Tag Archives: mystery

Pre-rational, rational, and transrational – part 2

A few weeks ago I did a post on prerational, rational, and transrational here.

I have since come back to this on a regular basis  as I have continued to wrestle through a very specific question.

Why am I most attracted to a certain kind of person, thinker, author, speaker, or spiritual leader? Some are great thinkers, yet I still feel left lacking.

For me, there are people who have greatly impacted my life who I would say live in a prerational stage. These people focus on the heart (and often, unintentionally neglect the intellect). When questions or doubts are raised, they immediately go into defense mode. For these people, belief or faith is a house of cards – if you pull one card out, the entire thing collapses. As I mentioned, my life has been greatly impacted by many people in this stage and I am very thankful for their influence in my life. Many of these people are very passionate people who love God immensely.

Then there seems to be people who I would say live in the rational stage. They are open to questions and doubts and have very thoughtful answers to many of them. These people tend to embrace critical biblical scholarship, science, archeology etc. I am very thankful for those in this stage who have given me a way to be a Christian as I have moved beyond a prerational stage.

While I have and continue to be influenced by those in a rational stage, I find that those who I am most drawn to, those whom I find most life from, have something more.  So I have been asking;

What is that more?

What do they have that others don’t have?

Why, when they speak, do I feel like they are speaking to me at a deeper level than just the heart or the head – almost at a soulish level?

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A simple answer is to say they combine both the head and the heart, but I still feel like that is lacking. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that they combine the head and the heart and yet move beyond. Somehow, in someway, they engage my heart and my head, yet unlock so much more inside of me.

Another way to say this is to use the Webster definition of transrational –  going beyond or surpassing human reason or the rational.

Those in the prerational stage are often antagonistic toward those in other stages for they see them as wrong, relativistic, heretical, liberal etc. They often say something along the lines of, “stop thinking so much and just accept it.”

Those in the rational stage are often antagonistic those in the prerational stage. They define themselves often by what they are not – they are not prerational (not necessarily always a bad thing). Getting back to my question, those who I am most drawn to are those who are not antagonistic toward others, but somehow transcend and include both the prerational and the rational stages.

As I am thankful to those in the rational stage who continue to shape me, it has left me feeling a little…how do I say it… stale?

To help clarify I can use and example drawing from the Bible. Those in the prerational stage simply accept these stories as literal, historical and factual truth. The story happened exactly as the Bible says it happened for it is the Word of God and must be accepted at face value.

The rational stage cannot except this for it engages the mind through science, archeology, common sense and experience. The story did not happen exactly as the Bible says it happened. In some ways it takes the life out of the story because it is out to prove that the stories are false, which leaves me with the question, “what then does it mean?”

The transrational stage moves through the rational, engages the mind, yet isn’t bothered by the “either/or” statements made by the other stages. The point isn’t if the story literally happened (though they have moved through the rational and understand that it may not be historically accurate), but the truth that the story conveys – it speaks to the human even if it did not literally happen.

Another example is that the prerational often sees the world as divided by the “natural” and the “supernatural”. God is seen sitting back, somewhere in the sky, and occasionally intervenes, i.e. divine intervention.

The rational draws from the intellect and see’s the world as a “natural” state. Since they do not see arms growing or the blind seeing there is not “supernatural”, only “natural”.

The transrational embraces mystery and paradox. The world is not divided into the “natural” and the “supernatural”, yet they realize not everything can be explained by our five senses. God is working, through all things and in all places, yet not in an “interventionist” sort of way, but in another, far more persuasive and evolutionary sort of way – gently pulling us forward toward more love, compassion and inclusion. In other words, the “natural” vs. “supernatural” is a false dichotomy and the transrational embraces the intellect while moving beyond just an intellectual understanding or knowing.

Those I am most drawn to seem to simply be. They choose to widen the circle and to redefine what it means to be a Christian – without the need to push anyone out. In a way, they seem to be paving a third way forward beyond two polarizing options.

To the prerational stage, the transrational seems like the rational in that it engages the head and is seen as – false, heretical, liberal etc. To the rational, the transrational seems to much like the prerational in that it seems to focus more on the heart (though the transrational does not neglect the head) and accepts that not everything can be explained by the rational mind.

In a sentence, those whom I am most drawn to are those who have moved beyond the prerational and rational, engage the heart and the head, and yet live with wonder and awe as they experience the great Mystery I call God.

What do you think? Does any of this make sense?

Divine Mystery

So, my first post was about what I used to think the good news was. I will continue this post next week, but I wanted to share something a little less theological and more spiritual and recent (the other post was something I wrestled through several years ago but of course I continue to bump up against since many link penal substitutionary atonement as the gospel).

