Posts Tagged 'centering prayer'

Ian Cron/Chasing Francis Recap

For those who have been enjoying our interview with Ian Cron on Chasing Francis, but might have missed some of the original posts, here’s a recap:

Part One – Why Won’t This Book Go Away?
Part Two – Would Francis be Medicated Today?
Part Three – Mystics and Prophets
Part Four: Does Orthodoxy Have to be Static?
Part Five: Chasing Francis: The Sleeping Giant
Part Six: Influences & Aspirations

You can keep up with Ian on his blog at IanCron.com and on Twitter @iancron. And I suggest you do – he’s just getting warmed up!

Ian Cron: Influences and Aspirations

This is the final installment of my interview with Ian Cron. To recap: A novel he wrote over three years ago, Chasing Francis, has been steadily gathering a devoted and enthusiastic reader base. He’s even received new endorsements, something rather unheard of in the publishing world. This includes Archbishop of Catnerbury Rowan Williams saying “I’ve now read it twice and found it equally compelling both times. It’s a remarkable book” and Marcus Borg relating “I was powerfully and wonderfully moved by this story of the conversion of an evangelical pastor to a broader vista of God’s passion for the world.” In this post I ask Ian “What’s next after Francis..?”

Mike Morrell: So you’re no longer pastor at Trinity. What’s next for you?

Ian Cron: We’re living in Nashville as of this month. I have two books to write for Thomas Nelson. I also curate this speaking series called Conversations on Courage and Faith through a very big Episcopal parish in Connecticut called Christ Church. Last year we had Brian McLarenPhyllis TicklePete Rollins; the artist Mako Fujimura. We commissioned an orchestral and choral piece that was composed and performed by Rob Mathes and the Irish poetMicheal O’Siadhail. It was an extraordinary night. In June we finished up the series with Desmond TutuNT Wright and Marcus Borg will be here this year.Tony Campolo is also coming. We’re working on getting a couple of other folks as well.

MM: Those lightweights..?

IC: My own speaking ministry is getting busier as well. What I’m working on right now is a night called, “Bread, Song, and Story”, where I’ll do some readings from my new spiritual memoir, interspersed with original songs and then we close the night with the Eucharist. It’ll be a great night.

MM: So you’re a priest? Somehow that was lost on me. I figured you started this non-denominational church, but…….

IC: Yes, I did start a non-denominational church, but I am a priest. Right now I’m not on a church staff. I’m adjunct clergy at Christ Church in Connecticut.

MM: So whose voices are really resonating with you right now? What are you into reading, listening, conversing with, etc.?

IC: As far as writers go Thomas Merton is my anchor and the place I always return to in my life. He is just extraordinary. I’ve been reading New Seeds of Contemplation and Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander again which for me are his masterpieces. I have been getting ready for Borg and Wright to come to my speaker series so I have been reading them as well.

Because I’ve been writing a memoir I’ve also read a lot of memoirs in the last year from Mary Carr to Frederick Buechner’s works. I’ve been reading Dave Tomlinson’s Reenchanting Christianity. And because of my doctorate program I’ve been reading tons of material on the contemplative life–lots of material from the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner.

MM: So, any music?

IC: Broken BellsMumford & Sons. The classical composer Eric Whitacre is someone I really like a lot. I’ve been kind of going back in time and listening to old Sly and the Family Stone and James Brown. People with that sense of groove should be arrested. I’m a big fan of Duncan SheikFoy Vance, as well. But the majority of the music I listen to is 13th, 14th, and 15th century choral music, just because I love the almost mathematical purity of it.

MM: I’m unfamiliar with about half of that – I’ll have to check it out! The book is Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim’s Tale. It’s an story of one man’s spiritual journey into both the premodern world and the postmodern world through the lens of an extraordinary person named Francis of Assisi. Check it out!

This concludes our interview with Ian. Here it is in case you missed it:

Part One – Why Won’t This Book Go Away?
Part Two – Would Francis be Medicated Today?
Part Three – Mystics and Prophets
Part Four: Does Orthodoxy Have to be Static?
Part Five: Chasing Francis: The Sleeping Giant

The Chasing Francis interview is now concluded! You can keep up with Ian on his blog at IanCron.com and on Twitter @iancron.

Chasing Francis, the Sleeping Giant

Mike Morrell: Chasing Francis is a book that just keeps on going. It’s been three years since it’s publication and I still hear about people discovering it for the first time. The terms “slow burn hit” and “long tail” come to mind. What do you think about that?

Ian Cron: You ever listen to old Neil Young records? Musically, they still hold up, you know? You listen to something like Saturday Night Fever …not so much! I think the book is holding up over time. I think the things Chase learns and talks about still really matter. Again, there are lots of ideas in it that are not original to me. I just organized them into a story and made a book out of them. I think there is truths in it that continue vibrating in our current context, and maybe more loudly when they did when the book first came out. There is an increasing upsurge of people saying, “You know, there’s just got to be something else”.

MM: Indulge me a moment. Here are some endorsements that have only come out in the last 3-6 months.

“I’ve now read it twice and found it equally compelling both times. It’s a remarkable book.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams

“Chasing Francis is absolutely seductive. This one is a feast for the soul as well as a great, churning, joyful romp for the spirit!”

Phyllis Tickle, author of The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why

“Cron provides us with a deeply moving account of loss and discovery. It bears witness to the ability of Francis of Assisi, to speak with a full voice to contemporary seekers and persons of faith.”

Frank T. Griswold, Twenty-Fifth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

“A powerful and wonderful book! I was deeply moved by this story of the conversion of an evangelical pastor to a much broader vista of God’s passion for the world.”

Dr. Marcus J. Borg, author of Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions

These are some heady endorsements, especially coming three years after the book was released!

IC: Heh – yeah, where were these people three years ago? Seriously, its pretty humbling to get these responses from people I admire so much. I’m praying they help the book get some wind under its wings. It would be great if it would just take off!

MM: Earlier in our conversation we spoke about contemplative spirituality – it amazes me the variety of responses it evokes. It’s all the rage in some circles while many others have never heard of it, even now in 2010. Centering prayer, spiritual direction, lectio divina, and labyrinths…these have ardent supporters in many mainline and emergent and progressive Catholic circles, but then sadly, I think contemplative spirituality is dismissed in other places. It’s seen as “liberal” and “un-biblical.” Could you share your perspective on the importance of contemplative spirituality for the church as well as maybe touching on its biblical and historical roots?

IC: Well, its historical roots go back 1,700 years to the desert mothers and fathers. Then later the language of the contemplative was lost in the Reformation and the Enlightenment, for all of the obvious reasons. Since the Reformation I think that we over-privileged rationalization and under-privileged the transformative power at coming to understand Jesus and truths about the spiritual life through other, more experiential, mediums. At Augustine once said, the human heart particularly delights in truth that comes to it sideways, or in indirect ways. I think that’s what the contemplative life is in many ways about.

The contemplative life is just about waking up to what is. It’s about learning to pay attention. The world is suffused with the presence of God. As Ignatius of Loyola would say, “The whole point of the spiritual life is to see God in all things.” So now God is not just an idea, God is a living, humming reality in every moment. So to learn how to pay attention is learning to live mindfully in the moment, to experience God in everything; that’s the point. Now, the way you get there is through a rigorous life of meditation, prayer, and spiritual exercises -some that that go beyond or bypass the rational mind.

But this material does infuriate some people. I wrote an article for the Catalyst conference on the contemplative life – Everyday Mystics – and I talked about the fact that every Christian, at some level, whether they know it or not, is a mystic. People wrote in and killed me for it. “It’s not in the Bible,” they cried. Well what about Martha and Mary? Martha was modeling the Active Life and Mary the Contemplative life. Both are important but Jesus said Mary chose the better way.

MM: It’s interesting to observe, because I feel like if even self-proclaimed progressive and emergent Christians truly embrace the contemplative vision as you just described it, we could really give some of the more entrenched dead-tradition folks a run for their money in terms of taking seriously the idea that God is really real, present, changing, and alive.

