My wife and I are fans of Masterpiece Theater’s hit series, Downton Abbey. We used to be HUGE fans. Since the untimely and unfortunate death of our favorite character, Matthew Crawley, we are now mere fans. Fans who, of course, watch every episode of each season.
This past week’s show featured the invention and use of the wireless. Otherwise known as the radio. An astounding invention firmly resisted by both Robert and Violet, the shows resident guardians of all that is pure and true. In other words, all that represents the traditions they so love and the life for which they deeply long. The cumulative moment of this most recent episode occurs as the entire Crawley family gathers with their servant family to listen to the King deliver a speech.
As the speech ends, Robert proudly concludes the evening hailing the King and the virtues of His very voice booming through the Abbey. Mrs. Hughes, who seems to represent all that is reasonable and loving on the show, somberly intones that hearing the King has suddenly made him more human. More, she concludes, like one of us. To which Violet whispers in faint days gone by voice, “Is that as it should be? Should he be more like one of us? If we loose the magic and the mystery of the Throne, what will remain?” Yes. Even as Mrs. Hughes recognizes the importance of this moment, Violet grieves the both lasting and unintended consequences this moment is sure to bring – the loss of magic; the loss of mystery.
James K. A. Smith, in his prescient work, How Not To Be Secular, frames our modern culture’s lack of belief within a world that has lost its sense of magic and mystery. Fundamentally, he asserts, we are an Immanent society. A society closed to that which is transcendent; shrouded within a cloak of immanence. Such immanence (a world in which all we see is all there is) occasions the current apathy toward and life without God.¹
Smith further intimates that this world trapped in immanence appears to be the world we inhabit and may explain the unrest that inhabits us! It’s as if this fully immanent world has somehow made us less fully human. Aunt Violet has mourned the loss which we now feel. When magic and mystery is lost, what then remains?
Smith further asserts such lack of mystery impacts the practice of belief within the church. As a minister of the Gospel, I have noticed how little room we have for mystery. We resist that which we cannot understand, control or render useful to our immediate needs or current crises. This resistance of course, would include our relationship with God.
When we cannot control, fully understand or limit God’s presence in our life to that which is useful, we resort to crafting a personal infrastructure limited to the immanent and impenetrable to the transcendent. This infrastructure consists of programs such as ‘seven steps to your best life,’ or ‘forty days to your next breakthrough’ or ‘ten tips on raising perfect children’, etc. ad nauseam. No magic. No mystery. No majesty. Just us and our Immanent infrastructure. Just us and our abridged answers. When magic and mystery is lost, what then remains?
Perhaps it’s time we regain the marvel of mystery in the majesty God! Such wonder and mystery have been woven into the fabric our tradition. They have been passed on to us from our Hebrew forefathers. Displayed vividly in the Gospel’s. Experienced richly by the early church. Expressed most recently through beautiful writings of Tolkien, Lewis, MacDonald, Chesterton, etc.
I am both challenged and encouraged by such authors as James K. A. Smith and others. They are helping re-frame the faith into a more biblical and fully human experience. I am also learning to be content in and open to the mystery bound up in the majesty of God. I am maturing in my desire to taste the transcendent through personal practices of silence and solitude, Examen, and contemplative reading. My desire to taste the transcendent is also growing through corporate worship practices such as Communion, Scripture Meditation and moments of inter-generational experiences.
Musicians within the Christian faith tradition are also growing in their desire to taste the transcendent. The Getty’s (https://www.gettymusic.com/), Sandra McKraken (http://www.sandramccracken.com/), Josh Garrels (http://joshgarrels.com/), Travis Cottrell (http://traviscottrell.com/) and Gungor (http://gungormusic.com/deluxe/), to name a few, are offering Immanently Transcendent experiences for we who long for more (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWlUs5E7NpA)!
I have learned that once I control, fully understand or limit God to being useful in my life, God has ceased to be God of my life and has become a tool in my life. Rather than being the End of life, God becomes a means to an end in life. It’s an end in immanence even as I taste the limits of immanence.
Disrupting to Renew!
¹Smith, James K. A. (2014-04-23). How (Not) to Be Secular . Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Kindle Edition.