he is a favorite of mine. He will talk a lot about liturgy and its importance in our lives, mainly because we have one whether we know it or not. The world is constantly trying to draw us into its liturgies, (generally designed to remove money from our pockets) and we have to actively form our own, better liturgies lest we fall into those by default. This, to me, is one of the great values of organized religion. A ready-made set of rich, meaningful liturgies in which to participate and with which to explore ourselves and God.

I recently attended a wedding at a Greek orthodox church, and was so taken with the icons, the chanting, noticing fine details of everyone's movements and the multi-layered symbolism of the liturgy that I almost forgot about my friend altogether. (I spent most of the reception researching icons I had seen...) What a gift to be given! Such a rich and deep heritage and set of meaningful habits to step into, what a potentially powerful antidote to so much of the worlds idiocy. I think of it almost in military terms: when the s**t hits the fan, you don't rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training. And what is liturgy if not training for life and its eventualities?

I can understand the need to blaze one's own trail, as it were, and I certainly find myself doing so on a frequent basis, but sometimes it just feels like reinventing the wheel when there is so much tto draw feom the work of others, especially in these liturgical areas.

Man, my fingers are cramping. typing on a tablet is not exactly my strong suit...

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

""Whatever the way that leads you most frequently to awareness of God, follow that way; and if another way appears, different from the first, and you quit the first and take the second, and the second works, it is all right. It would be nobler and better, however, to achieve rest and security through evenness, by which one might take God and enjoy him in any manner, in any thing, and not have to delay and hunt around for your special way: this has been my joy! To this end all kinds of activities may contribute and any work may be a help; but if it does not, let it go!""

So, essentially Eckhart is sayin' don't take God bipolarly?

At first, the "evenness" he talks about seemed self evident but Methinks he means much more than that.
For it is indeed possible to take and enjoy God through virtually everything.

The key being, if it doesn't help, let it go!

You know, lately, I've been thinkin' a lot of Meister Eckhart so I really appreciate you quoting him today, Bob.

Lots to coontemplate.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Paul, I know what you mean. Using a tablet is much more difficult than using a computer when
i gotta type.

Great discussion today!

Jack said...

I think Paul's point about Liturgy as training is well taken. I look back at the type of training I received, be it from my parents, the school system, music, television, college and television (I watched a LOT of TV!).

At that tacit, emotional, unconscious level there is only a vague longing for Christianity. Intellectually, I see that there is something missing but emotionally I keep longing for those things that time and again have proven not only unreliable but downright counterproductive.

As Flannery O'Connor described this condition in her novel "Wise Blood", regarding the protagonist Hazel Motes, who eventually attempts to start a Church of Christ without Christ:

"He [Hazel] knew by the time he was twelve years old that he was going to be a preacher. Later he saw Jesus move from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark where he was not sure of his footing, where he might be walking on the water and not know it and then suddenly know it and drown."

That grabbed me immediately when I first read it. A ragged figure that moves from tree to tree in the back of my mind. Exactly!

To be perfectly blunt, I would guess that Luke Skywalker holds a more obvious place in my psyche and early imaginative life. Which goes exactly to Paul's point: We are catechized in one way or another.

Being something of a bookish type my usual motto is, "when having doubts, read a book." But I have to wonder if in my case--and I don't think I am alone in this-- that it is the imagination that needs to catechized and not only the intellect.

Which would speak to the necessity of beauty in leading us to truth rather than syllogism alone i.e. beautiful music and architecture etc whenever such things are possible. (and as I believe Milton once said, "the devil has the best music", which, if true, is unfortunate).

I hate to admit it to myself, but my imagination probably has far more say in what I value than does my intellect. Which means that the Dukes of Hazard and Cheers may be motivating me far more than does the gospels.

John Lien said...

Through reading this site and Bob's raccoonmended reading list, I decided I needed to give Catholicism a serious look. Well, I started small, attending a tiny Church about 2 miles from here which was a small miracle given the population density and religious history of this county. It was good. About two months later, the diocese closed, (actually destroyed) the Church so I decided to attend RCIA in Farmville, half an hour away. I got half way though it. The readings, written by US clergy, were often very liberally biased, the Bishops were pushing amnesty, and the new Pope seems like a lefty. And so instead of dwelling on the vertical aspects of Catholicism, it was the horizontal disagreements that dragged me down (and out).

