Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Mystery Beneath the Rational

In a brief passage from his book The Pastor as Minor Poet, the Rev. Dr. M. Craig Barnes (Robert Meneilly Professor of Pastoral Ministry at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and senior pastor of Shadyside Presbyterian Church, Pittsburg) summarizes what I believe lies at the heart of creedally orthodox Christianity.

"Our culture has functioned too long with reasonable explanations and without holy stories or wondrous mythologies. We now assume that we made it through another day because our bodies were still working, there was food in the refrigerator, and we had enough money to pay most of our bills. But all of these explanations appeal only to the other ordinary phenomena and make no reference to the ideals or the beauty that lie behind them. As G. K. Chesterton has reminded us, the sun rises every morning not only because of the natural laws of science, but because like a small child, God squeals with delight over routine and tells the sun to 'do it again.' That is what the soul needs to hear in order to find any delight for itself in the routines of another new day.

"Ironically, it's a vision of the mystery beneath the rational that keeps us reasonable. This is why Chesterton also claimed, 'Poets do not go mad; but chess players do. ... Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite. The result is mental exhaustion.' Chesterton's point is that everything can be understood by what is not understood. It is also the point of mysticism, spirituality, theology, the Bible, and even Archimedes. We are able to make sense of what we see only by finding our way to something that is just beyond the world that is known. Poets believe this, but most people were trained to see the world as a chess game in which the goal is to make all the right strategic moves with the hopes of winning, whatever that may mean. ...

"As with all poetry, through prayer the truth is out, and it has set us free. We have confessed that no matter how strategic we are, we are not winning the chess game. If there is a gospel for us, it is going to have to sweep up all the pieces of life, especially the small pawns, into a far more dramatic adventure. In this better drama it's not the reasoned strategies that save us, but the confession that we are filled with yearning to be fully alive."

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