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04/04/2013

Truth is No Words

There is a now fairly old British Indie track called 'The Truth Is No Words' by a band called The Music. I don't remember much of the song but the title has often occurred to me, as I ponder the meaning of things.

This previous Sunday, a Friend handed me a copy of The Friend (the best weekly publication I have come across for liberal faith and philosophy) - which given it was Easter Sunday, had the apt front page header 'A mystery'.

Inside it, a Friend movingly writes:

"At the very lowest, darkest moment of my life, as I sat by the broken body of my mother, who was dying after a car accident, when I cried out from the depths of my anguish and helplessness, I had the deepest, most profound experience of my life. It was of both of us being held in a love beyond measure; of a peace 'beyond all understanding'; of a sense of joy and a certainty that 'all is well'.

If you have never had such experiences, we may struggle to discover any common ground. But if you have, it doesn't seem a good use of our time to argue about where they come from. I cannot, and don't need to be able to, explain my experience. Words are totally inadequate to account for it."

I think this ultimately is why we 'religious liberals' remain 'religious'. We cannot really find the words anymore to accurately describe such things, we still try but they always remain inaccurate - and we can sometimes get snagged and lost in the trying, but we have experienced 'a greater something' that keeps pulling us back despite the inadequacy of words.

This brings me to a comment I read posted on a Unitarian blog a few weeks ago - and which has stayed with me since first reading. The comment (which I have edited down slightly to make less personal) is forthright to say the least, and I am not in a place to comment whether it was fair in terms of who it was originally being directed towards. However, in many ways, as I read it I felt it was speaking to me and how I have tended to approach religion at times.

"Overall, you appear to take a largely intellectual and verbal approach to religion, treating it as an object for analysis. Yes, texts and movements can be analysed and such analysis is useful as an end in itself.

However, here is the essential disconnect: this type of analysis is not doing religion. 

The problem is this type of analysis is all about the left-hemisphere of the brain and religion in its best forms is about developing what is beyond the binary, “monkey” mind.

You are more likely to analyse a congregant’s experience from an intellectual perspective – what was right and wrong about it and where it fitted – yes, my dear, that sounds as though it was post-liberal, Radical Orthodox, puritan, independent Anglo-Catholic - rather than from one of what it actually meant to the individual concerned. 

Which all rather begs the question: Do you have any experience of actually doing religion? It’s as though you push away any real engagement with religious practice by this constant analysis.  

Did you ever actually stop and listen to the service as a whole? Take in the atmosphere of the Church? 

Do you actually get anything out of the prayers, meditation, music, silence i.e. those parts designed to get people out of the binary mind i.e. the more religious bits? 

However, sadly, you would not be unique, because this is one of the biggest issues, in fact, faults within Unitarianism. In many places it has degenerated to just words. In some places, services have become an opportunity for someone to draw on the energy from a congregation to fuel them while they deliver their party piece, sorry, sermon, which is received in turn by the audience as an opportunity for right/wrong binary thinking. Why, they might be debated immediately afterwards, not even waiting for the coffee. 

And everyone wonders why it has all degenerated the way it has. 

Hey ho. There are some promising hints that there might be a shift towards a more “religious” approach, but I don’t hold out too much hope."

I would say that this is the key difference I have found between groups such as the Unitarians, and to an extent the Progressive Christians, when compared to the Baptist church I attended for a while and the Quaker meeting I now attend. The former seem to be more 'head-driven' whereas the latter are more 'gut-driven', or put better, 'heart-driven'.

By my nature, and by my education, I am analytical in the way I automatically approach things. In that sense I can see why Unitarianism (particularly so a more classical, American-rooted variety) has always appealed to me - and still has appeal. However, I now see that it eventually became a blocker - dare I say it, a 'false prophet' - to faithful living as it tended to push me towards processing religion rather than experiencing religion. And even now I sometimes fall back into the habit and need to keep it in check.

Which leads me back to a quote I read recently by Chuang Tzu:

The purpose of a fish trap 
Is to catch fish, 
And when the fish are caught 
The trap is forgotten.

The purpose of words is to convey ideas.
When the ideas are grasped
The words are forgotten.

Where can I find a man
Who has forgotten words? 
He is the one I would like to talk to.

If I don't post again for a while on religious matters, it may well be because I am following this!

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