IC: Yeah. Now that’s not to say that the spiritual life doesn’t have to be built on strong intellectual foundation. It does. But the intellectual life can only bring you to the edge of the wilderness of God; it can’t take you in. I think the mystics and contemplatives agree on this. Entering into the wilderness of God happens in a mystical, contemplative encounter with God. This is a gift of the Spirit and is something neither you nor I can manufacture. Look what happens to Aquinas. He gets to the end of his life. He’s written the Summa. Then he has this powerful, mystical experience and what does he do with all his academic material? He calls it “straw” and abandons it. All his life the academic had taken him to the edge of the Wild but it paled in comparison when he finally went through this mystical encounter.

MM: Oh that’s fascinating!

IC: When that contemplative or mystical moment happens, it is a gift. Some people do contemplative prayer for 30 or 40 years and wait for the 3 seconds of communion and they are never the same again. To give you another phrase, “the contemplative life is about a unitive knowledge of God”. It’s about union with God.

This concludes part five.

Part One – Why Won’t This Book Go Away?
Part Two – Would Francis be Medicated Today?
Part Three – Mystics and Prophets
Part Four: Does Orthodoxy Have to be Static?

The Chasing Francis interview is to be continued..! You can keep up with Ian on his blog at IanCron.com and on Twitter @iancron.

Zeitgeist vs. Paraclete – A Prayer Conspiracy

I was able to write an autobiographical reflection on the role prayer has played on my life, for the fine folks at Conspire magazine. Here’s an excerpt from the fourth issue:

Ah, Prayer – what a complicated relationship I have with Thee. Are You talking to God, or are You what happens in the spaces between the words?

What is prayer? Ask a dozen people, you’ll get at least a baker’s dozen responses. From books of common prayer and missals, to extemporaneous evangelical prayer (punctuated with the unwritten mantra of ‘holylordfathergodwejust’ every few seconds, used as a kind of prayer-comma), to ecstatic glossolalia, we followers of God in the way of Jesus are all over the map on the varieties of our prayer experience. Is prayer about asking God for things? Does it form the basis of our much-vaunted ‘personal relationship’ with God, a grand I-Thou dialogue? Is it the glue that holds together churches, neighborhoods, faiths, and countries? Yes, absolutely.

Yet as comprehensive as the above laundry list of prayer might seem at first glance, it actually eclipses its meaning for many of our most significant poets, mystics, lovers, and rapscallions through the ages. For a wise minority both inside the Church and without it, prayer is a difficult-to-quantify exchange-less exchange, occurring between people and a God beyond imagination, after words have been spent or when they’ve been gently laid aside.

This ground clearing – the release of words – is, ironically, a whole lot easier said than done. For me at least. I am deluged with words from morning ‘till evening – can I get a witness? And I was raised on prayer with words – asking God for stuff in my Baptist beginnings, which I continue to believe is just fine.

In my Pentecostal years, heartfelt, exuberant prayer was emphasized – we sang and danced prayer, to the beat of drums and tambourine. And glossolalia, or ‘praying in tongues as the Spirit gave utterance’ was encouraged, subject/object boundaries collapsing between you speaking to God and God speaking in and through you. The emphasis here was on ‘power with God,’ your prayers for self and others augmented via being directly ‘plugged in’ to the Paraclete, the Helper, the Holy Spirit of God. Tongues were like Popeye’s spinach for training ‘prayer warriors,’ heaven’s storm troopers who would kick butt and take names for the Almighty. I was never a really good prayer warrior as it turned out, but unlike a growing number of people who are part of Pentecostal churches these days, ‘tongues’ weren’t just a fad with me. They were a gift – a permanent stage you might say – and I continue to enjoy these hotly contested ‘other tongues’ to this day, some 15 years after my Assemblies of God days.

Of course, this would cause me no end of confusion during my soon-thereafter Presbyterian days, where tongues and tambourines designated you as lower-class, theologically inferior, mentally ill, or all three. (Turns out they were on the money with two out of three; sometimes the ‘planks’ you call in brothers’ eyes turn out to be right after all…) My Reformed friends, in this particular church at least, liked acrostics: In youth group we learned that the most pleasing way to talk to God was to act up – or, to ACTS up. That is, we approach God with Adoration, Confession, (oh gosh, I forget what the T is – Thanksgiving? Lemme Google this, be right back…) Thanksgiving (yes indeed), and Supplication – a weird word that means you finally get to ask God for stuff. I always got ‘Adoration’ and ‘Thanksgiving’ confused – kind of like which way to go in the Box Step whenever I’d try to learn the waltz over the years. This was especially awkward when doing it with a partner – praying or waltzing. I’d step all over the other partner; it was like I was all left feet.

Then one day in the late 1990s, during my freshman year in college when the Internet barely existed in popular use but it was already consuming more and more of my time, I felt a calling: Not to abandon all of these beloved (and sometimes frustrating and contradictory) prayer forms, but to transcend them for something sweeter: the call to ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ (That’s not me talking; it’s God. It’s in the Psalms. Look it up.) I remember when I first heard this siren song: sitting on a bench in a beautiful wooded area on my 28,000-acre campus, probably avoiding homework (or maybe even cutting class), transfixed by this little book by evangelical mystic Jerry Coulter called Beholding and Becoming. This passage is indicative of what caught my heart:

[Jesus] wants to be “with” us now. He wants us to experience that same intimate relationship with him that he had with his disciples. He wants to walk and live with us constantly. He wants us to sense his loving presence in our daily circumstances. He has made provision for this intimate with-ness for each of us. He has prepared a place for us where we may be “with him where he is.” Right now!

Jerry goes on to describe this path as one of koinonia, or fellowship with (and within) the Godhead that takes place in the depths of the human spirit; this romance of language and shift of perspective almost instantly gave me a whole new, more alive reading of Scripture that freed it from the more wooden interpretations of my youth. I wanted to be such a fellowship-er, what I learned Christian faith has named a contemplative. I wanted to have a more significant, intentional living into the One in whom we live, move, and have our being; the One who, it is said, is the All in all. (See Acts 17 and Ephesians 4, you Bible-lovers out there). If Jesus’ own prayer to our Abba in John 17 was true, this was an invitation open to everyone who begins a journey along the Way – to be hid with Christ in God, the same way Jesus was cloaked in his Father’s essence while treading our humble and blessed earth.

And so it has been. From that ‘call’ at the tender age of 19, through my 30th birthday just a few days ago, I have been a wannabe contemplative, stumbling and faltering through the absurd possibility that our faith offers us – to be friends with God, and participate in extending this friendship to all creatures for the healing of the world. What I’m going to share now is what I try and fail at, as taught by some pretty adept folks toward living into this audacious goal. In my faltering attempts I see our enabling Paraclete graciously inviting herself into increasing palpability and centrality in our lives – collectively and personally – as she seeks to put the mighty Zeitgeist, the spirit of our frenetic age, in its place as servant rather than master of our most precious resource: our attention.

– to read the rest of this piece (this is only the first third), go here to find out how you can pick up a copy from an intentional community within driving distance from you, or online.

Panentheism – Perichoresis – Christology: Participatory Divinity

perichoresisAs usual, my blog readers are brilliant. My last ‘spirituality’ post, on Panentheism, Interspirituality, and Jesus invited a ton of insightful comments – and, as is about to be made abundantly clear, a new post. So here it is, response-style:

Nathaniel, you’re calling me a Calvinist! I don’t know whether to feel honored or slapped in the face. 🙂 Taking it from your vantage point, I’ll consider it an honor. I get what you’re saying about the ‘slipperiness’ of the term ‘panentheist;’ though I didn’t qualify it with hypens, I think the strong subtext of my post was that I’m not for a squishy, one-size-fits-all pluralism. Specifically, I said “I believe that the Divine which permeates all reality is the God revealed in Jesus Christ.” With that said, true disclaimer: in the intervening years since writing the piece, I am more inclined to nod in Dena‘s direction, that when Einstein or Hawking are sensing the permeating divine, they’re sensing and touching something real – more Way Three than Way Two (in my previous post).

