About Providence, Divine Action and the Church


In this blog, Terry J. Wright posts thoughts and shares research on the Christian doctrine of providence. This doctrine testifies to God’s provision for all things through creation’s high priest, the man Christ Jesus. However, the precise meaning and manner of this provision is a perpetually open question, and this blog is a forum for discussion of the many issues relating to providence and the place of the Church within God’s action.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Spiritual Life as a Journey of Consumerism

I’m sure you’ve heard people describe the spiritual life as a journey. You may have done so yourself. And while I have no real problem with the metaphor, sometimes I wonder if people prize the  journey far more – and sometimes over and against – the journey’s destination. I accept that in these apparently postmodern times, asking the right questions about faith and belief is important. But is there a tendency among some spiritual travellers to regard question-asking as more important than answer-seeking? Granted, most questions probably can’t be answered definitively, but does that mean we should eschew probing or abandon the search for satisfying and accurate responses to the questions and issues that we all face on a daily basis?

Not that sort of Journey. . .
The reason I’m pondering these things in my heart is because of an insightful comment I came across yesterday:

The seductiveness of consumerism depends upon desire not being reducible to the desire for satisfaction. Desire is not only a restless lacking from which we seek deliverance. Desire can become reflexive, so that desire itself becomes desirable. It is more seductive to play upon the desirability of desire than to rush to satisfy desire. . . . People go shopping not just to acquire a product, but to go shopping. Sometimes people purposefully “go shopping” not in order to buy anything, but just to “go shopping.” The sociologist Zygmunt Baumann writes that in consumer society, “It is the running itself which is exhilarating, and however tiring it may be, the track is a more enjoyable place than the finishing line.” We who are formed by consumerism might be none too happy to have our restless hearts stilled in God. The restlessness is far too stimulating and desirable.

John F. Hoffmeyer, ‘Sacramental Theology in a Consumer Society’, Dialog 53:2 (2014), pp. 127–133; quotation from p. 129

If some people do prefer the journey to the destination, I wonder how far they’ve succumbed to a consumerist mind-set. What – or in what ways – can growth be achieved by hopping from one spiritual discipline to another on the spiritual journey, as though moving from, say, a daily quiet time reading Scripture to mindfulness is an upgrade? Surely the concept of spiritual discipline implies perseverance. And I can’t help but notice that Baumann’s running-track imagery contrasts starkly with the author of Hebrews, who points out that Jesus fixed his eyes on the goal (Hebrews 12:1-2) rather than on the race itself. If the spiritual life is a journey, then for Christians, with eyes fixed on Jesus, the destination, and not a path of spiritual consumerism, has to take priority.

2 comments:

  1. Interesting, that hadn't occurred to me before. I think maybe "moving from, say, a daily quiet time reading Scripture to mindfulness" might be in an attempt to keep things fresh in one's relatinship with God rather than from a restless sense of consumerism/wanting to 'upgrade' (very tickled by that concept). I guess you could argue that the whole notion of 'keeping things fresh' implies some childish need for stimulation and novelty, but I think that's partly down to personality and hey we're all human.

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  2. Hi, Rosie. Yeah, I fully accept the need to keep things fresh - I think my main target is faddism and the idea that spiritual disciplines can be upgraded. Perhaps this target's only in my mind!

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