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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I started writing this post a few days ago and when I logged back into WordPress, the draft came up as ‘(no title).’ I thought it was a perfect title for a short musing on negative theology.

On our drive out to Alberta on Monday, my wife asked me what sort of conclusions I came to after finishing my papers on negative theology. My reply was something to the effect: “Well, negative theology is critical. It is an absolute must in any theology. It is irreplaceable. We can’t do without it. It allows us to become ‘silent’ and ‘catch our breath’ when we’ve been chattering and making noises about God that we think say it all. Critique is the gift of negative theology. We have to knock down our idols, recognize the total inadequacy of language to encapsulate the Divine. Negative theology helps us realize how idiotic we sound talking about mystery.”

I can imagine this all sounded pretty bleak to her.

I wasn’t done.

“But! But! We must speak! We need to say something about God and that something is poetic. It is not necessarily precise scientific facts, verifiable, fixed once and for all. Instead, we need metaphor, narrative, story, liturgy, art, iconography, and a host of other mediums to ‘speak’ about God in still meaningful ways. And we must always realize that our ‘languages’ about the Divine are interpretations that are open to new possibilities.”

The next day, I randomly came across this quote that I thought was such a simple way of expressing the whole of what I’ve learned this past year.

When those who love God try to talk about Him, their words are blind lions looking for springs in the desert. (Leon Bloy)

The lions need water. But their imperfections prevent them from finding and beholding the totality of the wellspring they search for. Their search is not in vain, but it is a difficult task to undertake.