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two lungs?

RubilevTrinityIt is regularly said now that Eastern and Western Christianity form two lungs of Christianity. We might also refer to head and heart, etc. needing to work in balance. Western theology is regularly connected to philosophy, arguing about words – words, words, more words. While Western theologians are often philosophers, Eastern theologians are often artists, poets, musicians, etc. Eastern theology is generally more at home with symbolism, ritual, liturgy… Maybe we in the Western Christian tradition might take some time this Lent fasting from words, words, and more words – and give over more time to art, symbol, music, liturgy, mystery… What do you think?

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20 thoughts on “two lungs?”

  1. I have been saying the same thing to others for a while now… Personally, I am just at home in an Eastern church as I am in a Western church… thanks for the reminder, Bosco 🙂

  2. A sense of the need for balance may, one day, lead to reunification of both wings of the church. I studied on a course on the roots of Christian mysticism, a while back, and was struck by how “eastern” the early church was. The schism had not yet occured. The qualities of that period can still be found in the “western church”. For some reason the more intellectual “head dominated” aproach to theology came smother the more practical “heart centred” approach to theology. I’m sure the two approaches can work in harmony.

  3. I love the lung metaphor! Maybe being an artist myself has something to do with my interest and fascination with Eastern Christianity. Unfortunately, I am also a “thinker” and many times find my thoughts spinning in circles. Learning to pray with my heart vs being stuck in my head has been a very significant part of my journey of faith and healing. I guess we can breathe with one “lung”, but it is so much easier with two. The never ending quest for balance…

    Thank you for this great post. =)

  4. I came to much the same conclusion a few months ago. A lot of western churches – thinking particularly of those strange evangelical types – multiply words of prose in a proselytizing kind of way, while the liturgy says all that needs said, through poetry instead (well, if it’s a decent enough liturgy, anyway!). What needs to change is to instil an attitude and expectation of being prepared to meditate at length.

  5. Thank you for this very interesting post. I recently read Rowan Williams’s book on Dostoevsky, and your thoughts have illuminated something for me about the difference between Western and Eastern Christianity which I find fascinating but hadn’t seen put into words before.

  6. I love the metaphor of the two lungs. I have a friend who is Eastern Orthodox due to her Serbian heritage. She is married to an alleged atheist who wss raised Catholic. I say alleged because I don’t think he really doesn’t believe–he is angry at the abuses and hypocrisies of the Roman church, and has thrown the figurative baby out with the bathwater.

    I told my friend, who loves sacred music, liturgy, etc. that I bet her husband wouldn’t feel the way he does if he had been raised in the Eastern church and she agrees.

    I love the contemplation of a Taize style service, of losing myself with an Anglican rosary, Dominican rosary or just repeating the Jesus prayer so beloved in the East. I’ve been suffering from severe seasonal depression and it’s been a real comfort to shut down the self-denigrating thoughts by moving beyond thought to the Spirit through movement (I frequently pray and walk at the ssame time) and sacred music.

  7. I feel it is true. I think that with the noise of words we are trying to hide the fear of Silence, because God talks in our Silence and when He talks things change…we are faced with Change…and crisis, which is good…uncomfortable and good.

    We loose so much of God because His Word is a Silent Word…Silence is not “vacum”….Silence is the state where all “things” are created…it is the expression of absolute meaning…When we experience Love…we don’t need to talk…just be in the presence of the one that loves us and the one we love….and that is real Moment….there we are in Unity…..


  8. Just remember that God chose to reveal himself to use foremost through words; as Hebrews 1 puts it:

    1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
    2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds

    I would be very worried about a suggestion that the clarity which words bring is a disadvantage; rather, it is a great advantage. A Christian man and a Buddhist man might undertake mystical meditation together without conflict, yet if the same two start to use words then that which divides the Christian from the superstitions of the world becomes apparent – the Word, the very λόγος, by whom alone is our salvation.

    1. Johnny Low [“The Tempter”] you appear to not have taken the time to read this post. It is not referring to “Eastern religions” (eg. Buddhism), but Eastern Christianity. Inter-religious dialogue is a whole other conversation not part of this thread. Orthodox Christianity normally understands your references to refer to the Second Person of the Trinity Incarnate, not merely to words. God chose to reveal Godself to us foremost through Jesus Christ. That we in the West might quickly think of the metaphor of Jesus as God’s word, and in the East might quickly think of the metaphor of Jesus as God’s icon reinforces rather than contradicts my point.

  9. Bosco; many thanks for those thoughts. Whilst I did read the article, I had tried to bring out in the comment that without words we lose so much of Christianity, to the extent that we can even ‘worship together’ with Buddhists. Words are far more precise than icons, and through this precision they are far more clear. One might see some ten thousand icons and understand nothing of the Gospel; yet a mere ten words could relate its foundations.

    1. We will just have to disagree, Johnny. I think you are writing from within a Western Christian perspective, where arguments over words have not necessarily resulted in clarity about the gospel but rather its antithesis – often ever-increasing fragmentation and confusion. To rephrase your perspective: “One might read some ten thousand words and understand nothing of the Gospel; yet time spent deeply with an icon could relate its foundations.” No one is advocating that we abandon words – as you appear to imply I’m suggesting. But rather that we allow ourselves to be enriched by the second lung of Christianity. We have five senses – words are only half of it. Christianity is ultimately not a spirituality of words – but a relationship with and through a person whom God sends. Words relate to the mind – we are more than minds. We start with the sign of the cross to indicate the need to move from the head to the heart. There’s a lot of head-centred Christianity out there. Lent challenges us to go deeper IMO.

  10. Bosco; thanks again. There is much merit in what you say. In some ways perhaps the difference is almost that of general vs. special revelation; the one kindling the heart with the flame of faith, the other providing fuel for that flame for it to grow in truth and light.

  11. perhaps pastors need to put church on ventilators so to speak. Forcing some pneuma (wind/breath/spirit) from our Eastern brethren into our churches. I am always sadden when I visit a church devoid of all Christian symbolism; or as a pastor always asked to *explain* things instead of simply experiencing the faith.

    Thanks for the analogy!

    1. Joel, we are on the same page. There is a Western habit, for example, of seeking constantly to translate symbols and sacraments into words – if words were equivalent to symbols & sacraments then why have the symbols & sacraments? Let them speak to our heart – not have everything directed at our head.

  12. David Allen |Ddah•veed|

    My liturgy professor taught us that if you have to constantly explain the significance of a symbol or of a ritual, then the symbol or ritual is not working.

    I find services in congregations where the leader(s) constantly feel(s) the need to explain disconcerting/disturbing.

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