Bert, I hear you! Theodicy (‘the problem of evil’) is with us almost no matter what we believe, and panentheism does not come out unscathed – indeed, it’s even more vulnerable, I think, because (unlike Deism or a highly ‘Sovereign’ removed God concept), panentheism seems to implicate God rather intimately in life’s hurts as well as joys. It’s one thing to say God is in the sunset, dancing in the rays of light; its quite another to say that God is holding the molecules together in the rapist’s knife blade. I want to avoid what I see as the weakest link of Hindu & Buddhist cosmology, that is, “Evil is just illusory,” but I am open to CS Lewis’s idea (developed in The Great Divorce) that evil is perspectival; that all truly will be made well once we have a new way of seeing. The jury’s out for me in how evil fits into panentheism – and yet, I can’t get away from the ‘All in all’ language in Scripture. I think that process theology will have a lot to teach us on this in the coming years.

Hi Bram – I know I probably focused on immanence here, but a robust, biblically-informed panentheism certainly includes God’s transcendence. God is ‘the Beyond in our midst,’ a Mystery even in self-disclosure. Jesus of Nazareth obscures as much as he reveals, I think.

Dena, I love your thoughts here. I think you hit on something key when you said “Christ is the focus for me … and *yet*, I notice that the goal of Christ is to bring us to the Father — to show us the Father.” This is freakily foreshadowing my interaction with Sweet & Viola’s ‘A Jesus Manifesto.’ I think I’d stop short, though, at saying “Ultimately, it’s all about the Father.” I think I’d say “Ultimately, it’s all about perichoresis, a five-dollar word for the relationship within the Godhead, expanding to embrace humanity & the cosmos. That is to say, when Jesus speaks, he’s always speaking of the Father. But when the Father speaks, he’s always speaking of the Son. And the Father sends the Spirit to reveal the Son, so that we might connect to the Father; the Spirit is our Comforter and our True Self, inviting us into the divine fellowship. At least, that’s my read. And it needn’t be so technical – to me, it’s all about the Triune relatedness of God as depicted in The Shack.

Ross, absolutely! Starting in the 1960s, when the West began discovering Eastern cultures & meditation practices – that’s when Christians (and possibly Jews too, though I can’t be certain) began rediscovering their own contemplative traditions – don’t let anybody call ’em ‘New Age,’ either; they’ve been around in one form or another for at least 1700 years – and arguably, embedded in the culture of those engaged in penning Holy Writ itself. I think that one of the greatest losses of our time is that of ‘contemplative mind,’ the ability to both focus and enjoy the spaciousness of God’s unfolding present moment.

David, are you saying that Jesus’ divinity is too much or too little involved in the panentheism discussion? I think that Jesus’ divinity is one of those pesky spiritual themes that panentheism handles exceptionally well, better than contemporary so-called orthodoxy or anemic liberalism.

Lemme explain. Contemporary self-confessed (Western, propositional, truncated, radio) orthodoxy sees God – and by extension God’s self-disclosure in Jesus – as someone (?) to be admired, and trusted in for God’s benefits, sure – but pretty much kept at a remote pedestal. Jesus is the ‘only’ Son of God, who did certain things on our behalf (namely, changing the Father’s mind about us, supposedly) and we worship him in response. This produces a lot of gratitude but very little life-change in my experience. And eventually, the gratitude (read: ‘worship’) turns to boredom.

‘Progressives,’ on the other hand, in attempting to correct the problems with the above view, fall into the opposite ditch – they pit ‘the Jesus of history’ against ‘the Christ of faith,’ place the Synoptics against John’s Gospel, and emphasize (their interpretation of) ‘The son of man’ against ‘The Son of God’ and certainly against ‘God in the flesh.’ Now don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for most of the scholarship that’s come out of historical Jesus studies – in particular, related to the socio-political culture of Jesus’ day (both Roman and Jewish), which sheds amazing light on both Jesus’ message and the unique set of circumstances that led to his death. I love me some ‘The Human Being by Walter Wink (for instance). But at the end of the day, a confused, solely-human Jesus who’s vaguely ‘connected’ to ‘Spirit’ only to die ignominiously and benefit from a dubious ‘spiritual’ resurrection isn’t too exciting to me. While it might be easier to follow such a Jesus, one isn’t quite sure why or where to follow him!

A third way, it seems, has been with us from the beginning. If Rita Brock and Rebbecca Parker are to be believed (and I think their work speaks for itself), the earliest Christians had “a high Christology and a high anthropology,” summed up in Athanasius’ maxim “God became man so that man might become God.” (He meant you too, ladies) Panentheism says that Jesus is the ‘uniquely’ begotten son of God, not the ‘only,’ echoing Scripture’s affirmation that Jesus is the firstborn among many ‘sons’ of God.  Jesus is glorious, divine, and there are certain unique and unrepeatable things Jesus does on our behalf, but overall, the earliest Christian spiritual thrust was one of participatory divinity. We, too, are to realize full divinity amidst (and because of) our full humanity – just like Jesus.

This might sound like ‘New Age’ quackery to the modern ear – but in ancient Christian faith, this was known as theosis or divinization – participation in God via the activity of God in perichoresis – that is, the intent of the Father, the work of the Son, and empowerment of the Spirit. Through theosis, we are partakers of the divine nature – we become incorporated into the very life of ever-flowing Godhead, a dance that goes on from eternity to eternity. If the terminology makes you uncomfortable, think what we might mean by ‘discipleship’ or ‘sanctification’ – only giving much more glory to God and to a full-awakened humanity. If this all sounds rather airy-fairy pie-in-the-sky to you, consider that, historically speaking, the vast majority of temporal transformation happens when people are inspired by, and anchored in, a sense of the transcendant. The recovery of a this-worldy, suffering-servant son of man who nonviolently confronts the Powers is a desperately needed image and motivator – this is the gift of liberation theology. But a revelation of the Son of God, vindicated by the Father in peaceful, powerful resurrection, and inviting us on the same path of death and resurrection, this is the gift of the Eastern church and the mystics. Perhaps the call we’ve so often framed as ‘discipleship’ or ‘sanctification’ can be helpfully re-adjusted as a lifeLet us embrace both of these gifts fully – they are our inheritence.

Panentheism & Interspirituality – What’s Jesus Got to do With It?

I’m working on my response to Frank Viola & Len Sweet‘s A Jesus Manifesto. Before I (finish &) post it, however, I wanted to share this blast from the past with you – something I wrote for TheOOZE blog about three years ago, right after Jasmin and I got married. Carl McColman & I have become quite good friends since then, and some of my inclinations & language have doubtless changed. But I think I’ll preserve it as-is for the sake of its integrity…let me know what you think; this is relevant to my upcoming intereaction with A Jesus Manifesto..!

panentheism logo

This is my response and interaction to wonderful and incisive questions raised by Carl McColmnan’s post, Notes on Manifesting a Truly Interfaith Spirituality. (You should definitely read it first) I hope that I can respond as an “interfaith-friendly post-evangelical.” In Carl and I’s correspondence, he mentions that “a core issue for me personally is the ongoing question of where the balance point is between the old-Pagan-me, the new-Catholic-me, and the overall-Christian-me,” and I suppose it is very much the question of where does pantheism stop and panentheism begin–a core dilemma of Christian mysticism.”

Panentheism In Brief

It is indeed a core dilemma! I think of myself as a panentheist, and probably have for the past half-decade or so. I first encountered the notion through the post-denominational contemporary Christian mystic, Norman Grubb. If you’ve never read Grubb you really should; he’s fascinating. He began his life as a missionary, biographer and publisher. He never really left these passions, but lived them all out from a Center of what he would call “fixed awareness of union with Christ.” In the last several decades of his life he was a wanderer. He’d go anywhere and life for awhile, with anyone who would have him–he spent years with house churches, Messianic Jewish synagogues, all-summer camp retreats, and I learned a few years back that he spent several years at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Rome, Georgia where I went to school! His life exemplified his conviction that God was truly present in all things as the All in all.

I have more recently encountered the panentheist message in the writings of Marcus Borg and others, such as in books like The God We Never Knew. And I appreciate these writings, I truly do. But I suppose a significant difference between the vision of panentheism that lives in my heart and the interspiritual vision that informs Marcus, Matthew Fox and others is that I believe that the Divine which permeates all reality is the God revealed in Jesus Christ.

[Ouch! In the intervening years I’ve read both Borg & Fox more, and have to interject that this statement is rather unfair. While I don’t align with either of them ‘jot and tittle,’ they are both committed to the person and spirituality of Jesus.]

