Search This Blog

Monday, May 25, 2015

I And Thou

 Martin Buber

As I have mentioned, I do not believe in God.

If someone were to ask me, I say that I expect God.

Having reached this point, if someone asks me to explain what I mean by "expect", I use the metaphor of a conversation; if people are engaged deeply in a conversation, if they are speaking intimately, such as Martin Buber speaks of in "Ich und Du" ("I and Thou"), you "expect" a continuation of the conversation.
If you speak and there is a silence, you are greatly surprised.
What has happened?
Has the telephone gone dead?
Has the other party hung up?

Those things happen when you really do not expect too much. When you think you are speaking to a dope, you are not surprised when there is a vast silence, or there is some bizarre nonsense in return. But when you are intimately engaged in an interaction between intelligent entities, you "expect" that the other party is engaged, and you "expect" responses.

So do I when it comes to God. The expectation is that of mutually active engagement and interaction.
I expect the mail lady to come every day between 2:00 PM and 5:00 PM, but there is no particular mutually active engagement between her and me. Different expectation.
Similarly, I believe in certain forms of the Theory of Evolution, but I do not "expect" any sort of "I and Thou" relationship to be established between it and me. I am using beliefs for some purpose other than "hanging out" together.

Reciting Homer's Odyssey

Story is a form of this mutually active interaction.
A good storyteller - Plato's Ion comes to mind; there is a dialogue devoted to Ion's recitals of Homer and it was the first dialogue I ever translated - however does not engage in a conversation with his audience, although he holds them in a state of enchantment.

The hearer of the story is very active in hearing, processing, interpreting and finding meaning in the story to which he is listening. However, there is no response to the storyteller.
If I am having a telephone conversation and the person on the other end of the phone is telling me a story, when she finally stops for air - I am imagining that this "she" is my mother - I often do respond with a story of my own.
But typically good storytelling does not have this response, and I think it is because of the enchantment of the story told by a good storyteller: although I am very active in understanding the story, I am almost zero in trying to think of a response or my own story, because I am mute with that enchantment and wonder.

Syrian Odyssey

Everyone seeks to engage and tell their story.
When I was young, I did not talk much, and when I did, it was usually something I found important. My father was diffident, and my mother could not listen; even now she hears but does not engage actively to understand what others are trying to say.
As a teenager, I found this maddening.

Now I write to tell my story. Some people listen, some don't.

Other people are hobbled by poverty and cannot develop their ability to make their story in the world.
Others are hampered by illness and disease; others by wars and violence.

This is where we shall all overcome: where we triumph over the shortfalls of our lives, the failed picnics, the wasted parties, the things over which we had no control..... the regrets, the weeping and keening over galactic spills...

The future is the world where all of us may tell our stories, and there will be some one intimate "Thou" listening and understanding.

God may perform that function if we stop believing - which is a silly practice in philosophical epistemology, for pity's sake! - and begin to expect and live the Presence.

The above picture is a time-worn scenario of "holiness".
It tells us to "practice" God, mainly by (1) staring upwards into space, and (2) folding one's hands tightly, and (3) having a caption in a famously fancy script telling everyone else what is going on.

Godliness is not a movie following a script. All the saccharin smiles of all the saints on all the engraved holy cards in the world do not help any individual on the road to God.

God is not practice, nor exercise. God is not a cabinet separated from life, not a special compartment of the train of life, not some first-class meditation hall on the airplane of life......

We have everything we need to live.

No comments: