Thoughts in the Winter Night

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The symmetry of form attainable in pure fiction cannot so readily be achieved in a narration essentially having less to do with fable than with fact. Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its ragged edges; hence the conclusion of such a narration is apt to be less finished than an architectural finial.

Herman Melville, Billy Budd

Oklahoma temperatures are dipping near the freezing point as I sit up and write this. My friends have retired to bed, and the cabin is still. The outdoor patio fireplace is providing more than enough warmth as the fire continues to burn brightly. While the hours extended into the cold night, I finished reading Billy Budd, and our conversation drifted to reasons why we all love to read when we can find the leisure (and all of us being retired are now very grateful for those more frequent moments that we can spend poring over the printed word).

In the heat of our conversation I tried to express something that I have probably tried to express at least once in the history of my blog entries. And I don’t feel that I successfully nailed what I was trying to say. Now that I am alone and still not yet sleepy, I thought I would power up the laptop and see if I could find a more accurate way to express what is on my mind.

Since the age of eighteen, while in college, I have been in quest of the Oracle. I have always sought a Word of guidance, some kind of navigational aid, a pole star if you will. In my college days, I was poring over the Bible daily, a practice that would land me eventually in the Protestant pastoral ministry. Believing that the Bible was the Word of God, divinely inspired, I approached it daily, prayerfully, seeking a divine Word to direct my path. I was very seldom disappointed. If I stayed with it long enough, patiently, some Word would come, and I would write fervently, seeking to clarify what it was I needed to do in my life.

About twelve years later, I left the ministry, but did not leave the conviction that a Word was always available for anyone who sought it. The only thing that changed was the medium; I came to believe that revelation was everywhere, in great literature, in philosophical treatises, in comic strips, in conversation, in walks through the woods, in modes of semi-sleep. I believe passionately that a Word is always available to anyone who seeks to hear and understand.

In my days of theological study, I was always captivated by the idea uttered by Swiss theologian Karl Barth. He argued that through the act of preaching, the Bible had the potential to become the Word of God. When I was a pastor, I worked in conservative circles, and my colleagues continually raged against those words, arguing that the Bible is the Word of God. I felt then that they were not really listening to what this theologian was saying. What I came to believe Barth was proclaiming is this: the words of the Bible become the Word when the listener genuinely connects with the message. There are so many interpretations  concerning how exactly this phenomenon occurs. The moving of God’s spirit on the listener, the openness of the listener, the spiritual preparation of the preacher, etc. The point that interested me was this: the event of words becoming a Word for the listener is an occasional one. A reader can read thousands of words and nothing significant happens. A listener can listen to an hour of preaching and nothing happens. Words fill the space, but no defining Word occurs.

In my senior years, my views on this have not changed. I am aware that I can read pages and pages of text with no significant encounter. I can write pages in my journal and find no significant truth flowing out of my pen. I can listen to hours of discourse on the television or on YouTube and not feel strangely moved. But it is accurate to say that seldom if ever does a complete day unfold without my being touched by a jolting Word that stops me in my tracks, holds my attention, and convinces me that I have been quickened by a higher truth. Revelation has occurred. Enlightenment has dawned. I consider this a gift; I cannot make it happen. I cannot create the encounter that I so richly seek. I can only trim my sails in an effort to catch the wind once it blows.

Thanks for reading.

I make art in order to discover.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself I am not alone.

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2 Responses to “Thoughts in the Winter Night”

  1. Dian Darr Says:

    Love the message of this blog. I have always felt this way, and I love to experience new and different ways of having the Word or some great, guiding inspiration revealed to me. This reminds me of Annie Dillard and her quest to find the Orace through daily interaction with nature. You can’t force it or look for it – it just is!

    Like

    • davidtripp Says:

      Excellent point, Dian. Thank you for bringing Annie into the discussion, I so love her work! It was deeply rewarding, the opportunity of visiting with you and Ron late into the night. Thank you always, for your deep friendship.

      Like

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