Fr. Drew Christiansen on 'Whooshing Up'

Readers of the print edition will be familiar with what we at America call the "OMT"—Of Many Things, the weekly column that runs on page two of the magazine. The OMT is venue for the editors, particulary the editor-in-chief, to comment on current events in a less formal, sometimes more opinionated way than a standard editorial. In a way, the OMT was a blog before there were blogs, a survey of the political/religious/cultural landscape that quickly became required reading.

A great example of the form has just been posted online: Fr. Drew Christiansen, our editor, responds to a central thesis of the book All Things Shining, the new study by philosophers Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly. The book attracted early attention when David Brooks wrote about it—and the phenonomenon of "whooshing up"—in his NY Times column:


The most real things in life, [Drefyfus and Kelly] write, well up and take us over. They call this experience “whooshing up.” We get whooshed up at a sports arena, at a political rally or even at magical moments while woodworking or walking through nature.

Dreyfus and Kelly say that we should have the courage not to look for some unitary, totalistic explanation for the universe. Instead, we should live perceptively at the surface, receptive to the moments of transcendent whooshes that we can feel in, say, a concert crowd, or while engaging in a meaningful activity, like making a perfect cup of coffee with a well-crafted pot and cup.

We should not expect these experiences to cohere into a single “meaning of life.” Transcendent experiences are plural and incompatible. We should instead cultivate a spirit of gratitude and wonder for the many excellent things the world supplies.

And here is Father Drew's response:

Just a few years ago Charles Taylor, in A Secular Age, identified the “festivity” of mass events as an aperçu on the sacred, but he was thinking of pilgrimages to Taizé and World Youth Days, events already laden with some religious significance, different in kind from arena spirituality. They demand more of the participant: the exertion of travel, especially on foot, the burden of repentance and the challenge of taking on a new way of life—in short, conversion. It is the personal cost of such activities and the risk of transformation of character inherent in them that distinguishes them from the cheap grace of being whooshed up in a stadium wave. They place demands on the self in a way being a sports fan does not.

....[Dreyfus and Kelly] reject any unitary experience and regard monotheism as a cultural dead-end. They want readers to settle for something more modest: relishing everyday enjoyments. As Michael Roth summarizes their view, “When we try too hard, we lose touch with the world.”

Writing off religion as “trying too hard” shows that the promoters of the new paganism do not understand religion. Orthodox religion condemns excesses of effort as in Pelagianism and scrupulosity. But being religious also involves a holiness that both refines and integrates one’s personality and one’s experience of the universe...

What is integrating and unifying for religious people is not some theological framework but their experience of holiness in others and the striving for holiness in their own lives, and through the prism of that holiness the overwhelming holiness of God. The antidote to nihilism in our secular age is not the ersatz religion of the playing field but the real holiness of flesh and blood men and women. “Deep calls to deep” (Ps 42:8).

 You can read the full column here.

 Tim Reidy


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8 years 2 months ago
I think Fr. Drew is speaking about spirituality,  a concept that transcends theology or reason.  At this level we have no words or language to use to explain or describe it.   And perhaps this was the reason why St. Thomas of Aquinas, the great Catholic theologian stopped writing and preaching towards the end of his life.    He ended up in contemplation..... a contemplative, rather than a preacher.  And the  Church canonized him as a saint, a holy man.  He became speechless, if you will, when he experienced the presence of God.  Something like what happens to us when we behold beauty in nature, a sunset maybe, or listening to great music.
Stanley Kopacz
8 years 2 months ago
How can we NOT look for a unity in these experiences?  What gives them (the authors) the authority to tell us NOT to do something?  Even if unsuccessful, doesn't meditation on these experiences allow them to spill into the rest of life in some way?  The fisherman looking at trees and water might become concerned that those waters remain teeming with life and that the trees are not just for cutting down.  Thomas Merton described a transcendent experience of love for all people.  This should lead to a changed attitude toward social justice and economic systems.  I don't know what good spillover the experience of sports might engender.  If there is some, I am willing to be enlightened.  I'm not really a sports fan but I DO like it when Philadelphia teams defeat New York ones.
Kay Satterfield
8 years 2 months ago
"Deep calls to Deep". The last paragraph of this article reminds me of the meeting of the Dalai Lama and Thomas Merton who most people agree strieve/strieved for holiness and honesty in their lives in their respective faith traditions.  There was a real connection between the two.  The following article in America speaks of their meeting.

Regarding the book mentioned., Jesus also taught us to live in the moment, take one day at a time.  Being aware that there is a God that is loves you and is guiding you and is active in the world you and in others is transforming for the person and for those around him/her.


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