Posted by: Dan | March 11, 2006

The Postmodern Dilemma of Contemplation

For, to begin with, the pious mind does not dream up for itself any god it pleases, but contemplates the one and only true God. And it does not attach to him whatever it pleases, but is content to hold him to be as he manifests himself.
~ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion

The dilemma of postmodernity is exactly that we have given up on the notion of being able to contemplate the one and only true God. We are certainly faced with many different gods, or one god with many different faces, but we no longer know how to determine which of those gods, or faces, is true. And so we play language games. We posit various pictures of god, back and forth against each other in order to deconstruct hegemony and structures of oppressive power. Against the god of America, the god of the liberation theologians is raised; against the god of patriarchy, the sophia of woman-church is raised. And so it goes. We dream up gods in our own images, and have little time for contemplating a god that is other than us — as the one and only true God must be.

Of course, part of the reason why we are in this dilemma is because we have lost all confidence in our ability to discern how God manifests himself. He can say what is a revelation of God's character and what is not? We are exceedingly suspicious of all those who claim authority, and we are especially suspicious of authorities in the realm of religion/spirituality. Beyond that, we're just plain confused. Who knows if anybody has it figured out, but I sure as hell don't. Who can say which reading of the Bible is correct? Who can say which Christian tradition is most accurate? Who can say which person in my life is the best grasp on God's will for any given situation? And so we fly by the seat of our pants, basing most decisions on what feels right, although we can rarely explain why something feels that way, or why it might feel that way at one time but not at another.

Thus, if we are to truly contemplate the one and only true God, we must regain an interest in, and a commitment to, the ways in which that God manifests himself. This means at least a fourfold movement:

(1) A renewed interest in, and commitment to, the canon of Christian Scriptures.
(2) A renewed interest in, and commitment to, the Church.
(3) A renewed interest in, and commitment to, the poor.
(4) A renewed interest in, and commitment to, solitude.

As far as I can tell these are the four primary loci of God's manifestation.

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