I would normally not do this – quote someone as a “bad example” – but this tweet speaks volumes to me. (BTW: I have great respect for the person who wrote it as someone of insight and spiritual maturity and hence I have blacked out the name.)
“Allows an encounter with great doctrines”?? “Stay close”?? If the rosary, or any devotion (reading the Bible or saying the Office), keeps us close to a doctrine, all is lost!!! Not to put too fine a point on it, no doctrine will ever “save” us but only the person of God-incarnate, Jesus Christ. Yes, theology and doctrine is important. But it is the person who is behind the rosary – Our Lady leading us to Jesus – that is of the upmost importance. It is the person who is behind the doctrine. A devotion is never (!!!!!) an encounter with a doctrine, a teaching, an idea, a moral. It is always an encounter with a person.
My main problem – after much reflection and soul-searching – with modern forms of Christianity is that it has become a “philosophy” (in the broadest sense of the word) and has abdicated the encounter with the divine for intellectual consent. It feels to me like Christianity needs people to agree with it – culture at large or individuals – and they have a product to sell (one among many). All of this makes God an object and individuals “brains in jars”.
Christendom is the enemy of Christianity—it is, Kierkegaard says repeatedly, the “blasphemy”—that stands in the way of encountering Christ as our contemporary. Christendom assumes that Christ is far in the past, having laid the foundation for the wonderful thing that has historically resulted, Christendom. Of course we are all good Christians because we are all good Danes. It is a package deal and Christ and Christianity are part of the package. If we are good Danes (or good Americans), if we work hard and abide by the rules, the church, which is an integral part of the social order, will guarantee the delivery to heaven of the package that is our lives. But Christ is not in the distant past, protests Kierkegaard. He confronts us now, and a decision must be made. “In relation to the absolute there is only one tense: the present. For him who is not contemporary with the absolute—for him it has no existence.”
This encounter with Christ the contemporary is not to be confused with today’s evangelical Protestant language about conversion as a decisive moment in which one “accepts Jesus Christ as one’s personal Lord and Savior.” Kierkegaard did not, of course, know about the nineteenth-century American revivalism from which today’s evangelicalism issues, but he had some acquaintance with the enthusiasms that were in his day associated with “pietism.” As he inveighed against Christendom, it seems likely he would also inveigh against Evangelicaldom today. As he would inveigh against Christianity of any sort—whether it calls itself liberal or conservative, orthodox or progressive—that neatly accommodates itself to its cultural context. To decide for Christ our contemporary is always a decision to be a cultural alien, to join Christ on his way of suffering and death as an outsider.
Today, 31 January, is Thomas Merton’s birthday. He would have turned 104. So here is a quote:
A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying [God]. It “consents,” so to speak, to [God’s] creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.
One of the strongest memories of my youth is of an orchard next to our house. Maybe it was not really an orchard but more of a hobby garden. at the front of this garden there was an apple tree that grew into the street. My strongest memory of growing up is hiding in the garage and eating the apples on a warm summer afternoon.
As you read that story (and be honest) what was the image of an apple that you had in your mind? Was the apple large or small? Was it sweet or sour? And was the apple green or red?
For the record the apples were green, small and extremely sour. When I hear the word “apple” that is the image I have in my mind.
So here is the “moral of the story”: can I assume that my experience of the world is anything like your experience of the world? I know I experience the world but can I abstract a common experience from my experience. Or is it an act of faith?