Imagine for a moment, hearing Diana Butler Bass argue that the 19th century American Transcendental movement, abiding in that disconcerting space between Orthodox Calvinism with its emphasis on Creeds & Piety, and Rational Unitarianism with its emphasis on Reason & Virtue, and hearing echoes of the Hesychast controversy of the 14th century. Both movements insisted on the real experience of and communication with the Divine. American Transcendentalism objected to the assumption shared by both Christian factions, that God was distant. God was close, permanently and directly present in all things, an echo of the panentheism which underlies the sacramentality of all created things.
Bass, who argues that the growing emergent church stands in this stream of American transcendentalism, believes that the we are in the midst of a “Spiritual Revolution” which involves a reclamation of experience, mysticism, and an immanent sense of God through both nature and neighbor. The best of mainline theology, she argues, is that which relinks historical criticism, social justice, engagement with science, history and social science, ecumenism, and non-fundamentalism, with this experience of God.
However, she prefers to speak of “Personal Engagement & Integral Experience” rather than Immanence. Why? Because the moment someone speaks of immanence, someone else inevitably feels the need to remind us that God is transcendent. With every project on the immanence of God comes a project restoring the balance by asserting transcendence. Immanence, as conceptually important as it is, remains locked in its dualist, vertical framework. Yet this is not what is happening, she argues. What is being birthed is not a replication of a three-tiered vertical structure in which the church is the gatekeeper. Instead, we are witnessing the birth of “a universe of horizons,” which is both horizontal and never ending. The truth about horizons is that they are all around us, and that every time you think have arrived at one, it moves. This, she argues, is the new spiritual matrix through which we can read again the texts of the church.
It was like hearing an echo of Gregory of Nyssa reminding us that when we encounter God, we move from Glory to Glory, that the more we know God, the more there is to know of God. Knowing goes hand in hand with unknowing.
A friend commented on my last post that there is “so much Life in the best of both Eastern and Western Christian theology. Breathing with both lungs….”
I can say without qualification that I am enjoying the increased oxygen.