Tag Archives: mystery

The only mystery allowed is the mystery that can be explained

Within the lesson emerges an analogy:

‘In the act of writing about art, then, you press language to the point of fracture and try to do what writing cannot do: account for the experience. Otherwise, you elide the essential mystery, which is the reason for writing anything at all. The easy alternative is just to circumnavigate the occasion of seeing something—to “professionalize” art criticism into a branch of academic art history—to presume that works of art are already utterances in art-language that need only to be translated into a better language to achieve perfect transparency. In this way, the practice of criticism is transformed into a kind of Protestant civil service dedicated to translating art-language into a word-language that neutralizes its power in the interest of public order. The writer’s pathological need to control and reconstitute the fluid universe of not-writing is fortuitously disguised by this strategem—since in a truly “professional” discourse, no more intimate engagement with the “needy” object is required than that of a doctor with a patient, and no more stress need be placed upon the language than that required by the clinical assignment of names to symptoms.’ (boldface added) — Dave Hickey, from his essay “Air Guitar,” from Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy

Worship in the modern therapeutic culture

… modern believers tend to trust in therapy more than in mystery, a fact that tends to manifest itself in worship that employs the bland speech of pop psychology and self-help rather than language resonant with poetic meaning — for example, a call to worship that begins: “Use this hour, Lord, to get our perspectives straight again.” Rather than express awe, let alone those negative feelings, fear and trembling, as we come into the presence of God, crying “Holy, Holy, Holy,” we focus totally on ourselves, and arrogantly issue an imperative to God. Use this hour, because we’re busy later; just send us a bill, as any therapist would, and we’ll zip off a check in the mail. But the mystery of worship, which is God’s presence and our response to it, does not work that way.

The profound skepticism of our age, the mistrust of all that had been handed to us by our grandfathers and grandmothers as tradition, has led to a curious failure of the imagination, manifested in language that is thoroughly comfortable, and satisfyingly unchallenging. A hymn whose name I have forgotten cheerfully asks God to “make our goals your own.” A so-called prayer of confession confesses nothing but whines to God “that we have hindered your will and way for us by keeping portions of our lives apart from you influence.” To my ear, such language reflects idolatry of ourselves, that is, the notion that the measure of what we can understand, what is readily comprehensible and acceptable to us, is also the measure of God. It leads all too many clerics to simply trounce on mystery and in the process say remarkably foolish things.

— Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

Larry Crabb: The joy of discovery

“There is an enormous difference between the joy of discovery and the passion to explain. The former gives life a sense of adventure. The latter makes us hate mystery.

“God has created the world with an orderly structure that can be reasonably investigated and profitably used. The job of science is to understand that order as fully as possible.

“But behind the structure is a person, a free, unmanageable person who is bound to nothing outside himself. It is therefore impossible to reduce all mystery to understandable categories. Some level of confusion must remain. If we trust the person behind the structure, that confusion becomes a source of adventure. If we don’t trust him, we hate the confusion and try to get rid of it.

“For those who enjoy discovery because they know a good God is moving through chaos toward a wonderful conclusion, mystery poses no problem. It is welcomed. Explain what you can, and relax even when you can’t.”

–Larry Crabb, Connecting

Progress versus mystery

“Scientific and technological advance has not, and cannot, diminish the realm of mystery and tragedy in which it is our lot to dwell”. — John Gray, quoted in this book review