I recently finished G. K. Chesterton‘s The Everlasting Man, and I am now about a third of the way through Kathleen Norris‘s Amazing Grace. My intellect, long the center of my approach to the world and to faith, has finally found its interest in robust, historical, liturgical Christianity matched by an emotional and artistic delight. That is, I sense God again. This is my attempt at the beginning of a synthesis.
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I’ve written before about my faith and my doubt, about how I can’t have scientific knowledge of God. About how, historically speaking, Jesus’ resurrection is probable, though not certain.
And how, being a good student of rhetoric, and having steeped myself in a post-critical epistemic paradigm with Marxist overtones, I have often looked skeptically on the early development of Christianity as anything other than the same power games all people in all places engage in.
But no matter the extent of my doubts, now matter how much I sicken of “God-talk” or how much distaste I have for popular expressions of Christianity, I find that I cannot walk away. As I have written before, I possess an alien faith.
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Wendell Berry once said that, for better or for worse, he was a Christian because–given his local culture, his family, his personal history–Christianity was natural.
Kathleen Norris says something similar. While focusing on her eventual embrace, after twenty years away, of the faith of her grandparents, she also mentions the stories of other people. She writes, “A young man I know was stunned when he went to Thailand and tried to join a Buddhist monastery. Go back home and become a Christian monk first, they told him, learn your own tradition.”
I feel this deep inside my bones: learn your own tradition.
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I have written elsewhere about my embrace of historic and liturgical faith. In large part, this embrace has derived from the feeling of completeness I experience when I am participating in the movement of the liturgy. This is equally true, oddly, whether the liturgy is particularly high church (my aesthetic preference) or low church. That is, so long as a church is aware of its history and does not disavow the ecumenical strength of a common prayer, I find my soul unfurling in worship. Even to a lesser extent, I find myself more comfortable and at home in a traditional, though historically non-liturgical, church service than I do around a rock n’ roll Jesus band.
I have written about the reasons for this feeling elsewhere, but suffice it to say that, quite apart from the aesthetics of the whole thing, I am filled with deep reverence and love for God when in such a setting. The tendency to cast off everything that came before in order to be relevant strikes me as arrogant. The historic patterns of liturgy are, as Chesterton argues, a deep seated mirror of the movement of the soul–a true metaphor. Or, in terms closer to my own way of thinking: participation in the sacramental life and the liturgy thus understands someone, according to Boris Gunjević, as “a person-in-process before it understands the person as an isolated or collective individual instrumentalized or subordinated to collective and technocratic interests (found here).” One of the great insights of Christianity is that a person can undergo conversion, or the realignment of the will with the natural law, with God’s will. The liturgy sustains that process over a lifetime.
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As I have also written elsewhere, a corollary to the liturgical and sacramental life is the practice of the spiritual disciplines, especially of meditation, prayer, and contemplation–the practices of the interior life. And it is the practice of meditation, over the last two weeks, that has begun to revive my heart and my ability to sense God.
Scientifically speaking, I have no way of knowing whether what I sense when I meditate is God or whether I am merely coding parts of my brain that way. But I don’t care, and I don’t think that is the point. In any case, the contemplative divines have a long track record of pushing followers to be skeptical of any insight they may receive, to discern what is in accord with the law of Love and what is not.
In meditating, I have the consolation of God, the feeling of love an acceptance. I have felt calmed and relaxed, but I have also felt pushed–pushed to cultivate virtue, to love my neighbor better. I have been pushed to follow the Way of Jesus.
I have been moved to develop a greater love for Jesus, to come to a deeper (more emotional, more heart-filled) knowledge of the salvation he offers.
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In the end, this is nothing new. But I am moving deeper. For the first time in a long time, I am moving deeper into explicit faith and not further away.