Allow me to get personal here at millinerd.com. I don't do it very often, but hey, it's almost Easter. Why should Christmas be the sole instigator of undue emotional display?
At the Good Friday service of my wee 'lil church, which is, like all churches, not without its troubles, I had a bizarre and disconcerting experience. I lost my doubt.
Doesn't that sound awful? I imagine some might even be offended. Don't worry, I assure you that doubt will creep back in my weaker moments, resuming our 'til-death-do-us-part arrangement... but during the service, after two stunningly read Scripture lessons (which when read well can vastly exceed a sermon in illuminating power), and as our sublime choir sung the Passion narrative (so hauntingly executed that it itself contained 50 sermons), I looked up at the stripped cross with a sliver of black cloth slung over it as it if it were the brazen serpent... and lost, if for only twenty minutes, all doubt.
What's interesting is that I am quite sure that it I was not "out of my mind," entranced by the fasting and the liturgy, such that when I return to it in the "real world" I'll be "back to normal." No. The liturgy is much realer than the real world. Furthermore, I was unusually clear headed during the service, such that there were some purely practical matters that I had been struggling with for some weeks that found themselves resolved. Even academic arguments I had been mulling around became clearer. And while this is indeed evidence that my mind was wandering at times during the rather long service, it's also evidence that I was most definitely in my mind, not in some impossible to describe "other state." I never once left Jersey. In fact, after the service, Denise and I got mozarella sticks and cheeseburgers from Hoagie Haven and downloaded an episode of Lost. Hardly the activities of bona fide mystics (or ascetics... but fasting - it makes one hungry).
What doubt did I lose? The doubt that this Man who was crucified for the sins of the world was in fact God, and that the act did in fact affect the salvation of the world. Whether the salvation is realized or resisted by that world is another story, but I did realize it, if for another fleeting moment, last night. Nietzsche's faith-seeking missiles from Human All Too Human (which had given me some trouble this semester) became like dead flies to be flicked off the shoulder. The most laughably absurd proposition in the world became the idea that this Man was not who He said He was, and that this service did not put us in touch with that reality. The release of Barrabas was recounted in our service, but it was not Barrabas. It was me. Of course Christianity is in fact true, the question is (as always) what will I do about it. How will I love more? How will I stop betraying Christ thousands of little times as this service made it so very clear that I had in fact done?
What may sound additionally odd to modern sensibilities is that my "experience" on Good Friday did not approximate some vague religious "sensibility" shared by all religions. It was specifically Christian. It did not gloriously exceed the contours of dull dry dogmatic "orthodoxy," but rather peacefully rested within them, just as a painting is not compromised, but assisted, by its frame.
One reads in some books that such "spiritual experiences" are in fact a deep sense of mystic unity with "God," a.k.a. the worldsoul. Pantheism? Positively unsexy. Take for example a great white shark. Such a ferocious and terrifying animal - silently swimming, instantly killing. It is a tempting thought that God is realizing Himself through the evolutionary process, experiencing the joy of actually being the shark. It would be fun - to actually be the shark, giraffe or volcano... and then to slowly realize yourself more clearly through humans and human culture. If I was God I might do it that way, but there's so little love in it. Much more exciting is the idea of a creation that is separate from God, that God gives birth to, ex nihilo, in love. (Ex nihilo by the way is Latin for "God is not co-dependent.")
Furthermore, the merit that the Pantheist intuition does have (which is not insignificant), is in fact realized in the notion that God did become creation once... in Christ (and concomitantly in the Eucharist, but that's another post). And He did so not for amusement, but for the salvation of the world that is not God. And now, through the third person of the Trinity, He seeks not to be us, but to be in us, working with us, through us, in and by the One who became one of us, for us.
But those are all words, and the attentive reader will sense them buckling under the weight of the reality they are trying to express. Much better are the ordered sounds, silences, processions, images and actions of the Good Friday liturgy. Sermons? They're really barely necessary. Sometimes they even get in the way.