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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Web in which we Live

“We (humans) weave our lives into a web of words, like spiders who spin their creations from within themselves and trap reality in these very meshes – from moment to moment, in both silent monologue and social discourse, and across the divide of time, as we learn about the past and communicate it.”[i]
It may be impossible, but give this a try.  Imagine you are outside your own life, looking in at it, as an observer.  If you were a fly on the kitchen wall, observing your life, watching the interactions with family members, seeing from all points of view, hearing every phone conversation, watching emails and texts read, what would you see?  It’s hard. We don’t observe our own lives, we live them.  This is akin to asking a fish to be consciously aware of the ocean.  But try it.
What are the words that you use to make sense of the world in which you live?  If you were looking at our house, hearing the back-and-forth between my wife and me, you might hear one of us say in a mock old man voice, “I’m freezing,” or, “get off my lawn.”  Usually this is followed up by a giggle.  You have no idea what we’re discussing or what we mean by this phraseology, but here’s hint: it has little to do with temperature or grass.    Maybe you’d pick it up from context, maybe not.  Based on circumstance, tone, and past experience, Candy and I understand one another perfectly with such phrases.  These are a part of the web of words in which we live, a web we’ve woven over 15 years of marriage.
In the case of these two phrases, which are used interchangeably, we’re alluding to a memory of something that gave us a lot of needed chuckles.  She and I have numerous phrases and mannerisms like this that make up our web.  You do too.
What words in our webs are destructive, put-downs that are nothing other than mean-spirited?  How often are 4-letter vulgarities included in our webs of words?  How often are these harmless, and how often are they indicators of a soul that’s quite sick and in need of radical treatment?
How many of the world-defining words that make up the building blocks of our sense of reality are God-words, God-glorifying words, or words born of God’s light?  The web is not just the words we most often say.  It includes the first words that come to mind when we unconsciously react to the world.  When we’re trying to make sense of what’s going, we reach for our web of words because those words are world-defining.  When the new happens, good or bad, we have to put it in a context we are able to grasp.  We have to take all stimulus into our web of words.
“Theology,” writes Michael Fishbane, “has the primary duty of serving God alone.”[ii]  Whatever God ideas we speak, we speak out of faith because God cannot be known by scientific inquiry nor can God be reduced to measurements.  Fishbane says the “vastness of existence” is impinging upon us at all times,[iii] and God is in that vastness, before and after it, and beyond it.  Theology is not an intellectual exercise even though it is often treated that way and exercised that way.  Theology is belief.  It is faith.  It is God-talk, God-thought, and God-colored composition. 
As a matter of faith, the church guides the members of the church family into reconceiving the web of words, the meaning-makers by which we live, so that God is at the heart of the weight-bearing strands of the webbing.  God holds it all together.  We grow in our sense of God to the extent that our natural tendency is to look to God in all things.  We become so faith-minded, our lives would not make sense apart from God. 
I am now in a season in which I am going to look at my life, try to see myself from outside myself, and then attempt to reweave my webs (we all have more than one).  I am going to study the world around me, paying special attention to perspectives very different than my own.  And I am going to read and reread and reread a book of the Bible, Hosea.  In all these examinations, I will listen for God’s voice.  I will try to listen in such a way that my listening will create meaning and then I will live in the meaning I’ve been given.
Would you join me?  The first two tasks, examining your own life and studying the world around you, are the same for you as for me.  We study ourselves and the world in which we live.  The third task, narrowing focus to one book of the Bible, is unique to each person.  There are 66 books to choose from.  God speaks in all of them (even those where God is not directly named).  Let these three tasks be intertwining threads that make up the strands of the web of meaning you’re weaving.  Read yourself, read the world, and read the Bible.  And reflect and pray, and then reconstruct your sense of reality based upon what you hear God saying.

[i] Michael Fishbane (2008), Sacred Attunement: A Jewish Theology, the University of Chicago Press (Chicago), p. 15.  Fishbane is the professor of Jewish Studies at the University of Chicago.
[ii] FIshbane, p.39.
[iii] Ibid, p.39.

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