October 20, 2017

Another Look: A Long Pause from Impermanence

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I hope no reader will suppose that “mere” Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions — as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.

• C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Part of the “post-evangelical wilderness” experience is a deep sense of longing to be at home.

Psalm 63 carries the heading, “A psalm of David, regarding a time when David was in the wilderness of Judah.” Wandering in the desert places left him hungry, thirsty, eager for a renewal of the vital experience of worship and fellowship he had known with his brethren in the Temple.

O God, you are my God;
I earnestly search for you.
My soul thirsts for you;
my whole body longs for you
in this parched and weary land
where there is no water.

I have seen you in your sanctuary
and gazed upon your power and glory. 

• Psalm 63:1-2 (NLT)

David longed for home. There’s no place like home.

As wonderful as “a personal relationship with Jesus” sounds to our individualistically-oriented ears, Scripture, tradition, history, and experience teach us that this relationship is most fully realized in the communion of saints.

When the family sits down at table together, the abundance of our Father’s provision becomes most apparent to us. At the table, our identity as family members is confirmed and reinforced. We take our part in the family story. We recall and celebrate unique experiences we’ve shared together. We laugh about our idiosyncracies and foibles. We discuss the broader world from a perspective that looks out from our front door. Here we praise and tease one another, and address family concerns. Here the memories of family members no longer with us are recalled. Here we welcome the newborns, the children, and baptize them into the family’s ways — we teach them the silly kids’ songs, tell them the old jokes and stories, and at some point show them the secret family handshake and codes and let them in on a few of the skeletons in the family closet. Here we welcome guests, translating our strange dialect into words they can understand and, hopefully, appreciate.

You simply can’t know these things in the same way when you’re on the move, sleeping in tents, having to pack up and travel to the next location all the time. There’s a certain charm to sitting around the campfire, but it’s the ephemeral thrill of the open road, the wanderer, the hobo. You feel the exhilaration of freedom for a time, but hauling water and firewood, sleeping on the ground, dealing with the weather, bugs, and strange sounds in the night, and setting up and breaking camp gets old after awhile.

The word the Bible uses to talk about Israel settling down in the Promised Land after forty years of wandering in the wilderness is instructive — rest. God gave them rest. It just felt downright good to sit a spell and put their feet up for awhile. However, as wonderful as that homecoming was, Hebrews 3-4 tells us they never really found complete rest, even in the good land. A settled home in this present world could never fully satisfy the hunger in their hearts for the city in the age to come. They looked for a city built by God himself, a permanent home of righteousness and peace, the home God creates through Christ for his forever family in a new creation.

Nevertheless, having a “home” here and now is also vital, as essential as it is for desert travelers to find an oasis, or better yet, a destination that provides some kind of long pause from impermanence.

Never was C.S. Lewis’s wisdom more evident than in the opening pages of Mere Christianity, when he spoke to this subject. You can talk about personal belief, a Christianity of essential truths that one embraces, a faith with which one, as an individual, agrees. You can set forth a “mere Christianity” that satisfies a seeker’s heart, mind, soul and spirit, and introduces him into a vital relationship with the true and living God.

“Mere Christianity” brings these believers into a great hallway in God’s magnificent mansion. You mingle there. You converse with others who have entered through the front door. You talk about how great it is that you have been invited and welcomed in. You praise the gracious hospitality of your Host. You are humbled at the generosity of the One who made it possible for you to have a home.

And then you notice that some are making their way into various rooms along the corridor. Peeking into one of these rooms, you see comfortable chairs, a crackling fire in the hearth, and a table spread with a feast. Not sure if you are invited in, you observe, and then go back into the hall.

After awhile, you begin to feel a bit uncomfortable. You’re running out of things to say to the others mingling there. You look around for a place to sit down, but there are no chairs. Your stomach growls, but your eyes spot no food being served. You wonder where you will sleep that night.

You’ve been welcomed in, and you’re thankful to be out of the cold and rain. You sigh; that’s better. A place of respite from the storm. A hallway where you can rest for a little while.

But it’s a hallway. And soon you are restless once more.

Comments

  1. The problem is, each of those rooms thinks it’s a mansion all to itself, and all but denies the existence of the hallway and the other rooms.

    Also , a lot of the rooms nearest to us are being run by nut jobs or pint-sized tyrants.

    • Stbndct says:

      The point is that you find your room. Let God worry about the other rooms and the hallway.

      • turnsalso says:

        +1

      • Robert F says:

        What if the room you find is a vacant one, and you decide to make it “a room of one’s own”? Is this not also a faithful option for Christians in our modern world?

