Sunday, January 20, 2013

the church that you want...,

digilander | Combined, the virtue of both the dianoia and nous is called "theoria," that is, contemplation. But a better description is the vision of God. In another respect, the combined dianoetic and noetic perfection of phronesis in the service of conscience is sophia. Sophia or wisdom is the perfection of know-how in being a member of the Church or it is the intrapersonal perfection of our synergistically skilled participation in interpersonal communion. Thus, sophia is the graced skill of communing in a way that conscience is perfectly actualized and fulfilled as skilled agape. But perhaps the most descriptive term for the nature of specifically Christian contemplation is gnosis. The term gnosis emphasizes the intimate personal familiarity (including direct self-knowledge in the form of immediate and inwardly honest clear self-experiencing) we have of persons in their singular uniqueness (their haecceitas, according to Duns Scotus, who, after the 1277 Condemnations against trends that went too far towards re-paganizing Christian theology which the Roman Catholic Religious Organization [RCRO] did not reverse, such as found in Aquinas, sought to restore the earlier western view shared with the east that beyond and higher than the cognitio abstractiva in the service of scientia (the Greek episteme) was an intimate cognitio singularis or simplex intuitiva (the Greek gnosis) of persons in their singular uniqueness). In the LXX, it is the term used for sexual intercourse as when Adam "knew" Eve in Genesis. Through phronesis and sophia, but also most importantly, through agape or love, which is the perfection of conscience (syneidesis), gnosis is born. Because God is Trinity and reality is ultimately and inescapably interpersonal relationships, gnosis is thereby higher than episteme or science which deals with natural types and kinds. Episteme used to be the high contemplative ideal in ancient Greek philosophy which did not recognize persons in their individual singularity as an ultimate or hypostatic reality over impersonal nature (physis) even if this impersonal nature was the unknown God or Unmoved Mover.

In contrast to not only Buddhism and Yoga but also to all forms of western Christianity, Orthodoxy teaches that the hypostasis of the Father, a person, is the personal source of the Son and Spirit, and thus, is the source of the divine nature (physis) and essence (ousia). Personhood trumps nature even if it is divine nature. By contrast, except for Bonaventure who insisted on the monarchia of the person of the Father as the source of the divine being, the west never understood the importance of this point, as Augustine admits, and thus, western trinitarian theology typically begins, paganistically and mistakenly, with the divine ousia.

Because our destiny is to partake, as the Church, in the divine trinitarian life after its Likeness, the entire substance of the spiritual life of the Christian is relationships. It is all about improving the quality of how well you relate to others: God or neighbor. There is no quality of relationship to God that is not intrinsically tied to the quality of how well one relates to the least of these your neighbors. Prayer is relationship. In sharp contrast to Buddhist, Yogic, or pagan Greek forms of contemplation (theoria), Orthodox contemplation is gnosis because it is personal relationship. There is no advance in prayer that is not an advance in how one is in relationships. If there is a block in the prayer life, the same block is there in your relationships.

One might almost want to say the self-emptying quality of the Incarnation or its kenosis applies to the mystical life. While for us God should be our highest priority, perhaps we are safe to say that in the prayer life God isn't his first or highest priority in his relation to us. Rather, "being in the form of God, [he] did not consider it something to be held onto, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men (Philippians 2: 6-7) so that he places Himself on an equal level with our neighbors. That is, He doesn't, so to speak, push His way through the crowd we neglect and ignore in order to insist that He be known to us before others. Rather, we have no relation to Him that is not made contingent by Him upon our relation to others. Or, think of the some of the sentences of the Lord's Prayer as formulas within which other variables can be plugged in, so instead of "forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us" we might substitute "relate to us as we relate to others." Again, a block in the quality of the prayer life is a block in how we relate to others.

So, instead of merging "alone into the supreme Alone" after having transcended the allegedly merely personal and merely ethical sphere, as the famous pagan RCRO pseudo-Meister Eckhart (student of Aquinas) put it, Hesychast spirituality is the transfiguration and deification of our society and fellowship with persons - whether divine or fellow creature. In Hesychasm, there is no transcendence of or leaving behind or leave-taking of the ethical, interpersonal, or personal sphere for some state allegedly "beyond good and evil." Since reality is inescapably interpersonal, ethical virtue is the very point and goal of the spiritual life of the Christian. There is a Jewish saying, "if you want to end with God, you have to begin with God. And inconveniently, God gives you people." The same principle applies to why ethics is a preliminary practice in Christian spirituality. Given a trinitarian God, ethics is the beginning of the spiritual life because it is the very substance and goal of the spiritual life.

This is what makes the Jesus Prayer different from a mantra (contrary to a whole list of Jesuit publications). Like a mantra, it does indeed still, calm, and focus the mind's noetic power of wakeful attentiveness. But, according to the niptic Fathers in the Philokalia, the Jesus Prayer only works correctly and serves the intended purpose if and only if conducted within the context of an ethical askesis and participation in the life of the Church. Its whole point is to awaken our deeper ethical and interpersonal responsiveness to others within the Communion of Saints. The essence of the various forms of dianoetic and noetic training found in the Hesychast tradition, the whole Hesychast pharmacopeia, so to speak, is encapsulated within the Jesus Prayer as one pill that does not require the careful and expert supervision of a great staretz that the other forms do.

Unlike a mantra, the Jesus Prayer expresses a personal plea. Not only that, it is a personal plea for mercy. Mercy for what? Mercy because like the servant who owed and was forgiven the great debt of 10,000 Talents, we fail to forgive as we have been forgiven, to love as we have been loved, and because we otherwise fail in our relationships. The Jesus Prayer captures all the poignancy of our situation. Sin is missing the point. The awakening and focussing point of the Jesus Prayer is our relationships to each other, whether God or neighbor. Whether you are curious about, or have encountered, or have to study in college the various mystical, meditative, yoga, or contemplative traditions, or whether you are preparing for missions in places where these traditions thrive in their authentic form and not in some watered-down American New Age form, don't let their apparent similarities fool you into missing the point of Hesychast spirituality.


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