Then from the other side, My wife sort of, kind of, kept reminding me that her ancestors left France because of the Huguenot persecution (and that little mishap resulting in the killing of a priest). I figured it would be prudent not to intentionally drive a wedge into a relationship.

I stopped looking. I don't think I need to find a church. I love my fellow raccoons and and I love hanging out with them and that's good enough for me for now.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Aye, sadly, leftism has infected many Catholic churches.
Youknow, I don't think it's all horizontal either, because even if one can ignore it, it still leaves a blight on the vertical, or rather sets up a wall to it since leftism is in direct opposition to the vertical.

Leftism affects the soul of the Church wherever it takes root, rotting through everything.
It's like a ship with a mediocre captain and mediocre leadership.
Technically, the poorly led ship is just as capable as a ship helmed by a good captain, but the bad leadership adversely affects the crew, no matter how good they may be.

Because bad leadership prevents and discourages the effectiveness of the crew and any innovations they can come up with individually.
The crew, in effect must fight the captain and any officers that follow him as well as any outside threats.

It's the same with churches. The difference between the last Pope and this one is immense!
The current Pope is mediocre at best, I'm sorry to say, and his promotion of envy will be bad for the Church.

Leslie Godwin said...

There is a lot to be said for joining the Church first and asking questions later. It is a different experience to be on the inside and have concerns, than to be on the outside looking in with those same concerns. But it is admittedly easier for women to join most kinds of groups than it is for men, so I give men more slack in that regard.

Sr. Brigid told me when I started RCIA that it is not a process of book learning, but one of spiritual formation and growth. So none of my concerns and questions got in the way of joining the Church. And I wasn’t expected to blindly accept teachings that I didn’t feel comfortable with. I was encouraged to ask questions and think through things at my own pace. In RCIA, we basically were asked to examine what God was saying to us, what that meant to us, and what we were going to do about it that week. It was very personal and revolved around our relationship with God. There were educational aspects, but this was the main practice throughout. It seems that this isn’t standard practice, and I would definitely have been deterred by what some have described.

Re. the sacraments -- I decided early on to assume that what the Church claims about them is true. I may come to another conclusion someday, but I feel I have a better chance of understanding them if I take that leap of faith. This approach worked for me many years ago when I wanted to know if God were real and how to have a relationship with Him as an adult. I decided to act as if He exists. It took 11 months of making the effort to act as if I knew He were there, but after that, I felt His Grace guide me from that point on.

A recent example re the sacraments: This past year, I felt I was given a glimpse during all-school Mass of what Christ meant when he told us to eat his body and drink his blood. But I wouldn’t have come to that understanding if I hadn’t already made a conscious decision to believe it has the meaning that is repeated every Mass, and then hoping I would come to understand it.

I wish Bob would get baptized, that we would get married in the Church, and that he could take communion. But only because I believe that the sacraments are part of God’s saving Grace and they actually mean something, to paraphrase Butthead. That being said, I truly respect his difficulties with joining something with that much structure and with so many people in his personal space.

The idea of jumping into faith with both feet and then asking questions reminds me of marriage. You don’t really know what you are getting yourself into when you enter a sacred bond (with a good man or woman) when you get married. You grow into an understanding of what it is to be married, as well as what it means to be a mature adult, as you have the bonding experiences and trials that every marriage has. Parenting has also been like that for me. Bob and I tried approaching parenting from the outside and we never felt we were ready. I remember it being an intellectual and reasonable matter, and there were more reasons not to. But once I felt that God told us to have a child, I left those concerns behind. I am not speaking for Bob. But I felt the axis shift around the whole issue.

I completely agree about the music and the architecture, but I also agree with the comments about how that shouldn’t be the deal-breaker. I feel God’s presence when I am in certain places and I go by that, since I live so far from St. Patrick’s Cathedral or any other “ideal” setting. God told us that when two or more gather in His name, that He is there among us (Matthew 18:20). And I do feel that when I go to our church, even with the modern music and women in yoga clothes and men in shorts and flip flops.

Van Harvey said...

Jack said "But I have to wonder if in my case--and I don't think I am alone in this-- that it is the imagination that needs to catechized and not only the intellect."

You are not alone in this, and far from the first to think it. It used to be, prior to the modernization-scientistication of education, that that was the way we were educated. Students were taught the stories, the sagas, the poetry and religion of our culture, and as they gained the ability to grasp it, they were taught the more prosaic facts and reasonings behind the stories.