Like a good post-evangelical (Over the cultural and political commitments of this particular epoch but cherishing Scripture and good news nonetheless) my panentheism is biblically informed. I see unmistakable cadences of the all-inclusive Christ in such passages as (you’ll forgive me for not citing precisely) –

“I am God, there is no other,”
“God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust alike”
“There is a Light which enlightens everyone”
“God is the all in all”
“Christ will be the all in all”

…and of course that pagan poem that Paul quotes to pagan friends at Mars Hill in Acts, appropriating for Jesus Christ–“In Him we live, move, and have our being.”

This break with functional Deism came to me as liberation–very good news indeed! Not only did Christ’s spirit indwell me (a message which was good news enough after hearing from Calvinists that God only “positionally” indwelt a regenerate person–whatever that meant–and the Pentecostals who seemed to treat the Spirit like a rather elusive guest), but God was in everything in some sort of real and compassionate way. I like panentheism because it emphasizes immanence while still preserving transcendence and awe. Certainly many of my conservative Christian brethren squirm at such an understanding but I have to to go with what I’ve discovered.

Interspiritual Relevance

CoexistBut now I’m afraid that some of my progressive Christian and interspiritual brethren and friends might likewise squirm at my working understanding of “panentheism.” I know how much well-intentioned people wish to see panentheism as the vehicle for all interfaith dialogue and even interfaith worship, as some Great Core Spirit that, when you get right down to it, is shared by all the great faiths or life-paths. But I think this is more of a deus ex machina than it might at first appear, and I hope that I can respectfully explain why I feel this way.

I think that dialogue, learning, and appreciation among faiths, spiritualities and religions is crucially needed in our day and age–I will elaborate more in a moment. I am significantly less comfortable, however, with co-worship and integration as it seems to transgress something, and disrespect all faiths involved. Further, syncretism of this sort seems as if it would have the fruit of only further dividing people, giving them yet another religious option (interspirituality) to embrace or reject.

Does this make sense? You get a bunch of nice, open-minded progressives together to share their hearts considering their journeys as Pagan, Christian, Sufi, Unitarian, Buddhist, or Snake-handling sex cultist. Wonderful. But then if someone says, “These are all vital emanations from the same Source,” many in the room nod solemnly, but a few people look up like “Wait.” Then what? A new multifaith dogma has just formed in the room, and everyone has to either accept or reject it. Call it the curse of Martin Luther’s endless fragmentation.

Education and mutual understanding through interfaith dialogue might seem a whole lot more modest (read: lame) than constructing a bold new interspiritual outlook, but I think its small gains can do much to build mutual esteem and trust in our shakily pluralistic world, all without going the “all roads lead to the same path” route.

Getting back to the internal integrity of one’s faith, and speaking from my “Jesus-y” (as Anne Lamott puts it) perspective, where does fidelity to God come in? I consider myself thoroughly postmodern, but do postmodern people of faith always need to put ironic, self-effacing quotation marks around everything they “believe” to be “true”? I am personally struggling to live life through the Jesus Way–not the pop culture, American Jesus, but the Jesus I see in the Gospels and New Testament and mystics and marginalized church history through the ages. One thing I’ve come to discover is that Jesus loves everyone but he does not agree with everyone. He embraces and forgives the Woman at the Well but–before acknowledging the universality of the coming eschaton where God can be known everywhere, in Sprit and Realit–he engages her in a little Jewish versus Samaritan debate about the appropriate place for Temple worship!

My friend Brian McLaren says something like this: “Jesus is the Way to God and abundant life, it doesnt mean he stands in the way to divine access!” I believe that “Jesus is the savior of the world,” whatever that ultimately means, I can only speculate and hope. I cannot limit the meaning of this to a particular model of atonement, or a particular scope of redemption. All I know, based on Jesus’ revelation of God’s character and intention, is that the Godhead loves his enemies, forgives those who persecute, and practices restorative justice. I have every confidence, with Julian of Norwich, that “all will be well.” Please keep this in mind as you read, knowing that I’m not coming at this to Bible-beat dissenters into submission or condemn anyone to eternal flames! I’m simply talking about faithfulness to the light we’ve been given, and how that light might be unintentionally dimmed or blurred.

Clearly Carl feels more free than I do to “play with the poetry of an interfaith spirituality,” no doubt owing to your diverse background. On an intrafaith scale I am similar–I grew up equal parts Baptist, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian, and was always more willing to integrate the best of each of these denominational traditions. What was effortless to me in this regard always seemed like a huge sticking point to some of my friends, who grew up in a particular denomination. Perhaps because of this, there are ways that I can appreciate a “humble model” of interfaith interaction:

I value interfaith dialogue because it’s educational. So many people of all faiths are fearful of “the other.” We have no idea what our neighbors hope for, believe, or practice, and we tend to draw the worst possible conclusions because they’re not following Jeee-suz (or ‘the Prophet,’ be it Muhammad, Joseph Smith, or Elizabeth Clare). In an integrated society with a pluralist public square, this simply will not do. I love to participating in interfaith sharing times–whether formal sessions or conversations with friends and neighbors–to gain understanding about the diverse religions of the world.

Models of Pluralism in Christian Perspective

ConnectionFurther, I believe that I can truly learn, spiritually, from the world’s religious traditions–things that Zeus or the Vishnu decreed can give me an altogether fresh perspective on an obscure passage of Scripture or way that I reach God. But this is a qualified learning. I was talking about this with my friend Frank Viola, who’s an author and house church planter. Frank is definitely a conservative evangelical theologically, though he’s a pretty open guy considering these caveats–he has a special love for church mystics in particular. Right now he’s reading Cynthia Bourgeault’s Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening. Because she’s coming from an “apophatic” contemplative perspective, she quotes freely from what she’s gained from her Buddhist background. As I was talking to Frank, I asked:

“I’m curious: Do you, personally, feel put off by Bourgeault’s references to Eastern spiritual practice? I personally feel like she’s simply giving credit where credit is due: she has a background in these practices and she feels like they have wisdom to illuminate the Scripture and our own tradition. I don’t feel like she ever says “Buddha is just as important/relevant as Jesus Christ,” or any such thing. It’s fascinating that, as people of different faiths began getting to know each other, you see this “borrowing of wisdom” take place. You see it all over Merton as well. It seems like there are several different ways professing followers of Christ have related to those of other faiths:

  • Way One: All other religions are simply false. (Their “gods” or philosophies are nonexistent and irrelevant.)
  • Way Two: All other religions are demonic. (Their gods or philosophies are real and dangerous to body and soul)
  • Way Three: All religions contain shades and gradations of the Truth. (Their gods or philosophies are incomplete revelations, tainted by the humanity’s fallen and fractured state, that nonetheless contain glimmers of the story of Christ)
  • Way Four: All religions lead to a singular (or at least similar) path. (There is a beneficent Force governing the cosmos that none of us can quite grasp; this Force communicates to people in different times and cultures in different ways, but there’s no significant qualitative difference between them)”

I then continued, “As for my .02, the First and Fourth Ways seem too black and white and simplistic, though they stand on opposite poles. Even though later Judaism seemed to view all gods who weren’t YHWH as nonexistent, Jesus makes much of genuine spiritual forces who were nonetheless malevolent. And of course in Daniel you have the angels doing battle with the Prince of Persia, etc… The Third Way, advocated most notably by CS Lewis, is the one I want to believe most–that God has not just communicated in symbols and shadows not just to the Hebrew people, but to all times and cultures (See, for instance, the contemporary East Orthodox book Christ the Eternal Tao by Hieromonk Damascene.

Common sense and experience, though, suggests to me that Way Two is frequently the case– humanity being what it is sometimes, faith becomes so twisted as to be demonic and dangerous, as is the case with televangelists and Vodou and fundamentalist Islam.”

So, to recap: I think that I can learn about communion with God from a Buddhist or a Sufi, but I inevitably see God’s clearest speaking in Jesus Christ. Jesus does not always negate the spiritual experience of other faiths, but–and this seems unkind and un-PC for interfaith dialogue–he sometimes does. When Christ calls us to conversion, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “He bids a man come and die.” We’re called to die to different things–different ingrained mindsets, different patterns of being, different destructive religious and cultural beliefs. I am not comfortable dictating what beliefs and practices are to be abrogated by people whose cultures I do not belong to–that is between them, God, and their Christian community.

