Having just driven home from Tulsa, the adrenaline won't let me sleep, so I figured I would just write about my evening.
Tonight I heard Jonah Paffhausen, Orthodox Archibishop of Washington and Metropolitan of Canada and the US, speak on Orthodox approaches to spirituality - the main thrust being, "Do not react, Do not resent, Keep inner stillness."
The basic, quick and dirty summation is as follows:
1. You can think of your mind as having two parts - the lower, which is the Ego, which deals with so much rational concerns, and the Nous - the mind/heart/spiritual aspect, which comprehends spiritual matters.
2. Spiritual growth in part entails the stilling of the Ego and its worries and fears so that one can have "consciousness" of God in your Nous.
3. Discipline is important for it enables one to beat down the thoughts of the Ego that would distract, distort, and entrap in sin - including the reactionary, vengeful thoughts.
4. This is hard.
Now, for those of you who are familiar with Eastern thought at all, this is roughly familiar. What I thought I would do is just give the comments I noted (I know, I reacted, oh wretch of the Western Rite that I am!) and use them as entry points for my comments.
Masks of God This is a more positive note I had. One of the points the Archbishop made is that when we let go of our poor reactions, we will see other people as what they are - people whom God loves. I think this ties in very nicely with Luther's "Masks of God" - that when we see our neighbor, we are simply seeing a mask that God is wearing. When our neighbor does good, it is truly God who is blessing us. When we serve and love the neighbor, we are truly serving and loving God. This plays into the next idea...
Seeing Reality I do appreciate the idea that the Archbishop was driving at with his focus on the "nous" as opposed to the cold, rational Ego. We have been trained to think that what exists is only what we can measure, add, subtract, experiment upon -- that our Ego can interact with. On the contrary - we do not see all of reality - God is the Creator of all things, visible and... invisible. To be a Christian is to begin to see and understand spiritual realities, things that aren't obvious. The world sees a lousy sinner, I see one for whom Christ has died (slightly more Western focus there, as we will see). We go to the Supper - the world sees a bit of bread and wine, I see the very Body and Blood of Christ given to me. The world sees a small congregation with only a few folks there - I see angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
We are not always aware of this reality at the moment - we confess it, we believe it, and when we ponder, we understand now in part - but then it will be clear. When the Archbishop touched on these aspects, I thought he spoke very well, and that idea of "nous" - especially with repentance being "metanoia" - changing of the nous - works rather well.
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Then of course, the big thing was synergism, which all the following comments sort of play into somehow.
One of the early points was about synergism, how we cooperate with God, we work along with Him. I actually thought his discussion on synergism was a touch weak, lacking many wonderful scriptural insights -- a proper discussion of synergism, rightly speaking, can be summed up with the prayer, "Thy Will be Done" -- work through me and in me, Oh Lord, according to Thy Will, for I am Thine workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for the works that Thou dost wish!
Sadly, it didn't flow that well. Here are the comments I noted:
Greek is Active -> Passive.
I am Passive -> Active A lot of his focus was upon the work that I must do as regards repentance and struggle against my Ego in order to still myself to where I could be more fully aware of God. There was a lot of focus on my activity in order to achieve the passive state where I would be more aware of God.
I tend to reverse that order. I begin passive - I am called to God's house to hear His Word proclaimed, to receive His Supper. I am passive, I am receptive - He calls me out of the world and makes me to be still, to receive His gifts -- and then from this, out of this, His love which I have received wells up and out and through me in spiritual activity, which is the love of the neighbor.
I don't know if this is more that he was focusing on internal purification (for he would not deny works towards the neighbor as part of a spiritual life) specifically, but his approach ended up seeming a little flat. Who cares what my experience of God is - if it is more wondrous and deep, if I see the 7th heaven, that's nice and all, but I was put here love my neighbor, to be a right and proper steward. That is my spirituality -- expressed and realized in service to the neighbor. And then...
Synergism, but all me, little Theos Although the claim was made that this was synergism, that it was my working with God, there was very, very little God involved, at least in a causitive, energistic way. God was more of a goal - that I could condition myself to see Him and be aware of Him more... and that if anything His grace to me was almost a matter of, "well, of course you've received God's grace - now how are you going to discipline yourself to see more of it?"
