Thursday, May 26, 2011

Thoughts on prayer, and a holistic approach to it

This is carrying off part of my ideas in the last entry, namely that spirituality, especially in the Christian tradition, necessitates a holistic approach. Ultimately, we as human beings, and especially human beings in the Western World, fall into two camps when it comes to the question of faith and spirituality--believers and non-believers (believers in the sense that you believe in SOMETHING, be it Christ, Buddha, Allah, YHVH, or Tom Koppel). For Christian believers, spirituality isn't treated as a holistic part of the life experience. It sits apart as something extra, something, like a plant, to water only when we remember, or only when we really, really need it.

The best way to feed spirituality and help it grow into something holistic, something that informs every part of your existence, is through prayer and meditation. In the Buddhist tradition, meditation is a part of the ritual. But this meditation has an objective focus on the self, and so can be seen (superficially to the outside observer) to have some kind of tangible benefit. Christian prayer and meditation, however, lacks this, and so it makes it hard for us to commit to feeding our spirituality daily. And often times, it leads us to paying only lip service to it.

The end result of this? The ego takes precedent over the spirit. Physical, mortal concerns become more important than immortal, spiritual concerns. "I attend Mass every week," or "I pray the 'Our Father' every night before bed." Yes, that's well and good, but how do you pray? And when you do, what are you asking for?

Christ said nobody can reach the Father except through [Him] (Christ). What does this mean? Most Christian dialogue on the topic says that you have to accept Him as your Messiah to be saved. Ok. But what does that mean? You have to accept that He is your personal Lord and Savior. Ok. But what does that mean? And on and on. When you get to the nitty gritty of it, what emerges is the understanding that accepting Christ into your life isn't just accepting His sanctifying grace. To accept Christ in your life, you have to make room for Him. And the only thing that He is willing to replace is the ego.

Catholicism gets a bad rap for its support of the monastic tradition because Paul said to live in the world. But these men and women have done better at suppressing the ego and making their entire lives about Christ than anyone else. The Trappists, in particular, have a stringent rule of prayer that wakes them every morning at 4 am to being praying the Liturgy of the Hours. They do this all day, saying a daily Mass in the mean time, going about their business in relative silence, praying when they do speak, and praying the final hour before retiring to bed. Pray without ceasing, and suppress the ego while you do it. With your mind focused on Christ, you don't have time to ask for the new job, the new car, more money, etc. You only have time to be praying and worshiping Christ.

Question: That's all well and good, but what about people who are genuinely struggling and they have no where else to turn?

Answer: Christ never told us to pray to Him for things we want. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Not the Want, the Whine, the Complaint. This may sound harsh, but listen closely and read along. The Way implies a one-way street. You go in one direction, you reach your destination. You go in the opposite direction, you will never find where you want to go. The Truth implies only one possible interpretation--the Truth. There is no wiggle room. There is no falsehood, there is no deviation. The Life is the vita, the essence of existence. What these three things have in common is necessity. Want and necessity are two very different things. I would love a new car. I would love the extra money to pay on student loans that I've fallen behind on. I would love to finish my college degree tomorrow. These three things are within Christ's power to give me. But He won't. And I won't ask Him for them. Why? I do not need a new car to live. My student loans not being paid? My paychecks might get withheld. Money is not necessary to my existence as a creature of God. My college degree? With or without it, I will still live.

What Christ wants us to pray for are the things that He is--necessity. Christ says that He is necessary in our lives like food and air. He is necessary for our spiritual fulfillment, which, once achieved, allows us to be happy with what we have, rather than what we want, and more willing to help those who do not have what they need. Man does not live on bread alone. If he feeds his ego, he will be forever hungry. If he suppresses his ego, he will be filled. That is the message here, and the guide to prayer.

Suppression of the ego and the part of ourselves that desires above all things to be constantly happy leads to a holistic application of the prayerful life, and the holistic appreciation of spirit. But this suppression begins the moment you begin to pray. The moment the words "Our Father..." or "Hail Mary..." or "Glory be..." leave your lips, the attitude is set. Are you focusing on your ego, or are you focusing on your spirit? Are you watering your mental need for stimulation? Or are you feeding the soul? Nobody can tell you how to achieve the latter. Everyone's spiritual, like their bodily, chemistry is different. In your journey, you will find what works for you to focus on the spirit and turn your attentions to Christ. But once you do, the transformative change experienced by historical mystics and used as the litmus test for the validity of mystical visions will begin to descend. And it is up to you to continue to water the seed that you have planted. It is up to you to pray without ceasing.

The hypostatic union equals....the Church?

Conversations are a wonderful way to delve into deep topics. They are also great at exposing deep-seated meaning that you wouldn't be able to reach if you were just musing on your own. One of these is the hypostatic union, and how it relates to the Catholic Church.

Bear with me. This is a highly mystical discussion. There won't be much reference to established Church doctrine, but rather, a simple appeal to the spiritual nature of our worship and beliefs.

The hypostatic union was defined at the Council of Chalcedon, affirming that Jesus Christ, as the personification of the Son of the Trinity, was one person with two equal, yet unique natures--that of being fully human and fully divine. This is pretty standard fare in modern Christendom, though you do come across a church now and again that holds a different view. Jehovah's Witnesses come to mind immediately, as is evident by their unique interpretation of the events at Calvary. But I digress.

