Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ask a Pastor: Can I be close to God on my own?

Someone sent me this question and answer set to see what I agreed with or disagreed with. Since I spent my evening writing time replying to this email, I thought I'd repost here since one of my Lenten obligations is to tend to my neglected blog. Mileage! PLEASE post any comments you have! I wanna hear from you!

Ask a Pastor: Can I be close to God on my own?

Q. I feel most spiritual and closest to God when I am alone. Doesn’t a church seem second-rate to being truly spiritual?

A. In this way of thinking, to spiritualize something is to remove it from its historical moment and seize upon a supposed essence. For example, ancient Israel was able to extract the essence of the worship of God in Jerusalem and create rival high places.

In the same way, we can absent ourselves from the material traditions and lay claim to some imagined spiritual core or essence. For example, if we spiritualize the Lord’s Supper (communion), we can make the case that we don’t need the physical bread and wine since we feast with Christ metaphorically. And if we spiritualize a step further, we can be freed from the physical church completely and still keep our personal spirituality perfectly intact — believing that the spiritualized version is the most real and is best when it is divorced from the material. Indeed, the material impedes the spiritual in this way of thinking, and to be truly spiritual one should escape from all outward forms of Christianity by leaving Jerusalem, as it were, and seeking the personal high places.

Following this line of reasoning, anything that seems like structure is too close to being material and must be eschewed. Membership rolls are physical lists and therefore must be viewed with spiritual suspicion. Pastors are seen as those who ruin any chance for the democratization of religious acts. Their ordination is a physical act, and causes distinctions and excludes others who are not ordained; ordination becomes viewed as that which bespeaks material structure which itself is the age-old enemy to true spirituality. Authority is seen as confining, like the old Jerusalem being the ordained place of worship, and must be rejected. The essential idea of Jerusalem must be freed from any relationship that involves locality or ordination.

But note well, when Jesus came he did not overturn material forms of Israel and Jerusalem because he a had preference for non-material and non-institutional religion. In contrast to private spiritual high places, Jesus came and established his church, the temple-abode of the Spirit of God. Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” When Peter answered, “Yes, Lord”, Jesus told him to prove it by loving the church (the place of the Spirit). Jesus spoke of something real. The church is a physical reality that is the physical congregation of the Lord. Many movements are afoot which would compel us to repudiate the abode of God as if it were anti-spiritual. But God has made the church, and she is real, and she is well formed. The church is good for us; God has called his people to draw close to him by drawing close to his church, for that is where he resides by his Spirit.

– Steve Rives, Pastor, Eastside Church of the Cross

MY REPLY:

Can I be close to God on my own?
Short version: "You could, but you might not get that close." --- the answer I'd give if it was Ask Erika.
See inserted comments for more details
:

Ask a Pastor: Can I be close to God on my own?

Q. I feel most spiritual and closest to God when I am alone. Doesn’t a church seem second-rate to being truly spiritual?

Usually I think this question is asked when someone doesn't want a moral authority other than themselves...

A. In this way of thinking, to spiritualize something is to remove it from its historical moment and seize upon a supposed essence. For example, ancient Israel was able to extract the essence of the worship of God in Jerusalem and create rival high places.

Whaaa? Maybe the writer knows his audience better than I do, but it doesn't seem a very straightforward way of beginning to answer the question. I'd more likely start with "human persons are both spiritual and material, unlike angels who are just spiritual and animals who are just material."

In the same way, we can absent ourselves from the material traditions and lay claim to some imagined spiritual core or essence. For example, if we spiritualize the Lord’s Supper (communion), we can make the case that we don’t need the physical bread and wine since we feast with Christ metaphorically.

Maybe it's hard for me to imagine what he's saying since I hear these terms in such Catholic ways. On a daily basis, a [engaged] Catholic is supposed to make an Act of Spiritual Communion if he cannot attend daily Mass in person, (Sunday Mass is obligatory.) These set of prayers unite us to Christ and to our brothers and sisters who are at Mass, receiving the Word of God, and partaking of His body and blood all around the world. So the spiritual connection is good, but a spiritual together with the material connection is best.

And if we spiritualize a step further, we can be freed from the physical church completely and still keep our personal spirituality perfectly intact — believing that the spiritualized version is the most real and is best when it is divorced from the material.

