When you stop to think about it, reality is a very fragile thing.
The human mind exists in an incredibly delicate balance. Various chemicals, cells, and processes combine to somehow achieve an unbelievable state of balance (and I know from experience that it doesn’t take much to upset that balance). When someone’s mind gets ‘off balance’…there are any number of ways that the imbalance shows up. For myself, it was a series of debilitating anxiety attacks (panic attacks) for a brief period in the year 2001. Through the temporary use of medication and changes in lifestyle, I haven’t had a recurrence in over 10 years.
But if the human mind is that delicate…if the complexity of the organ that controls all the other organs is that fragile…then what can we say about the fragile state of being we call ‘reality’? (which, when all else is boiled away, is simply a construct of our collective, fragile, and delicate minds). We pool our resources, and the result is a fairly continuous, mostly agreed-upon story.
You could call it (as Peter Berger has) the social construction of reality.
Whether we believe in God or not, we all of us have rituals that make the world make sense.
Simply enjoying a cup of coffee in the morning provides a lot more for our individual and group psyche than a simple caffeine fix. It’s a ritual that goes much deeper than that.
My morning coffee sends the signal (not only to me) that what was there yesterday is there today, and it will probably be there tomorrow. The coffee in the cup provides us all with a kind of legitimization of our world. It roots us in the past while providing hope for the future. Coffee in the cup enacts a particular version of a story we’re all desperately trying to believe. Namely, that reality can be depended on, that the world is a stable place that makes sense (even if all hell is breaking loose across the planet).
Yessir…as long as I’ve got some coffee in the cup, my world makes sense. We could say the same thing about working out, or showering, or reading the news, or watching TV, or playing with the dog…there’s an endless list of rituals we enact precisely because we need the reminder that our story will continue tomorrow much like it did yesterday.
Religion (and I would include the absence of religion as a religion unto itself) plays an important role in this process of legitimization. Our Sacred Story remains in place as long as the pillars of ritual, tradition, belief, and devotion stand unchallenged.
I would like to propose that Christ steps into this fragile world of our construction more like Samson than David. That is to say, the “Christ” in “Christian” throws down those pillars rather than supporting them. The structures that to us seem so permanent, so steady, so predictable…in the hands of our God (who is not us) they are undone.
I read a book recently where the author makes the point that we all indeed do have a ‘God Shaped Hole’. This sounds like conventional wisdom…the kind of thing we’ve heard before. But then the author goes on to say the hole is not a vacancy that only God can fill…rather, it’s the hole in our life left in the aftermath of an experience with the divine. It’s the kind of hole that drives us to seek, to knock, and to search. It’s not the kind of hole that can be filled with a God-shaped object.
And just like my wife is never closer to me than when she is absent (and I miss her, awaiting her return), so it is with God.
We are mistaken to think that our social construction of reality is Real. It’s all we have, for sure…but it is incredibly fragile, not unlike life itself. There’s a story behind the story. It’s like Paul wrote to the Romans, saying ‘now we see but dimly, as if in a mirror’. It’s like Plato’s allegory of the cave. It’s like any story any parent has ever used to teach their child a lesson.
In this ontology, Faith becomes not a way to access a transcendent state of being, but rather more of a way to peel back this ‘sacred canopy’ for a peek at the Divine… a glimpse of something Real.
I think I need more coffee.