Sunday, April 30, 2006

Inside OUT

It is interesting to note the whole inner/outer debate with regard to spirituality and by implication the spiritual disciplines. Owen Thomas sites the philosopher Charles Taylor’s [1] view that the distinction between inner and outer is largely a Western construct and aberration. He understands that the influence of interiorization comes to us largely through the influence of Plotinus, the Stoics and Marcus Aurelius upon Augustine. Turner understands that the interior is itself compartmentalized regarding consciousness in relation to its objects writing,
The boundary between the inner and outer falls not between the mind and the body but between that part of the mind which is intrinsically dependent on the body for the exercise of its powers (the ‘outer’) and the part of the mind which is not so dependent (the ‘inner’). [2]

This has implication for journaling in that the interior expression must be connected with outer manifestation. Thomas believes that the Augustinian-Cartesian emphasis on the inner should be reversed and acknowledge that it is the outer side of human life which is the true foundation of everything inner. The journal therefore becomes a lens of sort to help us view within what is going on without.[3] The narrowing of Christian spirituality to the interior life doesn’t reflect the spirituality of the bible or the Early Church. The theological dualism of the Hellenistic world with its emphasis on the inner doesn’t reflect the Biblical emphasis given to the outer. It would seem that, Biblically speaking, there is a clear stress on the outer covenantal and therefore relational dynamic. It would appear that there has been a shift from this outer to an inner focus for Christian spirituality or holiness. Thomas sees this influence on the text ‘The Kingdom of God is among you’ Luke 17:21 being understood as ‘within’ rather than what the majority of exegets agree is simply ‘among’. This importance of this for ascetical theology in the context of spiritual formation is that the exteriorization of Christian holiness must acknowledge that the material, economic, social, political and historical world is a primary biblical emphasis. The Kingdom of God in our midst has implications also for the Sovereign reign of God in community. I agree with Thomas when he writes, ‘To be a follower of Jesus means to repent and to open oneself to the presence of this reign, to participate in this reign by manifesting its signs in active love of neighbour and the struggle for justice and peace.’[4] I believe Wesley recognised the danger of giving priority to the interiorization of spirituality when he wrote there is no holiness without social holiness. If we lay the emphasis on the interior we do an injustice as servants of God in community. It would be wrong if the journal focuses thought exclusively on the inner journey, it would be detrimental to the individual’s spiritual formation and costly to the Community of faith.
[1] Owen C. Thomas, ‘Interiority and Christian Spirituality’, ‘The Journal of Religion’, January, 2000, Vol.80, Number 1, page 42ff.
[2] Denys Turner, ‘The Darkness of God: Negativity in Christian Mysticism’, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1995, p.90.
[3] Owen C. Thomas, ‘Interiority and Christian Spirituality’, ‘The Journal of Religion’, January, 2000, Vol.80, Number 1, page 46. Here he also sites illustrations from Wittgenstein’s Lectures. I like the quote, ‘One of the most dangerous ideas philosophically is, oddly enough, the idea that thinking takes place with, or in, our heads’. Ludwig Wittnestein, Philisophical Grammar, ed. Rush Rhees, trans. A.J.P. Kenny, Blackwell, Oxford, 1974, p.100 quoted by Thomas (St. Andrews B3376.W56R55 main lib).
[4] Owen C. Thomas, ‘Interiority and Christian Spirituality’, ‘The Journal of Religion’, January, 2000, Vol.80, Number 1, page 59.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Fasting from Meat

