BEGINNING to write down what I think about life and how I understand it......
I have a picture of life as a plateau on a high mountain which rises above the clouds. The clouds ceaselessly move around our plateau. What is beyond the plateau is mystery.
There are two ways to live life. We did not seek out this life on the plateau. We just arrived here. Life was not invited, we simply came; I do not know how. But to live we might accept that the plateau is all that there is. There is only the plateau, and nothing else beyond it in the mist. We can see the mists. They are there. They are dangerous. You can get lost in the mists; they are deception. If you go into them you will get lost; fall over the edge into insanity. So stay out of the mists and stay away from the edge. Stay safe in the centre where the ground is solid and all the paths are well known.
That is the first way of life. The road most often travelled, perhaps. Philosophy or politics or religion do not matter here. This is what Reverend Geoffrey would call a matter of "style". A fundamental choice of style for life. Life consists in being safe. This is all written from the perspective of not being in the centre. Perhaps there it does not look like this at all! Perhaps in the centre life is just as challenging- in its own perspective. But I cannot sit there and see it that way. There is no detached observation of Life. Life is to be lived and explained from where we are as interested parties. As very interested parties- a person could die getting this right!
I cannot choose the way of the centre because it seems in all its forms to have a fundamental fault. It is too safe; it avoids the challenges, and the real dangers of the mist. Or it will not take the mist of the edges seriously. It denies the mist or flees it. Yet the mists cannot be denied; they invade life lived at the very centre of the plateau, not able to be avoided either, in the end. Life cannot be made safe. The clouds blow across life- chill shadows as sickness and death invade our reality. Or perhaps oppression or famine. I have to live with the reality of the mist and the shadows and find my way through them before they drag me through or overcome me on their terms.
And that is the second way of life; the way that speaks to me. The way of the edge. It is on the edges of life- out on the edges of the plateau that life seems to have meaning and purpose. It is out there that life ceases to be boring and meaningless. It is frightening and insecure and yet not anywhere near so frightening as staying in the centre.
The centre is where disaster strikes on its own terms; where one is enslaved to existence rather than having some control and truly living. If there is ultimate meaning or reality; if there is a ground of our being, we will be overtaken by it. It seems to me that I want also to find it. I want to act, not just be acted upon. If there is true evil in the clouds and mist, not just a lack of good, I want to find a way through. I want to find the path off our little plateau to the rest of the world, and not merely sit and wait for what may one day come. Perhaps it will never come unless I go.
Knowing: How do we know any of this?:
When we are born there is little known; perhaps we are instinctual animal babies. But there is data hitting our ear drums and eye balls. We have to make sense of this frightening place in which we find ourselves. So we make a hypothesis of what it is all about and decide that there is a person called Mummy and, if we are lucky, another one called Daddy. And they know everything in the world, until we go to school and then we realise they don't know! It's our teacher who knows it all.
Our model of the world is very important for us. It means that up to a point we can control the world and make it safe. So when sensory data contradicts our picture of the world we ignore it or deflect it- rather like the water seems to bend the stick. We see this with little children when they hear Father Christmas is not real. They deny the fact; it spoils their world. And so they deny against the (sensory) evidence that he is not real. But the time comes when there is so much data that threatens our world view, our model, that it collapses, and we have to make another model.
This is the sort of crisis that leads to conversion. Without such a crisis our view of the world and reactions to it is formed by the early twenties, and rarely changes significantly- especially if we live in the centre. Out at the edges, part of our model of the world is that the model changes, by definition. So there, change is not quite the same threat, sometimes- albeit still very painful.
Changes in our model of the world- hopefully bringing us closer to what really is- mean we have to change too. What we hoped was real and right is not, so we must rearrange our living, which can hurt.
There are things we can call paradigms . These are ideas or stories or pictures which control our model of the world. A McCarthyist American, for example, would have the paradigm that Russians are communists, communism is bad; therefore, Russians are bad. That will control the picture of the world they receive. If a Russian is doing something good it must be for devious reasons- Russians are bad.
Our model of the world is like a building. It has foundations. These are the paradigms. There may be bundles of paradigms which work together; eg, Christians have a group of ideas about God/Jesus/Bible/Faith etc, which will tend to guide how they see and react to things. There are also primary paradigms. These control everything else. In Fundamentalism, for example, the primary paradigm is the Inerrant Scriptures; inerrant in all matters historical and theological. And data not in line with this doctrine (read: `primary paradigm') will be rejected out of hand. Even the most reasonable contradictory evidence cannot be seen because it would destroy the primary paradigm and rob the whole model of the world for that person of its ultimate foundation.
narrower boundaries >>>>> often deeper meanings.
I find it hard to explain what I mean here, but it seems that as the form of the story becomes more analytical and more precise in what it says; ie, more controlled, it also loses richness of meaning. As a means of explaining things it becomes increasingly barren. It is for this reason we use illustrations to explain what we are saying. The brain is set up to read and understand stories, rather than formulae. Formulae cover less of life. The real story covers all of the plateau even the areas of mist and cloud.
The real story is the only analogy which works well here, the formulae cannot control and define the mists and clouds, so they cannot help us explore them outside of narrow areas. In the end we live by a story. Hence titles and phrases like "Stories to Live By". We are writing our own story modelling on another, and developing our own. We are trying to make our story "real", perhaps. I express it sometimes as "trying to patch my story into the real story of the universe."
I want to add here some words from Rosemary Radford Reuther:
"Human experience is both the starting point and the ending point of the circle of interpretation. Codified tradition both reaches back to its roots in experience and is constantly renewed through the test of experience. Experience includes experience of the divine and experience of oneself, in relationship to society and the world, in an interacting dialectic. Received symbols, formulas, and laws [and stories] are either authenticated or not through there ability to illuminate and interpret existence in a way that is experienced as meaningful. Systems of authority try to reverse this relationship and make received tradition dictate both what may be experienced and how it may be interpreted. But the relationship is the opposite If the symbol does not speak authentically to experience, it becomes dead and is discarded or altered to provide meaning.
"Religious traditions begin with breakthrough experiences that shed revelatory light on contemporary events so as to transform them into paradigms of ultimate meaning. These experiences, such as the exodus experience or the resurrection experience, are the primary data of the religious tradition. But such experiences, however new and transformative, do not interpret themselves. They are always interpreted in the context of an accumulated heritage of symbols and codes, which are already available to provide touchstones of meaning. The new revelatory experience becomes meaningful by being related to this heritage, and also it allows the contemporary community to transform, revise, and recombine the traditional touchstones of meaning in new ways, which allows the new experience to become a new insight into the ultimate nature of things.
"Just as the foundational revelatory experience is available only in a transformative dialectic between experience and accumulated interpretive keys, so it, in turn, becomes an interpretive key which interacts with and continues to be meaningful through its ability to male on going experience of the individual in the community meaningful. This key then continues to live because it is able to continue to make contemporary experience meaningful, and it itself is constantly revised or reinterpreted through this same process. Traditions die when a new generation is no longer able to re-appropriate the foundational paradigm in a meaningful way; when it is experienced as meaningless or even as demonic; that is, disclosing a meaning that points to false or inauthentic life. Thus if the cross of Jesus would be experienced by women as pointing them only toward continued victimisation and not redemption, it would be perceived as false and demonic in this way, and women could no longer identify themselves as Christians.
quoted from "A Method Of Correlation" pp111-112 in Feminist Interpretation Of The Bible Letty Russell (Ed)
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