A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Spiritual Experience

Sometimes the desire to have a spiritual experience is the best way not to have one.

It's possible to force the matter and lose the Spirit by grasping.

9 comments:

ktismatics said...

Does this rather pessimistic epigram capture your reflections on a recent disappointing experience along these lines, Erdman?

Jonathan Erdman said...

No. Not a specific experience.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I didn't necessarily look at it as though it were pessimistic. Just that sometimes within spiritual and religious communities/groups/movements there can develop the view that spiritual experiences can be called upon with formulaic methods: Do this/Don't do that and you will have yourself an excellent spiritual experience. But that misses the point, I think.

Emily said...

I can agree. If you try to recreate something that was good, it just doesn't work. If you happen to do something similar to the previous w/out trying to recreate the exact formula, then that's another thing.

Think Groundhog Day w/ Bill Murray.

ktismatics said...

"the view that spiritual experiences can be called upon with formulaic methods: Do this/Don't do that and you will have yourself an excellent spiritual experience."

The keyword here is "method": that's what distinguished the Methodists from everyone who came before them. The Methodists developed demonstrably successful methods of preaching, revival, sanctification, etc. and propagated these methods widely through training and demonstration. America may have been founded by fatalistic Puritans who waited for God to act as He saw fit, but it was the Methodists who brought religion to the heartland.

Methodism fits perfectly with the American pragmatic can-do attitude. It also fits perfectly with industrialization, with the systematic organization of labor in order to produce consumer goods as efficiently as possible. I suspect that most contemporary American religion is Methodist in style if not in name.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics: Methodism fits perfectly with the American pragmatic can-do attitude. It also fits perfectly with industrialization, with the systematic organization of labor in order to produce consumer goods as efficiently as possible. I suspect that most contemporary American religion is Methodist in style if not in name.

I would suggest that you are correct, but I would also argue for a strong Puritan influence on spirituality, as well. The Puritan spirit centered on law, duty, order, and structure: children were to obey their parents, the wife's role in the home and submission to husband were clear, and the husband's duty to work hard within the community and lead as a master and example for his family.

Religiously, music and other ornaments were discouraged, if not forbidden. Bible reading was central to godliness. Purity of actions and motives was of the utmost importance. So, it follows that if one does one's duty with a pure heart--reading the Scriptures, saying one's prayers, and doing one's duty to family/society/church--well, it just follows that God's grace is upon one's life.

So, perhaps American Christianity is something of a Puritan/Methodist hybrid: the Puritan spirit placing an emphasis on law/duty, while the Methodist emphasizing method. Regardless of whether God's favor came after the method (Methodists) or God's grace empowered the life of law/duty from the start (Puritan), the point is still the same: spirituality can be objectively pursued (Methodist) or measured (Puritan).

Methodist influence: If you don't follow method, then you don't get spirituality.
Puritan influence: If you aren't in church, reading Bible, living your role in society, then you don't have spirituality.

Both strains look for something tangible. Both views try to capture and quantify spirituality. Contemporary Christianity strikes me as a hybrid of these views. But all of Christendom in America can rise up in horror at the thought of not having a method or measurement for spirituality. Hence the threat of so-called postmodern Christian perspectives with their disinterest in method and/or measurement.

In my opinon, these two poles (method and measurement) represent one of the primary control mechanisms of the religious institution. Spirituality must either have a method and/or a measurement. I reject both as anti Christ.

ktismatics said...

Good point about the public rigors of Puritanism. Maybe you need to follow Parody Center's and Frank Schaeffer's lead and go Eastern Orthodox? Hard to imagine though: what with the incense and the icons and the vestments it seems even more Catholic than Catholic. It is more contemplative and mystical and artsy than Protestantism though.

Melody said...

In my opinon, these two poles (method and measurement) represent one of the primary control mechanisms of the religious institution. Spirituality must either have a method and/or a measurement. I reject both as anti Christ.

Where do you draw the line between that and James 2:14-26? Clearly James thinks spirituality is tangible in some sense.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Hey Melody,

Good passage. Let cite it here, just for kicks:

14What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

I am just kind of doubting that James had in mind the sort of popular forms of Puritanism and/or Methodism that reduce faith to a formula. It's kind of like Paul in Galatians 5, if I can paraphrase verse 19: "Dude, like, the works of the flesh are...like....obvious."

Religions usually try to spell faith out into a formula because that's what is easier for people to get ahold of. And I think it is great to take the tone of James and/or Paul and say, "Look, don't say you have faith if your life doesn't put it into action." But if faith doesn't contain some ambiguity then it can cease to become an expression of worship; that is, it is no longer a result of a connection/union with God's Spirit; instead, it becomes a Pharisaic thing where we clean the outside of the cup and wash the tombs white: on the inside we are spiritually rotten, while on the outside we can shine and sparkle.

This discussion, I think, takes us back to the difference between using the law to beat the flesh or rising above law-flesh into a new sphere of freedom-spirit (again, Galatians 5).