Thank God for Pagan Christianity! 🙂

Born Again PaganFor this reason I don’t have any beef – sacrificed to idols or no – with Carl engaging in “folkloric Irish practices (that have been practiced by Irish Catholics for centuries) that are clearly Pagan in origin.” I believe that when the Holy Spirit came to Ireland, God wasn’t pissed at the Irish for being who they were. Since I believe that Jesus’ call to make apprentices of the Kingdom of God applies to all people and cultures, and don’t think any culture has imperialist preference in YHWH’s book. God’s great transition was from one chosen people to “every tribe, tongue and nation,” and so when the Spirit brooded over Ireland, God lovingly extricated the Irish people from harm and embraced, and transformed everything else. God loves the beauty of worship from every tribe, people group and culture. This is, though, a break with a certain pluralistic orthodoxy that insists that every region will have their own inherent cultural religious expression, and that expression should never be tampered with. At this point any attempt at sharing another point of view becomes verboten from the start; I simply don’t think this is fair.

Of course I realize that missionary history has a definite dark side, where financial opportunism and cultural imperialism can run rampant. But what many of my non-Christian friends (and even some Christians) might not know is that missional or apostolic work among indigenous people can and does take place with care and respect to the cultures involved. I’d recommend reading Roland Allen, Leslie Newbingin, or even my own church’s planter Gene EdwardsThe Americanization of Christianity to see how Christ can authentically incarnate into a culture in an authentic way.

Anyway, at this point your many readers of other faiths are reading all this talk about conversion and Jesus coming into other cultures and you’re either offended or colossally disinterested. “When will this exclusivist bigot be finished?” you tire. Okay, well let me see if I can bring this to a close and earn just a bit of your continued interest. Carl asks, “What are workable, creative boundaries for interfaith spirituality?” Can a “druid with a rosary” really work? How can we all be “friendly” to faiths with which we might (and indeed must at some point) disagree? And, “Where is my ultimate loyalty?”

Sharing Faith

Clasping the ShadowsI resonate with shunning the “smarmy sales job” of snake-oil evangelists out to sell a quick conversion. And yet…I’m not averse to sharing Good News, or the conversion of heart and priority that may result. I suppose, working with my appreciation of interfaith dialogue, I always respect the space that I’m in. To me (like a good Calvinist) conversion is God’s job, and being open and engaged with others is my job. Because of the love of Christ within me, I’m naturally drawn to hang out with people and spend time with them, with no particular agenda. But the Spirit being who s/he is, I am “always ready to give an answer when someone asks you about your hope,” as the first-century church planter Peter encourages (in 1 Peter 3:15). I don’t necessarily think I’ve earned the right to knock and a stranger’s door and bombard them with a plastic gospel. As my favorite faith-sharing group, Off-the-Map, says, Christians should “count conversations, not conversions.”

I agree whole-heartedly with what Carl says about not selling people with chaos and fear. And yet! I affirm this even as the purifying fires of hell could be relevant, and God just might care about how we relate to others with our genitals. I like living in this tension. In another paradox that I’m going to have to chew on and digest, Carl says:

“As a Christian, I am in fact called to be an evangelist; but I understand that to mean that I am called to spread good news. And in today’s world, and especially among Neopagans, talking about the Christian religion is the quickest way to subvert “good news,” instead sounding like a tired old purveyor of religious negativity.”

I think you’re absolutely right, and I think that Jesus would agree with this completely. In fact, in one popular translation of scripture, Jesus says:

Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)

When you talk about being faithful to your values, I feel you…obviously you don’t want to embrace so-called “spiritualities” that are hurtful, selfish, or unloving. I feel like a lot of Christians don’t understand that God doesn’t care about “Jesus” as some sort of abstract cosmological category; Father is in love with his Son because of his beauty and character. Jesus said “Whoever is not against me is for me.” When some people at the end of their lives stand confidently before the Big J and read off their religious resume, he tells them “I never knew you.” I think the Christian family’s views on “who’s in” and “who’s out” are out of sync with an intimate knowing of the risen Christ.

I like what Carl said about cultivating the positive and embracing the contributions of other faiths. Forgive me for pushing back a little, though: is there ever a place in interfaith dialogue to loathe aspects of faith–starting with your home faith to be sure–and repent, or turn from these patterns of being? I mean, in the physical realm most of us have no problem telling a friend they’re engaging in destructive and life-threatening habits, from “You should really quit smoking” to “self-immolation is not the way!” Yet if the realm of spirit is at least as real as the material realm, couldn’t certain cosmological choices have dire consequences?

Carl closes his reflection with the statement “I am free to love.” It echoes my interview with Anne Rice a few months back, a Gothic horror writer-turned eclectic Catholic. When I asked her what she’d like to share with fellow Christians, she told me:

We need to stop being so afraid that the devil is winning. The devil’s not winning–we are winning. Jesus is winning. God is winning. We have the strength and the time to open our arms to absolutely everyone. Rushing to judgment, condemning whole classes and groups of people–that is not in the spirit of Christ that I see in the Gospel. I can’t find that spirit. I see the spirit of love, taking the message to absolutely everyone.

Amen?

Update

Well, that wasn’t the final word, thankfully. Carl had a great follow-up, and Jon Trott did too. Here are the comments from the original Ooze post. It also opened me up to a fair bit of heresy-hunting, which I’ve covered extensively. Carl has re-published a classic of his dealing with all of this material, titled Spirituality: A Post-Modern and Interfaith Approach to Cultivating a Relationship with God – I highly recommend it. One of the most significant voices I’ve discovered in the intervening years exploring panentheism (and its implications for science & spirituality) is Philip Clayton of Transforming Theology. Since writing the above post I’ve discovered both the Interfaith Youth Core and Faith House Manhattan, which are living experiments in putting flesh on the bones of interspiritual engagement.

Enough rambling by me, past or present. What do you think?

Does Anyone Have a ROM?

https://i2.wp.com/sswhsle.com/ROM/002_Front.jpgNo, not ROM Spaceknight, you comics aficionado sillies; ROM as in the über-high-end 4-minute workout machine that just screams Range of Motion (hence the acronym). I found out about it one night whilst venturing into the back pages of my Atlantic Monthly, something I rarely do for fear of being pelted by the conclusions of articles that have already taxed my ADD-addled attention span to the limits, arranged between ads for the Belgian Waffle Pro and custom-crafted leather bookbinding. I know, it’s what I get for subscribing to The Atlantic (and Harpers, and Mother Jones, and other magazines that make me what my friend Gareth calls ‘a certified member of the liberal white guilt intelligentsia’).

So anyway. I was flipping through the mag when I came across this ad, headlined in all caps EXERCISE IN EXACTLY 4 MINUTES PER DAY. I used to be a copywriter for a living (I still maintain some clients, but I mostly do my publishing consulting stuff nowadays), so I’m always a tough critic for ads like this. The sheer audacity of what comes next drew me in:

The typical ROM purchaser goes through several stages:

1.     Total disbelief that the ROM can do all this in only 4 minutes.
2.     Rhetorical (and sometimes hostile) questioning and ridicule.
3.     Reading the ROM literature and reluctantly understanding it.
4.     Taking a leap of faith and renting a ROM for 30 days.
5.     Being highly impressed by the results and purchasing a ROM.
6.     Becoming a ROM enthusiast and trying to persuade friends.
7.     Being ignored and ridiculed by the friends who think you’ve lost your mind.
8.     After a year of using the ROM your friends admiring your good shape.
9.     You telling them (again) that you only exercise those 4 minutes per day.
10.     Those friends reluctantly renting the ROM for a 30 day trial.Then the above cycle repeats from point 5 on down.

Take a look at this thing:

ROM machine

It’s, like, totally Zen. And it carries a $14,615.00 price tag. Holy Guacamole, Batman! And yet they have these 15-year warranties, and I’m adding up gym costs plus gas costs in my head, plus (of course) time costs – which are the biggest one for a certified-ADD father/husband/student/small business owner/author. Their ad concludes:

From 4 minutes on the ROM you get the same results as from 20 to 45 minutes aerobic exercise (jogging, running, etc.) for cardio and respiratory benefits, plus 45 minutes weight training for muscle tone and strength, plus 20 minutes stretching exercise for limberness/flexibility.