        • I think a room of one’s own can be a temporary place of rest and healing, as well as a way to detox from unhealthy religious habits and mindsets. I would, however, be cautious about staying there too long. Isolation can be a dangerous place, especially when it comes to the way we think about ourselves and others. One thing I’ve found in my own life is that if I go for long periods of time without making meaningful connections with other people, the harder it gets to break the ice and make those connections when the opportunity arises. And then what began as chosen isolation becomes a prison I can’t seem to break out of on my own.
          Sure, take a break in a vacant room if you need to, but make yourself get out and mingle in the hall or even visit other rooms now and then. Then you can go back to your private room and evaluate and meditate on those visiting experiences without any outside pressures. A vacant room can also be a great place to get quiet and hear from God about where He would have you hang your hat.

          • Robert F says:

            I appreciate your caveats about the value of a room of one’s own. But I wasn’t exactly talking about complete isolation. I really meant that it may be possible, in our time and place, that some/many Christians will not find or seek community in traditional religious affiliation, in churches, but outside in non-church communities, and that Jesus will meet them in those places. In that case, the non-religious community would be “a room of one’s own” for that Christian, unaffiliated with any church, but not alone.

          • Sorry, Robert, if I misunderstood what you were trying to say.
            But sure, I totally agree that Jesus meets us and even sometimes places us outside “official” church environments. And while many may disagree, I believe that when even two or three are gathering in His name, that is church in it’s most basic form. The rest is just buildings, bells, and whistles.

        • Burro [Mule] says:

          It might be a place of great comfort indeed, but not a place where one would want to entertain guests.

          • Robert F says:

            Probably true. Perhaps it would be best to have both a place of institutional/ecclessial belonging, a church, and a room of one’s own. Optimal perhaps, but we seem to live in an time and place where life journeys through landscapes of religious de-insitutionalization are becoming the norm for more and more people, more and more Christians. They do not see themselves as being on a path from one religious institution to another; and many of them don’t have any sense of loss from their disaffiliation.

            Burro: All has gone well with my wife’s surgery and its aftermath so far. The prognosis is good, though we have yet to wait 2 weeks for completed biopsy. She is home now, and doing well. Thank you for your prayers.

          • Burro [Mule] says:

            I am glad to hear that. I will continue to pray for her full recovery.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          A lot of “Dones” have taken this route.

          Just keep in mind the danger of going down the A.W.Pink road and becoming the “One True Church of One”, i.e. a one-man CULT with NO Reality Checks.

          There’s a reason the Desert Fathers shifted from solitary hermits to collective monasteries; having other monks around helped keep them grounded in reality.

      • Agreed. Find your room; let others find theirs.

    • Bluesurly says:

      +1. In a similar vein I was thinking, those are the rooms where all the hurt and disfunction take place. And to avoid pretense one should just sit in the hall. But yes, there is that longing for a place to really rest.

      • Robert F says:

        Many have opted for “a room of one’s own”; especially in our times, in our society. The numbers grow every year. Hence the continuing growth of the “nones” and “sones”, even among those who have faith in Jesus. There are more than a few here at iMonk. This sort of emigration from institutional Christianity is not incompatible with faith in Jesus; for many, it may be more faithful to disaffiliate than to remain or become affiliated.

        • No “Reply” button on your earlier post, Robert, so let me say here I’m very glad about your wife’s good outcome so far. It must be a tremendous relief for both of you to have that surgery behind you. God bless you both.

  2. Robert F says:

    ….not “sones”, but “dones”…

  3. Christiane says:

    are we talking about resting in our ‘comfort zones’ or are we talking about ‘going home’ in the sense of our final home in a place beyond this Earth ?

    I suppose the only real ‘rest’ in this life is found within the peace of Christ. It’s not a ‘place’ so much as being given a sample of what the disciples must have experienced when Our Lord calmed the storm with a word . . .

    • Robert F says:

      Yes, Christiane. One may stay in place, and still be on a lifelong inner journey away from where one is, in terms of religious (and other) institutional belonging. The locations and institutions themselves are impermanent, and in flux. I look at my own Episcopal Church, where that’s quite evident; but I think it’s also true of even the oldest and most traditional forms of Christianity. The average believer of the 11th century, for instance, would find many aspects of the modern Roman Catholic Church very strange and alien and unfamiliar. The mansion with all its rooms, after all, exists in a world of ceaseless motion; the mansion and its rooms are also in transit, both inside and out.

  4. Robert F says:

    If you look at the life of Thomas Merton, you see someone who chose a specific room, the Roman Catholic Church, and stayed in it. But he also was in many ways an inner emigre, on a journey through the wilderness and alienated from many aspects of Catholicism, both as an institution and within the walls of his monastic home.

    This is evidenced by two things: His movement into the life of a hermit, which his abbot resisted for a long time, and only acceded to after Merton wore him down by constant insistence, and by resorting to the extra-monastic influences to which Merton, as a literary figure and voluminous correspondent, had access; and, in tandem with his movement into the hermitage, his re-centering of his own personal religious identity from within a Roman Catholic monastic enclosure to the wider world community of inter-religious monasticism. It culminated in his travels to the east, and can be seen most clearly in his Asian Journal.