I hope he is just restating what he thinks the question is supposing and doesn't believe it himself... Being divorced from the material would be anti-reality... but again,it depends on how one uses the word... "flesh" in the sense of created matter is a good. Et Verbum caro factum est "And the Word became flesh." Now, the flesh has weaknesses that have to be guarded against, but then again so does the spirit. I often think that one has to master his physical being before he can begin interior work. Anyways, this may be a denominational difference, as Protestantism historically sees the flesh as irredeemable, (think 'snow-covered dung,') whereas orthodox Catholic thought says the flesh is good, important, and weak doesn't mean bad-- just reliant on God! Also in orthodox Catholicism (I say orthodox be/c there are some crazies out there, but luckily for us we have canonical resource...) the focus isn't so much on heaven, but on the New Earth, the general Resurrection. Which, of course, we will be united in our bodies--- if they were not of consequence, the good Lord would just have us stay in Heaven forever.

Indeed, the material impedes the spiritual in this way of thinking, and to be truly spiritual one should escape from all outward forms of Christianity by leaving Jerusalem, as it were, and seeking the personal high places.

Again, the material can impede the spiritual but it can also make it much stronger. Jesus hardly ever performed any miracles or sacraments without a material aid. Mud, water, wine, fish, bread, cloth, human body-- he surely could have done without them, but I think he knew that being who we were, or were created to be, these things would make a difference once He had glorified them.

Following this line of reasoning, anything that seems like structure is too close to being material and must be eschewed.

Hahaha! Mama needs some structure! And the God of order, science, and law loves him some structure, too. I think this disdain for structure is an adolescent or American perspective that, unfortunately, does a disservice. Structure = effective. Now, some people can focus on structure to the detriment of authentic Christianity; but then it becomes something like money or sex--- when you take it out of context, a good becomes misused.

Membership rolls are physical lists and therefore must be viewed with spiritual suspicion.

??

Pastors are seen as those who ruin any chance for the democratization of religious acts.

Whomever thinks this has some issues with their father that they need to work out. J/K, but really, again, this perspective is really hard for me to relate to.

Their ordination is a physical act, and causes distinctions and excludes others who are not ordained; ordination becomes viewed as that which bespeaks material structure which itself is the age-old enemy to true spirituality.

Again, Jesus laid hands on his Apostles, which they in turn did, and down on the line to make priests and bishops. Catholics believe that the Laying of Hands and the oils, etc in the ordination process change the essential nature of the man to a priest. It is an indelible change. Being excluded from this process doesn't mean you have less value or dignity, but not everyone can be a foot or a head, lest we wouldn't have a body.

Authority is seen as confining, like the old Jerusalem being the ordained place of worship, and must be rejected.

Again, I hope he's just restating what he thinks the person must believe. The differences in authoritarian and authoritative are crucial to understand.

The essential idea of Jerusalem must be freed from any relationship that involves locality or ordination.

? I don't think that's scriptural. There are different layers of Jerusalem or Jerusalem is used for different images, ie, the actual city of Jerusalem, the Jewish people, the Heavenly Jerusalem, Mary. I don' t know. Maybe I don't understand what he's trying to say.

But note well, when Jesus came he did not overturn material forms of Israel and Jerusalem because he a had preference for non-material and non-institutional religion.

Yup. I think.

In contrast to private spiritual high places, Jesus came and established his church, the temple-abode of the Spirit of God.

hmmm... trying to figure out what he's trying to say... There is a time for praying in your closet or in your heart and there is a time for praying collectively as a congregation. This isn't in competition with pilgrimage sites or holy places. ???

Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?” When Peter answered, “Yes, Lord”, Jesus told him to prove it by loving the church (the place of the Spirit).

Yes, he was asked to love the Church and Jesus meant REALLY love, aka. to die for her--to physically and spiritually care and die for her.

Jesus spoke of something real. The church is a physical reality that is the physical congregation of the Lord.'

Yes.

Many movements are afoot which would compel us to repudiate the abode of God as if it were anti-spiritual.

Again, I think led by the glorification of self-reliance, autonomy, and independence, whether from an adolescent or 'American' culture.

