Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Geeks and Holy Mystery


A lasting contribution to our way of life, from the Renaissance through the Enlightenment, has been the popular assumption that all things can be explained by reason, if not now then soon.  It’s made living comfortably with holy mystery a bit of a problem.  Reason cannot make much of a dent in holy mystery, and so it has not had a lot of credence with many believers.  It’s tended to be put in the closet along with “ghoulies and ghosties, and long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night.”  The result has been that serious conversation in the congregation about the work of the Holy Spirit has been hard to come by.  It’s been substituted with often heartfelt, almost magical, belief in the Holy Spirit as something between a benevolent genie and the agency of baptism that slays human souls or unleashes babbling tongues for which sophisticated Christians have no time.

We are, at last, entering an era when it is again possible to have serious conversations with ordinary members of our congregations about holy mystery and the Holy Spirit because they have a new frame of reference in which that conversation begins to make sense.  I’m talking about smart phones, tablets, laptop computers, and the Internet.  I know there are Dilbert-like geeks for whom there is no mystery in these things, and I know that ten year olds are proficient in all aspects of their use, but the fact remains that, for most of us, it’s all a mystery, and we are satisfied to live in it’s company.

It’s a little spooky that Siri always knows where I am, that all the controls on my car are run through a computer before anything happens, that I can have face to face conversations with friends and family living in distant countries, that I can get cash out of an ATM in a remote village in Italy, that even my stove and refrigerator have micro-processors managing operations.  A woman sitting near us in a restaurant announced to her friend that she loved her new tablet.  She didn’t understand it.   She just kept pushing buttons and new things happened, but how it all worked was a complete mystery, a mystery she was happy to live with.  

The ubiquity of electronic gizmos and applications, in all their mystery, that must be embraced, happily or unhappily, for modern life to exist has made it possible to reintroduce the concept of holy mystery and the work of the Holy Spirit to an audience that is no longer so resistant.  It’s not that God becomes the big geek in the sky, but that the idea of living in an environment in which we are surrounded by that which we use and depend on but do not understand provides an opportunity to guide toward a new discovery of the wholly otherness of God in the mystery of the Holy Spirit that is both with us and for us in ways that we may not understand, but are yet more essential to life than anything that can be dreamed up for the annual Consumer Electronics Show. 

Take advantage of it before the whole thing crashes.

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