Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Case of Conflicting realities. . .

In a conversation with a parishioner it became clear to me how great is the temptation to see the vision of life offered by the Church as mythological or at least not as real as the reality our people experience in the world around them.  Certainly it has been this way in the halls of academia for a long time.  Those who live there for a time or for their lives see religion as the surrender of truth to myth, an intellectual dishonesty.  In this respect we have not gained much ground against the time of Tolkien and C. S. Lewis.  It was certainly their position that the the Christian faith was not the surrender of their intellect nor was it the choice of a sentimental mythology over the stark reality of life in the world.

As one writer has put it:

Very few modern Christians who read English are unfamiliar with the writings of CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien. Lewis’ expositions of Christian thought as well as his popular fiction (The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, Out of the Silent Planet, etc.) have become modern classics. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings has become something of an industry unto itself and has spawned an entire genre of literature. Many people know that the two writers were friends and colleagues, and some are aware that they belonged to a group of friends known as the Inklings. Few, however, are aware of the conversations and ideas that bound the Inklings together. They were not only Christians (for the most part), but committed Realists who struggled to put into words something of the world as they believed it truly exists.

Christians do not surrender reality to myth but surrender the reality of the world with its end in death to another, greater reality, the reality of life which has overcome death.   Adults who are too “wise” to be fooled are always dangerous characters in Lewis’ novels and Tolkien himself parodies such characters against the more noble lot of those who are not so constrained by their preset opinions.  No, Christianity is not about the power of myth against reality but the embrace of a reality just as -- even more -- real as the one that governs so much of our daily lives. 

Liturgy is the domain in which we embrace this new reality, indeed, the arena in which God ushers in this new reality by means of His efficacious Word and the Sacraments which deliver that which they promise.  Liturgy, ceremony, and ritual are not play acting at all but the order and gestures of faith wherein this reality of God's Kingdom is revealed and accessible to us.  We literally enact this new reality by the Word which speaks and does what it says, the water which delivers the new life it signifies, and the bread and cup that give to us the foretaste of the feast to come in the hidden flesh and blood of Christ known only by faith.

Christianity is not some escapism in which we choose what pleasant dream over unpleasant reality but precisely the confrontation of one dark reality with the new reality of light in Christ.  Believing does not make this new reality but it is the means by which we apprehend the reality our eyes cannot see because they are blinded by the reality of sin and death.  Christianity is in truth the confrontation of the tragic story of real sin and real death with the surprising story of grace where forgiveness and life enter into our world the same way we did -- conception and birth.  The difference is that this is from above instead of from below.

Man has always created myths to distract him from the doom of a world where reality is sin, disappointment, struggle, sorrow, and death.  Christianity is not a created distraction but the formal confrontation of one reality with a new reality not of our creation.  We tell not our story but the story of this new reality.  It's appeal is not the dream of an other worldly comfort but the astonishment of an other worldly power that enters the old creation to bestow another ending and therefore another beginning and middle to our story.  The only intellectual dishonesty is that which refuses even to grant that there is anything more real than what you can see now, at this moment, with your eyes or understand with your minds.

In this new reality, we are not the actors.  God acts.  The liturgy is then the arena in which God acts to forgive the unworthy and undeserving, to enliven the dead, and to clothe the naked with righteousness.  It is the Divine Service.  He is at work and we are but respondents to His initiative -- responding only because He Himself has bestowed His Spirit so that we may believe and believing, see Him and His kingdom.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

Actually, many of us who are followers of Jesus, even without advanced academic degrees, do not see our faith as mythical at all. To many of us, God is real in our lives, His presence continuous, and Jesus is the rock upon which we stand. Academics may question their faith, and they may think they live in the realm of mythology, but I do not, neither have the ignorant and illiterate saints of the past, and all of the faithful people of the earth I see each Sunday at church services.

Janis Williams said...

The difference between the "myth" so many modern Christians believe, and the "True Myth" (if I may so label it) of which you speak is this: In today's man-centered worship, he is the main character. In the Liturgy, God is the main character, and we have only bit parts.

John Joseph Flanagan said...

I would agree indeed, there are too many churches today that I have visited and observed the focus to be on musical entertainment, drama, videotaped programs and on the popularity of the pastor and the latest activities of committees incorporated into what should be strictly a worship service. This would make the worship "man centered" and should you find yourself in such a congregation, it is time to leave it behind and seek a more faithful "worship centered" body.