the affective dynamism

Yesterday (Oct. 30) we had a kind of midterm All-Camaldolese gathering. Fr. Arthur had already been here for his annual retreat, and then Andrew, Bede and Ivan came down Sunday night, as well as Daniel, Stephen and David up from SLO Monday for a chapter meeting and a celebration of the transfer of Br. Ivan’s stability to New Camaldoli. We took the occasion to also clothe Bryan Lei as a postulant. This was my homily for Mass.

The great psychoanalyst Karl Jung once wrote that he thought life seemed to have gone out of the churches in the West, and as its next dwelling place the Holy Spirit appears to have selected the human individual. When I read that, I thought it was kind of funny. What the great psychotherapist had stumbled upon, of course, was Christianity, as evidenced in the first reading today, a theme that appears so often in Paul’s Letter to the Romans: The Spirit of God dwells in youWe received a spirit of adoption… the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit. Jesus’ own prayer––Abba, Father!––has been implanted in us.[1] This was never about buildings and institutions; it has always been about human beings. The line, by the way, that is the entrance antiphon for the Solemnity of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church, is not singing about the flames resting on top of our heads like tongues, or pouring over us, but from earlier in this same Letter to the Romans, the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Spirit living in us,[2] and then we become living stones.

This was not the central message that I heard about the gospel growing up. It was the ground shifting revelation that came upon me when I discovered contemplative prayer, meditation, and monasticism in general, and now it seems so obvious to me. It’s one of those things that when you know what to look for you start to see it and hear it everywhere. And every time I hear it I get excited all over again. We just heard this quote the other day from Hillary of Poitiers at Vigils, in his commentary about the rebuilding of the Temple under Cyrus:

Fr. Andrew and I with Br. Ivan after voting in favor of his transfer.

So where is the Lord’s seat and eternal dwelling place now? What precisely is that temple which is fit for [God’s] habitation? It is the one of which it is said [then he quotes Paul’s letter to the Corinthians]: You are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you. This is God’s house and temple; it is full of the teaching and the power of God, a becoming residence for the holiness of the divine love. ... The holiness of human beings, their judiciousness and self-restraint––that is the temple of God…[3]

If I’ve quoted Paul’s Letter to the Romans once, I’ve done it a million times––the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Spirit living in us. And when I do, right after it I quote Jesus in the Gospel of John (chapter 7) saying, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” And John adds that he had “said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive.”

One of the reasons I like to put those two together is they are both kind of liquid images––the love of God is poured into us and then the love of God flows out of us, the love of God who is the Spirit. And if you put the two scriptures together, you get the whole picture. The love of God has been poured directly into us, into our deepest center, into our heart of hearts; and that same Spirit is meant then to flow from out of our hearts. Psalm 46 has another marvelous liquid image: There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. That “city of God,” the “holy habitation of the Most High” can be understood as our own beings, our own bodies and the Spirit flows through us with healing transformative power. But equally that city of God is the koinonia, the community, the church, the Body. That Spirit that is in us is not meant to stay put but flow out of us too. It is power to make glad the city of God, even, as the popular song goes, to “build the city of God.” Maybe that’s as good a description as any of a monastic community, not just a little village, but a little village of God.

Especially in the Gospel of Luke the Holy Spirit is associated with dynamis, “power.” Bruno used to teach about the “historical and affective dynamism that is intrinsic to Christianity.” Dynamism is intrinsic to Christianity. This is a dynamism that flows through us, courses through our veins, and pours out of us in love and service, in creativity and learning. Prayer, the way of contemplative prayer and meditation, is our means of accessing that power, that Spirit that has been poured into us, as Jesus did when he went out to the deserted places. And then… it is always meant to pour out of us to make glad the City of God. And so we see Jesus in the gospel today (Lk 13:10-17) furious (perhaps), at least frustrated, that his co-religionists (“hypocrites!” he calls them) can’t see that even the shabbat shalom––the peace of the sabbath can be a pernicious peace. How can you not see that it is part of God’s healing power of shabbat shalom to cure this woman? I don’t want your sacrifice, your observance, your Hebrew, Latin or Greek, if they have not become in you a motivation for compassion, for bringing joy to the City of God.

Clothing Bryan Lei as a postulant.

That dynamism in our life, of our monastic life, is so important, because there is a danger that our spirituality can easily become encased, stagnant, self-serving, self-absorbed, or, as Abhishiktananda would say, notional: all of which would be, if the scriptures serve us correctly, actually moving against the dynamism of the Spirit of God. Even as we celebrate Bryan’s entrance into postulancy yesterday and Ivan’s transfer of stability to here in America today, let’s pledge ourselves to that interior journey. Let’s also be careful not to be like the leader of the synagogue that we heard about today, and never arrest the dynamism that is intrinsic to Christian spirituality, and intrinsic to monasticism, but instead hope that we may be full of the teaching and the power of God, individually and collectively, a “becoming residence for the holiness of the divine love,” and so become in reality the sacrament that we celebrate.

cyprian 30 october 17


[1] Rom 8:9-17.

[2] Rom 5:11.

[3] Word in Season, VII, 196.

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this, Fr Cyprian. When you wrote ‘the love of God’ it reminded me that this is a wonderfully multivalent phrase – My/our/the world’s love for God, and God’s love for me/us/the world, as well as the mutuality of love within creation (me, us, the world, God), sustaining all.

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