Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Desiring the Kingdom :: The One Thing Needful

Over the past couple months or so I have been participating in Mystie's book club on James K. A. Smith's Desiring the Kingdom. I have really enjoyed reading and writing and interacting with the others who are reading along as well. But now that Lent is almost here, I have decided to step back from blogging a bit and put my focus where it needs to be: on aiming my desire toward Christ and actually doing all these things I've been thinking about. As fun as blogging is, it does not help me do that very well. Even though I don't blog that often, I still end up spending more time online than I have to spend and it creates tension and frustration with the other things that I am supposed to be doing at any given moment. Like oh,.. say... taking care of my kids! So today's post will be my last in the book club discussion, and I'd like to use it to share some final thoughts.

This book has really helped me step back and examine how the things that I do on a daily basis point me toward or away from God. The idea that the things we do shape who we are is simple when said, but very profound when one stops to think about all that the statement really means. It means that the things I say, the way I say them, the tasks that I do and those I choose to leave undone, the places I go, the books I read, the ways I spend my time, even the very thoughts that I allow myself to think, all point me either toward The Kingdom or away. It means that the person I will become is very much dependent on the choices I make in each moment of each day. God gives the grace, no doubt about it, but He leaves the choice in our hands.

With regards to education there is also a lot to think about. If education is formation, and if we desire to pursue Wisdom and Virtue then once again the things that we do and the choices that we make matter very much. It's not enough to aim to teach the basics and to get into a "good college". That can certainly be one of the results of a good education, but it should not be the goal. The pursuit of Wisdom and Virtue brings us to the feet of Christ. If we gaze upon Him He is gracious enough to help up to become more like Him. How do we behold Christ? By using the tools we have been given to open ourselves up to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Our studies can be tools that help us to open ourselves up to God. We can learn through our studies how to be attentive through practices such as narration and keeping notebooks; how to recognize The Truth through understanding absolute truths; how to understand where we've been and where we are going; how to use words in order to convey meaning and bring a unifying principle to what we say in order to point to the Unifying Principle, the Logos Himself. All of these things point us toward Christ, if we use them properly. But we must keep in mind that they are the tools, not the goal. Even with all the "right" books and methods at our disposal, what makes them profitable is not that we are using the "right" things, but rather how we are using them.

While education in the academic sense is important for functioning in the society that we currently find ourselves in, my view is that the subjects themselves are not ultimately necessary. The one thing that is necessary in any life is Jesus Christ. St. Seraphim of Sarov (pictured on the right) said that the goal of Christian life is to acquire the Holy Spirit. We can acquire the Holy Spirit through practices such as prayer without ever learning how to read a single word. We can learn to deny ourselves an take up our crosses and follow Him without ever once having to discipline ourselves through study. We can learn to love our neighbor as ourselves without any reference to an academic approach to science or history or art.

Now I am not saying that academics are a bad thing, or that we should stop bothering about it. But what I am saying is that academics should not be the first thing. I think the question we must ask is, "Does what I am doing point me toward Christ, or away from Him?" If we live the Christian life first and foremost and make sure that all our habits, practices and rituals point toward Christ, then academic education can become sanctified and it can become another avenue through which we can move closer to Him. We must build the Christian culture in our homes by our own desire first and that desire will become contagious and will be caught by those around us. St. Seraphim is famous for these words:
Acquire the Holy Spirit and thousands around you will be saved. 
 We must desire and then actively seek the Kingdom of God above all else and then "all these things will be added...". The emphasis on seeking translates into action. We have to do, and not just think about, those things which we are called to do in the present moment. Thinking is all well and good, but the thought must penetrate the heart in order to live through action and be fruitful.




7 comments:

  1. Drat. My computer freaked out on me for a moment, and I lost my whole comment! I'm so sad.

    Well, I suppose the most important thing I said was that I will miss you. I look forward to reading your posts each week and I hope that you will check back in (eventually).

    The other thing I said was that I've been feeling it too, that feeling that this is really Big in its implications.

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    1. I may still post occasionally during Lent, but as far as the book discussion, I'm just not seeing myself finding the time to sit down and get my thoughts together enough to allow for weekly posts.

      Yes, the implications are Big. I doubt I'll ever read another of Smith's books, but this one has really got me thinking in a deep way.

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    2. I hear you on this one...I'm not sure I'm a big enough fan of Smith to read more of him or even highly recommend this, but the thoughts that the reading and discussion have generated...those have been thought provoking. Big Implications indeed.

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  2. You are going out with a bang! This is so good - thank you for putting all these thoughts together quite eloquently. May your Lent be blessed!

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    1. Thank you. A blessed Lent to you also!

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  3. We will miss your posts - especially as we start getting into liturgy. I would love to hear an orthodox take on some of what he will present. Fortunately, you did some reflection on that earlier responses. I pray you have a blessed time during this season that should be set apart.

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    1. Thank you. It was definitely a tough decision to make because I feel like there's still a lot to be said, but I had to be honest with myself. The only reason I made it this far was because I started ahead of time! I will still try to follow along though and maybe add comments where appropriate. :)

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