I have done the second tattoo thing. I managed to nearly pass out in the middle – it has been really hot and I needed a drink. It feels like a new start. But I had this nightmare and I woke up thinking, “What on earth have you done?”.
I do have a lot of negative feelings about what I have done. I am not sure if they simply need to be worked through or just accepted. I do feel like I have come to a threshold: no more wearing masks for other people. No more escaping into the crowd for identity – I am me. I am not really sure what that “me” is or what it looks like. I am super glad for the people in my life who help me try to see that “me”.
I do feel more optimistic about things. Like I can see a future now. Maybe I can really see a present? A moment when I stand alone with Jesus. I am still thinking about writing. Even just writing for me. Or doing something else?
In retrospect, Søren and others would come to see the book as the beginning of his overt published attack on Christendom. Yet originally Søren had intended Practice in Christianity to be an aid to Mynster and a last-ditch defence for the establishment. The book offers extended reflections on various biblical passages where Jesus bids people directly to follow him without taking offence. The language is mild, exhorting, and Christ-centred. It is not fiery or angry. What it is, however, is a clear presentation of the need for the Single Individual to come out of the crowd and stand before Jesus without recourse to hiding behind the distractions of so-called Christian civilisation, either populist or cultured. The book includes a stirring “Moral,” offering the pastors and leaders of the church to confess their inability to preserve authentic Christianity and to throw themselves upon the grace of God. The primary person who needed to do the admission was the primate of the Danish Church, Bishop Mynster.
Backhouse, Stephen. Kierkegaard (p. 163). Zondervan.
Stephen Backhouse’s book on Kierkegaard is by far the best book for anyone to start their Kierkegaardian journey. I find that the narrative within the book – the narrative of Kierkegaard’s life – really resonates with me. The struggles to be a “me” in a mixed-up world. The above quote is about Practice in Christianity. It addresses one of the main points that Kierkegaard puts forward: Jesus saying “follow me” to each person alone.
I have something to decide and I really do not know what to do. I am letting it sit in the hope that an answer will appear. It is not yet urgent but it is part of a pattern within me that I find concerning. And it is exactly in this context that Jesus says, “Follow me”.
So here is an insight to me – I feel things very deeply but I rarely tell people how I feel. I think I have been conditioned to act that way but also I am not comfortable or confident enough to express myself. Interestingly, with word confident comes from two Latin words, “with” and “faith”. In the end, I do not have enough faith in myself – in the mystery and paradox that is “me” – to freely express my feelings to others.
I think that is also true about religion. I have tried to explain it rather than feeling it. Or rather, I have believed in something rather than someone. Maybe I am conditioned by a culture that elevates the intellectual over the emotional? Maybe I am too self-involved to see past my own nose? All the rational arguments for the spiritual does not make it a religion.
I was thinking today that the religion I have tried to enact and live is a pseudoscience of the metaphysical. Maybe a Hegelian version of the spiritual? Nothing is real but the rational and since God is real He must be rational. But that takes away the paradox and with it faith.
This morning, as I was looking through the Imitation of Christ, I was struck by this:
I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it.
Imitation of Christ, Chapter 1
Oh wow!!! Yes! There is an experimental side to religion – to Jesus – that I have dismissed as charismatic or pentecostal. But, in the history of the church, it is present in mysticism and contemplation. As a person who lives in their head, I want to get out of that space and feel Jesus in my experience. The paradox of Christianity is that it is a human relationship with the God-man, Jesus. So it involves all the elements of being human – mind, heart, spirit, physical, emotional, psychological. There is a part to every relationship between two people that is paradoxical – it is real but not rational. I still that very hard. My head tells me that no person would want a relationship with me but my feelings reach out to people.
There are still parts of me that have not even started to heal. The way I relate to others is one. Escaping that part into some form of solitude would not be healing but simply running away from the problem. I need to find that part first.
So today starts life 2.0. And I want to start it with a quote from a book I hope to be reading much more – The Imitation of Christ. I’ll make that my prayer for the coming months.
The teaching of [Jesus] is more excellent than all the advice of the saints, and [the person] who has His spirit will find in it a hidden manna. Now, there are many who hear the Gospel often but care little for it because they have not the spirit of Christ. Yet whoever wishes to understand fully the words of [Jesus] must try to pattern [their] whole life on that of [Jesus].
