Archive for September 20th, 2011

Religion as Neurotic Delusion

September 20, 2011

From the Journal of Father Alexander Schmemann, Saturday, December 31, 1977

Father Tom gave me a circular Christmas letter from some Trappist in Massachusetts. In his monastery, all traditions meet (West, East, Buddhism), all rites, all experiences. Sounds rather barbarian. It is as if traditions were some sort of clothing. Dress as a Buddhist – and right away an “experience.” This cheap, murky wave of spirituality, this petty syncretism, these exclamations marks – upset me. “I celebrate once a week the Divine Liturgyin the rite of Chrysostom in the joy…” Shamelessness of this contemporary religion. “Culture cannot be improvised,” notes Julien Green. Nor can religion. In the midst of all the excitement where one has to live, one literally loses courage. One wants to leave. A cup of coffee and a hamburger in a simple diner are more authentic, more real, than all this religious chatter. As the sacrament is impossible without bread, wine and water, so religion requires peace, true daily preac. Without it, religion quickly becomes a neurosis, a self-deception, a delusion.

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1977 was a strange time. I was in seminary, just beginning the heady study and thought of various theological teachers. Would that one of those teachers had been Fr. Schmemann.  For some strange reason, Anglican seminarians, were constantly afflicted with experimentation. Experimentation in parishes usally carried a back-lash, thus we were saddled with a never-ending drama of liturgies. Sometimes juggling as many as five or six books.

You cannot pray with five or six books to balance.

And then we had to report on the “experience.” I’m certain that I came off as a grumpy young man who wanted little more than to stumble into chapel in the half-dark, grab my well-word copy of Cranmer, and some beads and be allowed to pray without experimentation. Sweet peace.

Variety is not something we do for God’s sake. Appropriately the liturgy changes for Lent and feast days, etc. but the variety is there for our salvation nor our entertainment. The same is generally true of our private prayers – it is an offering before God, and if we pay attention to our hearts, it can become an offering of our selves, our souls and bodies.

The quiet of which Schmemann speaks is even harder – particularly when it is God who fills the silence and not us (rare occasions). Come sweet peace and fill our hearts, with the soundless wonder of the richness of the Word. Drive away the gloomy thoughts of sin, and neurosis, self delusion and delusion that so easily tumble from our hearts.