The border line is the truly propitious place for acquiring knowledge.

Paul Tillich, The Interpretation of History

With the room darkened from overcast morning skies, I woke at 7:00 this Sunday morning feeling the urge for coffee and books. I have not been disappointed. Paul Tillich is one of my patron saints to whom I return again and again, particularly when I begin a new semester of teaching. After a four-semester hiatus, I was not prepared for the rush of eudaimonia I now feel as we burst into this new semester of academic pursuit.

Tillich’s most famous student, psychologist Rollo May, has authored a precious volume titled Paulus: Reminiscences of a Friendship that provides the most intimate gaze into the persona of Tillich and his effect on students. I re-read several chapters of that volume, then went to Paul Tillich: The Future of Religions, edited by Jerald C. Brauer. Brauer authored the first chapter “Paul Tillich’s Impact on America”, and I am inspired profoundly at the description of Tillich’s analytical and synthetic thought processes:

Paul Tillich had the unusual combination of a powerfully analytic mind yet a constructive or creative mind. The power of analysis was never used simply for its own sake–to analyze the ideas of other men or of other periods of history. His primary task was always to construct his own system, to create his vision of meaning and coherence. This was one of the most compelling forces that attracted and held the attention of students. Finely honed analytic minds are commonplace in universities, but a synthetic mind, a truly constructive or creative mind is a rarity.

Reading this sent me back to Rollo May’s Paulus (this book has become a Bible for me since I first read it in 1993). I knew there was an example of Tillich’s creative synthesis of multiple sources:

Paulus encountered the world in many dimensions at the same time. He was at home with Heraclitus in ancient Greece, with Abelard in the Middle Ages, and with Nicolas of Cusa in the Renaissance. He confronted a person with all these different levels at once. . . . In our day of “intimacy-over-the-weekend” we have forgotten the truth in Tennyson’s “I am a part of all that I have met” . . .

Throughout my years of research and teaching, I have always been fascinated with the world of “connections”, of “seams”, of “junctures”. I know that my habit of stitching together disparate sources to construct some kind of a system extends as far back as my college days when I struggled with demands of my own Bachelor’s Degree and my first pastorate. Just this past weekend while immersed in a painting of Lonesome Dove, I found myself re-thinking ideas I had read from the letters of N. C. Wyeth that seemed to link naturally with portions of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. That is how I am wired. I’m always tearing into the building blocks of texts, down to the foundational words in sentences and suddenly recognizing a connection with a completely different source.

At the moment I’m trying to compose an essay (simply for my own edification) that addresses these seams, these cracks, that Tillich identified as “the propitious place for acquiring knowledge”. I find myself hearing Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” once again:

There is a crack in everything.

That’s how the light gets in.

Thanks for reading. I need to get back to this stuff . . . I stopped in the middle of my reading with this impulse to try and convey to my readers what’s going on in my head this soothing and dark Sunday morning.

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2 Responses to “Sunday”

  1. Stacy Campbell Says:

    This is precisely the theme in Figuring by Maria Popova. Her approach in writing is complicated at times but she also seamlessly stitches together the connections of famous writers, scientists and other historical figures over four centuries. I love the quotes you find refuge in, and I also learn something new with each blog. Thank you for the time and effort.


  2. davidtripp Says:

    Wow, you’re stunning me with these affirmations, thank you! I’ve always admired Tillich’s way of stitching together all these disparate threads to create novel subjects of discussion. As a teacher I always hoped I could model some of that.


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