Did you wish . . . could you wish

Either / Or concludes with Judge William offering the transcript of sermon he received from a friend who is a minister.  William is convinced that this sermon reflects what he had been straining towards in his letter (which is what all of vol 2 is considered).  The minister has yet to preach this sermon but believes in time that he will be able to have his entire congregation understand it “for the beauty of the universal consists precisely in the fact that all can understand it.”

The sermon drives towards the point that the desire to be in the right or the painfulness of being in the wrong reflects a finite relationship but to embrace that before God one is always in the wrong reflects an infinite relationship.

So, then, this thought that against God you are always in the wrong is not a truth you are compelled to recognize, not a comfort which assuages your pain, not a compensation for the loss of something better, but it is a joy in which you triumph over yourself and over the world.

In the final paragraph which concludes Either / Or as a whole the preacher pauses and addresses the listener directly.

Your thought has now followed the course of this exposition, perhaps hurrying ahead when it was along familiar paths it led you, slowly and perhaps reluctantly when the way was strange to you.  But nevertheless you must admit that the case is as it was set forth, and your thought had no objection to raise against it.  Before we separate, one more question, my hearer:  Did you wish, could you wish, that the case might be different?  Could you wish that you might be in the right?  Could you wish that that beautiful law which for thousands of years has supported the race and every generation in the race, that beautiful law, more glorious than the law which supports the stars in their courses upon the vault of heaven, could you wish that this law might burst, with more dreadful effect than if that law of nature were to lose its force and everything were to be resolved into appalling chaos?  Could you wish this?  I have no word of wrath with which to terrify you; your wish must not proceed from dread of the presumptuous thought of willing to be in the right against God; I ask only, could you wish that it might be otherwise?  Perhaps my voice does not possess enough strength and heartiness to penetrate into your inmost thought  – O, but ask yourself, ask with the solemn uncertainty with which you would address yourself to a man who was able, you knew, by a single word to decide your happiness in life, ask yourself still more seriously, for verily it is a question a salvation.  Do not check your soul’s flight, do not grieve the better promptings within you, do not dull your spirit with half wishes and half thoughts.  Ask yourself, and continue to ask until you find the answer.  For one may have known a thing many times and acknowledged it, one may have willed a thing many times and attempted it; and yet it is only by the deep inward movements, only by the indiscernible emotions of the heart, that for the first time you are convinced that what you have known belongs to you, that no power can take it from you; for only the truth which edifies is truth for you.

I keep asking myself if this sort of prompting still has validity (I guess if it ever did)?  Is it still intelligible to speak of ‘deep inward movements’?  I am still drawn to that language . . . but why?  Does that language provide a kind of security from the responsibility I am called to?  I hope not  . . . and that would be to misunderstand Kierkegaard.  I think in midst of the revolutions and the ferment we see around us it is highly important to speak of ‘deep inward movements’ especially of those ‘that no power can take’.  It is these movements that must inform the direction and role that individuals who find themselves in positions of influence and authority.  These movements must be cultivated so that decisions to shed or responsibly employ power can be taken.  I hold no hope for ‘structure’ as an ends to inequality.  A social spirituality as practiced by Jesus’ fasting and temptation demonstrates what must be learned and taught and practiced.  My rejection of suburban lifestyle and attempts at generous and simple living must be practiced along with a confronting of power within myself and in my society.  I must confront the power that stems from my social position (North American, white, male, healthy, propertied, etc.).   Those places I guarded must now be brought into humble relationship with those who have been rejected from privileged places I had access to.

I do not think it is helpful to shed the language of ‘inward movement’ the question must be the extent to which these movements are based on purely internal relations (I feel overwhelmed so I must centre myself) or external relations (my lifestyle sustains a culture harmful to my neighbour how I can learn to function out of another space).

In any event on to Kierkegaard’s Eighteen Upbuilding Discourses.


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