Is What We See All There Is?
In a faith that believes in a miracle called hypostasis, why is there so often a false dichotomy between all that is metaphysical and the sensible world?
James K.A. Smith, in his exposition of the massive but endlessly influential tome of Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, proclaims that we live in a disenchanted world. His own book, titled How Not To Be Secular, explains the basics in a couple of hundred pages, compared to Taylor’s nine-hundred-page monolith. This is of course too much explanation of the books and not enough explanation of what I am trying to explain. The shortest answer for why I am stuck in this loop is that I have never successfully finished A Secular Age. It’s too much, too big, too… something. I guess this is just to tell you that I rely on Smith too much and Taylor too little.
The point I am hoping to make is this: there may have been a time in human history in which the metaphysical and the empirical were not so starkly contrasted in our human experience. The same ones who wrote the story of scientific exploration believed in a world that was unfathomably discoverable. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a man who wrote characters using deduction and reason to get to the heart of the matter and solve the case, also believed in a world beyond the senses. From my limited reading of his life story, it seems like he felt no need to reconcile those categories, and this comes from a post-enlightenment figure. That said, I’m not setting up an argument to advance the cause of specific mystical beliefs, but am going to ask you to consider whether you have dismissed a mystical understanding that can co-exist with empirical reasoning without needing to be resolved and reconciled.
As with everything a pastor teaches/preaches, in many ways I’m teaching myself. Old pastors will often tell young ones that most sermons are written (ultimately) for the benefit of the one preaching. I am a person who lives in his head. I live in a constant state of anxiety and activity in my mind. Some days this feels like a superpower. Other days, it feels like an insurmountable My point in telling you this is that I live in my head, much more a thinker than a feeler, but my most impactful faith experiences have happened when I have been open to the divine in my heart space.
A couple of years ago, I was going through hell in my personal and professional life. It was just as the pandemic was heating up and I had begun to make really difficult decisions around staffing in the church I was serving. I had to do layoffs and firings and found myself with only one staff member and even he would end up dying of Covid-19 a few short months later. As the pandemic raged on, I couldn’t figure out how to run a church that felt like a church. My friendships were strained as I had to battle to even get out of bed. I struggled further to be the kind of friend that I needed, but I just couldn’t. I was argumentative and ungrateful. My friendships felt hard. Being a husband and father was even harder. And my relationship with God, a relationship that had become so close in the few years before, now seemed to disappear overnight. The once firm foundation of my faith began to feel like sinking sand, flowing freely between my fingers as I tried desperately to hold fast.
This series is part of Lenten practice and most will remain unfinished. I may or may not pick up the stories or themes for later posts.