Aiming at Heaven and getting Earth thrown in

 K and Z this summer in Netcong, NJ.

I read an interesting post by Rod Dreher that got me thinking about Evangelicalism, nature, the Arts and mysticism. He writes:

… I read a book by an Evangelical author with whose work I was unfamiliar. She writes about her experience of God in a sacramental way — that is, how her experience of the beauty of creation awakened something in her, and brought her closer to God through her awareness of His presence in the natural world, and in the world of things His people have made to His glory. It’s the kind of thing that’s an ordinary part of Catholic and Orthodox theology and spirituality, and I thought she wrote beautifully about this awakening.

When I googled around trying to find out more about this writer, I was shocked — honestly shocked — to find so many articulate, educated Protestant pastors and writer cutting loose on her as if she were some sort of New Age crystal guru. It was very, very harsh stuff. Of course one doesn’t expect fundamentalists and other very conservative Protestants to agree with traditional sacramental theology, and I certainly see grounds for criticism of this writer’s book, at least from a conservative Protestant perspective. What shook me up was the vehemence of the theological attacks on this writer, and the absolute — absolute! — insistence that the kinds of things she identifies smack of “mysticism,” and are the first step to becoming a New Ager.

They are right: this writer does come from a mystical standpoint, but in that she is well within the tradition of the Christian church. The criticism of her work seemed to come from writers whose theology seemed to make no space for any kind of mystery, and certainly not for emotion. It was dry and syllogistic, and to this outsider, came across as extremely suspicious of joy. I thought of the film Breaking The Waves, and how the hardcore Scots Calvinist community in that film could not handle any expression of spirituality outside of its strict conceptual confines. One of the critics of this writer spited her for discerning something holy in an old Catholic cathedral, given how “pagan” the Roman church is.

While I wouldn’t classify my upbringing in a Pentecostal church as “fundie”, it was conservative. Music and singing was central to worship services, while poetry was appreciated, painting and drawing was mostly ignored, and dancing, even ballet was frowned upon. So it was a mixed bag as far as the Arts went.

Nature? It almost seemed inconsequential. I’m not sure why, but I suspect the driving force of the imminent Rapture- teachings may have had something to do with it. Why get caught up in the beauty of this world with it’s corrupting wickedness when it was about to pass away?

But throughout my childhood, in the Evangelical schools I attended, there definitely was something anti-mystery and most definitely anti-sacremental on the periphery. Churches were staid and minimal. Religious art was flat. And again, nature was dismissed.

There was little room for mystery. There was seemingly a right answer, Sola Scriptura style, for any and every question. Great perhaps, is the mystery of God, but not so much for my Romans Road marching teachers.

It wasn’t until I attended my former church, which was nondenominational , that I was introduced to Evangelicals who actively participated in plays, skits, art, dance and various forms of musical expression. Some were Emergent or at least Emergent-leaning, and I feel that played a part in it. On retreats, nature hikes were included on the schedule. One of my favorite memories at a women’s retreat was quietly going through the woods and praying various passages of Psalms that were taped to trees.

There was, however, an interesting and telling lack of crosses. There was nothing sacramental about the theology; the two sacraments celebrated (communion and baptism) were done irregularly and with very little fanfare. Sadly, among some members there was a vocal disdain for anything that looked, sounded or seemed too Catholic. While gifts of the Spirit were welcome, stained glass windows, classic hymns and liturgy were not.

Now, being a member of an Anglican/Episcopal church, mystery might as well be the fourth leg of that old three legged stool. I admit I occasionally chafe at all that wonder. For the most part, though, I’ve become enamored with it. I feel I can finally relax in the space of the unknown. I relish not just the Incarnation but our Incarnational faith, witnessed in the Eucharist and the cool water in the baptismal font. It’s there in the glow of the candles and floats in the air through the smoky incense.

Where do you fall on the spiritual-theological spectrum? Do you believe mysticism plays a part in Christianity? Do you feel a connection to God through nature? Art? Music?

Netcong, NJ

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