Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Reasoning By Metaphor

“Rather than discussing and debating Trinitarian doctrine and what it means for Jesus to be both human and divine, why don’t we just all agree to call Jesus ‘The Word of God?’ And end the discussion.”

Oh, I don’t know. I maybe have a couple of the words only approximately right. But I’ve captured it about 80% accurately, I think.

This is what a new friend said the other day as we were digesting a delicious lunch that he and his bride had generously made and shared with Pat and me. And as we were chatting. Incurably chatting.

And then I said something like, “Yes. Why don’t we try reasoning by metaphor rather than by….”

“Dialectic,” my new friend said.

“Yes. Dialectic. The method by which words are turned into mathematical analogs.”

And that got me to thinking, and as I thought, I remembered something that Phyllis Tickle taught me some years ago:

God be in my head
And in my understanding.
God be in my mouth
And my speaking.
God be in my heart
And my thinking.
God be at mine end
And my departing.

This is a Celtic prayer of which I’ve found several variants and which I occasionally say in the course of saying prayers from Phyllis’s Divine Hours. And in fact, I keep it in my wallet these days and pull it out and pray it occasionally.

It seems to reinforce this idea, doesn’t it? I mean, that one does one’s thinking with one’s heart, if one is thinking properly. If one is thinking clearly and precisely and effectively.

I think philosophical method misunderstands its medium.

I remember a seminar one day many years ago in which we were discussing Gertrude Stein and her experiments with words. Her attempts to use words in such a way that she strips the words of all meaning. Experiments in which syntax is completely reinvented with respect to the words, so that the words become merely sounds, with no sense.

Someone in the seminar that day said something like, “Yes. What she seems to be doing is stripping words of an essential quality, as if a painter were working only with transparent paint. Various tubes of transparent paint.” As I recall, the comment stopped the discussion.

What I guess I’m insinuating is that dialectic and the sort of discourse that supports dialectical method may not be the best way to proceed in the field of theology. Or the best principal way. It may attempt to strip something essential out of the way words themselves are designed to be used.

Perhaps words and their meanings have more to do with our hearts than our heads. Perhaps mathematical symbols are closest to what our heads use, and words are closest to what our hearts use to understand the world. To apprehend experience. To comprehend what the senses bring to us.

And maybe that’s why poetry and story are so much what the Bible is and what Jesus said and did. Poetry and story seem. Oh, I don’t know. What words seem to be made for.

And yes. We do go to philosophy and philosophic method for help. Just as in everyday life we do go to mathematics for help. But dialectical use of language and mathematical use of arbitrary symbols are both servants to. Well. Story. The story, in the first instance, of our lives.

Our lives in which we experience God.

And the story, in the second instance, of the Bible. God’s Word.

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