In the Medieval German rites for enclosure of an anchorite, the anchorite is given a crucifix with the words:
Take this image of the Crucified, whose suffering and death you shall always keep in your heart.
I was reading today about some of the ascetics of medieval anchorites – not eating, not sleeping, one even threw herself into fires. Also some of the desert parents! All of these sound really weird to us. But have we gone too far the other way and completely ignored asceticism. We are physical beings and we proclaim our faith using physical means.
And then I remembered the above from the German enclosure rites. We follow the one who sacrificed Himself on the cross. Julian of Norwich has a vision of Jesus on the cross. In a Carthusian cell there hangs only a crucifix.
So … let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater (asceticism) and let’s remember whom we follow and let’s meditate on His cross.
Thus Christianity protests against all objectivity; it wants the subject to be infinitely concerned with itself.Kierkegaard: Concluding Unscientific Postscript (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy).
So I have tried to read a little Kierkegaard every day. I admit that Fear and Trembling always gets me thinking (and desiring).
Yet I have also been reading Concluding Unscientific Postscript. And the above quote has struck me as something very relevant. In a world that elevates objectivity (and denigrates passion), what is the role of Christianity? Kierkegaard would say that it is this very paradoxical role that defines Christianity. Some within Christendom have adopted the objective approach and have created a dispassionate version of Christianity where reason is elevated over faith. In the process, humanity is reduced to being a “reasonable animal” and “me” is reduced to the sum of my parts.
I do not think we need to surrender objective truth. I am simply thinking that we cannot ignore the subject individual who related to the objective truth. But, I am no philosopher!
… their purpose is no longer being to arouse desire but to gratify it.Alred of Rievaulx, Rule of Life for a Recluse
I remembered the above quote as I was reading today. I think Alred is thinking in terms of speech – especially for those who have chosen to live a life as an anchorite – but I think it equally applies to reading.
When people say that they like to read I often wonder what they mean?! I think there is a strong desire for escapism in reading. It can take you to faraway places and to situations very different from the one you find yourself. Reading can also be used to pass time, to see what the rich and famous are doing, or to catch up on the latest gossip. I wonder what the “end” of such reading is?
I think when I think of reading I am thinking of something very different. Reading is about “arousing desire” for Jesus. It is not always the Bible or the Prayer Book that arouses that desire. Traditional literature on spirituality, or modern, can move the heart as well as the head. I often read only a few words of a good book and allow them to float around my head. (Yes, plenty of space for floating!)
The religious life can be very self-indulgent. Solitude is not the absence of people – a religious form of misanthropy – but being alone with God. Solitude is a desire to be alone with Jesus. Solitude is a luxury to enjoy the presence of Jesus, to live in the Son, to sit and listen to Jesus.
The past is like the internet: there is always someone who agrees with you.
I escape into books. I prefer people of old (in books) to most modern people. But books can also frustrate and annoy me.
So I have been reading: Anglicanism: A Reformed Catholic Tradition. The book may have many merits. Yet it has illustrated for me that the way we see today influences the way we see the past.
The book tries to trace some of the theological seeds to Anglicanism in the pre-Reformation period. Not an uncommon way to see Anglicanism. Yet, the book does not mention any of the people who not only formed English spirituality but also the English language. The book does not mention Julian of Norwich, Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton, or Margery Kempe. It does not mention The Cloud of Unknowning or the monastic tradition. It certainly does not mention the involvement of the Carthusian in English spirituality and theology. It mentions Anselm of Canterbury who, while he did work in England as Archbishop of Canterbury, knew no English and was an Italian by birth.
So there is one random observation!
Yesterday I saw a relative on the way home from the doctor and … this morning I had to stand in line for a Covid test. My first Covid test. So I am in isolation for 7 days with another test on day 6.
Somehow I think this is a blessing. Time to breathe, pray, and step back. I started my new medication today so I am glad for a little space for it to begin working.
It has not escaped my notice that when life gets tough, I seek solitude and silence. Work, especially in the afternoon, is extremely loud. It is sensory overload!
So I am simply waiting for things to unfold.
I am having a day off from work as I have been struggling with my mental health. It all came to a head yesterday. I am glad that I have supportive people around me to help. So today I have seen my doctor and adjusted my medication. I have caught up on a couple of things I have been putting off, and I have been to the shops for food for the next week.
