Incarnation and Language (Part 5 of ‘The Anaphatic Way’)

V. The Sacramental Imagination and ‘Speaking’ of God

The third arc of the anatheist wager is the sacramental imagination that urges us toward a “sacramental return to the holiness of the everyday.”[1] The sacramental imagination is the via affirmativa of anatheism, the invocation “of yes in the wake of no,” which marks the potential return to God after ‘God.’[2] This includes the possibility of speaking, or better yet re-speaking, God. After having ‘traversed’ the dark night of the soul, initiated by the Masters of Suspicion, one now has the possibility to come out the other side, into a ‘second faith.’ The inclusion of the Holocaust into this dark night introduces a crucial ‘ethical’ imperative to the anatheist movement through atheism: how do we love God and the other in the moment of injustice?

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Radical Hospitality from Gordon Lightfoot

Heard this on CBC Radio today.

Go first in the world, go forth with your fears

Remember a price must be paid

Be always too soon, be never too fast

At the time when all bets must be laid

Beware of the darkness, be kind to your children

Remember the woman who waits

And the house you live in will never fall down

If you pity the stranger who stands at your gate

When you’re caught by the gale and you’re full under sail

Beware of the dangers below

And the song that you sing should not be too sad

And be sure not to sing it too slow

Be calm in the face of all common disgraces

And know what they’re doin’ it for

And the house you live in will never fall down

If you pity the stranger who stands at your door

When you’re out on the road and feelin’ quite lost

Consider the burden of fame

And he who is wise will not criticize

When other men fail at the game

Beware of strange faces and dark dingy places

Be careful while bending the law

And the house you live in will never fall down

If you pity the stranger who stands at your door

When you’re down in the dumps and not ready to deal

Decide what it is that you need

Is it money or love, is it learnin’ to live

Or is it the mouth you must feed

Be known as a man who will always be candid

On questions that do not relate

And the house you live in will never fall down

If you pity the stranger who stands at your gate

And the house you live in will never fall down

If you pity the stranger who stands at your gate

This being human is a guesthouse.

A Personal Preface, Pt 1

This being human is a guesthouse;
Every morning a new arrival.

Rumi

The hermeneutic that I have adopted for interpreting and understanding the world I live can be summed up in Richard Kearney’s word anatheism. It informs my thinking, directs my language, creates new ideas, and is slowly emerging into the daily praxis of my life. I first stumbled upon Kearney’s work on anatheism last December while doing some transcription work for a professor at my university. Though I’ve been immersed in the often overly abstract world of academic theology, I had the worst time trying to understand what was being said in the conversation that I was transcribing. Canadian philosopher and public intellectual Charles Taylor and Boston College professor of philosophy Richard Kearney were having a nice three-hour chat about Kearney’s latest work entitled Anatheism: Returning to God after God (surprise!). I struggled quite a bit with the philosophical language that the two were using. But 28 hours later, which is how long it took me to get a pretty accurate transcription, I had a fairly basic picture of Kearney’s ideas. As a side note, I had no idea transcription work would be so intensive. But I literally spent more than a fully day listening to the lecture, over, and over, and over, and over.

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Merton the Anatheist?

Compare these two writers:

You Must Know How to Doubt

You cannot be a man of faith unless you know how to doubt. You cannot believe in God unless you are capable of questioning the authority of prejudice, even though that prejudice may seem to be religious. Faith is not blind conformity to a prejudice–a ‘pre-judgement’. It is a decision, a judgment that is fully and deliberately taken in the light of a truth that cannot be proven. It is not merely the acceptance of a decision that has been made by somebody else. (105)

Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

The Free Decision to Believe

Happily, during my time in Glenstal [Abbey], as later in Benedictine and Ignatian ashrams in India, the atheist too was a welcome stranger. How could one authentically choose theism if one was not familiar with the alternative of atheism? Or the agnostic space between? Indeed, in my first Christian doctrine classes at Glenstal I remember how liberated I felt when the monks had  us read cogent arguments against the existence of God–by Feuerbach, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Russell–before any talk of why God might exist! Atheism was not only tolerated, it was considered indispensable to any wager of faith. (xii)

I like to think of this book as a small intellectual agora where theists and atheists might engage in reasonable if robust debate, acknowledging the possibility of what I call an anatheist space where the free decision to believe or not believe is not just tolerated but cherished. If anatheism signals the possibility of God after God, it is because it allows for the alternative option of its impossibility. (xiv)

Kearney, Anatheism

Kearney only mentions Merton in passing in Anatheism as an exemplar of interreligious dialogue. But I am beginning to see some significant points of contact between Merton and Kearney that would be valuable to the development of the anatheist hermeneutic.