Although I am technically finished with my #GivingUp4Lent project because, well…Easter, I will still be fleshing out some final thoughts over the next couple of weeks in virtual form to wrap-up this past season of reflection. That’ll look like: 2 more shifts (1 more after today) as well as an extra special bonus shift, and then a final summary of my overall reflections from the project as a whole.
Today, we get to tackle a very important movement:
The practical, “or lived,” shift away from a dualistic moralism, and toward a holistically sacred humanism.
This is a movement away from binaries, and toward a univite consciousness.
It is a movement away from a focus on “afterlife,” and toward the significance of “this life.”
It is a movement toward full embodiment, toward embracing the entire spectrum of human emotion and experience of both beauty and suffering.
It is a movement away from the “most moral” being the “most Christian,” and it is a movement toward the “most human” or “most in-love” with aliveness, these people, and this planet, being the “most Christian” idea. Admittedly, I don’t like the idea of “most Christian” in general, I’m just employing it here because it is helpful to say what needs to be said.
Let me start by putting something frankly:
If our practice of Christianity does not open us up to a deeper sense of love, awe, and wonder for this vastly complex life, as well as give us the freedom to release our clasp on control and certainty, we should run away as fast as we can.
As Christians, we need to be able to concede at the outset (with the rest of humanity) that this life, our existence, our consciousness, our loves, and our ensuing death are tender mysteries. They’re all about a million miles deep and about a centimeter wide. They’re not things we can come to “know” in the propositional sense. We will not reach their bottoms and behold their truths as we might wish.
And yet, life’s great mysteries are muses that can romance us. We do have the ability to attune ourselves to what is going on within their vastness. There are ways to stare down their depths and somehow enter into that which is beyond our comprehension, and yet as near as our heartbeat. In short, there are ways to contemplate them that actually open us up to their breadth of experience, and more importantly, to Love. This is the lens that we are often given by poets, artists, philosophers, and sometimes even certain kinds of theologians, who intoxicate us with their beautifully communicated fascination with the grandness of existence. Some call it God. Some mystery. Some wonder.
Sadly, there are also ways to improperly engage the great mysteries, wherein we try to grab ahold of them, systematize them, create codes and creeds about them, attempting to make them safe. I’m not saying that particulars and proclamations, witness, and sometimes even systems, aren’t crucial ways to talk about what’s going on in these spaces, but I am saying that placing such wildly untameable realities in boxes can be one of the most harmful things we can do for one another…primarily because it often causes us to have to disavow the lives that we actually live, for ones that we are told fit more properly into “God’s” system. It thus keeps us from being able to truly become whole, because our lives are chalked full of all kinds of experiences that clearly do not compute with our best attempts at systems, frames, praxes, and safety.
In other words, when we have to divorce ourselves from experiences we know to be true deep in our bones because of something someone told us we were supposed to believe, a red flag should go up. Way up!
This, in part, is why LGBT people who seek religious counseling are more likely to attempt suicide than LGBT people who seek non-religious counseling, with some studies showing suicide attempts as much as 8x more likely from families who have rejected their LGBT children for whatever cause. Because in the sort of system we have set-up, we force people into believing a Gay=Bad, Straight=Good paradigm, so when the visceral embodiment of an LGBT person’s sexuality comes into its maturity, it creates an internal conflict that often causes disastrous results. What kind of religion is that?
One of the travesties of the past century of Christian spirituality is that we’ve inherited a system that has a thread running through it that may not proclaim, but certainly operates under the assumption that, we are to hide from brokenness on behalf of wholeness. There is a dualism to that system. In that equation, Morality = Blessing, or Pain = Bad, Health = Good. To which I say…oh hey Job. What’s worse, is that we’ve been feeding this to our kids as well, especially adolescents who are told: Desires = Bad, Repression of Sin = Good. I don’t even need to get into how stupid the psychological repercussions of this line of thinking are, developmentally.
The only problem with it, is of course, everything. We are doing them the disservice of keeping them from maturing.
Richard Rohr mentions in Falling Upward that:
“We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right. That might just be the central message of how spiritual growth happens; yet nothing in us wants to believe it.” pg. xxii
I cannot state how crucial it is for us to understand this shift in thinking when it comes to our own practice of faith…because we can’t be truly alive with all that will be thrown at us and keep up the apparition that everything is alright. We need to learn that failure is part of the whole thing. As my friend Tripp says, morality is an accidental development of our process of growth and our attunement to love. It’s not something we can force. When we are told that a perfect moral response will get us where we are wanting to go in the human endeavor, we need to call bullshit. This is especially true when we are assured of not only happiness in this life (praise Jesus), but also everlasting life as well, or rather life that extends forever beyond death.
