Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Fall of Isolation

Fyodor Doestoyevsky in The Brothers Karamazov:
"Believe me, this dream, as you call it, will come to pass without doubt; it will come, but not now, for every process has its law. It's a spiritual, psychological process. To transform the world, to recreate it afresh, men must turn into another path psychologically. Until you have become really, in actual fact, a brother to every one, brotherhood will not come to pass. No sort of scientific teaching, no kind of common interest, will ever teach men to share property and privileges with equal consideration for all. Every one will think his share too small and they will always be envying, complaining and attacking one another. You ask when it will come to pass; it will come to pass, but first we have to go through the period of isolation... the isolation that prevails everywhere, above all in our age - it has not fully developed, it has not reached its limit yet. For every one strives to keep his individuality as apart as possible, wishes to secure the greatest possible fullness of life for himself; but meantime all his efforts result not in attaining fullness of life but self-destruction, for instead of self-realisation he ends by arriving at complete solitude. All mankind in our age have split up into units, they all keep apart, each in his own groove; each one holds aloof, hides himself and hides what he has, from the rest, and he ends by being repelled by others and repelling them. He heaps up riches by himself and thinks, 'how strong I am now and how secure,' and in his madness he does not understand that the more he heaps up, the more he sinks into self-destructive impotence. For he is accustomed to rely upon himself alone and to cut himself off from the whole; he has trained himself not to believe in the help of others, in men and in humanity, and only trembles for fear he should lose his money and the privileges he has won for himself. Everywhere in these days men have, in their mockery, ceased to understand that the true security is to be found in social solidarity rather than in isolated individual effort. But this terrible individualism must inevitably have an end, and all will suddenly understand how unnaturally they are separated from one another. It will be the spirit of the time, and people will marvel that they have sat so long in darkness without seeing the light. And then the sign of the Son of Man will be seen in the heavens... But, until then, we must keep the banner flying. Sometimes even if he has to do it alone, and his conduct seems to be crazy, a man must set an example, and so draw men's souls out of their solitude, and spur them to some act of brotherly love, that the great idea may not die."

I could not have said it better myself.

I have talked directly about the neurological basis for connectedness and touched on the need for community to combat suffering. But in the back of my mind as I write many of these blogs has been the awareness that we humans are called to be a body made up of individual parts. It is only when we recognize our deep need for one another that we find any real strength.

One of the only remaining reminders that we have a need for one another is the institution of marriage, which has decayed over the last 50 years. It seems we have forgotten one another. But we need one another deeply. I could plead with you on this point but it would be wasted unless you have experienced community yourself - or at least experienced the dreadful despair of isolation, which is the root of man's powerlessness. But there will come a day when that "time of isolation" will pass and we will once again be united. May we try to find that unity now.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

On Journaling

Some Christians scoff at the idea of journaling. Or maybe I should just say it: I used to scoff at the idea. But over the last year I have gained a lot as a result of writing. And I used to think that journaling wouldn't do anything for me. But a friend of mine told me how he faithfully journaled and I decided to try it out. If I ever have something that I am angry about and I decide to write down the areas where I'm wrong - let's just say it's a humbling experience.

But what makes journaling an effective way to grow in faith? First of all, I believe that writing down your ideas firms them up. When you write something down you have to think a little bit more and make sure it makes sense. Secondly, when you write something down - it's there as a fact. Unlike thoughts and prayers that might pop in your head then you quickly forgot what you thought, your words on paper are recorded and not so easily forgotten. Thirdly, when you write something down it is easier to realize how ridiculous it is. You gain objectivity when you write.

So there it is. Journaling firms up your ideas, records them so they won't be lost, and allows your thoughts to be judged more clearly. Plus I just feel like I care about my spiritual growth more when I journal so maybe it's partially just a morale boost. But that's not to say it can't be done wrong. In fact, I've looked at my journal from childhood and let's just say it is a little bit disturbing. But instead of telling you what not to do, here are my quick tips on what to do.

Quick tips to improve your journaling:
* write about God but admit when you doubt his presence or his goodness
* write about your anger but focus on where you are wrong
* write about your fears but focus on why you are afraid
* write about your sins but don't focus on making yourself feel bad over it
* write about your passions but acknowledge God's sovereignity and will
* draw
* write poetry
* if you don't know what to write then just write that

I don't write everyday. I usually write just when something is wrong (usually that something wrong is me). But writing typically makes me feel better. And while blogs can be a good place for me to develop my thoughts, I really grow as a person when I journal privately and allow myself greater freedom to express myself. So I suggest that you try journaling the next time you feel bothered or afraid or excited... you might just find it to be a time where you can grow.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Restfulness is Godliness

The Protestant work ethic has permeated Christian thought for the last half millenium. The Christian believer ought to be a hard worker and responsible with finances. And the same ethic has been applied to spirituality. With reading the Bible daily, attending church every Sunday, going to Bible studies, having an active prayer life, and - not to forget - performing good works, we have come to an age where spirituality is busyness.

But what about the principle behind the Sabbath? God dictated that we rest. To keep the Sabbath holy we were to abstain from all work. Holiness = rest??? In today's Christian culture we can hardly believe such a thing. We practice the spiritual disciplines and we "beat" our spiritual bodies. Holiness is a tough, grueling process.

As you can probably tell by the fact that I am pursuing a doctoral degree, I'm pretty driven. But I still have bouts of laziness and procrastination. I believe that these times are partly a result of not taking adequate rest when I need to. Then by the time I am in a crunch I am too worn out to do my work.

So here's Curt's solutions to living a restful lifestyle, which I found is more than just not doing work:
* Watch less T.V.
* Spend time doing interesting leisure reading
* Take 15 minutes out of your day for silent meditation
* Do something that feels adventurous or exciting
* Get 8-9 hours of sleep
* Save time for attending church
* Limit your works of service to only those which excite you (but do works of service)
* Go for a walk
* Take a nap
* Spend time talking with a friend in person or by phone (and don't just complain about how hectic your life is)
* Have a quiet time with God

If you practice these I believe you will feel more rested and that you will be more suited to live a holy lifestyle. God desires that we enter into his holy rest. So let us surrender our constant busyness and take time out for leisure. We will have more to offer others if we ourselves are full.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Body and Christianity

The body has traditionally been excluded from theological dialog. Perhaps as a result of Gnosticism, Christian embodiment became almost a hindrance to the faith. The body was a barrier to true spirituality. We worship God almost exclusively with our minds.

I wish that, in my daily life, I could know better how to worship God in different ways. I have recently contemplated integrating religious icons and pictures into my devotionals as a means of being less of a text-limited Christian. I crave something new spiritually and I want it in a form that affects my senses.

During college I ran the 400 and 800 meters for the track and field team. I was also involved in a group called Athletes in Action, which is a Christian student organization for athletes. During that time I learned a lot about how I can worship God as I run. For me running could become a deeply spiritual act because I could visualize Jesus cheering me on (I know it may sound cheesy). But I took my mental beliefs - like God loves me no matter how well I perform - and applied it to my running.

Paul wrote in Romans 12:1, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship." We are clearly meant to embody our spirituality. What does that mean in terms of what posture we should take when we pray? What about when we sing? Can we bring God into our most physical acts - like exercise, eating, or sex? I believe that faith in God should change how we should live and act in this world.