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.

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