on fears of flying and the Lord

“It’s just such a flimsy mechanism to entrust your life to,” he says.
I have never thought about hang gliding this way before; I just assume that if something is supposed to work, it will work.
“But you said you’d like to go skydiving, and parachutes are just as flimsy. And you can’t test out a parachute before you have to use it.”
“Well… I think if I knew more about hang gliding, like how it works, I might not be afraid to do it.”

Now that,I get. The more you know about something, the less and less scary it becomes. This is why I research places for hours before I visit (…or move to) them. The opposite is also true: the unknown is almost always terrifying. Consider the loosely-tacked papers scraping gently against my wall last night when the radiator emitted little bursts of steam or heat or whatever it emits. Before I knew what the sound was, I was sifting through items in my room to use as weapons against the softly-breathing black squirrel I knew was waiting in my storage closet for the opportune moment to strike.

Anyway, it’s comforting to collect information about things. When you can convert an unknown quantity into a known, you are more prepared to deal with whatever situation arises (in my case, I learned that the sound posed little to no threat to my life and I could handle the situation by going back to sleep). Knowledge is power and such. The facts you know about something define, explain, and contain it; if you know the size of the elephant, you can make sure your net is big enough to catch it. This is fantastic, most of the time… Until you get to God.

There is this worship song that we sang at my church several years ago, every single week for approximately 86 weeks. The youth group got so tired of singing “indescribable, uncontainable, incomparable,” etc., that we started making up our own words to the song (incorruptible, non-recyclable, inflammable) – but I guess that is actually the point. The only way to truly describe God is to say what God is not; Eastern Orthodox theology names this “apophatic theology”. Our own words and concepts only go so far to describe God as God really is; and after that point, there is a mystery that only un-knowing can penetrate. Or, as a smarter guy says, “Christianity is not a philosophical school for speculating about abstract concepts, but is essentially a communion with the living God. That is why, despite all their philosophical learning and natural bent towards speculation, the Fathers of the eastern tradition in remaining faithful to the apophatic tradition of theology, never allowed their thoughts to cross the threshold of the mystery, or to substitute idols of God for God Himself.”*

Maybe it’s the being-out-of-school or the recently-having-read-that, but as I’ve been re-learning ways to know God, the hang gliding comment suddenly illuminated this whole string of thoughts for me. I saw the times I’ve tried to gather information about God, not so I could draw nearer to God in his infinity, but so I could order the right-size net. You don’t even know it when you’re studying thirty hours a week, don’t even see when you think you’ve got God pegged.

And at nearly the same moment, I also saw what it means for me right now to understand this verse I’ve always been puzzled about – “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. How am I supposed to cultivate fear of the Lord?

I don’t think we have to. I think we’re so scared of God we pretend there’s no reason to be scared, but there is. God – the concept of God, an omnipotent infinite being – is inherently scary. The point isn’t that we should live in fear. The point is that it’s important, if we’re really seeking wisdom, not to skirt around the danger of letting God be who God says God is. And if we lean into the more complete trust that comes from acknowledging that that is terrifying, we will find one day that we are flying. But we won’t – we can’t – know how.

* (Vladimir Lossky, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church, emphasis mine).

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1 Comment

  1. Jacqueline in Atlanta

     /  October 23, 2012

    I like the theology stuff.

    I think you probably have a ghost in your house.


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