Ineffability

GoodOmens_MassMarketPaperback_1185845373Last night I finished Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It is hilariously wonderful. I am usually a quiet reader, but this one had me laughing out loud. Aziraphale and Crowley immediately became one of my favorite fictional-friendships. If you want to read about the coming of the Apocalypse (and something better written than a certain bestselling series), have more than a few laughs, and yet ponder the ineffability of the Plan and the nature of humanity, angels, and demons, read on. Considering that The Name of the Rose took me five weeks to read, it was refreshing to gulp down a novel in just a couple of days. Have I mentioned that I love Aziraphale (and Crowley, because you can’t really have one without the other…)? Anyway.

This morning I managed to wake up and get ready in time to go the service at All Saints’. I’m glad I did. It reminded me very much of Emmanuel, and so I think I will be visiting again. I forgot that I’ll be out of town next weekend so I’m kind of sad to not have the immediate follow-up, but I’ll go the next week.

I have the policy that I’ll stop singing if a lyric of a hymn doesn’t seem ‘right’ or if I don’t get it, and then resume singing once I’ve either figured out or if the rest of the hymn looks ‘okay’. I hold the same policy for spoken responses: stating something with the voice indicates belief, especially during Mass, and so I prefer to tread consciously. We sang a hymn this morning that I am still pondering from St Andys a few weeks ago, particularly this stanza:

Drop thy still dews of quietness,
till all our strivings cease;
take from our souls the strain and stress,
and let our ordered lives confess
the beauty of thy peace.

I am not comfortable with the idea of ceasing our striving—here, perhaps, I display that I am a humanist as well as a Christian. As we are exhorted to ‘continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling’ (Philipians 2:12), so I see the striving of the human mind, heart, and spirit to understand the divine and the universe as a noble effort. God is honored when we ask questions, when we use the intellect and rationality that he gave us, that separates us from the other creatures with whom we share this earth (hem, not sure about those dolphins though) and brings us closer to the image of God. I am wary of wishing for the ‘strivings cease’ because that, to me, implies a blind faith, complacent and stagnant. Likewise, I hesitate at the prospect of an ‘ordered life’—surely, our lives can confess the beauty of God’s peace, but is this not done moreso through the messiness of human experience? Is not faith an ongoing process, the working out, the negotiation and reconciliation, of imperfect human finiteness with perfect divine infinity? I will admit, albeit reluctantly, the bounds of human reason, and thus accept that the answer to some questions are as Marc says, ‘Because God likes it that way’ (The Sparrow). Yet this does not mean I will give up the curiosity that ought to distinguish the children of God. Because, as Marc also says, it is the human condition to ask questions and receive no plain answers. The Divine is, after all, ineffable.

‘The Jewish sages also tell us that God dances when His children defeat Him in an argument, when they stand on their feet and use their minds. So questions like Anne’s are worth asking. To ask them is a very fine kind of human behavior. If we keep demanding that God yield up His answers, perhaps some day we will understand them. And then we will be something more than clever apes, and we shall dance with God.’ (p. 201)

Perhaps I should not be so philosophical and realize that the stanza means the struggles and sorrows of daily life, but even those are the crucibles that refine us and are the moments in which we ask our questions, so perhaps we should accept the good and the bad, and wish for the grace to live through both.

Well now, I think I shall go back to work on that Dissertation. This next chapter is on the Apocalypse, ironically enough. I may not be able to write about the Antichrist with a straight face…