O. Really?

Well, I’ve poked around the internets, running keyword searches like “ROM scam” and “ROM ripoff” – nada. Instead, I see testimonials from people who really seem to be losing weight, building muscle, feeling better, and having more time on their hands. For someone who’s never been into sports (or athletics of any kind for that matter), I’ve gotta admit: four minutes a day is appealing.

So here’s what I’m thinking.

I just turned 29 last month. Less than one year from 30, I’ve been taking a lot of inventory of my life. In my Foresight@Regent courses, we learn a mode of personal and organizational learning called Systems Thinking – popularized by Peter Senge of The Fifth Discipline fame. The gist is we’re always creating the life we live; we’re always designing it. The problem is, most of us design it by default, unconsciously, and often in self-sabotaging ways. Bringing life-design to a conscious level is a skill set we humans are just developing. (Hence the rationale for Strategic Foresight, btw) This ‘intelligent design’ happens on societal levels of course, but also personal. These past couple of years I’ve been privileged to have some wonderful people in my life – mentors, life coaches, and even (gasp!) therapists and counselors who are helping me work through my ‘shadow’ sides and interact with reality in a more healthy and whole manner. I guess what I’m seeking is integration, a whole life well-lived for myself and others. Isn’t that what we all want? https://i2.wp.com/www.christianitysite.com/IMG_0292%20fence%20flower%20edit%20a.jpg

So: A friend of mine, Drew, was recently reading Integral Life Practice, edited by Ken Wilber and published out of the Integral Institute. The Integral folks are always fascinating, what with their map-making theories of everything and all. It turns out they have a great programme for ‘whole-life cross-training’ involving our physical, mental, and spiritual selves. Taking a cue from ILP (I’m still reading my own copy of the book), I’ve decided: I want to develop a doable life-rhthym, one that incorporates Centering Prayer, maybe some Yoga or DoxaSoma, and – of course – physical training. True, the apostle Paul said (in perfect Elizabethan English) “bodily exercise profiteth little,” but hey: that guy built low-cost dwelling for a living. I’d like to see him sit behind a computer all day and tell me that! (Plus at four minutes a day, I’d like to think even Paul would approve.)

In short, by the time I’m 30 I’d like to:

  • Engage in centering prayer daily – ’cause we can all use more of the conscious fellowship of the Godhead in our lives.
  • Practice Yoga – seeing as I have the grace and flexibility and in-touch-with-my-body-ness of a dried-up turnip
  • Exercise my body – because I need cardiovascular health; I want to keep up with my little girl; I like natural endorphin highs; I like to concentrate on my work; I need to lose 50 pounds this year

…and I want to do all this in about an hour a day. Because I want to delve more deeply into my studies, love my family more, spend more time with my neighbors, and hang out more with my friend Hugh Hollowell and his homeless friends downtown. Stuff I think I could do with some whole-life cross-training.

What If…

What if I could somehow procure a ROM? (I have my ways) Would any of you, dear readers, be interested in charting my progress with me? I’m thinking I’d blog about what it’s like for a time-management-challenged guy like me to engage in some ‘intelligent life design,’ how it feels to make positive, healthy, & consistent changes, and if this ROM thing really does what it says. Since workouts are ostensibly only four minutes long, I’m thinking that once a week I’d actually record my entire workout and put it on YouTube or Vimeo or something. It might not be as funny as Will It Blend?, but I’m thinking a pasty white guy like me working out could provide some of you with catharsis or comic relief.

Please comment if…

  • You have experience with the ROM or some kinda similar exercise equipment
  • You’d get a laugh out of seeing some ‘before’ and ‘after’ pics and workout vids along The Countdown to 30
  • You have stories of your own whole-life rhythms and lifestyle design you’d like to share
  • You want to make fun of me.

Update 12/10: I’m getting a ROM!

Crowder & Morrell Final: Sweet Mystical Communion

GodkaSo this is John Crowder and I’s final dialogue, for now at least. It’s here where we talk something near and dear to our hearts. It’s precisely here where I fear we’re going to alienate many of you dear readers. Why? Because if there’s one thing that most middle-of-the-road Christian moderates distrust more than ‘extreme’ charismatic experiences, it’s mysticism – Christian or otherwise. The word ‘mystic’ is heavily freighted for many people, synonymous with ‘heretical,’ ‘apostate,’ ‘unbiblical,’ etc.. To add insult to injury, John & I don’t spend even a second justifying our use of the term, or indeed explaining any of the terms, dates, movements, and spiritualities we discuss – it’s a kind of conversational machine-gun fire. This isn’t intentional; it’s simply an exchange where we hit the ground running, sharing the mystical lingua franca between us. I apologize in advance for this – ’cause there simply wouldn’t be space in this post if we backed up and defined everything…it’s a blog entry, not a dissertation! For this reason, I’ve tried to link to anything that might be unfamiliar territory – thank God for Wikipedia!

Mike: Thanks so much for your time here this past week, John. You’ve given me and my blog-readers much to digest. My final questions have to do with developmental-transformational growth in God – what Protestants typically call sanctification, what Catholic mystics call union with God, and what East Orthodox call theosis or divinization. Wesleyan and holiness preachers – who laid the seed-bed for Pentecostal theology and praxis – advocated what they called a ‘second work’ of ‘entire sanctification,’ known variously in those days as ‘Spirit baptism’ or ‘fire baptism.’ The charismatic and ‘third wave’ movements, as best as I can tell, hold onto a ‘Spirit baptism’ point but stress the continuing in-filling of Holy Spirit, moving from ‘glory to glory’ as it were in increasing supernatural experiences. I guess my first question for you here on this, our final post (for now!), is where do you see this present move of the Spirit you’re involved in going? Where is it heading?

John: I see full-blown transformation of every human paradigm of reality itself. A generation completely raptured in the overwhelming love of God. I don’t care about pioneering new theology, cultural movements or witty new ways of delivering the gospel. I want to love and to experience the love of God more. I think this is the corporate goal of the Holy Spirit. This is true mysticism.

Mike: The great mystical/contemplative writers of ages past talked in great detail about manifestations of the Spirit (they usually called them ‘consolations’), but they had a complex relationship with them: The mystics usually discouraged dwelling too much on the consolations, or trying to keep them coming. To give you a contemporary example, Contemplative Outreach cofounder Thomas Keating says:

“At this crucial period in one’s spiritual development, it is important to realize the sharp distinction between charismatic gifts such as tongues, prophecy, healing, etc., and the Seven Gifts of the Spirit. According to Paul, the charismatic gifts (with the exception of tongues) are designed for the building up of the local community. They do not necessarily indicate that those who possess them are either holy or becoming holy through their exercise. If one is attached to them, they are an obstacle to genuine spiritual growth. For those who have received one or more of these gifts, this is clearly part of God’s plan for their sanctification and a cause for gratitude. But they must learn to exercise these gifts with detachment and not take pride in themselves because they happen to be the recipients of a special grace. Generally God provides sufficient external trials to take care of this human tendency. Prophets, healers, and administrators can greatly benefit from opposition, because it tends to free them from the fascination of their gifts and to keep them humble.

Paul himself emphasizes the distinction between charismatic gifts that are given to build up the body of Christ and the substantial gift of divine love. According to him, one possessing the charismatic gifts is still nothing unless one also possesses divine love (see I Cor. 13:1-3). Hence, the basic thrust of charismatic prayer and the exercise of the charismatic gifts should be ordered to the growth of faith, hope, and charity. To remain faithful to the clear invitation to divine union extended by God through the grace of baptism of the Spirit, one must not be diverted by secondary manifestations of spiritual development. Moreover, there is need for discernment with even the most genuine charismatic gifts. It is the duty of the community…to discern these gifts and to determine whether they spring from grace or from the natural energies of the unconscious. Those who possess them should willingly submit to this discernment for the good of the community Otherwise, the exercise of the gifts may be destructive of the common good rather than a means of building up the body of Christ.

Along with the charismatic gifts, which may be given to anyone without a corresponding level of personal spiritual development, so-called “mystical” phenomena, such as clairvoyance, locutions, visions, levitation, trance states, and many others, may accompany spiritual development as one accesses the divine emerging from the ontological unconscious. These also are of little significance compared to the graces of interior transformation set in motion by the Seven Gifts of the Spirit. The unusual and sometimes showy character of “mystical” phenomena makes them a hazard for immature mystics. It is difficult for even advanced persons to avoid taking a certain self-satisfaction in them.

