To See

on Wednesday, 02 January 2013. Posted in Blog Archives

The last few weeks I have been wrestling with this thing within me that seeks to explain, analyse and understand every conceivable experience and concept that in some form or another enters into my life. In the words of my friend Cindy, I have been over-thinking about over-thinking again. The trouble with this kind of over-thinking, of course, is that you end up either over-explaining or being totally inarticulate. I guess it's better than the overly articulate individual who doesn't care to explain anything at all, but even so it is not an entirely desirable state.


In my life reason, which is really nothing more than the ability to think about things clearly and critically, has served me well. It has helped me question and ultimately transcend many of the boundaries that I have been born into: be it economical, social or religious boundaries. The ability to deconstruct systems and then re-invent a way of life for myself with which I feel more at home with is one of the many benefits of living an 'examined life' as the ancient Greek philosophers called it. As such I will continue to cherish and nourish it, for not to think is simply unthinkable to me.


While I am grateful for an inquisitive mind and all the good that it has brought into my life thus far, I am also growing in my suspicion about how far it can truly take me in this beautiful journey we call existence. I have always shunned away from any sort of rhetoric that communicates something along the lines of 'don't doubt, just believe' or anything that suggests that R/reality manifests in such a way that it leaves our minds stunted. If we are really called to have 'blind faith' in whatever it is that we are called upon to believe, then it stands to reason that it is as logical to believe in the Tooth Fairy as it is to believe in the God of Abraham. In a world of 'blind faith' our faith in a thing determines its validity, instead of something's validity determining our faith in it, and I think that is just messed up. Just because you believe you can fly doesn't mean you won't drop like a rock if you jump off a cliff. The rational mind has truth as its objective: it seeks to understand the world 'as is', not to change it through melodramatic faith or sensational non-sense.


Be that as it may, there is also something very paralysing about an overly analytical mind. C.S. Lewis, in his book 'The Abolition of Man' says it well I think:


‘You cannot go on “explaining away” forever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on “seeing through” things forever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to “see through” first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To “see through” all things is the same as not to see.’


For all the beauty and benefit that have come into my life due to something as simple as asking the question 'why?', there is also another side of me that is unquestionably poorer for it. When you question and reason and deconstruct so much that everything becomes transparent, you sooner or later lose your ability to see anything. You become suspicious of simple forces such as joy and longing, settling rather for an emotional flat-lined existence. Kind gestures and genuine compliments, likewise, are scrutinized rather than felt, and in the process you alienate not only the well meaning people you share your life with but also your own innocent self.


Being the analytical person that I am, I ask myself the question: 'How much should I look through something before seeing that thing for what it really is? And how do I discern in the first place what is simply a window meant to be looked through, and what is a garden meant to be looked at?' I cannot answer such questions with cheap and quick answers because I want to honour the journey that has brought me to this point, to own every step of the way that have contributed to who I am today.


That being said, I am being drawn to something that may just help me out of this wholly transparent world which I have created for myself. If the rational mind is both beneficial and limited at the same time, I need to set my sights on something that neither flatly ignores reason on the one hand, nor idolizes it on the other. I need something that transcends reason without ignoring it; something that embraces reason without worshipping it.


I guess this is partly why I am continually drawn to the idea of spirituality, and Christ-centred spirituality in particular. I know that some people who view the whole cosmos as a purely biological phenomenon find such notions primitive and unreasonable, but what is more unreasonable: to go on reasoning until we see through so much that our world becomes all but invisible, or to reasonably conclude that reason in and of itself may be limited? Even if we allow reason to have its full sway and we come to the conclusion that there is something or someone like an 'Unmoved Mover' or a 'Primary Cause' (a philosophical idea of 'God' that have been adequately argued for and against by many reasonable men and women for many centuries), I need to ask myself the question: is it reasonable to believe in something as impersonal as that and, if so, what difference does it really make?


In my opinion, reason is limited in objectively answering or disproving certain aspects of our shared human existence - as I think Kant have shown in his book 'The Critique of Pure Reason' - and as such our spiritual existence longs for a different faculty not so much to replace reason, but to supplement it. Now, people are wholly within their rights to conclude that life is purely and only biological, that there is no god, no afterlife, no spirit. But for those of us who for whatever reason have tasted something beyond the biological, have felt something beyond the material, have sensed something out of the ordinary, we need to dig deeper beyond the strict confines of 'pure reason' to fathom something of the mystery of which we have become partakers.


It is in this context that words like revelation, s/Spirit, contemplation, guidance and the like begin to make sense. They make sense not because we can always reasonably prove their validity by attempting to recreate them like we can certain biological experiments, but because these and other words give us a language to reasonably communicate our experience of reality that transcends the purely measurable.


I for one cannot limit my life to reason alone, though I am sorely tempted to. The only thing that frustrates me more than people who are naive, unreasonable and flaky in their understanding of the world is this notion I have picked up somewhere that I must first fit the world into my mind before I can truly appreciate and enjoy it. This idea, whilst making me more informed about many things, have also left me heartless in many respects, for I fed my reason to the detriment of my deepest longings and emotions.


As the new year dawns it is inviting me not to ignore reason but to transcend it, to give attention to the longings and imaginations and movements within my heart and soul that is calling me to a deeper and truer existence. May I be brave enough to respond.