The last few months of no blogging have seen me deep in the shed, exploring some personal issues, one of which I will post today and next week in this blog.
One of them is about being paralyzed by the fear of being too plugged in to the world, that it becomes impossible to find oneself anymore. Anyone on social media will know what I mean.
In exploring this I'll advance an hypothesis of when and how Christianity got seriously sidetracked from its original message (when: 313 AD, how: by the state).
And then I'll give an interpretation of why the restoration of Icon-worship is a metaphor for the importance of both self and community. And how to avoid feeling too plugged in. (No, you won't have to start prostrating yourself before them. Although we 'westerners' could learn a lot from this practice … ask any devoted Buddhist).
All of the above will be in the context of Byzantium of course (otherwise this ramble could be on some other freaky psycho-babble site rather than this one).
Can withdrawal and contemplation deal with finding oneself? I'd say not. And its practically impossible anyway these days – short of retreating to Athos, Sinai or a drug-induced stupor. I confess I often ask myself this, as I struggle to surface above the information overload that seems to characterize almost every waking moment.
Epicurus points out that a loner, or 'idiotis' in Attic Greek, was despicable. – whence the modern word idiot. A cultured, civilized human being had to be part of society and the body politic. Epicurus felt that it was necessary to have friends in order to live (and die) happily and made his life an example of this. Though Epicurus also pointed out that having friends is not quite enough – it is having their confidence that makes for happiness.
My shining example of the Epicurean ideal is the Byzantine scholar and diplomat Photios, who engaged fully both with himself and with everyone around him, from Emperor to student. For his troubles he was made Patriarch against his wishes, treated miserably by two out of the three Emperors he served. As I have pointed out in other blogs, he also catalyzed the schism with Rome. But I am convinced he died happy with himself and what he had achieved.
So let's test this concept of friendship and community as far as possible and fly with it, like Icarus, as close to the sun of probing inquiry as we can.
The overarching injunction of all Jewish-Christian-Muslim scripture is to love God, certainly if we regard that love in the sense of the worship of Him and only Him. The message of Meister Eckhart – to worship through “disinterest”, or non-awareness of self appears, at first take, to be a solitary, contemplative activity. The primary dialectic is strictly defined and, on the surface, ruthlessly bipolar: the self and God. (The message of Eckhart could be compared to the spiritual self-abasement of the writer(s?) of the Cloud of Unknowing and their medieval and modern descendants, the Trappists and the Quakers).
But according to Christian scripture, Christ taught that you need to love your neighbor as if he were you. So ...
Do love/adoration for God and love/nurture for our fellow humans at the same time not exclude one other, almost by definition? Is a monastic approach to life (me-God) inconsistent with a participative approach to life (me-others)?
I'll give my answer next time. But what's yours?