April 19, 2013
What is a dying “exclamation point” saying to a crying “question mark”?
You’d only see a cartoon like this in the blog of David Hayward, the “naked pastor,” whose imagination comes up with endless new ways of getting across truth! Here he talks about existential and theological questioning in contrast to simple, easy, dogmatic answers that end with a firm exclamation point, signifying a certainty that can’t always stand up to careful scrutiny. Hayward says spiritually mature people can learn to live with the “open door” questions and realize some don’t require answers during our time on this earth. Hayward says such people “are comfortable with the mystery and experience a peace that transcends certainty.”
Related reading: Coincidentally. I happened to run across Hayward’s piece right after I had looked at a link my son Steve had sent me, directing me to a review essay by Karen Armstrong, author of The History of God. She was reviewing Diamaid MacCulloch’s book, Silence: A Christian History. Armstrong, like Hayward in our main link, also emphasizes mystery and says almost all religions have had exercises that would “push language as far as it would go until participants became aware of the ineffable.” She says that instead of being frustrating, an experience of reaching that point, “can be compared to the moment at the end of the symphony, when there is a full and pregnant beat of silence in the concert hall before the applause begins. The aim of good theology is to help the audience to live for a while in that silence.” She goes on to say that “speechless” theology is often considered “‘negative.” Why? “Because it helps us to realize that when we encounter transcendence we have reached the end of what words can do.” We’ve lost sight of such a “habit of mind,” she points out, because we are in such a “talkative age of information.” She has so much more to say in this deep and scholarly article that sums up both MacCulloch’s points and her own rich insights as well. Take some time to read and ponder it over the weekend.