If we compare the two ways of knowing, it is easy to see that modern men and women need at least a balance between the vita activa and the vita contemplativa, the active and the contemplative life, if they are not to atrophy spiritually.
The pragmatic way of grasping things has very obvious limits, and beyond these limits the destruction of life begins. This does not apply only to our dealings with other people. It is true of our dealings with the natural environment too.
But the meditative way of understanding seems to be even more important when it is applied to our dealings with our own selves. People take flight into relationships, into social action and into political praxis, because they cannot endure what they themselves are.
They have ‘fallen out’ with themselves. So they cannot stand being alone. To be alone is torture. Silence is unendurable. Solitude is felt to be ‘social death’. Every disappointment becomes a torment which has to be avoided at all costs.
But the people who throw themselves into practical life because they cannot come to terms with themselves simply become a burden for other people. Social praxis and political involvement are not a remedy for the weakness of our own personalities.
Men and women who want to act on behalf of other people without having deepened their own understanding of themselves, without having built up their own capacity for sensitive loving, and without having found freedom toward themselves, will find nothing in themselves that they can give to anyone else.
Even presupposing good will and the lack of evil intentions, all they will be able to pass on is the infection of their own egoism, the aggression generated by their own anxieties, and the prejudices of their own ideology.
Anyone who wants to fill up his own hollowness by helping other people will simply spread the same hollowness. Why? Because people are far less influenced by what another person says and does than the activist would like to believe. They are much more influenced by what the other is, and his way of speaking and behaving.
Only the person who has found his own self can give himself. What else can he give? It is only the person who knows that he is accepted who can accept others without dominating them. The person who has become free in himself can liberate others and share their suffering.
~Jürgen Moltmann, Spirit of Life
The Bible is a really long text. For those who aren’t very familiar with it, it can seem meandering and disjointed.
For those who know it well, that idea couldn’t be farther from the truth. All throughout there is a driving theme, a theme that is expressed through two core archetype stories: the Exodus narrative in the Old Testament and the Resurrection in the New. Freedom from slavery and freedom from death.
Really, these aren’t different at all. In the Bible, death isn’t just about a physical body, it incorporates all sorts of different kinds of deaths. Sin itself is death, after all: the initiator of death and the instigator of death.
Sin is something we do and it is also something done to us. We become dealers in death, mostly in little ways, the thousands of cuts that undermine our self, undermine others, creating ripples in history itself.
The contrast to sin is holiness. And just as sin is death, holiness is life. It isn’t about hiding away or lashing out against any unseemly intrusions, as if the icon of a holy life is a crabby old man waving his cane at the kids running on his nicely manicured lawn.
By no means! Life is about a lot more than that.
God who is life and love and light brings light and love and life to this world that he made, and this is a resonating presence. We who are filled with the Spirit resonate this life and love and light wherever we go, inasmuch as we are walking with the Spirit.
The ways of this world are wily, however, and we are easily seduced from the calling of Christ into distractions or, worse, distortions of the life we have been given.
Instead of bringing freedom we become slavers. Instead of light, we bear shadows. Instead of love, we offer something else: rules, expectations, performance, obligations. We turn relationships into our little fiefdoms where we expect our will to be done and are filled with indignation when its not.
This is bad enough when we don’t claim the name of Christ, but when we do, rather than resonating hope of God’s life we resonate our anemic egos and call this Christ’s salvation. Which is so sad, because there’s no power in our blood!
In our attempts to navigate life on our terms we can respond a couple ways. We can ignore the real problems around us, intentionally or unintentionally. We put our faith into some distant moment and don’t let our faith be tested by trusting God in resolving present circumstances. We don’t help those around us or see current crises of justice or hurt as our problems to address.
On the others side, we become obsessed with the problems. We become impatient, unwilling to trust God’s faithfulness and think that God needs the methods of this world to bring the plan to completion.
Both these reflect a kind of end times millennialism too, but that’s a discussion for another week.
It is as if a building is on fire and people are trapped inside. On the one hand, we can look away, ignoring the suffering. On the other hand, we can run into the burning building just as we are, with no precautions. We probably won’t help and everyone will get burned in the process.
The way of life involves both the right goal and the right method, the commitment to help and committing to doing so in a way that is fruitful not just rushes into things.
God’s work among us invites us to see and act, to be peace-makers and bearers of living hope for the suffering. God’s work among us also invites us to a particular method of doing this, one that doesn’t sacrifice love for results or justify more oppressing. Death can’t save the dead. Only way way of life offers the methods that accomplishes the thorough goal of liberation that Scripture calls for throughout its many pages.
The Spirit is the Spirit of Life. Because of this, a real liberation requires a substantive theology of the Holy Spirit. In developing a pattern of liberation for our specific context, we must continually ask questions about the Spirit. Where is the Holy Spirit working? How is the Holy Spirit working?
Throughout Scripture, we find God’s particular presence—the Spirit—with people, filling them and in this filling enlivening them to accomplish specific tasks. In the New Testament, this Spirit is even more expansive, with Pentecost the story of the Spirit in each person, blessing, and using them in a new way.
Those who are free in Christ become named participants, no longer anonymous, sharing and receiving, freeing others and building others up in the particular way the Spirit gives them gifts.
This is the body of Christ, which comes together as a community in the name of Christ. The calling of the church is to be a focused fractal community of experienced liberation that reaches out into the world as each person lives in the new way of life of the Spirit.
We live the narrative of God together and we live out the narrative of God in the midst of the world systems, no longer anonymous and defined by their patterns.
We find coherence in the Spirit who integrates our lives according to God’s lordship over all creation. The Spirit remakes each context according to the Kingdom’s integrating and coherent values.
Because the Spirit is always particular—and the experience of the kingdom is a fractal experience of the small extending within and spreading out among the whole—the emphasis can never be focused on the general goals while negating any person.
That is a negating of the Spirit’s particularity. It is in the relationship of person to person that the most transformative experience of the Spirit takes place, because it is in each person that the Spirit chooses to dwell.
We are gathered together as persons into a unity, and this gathering is what transforms anonymity into identity. Oppression is diminished and eventually dissipates. Freedom rings. ~Patrick Oden, Hope for the Oppressor