Friday, June 12, 2015


Ezekiel's  Vision Of The Celestial City
Many of Karen Armstrong's religious stories in A History of God are ones which  she says were captured by 20th century religious thinker Rudolf Otto in his work The Idea of the Holy. He explains there that worship ritual and environment are efforts to provide a 'safer' way for people to experience the Sacred without a direct encounter that could overwhelm. That is why large beautiful cathedrals with their art and statuary can render the most intellectual types silent. To be analytical and deconstructive(which one can choose  to do for sure just as one can when viewing a full circle  rainbow) would seem inappropriate and irreverent. Otto used the words NUMINOUS to describe such experience.  The callings and visions  of the  prophets, which Armstrong so vividly describes, and the conversion of Saul to Paul are classic examples of such breath taking  numinosity. This no doubt is why there is a  New Testament  passage  saying, ' It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God.'

I'm not sure that  progressive Christianity's
emphasis, which I  think is doing  much good in giving direly needed attention to social injustices of our day,  on 'following Jesus', whose numinous experience would be his baptism voice/vision and his wilderness temptations, are acknowledged or stressed. So there is little awe and silence and many arguments for political  agreement. One with good emotional/thinking balance does not argue with the numinous or need other persuasion. It is truly a, if not the, source of natural, uncoerced, belief in what has always been called God. Any intellectual analytical description of such things fully misses their experienced meaning, even can destroy it for that person. It takes such descriptive, poetic writing as Armstrong's to point us in the right direction for the numinous  impact of such Biblical narrative. And she pulls this off in the name of history. Good for her.

 Likely our insistence on an 'only good, comforting, perfect and pleasant God' can take us away from what might be a fuller more conscious experience of the Numinous Sacred. Nature as a reflection of God is likely one of our most direct encounters with the numinous, such as  in hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis(not to mention rainbows. high mountains, life forms, waterfalls, galaxies and now wonders of the subatomic world  which deny all  'common sense' physics). My Dad's childhood home was blown away by a tornado. He talked about it all his life, not only  the destruction it did but also its powerful  fascination for him. It was a numinous experience for him no doubt. Even the life disrupting death of a loved one can be such an numinous far reaching  factor  in ones life. Part of the thrill of viewing the Grand Canyon is imagining losing footing and plunging to the bottom. These all point to the numinous which takes one beyond thinking  and reasoning  and is wrapped in irrational wonder and sometimes gut wrenching fear. Truly a religious aspect of conscious human life.                                                                                                                  

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