Recently I reread an old journal entry, jotted down back when my daughter was four. During those fleeting days I observed Victoria's life overflowing with imaginative stories. Often she needed a sidekick for the acting out of these tales: me. One evening, after she announced we would be playing Robin Hood, I asked if I could be Robin this time. "Of course not," Victoria responded. "I'm the imaginer. The imaginer plays the best part."
This memory struck me as relevant to my task here and perhaps relevant, as well, to the search for ultimate truth. Like my dear daughter in childhood, I have, to varying degrees throughout my life, tried to sort things out, to understand and recognize what is real. As a kid I depended heavily on imagination--not because I couldn't ask my parents questions. They were available as often as possible, but of course learning isn't accomplished solely by verbal instruction. There are a myriad ways one tests and probes one's universe; for a preschooler such experiments are all in a day's work.
When nothing is available to test, however, imagination serves a greater purpose. Via stories, songs, daydreams, toys, and so on (my illustrative "authorities" close at hand, if you will; my favorite gifts from this existence), I am putting together pieces of information and "make believing" my conclusions are true, until I can experience that which is actual.
No matter how "well" I have imagined, that which is actual always comes as a surprise. At age four I try to guess how it is to be a teenager; at 14 I imagine driving a car; at 18 I might wonder about marriage. My parental figures stand in doorways watching, and they smile, recognizing from my brazen statements the enlightenments I'm in for.
In a related sense, I think, the Orthodox Church has passed a memory down through many centuries of the state of the Jewish friends and relatives of Jesus who followed him around Palestine. In a process of varying lengths for different individuals, they each came to see the difference between what they had imagined (using the amazing, illustrative gifts of their existence within the Law), and the actual reality, the tremendous surprise, of Jesus their Messiah, son of David, the Son of God.
Once these people had experienced who Jesus was and what Jesus did, they looked back on things, particularly the messages of Scripture, and recognized completely in a new way that the Scriptures were intensely amazing in their illustrative preparation for Christ. Jesus truly opened the Scriptures for them, showing them the ways all these previous happenings had prepared believers to begin to know and understand his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection. They also came to see that many other things--for people in many ways of life other than the Jewish way--could and would also be illustrative preparations for following Jesus, for a life of drawing near to him in reverence and awe.
The Main Thing
If you have borne with me so far through this series of posts, I thank you. Today I'd like to finish by expressing my main disagreement with Jack Crabtree, which comes from the point where he lays out his foundational ideas in the article, The Two Most Important Things I Have Learned.
Part III of Jack's article begins with five questions related to the meaning of life, and then Jack lays a groundwork (or gives a framework) of five truths for understanding his answers.
While at one time I really liked Jack's idea that the structure of reality is a narrative (Truth #1) and still do appreciate the creative, imaginative effort he put into it, I have come to see this is not a logical supposition. It follows that I don't believe it is a biblical one, either.
In the Orthodox Christian framework (which intrinsically includes the biblical narrative), there does not exist a "question of how God can be sovereign over all of reality at the same time that we are creatures who freely determine our own existence through free-will choices that we make." Here we find that God is sovereign over all of reality, and also that God is capable of creating human beings to truly exist and to make a real choice between embracing God and rejecting God.
In fact, the distinction I have found among the Orthodox is that to exist means to embrace God. Sin, in this understanding, is a move toward nonexistence, the acting out of the desire to return to the dark nothingness out of which God brought me in creation.
God is. He self-exists, is unoriginate. There aren't exact words to express this, from our creaturely perspective. God created humankind as one of his creatures. I, being a member of humankind, am a creature. I was created by God in God's reality. There is only one real reality. There is no "make believe" with God. To whom would God present his sculpture? For whom would he act out his story? Why would God need to use creative expression--to come to grips with something he doesn't yet understand? There is no sense in presuming this about God.
When Paul illustrates in his letter to the Romans something about being a creature, he uses the analogy of a potter shaping his clay. Paul has his readers imagine a lump of clay questioning why the potter shaped or made it the way the potter did (which, as was Paul's point, can't happen, because--I would stress--while the clay exists in the same ontological reality as the one shaping it, the clay is not the potter; it is clay). Paul's analogy does not address the creation of the substance of clay itself.
Each person's earthly life is completely "determined", "made", and "shaped" by God, down to the nanosecond. This truth does not contradict there being an ultimate choice each person freely makes for or against God. (In God's view this choice, in some way unfathomable by us, is ever-present.) God determines when and how each person will be hardened, or softened, or perhaps will go through a combination of these, according to their free, ultimate choice. The story will be tragic, interesting, completely surprising, and beautiful, this real story of reality, which God determines for the sake of those he elected in his foreknowledge (of their ultimate choice to draw near to him).
I have mentioned a very few of the "treasures old and new" which are brought out every day in Orthodox Christian services, which are examined, alluded to, or just hinted at, depending on the person and where they are in the process of drawing near. I find at church a determined attempt to keep from pushiness. Even the fairly monotone chanting of Psalms and other prayers allows one to enter in as little or as much as is desired.
When I first encountered Orthodox Christianity, I dismissed it because it contained tradition and ritual. Tradition and presuppositions are intertwined, and I came to see I was encountering a different tradition than my own. I began to recognize that ritual is simply the language expressing (to use Michael Polanyi's terms) a framework of interpretation. To one degree or another, my previous frameworks had lacked meaning, and so I was rightly suspicious, wary of empty ritual. Here I discovered, however, rituals brimful of coherent meaning, interpreting reality.
Besides being a life of surprise, the life of believing, of faith, is one of illustrative preparation. We discover, looking back, those elements which prepared us, in illustrative fashion, to interpret the surprise.
I will leave you with the following: my expression of the interpretive framework I came into by surprise. It's what I can say today, barely having crossed the threshold. I invite anyone interested to come and see.
God said, "Let there be light," extending light into darkness--existence into nonexistence, thus bringing forth life from nothingness. Then God separated light from darkness, because there is no fellowship between the two.
But when humankind, in pride and disbelief, chose darkness, God gave humankind, or Man, his choice. God darkened all so that all could experience the effects of unbelieving blindness upon reality, of sickness upon the health of reality, and of imagined reality upon true reality.
And then God, eternal Light and Being and Reality, entered into that same darkness to rescue humankind.
The power of the cross--and that of Christ's holy resurrection--is its complete humility. Humility is the soil where true forgiveness grows and in which mercy abounds, illumined by God's light in the face of the Son of God, which also enlightens and transfigures all who follow him, so that they may become truly humble, so that they may also truly forgive, igniting the light of compassionate mercy to begin to dispel their own darkness.
The process of true salvation for people--for human beings who begin to become connected to all humankind via prayers for all--is something I never saw anywhere (though I encountered everywhere hearts who longed for it). The process only truly exists in the true church. This church, provided by Jesus' shed blood, spans realms both visible and invisible. It is the pillar and ground of truth (1 Timothy 3:15).
When I began to comprehend that it existed, and has always existed (as in my heart of hearts I hoped, rejoicing in the stories and ideas of others whose hearts carried this flicker of hope), when I finally started coming to see there is a real life in a real church, I naturally had to be there. No matter how many flawed and unbelieving hearts surround me (with my most-of-all flawed and unbelieving heart), no matter how many tensions and conflicts sharing a life in this present darkness brings, it is a do-able way of life, because there is reality. Gathering around that Reality, that Body, is the one, the only thing necessary--where It is, the eagles will gather.