Thursday, July 14, 2011

connecting desert dots

Had wonderful discussions today about part of this talk:

Visited with Meghan about it in the morning and then with JLW this afternoon. I think it has application to evaluating our own upbringing and how we were parented as well. It’s a healthy thing to re-visit our childhood and look at our parents objectively. Warts and all. Most therapy sessions will go there. Formal therapy or not, emerging adults tend to do this consciously or not. I did it, we all do.

It’s an important step because once we get past all the parental flaws and weirdness and the blame ‘they pinned my diapers on too tight’ stuff we are free to forgive our parents and love them with a new maturity.

It is a little scary recognizing my children have and are working out all my parenting mistakes. But I encourage this pursuit with the hope that they will one day come full circle and realize how much ld and I have loved them. And still love them. And always will.

The sweetest words have come already. Words I never thought I would hear. Today. While he didn’t ‘rise up and call us blessed’ the appreciation and love expressed shows he has matured. I will take this kind of love, love that has been tested and strained and recovered over any kind of shallow childlike adulation.

It wasn’t a leap for Megs and JLW and I to see the parallels in this talk. Faith and love, they are not so far apart, I think. Indeed, a maturing faith and spirituality is the hoped for result in all our desert wanderings.

This then:

First, a few words about faith.

As a freshman at Georgetown University, I took a required course, The Problem of God, from a wonderful professor, Dr. John F. Haught. This Catholic theologian became one of my most influential teachers and mentors.

One day toward the end of fall semester, Dr. Haught introduced theologian Paul Ricoeur’s concept of the three stages of religious faith. 6

The first stage, childlike faith, may be likened to the clear, unimpeded view that one enjoys standing atop a tall mountain. As children, our faith is simple and uncritical, and we can see clearly in every direction. There is something quite beautiful about this stage of faith. To me it is exemplified by hearing a chorus of Primary children sing “I Know My Father Lives.”

The second stage Ricoeur calls the desert of criticism. At some point, often during adolescence, we descend from the mountain of childlike faith and enter the critical world. We might label this world “high school” or, better yet, “college.” Here we find that others do not share our faith. In fact, some openly disparage what we hold dear. We learn that the very idea of faith is thought by many to be childish or delusional. We may become skeptical, perhaps even cynical.

The desert of criticism is akin to being in the midst of a blinding sandstorm, where you are forced to lean into the wind and take one step at a time without a clear view of where you are going. Walking by faith becomes difficult. Some of our former beliefs cannot survive the desert of criticism.

Ricoeur did not malign the desert of criticism, for some childish beliefs are incorrect and should be abandoned. As the Apostle Paul says in his discourse on faith, hope, and charity, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”

Furthermore, it is only in coming down from the mountain that we are able to enter into the world and engage others who are different from us. To a great extent this is where life is lived and where we can make a difference in the world. Some people never leave the desert of criticism, and in time the memory of their childlike faith may dim. After prolonged exposure to the desert of criticism, some even lose their faith altogether. Ricoeur maintained that once one has entered the desert of criticism, it is not possible to return to the mountain of childlike faith. It is a little like leaving Eden. Something has been lost; life and faith can never be quite so simple again.

But he held out the possibility of a third stage of religious faith. On the other side of the desert of criticism lies another mountain, not as tall as the mountain of childlike faith, with views that are not quite as clear and unobstructed. But we can, as Dr. Haught explained it, remove ourselves periodically from the desert of criticism and ascend this somewhat less majestic mountain. Ricoeur calls this possibility of a second faith “postcritical” naivete or a “second naivete.”

Here the truths and realities of our childlike faith can be reaffirmed or revised. Although the view is not completely unimpeded, and the storms of the desert of criticism remain in view, and some of our childish beliefs may be left behind, we can emerge from the storm and reaffirm our faith. Our faith will not be as simple as it once was, but it need not be lost. In fact, I believe our faith may become more powerful than before, for it will have weathered and survived the assaults of the desert of criticism.

To me, postcritical naivete is a state in which both our hearts and our minds are open and we remain willing to experience childlike spiritual wonder; it is a place where we remain open to the promptings of the Holy spirit. As Paul puts it, “Brethren, be not children in understanding: howbeit in malice be ye children, but in understanding be men.”

-- The Most Important Three things in the World
Brett G. Scharffs (Given at BYU devotional on 12 May 2009)
(Yes, Meghan. Years ago you babysat the authors kids☺)

Much more to think about here.

*6. Dr. Haught’s discussion was an adaption of Paul Ricoeur’s thought. See Paul Ricoeur, The Symbolism of Evil, trans. Emerson Buchanan (Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press, 1967), 347-57; see also John F. Haught, The Cosmic Adventure: Science, Religion and the Quest for Purpose (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 94-95.

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