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Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2).
We live under the everlasting sign of progress. Science and technology have elevated the notion of progress to a godhead. Progress, like time’s arrow, always points ahead. Whatever resists progress is branded primitive and archaic.
Primitivism, in its pure and proper sense, is the essence of religion. The original teachings of Jesus and the Apostles are a soothing balsam to countless generations. Yet the concept of faith has been dealt severe blows by Church Dogmatics. ‘The Church is perfectly pure only when considered as guardian of the sacraments” writes French thinker Simone Weil in Letter to a Priest.
Christianity does not lend itself to sects and states. It seeks what Søren Kierkegaard calls the Single Individual. The knighthood of faith, declares the Danish theologian, lies within everyone’s reach. Faith is neither a transferable title nor a membership to a club; there are no associates in faith. Political ideologies coalesce people into parties, but faith suffocates in crowds; it is fiercely non-conformist. “Christianity is only suitable for robust natures”, stresses Kierkegaard. It seeks the individual who can bear its singular demand: humility, true and total; not a morose subservience or an obsequious servility, but a wilful surrender to God. “Humility is a rare virtue and an unfashionable one that is often hard to discern”, notes Iris Murdoch in The Sovereignty of Good. “The humble man, because he sees himself as nothing, can see other things as they are”.
Are we willing to exit from our tower of arrogance? Can we admit our wrongs first to ourselves in sincere self-examination? We must have the humble courage to withdraw from the crowd’s conformity, be alone with ourselves, and turn our gaze inwards. The Kingdom of God is within you, says Luke (17:21). In moments of crisis, the inner voice that becomes audible is God’s love. Faith in God is what keeps love’s fountain flowing in our heart.
The quintessence of faith is a paradox. Since we are not only made of matter our spiritual part enables us ―if we allow it ― to subdue our reason to the paradox of faith and accept God’s awesome mystery in our heart. We do not diminish in intellectual capacity by doing so. “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious,” Albert Einstein writes. “It is the source of all true art and science.”
Thinkers and mystics across the ages keep reminding us that every person has the capacity to surpass himself, but few are willing. The same with faith; although every human being can move closer to God, few rise to the challenge. Rationalism airbrushes our religious spontaneity. Faith, having no worldly anchor, can lift us above our weakness. Faith in the love of God.
Oscar Wilde once claimed that “Culture is man’s most precious possession”. Yet in De Profundis, which he wrote in prison, he extols humility in Robin Ross’s silent salute as he walked handcuffed past him on his way to jail. “Men have gone to Heaven for lesser things than that” the contrite artist writes. “It was in this spirit and with this mode of love that the saints knelt down to wash the feet of the poor or stooped to kiss the leper on the cheek”.
As a divine blessing “Love can cover a multitude of sins”. Love of the neighbour, Christianity’s fundamental motto, stems from an overflowing love of oneself ― the love of the person who is at one with himself or herself, entirely transparent before God. Christian love is the most selfish and yet the most selfless love in existence. Jesus Christ founded his religion on an all-encompassing love ― not the sentimental mawkishness but the love that stands to embrace all those who suffer, showing no preference or bias, like the good shepherd does with his flock. Being divine, Christian love is completely unsentimental, otherwise it would be another form of human emotion. Love is God’s gift to every human being, a gift that every person ought to receive in humility and in gratitude.
Yet we love in a state of angst; possessively, frantically, desperately. We love in order to be loved; we need to feel loved; we love to feel needed. “Love is the general name of the quality of attachment” writes Iris Murdoch, “but when it is even partially refined, it is the energy and passion of the soul in its search for Good, the force that joins us to the world through Good”.
To resist the spectre of loneliness we need “strengthening in the Inner Being”, as Paul says to the Ephesians. Only faith can provide this strengthening because faith shapes our most precious and often neglected dimension ― our inwardness. Whoever is capable of genuine compassion towards any form of affliction, acts out of an inward impulse that sets him free. The passion of faith, the love of God, is a freeing passion.
by Costas Nisiotis
Athens, Greece - firstname.lastname@example.org
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