The hypostatic union has long been a simple understanding of the nature of Christ as a being. Not just a person, but as a holistic being. And it has generally stopped there. It has impact on our understanding of certain miracles, how a divine creature could suffer a mortal death, what that means to salvation theology, etc. But the impact generally stops at the resurrection. Beyond that, it doesn't really matter. Or does it?

When Christ says "I name you Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it" (paraphrasing because I'm cool like that), what is he saying? The Catholic Church often uses this as a proof text for the validity of the Church's position as the One, Holy, Apostolic Church. The emphasis here is on the unbroken line of leadership from Peter to Pope Blessed John Paul II to His Holiness Benedict XVI. Its emphasis in this regard most often focuses on the physical church as an organization. What this interpretation says is "I name you Peter and upon this rock I will lay out the organization of my Church, and this organization will be eternal and overcome all obstacles." This is a very nice interpretation because, well, it fits Church history. We are still the largest Christian denomination in the world, and rival Islam in pure numbers. We've survived several schisms and the Reformation. But, what of differing viewpoints on this passage?

Those that hold to post-Reformation theology often times hold up a much different (radically different) interpretation. This is what they believe Jesus was saying: "I name you Peter and upon this rock I will convene my spiritual Body, and this spiritual Church will not be torn asunder, so that any who come to me will have no obstacles in reaching me." The emphasis here is on the spiritual nature of the Church in this passage. This is a very easy way to explain why Catholicism and Orthodoxy are wrong. They were corrupted by the time we have any extant writing. Therefore, down with Tradition, Sola Scriptura is the only way, and we are worshiping the way the Apostles did. Ergo, we are the True Church.

The problem with both of these approaches is that they deny the fundamental nature of Christ in the embodiment of His Church. One focuses on the physical (mortal) incarnation of the Church. The other focuses on the spiritual (divine) incarnation of the Church. But if Christ had two natures, then why does His Church only have one?

I posit that what He was actually saying was this: "I name you Peter and upon this rock I will build MY Church, and it will be imbued with spirit, and will be incorruptable, and overcome all obstacles, just as my body is incorruptable and capable of overcoming death."

See what I did there? Parallelism. Christ was establishing His Church to further His mission. If we accept the hypostatic union was dogmatic truth, His mission cannot be furthered by mortal man alone. Hence the sending of the paraclete, the Holy Spirit. Viewed in this light, Catholicism has a much stronger claim to being the True Church because, by her very nature, she shares in the hypostatic union of Christ. Being built by mortal hands and imbued from birth by the spirit, the Church is both of man and of God, mortal nature and divine nature existing coequally yet uniquely of each other.

When one begins to look at the various associations within Christianity in this way, the impact of the hypostatic union takes on a much greater degree of importance. It creates a holistic relationship between the mortal iniquity of human nature and the salvific grace of the Holy Spirit. And, by extension, Christianity becomes a holistic faith that epitomizes in all its aspects this fundamental question about the nature of Christ. It enriches our understanding of Christ and His mission and His Church. And just as Mary points the way to Christ, the hypostatic union points the way to Rome.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The apocalypse, and what it means to you

So 21 May, 2011 passed without a blip. I was rather disappointed because I was looking forward to not having to pay my student loans anymore. Then I thought, maybe the rapture DID happen, and we just didn't notice because the number of people raptured was so insignificantly small that it didn't even register on the local news? Then I thought, what if Westboro was raptured? A quick scan on the internet did not give me the news I wanted, so it looks like we'll be sharing this planet a little longer.

All this rapture talk got me thinking about some very personal things. My faith, my sexuality, my family, my friends, my plans for the future. How do they all intertwine? Obviously, they inform each other, and the family question has been a big motivator for my current choices. Moving back home, quitting my job. My faith? Well, it's becoming harder and harder for me to claim that I am a strictly orthodox Catholic. Certain aspects of myself and my views on the world I am finding irreconcilable with Catholic teachings on the same subjects. Reading up on the views of religious communities in communion with the Catholic Church has shown that Rome isn't as stringent in some of these views as we in the West would like to think. Of particular note are the Eastern Churches and their views on Mary.

In the Marovite Church (in Communion with Rome), as Christ is viewed as the incarnation of God the Son, Mary has been defined as the incarnation of God the Father. While she is not worshipped as a goddess or divinity co-equal to God, there is a level of adoration offered her that would dwarf the Marian devotions of the most devote Irish Catholic grandmother. The issue is that the RCC maintains that Mary was strictly mortal. Immaculately conceived, but mortal nonetheless. The Marovite definition, however, is akin to the Hindu concept of an avatar, the mortal incarnation of a god. Either God was incarnate as the Father in the person of Mary to bring Christ incarnate as the Son into the world or God was absent from the equation. Either Mary was divine or she wasn't. In the whole of Christendom, only three people are considered "immaculate" or "without sin", and these are God, Christ, and Mary. Two are divine. One isn't. One is formless. One is everywhere still portrayed hanging from the cross. And the other speaks directly to her devotees, giving them prophecies and visions.

If Mary has a litany all her own, made up of nearly a hundred titles, gave the King of Spain a vision wherein she was able to intercede on his behalf at his deathbed, has healed the sick, and foretold the end of the world, I would rather welcome the rapture with the Ave Maria on my lips than be surrounded by people holding hands and singing "Kum Ba Yah". Even if this is called heresy, my praises will be for a God that is the personification of love, a Messiah that is the fulfillment of love, and a woman who is the sole vessel of love.