So life has been super overwhelming. I have made a few decisions that I am proud of making but that are really scary. I have spoken to a number of different people along the way but the decision is my decision. So I am scared and excited at the same time. These decisions mean my life is changing and, in some ways, becoming more uncertain. Yes, I have taken a risk!
I was thinking of writing a post about someone who emailed me who has mistakenly assigned the term “hermit” to a person who was an anchorite. But I do not want to be negative. And I do not have the answers – a big lesson for me. I will not correct people!!!! Who am I to do that? I struggle to be me – the mystery of “me”. So who am I to suggest to someone else they are wrong (on such an insignificant matter)?
I am going to write about living with depression and anxiety. I am going to write about living for and with Jesus. I am going to write about books and ideas. I am not going to write about people (in a negative sense) and all the negativity that is floating around. If I cannot find Jesus in the situation, I am moving on!
I have designed a tattoo for Wednesday of which I am really proud. It actually says what I am feeling at the moment. I never in my life thought I would look forward to a tattoo but I am super excited about it. In fact, apart from religious occasions, this is the most excited I have been about anything. From conversation Christian culture (with conservative dress, speech, and attitude) to living with risk (Jesus) and tattoos.
So Kierkegaard repeatedly writes, in The Point of View, “The crowd is untruth”. I have been puzzling over that statement in the last couple of days. Is SK just advocating a form of individualism where others are irrelevant?
I think, as with most of Kierkegaard’s writings, it comes back to his understanding of faith. So let me put it in the way that I have come to see it: faith is living with paradox. The Christian faith (which is a gift of grace) is living with the paradox that the eternal has entered time, that the DIvine has become human, that in Jesus God reveals his love and mercy through suffering. In short, the Christian faith is a living relationship with the Absolute Paradox. Many people live with faith – living with the many paradoxes of life – but they do not live with the Absolute Paradox of Jesus.
So “The crowd is untruth” is another paradox that we live with. I am called to be a “single individual” before God – only I can answer for my life and my choices – but I live within a community that forms me and shapes me. I cannot abdicate my responsibility to someone else but I also cannot overlook that “someone else” has shaped me. I need others but I answer for myself.
In one of the Communion Discoures, SK puts it this way:
At the altar, however, no matter how many are gathered there, yes even if everyone is gathered at the altar, there is no crowd at the altar.
Kierkegaard, Søren. Discourses at the Communion on Fridays
Within the community (the “crowd”) every individual is alone with Jesus when they receive Holy Communion. I think that expresses the paradox that the Christian faith calls us to live.
Why all this? (And thank you for getting this far in a rambling post!) I am getting another tattoo. I wanted it to represent SK’s call to be the single individual. A reminder to me! So I have a design that includes the above quote. All as a reminder to me what Jesus calls me to.
I have been thinking about life in general. Not a particular path but just life.
Someone at work (who has been especially kind, helpful, and supportive) has encouraged me to think about what I really want to do. So seeing my job as bringing me some income but not much meaning. Something I do outside of work to bring meaning. More than a hobby – what is my vocation (to use Christian terminology). Not in the sense of the religious life (which I do think I am called to) but what is my vocation beyond that. I do feel called to some form of religious life whether in a community with vows or individually without vows. Yet a life that is centred on a relationship with Jesus with time for contemplation.
Let me put it another way: Thomas Aquinas says that the natural end of contemplation is to communicate. What he means (methinks) is that the contemplative needs to carry their union with God into relationships with others. The contemplative has a divine call to draw others into the union with Jesus that is the aim of their life. So the two vocations are inseparably united: contemplation and sharing the insights.
So, this will maybe be a surprise to you, but I have always felt a deep calling to sing! Oops, that should be writing. Taking some of the things that I have “learned” (sorry, that is not the best word) and putting them down on “paper” for others to engage with. My model is Kierkegaard who lived life and put his experiences and insights into various types of writings – stories, discourses (sermons), letters. Kierkegaard did not always use the direct approach – he does not tell you what to think but his writings engage your heart and “enflame your desire for Jesus”.
In the past, I had motivation from the outside. I have to find motivation from inside now. I have to overcome my fear of being judged or misunderstood. And, yes, my fear of being laughed at and ridiculed. In other words, I have to write for myself rather than others – I have to not write to be read.
This evening I had a conversation with Magister Søren Kierkegaard, and despite the fact that he is not exactly the person with whom one finds tranquillity, it just so happened – as often happens – that his words made clear to me precisely what I have recently been thinking about.