The Charismatic Renewal needs spiritual guides who are thoroughly qualified through knowledge and personal experience of contemplative prayer to distinguish what is essential from what is accidental in the spiritual path. They should be able to recognize when someone is being called by God to interior silence and solitude and when someone is being called out of solitude into some particular ministry or service. People must be encouraged to follow the attraction to interior silence in prayer even if this means not attending prayer meetings for a time. This is especially necessary if, because of the duties of one’s state in life, one cannot attend prayer meetings and still have time to practice contemplative prayer. Periods of silence in the liturgy and during prayer meetings are essential for groups whose members are growing in prayer. To allow one another space in which to develop the contemplative dimension of the gospel is an integral part of commitment to a Christian community.” [Full piece here.]

It’s clear from your book The New Mystics that you value the Christian mystics. What do you make of their contemplative caution of the charisms?

John: We must remember also in scripture that Paul tells us to “lust” after the gifts. How can we do this, unless certain gifts and manifestations should be considered “extensions” of Christ in some way, rather than competitors for His affections? We think of these things in too linear a fashion, through a veil of modernistic hierarchy and competition. We’ve all heard this type of wet blanket statement: seek God’s face & not His hand. It’s been used to keep us from chasing miracles, manifestations, etc. The phrase sounds noble and holy, but it is very unscriptural. We need ALL of God: hands, feet, fingernails and even His serotonin gland. Otherwise we’re screwed. I love my wife’s face, but I’m also very thankful that she has hands as well. They are quite helpful. We’ve been told not to seek manifestations, but the apostles did so in Acts 4 (“Lord, stretch forth your hand to heal the sick and work wonders,” etc.). Cessationists tell us not to seek after signs and miracles, but the apostles did so, for a greater end, that God would be glorified.

Mike: So is there any line to be drawn between seeking the things of God and simply seeking God?

John: Is there some sort of subjective rubber ruler here? Or is it possible that we are splitting hairs that weren’t meant to be split? Jesus is the ultimate manifestation of God’s Glory. 1 John 4:9 says, “In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.” If Jesus is a “manifestation” of God’s love, a “consolation” if you will, could one make the argument that all Christians are called to worship a manifestation of the unseen God, which happens to be God Himself?

The perceived need to clinically separate God from the experience itself is a two-dimensional, linear way of thinking. Since biblical times, trances have been marked by visions and spiritual encounters, as well as frenzied physical manifestations and miracles. The lines between everyday lifestyle and divine encounter are going to be blurred in these days. Manifestations, ecstasies, consolations – these are not just a form of prayer, but a comprehensive way of living. Dwelling in unbroken pleasure. Letting our days become a fragrant song where Heaven and Earth continually collide. We will not be counting beans and trying to figure out if we are enjoying the worship service too much. We will be overwhelmed. We must worship God to excess in body, soul and spirit. With ALL of our mind, heart, soul and strength.

Mike: I agree with you in principle, but…those YouTube videos of you and your friends still seem pretty weird!

PhysMysJohn: While ecstatic experience is biblically orthodox, it is far from tame or ordinary in its practical application. Ecstatics have always produced the most bizarre physical manifestations: falling over, fainting, shaking, trembling, uncontrollable laughter, running, shouting and convulsing. Not to mention the signs, wonders and miraculous phenomena. Such strange outward behavior has marked the lives of many great saints and prophets, past and present. And these wild ecstatic contortions have been evident in every great revival – at the birth of every mainstream denominational movement in church history. The inward working of God’s goodness tends to produce an uncontrollable wildfire when He takes the helm of clinical, religious sobriety – when He turns our water into wine.

Mike: I’ll drink to that!

John: God’s sheer goodness is so great that it is uncontainable. Maybe the “self control” God desires is for us to control the old dead, dry, boring, sober self – so that we can demonstrate His true happiness. This goes far deeper than a surface manifestation of laughter, shaking or bodily demonstration.

Mike: Do you think some of the worshippers at your meetings are faking it?

John: Are some manifestations feigned? Of course. In churches that are experiencing renewal, I often see people “fake” their joy in order to look spiritual – as if their laughter is a supernatural manifestation when it is not. This usually comes out of insecurity, as people seek to find their identity behind a particular manifestation. Of course, there is no need to over-analyze every laugh, twitch, crunch or yelp. We need to keep it real, but who am I to intervene into their communion with the Lord? Besides, I see people faking smiles and laughter in many mainline churches as well.

Mike: Ouch! But what about the peer pressure to conform to what your neighbors are doing – y’know, to look more spiritual?

John: There is no need to recreate a past experience, fake a manifestation or feign your happiness. But I don’t think this is a grievous sin that is going to ruin us all. Ultimately, God wants to give true joy that is thorough and lasting. Manifestations are valid, and I am a proponent for daily encounter. But truly encountering God should cause you to be changed. Don’t tell me you’ve seen an angel, but you still look like hell! When God really shows up, you are not just twitching to look spiritual in front of your friends. You are undone. One cannot stir up the soul with emotion, in order to gain a spiritual experience. But the crazy thing about the gospel is this: you are already having a spiritual experience! Whether you feel it or not, you are already united with Christ and seated with Him in heavenly places. As these spiritual realities impact your soul, there is no limit to the excess of emotions that are ignited.

Mike: So much of what you’re saying here an “old mystic” or contemplative could agree to. The main difference, I think, is that they’d say some of the most flamboyant emotional displays would last a season ‘till they were purged, leaving a more whole and balanced person in their aftermath. But you seem to see this as an ongoing, normative stage of theosis.

John: Physical manifestations of ecstasy have been termed “fits”, “enthusiasms”, “the jerks”, “convulsions” and many other names in various revivals. But the similar thread of losing control to the Spirit of God has always been present.

It is humorous to consider the writings of great 18th and 19th century revivalists and missionaries of the past, when they spoke of gathering together to be “refreshed” in the Holy Spirit. Ever wonder what that looked like? We’ve stereotyped so many of our forerunners as stiff-necked, starch-collared holy rollers. But many of them were complete Holy Ghost drunks. Ecstatic trances and manifestations of spiritual intoxication did not end with the days of Samuel, David and Elijah.

Mike: Humor some of my more skeptical readers. When has this happened with the safe reivivals? Y’know, the ones far enough away from us in the present that they’re okay to talk about, even among cessationist types?

John: The First Great Awakening is a classic example. In Jonathan Edwards’ meetings, people swooned and fell over and entered trances under the weighty hand of God.

Mike: Fire-baptized Calvinists? Get out of town!

John: Describing the revival of 1740-1742, Edwards notes, “It was a very frequent thing to see a house full of outcries, faintings, convulsions, and such like, both with distress, and also with admiration and joy.” Remember, this guy is the founder of Princeton University. And the early Methodist meetings were deemed to be “more like a drunken rabble than the worshipers of God.”

Mike: Well then, it must have been that pernicious Arminian Methodist influence. : )

John: One of Edwards’ present-day disciples, John Piper, is known for his theology of Christian Hedonism. He purports that our enjoyment of God is the very essence of true worship. Are we to draw a line between our enjoyment of God and God Himself?

Mike: I can hear my Calvinist friends’ jaws hitting the floor that you’re invoking Edwards and even Piper in service of your genre of divine enjoyment. If you’re game, I will personally accompany you to Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis to interrupt one of Mr. Piper’s sermons with blowback from a Holy Spirit Spliff. We’ll pray and see what happens to the Christian Hedonist himself. PiperCrazy

John: Consider this view: rather than pitting the manifestation against God (i.e. worship God vs. worship the experience), we must see the experiences as means of worshipping God, to which there is no limit. For in the experience, I am partaking in the pleasure of God – the very thing I was created for – to be interdependent upon Him, enjoying Him forever.

I will make another analogy: as a married man, I am not continually comparing the love I have for my wife to the love I have for God. My wife will never be an idol who threatens to steal my devotion to the Lord. This is because I understand that in loving my wife, this is somehow a mystical extension of my love for Christ. By caring for her, I am worshiping Him. In the same way, when I give a cold cup of water to the poorest of poor, I am also doing this to Christ. I am not worshiping the beggar, but I am worshiping Christ through the beggar. It is foolish to draw lines of competition between God and experience that were never intended to be dissected in such fashion.

