A Holy Mystery
Increasing numbers of people have difficulty with the way we have used the word “truth”.
We are just beginning to exit a time in human history called modernism. The basic task of human beings in modernism is to use reason so that human beings may master the creation, life and death. Science, they said, would lead to the eradication of human problems. (I am generally a fan of science. Some other time let’s talk about the relationship between science and religion, but not today.)
Basically, modernism says that truth is a puzzle and if we just use logic and do the right tests we will have everything figured out for all time.
Some religious people reacted very strongly to the modernist claim, basically saying that it is not reason that gives us mastery, but the Bible when understood the way they understood it. We call these people “fundamentalists.” They basically took the modernist view and applied it to the Bible. The first fundamentalists emerged in the late 1800s.
We can look around us and see the results of modernism’s drive for mastery. We have incredible technology that can be used to cure – or kill. We have magnified human capacity to such a degree that our environment is threatened. Modernity hasn’t worked out as well as we dreamed.
Besides that, human beings are not just biological machines. To become just another subject of rational study seems to reduce human beings to so many parts.
We are more than the sum of our parts.
Modernity is dying because it has not worked.
Perhaps more deeply, it is dying because it is so infernally boring.
What do we do with truth, now that our search for truth as a puzzle is dying?
Some say that we should just abandon the search for truth, or more precisely, abandon a search for a shared truth – that is truth we can acknowledge together. This reaction to modernism has the benefit of recognizing the many facets of truth and to acknowledge that the modernist approach has failed.
The problem with this point of view is that people with this view are basically excusing themselves from the struggle to make a better world. Hitler believed what he believed and acted from those beliefs. If we fail to engage in a search for shared truth we will fail to resist those who, like Hitler, cause great destruction.
The ancient people were not modernists. They saw a world of wonder and mystery. They saw that there were many images for God, and that as children of God, we were “just a little lower than God.” (Psalm 8)
When Moses was at the burning bush, he asked who was sending him back to Egypt. God’s reply was “I am who I am.” God is an unfathomable mystery, not a puzzle to be figured out.
So are we.
The soul is like a wild animal–tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.
Parker J. Palmer
TCC is in part an attempt to recognize that the search for truth is key to being human, but that truth is always bigger, more diverse and multi-hued than anything we can say or know. The truth is a holy mystery.
On this journey toward shared truth, we are invited to
- dare to speak to the part of truth that we see
- listen deeply to the part of truth that others are bringing
- debate and sift and wonder toward a larger comprehension
- see doubt as a valued companion which opens the door to more wonder
- to see faith as trust in life and the God of life, and not as a closed system that repels all that is different
- engage the culture to encourage a better world
In the Lutheran tradition, we understand that there is a difference between the “Living Word” and the “dead word”. The Living Word is the divine presence constantly speaking to us and to our cultural context. The dead word holds messages for another time that distract us from engaging the challenges of life-long, daily baptism and the new orientation that God is bringing to us and to the world today.
In the Episcopal tradition we learn that our search for truth is a “three-legged stool”. That our search for truth includes honoring our reason/experience, the scripture, and the tradition as we explore the mystery of life, the mystery of God, and the mystery of the God who is willing to suffer with and for us.
As you go through this process and begin a season with TCC, allow your self to sit by the meadow and wait for the wild animal of your soul to emerge. Allow yourself and others the dignity of being a mystery, children of a God of unfathomable mystery who delights as we discover our authentic selves and live as an authentic community.