A rant on Lutheran theology and contemplation

Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen

I’m taking a Lutheran theology class on Mondays and my brain is on fire by the end of the three hours.

Maybe it’s partly because I haven’t been in a traditional classroom for 20 years, but it’s also because Lutheranism is known as a ‘bookish’ theology (though, I’m learning that Luther was quite heart-centric in his own flawed way).

Luther was violently prolific. The combination was this:

Passionate and articulate German theologian (and his cronies) + his/their love of beer + the advent of the printing press = Lutheran theology.

As much as it is, I love that it stimulates my brain space.

But then, the other half of my spiritual life is my practice of contemplative prayer which is more mindful and meditative. Unlike theology, contemplative prayer is all about self-emptying and releasing thoughts, not refining them.

So how do I live with both? It seems they’d cancel each other out.

But this is what’s so great about looking at things contemplatively/non-dualistically (as bad as I am at it)…

Contemplation doesn’t cause us to shy away from opposites. Rather, it allows us to embrace both polarities and create a new, third thing.

When it comes to opposites, the small self frantically yearns to pick one or the other. But it’s fascinating what happens when we sit with both for a while.

As for the example I present today, with these two seemingly disparate spiritual premises, here’s what occurred to me…

Lutheran theology (especially before the death of Luther, after which a lot of really ‘smart’ humans and committees of humans got their hands on it) was radically a gospel (grace)-centered theology. His premise went something like this…

Humans are justified (loved, accepted, etc.) from birth through the grace of God. There is no ladder to climb. The only task is to recognize and live in response to this grace.

In contemplative centering prayer, the task is to sit still for 20 minutes and bask in this grace. And it’s really hard. Because I don’t feel I deserve it. My ego feels like it has to do this, this, and this.

Stop sitting, you loser! Get up and perform! Produce!

There’s just so much to do and so much to prove.

But, the task is to let that stuff bubble up and bathe in the grace that Luther banged on about. It takes practice to do this, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be constantly aware of the love God has for me and all of creation.

I’ll take a glimpse every now and then, though. And if I just had a fresh beer and a digital printing press, I might be able to write about it too.

There we go…