As a quick scan of the vast majority of any modern student body will show, attempting to lead with desiccated and disintegrated factoids, and only later, if at all, attempting to impart the stories, or more likely today, parts of stories, that they are then told to compare and contrast to other severed parts, that imparts only boredom and a cynical distaste of the facts & stories forced upon them.

In our world today, it's only in the rare cultural mistakes (as the leftist mandarins see it), such as the Luke Skywalkers and Bilbo Baggins' - or Christ on the Cross for that matter - that some semblance of real education takes place. To be sure such matinee lessons are meager and confused, but something gets through and forestalls the killing of the culture another decade or two.

But they're still hard at work.

mushroom said...

Magister, I used to teach in Assembly of God churches, and not far from here is the AG World HQ, but when I attend, I go to one of the Baptist churches because the pastor is both an outstanding expositor and really believes in living it out. As my Catholic buddy, Gary, down in Dallas used to say, you just have to go where the Spirit leads. He was even talking about different parishes within the Catholic Church. Some are right and some are not.

Jack said...


Thank you. That clarifies a lot of what I have been contemplating lately. My "official education" was exactly as you described. I think I will go back to the foundational stories and see if I am able fill in some of those gaps.

Gagdad Bob said...

Just reading this autobiography of Russell Kirk, and his education was exactly as Van describes. Not for nothing is it titled "The Sword of Imagination." Kirk went on to publish about 100 articles on education, and wrote at length on the soul-killing effects of our industrialized educational system, which was essentially designed to get farm boys to sit still and take orders.

Peyton said...

Bless you, Leslie! The issues do look different from within the Catholic Church vs. from outside. And it does take more for a man to convert than for a woman -- I took four hours longer than my wife! We both knew it was time, though.

And yes, Jack, "it is the imagination that needs to catechized and not only the intellect." If someone argues me into the kingdom, someone else can argue me out. But if the "eyes of my heart" (Ephesians) are opened, that is something else indeed.

julie said...

Thanks for sharing that, Leslie - I can relate to so much of what you said. And for our part, we have already both decided we are not in this to stay on the outside, nor are we going to turn away just because church fails to meet any of our expectations or wishes about "churchiness." Come to think of it, we are becoming Catholic for much the same reason we are and likely will always remain Americans - not because it's perfect, but because as far as we can tell there isn't anything better.

I have no difficulties in accepting the mystery of transubstantiation, either. It's simply that I wonder if it doesn't happen more than we know, or more than the Church officially acknowledges. Going back to the Orthodox perspective, somebody I've read described the act of blessing as being something that reveals the true nature of what is blessed; so whether it's bread, wine, or water, the blessing doesn't make it holy; they are already holy. The blessing simply makes us aware of that.

Going back to Paul Griffin's experience at a Greek Orthodox wedding, I felt quite similarly at the Jewish wedding we attended this summer - even though we didn't go to the synagogue part of the service. The blessing of the challah bread before meals, and the breaking of it all together... it was so meaningful, and unmistakably an act of communion, it seemed to me that Christ was there, whether the other guests were aware of God's presence in that way or not.

The question for me isn't whether the bread is the body; it is whether there is any blessed bread that isn't.

julie said...

Peyton, If someone argues me into the kingdom, someone else can argue me out. But if the "eyes of my heart" (Ephesians) are opened, that is something else indeed.

Yes, just so. Which is why I have never tried to argue my husband into faith; it could never work. He argues for a living.

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Thanks for sharing that! Faith is crucial!

I'd like to apologize to all you guys for my last comment which was definitely too cynical and out of place.
There are still many fine churches and parishioners in the US!

USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Well said, Julie!

Anonymous said...

Great -- pick your religion based on how it pokes liberals in the eye. That's the true spirit of Christianity right there. What ever happened to loving your enemies? No, let's gather together in the warm satisfaction that we are taking a dump on someone else.

Van Harvey said...

Slimy, yet satisfying.

Peter said...

I think that sometimes those of us who write and think about God can forget that God is personal. Reading and intellectual life is not the river of life. Seeing God and thinking about him are not the same. When I feel closest to God I am looking towards him. I know he sees me, all the way inside. I feel like a small child when I am like this, it is who I really am when only my essence remains, it is what is eternal.

julie said...

It figures, anon; all this discussion, and that's the message you distill from it. Truly, I applaud your ability to take in the entirety of the post and discussion, pluck out only the deepest and most important element, and hold it aloft as a priceless jewel: we want the church to be just as hateful as ourselves!

