Waking Up In Radical Amazement

Early Morning Sun BedroomDavid Brooks has written an extraordinary reflection about the difficulty of religious belief up against the sheer hostility of the secular age in which we are now caught . This topic seems to intrigue Brooks along the way, though we are never quite sure where his deeper sympathies of faith lie. We get a glimpse here of some of those sympathies. [button color=”#COLOR_CODE” background=”#COLOR_CODE” size=”medium” src=”http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/28/opinion/brooks-alone-yet-not-alone.html?ref=davidbrooks”]See Brooks’ Column[/button]

Brooks begins with something we all acknowledge these days:

There is a strong vein of hostility against orthodox religious believers in America today, especially among the young. When secular or mostly secular people are asked by researchers to give their impression of the devoutly faithful, whether Jewish, Christian or other, the words that come up commonly include “judgmental,” “hypocritical,” “old-fashioned” and “out of touch.”

And then he says something I feel almost every day:

It’s not surprising. There is a yawning gap between the way many believers experience faith and the way that faith is presented to the world.

I will often read in the media some description of faith or experience of the faithful and find so little connection. They just don’t get it, I might mutter. There is some disconnect here, yes, a “yawning gap.” This gap seems to breed somehow the hostility we experience.

And so, what’s the cause of this disconnect, this seeming shallow understanding that turns to hostility? From Brooks again there is this damning indictment for those of us who are believers:

There must be something legalistic in the human makeup, because cold, rigid, unambiguous, unparadoxical belief is common, especially considering how fervently the Scriptures oppose it.

Well, I am not sure I want to own up to all of these characteristics, but if there is truth here, we certainly deserve the hostility we feel as believers.

But I might put the cause of this hostility deeper than even cold, rigid dogmatism. There is more to this secular resistance to faith. Though puzzling at times, it may have something to do with a fierce need to eliminate anything suggesting transcendence. In the end, it may be a kind of defensive posture. We can’t let the nose of the camel in the tent, even a hint of transcendent presence, or our whole view of the world might be over.

Brooks points in this direction when he quotes Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, from his book God in Search of Man, who says

Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement… get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal. …To be spiritual is to be amazed.

I love this notion. How would our lives be different if we got up each morning “in radical amazement” at the dazzling miracle of life? Can we cultivate that deeper faith that “everything is phenomenal”? Can we allow ourselves to admit that this amazing reality is the gift of God’s goodness, shining out when we least expect it? To “live life in radical amazement” suggests that something lives deeper or beyond simple physical matter alone. Why should that be such a threat?

Brooks then ends with a quote from Augustine that just blows me away. The fourth century Augustine reflects here on “what do I love when I love my God?”

Here is Augustine:

It is not physical beauty nor temporal glory nor the brightness of light dear to earthly eyes, nor the sweet melodies of all kinds of songs, nor the gentle odor of flowers, and ointments and perfumes, nor manna or honey, nor limbs welcoming the embraces of the flesh; it is not these I love when I love my God. Yet there is a light I love, and a food, and a kind of embrace when I love my God — a light, voice, odor, food, embrace of my innerness, where my soul is floodlit by light which space cannot contain, where there is sound that time cannot seize, where there is a perfume which no breeze disperses, where there is a taste for food no amount of eating can lessen, and where there is a bond of union that no satiety can part. That is what I love when I love my God.

This is a vision of religious life, says Brooks, wherein “experience is in the world but then mysteriously surpasses the world.” And this, I conclude, is precisely what the secular world ridicules, distrusts, dismisses, works up such hostility about.

If we feel this sense of rapture over the great mystery of God’s world, if we experience some deep measure of gratitude over the life we receive as a gift—we might ask with dismay how there can be such hostility toward this vision for life.

Somehow believers must offer up this vision for life—we must winsomely, compellingly present it to the world—as an invitation to something more, to a life that is so much deeper, richer, more interesting.