16 October 2018

Poetic Intuition

"Portrait of René Descartes," By Jan Baptist
Weenix. Public Domain.
Respect for Descartes notwithstanding, “I think; therefore, I am,” is an odd statement.

Rocks don't think...as far as we know...but anyone who has had one in a shoe knows rocks exist, even though they don't think.

If I understand, Descartes began his search for truth by rejecting things he found occasion to doubt. He observed the senses might be deceived, and the body is mostly perceived by the senses.

The thing he could not doubt was his mind.

We realize we are because we can think. But human thought depends on human bodies for existence. And none of us thought about existing...before it happened to us.

There are different ways of discussing existence, in science and art for example. There are some things more true or more to the essence of things, but there are only real things.

Unreal things are theories or constructions or jokes that depend on some reference to what's real in order to have meaning. You can know a Muslim or a scientist for example, but you cannot know Islam or science in the same way.

Beauty, like truth, is universal. All people have beauty, but some are beautiful in this way and others in that way. Some perceive this aspect of beauty and others that one.

So meaning, as I imagine it, is the way we experience beauty and understand story. It connects the person together and connects the person to something beyond himself or herself. In that sense, maybe, meaning is an expression of relatedness to a broader idea of being. 

In all these senses of meaning...we bump into relatedness. And this breaking through of beauty and otherness...in language and narrative...is poetry.

In “Poetic Diction,” Owen Barfield critiques the narrowing of meaning in modern language, influenced as it is by the growth of scientific thought. Languages earlier in their evolution, he argues, are less scientifically precise and more naturally poetic.

Barfield describes the poet's task as something like re-enchantment, re-creating those slivers of meaning lost as words become more technical and precise.

Thus, the poetic challenges and renews our understanding of the world by refusing to speak in the categories we bring with us. The poetic is not reducible to what we call emotional or spiritual...because we must speak about real things if we want to mean anything at all...and because we are embodied beings.

The poetic also contrasts with materialism. Ken Ham and Bill Nye both read Genesis in materialistic fashion. The former thus believes. The latter disbelieves. But both, perhaps, somewhat miss the point.

It is modern to think life breaks into discreet subjects, such as poetry versus science. It is not human...or necessarily reasonable.

For example, it seems to me that we experience God through relationship. That's one reason why it sometimes appears there is no God. We attribute things to anthropology, which is partly true, like attributing being to thinking. But if God is as big as we imagine he would be in order to be God...then we would not expect to trip over him in the living room or to see him peeking 'round the moon.

We would expect him to be the ground reality of all being in the first place, which might feel to us as though he didn't exist, because we'd not be able to imagine without first being in order to imagine.

We might even expect God's activity to look like natural processes or human activity. We would experience them like we experience rivers and valleys or chickens and eggs. We might not always know which came first in particular cases, but they are all subject to the essence of being itself.

This is not to say that we only relate to part of God. If God is a being at all, we relate to all of him. We just have to expect he's a different kind of being than we are. We have our reason for existence in God. God has his reason for existence in himself, as I think Ravi Zacharias once put it.

So God does not relate to us the same way we relate to him any more than we relate to pottery the same way pottery relates to us.

It also makes sense, if God is the creator...by whatever means...that we'd find in him, as in the world, community. And if we can accept this intuition, the trinity also becomes plausible.

And that brings us to a story...shot through with strange poetry...a creation and a people and promises, burning bushes and mountains, tablets of stone and temples and prophets and kings, a manger and shepherds, water made wine, a God suffering with us...sharing our biology...an empty tomb and a promised new creation. It brings us to eyewitnesses who weren't expecting what they saw, but who staked their lives on the truth of their story.



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