Today I direct your attention to a post from Fr. Stephen Freeman. Freeman is one of the largest and most influential Eastern Orthodox bloggers, and he blogs at Glory to God for All Things. This post is entitled “Psychology as the New Sacrament“.
Ever since the Reformation, Western society at large, including the Church, has developed what might be called a “two-storey” view of reality. (This view ultimately traces back to classical Greco-Roman philosophy, in which the spiritual world is good and the material world is evil.) The lower story is the real world which we see and touch and experience with our senses on a day-in, day-out basis. This world is completely neutral and devoid of spiritual presence or significance. The upper story is the spiritual world, which is inhabited by God and all other spiritual realities and cordoned off from our day-to-day existence in the real world which is the lower story.
What was lost as a result of this development was a sacramental view of the universe which saw physical reality and spiritual reality as inextricably linked (though this view still exists–officially, at least–in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy). Yet even in those places, the sacramental view of reality is limited to the church, the worship space itself. Once you leave that space, you are back out in the real world which is completely and totally devoid of spiritual presence or significance.
Yet the presence of God in our world has not been completely rejected–such a rejection would be too hard for Christians to bear, and nature abhors a vacuum. We know in our heart of hearts that God is truly present in our world, despite what the prevailing modernistic, materialistic culture may say. And so we have come up with substitutes. Such substitutes are all over the place in evangelicalism, including the view of preached-word-as-sacrament which has emerged in the past two centuries and the view of worship-music-as-sacrament which has emerged in the past two decades.
There has been a deeper shift as well: a corollary to living in a real world devoid of spiritual significance is that we are all just individual centers of consciousness existing within a web of relationships and affiliations, some formal, others not so much, and God has simply been added to the mix. Out of this milieu has arisen the notion of a “personal relationship with Jesus”. I have said earlier that the “personal relationship with Jesus” is a representation of an important truth: that God is concerned with us as individuals and desires us to be in close and meaningful connection with Him. Yet it is a monumentally flawed and incomplete truth, one which has only arisen within the previous century. It is a consequence of the view that we are all just individual centers of consciousness living in a web of relationships, and our relationship with God is just one more to add to the mix. It fails to take into account that we are part of something much bigger than just ourselves and our web of relationships, part of something much bigger than just the physical world we experience with our senses–that we are in fact part of a world filled with the presence of God and part of a story of all that God is doing to make the universe right and bring all things together under Himself.
Let us open our eyes to the reality that, despite what the prevailing materialistic, modernistic culture of our world may say, we are living in a world where the presence of God is never far from us no matter where we may go, and where God is actively working to draw all things together under Himself.