My reviewrating: 3 of 5 stars
Palmer posits that contemplation is connecting with reality and proper action must flow from and be true to that reality – the reality of who are, how the world is organized and the deeper reality of the Kingdom of God. In this way action and contemplation are inseparable. Each story or poem in turn shows the danger of action in conflict with reality or the beauty of action deeply embedded in reality.
Palmer believes that this reality is deep stuff. It is more complicated and varied than a cursory inspection may lead us to believe. To touch reality we must be prepared to wrestle and to suffer. With Annie Dillard, we believe we must “ride these monsters deeper down,” and there find the bedrock reality (30). The elements Palmer holds as true come from this bedrock place of depth. We are invited to take truths such as the necessity of suffering, the unknowing and weakness of God, the naturalness of the miracles of the Woodcarver and Jesus, truths that blow our minds – we are invited to take them and wrestle with them. This is important to Palmer because he believes that only by riding these difficult truths down into the darkness can we be lead to the bedrock that will provide foundation for our action.
In my doubt I ask not, “Are these ideas true?” but “In what way might they be true?” I have a hard time wrapping my head around a God who doesn’t have it all figured out but hopefully acts. This view of God seems contrary to the declaration of scripture, that God is all-powerful and all-knowing. Tozer would suggest that a God who is not the superlative in all things, cannot by definition be God (Knowledge of the Holy). Palmer’s treatment of the Loaves and Fishes also draws some questions. He says he “does not demand a naturalistic explanation for the ‘miracle’ in this story,” like liberal theologians demythologizing the gospel (130). He is content with the mythos of the story, but his hermeneutic demands a naturalistic explanation (129). Palmer and Mark are slightly cross-purposes. Mark is developing his theme that Jesus demonstrates the breaking in of the Kingdom of God by the miraculous, where as Palmer wishes to show the breaking in of the reality of the Kingdom of God in the ordinary actions of people.
In terms of how we approach reality, the paradox between belief and doubt explored above can remain in tension. It is as we explore other angles of looking at God, scripture, Jesus and life that we see more facets of reality. While it is true that God is sovereign and wholly other, unbound by time and space, it is helpful in understanding the deep truth of his reality to explore God’s action in terms we can understand. In some mysterious way God’s knowledge outside of time and power over space is best understood by our finite minds as unknowing and weakness. In our contemplating the reality of the Kingdom coming to bear on the earth it is equally important to stand in awe of Jesus as wonder worker and recognize the presence of the Kingdom in ordinary action. The deep reality is difficult to explore and requires much stretching of the brain.
Palmer provides a compelling matrix for discerning right action. I find myself more geared to contemplation just as Palmer found himself wired for action. He challenges me to find reality and disillusionment in my contemplation and carry that to action. I feel the conviction that my actions don’t often enough flow from that source. To often I am Chaung Tzu’s professional, working from reaction, creating places to show my stuff. I keep busy to have a sense that I am alive, laziness stalks me, I crave the intentional action flowing from reality.
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