Friday, April 30, 2010
Reading: "Fuel for the Fire" of Prayer
I haven't been writing much because I've been reading - and trying to read in a different way than I've been accustomed to: following the advice of Abbot Hugh Gilbert, OSB (in an interview with Phillip Zaleski in the anthology The Inner Journey: Views form the Christian Tradition)
Abbot Hugh says this about reading in Benedictine practice
Reading is the food of prayer. Or perhaps one can say that reading is fuel for the fire. Prayer is the flame, but you won’t have fire if you don’t have fuel. If the monk is not feeding himself with the word of God, if he is not putting the logs of the word of God into the hearth of his heart, there won’t be prayer. The fire will just die out in one way or another.
. . . .
If people come from an academic background, they have to learn to read in a less acquisitive way. Not read just to make notes and gain information and write an essay about it in the end. But to read for reading’s sake, as it were, to read with an eye to meeting God.
"To read with an eye to meeting God." I've been reading, just lately, two books that speak to each other interestingly -- at least in my imagination -- about God and the experience of the Divine Life. The first is John Zizioulas's classic, Being as Communion. It develops the Eastern Orthodox idea of God as a "communion of persons" - a being defined by communion -- and suggests that what we mean when we say we are created in the divine image is that we are made to be persons in communion: that is our eternal identity. I am who I am, who God has made me to be, and the journey of Christian faith is to grow more and more into that person, and to understand more and more how I am connected to other persons, in the "communion" (koinonia) that is the true divine life. He makes the distinction between being "individuals in community" -- a consumerist model -- occupied with what we can get out of the community -- and being "persons in communion" -- gradually discovering our divine identity through our connection with other human beings, all of us made in the image of God. Zizioulas says the Church lives this image of the divine life most fully at the Eucharist. I'm not expressing this very well, but it seems to me to be a compelling idea -- one I'd heard about but have enjoyed mulling over more fully, wading through the often quite technical systematic theology that Zizioulas presents.
I've been reading other things too - most recently Parker Palmer's wonderfully titled book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life: Welcoming the Soul and Weaving Community in a Wounded World. -- which I think speaks to some of the same things as Zizioulas, in another mode -- but will write more about this in another post. I'm not sure I fully understand everything I've read in Zizioulas -- couldn't write a term paper or a theological essay on him yet -- but the experience of reading & pondering this work has been rich and prayerful. "Fuel for the fire" of prayer indeed! I want to read around more in the spirituality and practice of the very earliest church fathers.
Perhaps I'll write more soon about what I've been reading. But that's enough for now.