I have been on a faith journey. Actually, I think we are all on faith journeys (even if you’re an atheist or agnostic), but mine has taken some very unexpected twists. Like all exciting journey’s, I have found myself in unfamiliar territory – heck if it’s all familiar it’s not very fun is it?

I am taking several classes through a Hybrid MDiv program and loving them. My favorite class has been about spiritual practices and spiritual formation (i.e. meditation, centering prayer, etc). This has led me to engage in contemplative theology and experience something I cannot fully express in words.

What contemplative spirituality has taught me is that there is a way to be religious and yet remain in a dualistic either/or mindset – in fact most people have! In this lower level religion (as Richard Rohr often puts it) everything is clear because the ego demands this. Everything is easily defined, easily recognized, everything is black and white and it is clear who is “in” and who is “out”. This way of believing, often found within many different religions, only feeds the ego and the need to be right and to try to convince everyone else to think the way you do. In other words, I have the one and only key and if you want it you have to go through me to get it. Within Christianity this is most easily seen with those who feel the need to argue their way every single time they disagree – what an exhausting way to live!

For a while I could not explain why I thought the way I did because I did not have the words to articulate my experience. I knew it had to do with Divine Mystery and how to be a Christian without being exclusive, but I had never witnessed this before. This is difficult because many believe Christianity must be exclusive even if they are not Christians themselves. I am no longer convinced of this, but that does not mean that I do not think Christianity can be a beautiful thing…I still very much do and I am still very much a part of the Christian tradition.

As part of the class we read through a book titled Will and Spirit which was very insightful, and toward the end the author gave words to my experience (when this happens it’s like a release valve).

Much of the book was about surrender and about this topic the author writes, “I would pose that surrender is dangerous whenever there is any known, definable cause, group, person, or other substantive and limited entity that is used as an object of surrender.”[1] Later he continues, “This is true even if the object of surrender is called God, as long as God remains an object that one presumes to know and to understand”.[2]

Now if you were raised in the Christian tradition like myself, you’re probably thinking that of course God can be known and to think otherwise is ridiculous – this is not Christian. I too have thought this.

The author continues, “It is only when one can surrender to the ultimately unknowable Mystery behind the images of God that the act of surrendering can result in less self-definition rather than more”.[3] My focus here is on the ultimately unknowable Mystery part.

This is where I began to understand what I was experiencing. It is easy to remain at a lower level religion (dualistic thinking) where God has been clearly defined, articulated, and packaged. Then all one needs to do is convince others of that specific package – the problem is

God is always bigger than the package we place God in!

This thinking, I believe, is driven by the ego. Those who are “in” are those who agree with me. There is a clear box, but what happens when that box no longer works and you have experienced something bigger? It may be that we all need to begin at this lower level, but to remain here is like, as I recently heard, arguing about the menu instead of experiencing and enjoying the most delicious meal.

Now, the author is not suggesting that God cannot be known, but he is suggesting that God can never be fully known.

There is a difference and it’s big.

“God can become very real, alive, and active in a personal way. The first is through images that are acknowledged to be incomplete, expedient tools”.[4]

In other words, we can experience God, and understand God but it is like peeking through a small crack or hole, you can get a glimpse but it’s incomplete. I think it is important here to acknowledge them to be incomplete, if you do not then we develop a sense of superiority and feel a need to convince others that this is the way to experience God.

I think the author puts it well when he writes, “But in all such cases it is important for me to remember that these ways of seeing God, while real, are never complete”.[5]

Those who believe they have the complete or full picture of God are not really that interesting nor are they fun to be around. Usually they argue and push back against everything and seem extremely dogmatic and defensive. Who wants to live like that?

In the Hebrew Scriptures it talks about God’s ways being so far above our ways…in essence we cannot completely understand God for God is so far beyond, so much greater, so much more inclusive, loving, forgiving, and beautiful than we can possibly imagine!

I think if we begin here, we can enter into a more fruitful dialogue with those we disagree with and with those of other religions because we don’t have the one and only key. As I have experienced this, I have seen God at work in all kinds of beautiful ways. I am more curious than argumentative, engaged in exploration and not defense, and more interested in conversation that dogmatic debates. I have learned from others whom I do not agree with and have become a better person and have seen God in different ways because of this.

  • Is there a way to be Christian without being exclusively so? I say yes, I am an example of this and I know I am not alone.

I invite you to see God, not as easily defined, but as Divine Mystery which can never be fully known. Then we are free to see God in so many ways we never imagined possible.

[1] Gerald, G. May, Will and Spirit (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1982), 304.

[2] Ibid, 304.

[3] Ibid, 304.

[4] Ibid, 305.

[5] Ibid, 305.