Posted by: gcarkner | November 17, 2022

Incarnation, Identity & Spirituality

Many people today claim to be spiritual but not religious. They know that their inner person needs care and attention, but they are not big on formal religion. So says Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby in  The Emerging Millennials. Many people today are on a journey or search for their spiritual home; some have come to an existential identity crisis within this journey. Though successful at work, they remain restless and deeply unhappy. This can be very confusing and disorienting. I hear these stories from students all the time. Some successful, well-published faculty experience them as well, even university presidents. Sometimes we focus so heavily on science, business and technology (STEM subjects) that we neglect the very important issues of the ‘soul’ (our inner being). This can lead to terrible anxiety and deep inner pain. Often, it becomes a personal crisis. Where does one turn for wisdom under such circumstances?

Is there a possibility of re-enchanting our world, celebrating the physical and material, but realizing that there is more to life than mere matter, reproduction, sustenance and survival. We need wisdom to explore these delicate phenomena, to work towards wholeness and human flourishing. In my new book, I am exploring this journey, out of nihilism and into robust meaning–a quest for fuller reality and true fulfilment: the deeper life. Don’t we all long for epiphany, insight or revelation at different junctures in our lives? When is that breakthrough coming as I suffer with anxiety? I want to say that if you are in this place, it is OK; in fact, it is a good sign that you are getting in touch with something significant that makes you more human. Don’t ignore the stirrings, the longings in your heart. They are saying something important. Our desires are often deeper than we think: they cannot be satisfied with more stuff, entertainment, travel or more accomplishment. Don’t be blinded by science and work, even excellence, wealth and academic prizes. What if there is a source of goodness, meaning, hope and beauty beyond the universe, but deeply relevant to our everyday existence? Wouldn’t that be great to encounter, to discover?

British Philosopher Sir Roger Scruton: Anybody who goes through life with an open mind and heart will encounter moments that are saturated with meaning, but whose meaning cannot be put into words. Those moments are precious to us. When they occur, it is as though, on the winding, ill-lit stairway of our life, we suddenly come across a window… through which we catch sight of another, brighter world–a world to which we belong but which we cannot enter. There are many who dismiss this world as an unscientific fiction. I am not alone in thinking it real and important.

These days, we obsess over trying to reinvent, assert, advertise ourselves, but to what end. Some of the greatest writers of all time (Augustine, Dostoevsky, Blaise Pascal, G.K. Chesterton, T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, Boethius, Thomas Acquinas, Alvin Plantinga) understand that a human person does not actually self-exist but is derivative, part of a bigger picture, a larger drama in play. We need a deeper critique of culture, a more robust story to make sense of things, one that captures our full humanity. Humans need to grapple with their sources and with their destiny or calling. What narrative am I now in? Is this universe for or against me? Are we somehow lost in the cosmos? How do we get home (Ulysses)? Why do we have this deep need to be genuinely loved for ourselves and not just for what we accomplish, or what others can gain/steal from us? Why do we long for community and communion with a soulmate or group to authenticate and relax us, someone who matters, who understands us? Who or what can we really trust? Is life an adventure or just something to endure? Riveting questions indeed, worthy questions.

Charles Taylor on the Idea of the Self.

Abraham Heschel talks about the need for I-Thou dialogue to help us in this existential quest for meaning and hope for the future (See also Martin Buber). This quest seems to be an attempt to ground ourselves, our identity, in something bigger. He reflects on Abraham and Moses who, through no fault of their own, were dramatically confronted with the presence of the divine. They learned from this encounter that love is prior to power. This had a large impact on their purpose in life, their sense of calling and identity. It changed the very course of their lives. There is a dramatic breach in the silence. Remember when you cried out in the night amidst your angst and unanswered questions, “Is there anyone there?” “Does anyone care?’ In a lightning bolt of insight, these leaders in making learned that God has not given up on us, that the divine is personal and wants a personal relationship with us, wants to partner with us for the good of ourselves and others. I assure you, we can get unstuck, escape our loop of cynicism, resentment and despair. If we long for love, Augustine said, that’s because it has been there all along, grounding reality. It’s not a fantasy. We need not continue feeling an exile from the universe.

