Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Divine: When words fail

By Crystal St. Marie Lewis
Rhetoric Race and Religion Contributor
From: Diary of a Christian Universagnosticostal

“When you believe something is true, you don’t argue that it’s true… You live as though it’s true.”
–Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

I often find myself pulling back when talking about God because I believe words tend to both complicate and over-simplify the Mystery. I know complication and over-simplication are usually mutually exclusive concepts, but I’ve found that this mutual exclusivity doesn’t necessarily apply to our language about the Divine. After all, we complicate the Mystery with theology so intricate that thousands of volumes have been written to explain it– and we over-simplify the Mystery with black-and-white statements about what God can do, who God can love and what God can/can’t be.

My desire to avoid wordy explanations of God-ness started when I first began to acknowledge my “agnostic” tendencies… I realized that there were certain things about God and the miracle of aliveness that I would likely never know and never understand. I often found myself without words to explain what I felt in my heart. I only knew that God was most powerfully concentrated in my own private experiences, and that my understanding of God-ness made more sense when lived than when explained. This feeling of not-knowing-ness had a pretty profound impact on my theology of God, effectively reducing it to three statements:

1. God is real.
2. I am not God.
3. God lives in our experiences.

With that three-pronged credo in mind, I have tried to explain (often unsuccessfully) that when I say “God is love,” it is only because I feel overwhelmingly loved when experiencing the presence of the Divine… Or that when I said Jesus is “Divine,” I am only (rather inadequately) trying to communicate that I encounter an extraordinary measure of the miraculous in the symbolism of His story… I’ve tried to explain, (ironically with thousands of words on this blog), that in the cases of both love and the incarnation, it’s my experiences that matter most to me because words so often fail.

Paul Knitter articulated one aspect of this very well in his book “Without Buddha, I Could Not Be A Christian”:

We use a lot of words, but it’s the way we use them that feels inappropriate, even disrespectful of the Mystery that is Divine. We use them so facilely that it feels like we’re using them literally… Words are not always inadequate in expressing the Divine Mystery, but they can be actual impediments to experiencing the Divine Mystery. Therefore, it’s not just that we have to take them symbolically; sometimes we have to set them aside. Stop using them…

What I’ve come to realize–… and [I] would have to thank Buddha for this– is that the reality and the Mystery of the interconnecting Spirit, precisely because it is Mystery, has to communicate itself or be felt through other ways… Indeed, maybe the deepest experiences of this Mystery can take place only without words.

I’m talking about the need for silence. If the Divine is truly a Mystery that is beyond all human comprehension, beyond all human ideas and words, then any spiritual practice must make room–lots of room– “for the practice of silence”.

I am learning that words fail sometimes, and that in those moments, experience is what matters most. And so, I have been thinking about this concept of a less-wordy, but not necessarily Wordless, Christianity… A Christianity in which I avoid lofty explanations and focus on living the incarnation… A Christianity that places experience above theology… A faith more focused on a personal (and decidedly more quiet) engagement of the Divine. Just a thought.

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