Leap and Stutter

Piety makes for awkwardness, and where Balance is not urgent, what one utters May be puzzled and perfect, and we respect Some scholars' stutters.Richard Wilbur, “Grace”

If there is one credo that I carry with me every day, it is that all that matters most is a matter of communication. Love, faith, hope, despair, being with someone and being apart from that one, speaking in all honesty and listening to others with a fierceness that defies obstacles — all of this is communication. And communication is, in its deepest and most profound sense, more than simply a transmission of information. It is communion.

One of the maxims of a psychology of communication is that we cannot not communicate. We’re always on, so to speak; we’re always sending out signals and we’re always receiving them, too, with varying degrees of awareness. Communication 101 says that we are not solely senders or receivers, but simultaneously senders and receivers. The warden in Cool Hand Luke was wrong when he sneeringly drawled at his prisoner (played by Paul Newman) that “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” No, there was communication between prisoner and warden; it’s just that one side of the dialectic refused to recognize as communication anything but abject subservience.

Communication and communion are based on trust — we don’t get anywhere without it. And the companions of trust are hunger, wonder, and yearning. Trust is first a verb; later, it can be a noun. The motion of someone who trusts is forward, out of oneself, a thrust outward from inside oneself. It can be a response in kind, it’s true, but the sort of trust that moves mountains and melts cold hearts is that which leaps. Trust is faith’s body.

In matters of the heart and in faith, we’re all amateurs, those who do it for the love of it. When we try to communicate with others across our self-imposed boundaries we are asking, in trust, for a certain latitude as we step into this new country. Like any traveler to a new place, we are all strangers, self-conscious and prone to mistakes, many of which we do not know we’ve committed until after they land in our midst, showering sparks and making the dogs bark. For communication to become communion, to go beyond information to intimacy, we need to recognize in the other the yearning to be understood. It sometimes gets disguised as bravado, an insouciance that covers insecurity.

With a desire to do right, to live right, to be right, we may cling to the old norms and practices, less out of understanding than to cover some weakness we might have overlooked. Trusting and leaping may seem almost ludicrous; we prefer to hedge our bets with the accustomed answers about the location of God (up and out there), our nature (inherently and seismically corrupt), and the authority of the church (incontestably the voice of God).

“Piety makes for awkwardness,” says the poet, Richard Wilbur, “and where Balance is not urgent, what one utters May be puzzled and perfect, and we respect Some scholars' stutters.”

In grace, as in communion, we puzzle out words to each other that have the ring of authenticity, whatever they may lack in polish and certitude. Just as we might write to see what we think, so we may speak to learn what to say. “Where balance is not urgent” nobody will laugh if we fall, and though our piety may be awkward it becomes graceful as we practice it. “We write from aspiration and antagonism, as well as from experience,” Emerson mused. “We paint those qualities which we do not possess.”

As originators of messages our continued communication is only as clear as our ability to interpret and adapt to those signals which we receive in response from others. What we have given to others with sincerity may be returned in like manner, but there are no guarantees. Communion is a dance of memory trusting chance, and we dare not look at our feet.

“Now we aid and influence other people simply by being who we are,” says Richard Rohr, in Falling Upward. “Human integrity probably influences and moves people from potency to action more than anything else.” It may be that our most effective communication is simply when we are with each other, body and soul. There is a silence that is fertile, on the cusp of a feeling so deep that a word of comfort spoken will open the wellsprings of weeping.

How does this desire arise for communion? Gerard Manley Hopkins calls it the “dearest freshness deep down things,” as good a description of the Holy Spirit as I have found. “How can human beings speak of God?” wonders Barbara Brown Taylor in The Seeds of Heaven. “We do not do it well, that is for sure, but because we must somehow try, we tend to talk about what we cannot say in terms of what we can — that is, we tend to describe holy things by talking about ordinary things.” Metaphors become windows, a way to see through our walls to what lies beyond.

“So much talk of God has been punitive in focus over the centuries,” writes Mark Oakley in The Splash of Words, “a God out to take revenge on human depravity. It is surely time to start talking again, as the scriptures do, of a restorative God who takes it upon himself to uphold human dignity and asks us to join him. Although we have often begun with idolatry and ended in violence, for the Christian all must start in wonder and end in humility.”

Humility is essential because everything we can say about God is incomplete, bounded, simplistic. Ludwig Wittgenstein understood the limits of language better than most preachers: “That whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent,” he said. We don’t know how to pray, said St. Paul, but the Spirit prays for us in language that is beyond the spectrum of our understanding.

The intimate secret about God that has been known from all eternity is that Christ is the very Word of God, the ultimate metaphor for that whereof we cannot speak. For us, Christ is constantly being remade in the images we need in our time. Unlike us, he is capable of adapting for us so that he may meet us where we are. If we find ourselves on the road to Emmaus, brokenhearted and blinded by tears, he may appear alongside us, the eternal promise of the Word made flesh in space and time. Only in his disappearance do we finally see.

Thomas Merton says, “I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.”

Richard Wilbur, with a cheerful wink, assures us that:

“To be unchecked Is needful then: choose, challenge, jump, poise, run... Nevertheless, the praiseful, graceful soldier Shouldn't be fired by his gun.”

So, let us “come boldly before the throne of God,” and in that spirit hold our communion with each other through trust. A certain exuberance is called for in the presence of corrosive cynicism. In a time of lies we hunger for the truths that set us free.

