Mystic Mondays October 10, 2016
“We are co-workers with God. The mystery of salvation is a duet, not a solo.”
That was a line from the Greek Orthodox Diocese of America in an essay titled, “How Are We Saved?” The link was included by reader, Carl, from last week’s post as I teased out one of the differences between our traditional Western Christian faith and Eastern Orthodox faith–that is that Orthodox Christianity seems to have a thinner veil of separation between heaven and earth than we do in the West.
I told someone the other day that I felt like I had just discovered a long lost grandmother from an ancient past. I certainly discovered her through a rather circuitous path. Feeling somewhat dissatisfied with a religious tradition (Presbyterianism) that is weighted toward the powers of the mind, but gets nervous around passion, soul and body I went out in search for a spirituality that satisfied this deeper longing. I had read just enough of Rumi’s poetry to recognize what I was missing. His poetry dripped with the language of a steamy love affair with God, an experience that I was having more and more often in recent years.
On an intuitive lark I flew across the Atlantic Ocean, unloaded my bicycle in Rome and rode across three countries–Italy, Greece and Turkey before arriving at Rumi’s Tomb in Konya, Turkey. It was there in Greece and Turkey that I experienced in the people, the culture, the music and the religion a taste of the embodied spirituality I was looking for. But the greater gift of the trip turned out to be my exposure to Orthodox Christianity–a long lost grandmother I didn’t even know I had.
This fall I began facilitating the BBC series on The History of Christianity–a series I had taught in 2011 in another church. But this time as they led us through Istanbul and the great Hagia Sophia (Church of the Holy Wisdom) I wasn’t just getting a history lesson. I had been there myself in the interim between the two times I taught this class. Now the words from the narrator were matching my actual experience. I had heard the words before that the priests of the East were more poets and artists than philosophers, but those words slipped right by me in 2011. This time, after following the bread crumbs to Rumi and cycling through Orthodox Greece and Muslim Turkey, I heard the words and went “Aha! I get it!”
And the discoveries just keep coming. I read through the essay that Carl forwarded from the Greek Orthodox Diocese. At first it read very much like the orthodoxy associated with the history of the Western Church. There was an ancient feel to it in much the same way that reading the Westminster Catechism from the 17th century feels. And then suddenly there it was:
We are co-workers with God. The mystery of salvation is a duet, not a solo.”
I laughed out loud. Thirty years ago I was reading cutting edge theology in seminary. One of the most intriguing was this “new” concept that was being called the “co-creative” model of humanity’s relationship to God. The premise was, in contradiction to the omnipotent models of God, that God cannot act without humanity and humanity cannot act without God. The old language of obeying God was out; the new language of being a partner with God was in. God was not shouting orders to us from the Trump Tower, but was in the streets pushing the brooms with us. “Salvation is a duet.”
I was struck once again that this “new” thing that we are discovering is really just a very old thing. While I was all excited by the new theology coming out in the 1980’s the Greek Orthodox Church was quietly practicing and living out a similar theology and had been for over a thousand years. The truth is that what we have been doing isn’t so much brand new, cutting edge, and modern. The truth is we in the West were just a little late to the party!
Two years ago I rode my bike from Rome to Konya (I like to title it “From Rome to Rumi”) feeling like I was riding into the future of an emerging spirituality. I was pioneering my way into a fresh new spirituality. I have a hunch that I am not teasing out the future at all. I am just discovering a long lost grandmother that I never knew I had.
This could get really fun and exciting!