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.
So that is where I am at!
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.
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!
I have been reading Wisdom in Love: Kierkegaard and the Ancient Quest for Emotional Integrity by Rick Anthony Furtak. It has been on my list for a while and it was on special so I thought I might as well. I have been thinking about emotions a lot and this book really hits the spot on that topic.
So here is a quote from the Introduction:
One uncomfortable truth which emerges from this inquiry is that we cannot sustain the emotions that hold us together without accepting the risk of suffering the emotions that tear us apart.
All life involves risk! Maybe that is the fundamental problem with people today?! (Sorry, that is really judgemental and generalised.) Maybe that is the fundamental problem with me!? Life always involves risk because it always involves faith.
I did a quick google (as you do!) and found this article: Kierkegaard on the Psychology of a Risk Averse Society. It is worth a read.
So my point? I think we have become a society that likes to watch because we like to play it safe. It is much more fun watching someone else do the risky thing. More fun watching the “love story” or the “adventure movie” than loving or acting ourselves. But can we really grow (spiritually or emotionally) if we never risk? With the risk of being wrong can we ever really be right? Without the risk of hate can there ever really be love?
I have been returning to an older theme: religious life. And I have been thinking about two quotes in particular that, I think, say the same thing.
Life in Religion is the ultimate wager on the existence of God. The Church should always be engaged in doing things that make no sense if God does not exist. This is the reason why I hold the Religious life in the highest esteem … the monastic life models for all Christians what it means to live fully and abundantly, with and for Christ.The Most Rev’d Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury
Foreword to: Anglican Religious Life 2016-17
Of this there is no doubt, our age and Protestantism in general may need the monastery again, or wish it were there. The “monastery” is an essential dialectical element in Christianity. We therefore need it out there like a navigation buoy at sea in order to see where we are, even though I myself would not enter it. But if there really is true Christianity in every generation, there must also be individuals who have this need.Kierkegaard, Nov 1847
I am always amazed that Kierkegaard, living in 1800s Lutheran Denmark, writes at length about “the monastery” in his journals. What experience would he have had of religious life? What books would he have read? And, in some ways, his very life is an example of what he said above – even if he does not want to enter a monastery.
To put it another way: people need to take the “single individual” to the extreme to show other people what it means to be the “single individual” – “dare to desire Jesus alone”. I am seeing that reality more and more. Like yeast in the dough, individuals need to place all their eggs in the one basket (sorry!) and say, “what if all of this stuff about God is true?”. And much more: let’s take Jesus seriously and actually follow Him alone, pick up our cross and live a life of love.
I think both of these quotes call us to “new monasticism” (to introduce yet another person’s quote). Not looking to the past alone but using the past to live today for Jesus alone. Yes, the church as a community and especially individuals within the Church need to do things that make no sense if God does not exist. Individuals need to take Jesus seriously.
I think this is the principal reason why the invisible God willed to be seen in the flesh and to converse with people as a person. He wanted to recapture the affections of carnal humanity who were unable to love in any other way, by first drawing them to the salutary love of his own humanity, and then gradually to raise them to a spiritual love.St Bernard of Clairvaux
In Michael Casey’s book on Lectio Divina, Sacred Reading, he makes the point that relationships and bonds between persons are emotional in nature. I have never really thought about that but I suspect it is very true. (Yes, very true!) In a modern context, maybe we are tempted to intellectualize relationships into common aims and common beliefs. But what bonds me to you is my feelings for you.
The above from St Bernard reminds me of Kierkegaard’s story of the king who falls in love with his servant. Love should be freely given and not forced. The Incarnation is an invitation to love on “my level”. Jesus does not force love but offers it.
While this article, Kierkegaard and Australia’s sense of historical despair, is a little on the old side, it is an interesting read. Maybe one observation:
Kierkegaard’s idea of what it means to be an Australian would surely have matched his idea of what it meant to be a Christian—an idea that was far removed from what he saw around him, especially within the institution of the Danish State church.
Being a Christian is about a relationship with God in Jesus. That is hardly comparable to being an Australian? I think this illustrates one of the points about Kierkegaard that frustrates me most: he is above all a Christian, writing about being a Christian, alone before God. Some of his more philosophical work prepares the way for his Christian work which prepares the way for his “upbuilding work”.
Anyway, read the above.
… I put this up on Instagram yesterday and got huge “likes”. Funny?
The only way of coming to know and understand the divine, therefore, is by the god annulling the absolute difference in absolute equality in the absolute paradox of the incarnation.Sylvia Walsh. Kierkegaard: Thinking Christianly in an Existential Mode (Christian Theology in Context)
I want to collect quotes that help me work towards a definition of a disciple and the discipleship pathway. I am deeply indebted to Kierkegaard for my major understandings in this area so I am looking for quotes from him. I guess I should start with Scripture, the New Testament, and Jesus.
So the above shows how God takes the first step in the Jesus-event, especially the incarnation. And there is an absolute difference between God and me that can only be bridged in Jesus.
More to think about!