New Lands

Posted on May 31, 2005 in Myths & Mysticism Reading

The dramatic moment stayed vacant, grew longer, sagged. No cry (“I can see!”) burst from Virgil’s lips. He seemed to be staring blankly, bewildered, without focusing at the surgeon, who stood before him, still holding the bandages. Only when the surgeon spoke — saying “Well?” — did a look of recognition cross Virgil’s face.

Virgil told me later that in this first moment he had no idea what he was seeing. There was light, there was movement, there was color, all mixed up, all meaningless, a blur. Then out of the blur came a voice that said “Well?” Then, and only then, he said, did he finally realize that this chaos of light and shadow was a face — and indeed the face of his surgeon.

Oliver Sacks, “To See and Not See”

square254.gifAgnostic that I am, I find much truth in this. A man — blind since early childhood — regains his sight in his forties. We who live with sight think “Such a wonder. To be able to see what has only been felt. And to know it instantly!” But it is not so for the handful who have come back from the land of the blind. When the scales fell from the man’s eyes (they sound like cataracts) that Jesus touched, what then? How long did he wander, puzzling his way about the Galilee, learning to discern a house from a palm tree, a camel from a wolf?

Another story comes to mind: Of the explorer Vasquez de Coronado arriving for the first time on the Great Plains. Before the wheat and the cornfields. Before the roads. Just a long flatness of tall grass. The trouble he encountered was what happened when he sent his men out to reconnoiter. More than a few Spanish knights disappeared forever because there were no landmarks by which they could guide themselves back. The conquistador tried firing a cannon whose boom they could hear and follow back. But still men disappeared into Oklahoma, Kansas, north Texas. It was a world for which they had no rules of navigation because they were men of mountainous Spain.

Others may evolve similar analogies. The ones I have mentioned compel. I simply do not know if there is a God or not. Every “proof” or “disproof” that I have been given involves showing me things that I can know with the senses. Ultimately, explorers learned how to find their way across “the Great American Desert”. Those who have lost their sight, on the other hand, continue to have problems using their sight without also using their hands.

If there is an experience of a Higher Intelligence, I suspect that there’s a lot of blundering by the finder when he or she finds it. Whatever we have felt in our hearts about it will not match what we find when and if we are truly allowed to comprehend it. Virgil could not distinguish between a sphere and a cube by sight even though he had often held these shapes. If God is to be sensed beyond the senses, then there’s no way possible for us to know it as it is as long as we are sense-bound.

And because both believers and nonbelievers insist on sensual proofs, I cannot declare knowing anything at all. If there is a God, I lack what it takes to experience it just as a blind person cannot know color. God is, for us, a new, undiscovered land. I have not tread on that continent. I may know it when I find it because I will not know the first thing about being in it.

Evalengicals and Fundamentalists often speak of the rewards that they receive by talking to God and having their prayers answered. That is why I don’t believe them. There is no evidence that their perspective has been changed. They remain the same sense-bound people they were before. A better case might be made for mystics who have found “the cloud of unknowing”.

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