Worship Moments June 18

Dear friends, 

This week I wanted to take a break from current events and bring this blog back to its original purpose - the nature of transcendental experience. 

About a week ago I saw a beautiful sunset above the lake (Monet would have loved to paint it), and found myself thinking about Rousseau. Personally, I thought the association followed rather naturally, but my wife was quick to point out that what I thought was natural was (as usual) just one of my many idiosyncrasies. Yet, I thought there was something important that is worth remembering here. So, what does Rousseau have to do with the way we think about God? 

To sum up Rousseau's thinking in very broad strokes, he had led the charge against 18th century Rationalism in favour of a more sentimental philosophy. He maintained that the sentimental elements of the human experience are deeper than rational and, therefore, reveal more profound truths which analytical reasoning is powerless to grasp. 

In theology he made an innovation which has now been accepted by the great majority of Protestant theologians. Before him, every philosopher from Plato onwards, if he believed in God, offered intellectual arguments in favour of that belief. The arguments may not, to us, seem very convincing, and we may feel that they would not have seemed cogent to anyone who did not already feel sure of the truth of the conclusion. Contemporary Protestants, for the most part, despise the old "proofs", and base their faith upon some aspect of human nature - emotions of awe and mystery, the sense of right and wrong, the feeling of aspiration. This way of defending religious belief was invented by Rousseau. It has become so familiar that his originality may easily pass unappreciated by our contemporaries. 

He rooted his belief the existence of a transcendent Being in our very capacity to experience transcendence: "...the rising of the sun, as it scatters the mists that cover the earth, and lays bare the wondrous glittering scene of nature, disperses at the same moment all cloud from my soul. I find my faith again, and my God, and my belief in Him."

The piece I wanted to share today is a neat illustration of this kind of associative thinking. The Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo was inspired to write this at the sighting of the Northern Lights in his native Norway. The text he had chosen for it is the famous "Pulchra es, amica mea" (from the Song of Solomon), which can be translated as follows:  Thou art beautiful, O my love, sweet and comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army set in array. Turn away thy eyes from me, for they have made me flee away.

Today's recording is brought to us by the German group called the Sjaella vocal ensemble. I earnestly hope that this long-winded post had added something to your day! Please let me know your thoughts! And, as always, I hope you are well these days.  Vlad S. 

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