The misinterpretation of eternal life (as opposed to Jesus’ definition seen in John 17:3) as something that happens after we die has created all kinds of problems for the Western Christian’s practical theology. Surely it can be linked here to a praxis of faith which is about getting somewhere else other than here, hoping for a different body than this one, and waiting to be free after we die, rather than before. Perhaps Albert Camus critiques this idea best in his essay, Summer in Algiers:
“For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.” pg. 153
This jives so much with the Christian tradition, it’s mind-blowing how we can miss the wisdom of an absurdist like Camus. What I am of course referencing here is the move within Christianity that we often call the Doctrine of the Incarnation. Or, more plainly said, that God showed up fully in Jesus, or that the very stuff of divine life shows up most fully at the most-human level, in all its grandeur…and even its tragedy. If we can learn to make this turn from spending our lives living like we’re going somewhere else, to spending it on loving this one instead, it will change us. It will allow us to enter into the type of life that we’ve longed for all along. It’s just that, surprise surprise, this incarnational move is one that also endures crosses.
Richard Rohr notes in Everything Belongs, that:
“You do not resolve the God question in your head – or even in the perfection of moral response. It is resolved in you, when you agree to bear the mystery of God: God’s suffering for the world and God’s ecstacy in the world. Agreeing to this task is much harder, I’m afraid, than just trying to be ‘good.’” pg. 17
So, if as I mentioned before, we can:
Move beyond moralism and learn to incorporate our failures into a holistic spirituality.
Turn towards focusing on this life, as does Jesus in the incarnation.
Then, we can face fully the mystery of God, which includes both our existential suffering and ecstasy.
This is a far better dualism than the good/bad scenario outlined above that causes us to divorce ourselves from our experiences. This, then, is what it is to be free. This is the grace of moving beyond trying for goodness. It is Love saturating every part of life. This is what it means to learn to say a great big fat yes to life: its love, complexity, mystery, and death; the whole damn thing. Our traditions should be the types of keys to existence that open us up to a deeper kind of humanness, one that doesn’t seek to escape the confines of this body, but one that learns to become comfortable in one’s own skin, with one’s own personality, with one’s own past, with an unknown future, but with a very real aim in the present. We’ve got to think in terms of allowing our presents to be oriented towards a greater capacity for loving and being loved.
This holistic, embodied, blossoming embrace of this life gives us the very gift of God in Jesus. It allows us to become true humanists! Whether your humanism is partially or completely secularized, I don’t have a lot of investment in, but the reality is, the Christian narrative truly does beget this embrace: this life matters. Humans matter. Matter matters. The whole world matters. But, more on that next week…the relational shift of looking outward, that is.
You see, what postmodernism gives us is the gift of lifting us up into the esoteric cloud of relativization…of deconstruction…of mystery, that has been a part of the Christian mystical tradition all along. And, it is quite the philosophical treat. But, what most people fail to do is to let it drop us harshly back to the ground. In other words, it’s important that we taste the mystery, become acquainted with it, but then it has to actually catalyze something in our own lives as it becomes embodied. We need to be reminded that it is something we must inevitably begin to practice. Rohr says that:
“The very best of modern theology is revealing a strong “turn toward participation,” as opposed to religion as mere observation, affirmation, moralism, or group belonging. There is nothing to join, only something to recognize, suffer, and enjoy as participant. You are already in the eternal flow that Christians would call the divine life of the Trinity.” –Falling Upward, pg. xi
This divine life is a saturation of this present existence with meaning and significance. It is a dispersing of the sacred into the whole of life. Shouldn’t this be the aim for all of us? To move from thinking of the sacred as something we solely encounter on a Sunday morning, in a specific piece of bread or cup of wine, or in the pages of our Bibles? Surely, those are all things that can also drip with divine life, but are they not meant to propel us to notice that every ordinary activity is imbued with it as well? Many non-Christians have a leg up on Christians because they have the ability to do this without the set of uniquely Christian stories, symbols, and sacraments. We Christians have a very specific task here: to learn to wield our specific set of stories, symbols, and sacraments for the purpose of opening up to this realization:
There is not something to achieve when it comes to our spirituality, no straight and easy path, no holier set of beliefs…there is only something to participate and delight in.
So then, this is why, when it comes to a lived-theology or a practice of Christian spirituality, I am such an advocate for things like contemplative prayer, silence, and solitude. They are “furnaces of transformation” that allow us to attune to that cycle of the universal center of our being that is present to God (both theist as presence, and post-theist as nowhere alike) in the here and now, which includes an acceptance of both brokenness and great joy. This is how we participate in what Christians call the divine life. There’s a reason that Christian spirituality moves paradigmatically from Word > Flesh > Dwelling Together. Our inner lives should propel us to fill our outer lives with a humanizing significance and inherent worth.
If we are to truly allow what has taken place within the Christian narrative to inform our lives and give content to our lived practices of faith, then it has to be a movement towards full humanness. We have to think in imaginative ways beyond binaries, for grace is universal and transcends our categories. We have got to become comfortable in allowing our lives, their pasts, our situational presents, and our futures to be surrendered, embraced and integrated into our stories. We can dream of a future, but we cannot live somewhere other than the present. We must endure the full gamete of human experience with the grace that can only come from saying yes to it all. That is not to say yes to injustice, but rather to say yes to that which we cannot change.
It is to say yes to life.
…yes in a way that inspires and energizes us to dive head-first into the mystery, squeeze all the juices from it, and live the hell out of it.