    He stayed in the room, but found a wilderness there as well, one through which he traveled toward a religious home with boundaries far wider than those of the room itself. He was still in transit through that wilderness when he died prematurely.

  5. I would say that we are in an altered version of Lewis’ society at this point, what with places like Imonk that didn’t exist at the time and the greater transitoriness (if that’s a word) of society generally. Nonetheless, the human being is fundamentally a social being and will always need a social context within which to become fully human. Jesus made room for as little as two when he said, “Wherever two or three are gathered…..” Alone altogether it is impossible to be Christian because by definition it is about giving and the flow of love outward. We are members individually of a body and a toe can’t exist unto itself without a foot so some form of connection in some ‘room’ or another is essential in the long term.

    • Robert F says:

      I get what you’re saying, but if the “wherever two or three are gathered” pertains, are my wife and I by ourselves a sufficient community?

      • >> . . . are my wife and I by ourselves a sufficient community?

        Sufficient when intentional to the extent that the rest of the saying occurs, there am I in the midst of them, and thus a church as Jesus seemed to have thought of it, as opposed to a building where you conduct religious ritual in company with those whose mental assent to intellectual philosophizing about God is close enough to yours to let you sit down at the same table.

        Where I am starting to bristle in this conversation is the implication starting to creep in that you have to have at least two people in order for Jesus to show up, not from you, Robert. I say, yeah, tell it to Tom Merton.

        • Robert F says:

          For the record: If I believed that in order for Jesus to show up you need at least two people physically present and agreeing in all things on doctrine or practice, I would find another religion, or none at all. I agree with you entirely, Charles.

        • My only thought about Merton is that you have one of the various special callings in play there. I think we are talking about the rest of us schleps. We are not all going to be doing what he was called to. The body doesn’t need that many eyes. Now you may be called to a similar hermitage of sorts and then by all means but for me who cherishes and guards my solitude I have to be reminded to open up and let it flow. Alone in the wilderness with no base is not a permanent condition and not an option, much as I might enjoy it. I suppose it’s a matter of knowing your calling and finding a willing heart. I’m very minimally active do I’m talking to myself here.

          • Robert F says:

            My point is not that Merton was completely alone, only that his belonging and being-with-others did not align with any strictly institutional definition, or the boundaries of any one room. In his latter years, he came to believe that monks of many different religions had experiences, perspectives and understandings that overlapped in essential ways, and that much of his own religious and personal identity existed in this overlap, while at the same time remaining essentially Christian.

            I don’t think that requires that we posit a special calling, which he and a few other have, but the rest of us don’t; I think, increasingly, more of us are having analogous experiences in our own lives, though we are not monks or nuns. We are being exposed to the practices and orientations of other religions and traditions, and we are seeing the validity of them. Perhaps his life was prophetic in this, a forerunner, along with a few others, of what large numbers of people have started to experience.

          • Great point Roberre.

      • I don’t see how you’re wife and you couldn’t be. You need at least one to be able to follow the two great commandments.

        • Of course more than one is cause for more love to share but we are not on a quota system and nobody is counting.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            Though it is not good to be completely alone for long.

            Remember our Godhead is a Trinity, three Persons interacting in a relationship with each other. Most other monotheisms are just that, ONE God all alone.

          • >> . . . we are not on a quota system and nobody is counting.

            Uh, are we talking about more than one wife here?

    • I agree. And I would add that if giving, self-sacrificing love is both the center of God’s character and our call as Christ-followers, then some kind of social context is indeed essential for us to grow in Christ and achieve the purposes and good works God has planted inside us. A body of water without both a source of inflow and outflow will soon become stagnant and undrinkable. I believe God designed us as cups to be both filled and emptied out for others.
      On the other hand, I don’t think this necessarily has to happen inside an official church or religious context. Two or three can gather in His name pretty much anywhere and at any time — even out in the hall. Maybe that’s how new rooms get started.

  6. Robert F says:

    loneliness suffering death

    baptism by fire

    from a hospital window
    I look out over the city

    rooftops and traffic,
    pedestrians, churches
    houses, office-buildings

    a world of ceaseless becoming,
    striving, motion, breathing

    an endless procession of bodies
    and words

    that somehow whisper to me,

    all things are transformed by love

    the sound of sirens

  7. Robert F says:

    Flowering dogwood–
    white petals shimmer in the
    late afternoon breeze.

    • Dana Ames says:

      Our dogwoods haven’t opened yet; most of them in our town are the pink variety, and owe their propagation to an elderly gentleman, now departed, who gave cuttings to any and all who asked for them.

      Glad the news is good for your wife, Robert. We will continue to hold you both in thought and prayer.

      Dana

  8. Michael Bell says:

    Each door leading out from the hall is posted with a sign “Here are the terms and conditions for entering and becoming one of us.” And you turn away saddened wondering where the room is that welcomes all followers of Jesus.