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Archive for June, 2011

There’s realism and there’s truth.  They are not necessarily always the same.  But many think they are.

Suppose for a moment that you live in a pre-industrial era or locality: somewhere like Venice in the 1240s, or Russia in the 1830s or Egypt in the 1890s, or certain places we might know of now.  Storytellers are an important part of your world.  They furnish your life and your imagination in several important ways.  Beneath all the magical things and people and places they speak of, you are being made aware; connected; more alive to possibilities.

The storytellers and their stories make a seamless whole; part of their trade is to act out some of their narratives with special gestures.  By these means they help, themselves and us, to navigate the difficult passages: bad luck, disappointment, betrayal, danger, death.  These things lie in wait for us, in the future outside the firelit circle of the listeners.  We shall have to go out to meet them.  The stories teach us what we need to know.  They teach us truths we need to acknowledge, again and again, as we go through life.

In that context, it does not much matter whether the stories are factually realistic.  Suppose for a moment that a stranger joins us to listen to the storyteller, but becomes more and more restless, more impatient, until he bursts out with questions.  Whoever saw a flying carpet?  It’s not possible!  Or heard a talking horse?  Or was raised from the dead?  It’s all nonsense!  Why are you asking people to believe stuff like this?  Why are you misleading us?  Why aren’t you telling the truth?

Truth

Ah, the truth.  Tricky thing, truth.  Who can say what it is?  Even Christ himself did not answer this question.  In so many ways, it is impossible to answer.  What we do know at this juncture, however, is the plight of the storyteller.  He is bewildered by the stranger’s questions.  Who needs to know where the ark ended up?  Or how many children had Lady Macbeth?  He has been telling his tales for years, shifting emphasis here, highlighting a mood there. However the details may change over time, the stories still embody truths.  Also the plight of the stranger.  He is cutting himself off from a world of meaning, impoverishing himself.

Detailed factual information is not the truth.  It may be part of it, but not necessarily the same.  Nothing is worse for the Bible than the kind of literalism which is unappeasably hungry for the comfort of certainties.  It devours, and is never satisfied, because it cannot be. Realism is not the whole story, as writers and artists have known for millenia.  It is not all our sustenance.

The Bible is not a workshop manual that inexplicably does not mention giraffes.  What it does tell of, in many pieces of sublime storytelling, is the often painful meaning of what is to live, and understand what others say and do.  In this it is, God knows, revelatory enough.

It is far too late for us to check the gifts the Wise Men brought, just as we haven’t seen for ourselves what exactly happened at the marriage in Cana, but we know the truth they represent and always will.

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Diwali lights

Again and again I try and synthesise all that I have read about “God” and then put it into my own words.  All this has been said before: this is only the latest attempt on my part to understand what others have said and what I think. (more…)

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