Thursday, March 26, 2009

Easter & Non-Discursive Experience

We're almost to Easter again. As I’ve been reflecting on this I see that, personally, I’m as moved by the resurrection of Jesus as I have ever been. For me, that’s saying a lot, since those first few Easters for me that came right after I decided to follow Jesus were amazing.

Easter is a whole-being-knowing-experiential encounter. That’s how I feel it and know it to be. Long ago I rejected the idea that “knowing” is some purely intellectual thing. I thank God for the human intellect. I also know that the human intellect cannot wrap its mind around God. Resurrection life cannot be captured in the steel nets of logic and literal language.

From 1977 to 1986 I spent nearly ten years studying language. Part of my language-studies were with Dr. Judith Levi, who was then head of the Linguistics department at Northwestern University. I took her doctoral class on linguistic semantics and was forever hooked. I got immersed in structural and post-structural linguistics, semantic theory, the not-easy-to-define notion of “literal” language, all the various tropes of figurative language, of which my focus and specialty became metaphor theory. Metaphor theory took me into paradigm analysis and metaphorical thinking. How deep could I go? Not deep enough, I am certain! Among the many thoughts I have about such things include this; viz., that experience cannot be finally reduced to sentences and words. There is “nondiscursive experience,” which means: experiences that cannot be discoursed (talked) about.

Which brings me back to the resurrection of Jesus. I believe, in a whole-being fashion, that God raised Jesus from the dead, in history. This cannot, in principle, be contained in sentences and words. Yet one must speak about it. I have some “reasons.” They now include:

  • My life was forever changed in 1971 when I came to believe that God raised Jesus for the dead, and that this historical event had meaning for me today.
  • I had a “conversion experience.” Nearly every day of my life I remember what happened, to me. It was for me, in many ways, an “I can’t explain the thing but one thing I know – I was blind, now I see.”
  • I believe the Jesus-story is true. My ongoing historical studies, using scholars who have spent their lives on Jesus and studying Jesus, now take me deeper and deeper into the living Christ than I have ever been.
  • I’ll add that the story-as-story is viscerally compelling to me… today. It’s a story of love, choice, suffering, redemption, hope, and life. It’s true that other stories have had and yet have these elements. Even movies that have these basic themes are often called “Christlike” movies, or movies with “Christ-figures,” such as “Braveheart,” “The Matrix,” “Gran Torino,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Gladiator,” “The Shawshank Redemption,” and “The Lord of the Rings.” C.S. Lewis, himself a scholar of myth, said the four Gospels, as a literary genre, do not read like myth, but like history. Yet Lewis viewed the coming of Christ to live and die and rise for our rescue as the historical instantiation of “myth become fact.”
I think I could say more here. One thing I know – I do love God and His Son Jesus. I’m spending all my days and will spend the rest of my days pursuing Jesus and being pursued by Jesus. I have been forever changed and am yet changing. I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. I know Christ and the power of His resurrection. It captures not only my head but my heart and soul; it contains what the French philosopher Paul Ricoeur called a “surplus of meaning.” It can be discoursed about yet ultimately is non-discursive. As it should be.