Transforming Moment, Intro 2

saint-paul-the-apostle-07Here’s the second part of Loder’s Introduction to the first of his works we’ll explore, The Transforming Moment (TM). I thought of apologizing for his heavy emphasis upon Kierkegaard, but then I thought of how often Kierkegaard is discussed in Loder’s work and how very indebted Loder is to him. So there’s no avoiding Kierkegaard. If you don’t like Kierkegaard at all, you won’t like Loder.

Enjoy this last portion of the Introduction. I’ll follow this with a short description of his main themes and vision and then we’ll jump into TM.

The Transforming Power of Spiritus Creator

To illustrate this transformation, return to Kierkegaard’s description of indescribable joy. Note first that he himself did not explicitly connect this stunning moment to anything past or future. In fact he does not refer to it anywhere else except here in his journals. However, through the lenses of his life and authorship, it can be seen as a highly condensed, transfigured resolution of conflicted forces which lie behind the immense influence of this solitary individual.

This account is an in-breaking insight coming upon young Soren before he himself was fully aware of the depth of his own conflicts. It represents what he would later call a “transparent” grounding in “the Power that posits the self” (Sickness Unto Death), and proleptically this anticipates a transformation of all registers of behavior that issue from the self—particularly imagination, which yields to “transparency” or imageless images; reason, which yields to the supra rationem expressed in “Absolute Paradox”: and passion, which becomes “the happy passion of faith.”

Specifically, the journal entry is extremely rich in imagery, but this is mainly an account in which imagery is inherently insufficient. Like Paul’s experience (2 Cor. 12:4) when he was “caught up into paradise and heard unspeakable words…,” Soren’s experience essentially exceeds all language or metaphor. Although Kierkegaard was not a mystic, this is very like a direct knowledge of God in the classical mystical tradition. The transparen[t] relationship of the human self to the Divine Presence temporarily bursts the limits of the imagination, but imagination recoils and images rush like a torrent into the pure light of the transparency as one shields one’s eyes when surprised by a sudden burst of sunlight. Imagination, Kierkegaard later wrote, is the faculty instar omnium (for all other faculties), but it never supersedes transparency.

What the imagination does accomplish, however, is illuminating. The dominant theme is the rush of joy, expressed a the “glow” of light to which one awakens. To place himself somehow in this joy, Kierkegaard identifies with St. Paul, and joy, like light, pulsates back and forth through his soul, “over…of, in, by, at, on, through, with….” Each additional preposition catches some new facet of the ineffable Source, and then, as if each preposition were still not enough, it is immediately superseded by a new surge of illumination. Then glowing joy shift to singing, and song gives way to a breeze that cools and refreshes. From the glow that bursts with joy to the breeze that cools, a full range of ecstatic experience is covered. Clearly, this experience is not a product of Kierkegaard’s imagination: it is an ineffable experience for which his imagination tries to provide a cognitive shape that will unite conscious and unconscious in a new horizon of meaning for a radically transformed personal existence.

The crowning image alluding to Abraham transforms the depth of unconscious despair in Kierkegaard and metaphorically unites him to the transcendent holiness of God. Thus, the One who comes to young Soren is the One (in three) who comes to Abraham in Genesis 18:1…The fundamental incoherence that lies behind this master imagine in Kierkegaard is the personally devastating relationship that Soren had with his father, and the alienation they both had from God. This was a desperate separation which both took extremely seriously, and it was the curse under which they lived. The reference to Abraham puts this and Soren’s recent reconciliation to his father in startling new focus as follows.

On Soren’s twenty-fifth birthday, just two weeks before this experience, his father, a very old eighty-two, confessed the sins of his youth (his cursing of God and his sensuality) to his son. He asked his forgiveness for them and for all the negative consequences they had brought on the family…This brought him to himself, and when father and son had forgiven and blessed each other, Soren could return home. This is the most significant human occasion behind the higher order, spiritual reconciliation, which his experience of joy displays.

As a human reconciliation, it is immensely satisfying, as in the joy between Cordelia and King Lear when they are reconciled (a parallel to which Kierkegaard refers), but it is at the same time theologically and existentially deficient. The power of the Spirit under which this experience occurs negates all the negations of human kinship; the human bloodline must be negated and transformed into the blood of Christ if eternal death is to be overcome. Young Soren had to be transformed from an illegitimate child of the flesh, Ishmael, to the child of promise and of God. The message of the cooling “trade wind” was that this had been accomplished. Less than two months after this indescribable experience, Soren went to confession to prepare himself for receiving Communion. When he took Communion, he went alone without his father or his brother, an ordained clergyman. On August 8 of that same year, his father died.

By the transformative power of the Spirit…the double conflict between father and son, and between them both and God, was resolved in a stunning moment of participation in the joyful holiness of God. The biblical image that transforms kinship and alienation into reconciliation to God is aged Abraham, who runs from his tent in the heat of the day to receive from God the promise of the son who will be conceived in Sarah’s womb. Thus an aged father of eighty-two reaching out to his estranged son becomes young Soren’s prototype for the master image of Abraham, in whom the father-son relationship is transfigured into a relationship constituted and sustained not by kinship but by grace alone. This God made plain to Abraham on Mt. Moriah many years later, and Kierkegaard dramatically restated the point in his famous “Panergyric on Abraham” in Fear and Trembling, all in anticipation of Calvary.

If Lowrie was correct, the experience of inexpressible joy “was…super real, and it preoccupied him all his life long.” If the joy here is Kierkegaard’s “Hosanna,” then verification and confirmation can be found in his “prodigious authorship,” which has been perpetuated around the globe from West to East and portrayed in every medium of the modern world from literature and drama to television and film. Most profoundly, of course, he altered the course of modern philosophy and theology though he had no institutional connections in church or university to promote his thought. It should not be forgotten, however, that his own assessment of his influence, which knowledge of subsequent history would not have changed, was that he “was just a little bit of spice.”

Finally, Kierkegaard’s identification with St. Paul is not incidental. For him, his authorship was in the last analysis like St. Paul’s gospel, from God alone (Gal. 1:12). Although there were human prototypes, he “did not receive it from man, nor was [he] taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” For those aware of Kierkegaardian stereotypes, it comes as an irony that joy, not melancholy; relationship, not individualism; transparent union with God, not despairing alienation; have generated this incredible authorship.

Of course, this is only to suggest for the case of Soren Kierkegaard some of the aspects of human existence that are taken up in the power of the Creator Spirit and transformed through an experience of indescribable joy. Clearly we have just begun to explore the dimensions of the dynamic reality that lies behind such convictional experience as this, the gracious complementarity between the human spirit and the Holy Spirit, and the impact they may have upon individual and corporate life. These matters will be taken up in the following chapters.

(By the way, the picture depicts Paul’s confrontation with Jesus in which Paul was blinded, in case you were wondering.)

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One comment on “Transforming Moment, Intro 2

  1. brian says:

    Thanks for these, Tom. I really enjoyed Logic of the Spirit.
    I just ordered Transforming Moment. I like thinkers like Loder who synthesize from diverse places. Theology needs that kind of breadth and imagination.

    Liked by 1 person

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