catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 7, Num 22 :: 2008.12.05 — 2008.12.19


Out of our heads

In the college student activities office where I work, one topic of discussion that surfaces over and over again is the tension between an intellectually analyzed experience and an in-the-moment lived experience.  For example, we can watch a film to examine every aspect of it-the techniques, the story, the characters, the assumptions of the director-but we also can watch a film in order to be drawn into a story and changed by it.  Unfortunately, these approaches tend to be mutually exclusive.

In the context of my office’s work with concerts and films, we mostly discuss this tension related to popular art, like attending a concert or watching a film, but it easily extends to eating, hospitality, family life, worship and more.  Those who believe Christ’s lordship has implications for every part of life necessarily untangle the ideas they’ve inherited in order to discover a more holistic way of living into the Kingdom of God.  As Christians, we’re called to be attuned to the spirits of the age, as well as the Holy Spirit, in all aspects of life-a skill that often goes by the name of cultural discernment.  Discernment is a good and necessary state of being, but we often practice it as a state of thinking.  As such, we become resistant to living into an experience and being worked upon and changed by joy, by suffering, by things we cannot name.  To use a culinary metaphor, we turn aged sharp cheddar into processed cheese food: individually packaged, easily reproduced and so drained of complexity that it’s palatable-and less nourishing-to even the most immature consumers.  We eschew the natural, time-consuming process for something more scientific, more clean, less risky.

In other parts of the world and in other eras of history, the demands of survival have circumstantially limited the problem of overanalyzing.  However, when most of those who read this online magazine live without the immediate necessity of physical labor to survive and with an abundance of formal education, I daresay that we’re readily within the scope of the temptation to over-think.  We read, we discuss, we listen to sermons and podcasts, we analyze our worldviews and the worldviews of those around us, we debate the next great danger and the next great glory of civilization.  I confess that catapult thrives on this hunger for information and knowledge.  That said, if our efforts only result in reading for reading’s sake, we have failed at our core mission: cultivating embodied knowledge of a love that walks, talks, eats, breathes, sleeps, serves, lives.  We’re in the business of scoring seeds, watering sprouts and transplanting plantlets toward the fruitfulness that signifies maturity.

Fruitfulness is more than an abstract idea; it’s proof that is seen, touched, smelled, tasted.  And not only does knowledge produce fruit, but partaking of the fruit reinforces and creates knowledge; indeed one might say that one can’t exist without the other.  Consider Norman Wirzba’s vision of an alternative sermon from his book Living the Sabbath:

I have often thought that too much of our worship focuses on the speaking of words.  The sermon is given pride of place and time, even though it often contains a message we have heard several times before.  Would we not do better to stress how the Word daily “becomes flesh” in our neighborhoods and communities, if from time to time we shifted the emphasis from podium speaking to face-to-face fellowship?  Gathering around tables to eat, or in gardens to weed and harvest, or on building sites to do repair and construction-and not just on Sundays-we can learn more directly the ministry needs of the communities in which we move….  This more corporate sort of perception not only leads to authentic worship but quite naturally also leads to good work and good relationships.

Words, the intellect, books, thinking, ideas-these are all good gifts, but they should not be privileged at the expense of other tools of knowing and loving.  Rather, we should seek a wholeness that defies the artificial division between mind and body.  What wordless sermon can warm water swishing between our fingers in a sink full of dirty dishes speak about what it means to be human?  What can the bite of a cold wind or the taste of a fresh blueberry help us remember, not just about our own childhood, but about being part of the human community?  In what ways do we honor the Spirit when we obey the impulse to dance at a concert in spite of looking silly?  How can we get out of our heads and into our bodies mindfully?

As one of the chief offenders in over-thinking, I don’t have any easy answers, but easy answers might just defeat the purpose of learning in the doing.  So make a cup of tea using all five senses.  Have sex with your spouse.  Watch a film that makes you cry.  Take a walk around your neighborhood.  Do something mindful with your body each day of Advent as an attempt to honor the gift of the Incarnation.

Go on.  What are you waiting for?

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