Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Continuing the Conversation: Grace

Lee, bls, and myself continue the conversation on sin and grace. I note,

bls makes a good point. Perfection-seeking often reinforces addictive behaviors. It is also crippling to the overly scrupulous like myself. The two can go hand in hand. To be able to admit our limitations is healthy and mature Christian spirituality. The saint is one who accepts without self-loathing that she or he is sinner, and paradoxically grace flows from and through that acceptance. And that for some of us, that involves a felt and experienced break with the past. For some of us, it involves a revision of inhabiting a loved universe not as we might wish it but as it is. I think that much of the sharper divisions on matters of sin and grace exist for at least two reasons: 1) particular theologians of great weight experienced sin and grace for and in themselves in particular ways–spiritualities, and write these into their theological musings–it’s unavoidable, 2) others are shaped by these spiritualities as they are enacted in prayer and imbibed in study. This leaves us always in conversation with others’ spiritualities that do or don’t give us full sense of our own experiences of sin and grace. For those who have experienced the surprise of grace in the midst of addiction or perfectionism, those who seek a way or rule of life may come across as reinforcing the very trouble grace is freeing them from. For those who experience the slow steadiness of grace, such folks may seem to be asking for dispensation from a shared way of putting on Christ. As someone who navigates both of these, I want to avoid legalism because it will crush grace, and at the same time not lose a sense of shared discipleship. At the heart of the genius of Anglicanism is a common rule that is meant to lean us encounter the surprise of grace–Common Prayer (see Countryman’s work on Anglicanism and poetry).

I would posit that accepting our dependence on or trust in God (sound familiar) is the cornerstone that leads us into a vision of our shared coinherence as human beings and interdependence on one another and the entire creation. Dependence on our part paradoxically if slowly renews freedom because as Kathryn Tanner reminds us God is not in opposition to our createdness, but releases our createdness to be more itself, including admission of limitations and shortcomings. I would use Luther’s positive insight re: we don’t want to be creatures as the heart of Sin to reframe the famed theosis phrase, “God became human being so that human beings could become divine” to mean precisely not an upwards movement, as in ladder spirituality, but a groundward movement, where admission of and acceptance of dependence on God is the foundation. Divinity or our partaking of divine nature or participation as well as ways of life together are reframed not primarily as moral requirements, but shared ways that support our being more human–more honest with ourselves and others, more able to admit failure and sin, more responsible for ourselves, more generous to others, more caring of creation, etc. In this way, God became human being, so that human beings might be free, more ourselves, human. That is to say, that “divinity” on our “side” of the experience does not look more ethereal, but more earthy.

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