Again, this strikes me as somewhat spiritually shallow (as well as dangerous). Where is the energy for this spiritual growth - is it me working with God, with the energy that He has given unto me by His Word and Spirit, or is it me trying to find God and mesh with him. The Archbishop even sort of used the image of his fists passing by, not quite connecting, to describe the hardship of learning to do this. This just removed God from things, from my work. So suddenly it is no longer true synergism, where my work is in actuality God's Work, but almost as though I am totally independent from God and left to my own devices to get into line with him.
The Egocentric Abandonment of Ego This really sums up my thoughts. For as much as the focus was upon abandoning of ones passions, desires, resentments - of being still that one might know the Lord (he never quoted, "Be still and know that I am the Lord" -- I think that's what he was driving at, but never quoted it), it was very EGO-centric. Over and over it was a matter of what I do. And then, even though the Ego is the rational thing that demands rational explanations, and this is what we strive to silence, he used some very rational explanations. He trashed scholasticism and its incessant categorization, but then spoke often in terms of resentment objectifying people. It was very odd.
But the saddest part is that it makes things needlessly hard. I will concur that the Ego must be kept in check (this is Luther's ministerial use of reason - where it is a servant at our beck and call, not our master). I will concur that I should beat down my desires . . .but how, and why?
The words of John the Baptist (not spoken tonight) come to mind - "I must decrease, that He may increase." And this sums up what I found so lacking. There was no focus on the increase of Christ - of Christ being more and more the center, the focus, the heart of all things. I heard much about "God", and knowing "God" -- but I didn't hear much of Christ Jesus - of being focused and meditating upon His love for us - of our Lord being the only way to the Father, of the way in which we can know the Father (for He is the Icon of the invisible Father. . . hhhmmm, knowing that which we can't see -- should be right up this alley). In fact, I think he spoke more about Mary than he did Mary's Son. Again, it was almost like Jesus was assumed, a mere thing that we all knew about and then could get onto the real work.
So in other words, while there was some nice discussion and imagery of spirituality - I found it lacking, lacking Christ - and therefore woefully inadequate. Now, I will say that I hear wonderful Law - really, really neat and engaging Law. The Archbishop spoke very well of what I must do, and in an interesting way. But the Gospel. . . eh, well... not so much, which leads to my final observation:
What and Who, but Why is missing This is my ultimate critique of Eastern Theology. They understand that Christ Jesus, True God and True Man, died for us upon the Cross -- but they don't seem to know why. I heard that God is love - that God is not angry. So then, why does Christ die upon the cross? As far as I can tell it really is just a humiliation thing - a descending fully into the depths of what humanity suffers so that He might pull all of fallen humanity through the grace unto His resurrection. A valid point - but not the fullness.
There was no atonement. There was no propitiation. And this really came out in how they talked. When you are simply trying to experience the love of a God who already loves you, there is no need for a focus on Christ. The idea of forgiveness was merely overlooking sin - God overlooks it - He isn't just, because we couldn't stand up to His justice (he actually said along the lines, "Thank God that He isn't just").
While the pious idea is that if we received God's Justice we couldn't not stand... well, that's right - and that's why Jesus Christ, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven. It's as though we weren't really saved from anything. . . just. . . able to be awakened?
Now, I know you have wonderful points in the Greek Liturgy that point to Christ as the Savior. The Archbishop encouraged everyone to go to Confession so that God's grace could work upon you (especially when you have found that stubborn point of Ego that won't go away) -- but that emphasis, that focus wasn't there. And as such, there was no Gospel, no good news for me -- just works and efforts that I must undertake.
It just seemed so sad that there was so little focus on how God creates - how He makes new, how He makes me new in His Son, how He renews my mind.
It was a good evening - I benefited, I was drawn to ponder many things. And while I am very glad that I know folks who are Orthodox, while I consider the East to be higher than the typical Protestant (for they are sacramental), I was reminded why I am not going East.
1. Not enough Christ for me.
2. All the wondrous things in their spirituality, I have already in Luther and Lutheran spirituality, and more properly done, for in Luther it is always done in light of Christ, clearly in the light of Christ.
I think Grace taped this - if they post it I will have to link it.
And now the adrenaline leaves, and my bed summons me. Good night all.