Premodern unity in a fragmented world

Though we will likely always have easy A courses, there are no easy answers, not for those who want to have lives that make sense.

We walk off our doorstep into reports of confusing times - a technology revolution, an environmental devolution, the evolution of recognized civil rights.  The social climate is polarized and paralyzed. No political party enjoys much support (voters who register "independent" are at an all-time high, approval of the US Congress is at an all-time low, and Democrats and Republicans are stable only in terms of their opposition to one another). In our private lives, neighbors have fewer reasons to talk to one another and often end up bowling alone.

Imagine trying to tell the story of how we have ended up here. Imagine trying to talk meaningfully about this world to your children. A phrase came to mind recently: Modernity is its own punishment. Of course that's too simplistic, but in many ways the sins of our fathers & mothers have intermingled with their greatest accomplishments so that it is hard to tell them apart. Yet we must learn to separate the wheat from the chaff, if only provisionally, so that we can learn to tell the story of our times (Matthew 16:3).

A friend of a friend recently posted a great reflection here titled "The Broken Glass of the World." The author gestures toward the picture I have briefly painted, and then discusses how ancient Christian mystical practices can bring unity to our lived lives, hearkening to the ancient church and to The Practice of the Presence of God.

I often feel like we are like Augustine, perched on the edge of a precipice - the end of an empire - with little idea whether order or chaos will follow. As Rome disintegrated, Christians increasingly turned toward heavily ordered lives (think monastery) to bring unity to their relationships and lived experiences - & these lives were fulfilling despite their utter refusal to physically satisfy the sexual urge!

It is hard to say what modern mysticism will look like. There is the danger that it will be a mental exercise hobby - a very brief place of centering that people will use to be more "centered," boost their memories, and forget the times. True Christian mysticism taps into our hunger to live in the singular moment beyond time - to experience almost crystalline instances of being filled with the love of Christ - in such a way that rest of our lives are slowly pulled into line with our meditative practices, practices that will not be sustained unless they are supported by & conducted alongside a community.

I don't mean to structure this in terms of problem-solution format, problem: modernity, solution: mysticism. Christians live in a narrative that is amazingly coherent (Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration), and that is the way that I make the most sense of what I see. But there is also the question of how to feel what we know to be true. It could be that some variation of ancient Christian mysticism is a better answer than the cheap & inconsequential experiences we have embraced and offer to our children as the key to meaningful lives.

For those interested in reading more about our times, I highly recommend that you start with Robert Jenson's How the World Lost Its Story - an article available over at First Things.