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Jews, Christians, and God

I would just say that Jews and Christians hold each other's keys. The Christians need the Jews to understand the church in Acts, and the Jews need Jesus to fill a gaping hole in their history, which, as the people of history, cannot be left empty.

Gary Cummings
Austin, Tex.

The Romance of the Cloister

This Catholic theologian has been enjoying your publication for several years, and I hereby renew my subscription. The recent issue was particularly good except for Mark Galli's trek ["The Romance of the Cloister," January/February]. I know Protestantism abandoned monasticism, but there are no Christian imperatives that no Christian should pray any more than any other. Monks who cultivate tomatoes in between their prayers have no more "left the world" than Galli has. They do not refuse "to enter into life's evils and sufferings, to subject [themselves] to the vicissitudes of life" any more than his home bound wife does by cleaning diapers, dishes, clothes, and bathrooms when she is not at prayer. They are no more impractical, out of the world, uninvolved, socially negative than she is.

Galli came at the subject with the prevailing attitude of the dying NCC that only social work or political activism expresses Christian faith, opposing "a community divorced from the world [the monastery] to a community engaged with it." That's a high schooler's rhetoric. He questions whether monks "have a great deal to teach us about experiencing the uniquely Christian God." I doubt if anyone could be accepted into a monastery who said his goal was to "experience God." Roman Catholics, monks or not, are not about "experiencing God," but as many of the monks quoted in the article tried to say, they are seeking closer union with God. While personal union with God in what ever degree oftentimes brings (never unambiguous) spiritual effects that can be experienced, if I sought sex with my wife only for my pleasure, she would be inaccessible, and rightly so.

Galli's own categories blinded him somewhat. He acknowledges the monks' "insistence upon the primacy [growth] of union with God" but then notes the extent to which they speak in terms of personal growth and development, in which he sees narcissism. Narcissism is always a danger for any Christian seeking growth in any area, but it's not inevitable, much less in seeking growth in a personal relationship with God. Further more, he completely ignores the content of 95 percent of their prayer life, the divine Office, and the books they read.

I don't recognize his "inner person" or his "inner workings of the soul." He falsely opposes reference to "spiritual battles, dark nights, struggles with God" and psychological descriptions of personal growth. The therapy one monk sought and obtained was obviously, as the monk described it, theological and spiritual as well as psychological.

The last subhead of Galli's article, "A Strange God," is sad. Obviously God does not call most of us to become monks or nuns. But he calls none of us to seek either experience (or feelings) of God, or the complete absence of feelings and emotions about everything else.

Richard J. Rolwing
Reynoldsburg, Ohio

Mark Galli replies:

I believe Mr. Rolwing and I agree more than he suspects. For example, he writes: "Monks … have no more 'left the world' than Galli has." Agreed. To be sure, it is commonly assumed—and even suggested by the language of the monks themselves—that, as Thomas Merton put it, monks become "strangers to the world." But upon closer examination of these Northern California monks, I concluded they are very much a part of this world.

No, I didn't begin writing with the attitude that "only social work or political activism expresses Christian faith," mainly because I don't believe it; never have. In fact, I noted how this type of pragmatism is something monastic prayer rightly challenges. I'm sorry Mr. Rolwing missed that paragraph, because it seems we agree again.

He further suggests that I assume a dichotomy between the psychological and the spiritual, as if one can grow psychologically but not spiritually, and vice versa. I'm sorry to disappoint, but I don't assume such: it's always a both/and in this world. Talk of "closer union with God" is mere abstraction if there is not some experiential evidence of it (one of the tasks of spiritual direction is to help one discern the activity of God in one's life). But for these Northern California monks, psychological language often preempts biblical and theological language; so I'm often left confused as to what is distinctively Christian about their personal/spiritual/psychological growth.

Rolwing says I presume the monks' pursuit of peace "seeks the suppression … of all emotion." No, I really don't. But the way they talk about peace did suggest a suppression of some emotions (like anger, e.g.) that I'm not convinced should always be suppressed. Perhaps the con fusion arises from an assumption of Mr. Rolwing: that I am trying to describe and analyze Roman Catholic spirituality as a whole. If I left that impression in the article, I regret it, because I have nothing but profound respect for that tradition. Rather, I was trying to critique a romantic view of monastic spirituality—held by many spirituality-seeking evangelicals like myself—by looking at the actual spirituality of one Northern California Trappist monastery, as unveiled by one author's interviews with the monks there. The book doesn't tell us everything about monastic spirituality, but it does tell us something worth pondering.

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