Step back

“Step back” is advice I need to hear, so probably some others do, too. I’m talking about stepping back not so much for safety as for perspective (though sometimes regaining perspective protects from the dangers of ideology or even insanity).

In my case, that from which I need to step back sometimes is the tendency to see through everything. As C.S. Lewis warned, that habit can leave you seeing nothing.

One way I have of stepping back for perspective is the Symbolic World podcasts of Canadian artist Jonathan Pageau, where Pageau sees wonders everywhere. He does so by exploring universal themes, notably in stories, that correspond somehow to our human yearnings. Since Pageau is an Orthodox Christian, he believes that Jesus Christ, the Divine Logos, is the antitype of all true types (that’s my precis, not his).

A homely example not of his overall approach, but of one instance where someone needed to step back:

I remember in my first year of college, one of my opening college traumatisms you could call it (and there would be several more) — I remember there was some grad student who was giving a lecture on flood narratives. And her point, in her talk, was basically this: There are flood narratives in pretty much every single culture. And what that means is that the Bible isn’t true.

And I remember — I was like 17 or 18 and I was already baffled. I was being told that there was a pattern of story-telling that exists in almost every culture on all continents. It is either the oldest memory held in unison by all men or there is some mental structure that is so deeply embedded in the human constitution that it manifests itself through this universal image of an all-destroying flood. And the reaction to that awesome reality is to tell people that the Bible isn’t true. It’s baffling!

Encountering God in Stories at 28:50.

That grad student needed to step back from the opportunity to discomfit any dim-witted Christians in her class and to notice what that pattern really was saying.

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