Spirituality

Having Nothing to Show: Spirituality without Accounts

Jesus said to the twelve, “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”    Mathew 10:7-16

“Freely you have received, freely give.”
I was mulling over this aphorism of Jesus’ from Matthew’s Gospel a couple of days before the Feast of St. Barnabas. Then I found myself at a Mass on that feast and heard the full context of those words. “You received without payment, give without Payment.” The gift economy of this aphorism depends upon the hospitality of others, for others to receive and act within this gift economy. This is not easy; we can easily decide that this only applied to the Apostles during Jesus’ earthly ministry. I’ve lived as though this applies to me as a member of Christ, and a minister of word and sacrament. But now I’m wrestling with having taken Jesus’ words to heart. At times this part of the Gospel asks too much.

In a world where we are told we get only what we earn or take, saying we begin with something not earned, something which can’t be purchased, runs counter to our experience molded by concepts of earnings and profit.

There are costs to following these words. I’m at the end of my rope, uncertain how to evaluate how I’ve spent my life. I have given freely, convinced that I had been given something beyond payment and accounting. Yet, to give without payment is also to not earn. To give freely is to not accumulate: wealth, followers, supporters, congregations, fans. To freely give is to give without strings. The cost is this; giving freely looks a great deal like failure.

I have doubts. Have I given anything at all? This is the problem of being without accounts, of not keeping a ledger. There’s no means to call in debts, because there is no indebtedness. There’s no means to say look how much I have given, because to give freely is to give without account. Is this not complete foolishness? A voice in me accuses: “Did you not set out on this path knowing you could not succeed so, you kept no accounts so then you could avoid facing your own failure.”

“Freely you have received, freely give.”

A part of me says, the cost is too high in a world of ledgers, earnings, accounts, and debt, financial, emotional, psychological and social. I may freely give but others demand an account. I freely give but I still want to accumulate, receive payment for my efforts. I still want my earnings.

I still want to say I will succeed. I want recognition. I want wealth to eventually accumulate to me. Yet, I gave without demand for payment, and so there are no returns.

What this tells me is I’ve yet fully converted. I’ve yet to comprehend and ingest these words “You received without payment, Give without payment.” I’ve yet to learn the love of God Father Son and Holy Spirit, who gives without account, who reaps without sowing, who has wealth without accumulation, who loves without end or return.

When all is given freely there is no return for there was no investment. There’s invitation without RSVP, so that the guests that show up weren’t those invited.

Jesus says all this throughout the Gospels. Through the incarnation and the Cross, God removes the accounts and the ledgers, or proves to us there’s never been a ledger, or accounts, the reality remains that God isn’t keeping accounts. In Christ Jesus, God comes to us and says you have no debt, there are no accounts, no ledgers, only gift. Live accordingly. This is the life of faith, this is the way of the Cross, this is what it means to be a member of the body of Christ. Even so, we create again and again out of the gift, other economies. We bind people and wealth to ourselves in return for what we give. We accumulate people, money, property, debts (financial and social) to ourselves.

Or we do like I have done, give freely while attempting to reserve the right to demand a return on investment, and then become despondent realizing there is no ledger, no accounting, no measure.

Have I succeeded in ministry, and in life? have I failed? I have no idea. I can make no judgment.
What I can say is that I have lived with the conviction that I did freely receive what is beyond accounting. In my life and ministry I’ve sought to freely give. And at this moment all I can say is that my desires and my longings are divided and conflicted. I’ve held back, I’ve kept a ledger so that I could give an account, call in debts, account my earnings and my profits. Yet, now when I open that ledger the pages are blank, I have nothing to show.

What I received I received without account or credit, and I heard the call and gave accordingly. Thus there was nothing to record, nor proof to give, yet I held on to the ledger all the same.
Now I feel the need to keep accounts, and there’s nothing to show.

Is this failure or success I don’t know? There’s no measure. And I’m at a loss.

The Bodies of (Saint) David Bowie

At some point after the news of David Bowie’s death,  across my social media streams came mention of sainthood for  David Bowie.  Dannielle Jenkins of Greaser Creatures while David Bowie was alive made these saint candles of Bowie (and other rock and film icons). 20160112_091621  It makes a certain sense, Sainthood claims not only that a particular person was of significance during the persons biological life but that said person can’t be summed up in their biological life and continues to live on and have effect in the world after biological death.