But God has made the church, and she is real, and she is well formed.

And the gates of Hell will not prevail against her.

The church is good for us; God has called his people to draw close to him by drawing close to his church, for that is where he resides by his Spirit.

and in Body--- in the body of the brothers and sisters in Christ and in His Most Precious Body and Blood.

– Steve Rives, Pastor, Eastside Church of the Cross


Again, I think I agree with him, though it's hard to follow his style and I'm not sure if it is a very helpful style to someone who'd be in the place to ask such a question. Are you sad you asked me what I thought? See what happens when I don't have facebook?? :)
What do YOU think? (Wish we could lounge at a cafe or in your living room to discuss these things....)
love,
e

3 comments:

Notorious B-L-O-G said...

Though, it's possible, and I suppose common enough, I don't think the asker is necessarily shirking moral authority. There are plenty of people who simply think that they can seek God best in solitude. Some such people, let us say for example, hermits, ascetics of eastern religions, or perhaps even Christian monastics, often adhere willingly to very strict moral guidelines, and may even engage in ascetic practices most of us would find intolerable. Yet, even for these people, who we would tend to consider "Holy," seeking God solely in solitude is precarious.

Clearly alluding to Christ's example Thomas Merton puts it like this:

"...we have to remember that we look for solitude in order to grow there in love for God and in love for other men. We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them: we do not leave them in order to have nothing more to do with them, but to find out the way to do them the most good."

He later warns us:

"If you seek solitude merely because it is what you prefer, you will never escape from the world and its selfishness..."

e said...

Certainly the asker isn't NECESSARILY shirking moral authority; I know plenty who have healthy human development and do well on their own considering. I mainly said that in jest, though, commonly one who says, "I don't need a church. I can do it on my own," tends to be underlining their need to not be 'told what to do' and may not have the life experience that would tell them that we humans are truly interdependent persons! Pack animals, really. :)
I think solitude is different. Of hermits and monks for example, they are still in obedience to a superior or teacher and adhere to strict structure. There most certainly is a time for the desert; if not literally, then at least figuratively with retreats, Lenten obligations, etc.
VERY good quotes there by Merton. Great examples of the meaning, benefit, and danger of solitude.

e said...

My darling husband added his two cents as well:

Jesus didn't tell Peter to love the Church (although this may be true by extension), what he actually said was "feed my sheep." This harkens back to three other scriptural passages. First, Jesus declared "I am the good Shepherd" in John 10:11. All the devout Jews were shocked when he said this b/c they all knew he was referring to Ezekial 34; the prophecy of the Messiah as the Shepherd of Israel. This was, then, the culmination of Peter's appointment over Christ's Church, which began when Jesus gave Peter his name. "Your name is Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." Matthew 16:18. Here, Jesus is explicitly saying to Peter, now YOU are the good shepherd, and if you love me you will feed my sheep; again harkening back to the Ezekial prophecy where God promises that he will feed his Sheep. Of course, the Good Shepherd wouldn't be such a good shepherd if he just watched over his sheep but did not provide for other shepherds once he was gone. Thus we have the roots of Apostolic Succession, because Peter then must pass on his mantle to ensure that the sheep continue to be fed. All this ties beautifully into the eucharist as well, because what was Peter to feed all these sheep exactly? Why, Jesus Christ himself of course! The Good Shepherd continues to feed his Church with his body and blood given to us through the Shepherds he has called, who carry the mantle of Peter, who love Jesus and therefore serve his Church: "Peter do you love me? Then feed my sheep!"

Also:

And Satan has always railed against the physicality of the Church. Therefore, what does Satan attack? The physical world, by telling us the lie that it isn't important. One of the earliest heresy's, Gnosticism, explicitly attacked the physical reality of Jesus and, most importantly, of God's eternal plan to remake all of physical creation. Jesus said "Behold, I make all things new." Jesus came to transform the physical reality of God's creation, and he continues to do so through his sacraments every single day. Whether it is the transformation of a husband and wife into a physical manifestation of the trinity, or a priest so that he can feed us with Jesus, or regular bread and wine so that they become the physical reality of Jesus in the world. Satan hates this...

And just one of the many reasons I love my husband.