Friday Meditation: Sarah Griffin
At a recent Chapel leadership meeting, Father Thorne said something that provided a lot of clarity for my developing understanding on who we are as a chapel. At the risk of misquoting, he explained that we need to be wholly secularized people attempting to do religion, rather than its opposite: a religious community attempting to understand and relate to the secular. I see the evangelical framework I grew up in largely characterized by the latter, and thus it is the framework I put in question today. I am beginning to understand the secular to be a necessary step towards my turn towards the Good, the True and the Beautiful. I must be fully in and of the secular to have the demand made on me to turn towards the divine. The secular cannot be an end it itself, despite its fragments of goodness, but rather, it is a necessary part of my turn towards God. Kierkegaard helps me understand the necessity of the secular. It is only in my being a wholly secular individual that makes clear to me my entrapment in being a selfish and reflective individual, that encourages my desire for something outside of my current framework.
I am easily satisfied with many things in this world. In a beautiful way, these things can point me towards the Good in their goodness. I can share an element of goodness with another, as they share an element of goodness with me. However, neither of these elements are the whole Good in itself, but both, together, point towards the existence of a Whole Good that they both partake in. I am fortunate to find moments of peace, joy and contemplation in community regularly. It is this that informs my understanding of what the Good is to begin with. However, with every moment of peace, joy or contemplation, an unsettled impermanence necessarily joins it. In some ways current pleasures are a teasing pleasure, as in every moment of it comes with it the knowledge that it is impermanent. I often fool myself into thinking that there is a whole satisfaction in these worldly manifestations of good and become complacent solely in them — a self-conscious ignorance of a sort. Perhaps even more dangerously, I also sometimes fall into the belief that these are the only satisfactions that I will be able to find. With so much of our way of thinking being informed by the underlying assumption that this is all we have, how and why is it that I, and we, have become so complacent in accepting the state of things as they are, and curbing our desire for Good? Kierkegaard's leap towards the divine rests on the assumption that the religious individual is dissatisfied with the emptiness in the world. So, what has made me stop craving more?
As a secular person, I am forced to confront my insecurities and instability. In me, these things are prior to virtue, because it is only in them that I realize my emptiness and lack and see the need to turn towards Goodness and virtue to be satisfied. I can think of three possible responses when confronted by the ultimate emptiness of the world in its present state: defeat, distraction, or cultivating a desire for something greater. Defeat seems to be quite a popular response. I think it manifests itself in the notion that we can dwell in our problems, become complacent in them, and in some distorted way, we seem to learn to celebrate them, as seen so often in the language of ‘embracing’ that seems to celebrate pretty much absolutely everything. I think that what hides behind this is a complacent defeat to admit that there is pain and emptiness in the world. Distraction is no better, the more we distract ourselves to avoid confrontation with truth, whether it be through channeling our emptiness into abstract politics or something else that stops us from looking inward and relationally to others, the more we force ourselves into an ignorance that curbs our desire to find anything better.
The person who is able to make a turn towards God is the person that is willing to look emptiness in its face and see it as it is. This confrontation with emptiness can only be satisfied with a turn towards the Good, the True and the Beautiful. The proper desire for this turn towards God can only be cultivated when it it is seen as the only option — we must want it more than our desire to distract ourselves from emptiness, or deny it, which I think can be produced in our humble recognition that a turn towards God is the only way in which we can live originally and with meaning. I must see myself as being left completely helpless apart from it, and in that way it should consume my desire. This requires a confrontation of the desire for more, assuming the underlying belief that there could be something more to begin with. Kierkegaard writes that this turn towards God takes place at a crisis point when “the cruelty of the abstraction makes the true from of worldliness only too evident”. What is the nature of this turn towards God? It is easy to recognize a lack and a desire for more, but the nature of the turn is trickier. I think that, perhaps, the first step must be the recognition that my identity is reflective of the world, and that I myself am an instigator, in my complacency, in being that way. I must be humble in recognizing that I will only find satisfaction and peace in God, a perfect being.
I don’t want to be entirely cerebral about this. But I have made that to be my comfort zone. In many ways, being cerebral about the necessity of the secular and the relationship I have with God as a result of that, allows me to have a false sense of accomplishment in my understanding of my relationship to God, because it doesn’t require that I actually act on it, or engage my individual being with it. Focusing on the theological side gives me a sense of completion, when in reality, making my beliefs practical perplexes and scares me. As a secular individual, how do I define myself in relation, God, practically? And since I struggle with this, does it mean I have not yet truly realized the emptiness of the world sufficiently that demands a turn towards God?
Today’s New Testament reading from 1st Corinthians reads,
But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me
My original being comes from God’s originality. It is not entirely me that makes this turn towards God, it is also the Grace of God that confronts me, so perhaps a primary stance of a humble acceptance is most adequate. To assume that I could make this turn towards God from the secular alone is naive and perhaps a good explanation as to why I am completely daunted by it, and feel compelled, as I think much of the world does today, to distract myself from it or deny it.