Sunday, June 1, 2008

Is anxiety (i.e., angst) a spiritual help or is it a hinderance?

A book I mentioned in a previous post, The Future Church of 140 B.C.E.: A Hidden Revolution, by Bernard J. Lee, SM, turned out to be resounding reading, indeed. Too bad that it is out-of-print. Like all treatments of multi-dimensional realities, not to mention divine mysteries, it has some limitations, most of which the author readily acknowledges. There is an appendix to the book that consists of a lecture by Bernard M. Loomer, a U.S. theologian and long-time dean of the University of Chicago School of Divinity, delivered in 1976. The title of this tour de force is Two Kinds of Power. I subsequently found a version of a lecture by Loomer very much like the one I read entitled Two Conceptions of Power.

Cutting to the chase, the two kinds of power Loomer explores are unilateral and relational. In a section of his discussion on unilateral power, entitled Inequality and the Expansive Character of Freedom, he takes up Kierkegaard, as filtered through Niebuhr, on the subject of anxiety. On this view sin and creativity are grounded "in the self's basic anxiety or insecurity" (Lee 176). Seeing things in this way, "no amount of security with respect to the goods of this life can overcome the self's anxiety, and no level of achievement can exhaust its creative passion. Consequently, the human spirit in its unbounded restlessness moves toward the indefinite or the infinite in its effort to subdue its anxiety or to exemplify its freedom" (ibid).

This adds an interesting twist on the prayer, said by the presider/presbyter, in the midst of the Lord's Prayer at Mass: "In your mercy keep us free from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ". In addition to anxiety requiring a reaching out to what is beyond, toward the infinite, decreasing insecurity and anxiety is also a relational endeavor. I remember reading an article while still in diaconate formation that discussed the power of being a non-anxious presence in anxiety-inducing circumstances. Community can probably never be entirely free of anxiety because it will never be completely free of tension, unless nobody cares. Nonetheless, parishes need to look at being non-anxious places to the fullest extent possible. This means relating to each other in a healthier, more Christ-like, manner.

Since I do not have a post tracker-thingy installed, I will simply draw your attention to a post on Monastic Musings- Remembering U. Utah Phillips. It also includes a link to his obituary.

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