I find myself regularly beckoned and intrigued by the ‘other’ perspective. A recent flight over the Northern Territory in a small plane reignited this encounter in a new way. I had heard that the art work of Indigenous Australians accurately reflected an aerial view of the landscape and was stunned to experience the truth for myself. Images and shapes reflected not only the dot pattern of paintings, but also reflected wall art I had seen in scattered parts throughout the Territory. I found myself wondering how such a “grounded people” could muster such a perspective. Perhaps there is a greater truth in the wordplay itself.
Twin notions that the truth is both beyond us and yet accessible to us, in ways that come from deep within us and outside of us, are essential to the journey of faith, no matter what our belief system. We make discoveries about ourselves, and our world, using the various faculties available to us. Whether we use logic or imagination, observation or intuition, stillness or reflection, the journey of discovery takes us to new and old places. We connect with ideas new and old.
C.S. Lewis’ statement that everything we say about God is a lie inasmuch as it is not the whole truth reflects the words of an old Baptist hymn: “God has yet more light and truth to break forth from His word.” Faith thus requires a willingness not only to embrace truth already understood, but a willingness to welcome and consider an alternate perspective, one which may even challenge the perspectives of rational discourse, or history.
In the course of understanding, every pathway of knowledge has required a sharp turn which challenged and undermined previous understandings. Whether it be astronomy, geography, science or religion, the alternate perspective has opened up new pathways of understanding. The notion that God’s Messiah could be crucified and suffer death was alien to Hebrew thinking. To early Christians the notion that Gentiles could be part of God’s people was similarly awkward. In more recent times, Bill Gates argued that 640 kb of memory would be sufficient for anyone, and the scientific community regarded Louis Pasteur's theory of germs as ridiculous fiction.
In all aspects of the life of faith and knowledge, the temptation is to set our current beliefs in stone, rather than to understand our perspective as limited and incomplete. Jesus touched on the need for an openness to our journey when he told his disciples, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.
To lose openness in the journey of faith is to perhaps lose the journey altogether, and to lose the sense of wonder which dances in my mind at 8500 feet above the Northern Territory, and hopefully stays with me on the ground.
July 8, 2012
NB: this reflection was published in the Sunday Age on July 8, 2012
Rev Gary Heard is pastor of The Eighth Day, a Baptist Community in West Melbourne.