“Throughout history, those who live for something greater than themselves and greater than worldly desires have contributed immensely to the advancement of education, culture, and the common good. For those who accept the offer of “infinite joy”, contentment is obtained, and a powerful purpose for living is found.” (P. M. Gould, Cultural Apologetics, 79)

In the New Testament, Jesus carried a similar but even more profound message. He claimed to be an epiphany of God in human flesh and blood, the wisdom of the invisible God revealed in the history of ancient Israel. He claimed that there is a God of love behind this universe. We are not victims of cosmic gamesters, karma, tricksters, cold materialistic determinism or fate. He claimed that our existential angst could be dealt with. We can be healed and made whole spiritually. We can find that great love we long for. There is an ultimate source of our longings and desires for more. Someone sees our worth, really cares about us, for us, as an end. We can find our home, our identity, in God. Life is about gift, goodness and grace, other-orientation, not mere accumulation/consumption, survival and self-interest. There exists a whole ‘economy of grace’ below the financial economy of production and consumption, bartering and exchange. Jesus’ life opens a meta-critique of all that we are now striving for in contemporary, late modern culture. It is a rich picture of reality that includes rather than excludes. At the end of the day, we all have a critical theory. The world is not perfect, we know it in our bones. Towards an Incarnational Spiritual Culture is my critique which ends in the hope of a more robust and resilient identity and a re-enchanted world. We have a real future available, but we have to step into it bravely. The Incarnation is that kind story and incarnational spirituality offers that kind of identity.

—Incarnational spirituality is rooted in profound underlying dynamics: the unity of Creation and Redemption; the unity of Old  and New Testaments (biblical covenant-narratives); the unity of Christ and the Church. The New Testament makes the amazing claim that Jesus is, in the flesh, the wisdom of God and the power of God (I Corinthians 1: 24), the nexus and integral relationship of faith and reason. As divine Logos (John 1: 1-4), he is the transcendent word made flesh, the underwriter of all human thought and language. Truth ultimately is found in a person, a presence, not a mere philosophy. It contains the most significant hope of reuniting the word (common human discourse) and world (universal brother/sisterhood) in the late modern age.       

~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, PhD in a dialogue between Michel Foucault and Charles Taylor on the moral/spiritual self.

Author, blogger, YouTube Webinar Producer, Meta-Educator with UBC Postgraduate Students

Diversity Skill Set & Wisdom for Dialogue

  • Able to pursue ideas amidst diversity and think for yourself.
  • Champion a continual search for the truth, and disagreement with lies and deception, propaganda, poor scholarship.
  • Beware: too much choice can be harmful to one’s psychological and sociological wellbeing.
  • Don’t buy into relativism or subjectivism (unfortunately, too many Canadians, Europeans and Americans do just that). It cannot be lived well—definitely not good for human flourishing–promotes division and conflict.
  • Remember that your personal opinion might be poorly examined and ill-informed, weak empirically, bigoted or seriously biased.
  • Celebrate high values/virtues/ideals: honesty, trustworthiness, compassion, decency, respect for life, good environmental stewardship, taking responsibility for your behaviour and for others (inclusive humanism).
  • Shun dishonesty, cheating, abuse, exploitation, theft, fraud, plagiarism, things causing emotional pain and suffering to others, the not-so-good or dark side of human character.
  • Ask yourself what leads to a truly good life? Make plans in that direction.
  • Learn to distinguish between good, better, best decisions. Not all theories or worldviews are of equal value. There is a hierarchy among the moral goods. Identity is interwoven with ones morality and spirituality.
  • Think about the longterm consequences of your actions and decisions, including the unintended ones.

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