Luke, you’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view. ~Obi-Wan Kenobi I’ve tried to think about how to sum up everything I’ve learned in the last 40 days. Ultimately, though, that’d be the wrong thing to do. Yes, I’ve learned a lot, Atheism for Lent was rich beyond belief (pun intended), but the purpose of the course was to engage with these works as a decentering practice. Intentional disorientation, designed to knock you off balance. Why? Because it’s easy to slip into ruts, to start treating the way you see things as the only way to see things. This course definitely did that for me. At the outset, I had grand plans to follow a daily reading and a weekly blog from the Slate Project people, but I realized about halfway through that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t read or engage with anything else (I also tried starting a new book), because everything I was reading was trying to pull me back to center. I could only sit with the daily reflections in this course, and let them push up against the cognitive grooves I’ve worn in my mind…
As Day Fades to Night Often, in the evening As the day fades into night And the night lifts her caliginous gaze I’ll sit Recline, really, feet propped up Sideways on the couch And I’ll take in the mystery As a spectator, for I have no other choice The dusking light makes its way up the trees Branches unable to hold on to the retreating rays Life is twilight Now dawn charges in, brash and boisterous Exploding the sky with the arrival of a new day Or at times a muted entrance But no less the signal – The beginning of the routine The grind The possibility, yes, And also the separation But when the daylight fades When the shadows grow When the day is inevitably pulled from the world, Or at least my part of it, Another call is softly spoken – It’s time to come home. PB
Yesterday, I took our kids out for a hike to Morgan Falls. It was a gorgeous spring day, complete with copious amounts of mud. On the walk there and back, the little ever-inefficient humans kept jumping back and forth over the little melt streams in the road. Needless to say, progress was…halting. After the thirty-oddth time of saying “Let’s go, guys,” wanted to just get somewhere already, I realized my exasperation was echoing frustration that I was feeling from the Atheism for Lent course. Five weeks in (!), and I’m ready to, well, arrive already. So, as I was having one of those moments where several disparate things all of a sudden fall into place, I knelt down and grabbed the picture above, with everyone going in different directions. Atheism for Lent is set up as a decentering practice, not necessarily a course of study. You engage with the work of various thinkers, philosophers, and theologians with the premise of letting their work critique you, not the other way around. Well, surprise surprise I was doing the latter, without even realizing it. I was being continually pushed off-center, but I was trying to just find a different center, and that…
When my middle son was a toddler, and my wife was pregnant with our youngest, I’d get everyone else tucked in, then he and I would sit back in our recliner and pull up episodes of Man vs Wild with Bear Grylls on the iPad until one or both of us fell asleep. In one of them, Bear is swimming in the ocean doing God knows what, and a whale surfaces nearby. He flips out with excitement, and yells a phrase that has stuck with me for years: “What a privilege!”
Earlier this month, NPR did a story on the phenomenon of Christians turning to podcasts to say things they can’t say in church. While that headline initially makes you think of swearing or crude humor, what’s actually talked about are doubts, different answers or approaches to the usual questions, theology, mysticism, and all the wonderful, messy things that make us human. And yeah, some swearing.
When we try to imagine what God is like we must of necessity use that-which-is-not-God as the raw material for our minds to work on; hence whatever we visualize God to be, He is not, for we have constructed our image out of that which He has made and what He has made is not God. If we insist upon trying to imagine Him, we end with an idol, made not with hands but with thoughts […]
~A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy
Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.
~Wesley, The Princess Bride
Under the surface, when we let all our defenses down, with the lights out, lies an undercurrent of existential angst in each one of us. A wrestling with what it means to be alive, to exist in this world. We tell ourselves and each other stories, place ourselves in a narrative, or several, to quiet that restless voice. To fill in the yawning void. And I should mention that I don’t mean that in a demeaning sense; story is what makes us human, what allows us to create, what bonds us together and pushes us forward. “Oh, they’re just stories” is about the dumbest thing anyone could say.
But what happens when something cuts against the grain of our narrative?
Poetry consists of words and phrases and sentences that emerge like something coming out of water. They emerge before us, and they call up something in us. But then they turn us back into our own silence. And that’s why reading poetry, reading it alone silently takes us someplace where we can’t get ordinarily. Poetry opens us to this otherness that exists within us. Don’t you think? You read a poem and you say, “Ah.” And then you listen to what it brings out inside of you. And what it is is not words; it’s silence. ~Marilyn Nelson
If you’ve ever been on any kind of retreat, you know that you really don’t get into the “zone” until at least the 2nd or 3rd day. That’s been the theme of the last 4 days.
Emptying the junk drawer on the dining table.
Loosening the knots I’ve worked myself into.
The reason I’m letting myself get disturbed and decentered at the outset is so that my natural defences don’t kick in later on. It’s hard to get into a defensive crouch when you’re on your heels.
Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
I really enjoy the season of Lent. It’s a season of introspection and reflection on our mortality. A time for lament, a time for cleansing, a time for repentance (“repentance” means “change the way you think”). It’s full of all the existential and high-church sacramental stuff that really resonates with me. A common perception of Lent is that people give up something they like (chocolate, booze, swearing, coffee), piss and moan about it, and cheat after a week or two. But fasting is meant to be less about giving something up than it is to be about pausing and making room. Opening up liminal space in us, cutting out the noise. That’s what I’m going after for the next 40 days.
It doesn’t take much to spark up the pro-life/choice debate, and this election whipped it up into a veritable maelstrom. For a lot of people, that was the issue that tipped them Republican. Volumes have been written recently (and in times past) on the nuances of the topic, and I think everyone would benefit by seeking out some common ground. So what I want to do here is take a subversive approach, as sometimes getting knocked off center is the best way to get us out of our talking points and see things from a different perspective.