Let me also say that manifestations can be quite “extreme” if not outright fanatical, yet still be divine in origin. The radical nature of the manifestation is not in itself a determining factor of its source. I have considered myself nearly on the brink of insanity at times when God swept over me for hours of uncontrollable drunken behavior, yet the corresponding fruit was altogether tremendous, miraculous and life changing. I am always filled with joy and expectancy in these encounters.

Mike: I am all for diversity in the ways we love, enjoy, and worship God. Like I said when we were discussing charis-missional last post, I think that one of the ways we can love God is by loving others. I have no problem adding ecstatic worship and divine manifestations to the mix. But back to the mystics: They argue for a kind of divine detachment, from both people and manifestations. They encourage Christians to hold people, manifestations and all things subordinate to the indwelling Trinity and our deepening communion with God. People never go away, of course – but manifestations are seen as a transitory stage leading to greater (even if more subtle) intimacy with God.

John: Is it possible that this type of activity (manifestations/consolations) is a valid form of dwelling on the Trinity? That in allowing God to sing through us – body, soul and spirit – in all this craziness, we are somehow practicing His presence? Forget the loud and crazy orthopraxy for a moment, in all its various forms – is God’s tangible presence apparent in the midst of it all, and if so, how would you know? Do some propose to conjecture, who have never actually tasted? I believe that the more we taste and practice His presence, the more we individuate from the consensus orthodoxy of society, and grow into what Kierkegaard called the true “religious” sphere of life (religious meaning truly “spiritual”). We stop swimming with the pack, and we start to make waves.

Mike: God’s tangible presence, tasting God for oneself, individuating from consensus orthodoxy to actualized religious life…I like it! I’ll buy it. But I have to keep going back to these pesky mystics, whom we both love. They usually warn folks not to get ‘stuck’ at the level of manifestation but press on to the level of fully recognized Union.

John: But did they always practice what they preached? Teresa of Avila was continuously in ecstasies with documented eye-witness accounts of her levitating in mid-ecstasy, along with her own numerous admissions of this stuff (read her Life ch. 18 and onward). She sure impacted mystical theology, and didn’t seem to ever tone it down. Joseph of Cupertino was whacked all the time, and often struck mute. Catherine of Sienna and Catherine Emmerich literally spent years of their life in ecstatic states, with wild manifestations happening continually. Your readers wouldn’t believe some of the supernatural things that happened to them. This happened not because they focused on manifestations, but because they contemplated Christ.

Teresa, a doctor of the church, also acknowledged that all the levels of manifestation overlapped (recollection, union, ecstasy, prayer of quiet, etc.), but she also stated that full-blown ecstasy, the highest level of mystical prayer, is actually where all these manifestations were \the craziest (ligature, inability to move, drunken stupor, levitations, etc.) She said that this was a level wherein the will almost ceased to function entirely because of the heavy pleasure of her inward raptures. I freely surrender my free will to the pleasures of Christ!

Others like John of the Cross and some of the darker mystics were absolutely depressed, so you have to take what they say about this with a big fat grain of salt. Anything that smacked of enjoyment was on the naughty list for them. You may note that we have coined a term “the new mystics” because we can now filter their theology through 500 years of rich, post-reformation grace theology. I am not into the morbid self-mortifications and false humility that many of the older mystics espoused, because it simply contradicts the finished works of the gospel of Jesus Christ – the good news that only God can save us, and that He did so with one fantastic checkmate of love on the cross. If you want a dark night of the soul for the romance of it, then go for it. You’re not going to earn any extra points with God. Depression is not a fruit of the Spirit, but joy is. I choose the free gift of grace.

Mike: I think the ‘dark night’ might be a bit more complex than that. Since neither of us are even close to 40, I’ll refrain from commenting for at least a decade. But I agree that the Reformation had valuable contributions to Christian spirituality. Grace informs mysticism by making it less a striving to attain union with God, and more a letting go to consciously awaken to the union that was always there.

John: Yes, the mystics all had their seven-step programs of spiritual advancement. Call me a Calvinist [There he goes again! – ed.] (you’ll only find a few charismatic ones), but I’m of the opinion that there is a one-step program called conversion. I believe that grace has to be drunk straight. No additives. What if God wanted to blow the whole “stages” and “levels” and “Christian growth curve” theology right out of the water, and somehow made us all pure and holy and perfect and obtaining all of Heaven’s goodies through one simple event: the spilling of Christ’s blood? What if just maybe, this whole religious mortification issue was put to death in one fell swoop, when we died together with Christ (Rom. 6, Gal. 2:20)? That would mean the craziest non-stop Holy Ghost party has just begun, and we’re all invited!

Many theologies have been built around an idea that manifestations are the lowest rung on the spirituality ladder. I just don’t see any scriptural support for it. Why would God take me from a fun experience to a boring one? I think this Christian journey is about getting progressively better, “from Glory to Glory.” You can try to mortify the soul, but it will never happen. Your best bet is to plug the soul’s desire for pleasure into socket it was created for. The only answer to counteract the pleasures of sin is not to kill yourself. The answer is to find a greater pleasure. He never gives us a lesser covenant in place of a better one. This is the whole “Galatian bewitchment” that Paul addressed. We think that after God gives us a treat, it is then up to us to suffer, work and earn our way through the rest of life. God would not grace us with consolations, just to bait us into a morbid, suffering-centered religion.

Mike: I think one of the blog commentors the other day said, helpfully, that boredom isn’t the ultimately enemy. And I’d beg to differ that silence and stillness is boring and a step down – it can be of course, but it all depends on one’s consent to God’s loving presence with you in the moment. I sit still, I center, I speak quietly in tongues – it’s kind of nice actually. But I digress…

Thank you again for all the time and energy you put into this dialogue. Hopefully we can do it again sometime. Since you’re like the only charismatic-oriented Christians I’m aware of who have a clue as to the mystics and their teachings, I guess I’m asking you what I’d like to ask the charismatic/prophetic movement on the whole: Do you see a day where the average ‘Spirit-filled Christian’ becomes a full contemplative in the classic sense? If not, what do you see?

John: Will everybody get this? I don’t know. This is Christianity 101. It’s just the gospel. The good news that God cracked open Heaven’s wine barrel for us. But for some reason, not everybody is thirsty. They just want to sit around, debate about the menu and scoff at the drunk guy in the corner.

Peace – Oinga Oinga Oinga!

John Crowder

And there you have it, folks. Your thoughts?

Note: If you’re just tuning in, this post is part of a series exploring new-pneumatology and emerging expressions of church. Here are the rest:

(Holy) Ghosts of Revivals Past

Charismatic Chaos or (Holy) Spirited Deconstruction?

What Is the Future of the Prophetic?

Guest Blog – John Crowder Speaks!

Crowder & Morrell Dialogue: What About the Fam? (Or, ‘Sex-Crazed Charismatics?’)

Crowder & Morrell: Kids & Cocaine Jesus?

Crowder & Morrell: Charismissional – What About The Poor?

Disaster & Interconnectivity, Action & Contemplation

What a week. First the mass-deadly Myanmar cyclone and their government’s bizarre response; now this: tens of thousands are feared dead in a China 7.8 magnitude earthquake.

I don’t know what to make of all this. Of course, nearly 150,000 people on this planet make the Great Transition daily; this in itself is nothing extraordinary. But suffering is different than ‘mere death;’ it is more, and it is right that it elicits a different – pained – response in us.

I don’t know what to make of all this. But I do know – no, sense is more accurate – a few things:

We are all interconnected – matter, energy, spirit & biosphere. Not one organism or object on this planet or in this galaxy can claim independence from everything else. Christians believe that in Christ–the risen, ascended, cosmic Christ-all things coinhere. God in Christ is the All in all. This idea – God’s integral permeation of all reality – is normally one of great beauty. But from one vantage point at least, it offers cold comfort when contemplating life’s shadow side – rape, murder, enslavement, torture, ecological degradation, ‘natural’ disaster.

Continue reading ‘Disaster & Interconnectivity, Action & Contemplation’


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