existentialist cafe

life is sacred

Month: November, 2013

The gaze toward

Psychology distinguishes between private self-consciousness and public self-consciousness. In the former, we become conscious of our own interior life; our selves as private selves. In the later we are conscious of ourselves as social objects; percepts in the gaze of others. Both are very elemental experiences of the self–we learn about ourselves through being aware of ourselves (that is, both subject and object of perception), but also through being aware of others’ awareness of ourselves (that is, as object of others perception).

I propose a third type of self-consciousness: spiritual self-consciousness. It sounds flaky, I know, but it is simply a way of saying that we are aware of God’s awareness of ourselves – we know ourselves as God knows us. Unlike the other two forms of self-consciousness, spiritual self-consciousness overcomes the subject-object split. God who is wholly other is also wholly present. In being seen by God we are not reduced to mere object, but we are also called to participate in the act of seeing. We experience the self as being held and transfixed in a greater, loving gaze.





If we get enough It we can build a reasonable facsimile of a Thou

I’m reading Martin Buber’s essay/poem “I and Thou,” and, I gotta say, it’s rocking my world pretty hard and pretty good! I tried to read it a while ago, but I don’t think I had the right set of mind. Since then I’ve just kind of relied on little blurbish summaries, and satisfied myself with the gist. But man, he is exactly what we need right now! I thought it was just going to be about our relationships with one another, but it’s really about our relationship with reality. It calls forth a response that is both somber and joyful. There’s a number of arresting passages that I could pull out, but suffice to say that all of our intelligences, self-help programs, and machinations will be no replacement for the eternal present which is the ground on which we stand and the air which we breathe.

Ignatian indifference

I was really delighted to learn about Ignatius’ concept of indifference, as this was the first time I had come across a Christian spirituality that explicitly expresses a manner of being that is similar to the Taoist notion of wu wei.

They are similar, but different. Both aim at detachment from things that are not sturdy and will, in the end, disappoint us. From my limited understanding, Taoism seems to point toward abandonment of striving, whereas Christianity points toward fullness of striving. Ignatius, however, warns (as do other theologians) that we become easily enamoured with created things. Rather, he said, we ought to have indifference towards those things. That does not mean apathy, but it does mean detachment.The best way I can think of it is that rather than seeking to hold on to things, we accept them as gift. Rather than closing our fist around things–relationships, vocations, beliefs, statuses–we receive them with an open palm, and keep our palm open.. When we realize how we are attached to God, or how God has attached us to Her, then we have no need for so much clutching.

Having begun…

Having begun, all of a sudden, to live, to be, to act,
We at once begin to congratulate ourselves for the effort.

God’s-eye view

Each phenomena in the world is such because it receives our gaze,
But three–three places we look and meet another’s eye looking back at as:
Ourself, our neighbor, and God.
But only one looks with love.

The Triad: Authenticity, Courage, and Humility

The process of spiritual growth, I have found, depends largely on the interplay between three virtues: authenticity, courage, and humility. I’ve given each one a patron saint, too!

Authenticity is truth-telling. It is being plainly honest with ourselves (and with others) about what we think and what we feel. If we persist in telling ourselves lies, then we will always be stuck with lies. It’s obvious when we think about some external matter – what is the sense in maintaining an illusion that your car is working fine when there is smoke pouring out of the engine? It may be unpleasant, but that does not mean that it is not true. I believe this is what Freud had in mind when he spoke of our efforts to push unpleasant feelings aside. This is an inauthentic way of living. Carl Rogers, my patron saint of authenticity, said that only when we have first accepted who we are can we change. A curious paradox. I think the practice of authenticity taps into those desires which expand and open up the self.

This takes courage. Many truths are hard to face, and we prefer the comfort of lies. Courage allows us to walk the difficulty path of authenticity, knowing that it is a good path. The difficulty is not removed, though. The source of our anxiety and fear remains with us, and we will have many opportunities to fall into despair. Courage is not a magic bullet that destroys the anxiety; it does, however, enable us to transcend it. The patron saint of courage is Paul Tillich. “Courage,” he said “is the self-affirmation of being in spite of the fact of non-being.” In fact, Tillich sees courage as a vital part of faith.

Humility is a particular posture. The humble person is a servant of the truth, not the other way around. It is a posture of openness that comes from a recognition that we are limited, finite beings whose knowledge is always condition by our finitude. Humility is a peculiar virtue because the desire to attain it precludes true humility. This is a point that was made by Thomas Merton, the patron saint of humility, who had an uncanny knack of detecting the subtle ways that pride works its way into our lives. On the surface, we appear to be defined by selfish devotion, but in fact we are intent on hoarding spiritual riches (as if there was such a thing) for our selves. He uses a beautiful image of glass which becomes more invisible the more light it lets through. You’ll notice that this brings together humility and authenticity. The person who is both open to receiving understanding and committed to speaking authentically will become a conduit through which grace and mercy flow.

And the painted ponies go up and down

The notion of samsara is a compelling one. When cosmologies speak of cycles, I think they are drawing our attention to something which is at once both fundamental and profound. As much as we chart a straightforward course through life, it is difficult to ignore the cycles that gird us – day-to-night, season-to-season, the waxing and waning of the moon. But┬ásamsara is also a course. One travels through cycles of birth, death, and rebirth in the path of enlightenment.

Spiritually speaking, there are cycles of death and rebirth that we go through in our lives as well. In fact it seems to be a requisite part of the spiritual life. If we desire to walk that path, then we must be willing to let go of what is most precious to us. At times we get stuck at some place in the cycle, stubbornly clutching the doorjamb even as we are being carried to something new and better. In the contemplative Christian tradition, the guiding image is the ladder of divine ascent. In the foreground is the idea of slow-and-steady progression, though in the background is the idea that one must die to one’s self in order to find new life and that one must do this continually.

Although I think it would be a mistake to ignore the profound differences between Buddhism and Christianity (for instance, Christianity has a theology of the self while classical Buddhist teaching rejects the self), I think it is worthwhile to think about how the idea of cycle and the idea of ascent are both true pictures of the spiritual life.

Joni just had a birthday this week, so this is doubly appropriate:


When the angel dislocated Jacob’s hip joint, he dislocated Jacob at the same time. He is our recalcitrant spirit. If you want to walk with God, you will walk with a limp. The man-of-the-world is now a wanderer, home nowhere, home everywhere. Remember, Jacob died in Egypt, far from the promised land.

Now that I’ve died

now that I’ve died
they’ll open my side
and maybe they’ll see
the bird inside me

Haiku: fall

Fall: squirrels become
mindful of what they own
that’s good for squirrels