1 September 1843
The above is a quote from the diary of an individual reflecting on meeting Kierkegaard. I find it interesting that the meeting does not bring any peace but it does bring clarity. Something that any person who has tried to read Kierkegaard can relate to.
I have been trying to read more Kierkegaard. He is a person for today. He is the antithesis of the modern obsession with objectivity and literalism. He manages to walk the line between holding on to what the faithful have always believed without making it a fetish.
I have been struck by how, in the 1300s and 1400s, there was a movement of laypeople reading (for the first time) scripture and spiritual writings in their own language and “converting” fully to Jesus. Often these laypeople were women. Theology and spirituality had been “Latin” rather than vernacular – the domain of clerics, academics, and religious. People simply “did” – they followed the prescribed ritual and laws of the Church. Because that is what they were told. Yet in the midst of this culture, there is a group of faithful who not only read in the vernacular but who also write in their own language about spiritual things. Yes, the church saw these are “suspect” and even as heretical. Yet this group focuses on “inwardness”, on a real connection with Jesus, and on living this to the fullest as a layperson.
Carlise’s book on Kierkegaard is a great read. It shows that the “me” is part of the story that is told. Kierkegaard’s “oddness” is part of his writing and trying to understand his writing apart from his story is impossible. Every book, every story, has the author as a character. Our scientific world tries to proclaim “objectivity” as possible – a “truth” that is independent of context and people. Maybe that is possible? I can read about a mathematical formula (which I would not) and have no personal engagement in the formula. I would, however, be wondering why I was reading about the formula if I had no engagement in it? But when it comes to Jesus? Jesus is never independent of a response by me. We like to elevate “logic” or reason as the deciding fact. But reasonable logical individuals come to different conclusions on the same question. Personal engagement, personal story, is always a part of the logic and the reason. Ignoring the storyteller means we do not understand the story!
What does all of that mean? I am not sure! But understanding that the people whom I read all have an agenda means I read differently. Yes, a priest thinks the best way to serve Jesus is to be a priest; a monk to be religious. Just because a person is not “clerical” does not mean they are not proclaiming Jesus. A hierarchical church does not mean all truth resides with the clerical class, nor only with the learned. People throughout the ages have known this! People of faith – lay and clerical – have proclaimed “inwardness”, subjectivity, when it comes to our relationship with Jesus. Yes, that needs to be a lived engagement. But following the rules does not mean a relationship.
So maybe a quote from Aelred of Rievaulx (writing to an anchorite) about gossip, which could equally be applied to reading, to finish:
… their purpose no longer being to arouse desire but to gratify it.
I had the day planned out. I was going to see my doctor and then resign from work. It has been extremely stressful and I have been very anxious. I feel very much out of my depth with the job and my personal life does not help. More about me than the job into which, I think, I am growing into.
So all plans set! I was going to ring the doctor for an appointment and then write the letter when I got home. I tried but to no avail. The phone was busy at the doctor’s. Instead, I got a call from work asking if I wanted to fill a shift. I did not but I thought that it all was a pretty clear sign of where things are at!
Not only have I worn a mask most of my life but I have worn it for other people. To act and “be” who they wanted me to be. To be honest, that should be “whom I thought they wanted me to be”. To accept a role and play the part.
In a lot of ways that is how I saw my relationship with God. Accept the role given me and simply do it. The part of me which could not play the part, well, that part was sin. And I needed to repent – turn away from that part, subdue it, kill it, ignore it. So repentance became a battle against “me” fought within “me” against “me”.
Very recently I have been struck by the point that repentance, “turning”, is more meaningful when it is a “turning to Jesus”. It is a simple surrender to Jesus as my only love. Or to put it another day, to desire Jesus above all. So my part is not to fight against me but rather to surrender the “me” to Jesus. Jesus loves me with all my problems and brokenness, with all my failures and hurts. Repentance is not about removing myself from a situation but about seeing Jesus in that situation.
So back to my day! I am not going to resign. I am going to find Jesus in my job. Maybe even in the rude, abusive, and passive-aggressive customers?! I am so much more than my job, or my friends, or my relationships. I am so much more than the “sum of my parts”.
Sometimes (often?) I am glad that God simply does not cooperate with my plans. Sometimes (often?) I am glad that God is in control and sees the bigger picture.