A blogger named Benjamin David Steele has written a very nice review of my blog. Here are a few tidbits:
Let me recommend a rather lovely blog. It’s well written and the author seems well informed. The blog in question is The Website of Unknowing and the author of it is Carl McColman …[who] began as a Christian who became a Neopagan and who then later returned to Christianity via mysticism…. Beyond these interests, McColman demonstrates a fairly wide and intelligent selection of ideas and writers. In particular, I was happy to see Ken Wilber mentioned rather prominently. But he also blogs about a spectrum of Judeo-Christian writers and ideas from the traditional to the liberal … In some ways, his religious interests, although wide, are a bit more tame than my own. He apparently avoids political issues (at least in this blog) and I didn’t see him write about the fiction genres of horror and sf … But I did find quite interesting his post about the movie Where the Wild Things Are. All in all, his blog has a Boomer sensibility about it. It turns out he is a young Boomer at the age of 48 … To me there is something simultaneously appealing and tame (in an inclusively politically correct way) about Boomer spirituality…. However, McColman’s thinking has some meat to it. He isn’t intellectually lazy and he is aware of the dangers of “boomeritis.”
I suppose no author wants to be called “tame,” — I certainly don’t. But this review fascinates me, for on the very same day that Steele wrote these words, my wife and I had a conversation about two books I’ve been reading: John Crowder’s Miracle Workers, Reformers and the New Mystics: How to Become Part of the Supernatural Generation, and Robert J. Wicks’ Prayerfulness: Awakening to the Fullness of Life. I was telling her about how I was enjoying both books, but for radically different reasons. Wicks, a professor of pastoral theology at a Catholic college in Maryland, has written a gentle, sensible, thoughtful, and practical guide to cultivating an ongoing spirit of prayerfulness in the ordinary rhythms of daily life. It’s a wise book, but it is also one that could easily be criticized for being tame. Crowder, an itinerant charismatic revivalist, meanwhile has written a bombastic, edgy, envelope-pushing book that argues for faith that God will raise up in our generation mystics who will make John of the Cross or Meister Eckhart or Teresa of Avila look like beginners. I love his thesis, but… but… his writing is anchored in a literalist reading of the Bible that colors not only his theology, but his understanding of politics, history, and anthropology. Not only is he a true believer in signs and wonders, but he is convinced that Christians must aggressively evangelize adherents of other faiths (particularly Muslims). Needless to say, 90% of the time I’m arguing with Crowder’s assumptions and premises. But what keeps me going back to the book is the fact that I so heartily and enthusiastically agree with him the other 10% of the time. I agree with his call for uncompromising faith, and in his celebration of the mystics throughout history as passionate ambassadors for the awe-inspiring work of the Holy Spirit. Crowder believes in a God without limits, and his writing, outrageous though it may be, is infectious in how it communicates that heady faith. There are many ways in which I could criticize Crowder’s work, but I’ll grant it this: it’s not tame.
So, what am I to do with these two books: the one that I am largely in agreement with, but that frankly I find rather, well, safe and predictable and, dare I say it, “tame”? Or the one that makes my blood boil, that alternatively I find silly and naive and in-your-face and thought-provoking, but that I feel plenty of passion in response to it, in both affirming and critical ways? I like pretty much everything that Wicks is saying, and I agree with his humble vision, pastoral common sense, and evident desire to help his readers to grow in authenticity and healthy spirituality. Frankly, the Benedictine in me has a clear sense that Wicks’ mature, grounded spirituality is better suited for the long haul than Crowder’s colorful but miracle-hungry vision.
Prayerfulness is psychologically grounded, astute in its understanding of how both grace and the resistance to grace operate in ordinary peoples’ lives, and gentle in the ways in which it challenges (or, rather, encourages) its reader to make simple but clear choices for a life surrendered to the ongoing transformation of Christian discipleship. The New Mystics is aggressive, combative, bold, and enthusiastic in its confident belief in the power and present glory of God — but it also suffers from dualistic thinking and an oppositional, culturally imperialist, and tribal-minded approach to things. Wicks is by far the more polished writer and mature thinker; Crowder is more entertaining and more fun. If I were asked to endorse one and only one of these books, I’d have to go with Prayerfulness — even though it would just reinforce Benjamin David Steele’s criticism of my work.
“He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.”
— Mr. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
There’s a part of me that has an almost erotic yearning to give everything I’ve got to this wild, untamed God, without reserve, without compromise, without holding anything back. And Crowder’s vision taps into that nerve. The New Mystics celebrates the possibility of truly being on fire for God, truly being so immersed in God-consciousness that miracles and wonders simply dance through our lives like the toys in Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. The problem I have with Crowder’s ideas is that they simply ignore the philosophical, scientific, and even ethical challenges to his underlying theology. Granted, those challenges are the project of modernity, but blithely announcing that we have now moved into the postmodern age does not give one license to dismiss the modernist critique of pre-modern beliefs.
So, to summarize: I believe what Robert Wicks has to say, but I’m not particularly excited by it. Meanwhile, I’m inspired by at least some of the ideas that John Crowder champions, but I simply don’t believe his underlying worldview.
Here’s the million dollar question: Can the sensibility and wisdom of Prayerfulness be integrated with the fire and pluck and passion of The New Mystics? To use a more pagan metaphor, how do we combine the cool rationality of Apollo with the joyful ecstasy of Dionysius? Is it even possible? Crowder (like Steele), is considerably younger than I am, and Wicks is older still. Am I just trying fruitlessly to bring youth and maturity together? Is it possible to lose ourselves in ecstasy, only to turn around and turn around and suddenly catch our breath in a place where everything is beautiful in its stillness? When we give ourselves to the untamed lion, is it inevitable that we will become tame ourselves? Or, perhaps, as the lion surrendered to the violence of his adversary, will we find in our self-emptying a new opportunity to roar?