Barry Casey taught religion, philosophy, and communications for 28 years at Columbia Union College, now Washington Adventist University, and business communication at Stevenson University for 7 years. He continues as adjunct professor in ethics and philosophy at Trinity Washington University, D.C. More of the author’s writing can be found on his blog, Dante’s Woods.

Image Credit: Unsplash / Nick Fewings

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9198
3 Likes

11/13/18 #7 (2)

This selective reading of Scripture imposes a damning double bind.

This is psychologically and socially untenable.

The Bible says what it says. Do a word search on wrath.

We can’t build on this.

Another journey into deep thought and reflection. Thank you @bearcee.

Trust (the verb) must, of necessity take us outside our comfort zone.
Trust (the noun) must, of necessity enlarge our comfort zone.

Communion is the means of transferance from the verb form to noun form.

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Cassie,
I don’t agree that the Bible necessarily puts us in a double bind. Perhaps our categories and interpretations do.
I appreciate your honesty in recognizing the Bible indeed does use the word wrath…and it means what it says.
For a starting thought, Is it not possible for love to be consistent with righteousness, judgment, vengeance and wrath?
Regards,
Pat

That’s a beautiful saying.

I imagine a child now learning to walk, at one end of the room while the encouraging parent stands at the other. The child learns not by concentrating on where his foot is and where to put the other next, but by looking up at his parent and wanting so much to reach forward. Kind of like learning to ride. “Look ahead,” I remember them shouting at me. “Don’t look down. Look straight ahead!” In those days, I wobbled and fell but gradually I learnt to look ahead and ride effortlessly forward.

About God, Paul says, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” 1 Cor. 13:12 But the more you know about Him, i.e. God, the more it becomes evident that you had yearned for Him all along, for God is Love; and perfect love, according to John, casts out all fear. Complete and unquestioning trust engulfs and surrounds you and you swim like fish at home in the ocean of His making – in a Disney movie come alive.

Psalm 23

///

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Barry Casey’s deeply reflective essay is a meaningful commentary
that speaks volumes about the current issues of Compliance Committees,
WO, Hierarchical Power, and dominance of Policy over Scripture, etc. - all
of which presently appear to ‘traumatize’ the Church.
This essay should be on the daily breakfast menu of Church leadership; perhaps for
every thinking person.

2 Likes

Beautifully and succinctly said, Robert! Thank you.

Well said, James. Merton always brings this yearning up to the surface for me.

Thanks, Ecclesiastes. We can hope!

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[quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:17364”]

“So much talk of God has been punitive in focus over the centuries,” writes Mark Oakley in The Splash of Words , “a God out to take revenge on human depravity. It is surely time to start talking again, as the scriptures do, of a restorative God who takes it upon himself to uphold human dignity and asks us to join him. Although we have often begun with idolatry and ended in violence, for the Christian all must start in wonder and end in humility.”<<

Barry, how might your understanding of Love, Righteousness, Judgment, wrath and vengeance formed your view to choose this quote to frame your thoughts and those of the reader?

Is it possible that all of these words do and can coexist in scripture in a Righteous, loving God?

Pat

11/13/18 - #9 (11)

In what known universe?
Regards,
Cassie

KJV word search for “wrath:”

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So, you see no way love can coexist with the destruction of the wicked?

11/13/18 - #11 (13)

“The wicked.”

Notice how human beings always depersonalize those they intend to waste no compassion on.

And, yes, I think this has everything to do with our own psychology, and absolutely nothing to do with God.

Bottom line: I think better of God.

2 Likes

So, 2 Thess.2:1-12 is not your God?

11/13/18 #14 (15)

Words on a page did not create the Universe, or me.

Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

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1QOL Patrick Travis Re. #9
“Barry, how might your understanding of Love, Righteousness, Judgment, wrath and vengeance formed your view to choose this quote to frame your thoughts and those of the reader?
Is it possible that all of these words do and can coexist in scripture in a Righteous, loving God?”

Cassie replies (cryptically?) with a question: “In what known universe?” as if there were parallel
universes. It does seem a paradox to mere mortals!
HOWEVER, paradoxes do exist; whether in everyday life, logic, or quantum mechanics. We need to look at the total picture and with the apostle Paul acknowledge (as JP above points out) : " Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete …"
If we had complete knowledge, we would be God! No need for faith/trust.
Like impatient children who are denied access to some things, we often show our displeasure in sulking, temper tantrums, disobedience and various other responses for not ‘getting our way’, even doubting whether our heavenly parent loves really us.
Re. the latter, God has no greater demonstration of His love for us than Calvary.
If that does not convince us then …

Cassie, I appreciate your intellectual honesty. You acknowledge something is there and just don’t choose to believe it. Liberal/progressive/modernist theology tries to change the true Handel by interpretive mischief into a revised Handel and pass it off as the true meaning and intent of the original Handel.
For me, true Christianity has cherished scripture as the final authority for faith and practice and feels it is God’s revealed Word through His chosen writers though His Spirit.
For me personally, that is the only way to have a ship that is not rudderless. Believe me. His Word finds faults with me daily and I would prefer it could be more like my desires.
I surrender to your apparent integrity. perhaps life experiences may cause you to see the validity of the need to destroy “the wicked” as love for all His creation because they will not repent…only double down in rebellion.
Regards

PT #17
“For me personally, that is the only way to have a ship that is not rudderless.”
Amen, Patrick.
And there are no co-pilots on my ship.

Jesus is the pilot of my ship.

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6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Rom. 5: 6-11