Monday, June 20, 2011

Canterbury Letters to Geneva George (9): Aiming At the Heart

Below is the ninth installment in the series I'm publishing on behalf of a friend entitled "Canterbury Letters to Geneva George." Before reading and responding with comments, please be sure to read my introduction and the author's introduction to this series at the first posting entitled "Canterbury Letters to Geneva George (1): The Via Media." And also read the other postings in the "Canterbury Letters to Geneva George" series here.



Dear Geneva George,

Thank you for sending me your sermon on justice. Unfortunately I’ve been too busy to listen to it this week, but when I do I promise to give a response.

You wrote, “The distinction you make between the cognitive approach vs. the liturgical approach neglected to take into account a third factor, namely lifestyle. Your discussion of youth being seduced by alternative models of the good life failed to consider that this is often because they do not see Christianity lived.” Thank you for bringing this up, though your description of my distinction suggests that you still may be misunderstanding my argument.

To start with, I am not making a distinction between church being really cognitive vs. church being really liturgical. To do so would be to pit two things against each other that are two sides of the same coin. Rather, I am arguing that while the cognitive element is important and must be present, it is not what comes first and foremost. It is our identity as lovers – as beings who desire – that forms a person’s center of gravity. This most fundamental part of us is reached through many things, not least through rituals aimed at the body. That is why bodily postures of adoration are so important. Bryan Owen hit the nail on the head when he observed (in his review of Aidan Kavanagh’s On Liturgical Theology) that “Adoration precedes assent to dogmatic propositions.”

Your point about lifestyle merely underscores this point. Many Christian parents have taught their sons and daughters all the correct doctrine, yet because the parents have not lived it out in front of their children, when they grow up they end of walking away from the faith. The parents’ hypocritical lifestyle has failed to convince the children that the faith is lovely (something worthy of adoration), and hence the youth fall prey to rival images of the good life. Sometimes a person will turn to rival images of the good life while still believing cognitively that the faith is true. But while there are many examples of youth abandoning a faith they know is true because their hearts have been lured by rival images of the good life, how many times have you heard of it working the other way round? How many young people do you know who have abandoned the worldview of Christianity without first having been enticed by a rival vision of the good life? Not very many, if any, and here’s why: our center of gravity is not the mind, but the heart. It is the heart which sends us the message, “This is the good life,” or “This is not the good life.” Now the lifestyle in the Christian home is crucial here, since our behavior in front of our children will unconsciously inscribe one of these two messages in the hearts of our children. The truth of the gospel is not an abstract or purely intellectual truth, but an engaged, embodied, and particular truth – something that must be done and not merely talked about.

Now if the lifestyle within the Christian home needs to take account of this love-shaped anthropology, then it seems that the life in the church should do so as well. But this can never happen as long as we are subscribe to the type of cognitivist anthropology that underpinned so much of your second to last letter.

I’d like to close with a quotation from Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, from his 2002 message, "The Feeling of Things, the Contemplation of Beauty." It relates indirectly to some of these same themes:

Being struck and overcome by the beauty of Christ is a more real, more profound knowledge than mere rational deduction. Of course we must not underrate the importance of theological reflection, of exact and precise theological thought; it remains absolutely necessary. But to move from here to disdain or to reject the impact produced by the response of the heart in the encounter with beauty as a true form of knowledge would impoverish us and dry up our faith and our theology. We must rediscover this form of knowledge; it is a pressing need of our time. …

The encounter with the beautiful can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the heart and in this way opens our eyes, so that later, from this experience, we take the criteria for judgment and can correctly evaluate the arguments. For me an unforgettable experience was the Bach concert that Leonard Bernstein conducted in Munich after the sudden death of Karl Richter. I was sitting next to the Lutheran Bishop Hanselmann. When the last note of one of the great Thomas-Kantor-Cantatas triumphantly faded away, we looked at each other spontaneously and right then we said: "Anyone who has heard this, knows that the faith is true."

The music had such an extraordinary force of reality that we realized, no longer by deduction, but by the impact on our hearts, that it could not have originated from nothingness, but could only have come to be through the power of the Truth that became real in the composer's inspiration.

Good stuff, eh?

Regards,

Canterbury Chris

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