Jacques Derrida pointed out that when we are dealing with people we know through their body of work (artistic, philosophical, political, theological) there is as desire to connect up their historical and biological body with their body of work.  This is a difficult task.  While there is obvious coincidence of the biological body and the body of work under the same signature and name, each also has a life of its own.

One of the many things the philosopher Jacques Derrida wrote about was this relation between our biological existence, our projections of our selves, and death.  For Derrida death lurks in us, in our communication of our selves, in our attempts to gain access to the other. There is a difference between death and life and yet they’re intermingled.

For Derrida death lingers in the different bodies of an artist or philosopher.  We often want to make these bodies coincide.  Yet, there is a separation. Death shows this separation.  What we have of a philosopher or artist after death is their body of work, this survives death, but their biological body, their self aside from the image projected as philosopher, artist, theologian isn’t accessible to us (and wasn’t accessible in life to a degree these names and bodies are already dead to us even during the biological life).

Sainthood approaches these aporias and conundrums of image and images and multiple bodies attached to a name, by adding a body, the body that transcends or survives death beyond a body of work.  This body continues to interact with the world after the biological body has ceased to live.  This can involve miraculous events attached to the name of the saint, including revelations and visions of the saint.

But we can’t make all the bodies attached to a name neatly coincide, neither can we dismiss the connections, the overlap, and the coincidence of the bodies received under one signature and name.

David Bowie as a stage name hides from us one body, that of David Jones.  And yet the way in which David Jones’ biological  body is also David Bowie’s body and the way in which that shared body was part of the body of work signed David Bowie, there is already in David Bowie a certain transcendence of death even before the death of the biological body.  This is analogous to the ways in which the body of a Saint already shows signs of transcendence in their biological bodies.  David Bowie isn’t only already marked by death, but also marked by the transcendent body David Bowie.

Now David Bowie’s body of work is complete.  We now hear and see David Bowie differently.  We may even begin to wrestle with his darker side, things that we may not want to attach to the body of work and yet are part of the biological life and body of David Jones/Bowie.

Yet it is perhaps important to remember that the bodies of David Bowie are different while they overlap.  We can’t either ignore the difference between David Jones and David Bowie, nor can we ignore their coincidence.

What we have now access too, and only had access to as fans and aficionados of David Bowie is the body of his work of art, the story of which was told in David Bowie Is exhibition, and which we now have  as its capstone in Blackstar.

And I think we also have that body that transcends death in that David Bowie’s body of work because of the nature of that body transcends death, and continues to give us messages and encounters with David Bowie beyond the grave.

Although we have the body of David Bowie complete, we won’t be able to comprehend these bodies.  There will always be those things beyond our grasp.  David Bowie may have a transcendent body that we will only now discover as we carry with us the artistic corpus of David Bowie. However, unlike what is claimed of the saint, we will never have (and never did have) accessible to us the body of David Jones.  David Jones is lost to us, all we ever had and will ever have is the bodies of David Bowie, biological, artistic, and transcendent.

The Spirituality of Place and Physicality (Leaving Our Marks)

I recently talked with a low church evangelical who recently went on pilgrimage to Palestine/Israel.  He reported that it was amazing, but that before the trip he hadn’t given much credence to the possibility that space, architecture, and place could be imbued with Spirit.  Based on his experience at the  pilgrimage sites in Jerusalem, he was convinced that those places were Spiritual, whether other space and places could also be he remained agnostic.

I’m astounded by how often I run across  this attitude that all places and spaces are the same that the Spiritual and the holy don’t attach themselves to place or architecture or space.  This seems particularly strange to me among those whose very belief system claims that God became united with matter and a body in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, who as his name states was from a particular place and at a particular time, 1st century Palestine.

We perhaps get caught up in how this might be?  We can’t believe that a reality free of the constraints of physicality would allow itself to be  limited by the physical.  Yet this is exactly the claim of the incarnation.  As St John of Damascus says in his defense of icons in On Orthodoxy ” the uncircumscribable became circumscribed.”

In The Life of the World, Alexander Schmemann claims that our sense of the separation of the physical and Spiritual, mater and divinity isn’t the ultimate truth.  Rather God intended that all creation be the place of meeting between creature and creator.  The Sacraments work because in our unfallen state the whole world was Sacrament to us, God had always intended to meet us in and through the physical and material world.

I’m drawn to forms of Christianity that take seriously that space, architecture, place and physicality are Spiritual.  I’m also drawn to those forms of Christianity that then say what we do with the reality of the coincidence of the material and the Spiritual means certain things for the spaces we pray in, the images we look at, and the way we sing.  All of this isn’t necessarily as bounded (from my current point of view) as these Christians may assert.  I do believe that the tradition of the Church has a form, and not all Christian activity fits into that form.  I’m still questioning that form, I’m still seeking to think into that form.

My sense is that the Church has left its mark.  The Holy Spirit as the spirit of Christ comes to us through forms created and passed down (that is Tradition).  Place matters, the forms our buildings take matter.  These things have meaning.  I encourage us to take pay attention to the physicality of our spirituality, and to recognise it doesn’t necessarily mean all the same thing.  Difference in form is also difference in spirituality and faith.

Leaving our Marks: Interiors, Exteriors, and Bodies

In the late 1990’s into the early 2000’s there was a magazine called Nest: A Quarterly of Interiors.  It’s one of the few magazines from when I subscribed to magazines that I have kept the issues, and even purchased some back issues.  What has stuck with me about the magazine is that it wasn’t a showcase, rather it featured articles about the interiors of peoples actual homes as they lived in them.  Often the homes were of artists or authors, though I also remember an issue that featured the interior of the apartment of a stock broker or analyst who worked on Wall Street, and an issue that featured a home made out of milk crates by someone who was otherwise “homeless”.  The articles that accompanied the photos of these interiors were always reflective and philosophical. Each issue was organised around a theme.  The point of Nest was that we leave our trace, our mark, upon the world and attention to the interiors of our homes gives us a glimpse into our interiors (souls/selves).

We are in need of such witness to the relation between what we now call our spirituality and our physicality and the spaces we inhabit.

I grew up among Lutheran Pietists. We affirmed the Resurrection and the body, to a point, the focus of our embodiment was song and music, we had (to borrow a term from the Anglobaptist) a sonic theology.  But too much attention to clothing, the interior of our houses, or the visual arts was discouraged.  This wasn’t so much a denial of the body as a fear of mere ornamentation.  We could spend time focused on singing and playing instruments, and the beauty of the sounds these physical things made but to pay attention to my own appearance, to decorate the house, to meditate upon a painting wasn’t a priority.  Physical beauty for decoration was superfluous and secondary to natural beauty (sunsets, flowers, the well tilled earth, the night sky, the unadorned body, etc.).

I was more visual, I preferred painting and drawing to singing and playing music, I was concerned with fashion, to the puzzlement and bemusement of my mother.  Though she also appreciated that I could tell her if a certain blouse or skirt would go with an existing item in her wardrobe when shopping for clothes.

In a foriegn country staring at myself in the mirror after letting my beard and hair grow out, I realized I could communicate who I was and wanted to be through my appearance.  Not that I thought all would always interpret these signs as I intended (but that’s the way of things Cf. AKMA on interpretation).  This awareness was also the solidifying of my growing goth identity.  It was also for me a theological affirmation: Resurrection had to mean that my physicality had meaning and primary importance.  My appearance wasn’t simply frivolity and decoration but a primary act of meaning and communication.

When my wife and I got engaged we made a pact against the purely utilitarian in our clothing and household items: what we wore and the objects of our interior needed to be beautiful and meaningful as well as useful.

As a regular feature of Gothic musings I’m starting a series on the beauty meaning and self expression of our habitations, clothing, interiors, and architecture.  I invite you to think with me about the meaning and beauty of our habitation: whether in simplicity or extravagance, with meager or abundant means. I have some people I’d like to see what their interior and fashion are like and to hear them reflect on the interiors of their homes and their fashion choices.  I also invite you to leave a comment here or contact me if you’d like to share photos and/or an essay on your physical habitation and its meaning.

These will be found in Gothic Musings because the goth aesthetic is, in part at least, about giving a particular expression of an identity and outlook through dress and decor.  Though,  this theme cuts across all aspects of priestly goth, whether ecclesiology, spiritual direction, or iconography, it all is about the meaning of embodiment and beauty as an outworking of the doctrines of the incarnation and resurrection.

In the next few days, I will post photos of the interior of the Community of the Holy Trinity with some thoughts on what the common spaces of the community say about myself and the community and the other members of the community.

And to wet your appetite here are some photos of my self presentation in the world:

(Click on the photos to see a slide show and see the comments on each photo)