Walking On Water
Reflections on Faith & Art
Let me return to Aristotle’s “that which is probable and impossible is better than that which is possible and improbable.” I’ve been chewing on that one since college, and it’s all tied in with Coleridge’s “willing suspension of disbelief.” If the artist can make it probable, we can accept the impossible—impossible in man’s terms, that is. Aristotle, not knowing the New Testament, could not add, “With man it is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” — The artist at work is less bound by time and space than in ordinary life. But we should be less restricted in ordinary life than we are. We are not supposed to be limited and trapped. As a child it did not seem strange to me that Jesus was able to talk face to face with Moses and Elijah, the centuries between them making no difference.
We give time too much credit. Yes, it is a useful tool, created by God in the physical universe, but it is less eternal than temporal. We think of birth as a beginning, and indeed it is, but for the child, it is also an ending. For example, when a baby emerges from the safety of the womb, she finds her tears quickly. The travails of her transposition are assuaged soon by the new dimensions in which she experiences her mother, for where once she knew her in a darkened place, she now resides face to face in the loving embrace of her arms. We likewise embrace this womb of earthly life without appreciation or understanding of that which is to come – or indeed, that which exists beyond our perception.
As Malcom Guite writes in The Word in the Wilderness:
If you could talk to a babe in the womb and tell it what was about to happen at birth, it would quite understandably fear it and say ‘No thanks! I’m quite comfortable where I am, I don’t want to lose everything I know!’ And it would take a great act of faith for the babe to trust that far from losing the mother who has wombed him there in the familiar darkness, he is now going to have a whole new adventure in which, at last he will see that mother face to face! But first must come the trauma of birth. And so it is with us, contemplating the time when we too will leave the womb of this world.
In Chapter Five of Walking on Water, Madeline L’Engle writes:
Long before Jung came up with his theories of archetypical understanding, William James wrote: “Our lives are like islands in the sea, or like trees in the forest, which co-mingle their roots in the darkness underground. Just so, there is a continuum of cosmic consciousness, against which our individuality builds but accidental fences, and into which our several minds plunge as into a mother sea or reservoir.” The creator is not afraid to leap over the “accidental fences” and to plunge into the deep waters of creation. There, once again, and in yet another way, we lose ourselves to find ourselves.
L’Engle, whose most famous work (A Wrinkle in Time) explores the fluidity of time and space, challenges the artist and the Christian to be unfettered from the limitations of time. She discusses the Transfiguration, noting that when she was a child hearing the story, she never thought it odd that Jesus was able to talk with Moses and Elijah, despite the fact that centuries separated their earthly timelines. “Time is no longer a barrier,” she says, citing this fact as a “tremendous Christian mystery.” What do you think about L’Engle’s ideas on time in this chapter?
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