Wednesday, October 20, 2010

No Going Backwards

     Sitting at the kitchen table with one of my roommates, we began, or I began rather, venting frustrations about not moving forward spiritually.  Some of the books we are reading (or are supposed to be reading) make some rather exasperating assumptions, and while possible, I don't think I'm the only one who has been frustrated by these books. 
     One of the readings for the week, a selection from John Neafsey's A Sacred Voice is Calling, makes some pretty irritating theoretical generalizations about how to pursue a socially conscious life that responds to a higher calling, or Dream with a capital "D" as Neafsey calls it.  He does a lot of surface level talk about how to engage with the world around us, but says little that is actually of use.  My favorite example of his aggravating propensity toward vaguery comes in his three step plan for how to engage actively with society: "Speak metaphorically but concretely..."
     I'm sorry, what?  By definition a metaphor is anything but concrete.  Admittedly, I can see what Neafsey (by way of Walter Bruggeman from whom he draws this three step plan) is getting at.  However, notwithstanding the fact that all three steps essentially say the same thing in words that aren't even that different, these things are far easier said than done, and Neafsey makes no suggestion for how we are to go about finding, let alone employing, such concrete metaphors for talking about the world's suffering.  Methodologically, he does exactly what he cautions us against - he consistently speaks in abstract metaphors instead of providing concrete examples from which to work.
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     Leaving aside the theoretical and methodological issues I have with these readings (I can ignore them because I know I have a proclivity for being overly academic), the point where I stumble the hardest comes in Neafsey's fundamental assumptions.  He assumes that his readers are spiritual dunces, that we aren't actively seeking God already. 
"The root metaphor for vocation centers around the... 'seeing eye,' a capacity for perception and vision and imagination.  This might, for some, involve actual visionary experiences of another level of reality, mystical glimpses into the world of the spirit.  More commonly, it has to do with seeing the reality of the world more clearly, looking more deeply into things, beneath the surface of things."
He then spends the rest of the chapter talking about what he perceives to be the more common experience of spirituality.  I think it's selling us short.  He entirely ignores and even speaks diminutively of the human capacity for mystical understanding of God's vision.  He seems to think it's impossible for us Americans.  I beg to differ, Mr. Neafsey.  And isn't it a little foolhardy to set out to examine and change the world for the better if we have not encountered God in prayer?
     Furthermore, where does this leave those of us who already have and already do mystically (though that word seems a little inflated) encounter God daily?  What advice do you have for us, Mr. Neafsey?  Needless to say, if you haven't gathered this already, I'm feeling a little stunted in my spiritual growth.  Neafsey is talking about things that I realized in high school.  I told my ever-so-attentive roommate about these frustrations, and while she demurely agreed to some extent, she offered a bit of pertinent advice - "Your spiritual journey can't go backwards."  So maybe it feels like things aren't moving forward as much as I would like, but she's right - God isn't leading me backward.  I just have to figure out why we're taking this particular detour, why we're taking the "roundabout way" (Exodus 13:18) yet again.  In the meanwhile, I'll have to practice patience with writers who promulgate nebulous advice while assuming that humanity no longer knows how to communicate with God.

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