Friday, April 26, 2013

The infinite space

Even in my most committed stages, I never experienced what is called "assurance of salvation" in Calvinist circles. I was never sure I was eternally saved. So to hear others speak of their own assurance of my salvation is intriguing. How can they know this?

"I believe that God is sovereign, and I know that whatever you are doing, whatever journey you are on, God is at work in it." The older woman, a member at a church where I no longer attend, cried as she told me this over lunch four years ago.

"I know you are one of His, and He will draw you to Himself."

When I first confessed to a close friend that I thought I was losing my faith, she wrote back saying that it was not possible, for Jesus had me "etched on the palms of his hands," and he would never leave me or forsake me. She knew this, offering for my comfort her certainty of it.

Perhaps certainty is not the best word to describe this assurance to which she attested. She is more content with, maybe more enraptured by, spiritual mystery than me. 

"Evie, you say—and I agree—that Christ did NOT die to give us epistemological certainty," she wrote. "You also say that mystery is greater than certitude. You clearly know this—and yet I feel like you are still seeking certitude in the territory of mystery. You recognize the mystery but do not accept it."

This was accurately and excellently put by my friend. But it didn't enable me to say "I know" or "I believe" with an iota more of the necessary conviction. I wouldn't have really meant it. My inner metaphysics were increasingly agnostic, akin to those surprisingly espoused, at least at times, by the author of Ecclesiastes. God "has also set eternity in the hearts of men," Solomon (purportedly) concludes halfway through his ramblings, "yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that nothing is better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God."

The basics are intact, in a statement of faith like that. I still believe, or know, or trust, that loving mercy and doing justice and savoring life are worthwhile. Most of the rest remains a mystery indeed.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines mystery in a wide variety of ways, but the first definition given is not what I'd expect: "Mystical presence or nature; mystical significance." Much further down I find the things that I typically associate with mystery—hiddenness, secrets, conundrums, obscurity.

"You recognize the mystery but do not accept it."

I am not so sure I even recognize this presence. Is it that which occupies the infinite space between knowing and not knowing, filling the dark expanse of Kierkegaard‘s leap with light enough to see by?

Mystery has to do with something or someone "evoking awe or wonder but not well known or understood." But the idea itself is a mystery to me, a label attached to things cloudy and foggy and charmed.

When we recognize mystery is with us, is the next step to identify it? To declare Immanuel, that God is with us? To claim it, to name it, to pin it down?

"You recognize the mystery but do not accept it."

What if, in accepting mysteries, the point is to leave them be? What if, in naming God, as Lia Purpura suggests in her book On Looking, we are "refus[ing] to be speechless in the face of occurrences, shapes, gestures happening daily, and daily reconstituting sight"?

"'God,' the very attitude of the word—for the lives of words were also palpable to me—was pushy. Impatient. Quantifiable," Purpura says. "A call to jettison the issue, the only issue as I understood it: the unknowable certainty of being alive, of being a body untethered from origin, untethered from end, but also so terribly here."

Thursday, April 25, 2013

For the love of bikes

Tuesday's bike commute was maybe my rainiest yet. I typically opt for the bus when it's precipitating, but this time I just put on an extra layer and decided to give it a shot. Not only did I somehow get to and from work faster than usual, but I really had fun. I lifted my feet up from the pedals to ford the deeper puddles in deserted Forest Park, squinted into the chilly raindrops pelting my face, and even acknowledged good drivers (and there really are a lot them out there--sometimes I forget) with the occasional smile or wave.

In the Grove, across from Sweetie Pie's, one not-so-awesome driver a good 30 yards behind me accelerated quickly after I signaled and took the lane to avoid a line of parked cars on the right. Pulling into the opposing-traffic lane to zoom ahead of me as we neared the stopped traffic at Manchester, she just barely beat me to the red light. As we waited for the light to change, I scooted up beside her sedan, waving and motioning for her to roll down her window. I wanted to remind her that cyclists are permitted to take the full lane as needed. She pretended not to see me. I tried again, but still nothing.

At Earn-a-Bike class a couple weeks ago, one of the students told us about his dream bike. Among other fabulous features, it would include flotation tires (for biking on water, duh) and a force field. The force field would be better than a helmet, this little guy explained, because "it protects more than just your melon." :-) He had a point, and sometimes I wish my bike had one. Then again, not being enclosed in a metal moving house on wheels--or a super-protective force field--is part of the appeal. You experience the road, the neighborhoods, the wind, and your fellow creatures, instead of blasting through somewhat removed from it all.

Last weekend, I watched as a helmeted tricyclist stopped at the stop sign near our apartment. A car on the cross street approached the quiet intersection at about the same time. The driver smiled at the little fellow and his dad (presumably) perched on the bicycle behind him and waved them across. The tricyclist placed his feet back on the pedals, lifted one arm up off his handlebars, and waved sweetly at the patient driver, as he slowly wheeled his way across.

"When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking." -Sir Arthur Conan Doyle