Posted in musings

unity of mind and will

In college I read quite a bit of Kierkegaard – some was assigned for my freshman honors seminar, and I kept going from there – and one of the major themes that has stuck in my memory since then is single-mindedness. I always find it challenging to quote succinctly from Kierkegaard, since he did not write in easily divisible points but in arguments crashing over and rolling underneath each other like ocean waves at the shore, and it is necessary (or at least highly recommended) to read a whole discourse to grasp the end to which all his words were tending. So in that light I would encourage you to read “Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing” – but I will also attempt to include some short excerpts.

In that particular discourse, Kierkegaard began by contemplating the words of James: “for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways, will receive anythings from the Lord.” (James 1:6-8). Those are concerning words to anyone who looks inside themselves and sees the draw of our desires and thoughts to multiple things: a desire to be loved, or to be respected, or to gain power, or to accumulate wealth, or to live comfortably, and so on. We try to follow God while part of our heart gazes mournfully off to the side, complaining and trying to persuade us to take a different path; we avoid the unseen and tedious acts of faith like daily prayer and Scripture reading while continuing to perform the outward acts of church attendance and token service; we pamper and comfort our bodies instead of ruling over our physical desires and denying them for the sake of the good; in short, we love God with only part of our mind, part of our heart, part of our soul, and part of our body (cf. Matthew 22:37).

Shall a man in truth will one thing, then this one thing that he wills must be such that it remains unaltered in all changes, so that by willing it he can win immutability. If it changes continually, then he himself becomes changeable, double-minded, and unstable. And this continual change is nothing else than impurity. […] In truth to will one thing, then, can only mean to will the Good.

Soren Kierkegaard, “Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing”

For of course, the only unchangeable One is God, so the only one thing that we can will, the only single purpose and direction we can have that doesn’t change through the seasons of life and even past death, is God Himself. The Psalms are continually pointing that out, after all. “Whom have I in heaven but You?” the Psalmist asks, “And there is nothing upon earth that I desire besides You.” (Ps. 73:25). And again, “One thing I have asked of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in His temple.” (Ps. 27:4). Those are the words of a heart truly desiring God above all else and choosing to seek Him alone, not the changing passions of the body or the changing ideals of human culture.

What I have been realizing, stumbling through the Psalms and the Epistles in ways clearly not of my own planning, remembering that lingering philosophy, is that it is not easy to be single-minded, to have unity of purpose within myself, to truly and honestly will one thing in heart and mind and body and soul. I can say that I want the Good but be too cowardly to act on it when confrontation (or even just conversation) is warranted, showing that my will is also for safety and peace. Or I could be too undisciplined to pursue the Good diligently, again showing that I also desire comfort and convenience. And all the time I should be striving to say with the Apostle Paul that “one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

Father in Heaven! What is a man without Thee! What is all that he knows, vast accumulation though it be, but a chipped fragment if he does not know Thee! What is all his striving, could it even encompass the world, but a half-finished work if he does not know Thee: Thee the One, who art one thing and who art all! So may Thou give to the intellect, wisdom to comprehend that one thing; to the heart, sincerity to receive this understanding; to the will, purity that wills only one thing. In prosperity may Thou grant perseverance to will one thing; amid distractions, collectedness to will one thing; in suffering, patience to will one thing. […] Alas, but this has indeed not come to pass. Something has come in between. The separation of sin lies in between. Each day, and day after day something is being placed in between: delay, blockage, interruption, delusion, corruption. So in this time of repentance may Thou give the courage once again to will one thing.

Soren Kierkegaard, “Purity of Heart Is To Will One Thing”

But as Kierkegaard reminds us, there is help from the Spirit along the way, and the chance for repentance to choose to set aside our sin once more and attempt again to follow God with unity of mind and with totality of self. Our salvation is not a single prayer to cover all time, but a lifetime of learning and growing and choosing to walk in the path of the Lord, desiring Him and loving Him with all that we are, setting aside all that distracts and unifying all that is good and helpful into that greatest Good of all.

Posted in musings

to the end

As the narrative of the gospel of John transitions from Jesus’s ministry into his final teachings before Passover (which in turn are the build up to His suffering, death, and resurrection), there stands one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible.

“Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” – John 13:1

With the end of Lent in sight now that Holy Week is at hand, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ends of things. So often I start with high ambitions and good intentions on a new and brightly fascinating idea, only to peter out into nothing before I complete anything (and oh, that phrase of unknown etymology calls up some interesting analogies here: the disciple who strode out on to the water in faith, only to end by sinking in doubt; who boldly proclaimed that he would never forsake Jesus, only to deny him three times not long after). The daily grind of discipline and maintenance required to see a task through to its end, after the shine has worn off and the hardship and tedium has set in, is not something that comes naturally to me (does it to anyone, really?). But eventually, the end comes. The deadline approaches – time runs out – what is left undone must still be called up and held accountable. At some point there is no “tomorrow” left to finish up the chores, to do something special with your child, to read the last chapter of your book, or to turn your heart towards God.

What do you want to be focusing on, when the end comes? What do you want to have finished, or to at least have put your best effort into? And if it is not what comes naturally, how can you give yourself the motivation and support you need to do what you truly, deeply, desire to do?

