This weeks DYK is continued from a soon to be published book by Glenn Chesnut: Rudolph Otto in his book The Idea of the Holy, said that the awareness of the sacred had to be added to philosopher Kant’s list of fundamental categories of the human understanding, because it spoke of something real which human beings have been able to sense in the world around them at all times and in all cultures, and because it referred to a specific category of perceptions which could not be explained in terms of any simpler he said that this fundamental Kantian category (the numinous) could be schematized in three different ways: as the holy in the realm of spirituality and religion, as the sublime in the realm of aesthetics (matters concerning beauty), and as the transcendent in the realm of ethics.
The important thing was that Otto demonstrated that this was what all religion was about, all over the world: teaching people how to encounter the sacred. Even religions which had no concept of God, such as we see in some of the religions of Asia and in certain Native American religions, nevertheless had a well developed concept of the holy or the sacred or the numinous.
The concept of the holy was an extremely important idea in the eighteenth century evangelical thought. John Wesley in particular emphasized the need to learn how to become aware of the sacred dimension of reality in his sermons on spirituality. One of his most interesting comments in this area came in his discussion of his sermons of the “Prayer Without Ceasing,” which Christians are supposed to pray at all times (1 Thessalonians 5:17). The nature of prayer had been much disputed within the Christian tradition. The Hessychast monks on Mount Athos in Greece, for example, had said that it was the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner”). That has continued to be one of the major traditions in the Eastern Orthodox Church. John Wesley however said that it was the prayer of Moses in the book of Exodus (33:18) it said: “I beseech you, show me your glory.” Several verses earlier (in 33:11) it said in Exodus that “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to a friend.” Wesley said that developing this kind of God-consciousness was the goal of the spiritual life. We must learn to see God’s glory shining through all things, and we must learn how to stand in the light of that glory and simply talk with God every day, in the way that we would talk with our best friend.
We often encounter people in the 12-step movement who have an impressive amount of serenity who say that they like to go out into the world of Nature and spend a quiet time as a kind of healing meditation. They say that they are using as their Higher Power what they feel when they are out in the woods and fields, surrounded by trees and flowers and birds and animals.
John Wesley said that nature was one of the important places where we could see the Glory and the Sacredness of the divine shining through with impressive clarity, and he also said that we should try to be aware of this at all times, because it would strengthen our spirits and comfort us and bring us peace. Jonathan Edwards also pointed out that learning to see the sacred world of Nature would produce a fundamental change in the way we reacted to the world around us. Edwards said that he had once been afraid of thunderstorms, but that after he came to a deepening of his faith, he began to understand that this was an expression of the majesty of the sacred.
To be continued.