reason and conviction

The Liturgical Press circular that we get called Give Us This Day mentions two people in connection with today’s liturgy. The first is Sören Kirkegaard, the famous Danish philosopher who is considered the father of existentialism. The sound bite/bumper sticker synopsis of his thought is the well-known phrase “the leap of faith.” And the excerpt in Give Us This Day gives a little more context to that saying. Kirkegaard associates faith with conviction, much like Sr. Marielle last week during our retreat associated faith with trust. Faith–conviction–trust: if we could think of them for a moment as the same thing. Kirkegaard is saying that reason, rationality, argumentation won’t lead us to faith-conviction-trust (don’t tell this to the apologists!); but faith-conviction-trust can lead us to reason, to rationality, finding ways to explain what we have come to trust, explain that for which we have a conviction. I will never forget someone telling me a piece of advice, even a challenge, that he got once from a sister: “Trust is a choice.” Maybe we could use Kirkegaard’s word: and sometimes trust is a leap. We decide to trust, to throw ourselves into the arms of something we have chosen to trust. Sometimes we just take the chance.

The other person that Give Us This Day mentioned was William Johnston, since it was the anniversary of his death. He was the Irish Jesuit who spent almost all of his religious life in Japan, who is also well known to us monks not just by his books but because he was our retreat master some years ago. He went to Japan full of missionary zeal to spread the gospel, but as he became more and more immersed in Japanese culture, and specifically in the Zen tradition, he had a profound experience, an awakening you might say, to the contemplative side of the faith. But he was emphatic in not wanting to be referred to as a “Zen master”; in his autobiography he wrote that his devotion was to Jesus. That led him to explore contemplative prayer in Christianity, which led to his well-known version of The Cloud of Unknowing as well as his marvelous book The Mysticism of the Cloud, which was seminal to several of us. And then of course many books and articles and retreat conferences. He is a good example of this same principle. You can tell by his writing that this was not pure speculation: he had the experience first which led to a conviction, and then spent his years explaining and exploring that experience, passing it on and leading others to it.

Perhaps we could read the same thing into Paul’s writings to the Galatians today (3:7-14), especially his example of Abraham. Like reason and rationality, Paul is always insisting that it’s not works that come first: it’s the trust, the faith, the conviction, in Abraham’s case of having been chosen by God, called by God, grasped by God that gave him the courage to leave the Ur of the Chaldeans and head out to some vague Promised Land far away. Like reason, so also our works are not going to lead us to faith: it’s that leap to trust, it’s the conviction that is going to lead us to works, resolve itself in works.

And then Jesus in this passage from Luke (11:15-26)… No matter what Jesus did (including cast out demons!), there were some people who were never going to give him the benefit of the doubt; there were some people who would not make that leap of faith to believe that he was indeed who others claimed and believed him to be. And you know, I think we do that a lot to each other too: we get our minds made up about someone and no matter what they do to try and break the prejudice that we have we remain intransigent. Luke then has Jesus turn the passage that we heard a few weeks ago from Mark around. Mark has Jesus say, ‘Whoever is not against us is for us.’[1] But here there is a bitter ring to what Jesus says: ‘Whoever is not with me is against me.’ Whoever has not made that fundamental choice––like Peter at the end of the Bread of Life Discourse in John: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.”––whoever has not made that fundamental choice for Christ, the fundamental choice for the spiritual life, for monastic life, will not be able really be a follower no matter what mental gymnastics we do or how many works we do to try and earn it.

Let’s pray for that grace, to make that leap of faith, of trust, of conviction, into the arms of God through Christ in the Holy Spirit.

cyprian 12 oct 18

[1] Mk 9:40.

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