Jesus, here, was approaching the end, and he knew it, and he was most definitely not looking forward to it. The task he was about to complete was not a pleasant one. But as the end came, he held fast to the bright and beautiful idea that had started it all: he loved his people. Having loved them from the beginning, he loved them to the end. He would prove that love, on the cross, that great and terrible end towards which he was at this point rapidly proceeding.

And what happened then? He loved them to the end – the end of his earthly ministry, the end of his very life – and then he showed them, showed us, that the end is not final: that hope and redemption and life and restoration continue on. He loved us to the end – and his love did not end. Peter sank into the waves, and it could have been the end – but Jesus pulled him up onto the boat. Peter denied his Lord and Savior, and that could have been the end too – but Jesus forgave him, redeemed him, equipped him, and built the church upon his shoulders. He caught hold of that unending love, and it pulled him past the end and into the eternity awaiting.

I know what I want to be focused on, when Lent ends, when I end: that same unending love. I know what I want to have put my best effort into: leaving behind my vices and sins, into loving the people around me and fulfilling my responsibilities to them, into making my small corner of the world more beautiful and more illuminated by the light of heaven. And since it does not come naturally, most of the time? I pray that I might strive (for righteousness) and rest (in grace) both now and at the end: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Like Peter, I stretch my hand over the raging waters to catch hold of the ever-strong grace and the never-ending love of Jesus.

Posted in musings

it is not surprising that those who neglect the Mother of God also demean and objectify womanhood

A toxic strain of misogyny dwells within Christianity, an infection that pretends to be part of its host. It makes women out to be spun glass or precious china – beautiful objects, of great value and worthy of being protected. Notice that this analogy, while purporting to elevate women, actually paints women as objects, not persons, and portrays them as being unable to protect themselves or others who they love or who are vulnerable and in need. It limits the acceptable competencies of womanhood (i.e., from fighting to nurturing) and removes agency and autonomy from women.

A particularly egregious article from the well-known ministry Desiring God has by virtue of its poor writing made this misogyny more blatant than is typical (or, likely, than was intended). First, the author writes that “our God, our nature, our love must firmly say, You are too precious, my mother, my daughter, my beloved. It is my glory to die that you may live.” Here part of the true reasoning behind the overprotective platitudes is revealed: the pride of men is at stake, and it is a fragile thing! Far be it from these men to endure the long years of loneliness and deprivation following the death of a loved one; no, for them it is the single shining moment of a glorious death that they crave, that though the women they leave behind might suffer and be forgotten, they at least might be remembered and praised for their valiant bravery. No matter that if they had fought together, this man and his mother (or daughter, or beloved) may have both escaped unscathed, or more effectively protected their children or neighbors. The heroics of the man would be diminished, his glory tarnished! May it never be!

I (and I believe I speak for most women here) have no desire to be the token object by which a man’s glory is elevated, a precious thing but a thing all the same. Womanhood complements manhood that the two might fight the battles of life hand in hand, and they are not so dichotomously opposed that is must always be the men who die in glory and the women who remain at home in silence and tedium. The strength of manhood grows more patient and steadfast when tempered by the daily tasks of nurturing and maintaining a family and home; the strength of womanhood gains sharpness and fire when allowed to whet itself on the battlefield (whether philosophical, political, or physical). Though cultural traditions have often mandated otherwise, God has given to some women – like Deborah and Joan of Arc – a vocation of war and public ferocity; and He has similarly given to some men, though their names may be lost to a history that treasures only moments of flashy glory, a vocation of tenderness and private service.

The unfortunate article in question, however, does not content itself with this first statement of objectification. In the concluding paragraph, the author states that “God’s story for all eternity consists of a Son who slew a Dragon to save a Bride.” Conveniently, it seems, he forgets or ignores the great foremother of that Son, of whose seed – not of Adam’s seed, note – the Lord promised that the Savior would one day come. Conveniently again he forgets or ignores the Mother of that Son, who suffered the ignominy and shame of an unwed pregnancy to bear Him for the world, who raised Him in poverty and exile to know and love the Scriptures, who protected with her own body the Savior who that Dragon was waiting to devour. In His person, Jesus united deity with humanity, and though He took the form of a man, He ensured in the person of His Mother that womanhood was not omitted from the salvific narrative, a mere passive item to be protected and preserved. In her, womanhood also fought against the temptations and forces of Satan, and by her obedience and faith – by her willingness to be thrown into the center of the battle for the souls of all humanity – the Son of God was able to be the Son of Man as well, and so die and rise again to bring life to us all.

Of course, it is so much easier to forget about Mary. She comes with theological baggage enough to make any Protestant uncomfortable, especially the Reformed persuasion at Desiring God. But when we write her out of the story, we run the risk of writing out womanhood in general, from social and cultural mores as well as from the life of faith. You can keep your precious china, locked away in your home, safe from the dangers of life until it fades and grows brittle with the years of disuse. Let me instead be a woman like Mary, if I can dare to even dream so high – a woman like Deborah, like Joan of Arc, like Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila, like the saints who fought for the faith and the martyrs who died for it; I am like them a woman, a child of God, and I refuse to be objectified.