a new self?

This form of despair is: in despair not to will to be oneself.
Or even lower: in despair not to will to be a self.
Or lowest of all: in despair to will to be someone else,
to wish for a new self.

Sickness unto death, 53-54

One of the things I have found is that I like to escape. I often dream of a change of context in the hope that it will fix all my problems. A desire to run away from my problems and look for the solution outside – a new Prayer Book to make my prayer life perfect, a goal to reach to be happy.

But most of all I wish I was someone else. It is sometimes an overwhelming thought – “just will yourself to be not you“. I would like to escape “me”. The “me” that I see is all bad. I often wish I could be someone else – someone who is everything that I am not – comfortable around people, articulate, sociable.

While that thought is often very strong I am also aware that “me” is God’s creation. When I really look at myself I know that I have been blessed with many gifts – I am a good teacher, creative, and can see patterns. And, of course, real “me” is nothing like the imagined “me”.

I need to learn to love me for me because “me” is God given. I am not perfect, and there are many places I can improve, but it is not all bad. The person in the mirror is not a monster like I imagine him to be. The direction I need to move is upwards and inwards. “Me” needs to move towards the God who created me in His image and loves me completely in Jesus.

God is the middle term

The name Maundy Thursday comes from the Latin, mandatum (to command). There are a number of things that Jesus commands – the washing of feet and the Eucharist among them. But maybe we miss the point? Are we looking at the signs and are not seeing to what they are pointing? Here is the second part of the gospel for today (in APBA):

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:31-34

The Vulgate used the word, mandatum, in verse 34: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another“. At the start of these holy three days the readings remind us that it is all about love. And they remind us that I am personally called by God to be a follower of Jesus and enact His love to those around me.

The washing of feet and the Eucharist are signs of God’s love. The washing of the feet is a sign of service and humility. In the Eucharist it is Jesus Himself who says “for you”. I am always drawn to those words, “for you”. These three holy days, the cross and pain of Jesus, are “for me”. This Jesus meets me personally and says “for you” – one on one. The love of the cross is personal and individual – Jesus loves me now.

What does this “love” look like for me? Jesus says “as I have loved you”. Love is the sacrificial giving of the self to the other. It is placing “you” above “me” in my choices and actions. Or, to put it another way, to be open to God working through me. To not close myself off from God. To allow God to be the middle term in all my relationships.

Worldly wisdom thinks that love is a relationship between a person and a person. Christianity teaches that love is a relationship between person-God-person, that is, God is the middle term.

Søren Kierkegaard

Solitude is for criminals

In antiquity as well as in the Middle Ages there was an awareness of this longing for solitude and a respect for what it means; whereas in the constant sociality of our day we shrink from solitude to the point (what a capital epigram!) that no use for it is known other than as a punishment for criminals. But since it is a crime in our day to have spirit, it is indeed quite in order to classify such people, lovers of solitude, with criminals.

Sickness unto death, 64 (Hong)

I “googled” the word “solitary” and the only results I got were related to prisons. People who are being punished are removed from the general population as punishment. The only use our culture has for solitude is for punishment.

What of those who freely seek solitude? What of those who freely seek solitude for God? Are they misanthropists or religious fanatics?

I have become more aware that I need time alone for balance. Not doing yoga or chanting but time without other people to be “me”. Often I read (and drink tea) or simply close my eyes and allow myself to experience the world around me. Even the half an hour to say Morning and Evening Prayer by myself have become essential to my sense of balance.

But solitude is not the same as being alone. I can be with people and feel very alone – I have a general sense of “existential loneliness”. Solitude is something much more than the absence of people.

When I slow down and embrace the solitude, God speaks. And I return to the world with God’s strength to be a better “me”. In the solitude I hear God calling me to friendship with Him and with people He places in my life. Solitude is not an escape from the world but an openness to God. And whether I am with people or by myself I desire to be open to God in the situation. I need alone time for my mental health and I need solitude for my spiritual health.

Missionaries of confusion

“No generation can endure without religion. But then when the front rank, the militia of attackers who want to do away with Christianity (which enemies are by no means the most dangerous), has finished, then comes the second rank of the missionaries of confusion, those who either want to concoct a new religion or even want to be apostles. These are by far the more dangerous, simply because they are religiously influenced and religiously confused but to that extent are also in connection with what is deeper in human beings, whereas those others are irreligiously obsessed.”

Book of Adler

The Book of Adler has been on my list of Kierkegaard books to read. The whole situation is interesting. As with all Kierkegaard books I think it expresses some of the problems within Christendom today.

I am finishing a study on 1 John – a divided congregation struggling with the future. People have left and are now stirring things up. The elder reminds the congregation what (or who) is at the centre of their life together: Jesus and love. I think Kierkegaard’s term “missionaries of confusion” is a good way to describe the situation.

Welcome back?

I have not written in quite some time. Life moves pretty quickly sometimes and it gives little room for reflection. So I am hoping to use this a little to reflect on life. And to reflect on what I am reading. I know Kierkegaard would hate my use of “reflect”! What I mean is to subjectively explore what the meaning for me is of what I read. The force is for me and for me alone.

So here is a quote from SK I read in a book on Carthusians at Parkminster:

“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…”

Christianity needs individuals who stand against the crowd. And if this standing against the crowd involves some form of monasticism – some form of separateness for Jesus – than Christianity has need for this. I want to think about that more!

Collect for Feast (Sep 8)

This is the Collect by the Episcopal Church:

Heavenly Father, whose beloved Son Jesus Christ felt sorrow and Dread in the Garden of Gethsemane: help us to remember that, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death and desolation, thou art ever with us; that, encouraged by the writings of Soren Kierkegaard and others, we may believe where we have not seen, trust where we cannot test, and so come at last to the eternal joy which thou hast prepared for us, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever.

Wish List

Here is my wish list of Kierkegaard books in order.

  1. Kierkegaard’s Writings, XV: Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits
  2. Kierkegaard’s Writings, V: Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses 
  3. Kierkegaard’s Writings, VII: Philosophical Fragments or a Fragment of Philosophy/Johannes Climacus, or De omnibus dubitandum est (Two books in one volume)
  4. Kierkegaard’s Writings, XXII: The Point of View
  5. Kierkegaard’s Writings, X: Three Discourses on Imagined Occasions 
  6. Kierkegaard’s Writings, XIV: Two Ages: ‘The Age of Revolution’ and the ‘Present Age’: A Literary Review 
  7. Kierkegaard’s Writings, XXI: For Self-Examination / Judge For Yourself!
  8. Kierkegaard’s Writings, XXIV, Volume 24: The Book on Adler
  9. Kierkegaard: Fear and Trembling (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy)

Listening … before God!!

Now forget this light talk about art. Alas, in regard to things spiritual, the foolishness of many is this, that they in the secular sense look upon the speaker as an actor, and the listeners as theatergoers who are to pass judgment upon the artist. But the speaker is not the actor — not in the remotest sense. No, the speaker is the prompter. There are no mere theatergoers present, for each listener will be looking into his own heart. The stage is eternity, and the listener, if he is the true listener (and if he is not, he is at fault) stands before God during the talk. The prompter whispers to the actor what he is to say, but the actor’s repetition of it is the main concern — is the solemn charm of the art. The speaker whispers the word to the listeners. But the main concern is earnestness: that the listeners by themselves, with themselves, and to themselves, in the silence before God, may speak with the help of this address.

The address is not given for the speaker’s sake, in order that men may praise or blame him. The listener’s repetition of it is what is aimed at. If the speaker has the responsibility for what he whispers, then the listener has an equally great responsibility not to fall short in his task. In the theater, the play is staged before an audience who are called theatergoers; but at the devotional address, God himself is present. In the most earnest sense, God is the critical theatergoer, who looks on to see how the lines are spoken and how they are listened to: hence here the customary audience is wanting. The speaker is then the prompter, and the listener stands openly before God. The listener, if I may say so, is the actor, who in all truth acts before God.

Chapter 12: What Then Must I Do? The Listener’s Role in a Devotional Address

3 April

I had a dream last night that I was listening to Kierkegaard preaching in Trinity, Copenhagen. He preached part of a discourse I had recently read. And this is the line he spoke over and over:

I have come to no conclusions but that this really what this Lent is all about. When we are stripped of everything, even the liturgical meeting together, what then? Do you love Jesus more than all of that? When it comes to the very essence of Christianity – do I love my sin more than I love Jesus?