Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cataphatic Mysticism?

“Contemporary songs aren't necessarily trying to teach the faith, so much as proclaim it. The point is to provide a vehicle for praise or prayer. Instead of singing doctrinal discourse or narrative content, the relatively simple message is sung repeatedly as a meditation. The repetition serves as an opportunity to reflect on the point of the text so as to deepen awareness, appreciation, and experience of the truth that is being sung. The purpose of singing the song is to lead the worshipper to this point of meditation and reflection, and so hopefully engage the worshipper in a way that goes beyond the intellectual or cognitive. …The ultimate purpose of the contemporary song is meditation on God in the presence of God.”

Does that quote sound a little “off” to you? I thought so too. It was written by LCMS pastor Michael Schmid, and quoted in Pastor Paul Strawn’s paper titled “The Praise Chorus as Unwitting Introduction of Cataphatic Mysticism into Christian Worship.” What’s cataphatic mysticism? Ah, for that answer, you’ll have to read Pastor Strawn’s paper. You can find it here. It’ll be worth the trip.

photo credit: Krisztina Tordai


Anonymous said...

OK, permit me to be more than just a little bit snarky here, but if I’m reading Strawn’s article correctly, the proponents of this cataphatic mysticism say that you can find the real presence of God in, with, and under the form of just about everything... just not bread and wine.

Given some of the descriptions that Strawn relates in his article, I’m surprised that some of these post modernists haven’t started advocating the use of hallucinogens...

Scott Diekmann said...

Pastor Strawn doesn't mention the term, but it's essentially panentheism. He quotes from The New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality: “Kataphatic spirituality is synonymous with the affirmative way. Based on the theological
premise that a relationship exists between the creation and God’s self, kataphatic spirituality
emphasizes the similarity between God and the creation that emanates from God’s self more than its dissimilarity. Although creation is not identical with God, creation exists within God’s
being, and thus human persons may mystically experience the presence of God in and through creation and incarnation.”

Anonymous said...

OK, that clarifies things a bit, as far as Pr. Strawn’s writing. However, the notion still sticks with me that the appeal of this type of spirituality among so-called evangelicals and emergent types still tends to look for God everywhere but the places where he has revealed – namely Word and Sacrament.

The first read of Pr. Strawn’s paper (prompting my original post above) drew to mind numerous conversations with friends of the evangelical persuasion who insist that Word and Sacraments are ineffective not only in terms of what they do, but also in terms of God’s presence; i.e. God to them is everywhere but where we as Lutherans know him to be. True, there is quite a lot to be said for the beauty of creation. Even so, meditating on a tree, or a rose, or a sunrise, has never brought me the kind of feeling of relief or forgiveness, - or any other feeling, for that matter – the way that receiving the body and blood has done in the past when I’ve neglected my worship attendance. Those conversations, then, have left me with the question whether evangelicals and/or postmodern emergent types have confused the Book of Mark with the book of “Mark-eting”.

That said, I can recall that during a certain football game two weeks ago involving Ohio State and our mutually beloved Huskers that meditating on the end zone didn’t produce much.

Scott Diekmann said...

I totally agree with you. If you reject the Sacraments, what sort of hermeneutic does that leave you with?
One that is heterodox from the beginning, i.e. a theology of glory.
Meditating on the end zone during the Husker game certainly did produce plenty of points, but for the wrong team! It was painful to watch.