Christian Practice, Part 3a: Gelassenheit Revisited

Two very thoughtful comments to my last post on Kenosis and Gelassenheit by Tim and Jonathan have made me want to think some more out loud about Gelassenheit.

As both Tim and Jonathan point out, Gelassenheit has some problems. First, it is awfully passive. This is problematic in that it seems to inhibit assertive forms of Christian practice (e.g., prophesy, justice). Second, Gelassenheit is embedded in hierarchy with subordinates and superiors. My examples of the Amish and the Benedictine monastery only reinforced that impression. But I do not think Christianity should be heirarchical. I hoped my examples of displaying "Gelassenheit" to my children and my wife indicated that I was trying to stretch the term a bit (by signaling that I, the male father and husband, was trying to be submissive via service to my family). Maybe I should have nuanced my use of the term. How about "Egalitarian Gelassenheit"? "Mutual Gelassenheit?" "Reciprocal Gelassenheit?"

Jonathan (again, see his comments on my last post) goes on to do some interesting work decomposing Gelassenheit into parts. Please read his comment. Jonathan's comment highlights some of the difficulty I've faced preparing these posts. And I think I'll be repeatedly facing this issue.

The first issue, one I alluded to on Monday, is what level of analysis should I work on? For parsimony's sake, I'm trying to work at as high a level of abstraction as I can, grouping many related things under big umbrella terms. That move toward parsimony tends to over-simplify things (as Tim pointed out). For example, in my last post I grouped submission, servanthood, humility, obedience, modesty, and humility under a big term, Gelassenheit. But something like "humility," in its own right, is a big umbrella term comprised of many interacting sub-components. My point is that my overall approach may be at too high a level of abstraction.

A second, but related issue, is how to group things under the umbrella terms. I think I'm going to be accused of mixing apples and oranges at times. For example, rather than the practice of Gelassenheit for my last post, I almost went with the practices of Community. And now, in retrospect, that might have been a better choice. Ultimately, I thought that the practices of community had more to do with solidarity and "bearing with" one another than with kenosis. But the two are intimately related. So, I've split them apart. Gelassenheit just happened to show up first.

Finally, in all of these posts, I'm looking for umbrella terms that are behavioral. And, interestingly, those are hard to find. Gelassenheit was both broad and behavioral so I went with it. For better or worse.

So, there it is. Thanks to Tim and Jonathan and the rest of you interested in this journey.

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3 thoughts on “Christian Practice, Part 3a: Gelassenheit Revisited”

  1. Richard,

    Some very interesting posts recently. I wonder about the significance of such Biblical texts like Ephesians 5:21-22:

    "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord." (NIV)

    Now there are a whole slew of controversial things to talk about in this passage, (v. 22 has no verb, thus the two sentences should be one, the word "hupotasso" has varied translations, etc) but I want to focus on the meaning of these two verses: are they a definition of gelassenheit to you?

  2. Teresa,
    I think those passages are a part of the Biblical witness regarding submission and, thus, would fall under my use of gelassenheit (if the term is stretched and nuanced a bit as I'm trying to do in this post). That is, I want to connect gelassenheit to kenosis, the emptying of self. If people are using gelassenheit to determine who submits to whom then they are missing my particular point: We submit to and serve people to model Jesus, to "die to self," not to create or maintain well-ordered hierarchies (in the home or church).

    So, in the passage you cite, the idea of "mutual submission" is the nuanced vision of gelassenheit I would like to capture as it signals a mutual and cooperative movement toward kenosis.

    In short, I'm trying to keep gelassenheit closely linked to kenosis. Thus, the minute someone starts trying to determine who should submit to whom they are missing the point. For kenosis is a rush to the bottom, to the place of the servant. Husbands make this rush as do wives. As do all Chrisitians, if Jesus is to be followed.

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