Monday, July 8, 2013

Feet firmly planted

C.R. Wiley considers the Shakers and observes "If you like Fox News, you probably like the Amish; if you prefer the PBS News Hour with Jim Lehrer, you likely favor the Shakers, at least partly because "They had all the correct views: They practiced sustainable agriculture, they had gender equality, and they even reduced their carbon footprint to almost zero. (At this writing, there are said to be only three Shakers left in North America—that’s what celibacy will do for you if you don’t watch out.)" More from Wiley:
.... Worship tells a theological tale, and the tale Shaker worship tells is a sad and sterile one. There was no preaching in Shaker worship and no sacramental life. So what was there? Well, there was a lot of singing and dancing. The dances were especially revealing: groups of men would draw near the women, a pitiful mess of conflicted yearnings, and then withdraw. The women would do the same. At other times they would march around each other in concentric circles, men in one and women in the other, stomping their feet and clapping their hands, all the while singing at the top of their lungs about shaking out sin and beating out carnal thoughts.

While I find their ontology repellant, think their theology fatal, and even believe the world is better off without them, yet for all that, I feel some resonance with the Shakers. And I wonder, What is it about those nutty gnostics that calls to me? ....

.... It seems to me that the Shakers at least had a vision of heaven that affirmed the earth. But they came at it from the wrong angle. They attempted to plant their feet firmly in the air and reach down to the earth and reshape it. Theirs was a religion in which man attempts to operate on himself. Heaven’s help is not atonement for sin, but insight into the “Spirit Land.” That is why there was no preaching—there was no salvation to announce—and why there was no sacramental life—there was no salvation to receive. For the Shakers, salvation came by “channeling” the Spirit Land into this world.

What we need is an affirmation of the earth that keeps our feet on the ground even as it lifts our eyes to heaven. The Shakers were right to try to hold the poles together. But their feet were attached to the wrong one.

Can we do better? I hope we can, but this hope is not based on what we can do, but on what Christ has already done. Christ is the man from heaven who came to earth and then returned to where he had come from. Like a needle and thread, he ties the two worlds together by a piercing that has passed through his own body. Consequently, he holds all things together. He is the reconciler. It is because he has come to us from above that we can approach him from below. .... [more]