Saturday, January 15, 2011

Reflection: Windows and Blinds

[There are certain recurring themes in my thought and writing, among them the relationship between worship and transparency (cf. Opacity and Idolatry). Some thoughts by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom brought me back around to this topic.]

The difference between idolatry and worship is not the difference between material and spiritual, but the difference between opacity and transparency. That which fixes our gaze on itself and refuses to become transparent to the transcendent God, that which is seen and venerated as a “thing in itself” – that thing is an idol. All that separates St. Francis’ veneration of creation from idolatry, for example, is creation’s transparency to the Creator; in and through every created thing St. Francis sees the Creator God, as this excerpt from his Canticle of the Sun shows:

Most high, all powerful, all good Lord!

All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing.
To you, alone, Most High, do they belong.

No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures…

Servants of the Lord are subject to a most subtle and insidious form of idolatry, especially dangerous because it mimics worship, both outwardly and inwardly. Metropolitan Anthony Bloom describes this most aptly:

One of the characteristics of a genuinely healthy spiritual life is temperance. We know in ordinary speech what sobriety means in comparison to drunkenness. One can get drunk in various ways, and not only through wine. Everything that fascinates us so much that we no longer can remember God or ourselves, nor the basic values of life: this is a form of drunkenness. It has no connection to what I have called inspiration – the inspiration of a scholar, of an artist, to whom God has give the ability to see behind the outward form to that which surrounds it: a certain depth of being, which he can draw out and express in sounds, or lines, or colors so as t make it accessible to the people around it who were blind to it. But when we forget specifically that very meaning revealed by them and create an object of delight out of that which should be the object of contemplation – then we lose our sobriety. In Church life it happens to often and so destructively, when people come to church because of the singing, or because of those emotions that are aroused by the harmony of the mystery of the divine service, when God is no longer in the center of everything but only the experience that is the fruit of his presence.[1]

Essentially everything in the corporate life of the church is subject to this danger. Music – often ill-described as “worship” – becomes performance and is rendered opaque to the One who inspired it, while at the same time stirring emotions that masquerade as worship: not always, of course, but too often. The apostles’ teaching, to which the church must be devoted, becomes flowery rhetoric prompting comments of “Good sermon,” but producing no changed lives. The liturgy – conducted perhaps beautifully, perhaps haphazardly – becomes either the object of devotion or the source of boredom and, either way, fails to open the heart to the God who is present there.

The Enemy delights in taking windows to God and drawing the blinds over them, in rendering opaque that which must remain transparent. Delusion lies in not recognizing the difference.

A life of constant watchfulness is our safeguard, the ascetic struggle our necessity: prayer, fasting, confession, obedience – crucifying ourselves to the world and the world to ourselves so that we may rise with Christ. Only in first relinquishing the world in its opacity can we then safely embrace the world in its transparency. Blessed are the pure in heart, our Lord says, for they shall see God.

[1] Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh. Essential Writings (ed. Gillian Crow). Orbis Books, 2010. p. 132.

No comments: