Splashing around in theology.

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Location: Ottawa, Canada

I read lots. I have a cat. I drink coffee. Therefore, I am.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

My Easter Service

It is Easter afternoon….
About three minutes after I woke up this morning, my phone rang. I should have let it keep ringing, but I thought it might be my mom, so I answered it.
The person on the other end told me I was going to hell.
I am not exaggerating in the slightest.
To be more precise, they said, “Where did you go to church this morning?”
Me: “Ummm… I didn’t, actually.”
“You’ve told me you’ve been thinking a lot about death lately.”
“Yes, I have,” I replied, while filling my coffee-maker up with water….
“Well, you should be worried then.”
“What?” I said.
“Not going to church on Easter morning? How do you think God feels about that?”
Needless to say, this conversation was not exactly enlightening to me.
It got progressively worse than above described, and ended with me hanging up on the person.

Only afterward did I think of what I should have said. You know how that happens? Always too late?
I would have liked to ask the person. “Is this what they instructed you to do after your Easter service today? Go home and call the first hellbound friend you can think of? Is that what Easter means to you?”

I am over it now. But I must admit, it was unnerving. It really was.
I do not like to hang up on anyone.

Thinking of the scene makes me recall something from the Tillich book I am currently reading.
Paul Tillich was a German/American theologian (1886-1965) and some say he was the most influential theologian of the 20th Century.
Reading Tillich is like wading out into an ocean, honest to God. Very soon you realize your feet are not touching bottom anymore, but the very salinity and undercurrent are bearing you up. You are swept along.
For me, I will always remember Good Friday, 2006 as the day I finally began reading Tillich.
Anyway, concerning the events of my own Easter morning here, the first chapter of this Tillich anthology comes to mind, as I said.
It is called Invocation: The Lost Dimension, and was written in 1958, five years before I was born. As I read it, I had to marvel… “How has this been here all my life, without my knowing it?”
Tillich argues that the Church (Christianity) has lost what he calls “the dimension of depth.”
I cannot possibly capsulize all that he says, but honestly, it is just so fascinating, I must regurgitate a bit of it here, for you.

If the dimension of depth is lost, the symbols in which life in this dimension has expressed itself must also disappear. I am speaking of the great symbols of the historical religions in our Western world, of Judaism and Christianity. The reason that the religious symbols became lost is not primarily scientific criticism, but it is a complete misunderstanding of their meaning; and only because of this misunderstanding was scientific critique able, and even justified, in attacking them. The first step toward the nonreligion in the Western world was made by religion itself. When it defended its great symbols, not as symbols, but as literal stories, it had already lost the battle. In doing so the theologians (and today many religious laymen) helped to transfer the powerful expressions of the dimension of depth into objects or happenings on the horizontal plane. There the symbols lose their power and meaning and become an easy prey to physical, biological and historical attack.

I am way out in the surf here, in the depth.
Buoyed though, not drowning…. aware that I should keep reading.
And a couple pages later, he says:

Is there an answer? There is always an answer, but the answer may not be available to us. We may be too deeply steeped in the predicament out of which the question arises to be able to answer it. To acknowledge this is certainly a better way toward a real answer than to bar the way to it by deceptive answers. And it may be that in this attitude the real answer (within available limits) is given. The real answer to the question of how to regain the dimension of depth is not given by increased church membership or church attendance, nor by conversion or healing experiences. But it is given by the awareness that we have lost the decisive dimension of life, the dimension of depth, and that there is no easy way of getting it back. Such awareness is in itself a state of being grasped by that which is symbolized in the term, dimension of depth. He who realizes that he is separated from the ultimate source of meaning shows by this realization that he is not only separated but reunited. And this is just our situation. What we need above all – and partly have – is the radical realization of our predicament, without trying to cover it up by secular or religious ideologies. The revival of religious interest would be a creative power in our culture if it would develop into a movement of search for the lost dimension of depth.

Reading this the first time, and now re-reading it again, has been my church.
My Easter service.

The realization is all.
Separated but reunited.
I’m so glad my phonecaller friend knows so much about all of the details in between, and how these apply to someone else. And I assure you, I feel as much spiritual guilt about consuming my next cup of coffee here, as I do about letting the answering machine retrieve my next call.


Blogger Cold Molasses said...

Happy Easter Cip! Wow, at first I couldn't even make my way through those two quotes. But then I forced myself to slow down and actually read it. And I liked it...I really liked it (maybe you can call me Mikey now).

Dimension of depth...hmmmm...deep indeed!

So how was church this morning anyway?

4/16/2006 3:23 PM  
Blogger cipriano said...

Church was awesome!
Yes, Mikey... this is how Tillich is. 9/10ths of the paragraphs I read, I have to read them over and over before I even begin to get a grasp of what the guy is saying.
But it's such fun.

4/16/2006 3:44 PM  
Blogger sanyavich said...

Unreal Cip. Exactly how I think of it.But of course at a kindergarden level. I too read this at the speed of well....cold molasses. I went to an actual church Sunday morning but oddly enough I can't remember a thing about it except it was very flat without that very depth Tillich speaks of. I have this state I can slip into when I attend such things something like a coma or a shield that prevents more damage or brainwashing and it seems nobody knows that I am somewhere else. I wonder if they are in the same coma.

4/17/2006 8:23 AM  
Blogger cipriano said...

I laughed when I read your comment the first time Sanyavich. Then I laughed again when I read it the second time.
That is seriously funny funny funny.
You got a dual-chortle out of me.
[Have you ever seen the clip where Mr. Bean falls asleep in church? Literally slogging over like a wet towel and then pretty much rolling down the aisle like some gap-toothed heathen armadillo? You made me think of that, and I say unto thee, thou hast brought laughter unto my soul!]

4/17/2006 10:43 PM  

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