So I have been reading some very different books. On the one side, I have been reading about the Sisters and Brothers of the Common Life and Thomas a Kempis. On the other, I have started Philosopher of the Heart: The Restless Life of Søren Kierkegaard by Clare Carlisle.
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.