What I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.
~Sören Kierkegaard, Journal entry,1 August 1835
The wellness movement emphasizes a holistic understanding of man. It reaches beyond physical health and aspires to that which is nebulously called mindfulness, thus attempting to bridge the body to the soul. This is not new, of course; its roots are at least Platonic, and even Plato was predated by eastern thinkers who saw man as more garden than machine.
The irony runs deep here because man is contextualized correctly as a functioning member of the body of Christ. He is singularly essential, yet unfulfilled unless joined to his complementary fellows.
In his book Out of the Depths, Ken Kovacs wrote:
Many years ago I came across profound wisdom in a statement by Sören Kierkegaard (1813-1855)—that blessed Dane. Kierkegaard has been one of my theological heroes for a long time, a faithful and trusted companion on my journey. (His surname translated into English means, literally, “cemetery”—kierke, meaning “church” and gaard, meaning “garden” or “yard;” hence, “church yard” or “cemetery.” With a name like that you can only imagine what his childhood was like.) With searing psychological and spiritual insight, this is what he said: “Comparison kills.” When I first heard those words, many years ago, it was as if the hammer of Thor had struck me, and cracked me open, and released my soul. Kierkegaard said, “. . . the more comparison, the more indolent and paltry a person’s life becomes . . . comparison kills,” he said, “with its insidious chill.”
He’s right. There are healthy forms of comparison, of course. But when we’re always comparing ourselves to others—what others have, what others are doing, what others are achieving—if we’re always looking outward, valuing what’s “out there,” more than what’s “in here,” within us, that which has already been entrusted to us by the Spirit, we are doing ourselves a great disservice and effectively rejecting God’s gifts in us. This is not the way toward life, this is not what the Spirit intends for our lives, this is not the way of Christ. Pathological comparison kills; with its insidious chill it slowly, ever so slowly over time kills our souls.
D I G D E E P E R
Sören Kierkegaard, “Upbuilding Discourses in Various Spirits (1847). The full quote: “. . . the more comparison, the more indolent and paltry a person’s life becomes. This consciousness is the straight gate and the narrow way. It is not the way as such that is narrow, although quite a few people walk along it single-file; no, the narrowness is that each one separately must become the single individual who must press through this narrow pass along the narrow way where no comparison cools, but also where no comparison kills with its insidious chill.”
Kierkegaard’s Writings, XV (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 152.
b. in Copenhagen, May 5, 1813
A melancholy boy of deep religious inclination, who, attracted and repelled by Christianity, gave himself up to pessimism, from which the death of his father delivered him, leading him as a man to the study of theology (1840). But he conceived of it as pure subjectivity, and rejected existing Christianity as wrong, attacked Martensen, when the latter praised Mynster (1854), and was led into the bitterest attitude ag. Church and Christianity; d. Nov. 11, 1855. The subjective truth of the personality was the centre of K.’s system. The personality is the ethically existing, not the knowing, which must be capable of infinite suffering, though it is finite. To suffer is to be religious, which includes the paradox. The paradox or absurd is the contradiction between man, a sinner by his very existence, and man determining himself for faith, i.e. not likeness, but contemporaneousness with Christ, as shown, not merely in humility and inner suffering, but in actual experience of the hate of the world, which flies from truth.
(LIT.: Petersen, Sören Kierkegaards Kristendums forkyadelse; Martensen, Aus meinen Leben; Kierkegaard, in the various Cyclop.; espec. Nordisk Konversationslexikon.
Henry Eyster Jacobs and John A. W. Haas, eds., The Lutheran Cyclopedia (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1899), 262.
This explains the ideal of the Renaissance Man, the individual who masters a wide range of fields in both the arts and sciences. And the supreme instance was Leonardo da Vinci—scientist, inventor, mathematician, engineer, and above all, artist. For Leonardo, the painter was a “god” capable of creating images at will. His Vitruvian Man (named after a Roman architect who calculated the body’s ideal proportions) expresses the neo-Platonic idea that the human being is a microcosm uniting the two realms of spirit and matter. “In the iconography of the day,” explains a historian, “the square was generally taken as symbolic of the earth while the circle was representative of the eternity of heaven.” In Leonardo’s image, then, the ideal human is “both of this earth and heaven . . . the unifier of the universe.”
Did this polymath fulfill the Renaissance goal then of overcoming “man’s dualistic nature”? Sadly no, says philosopher Giovanni Gentile. As an engineer and mathematician, Leonardo anticipated the mechanistic worldview that arose soon afterward in the scientific revolution—a vision of nature “ordered in a closed and fixed system, necessary and mechanically invariable.” Yet as an artist, Leonardo never stopped seeking to capture the ideal or the universal. In a poignant passage, Gentile speaks of “the anguish and the innermost tragedy of this universal man, divided between his irreconcilable worlds.” Standing at the threshold of modernity, Leonardo is a symbol of the modern mind and its tragic inability to find a unified truth.
Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning (Nashville: B&H, 2010).
1 Corinthians 12:12–31
12 For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. 14 For in fact the body is not one member but many.
15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I am not of the body,” is it therefore not of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? 18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.
Kenneth E. Kovacs is pastor of the Catonsville Presbyterian Church, Catonsville, Maryland, and has served congregations in St. Andrews, Scotland, and Mendham, New Jersey. Ken studied at Rutgers College, Yale Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, and received his Ph.D. in practical theology from the University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, Scotland. He is also an analyst-in-training at the C. G. Jung Institute-Zürich. Author of The Relational Theology of James E. Loder: Encounter & Conviction (New York: Peter Lang, 2011) and Out of the Depths: Sermons and Essays (Parson’s Porch, 2016), his current research areas include C. G. Jung and contemporary Christian experience. Ken has served on the board of the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is a current board member of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, and a book reviewer for The Presbyterian Outlook.
Ken’s weekly sermons at CPC can be found at http://kekovacs.blogspot.com/