Oh, how I am pierced by your devastating insight!

JWM said...

...And here I am coming in at comment number 67. It has been quite a while since I've joined in the discussion here, yet this place, this group- Bob, Julie, Van, Ben, Rick, Mushroom, feel like my home- my family on line. Bob's writings and these talks have, in the words of our execrable CIC "fundamentally transformed" my very being. I once despised religion. Now I hunger for it. How did this happen? Where to begin? A long time ago, Magnus Itland commented that any serious spiritual quest will eventually lead one to the cross. When I read that I got the willies. Well. Now. Look at my bookmarks: John C. Wright, David Warren, Ann Barnhardt, Elizabeth Scalia, First Things, etc. (quiz: What do all these folks have in common?)
And of course, One Cosmos.
On this whole business of the Catholic Church- yeah, me too. And while my own contact with the actual Church was likewise somewhat disappointing, I still feel pulled there- to the Catholic Church and nowhere else. Thank you very much Leslie. I was hoping to hear from you on this. What a long strange trip it has been from the comments section of LGF to this discussion. I never in a lifetime would have dreamed this possible. Maybe BabbaZee had it right when she called us "feral". Maybe we're going to be like the cats I see when I work nights at the school- they're used to me, sometimes they'll follow me, but they only get so close. I don't know...

robinstarfish said...

Ah, what a good time to stumble in to the OC Pub. Hi, JWM! Can't tell you how many times I've wondered what's up with you and your beautiful bikes.

Kv0nT said...

"Also, there's a part of me that wonders, is there really a qualitative difference between Eucharist at church, and eating one's meals while remembering, as the apostles were commanded? Maybe I'm heading onto shaky ground there, I don't know"

If you're looking for a scriptural answer... I would look at 1 Corinthians 11 v17-34

I think Paul is talking on a few levels in this passage, but one of the points is that the Eucharist should be observed separately from meals and in community with your fellow christians. I think Paul had in mind what Bob was talking about. Things may start on the individual level, but that isn't the ultimate expression. You have to speak to have language, and you have to commune to have communion.

julie said...

Thanks, Kv0nT. That is a helpful re-fresher; in fact, there are reasons I don't yet take Communion at Mass, even though I made it that far as a child, and have done so as an adult. The part about checking the conscience gives me great pause, and I don't think I have ever been to confession. Daunting, that...

Gagdad Bob said...

Funny how atheists reject a God of their imagination while expecting believers to comport with a theology of their invention.

Rick said...

Wrote this one the other day which I thought was pretty good:
There was no such thing as Pro-Life until the unfortunate day when it became necessary to clarify the obvious.

Eric said...

I became Catholic despite the uninspiring music, etc, after spending several years reading First Things and Touchstone, both of which bemoan the state of the Church in America.

I myself believe that the Church Eternal is so much greater than the Church Temporal that it behooves us all to join; and to do the best we can to keep the Church Temporal aligned with the Church Eternal.

Gagdad Bob said...

I heard Joseph Pearce say something similar last night on the Journey Home on EWTN (love that show), and it made a lot of sense.

Gagdad Bob said...

In other words, herebelow the ark -- the church militant -- is by definition full of sinners. What else would one expect?

Joan of Argghh! said...

Better late than never on this discussion. Me? Raised RC, the mother of my faith. I learned to love God's presence but had no knowledge of His word in the sense that Protestants venerate it. Leaving that, I learned to love God's word for its own wisdom, comfort, assurance and firm foundation. Very father of my faith. And here I am with a mystical mother and stable father in my faith.

In Protestantism I found the music to make the words stick to the ribs of my spirit, and in my foray into non-denominational fields, I found the Spirit to salve the demons of my mind. The RCs lost the music and beauty in the reforms of the 2nd Vatican Council.

In none of these forays did I learn the joy of disciplined prayers. Now am I content in a little Anglican church and have come to love the rote underpinnings of the Book Of Common Prayer. Had I been raised before the 2ndVC I would have enjoyed the matins, I'm sure.

Finally, Communion has never been more meaningful as a Sacrament than what I've found for myself outside of the overwrought "mystery" of flesh and blood in a wafer compared to the incredible formation of a family of God, together at His table, lively stones, fitly joined together. I am not an island of faith, and although I kick against forced community, I do so because I don't have many perceived needs that I can't meet. That will change, sooner or later, and I will be bound to go where I would not. Best to go with folks who love me.

Ultimately, it's all Good if God be our only desire.