The New Testament word used for ‘discipline’ is based on the Greek word γύμναζε, ‘gumnazõ’ [1] – from which we get our word gymnasium and gymnastics. Effort is therefore required and, just as with physical exercise, practice brings improvement. It literally meant, to practice naked (as in the athletic games), that is, train (figuratively) to exercise. It was understood then, in the New Testament, that the disciple of Christ, in order to maintain spiritual health and vitality, ought to practice the Spiritual Disciplines, spiritually naked before God.[2] Paul instructs the young Timothy to ‘Exercise thyself rather unto godliness’ 1Timothy 4:7. Such disciplines, in effect, place us in the path of God’s grace.[3] ‘God has given us the Disciplines of the spiritual life as a means of receiving His grace. The Disciplines allow us to place ourselves before God so that He can transform us.’[4]
George Whitefield in his journal tells us that he and the rest of the Holy Club made it their practice to fast, not just every now and then but every Wednesday and Friday. In this they were following the pattern of devout Jews which in turn was adopted by the Early Christians, although they fasted on different days. I was wondering, could this have been what lay behind the early, now defunct in the UK, practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays by Roman Catholics? I was recently challenged by a person who asked me why I was eating fish on Friday. I hadn’t really noticed the day, although I did the fish which was excellent – as far as I was concerned I was eating fish simply to have a varied and healthy diet. It got me to wondering though. Perhaps, as some form of penance this practice crept into the Roman Catholic Church and through it to various others. Apparently no Pope brought it about it appears in their Canon Law, Vatican II didn’t remove it – so most folk in the Roman Catholic Church in the UK who no longer follow the practice are in breach!

Canon 1251 (brought in 1983) states that abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Canon Law still requires that Catholics not eat meat on Fridays!
I believe that fasting, when called for in the case of National Repentance, as in Nineveh, or family seeking God’s blessing etc., or Church waiting on the Lord’s leading is a legitimate practice. Christ Himself suggested that we would fast when He had gone back to His Father cf. Mark 2:19ff. etc. However, I believe that Scripture teaches, in the main, to fast in such a way that others are not going to be aware of it. Not everyone can fast, some for medical reasons, others in order to honour and protect those in their charge, that is when fasting would reduce their efficiency or compromise safety as a result of low blood sugar etc. However, this doesn’t occur in the case of abstaining from certain foods and practices. Such is the principle behind Lent.
As a child I recall going to Church every day, having breakfast, bread and water (how austere is that) in school which was opened earlier in order that the devout might have somewhere to eat – and this was in silence! It sounds grim – but I must confess, this laid a foundation for which I know I will be eternally grateful.
Whilst I believe that fasting and abstaining is something that Christian’s avoid or neglect to be their loss I none the less believe that it is not in and of itself a means of grace. It simply puts us in the path of it helping us to focus on the Person and the work of Christ and our heavenly calling to be His disciples.
Currently the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the US is debating whether to require all Roman Catholics to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year. Apparently they are considering if this would be of benefit because:

  • It is an expression of one's Catholicity
  • In reparation for the grave sin of abortion.

No doubt this will be an expression of Catholicity which the fishing industry will greatly appreciate! As far as the reparation for the sin of abortion, perhaps it will help folk focus on the grace injustice to the inborn whilst at the same time reminding all of us that our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost. 1Corinthians 6:19

[1] The exercise of the body in a palaestra or school of athletics. The word can also be used in the context of
the exercise of conscientiousness relative to the body such as is characteristic of ascetics and consists in
abstinence from matrimony and certain kinds of food.
[2] For a fuller understanding of gymnos and its group see Colin Brown, editor, ‘Dictionary of New
Testament Theology’, Exeter, Paternoster Press, 1975, Vol.1, p.313f.
[3] Think of Bartimaeus and Zacchaeus both of whom placed themselves in the path of Christ in order to be
[4] Richard Foster, ‘Celebration of Discipline’, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1986, p.6.

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Living in the Midst of Opulence

There had been much debate as to the authenticity of the ‘unpublished journal’ of George Whitefield. Experts were called to examine the writing at one point. One of them, Mr. Morton Pennypacker, confirmed that the work was indeed Whitefield’s. He was helped to arrive at this conclusion through an incident in the journal which recorded a visit to the town of Southold in 1765. Whitefield had stayed overnight there with a very wealthy worldly family. In his journal he wrote that he used a diamond to inscribe ‘On thing is needful’ on a window pane which still survives. [1] Living in the midst of such opulence didn’t turn his head, even given the fact that he had a diamond as a writing instrument – he knew and record for posterity in both the journal and as it happened on the window that the greatest treasurers are not to be gained here but are laid up for those who are faithful, who are conformed to the likeness of Christ. [2]
[1] George Whitefield, ‘Journal of George Whitefield’, Banner of Truth Trust, 1985, p.15.
[2] 1 Peter 1:4.

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