Mourning … and Snivelling

With warm gratitude to Bellator Dei for the graphic.

Mourning and Snivelling … What a profound difference between the two!

It is here that I have often found New Age spirituality profoundly confused as to the nature of Christianity and Christian mourning.

For so often, in the New Age sphere have I seen those who looked at Christian mourning and saw apparently little but moroseness and morbidity.

In the “New Age environment” where I type these words, someone has affixed a picture of the smiling Dalai Llama. And as I write, I have recently beheld a picture of John Paul II, praying it seems to me with enormous seriousness, earnestness, gravitas. I imagine him honestly carrying the weight of the world. If I wanted to affix a picture of John Paul in this space, I am sure it would not be welcome.

This is to say nothing against the Dalai Llama. I am sure he is a noble and beautifully compassionate representative of his Tradition. No, my words are more a certain reflection on the New Age ethos: smiling Dalai Lama “COOL.” The sometimes grave John Paul II to whom the World owes so much … “UNCOOL”.

And then of course, there is that central image of Christianity. The agonised, crucified Christ bearing the sin of the world. This image indeed is certainly considered “morbid” by many a New Ager, to whom the very idea of “sin of the world” is likely to be unpalatable.

Now this is not to deny that there have ever been certain morbid tones to particular expressions of Christianity. One thinks of Calvinism in Protestantism. Calvinist Protestantism which spoke of the “total depravity of human nature”. This is of course very different to the Catholic Tradition, which has emphasised natura vulnereta, non deleta – Nature is wounded, but not destroyed.

Yet still such elements have been found in Catholicism too. Jansenism comes to mind with its dark and I would say, morose picture of humanity. Yet Jansenism received Papal condemnation. Still despite being classed as heresy, it can be said that elements of Jansenism have persisted within certain Catholic streams.

Such morose expressions of Christianity may have been a source of confusion for some. Thus last time, I mentioned being chided for not being sufficiently positive about the world from certain friends, sympathetic to a New Age perspective. I confess one of the people – but only one – I have in mind here, is an old friend who was raised as a Catholic and seemed to feel it had given her a glorification of misery. I confess I do not know her background well. Perhaps indeed it had a Jansenist tendency.

But it seems to me that perhaps in her case, and certainly that of many I have known of a New Age persuasion, insufficient distinction is made … insufficient distinction between snivelling and morbidity on the one hand, and mourning and tragedy on the other.

And yes there is also a New Age stigmatising of suffering, I have seen all too often. Here again, it seems to me there is an incapacity to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy suffering.

And a state of suffering, not aimed at “more joy right now!” is seen – ipso facto – as uncreative, morbid, despairing.

Now sometimes such a state is uncreative … and sometimes it isn’t. And that is the point.

In other words, a distinction must be made between a suffering that IS black and bitter, uncreative and self-pitying and a kind of suffering that is altogether different.

This is a suffering that is open hearted to the misery of the world and is therefore not self-pitying. This kind of suffering knows that it participates in a vast world suffering of humans, animals, plants and more. Angels … the angels who look upon our planetary suffering. Yes, the angels … no doubt suffer too.

And participating in this kind of suffering, the sufferer becomes creative and on fire, as of course our Lord was infinitely creative and on fire …

This then might be called Christian suffering. It is suffering with Christ – or at least it is our own frail and human attempt to open the heart in suffering with Christ. But to the extent that it is suffering with Christ, it is not morbid. For the suffering of Jesus Christ is that of the opening of the human heart to infinity …

For the more the heart opens, how can it not mourn as it beholds the suffering all around us?

The more the heart is open, the greater the mourning. And when the Heart is opened to the infinite … infinitely loving, will not that Heart also mourn with the intensity of infinity?

And when that Heart is infinitely loving, will not that heart also know the infinite JOY of love?

Yes – the human heart on fire with love can grow vast enough to scale the heights of joy and yet embrace the depths of sorrow.

Such is not the message of so much New Age spirituality – which would exchange suffering for joy.

But it is, I believe, the message of the spirituality of the Cor Jesu Sacratissimum, to which this weblog is dedicated …

From Amazon US:

These titles can also be found in our Amazon UK store here. There is also a review for each book at these links here: (Heart of the Redeemer) (The Life of Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque) (The Autobiography of Saint Margaret Mary) (France and the Cult of the Sacred Heart)

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  1. John Halloran
    Posted 28 April 2009 at 16:54 | Permalink

    I think the New Age offers something relatively easy and consumable, a kind of entry-level spirituality (altho’ it can also go to some deep places, I think).

    But you Roger are a long way into something much less easy and much less consumable: a rigourous, informed Catholicism (altho’, inversely, Catholicism can be very shallow). Your Catholicism is much more esoteric and much more advanced than the New Age attitudes you criticise.

    I do not think the two approaches to spirituality are commensurate. I think they are two different epistemes and one is not going to speak to the other. What this implies is that the world is epistemically fractured re spirituality, and people involved in spirituality could be talking radically different languages.

    This is a thing you have long been concerned to show, actually. So we come back to the problem of needing consensus for there to be change; but having to accept and live with pluralism (while the thing that oppresses us, capitalism, is a single thing of monolithic power, to which we all contribute as an epistemic – and behavioural – collective).

    That is a deep problem. But I agree with you (well, things you have said before), we can’t finesse it by saying actually all religions and spiritualities are basically the same and they are all good.

  2. roger
    Posted 30 April 2009 at 10:46 | Permalink

    Thank you, John, “known friend” for the kindness in this and for all the complex issues and questions you pose.

    I have been pondering this for the last 24 hours and in the next 24 hours or so – I hope! – the beginning, at least, of a response will be posted – as a main weblog entry, I believe.

    Again, thank you for posting. Although I am grateful indeed for the responses I am getting privately, I feel these on-site responses can only enliven, enrich and support this project.

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