Monday, April 14, 2014

The Mystic and the Faith, Faithfulness and Mystery, three horses

Behold, I tell you a mystery, ... So begins the great pre-Psalm 2, pre-Hallelujah chorus recitative by the bass in the Messiah by George Frederick Handel.
Well now - isn't that just a contradiction in terms? - I tell you a mystery. If it can be told then it is by definition no longer a mystery. No need to explain this contradiction away - just live with it.

Mystic and Mystery are not the same word of course. But the Mystic also cannot tell that which cannot be told - whether it be impossible to express or unlawful to say - and both these reasons are implied in Paul's writings in the New Testament. Why then do (some) people who read the Bible insist on understanding and insist on completeness, inerrancy, or whatever? Is it perhaps because they have misunderstood? That is too easy an explanation for their error. People are after Faith - and that is trouble too - for I am going to rebel against believing what I know to be untrue. And that is why the next word in my title is faithfulness - this is much more difficult than blind faith or leaping faith or deaf faith. (Never heard that one before have you? - That is perhaps because faith comes by hearing - but let there also be growth into truth and love. No one with plugged ears hears clearly.)

Faithfulness is harder because it is made up of trust, growth, and persistence. And will that get you anywhere? Perhaps. If one persists in error, then perhaps not - until one finds the dead-end and turns around. If the dead-end is not a dead end - but a wall that must be stepped through, a la Hogwarts, then perhaps there is hope even for those who persist in error. (Inerrancy is not a very thick wall.)

Consider three horses: Plato's, Lewis's, and the horse of Psalm 32. Plato's is in the charioteer myth of the Phaedrus (more fully explored in JBL 133, no 1 (2014) p 148, The Passion of Eve and the Ecstasy of Hannah.) In too few words - the horse in this image in Plato prevents the separation of the soul from the body. The horse, representing non-rational or irrational passion, is unruly and must be mastered. Now I caution you, I have no intent with respect to a separation of soul and body. You are your whole self, your whole being. I am not a dualist and this is a dualist image leading to the denigration of the body, completely the opposite of life, faithfulness, and responsibility. But the image is useful since it is used by Lewis in The Great Divorce, where the rat (representing irrational passion, pace negative images of this poor creature) on the soul's shoulder must die that it may be changed into a stallion (representing the power of transformed passion) that will carry the 'soul' to the beatific vision.

Now I am leading up to something - that trumpet that will sound and the raising of the dead - incorruptible - that we shall be changed. Is this mystical, or explanation, or even sensible? How is it known? Sensible and known are helpful terms - but live with them, do not aim for a packaged spiel. Inner dialogue and outer knowledge are not to be packaged. The enfleshment of that faithfulness is not itself to be assumed as controllable as if it were a box of crackers which, to be useful, has to be unwrapped and the package recycled.

What do I not 'believe'? I do not believe that for instance Isaiah was written by one author. (What!) No, this 'book' like most of the books of the Old Testament has a redactional history and is a collection of texts written over many years and more than one lifetime. A recent article on the Bible Gateway blog presumes that Isaiah 'prophesied' Cyrus as Messiah. The writer assumes a single early author and prophecy as prediction. Yes - but just what does he imply? What this kind of reasoning does with the Old Testament, inadvertently, is to destroy its reality.

What do I believe? Yes, there are types and shadows - but the reason for them is not prediction. Try this - the OT reveals the same life (in abundance) as is revealed by the NT but revealed (from our temporal point of view) in advance of an unambiguous demonstration of that life in what Jesus called his 'work' and his 'hour'. There is in this testament from an earlier era, a foretaste of bodily and sensible 'resurrection', just as there is in that testament from the later era. Such life has always been the same, yesterday, today, and for ever. The OT is no more legal nor violent nor primitive nor sophisticated than the NT. They are both testimonies to a life that gives importance to its consequences. This life is given by the word of God, but many words of testimony and searching follow the gift. That testimony and searching for words is what has been 'canonized'.

The canon does not preclude other testimonies equally valid in their experience and searching. But the canon (OT + NT) is sufficient to its task. There are otherwise too many words.

So we come to the third horse, that of Psalm 32. We are not to be like horse or mule that has no understanding - and here 'understanding' is not our own minuscule power of logic, but release from trouble and from the powers that bind us. Psalm 32's music (full score here) is very revealing. Diminished fifths paint the bucking animal.
The desire of the anointed poet is that we should come near to God.

That will do for part 1 - I wrote many notes and I have used only the bit about the horses. Pull my words apart if you like - let me know what you think. In the mystery of the incarnated mystic, I think words are secondary in that they follow experience and gratitude and lead to greater experience and gratitude - such as is, of course, expressed in the Psalms.

So read the Bible #bgbg2 - but do not use your intellect alone as Plato would encourage you to do and as many readers of the Bible inadvertently do, your 'male soul' (logic) ruling over your 'female body' (appetite, passion), to bind the legs and arms of your whole self: body, soul, spirit, desire, passion and life. In this case, the Greeks and the readers, both ancient and modern, have got it wrong. (But Eliot, as usual, is suggestive.)
Were we led all that way for birth or death? ...this Birth was Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.