My experience with mental health issues is not universal but rather “my” experience. I find that balance between the various aspects of my life so easily topples over and everything goes to mess. A word, even a look, at the wrong moment means I end up in tears – as I did yesterday at work. I find that I simply do not have the resources within myself to move beyond the situation and I end up overthinking and overanalysing everything. And that is only the beginning – I spiral down and pretty soon all is dark.
But in this darkness, the smallest light can bring some context to everything. A person who takes the time to listen with understanding and empathy can change everything. A word at the right time or even a touch can make all the difference.
So that is my insight from yesterday! I do not need to be fixed but rather allowed to live within my particular context.
I have been reading a book about Margery Kempe. And, I admit, I am somewhat taken with her. The context of her life – medieval England – is interesting. And the changes in spirituality and theology that her life reflect are extremely interesting.
Kempe was known as a person whose spiritual emotions often overflowed. Again and again, she is removed from places due to her weeping. While I see that this may be contextual, I also envy that depth of devotion. My natural disposition is to intellectualize everything. But I have learned that if I keep ignoring my emotions they have a habit of finding their way out.
The book, Margery Kempe: A Mixed Life by Anthony Bale, looks at some of the devotional items that were important to Kempe. Among these is a ring with the inscription, “Jhesus est amor meus” (Jesus is my love). It is very-Kempe to have such a devotional item and, as with others, to ascribe magical powers to it. Yet I really like the plainness of the sentiment which I often find missing in modern spirituality. Yes, I am in love with Jesus – that simple and that complex. Again, how intellectualised my faith often is and how without emotion when, in reality, it should be full of emotion.
I have added the book to the Reading List.
Psalm 55 was part of Morning and Evening Prayer today. This morning I was struck by these verses:
And I said: ‘O that I had wings like a dove, ♦Psalm 55:7-9
for then would I fly away and be at rest.
‘Then would I flee far away ♦
and make my lodging in the wilderness.
‘I would make haste to escape ♦
from the stormy wind and tempest.’
I often want to escape. I am never sure if I have faith or just a very strong desire to escape. Maybe a better way to put it is that I am not sure whether I have a vocation or a strong desire to escape?!
So I identify with the above verses. Indeed I would like to be a dove that flys into the wilderness and is never heard from again. And that urge is so strong sometimes. But is it the wilderness that I want to escape to? Or is it into Jesus that I want to escape?
I just wanted to share Psalm 62 again. It was set for Morning Prayer and it always speaks to me. So here is the whole Psalm with Refrain as found in Common Worship:
Refrain: Wait on God alone in stillness, O my soul.
1 On God alone my soul in stillness waits; ♦
from him comes my salvation.
2 He alone is my rock and my salvation, ♦
my stronghold, so that I shall never be shaken.
3 How long will all of you assail me to destroy me, ♦
as you would a tottering wall or a leaning fence?
4 They plot only to thrust me down from my place of honour;
lies are their chief delight; ♦
they bless with their mouth, but in their heart they curse.
5 Wait on God alone in stillness, O my soul; ♦
for in him is my hope.
6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, ♦
my stronghold, so that I shall not be shaken. [R]
7 In God is my strength and my glory; ♦
God is my strong rock; in him is my refuge.
8 Put your trust in him always, my people; ♦
pour out your hearts before him, for God is our refuge.
9 The peoples are but a breath,
the whole human race a deceit; ♦
on the scales they are altogether lighter than air.
10 Put no trust in oppression; in robbery take no empty pride; ♦
though wealth increase, set not your heart upon it.
11 God spoke once, and twice have I heard the same, ♦
that power belongs to God.
12 Steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord, ♦
for you repay everyone according to their deeds.
Refrain: Wait on God alone in stillness, O my soul.
O God, teach us to seek security,
not in money or theft,
not in human ambition or malice,
not in our own ability or power,
but in you, the only God,
our rock and our salvation.
So I started a new job this past week. And to say it was an emotional rollercoaster would be an understatement. The end of the week was much better than the start but there were so many triggers that I really struggled the first three days. The job itself is not bad (and not my dream job, either, by the way) – the people are nice, the work is ok, and the context is pleasant enough. It is just me!!!! The context reminded me of all those dark times and the negative thoughts that can dominate. I have a habit of taking everything personally.
There was also some grief over losing my freedom to read and work “my way”. I have settled into a routine with my prayer life and that has helped. I will need to find time to read and do the other things I want to do.
I am glad that I have a “support team” that helps me and gives sound advice. Maybe what I am thankful for above all is people who listen!