Wednesday, March 5, 2014

On Ash Wednesday and not knowing

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day in the Christian year that marks the beginning of Lent. Lent is a season of repentance and fasting. It lasts 40 days, not including Sundays, which are always considered celebrations of resurrection. Because of the traditional association of Lent with fasting, people often "give something up" for Lent. Last year I wrote about things I wasn't giving up on.

A number of things have come together this year. In my Emergent Gathering class, we've been talking about epistemology--theories about how we know what we know or how we understand truth. We've compared foundationalism--an understanding of truth in which we look for a firm, unchangeable foundation to base everything we know on--and non-foundationalism--in which truth is understood more as a web with multiple anchor points, so that changing or removing one doesn't bring the whole structure down.

We've talked a bit about apophatic theology--the sense that we can't say what God is, just what God is not. We read Pete Rollins, who talks about how the hidden-ness of God is actually the hyper-presence of God. Not a new idea, as he would freely admit. A hymn from the mid 1800s, "Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise," sings that God is "in light inaccessible hid from our eyes" and that "'tis only the splendor of light hideth thee." That God is too bright to look at directly. That, like light itself, God more allows us to see the world than is seen in and of itself.

We've talked a bit about epistemic humility--humility about what we can know. About strong beliefs, held loosely. Held gently.

And I went to the State House today, and got called an anti-Semite and a Nazi, and stuttered through a testimony, and left feeling an acute sense of my own limits.

And then there's this sermon I'm working on for the AU students, based loosely on the Game of Thrones series, about John 3 and knowing nothing. Stay tuned for that, or come hear it on March 16 in Kay Chapel if you want.

And now I am sitting here, typing this, with ashes on my forehead and the smell of burnt palm fronds in the air, having been reminded of humility, of repentance, of fragile and perishable humanity.

"From dust we are, and to dust we are to return." And that is good news, because if I am an angel than I am a failure of an angel, but if I am dust than maybe, maybe I am ok. Maybe I can try to be human, after all.

So, this Lent I'm going to try to give up knowing. I'm going to try to give up certainty. I'm going to try on, at least for a few weeks, the faithfulness of unknowing.

I don't know exactly how that will play out. I was thinking about blogging every day about something I am certain of, and then questioning it and interrogating it. Deconstructing it, you might say. But that felt a bit contrived for something so nebulous, so intentionally fragile.

So I will try it, and I'll see where it takes me, and I'll write about it when I can.

And I'll pray the prayer of those great poets and prophets, mewithoutYou:

"We hunger, and though all that we eat brings us no relief we don't know quite what else to do.
We have all our beliefs, but we don't want our beliefs.
O God of peace, we want You."

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