Lost in the Cosmos

If you have not read Walker Percy’s (1916-1990) clever book, Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, you should - especially if you minister to people or are even remotely self-reflective. The sub-title tells you what Percy is up to through his use of satire.

Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy.jpg

In order to understand Percy’s writing you need to know that he converted to Catholicism after reading the writings of the Danish existentialist writer Søren Kierkegaard and the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky. He began to question the ability of science to explain the basic mysteries of human existence. Having been influenced by the example of one of his college roommates to rise daily at dawn and go to Mass, Percy decided to convert, and he was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1947. If you would like to read more, follow this link http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walker_Percy

Here are some quotes from the book. The first two appear on the opening cover. The second pair appears in the book, proper.

We are unknown, we knowers, to ourselves…Of necessity we remain strangers to ourselves, we understand ourselves not, in our selves we are bound to be mistaken, for each of us holds good to all eternity the motto, “Each is the farthest away from himself”—as far as ourselves are concerned we are not knowers.  Nietzsche
God, I pray you to let me know myself. St. Augustine
Can you explain why it is that there are, at last count, sixteen schools of psychotherapy  with  sixteen theories of the personality and its disorders and that patients treated in one school seem to do as well or as badly as patients treated in any other—while there is only one gener­ally accepted theory of the cause and cure of pneumococcal pneumonia and only one generally accepted theory of the orbits of the planets and the gravitational attraction of our galaxy and the galaxy M31 in Andromeda? (Hint: If you answer that the human psyche is more complicated than the pneumococcus and the human white-cell response or the galaxies or Einstein's general theory of relativity, keep in mind that the burden of proof is on you. Or if you answer that the study of the human psyche is in its infancy, remember then this infancy has lasted 2,500 years and, unlike phys­ics, we don't seem to know much more about the psyche than Plato did.)
How can you survive in the Cosmos about which you know more and more while knowing less and less about yourself, this despite 10,000 self-help books, 100,000 psychotherapists, and 100 million fundamentalist Christians….

One particular work by Kierkegaard, The Sickness Unto Death, bleeds through most of Percy’s writings. For Kierkegaard, the sickness unto death is what he calls “despair.” Despair describes the various ways a person lives in an inauthentic manner. You can see in this statement, the seeds of modern existentialism. But unlike the atheistic existentialism of Jean Paul Sartre, the only way for someone to not be in despair, according to Kierkegaard, is in a relationship with the living God. 

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Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.