Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Getting 'Real': A Meandering Blurb On Rabbits, Horses, and Sanctification...

(Me and Calvin)

As a Lenten Discipline I have been reading John Calvin's "Institutes on the Christian Religion." In the past I focused on Calvin's thought regarding what Protestant Theologians refer to as "sanctification." Sanctification is simply a fancy word for discussing the Christian's growth in holiness through the work of Christ. Many of us have met a person in our lives that exemplified such a sanctified life--a life so broken open by the grace of God that that life cannot help but be a witness to the coming Kingdom of God in our midst. But, I am equally as sure that just as many of us have "entertained [such a person] unawares" (Hebrews 13:2). Much as Christ was passed over in his life, we pass over witnesses of God's grace everyday. Many times the grittiness of Grace is easily over-looked.

However, there are those times when the wearying worries of the day subside and we find ourself smack-dab in the midst of grace. There are those times when we recognize God's witnesses all around-- the trees reaching forth their hands in silent prayer and the sun bowing before God's earthy-creation. God's Grace abounds; God's witnesses abound. Yet, many times we do not see ourselves as such a witness. We do not see ourselves as being broken open by God's Good Grace. We do not see ourselves as being consecrated by God. We do not see ourselves as God's beloved. We have been convinced that such sanctimonious speech is reserved for the likes of certain Saints.

Soren Kierkegaard presents us with one such image--an image that may leave us feeling as though we have two left feet -- that of a Dancer:

"Most people live dejectedly in worldly sorrow and joy; they are the ones who sit along the wall and do not join in the dance. The knights of infinity are dancers and possess elevation. They make the movements upward, and fall down again; and this too is no mean pastime, nor ungraceful to behold. But whenever they fall down they are not able at once to assume the posture, they vacillate an instant, and this vacillation shows that after all they are strangers in the world."
 (Excerpt from Fear & Trembling)
However, what for Kierkegaard was mere vacillation--a stutter step of hesitation betraying one's dancing to the beat of a different drum--John Calvin saw as a steady limp:
"That, with wavering and limping and even creeping along the ground, they move at a feeble rate. Let each one of us, then, proceed according to the measure of his puny capacity and set out upon the journey we have begun. No one shall set out so inauspiciously as not daily to make some headway, though it be slight. Therefore, let us not cease so to act that we may make some unceasing progress in the way of the Lord. And let us not despair at the slightness of our success; for even though attainment may not correspond to desire, when today outstrips yesterday the effort is not lost. Only let us look toward our mark with sincere simplicity and aspire to our goal; not fondly flattering ourselves, nor excusing our own evil deeds, but with continuous effort striving toward this end: that we may surpass ourselves in goodness until we attain to goodness itself. It is this, indeed, which through the whole course of life we seek and follow. But we shall attain it only when we have cast off the weakness of the body, and are received into full fellowship with him.”
(Institutes, 3.6.5 or pp. 1:689)
In typical Calvinesque fashion we are reminded of humanity's weakness and sinfulness. No longer are we in Kierkegaard's ideal world of "Knights of Infinity" and "Dancers possessing elevation"! No longer are we singing sweet songs of sanctimonious saints!

For Calvin there is no dancing, the Christian life is one of a steady limping towards holiness. For the everyday Christian, life is no dance. However, in today's world many want to feel a though they are dancers. Limping just does not seem as graceful! But, perhaps the subject of sanctification should not be cast in these terms. Perhaps, the subject of Sanctification should not be cast as a matter of dancing or limping.

Rather, perhaps, sanctification should be viewed as the process by which a person becomes "real":
"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become real."
"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit.
"Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."
"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit."
"It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand."
(Excerpt taken from The Velveteen Rabbit)
It is undeniable that God makes many dancers. And, for these dancers--these "knights of infinity"--we are thankful. However, it is just as undeniable that God presents many of us with two left-feet. Perhaps, by the time most of learn to "dance", "most of [our] hair will have been loved off, our eyes failing, our joints aching, and our body shabby". However, "by that time these things will not matter at all, because once [we] are real [we] cannot be ugly, except to people who don't understand." Becoming "real" is the sanctification of the everyday-- the gracefulness of the gritty.

1 comment:

  1. First of all - that's my bed in photo!
    Now that I've gotten that out of the way, I wonder what you think of Robert Jenson's comment, “‘Sanctification’ … is often misunderstood as a progress, kicked off, as it were, by baptism. This has obviously to be false. Baptism initiates into the life which God’s three persons, Father, Son and Spirit, live among themselves; what would we progress to from that? Rather, sanctification is the continual return to baptism…. Baptism is always there as a fact in my past; I can always, as Luther said, ‘creep’ back to it and begin anew” (p. 50, A Large Catechism)