Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Demolishing The Platonic Highrise

This summer I will consider the lost spiritual disciplines of the early church.


When God through our thinking is turned into an object who in a sense “sits in the heavens”, spirituality takes on a form of dualism. In spiritual dualism, God is no longer the subject who becomes involved in the history of the world. Instead, in dualism, God lives in the realm of spirits, and we humans dwell in the realm of the material. Spirituality in this scheme becomes our effort to transcend our material existence. In dualistic spirituality the spirit within me needs to escape this world.

(The Rev Dr. Robert Webber, The Divine Embrace, 2009)


It is usually necessary to tear down a building before a new one can be erected in the same place. Western Christianity, most especially the kind found in Protestantism, has built a rather large edifice in the midst of our western world. This building was built almost exclusively with Augustinian materials, & that means that it is platonic & dualistic at its core. Consequently, the spiritual disciplines of the post–reformation west have been reduced to exercises of the mind. The reason for this is approach to the spiritual disciplines is simple, those who have learned to think in Augustine's way accept that here on earth God cannot be experienced in any other way but in the mind. For this reason, post-reformation spiritual disciplines are only two; one, bible reading, and the other, spontaneous prayer.

This edifice built upon the ground of the mind needs to be torn down, and a new edifice needs to be erected. The new edifice should be one wherein the God of the heavens dwells on earth, and participates in matter. In this scheme, spiritual disciplines are not designed to extract us from matter, but rather to employ matter in the service of God’s life on earth. This means that the spiritual disciplines that will form the new building we will be inherently physical.

The first bricks laid down in this new edifice will be sacramental objects employed in the spiritual discipline of prayer.

Consider the following list:

o Holy Water

o Prayer rope or beads

o Icons

o Incense

o Candles

Historically, all of these material objects were employed in our spiritual disciplines, particularly in the discipline of prayer. They drop a physical draw-bridge between the matter of our life and non-matter of the life to come, making them one. Each makes the heavenly presence of God’s working power, physically present here and now. Thus, prayer is not done away with in this new non-dualistic building, but rather another story is added to it, a physical story.

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