Names for mysteries

January 31, 2010

Friday night I was sitting on the pot imagining some string of overly academic writing. The word ‘ostensibly’ popped up. I felt that the word fit the meaning and/or the meaning arose because the word was known to me. Whichever the case, it struck me that even though I don’t know exactly what ‘ostensibly’ means, I could nevertheless use it with some success.

The thought I had was: words are names for mysteries.

The word ‘ostensibly’ names a mysterious connection in reality, one I can’t quite explicate. I could try to explain it with other words, but then I would just be chopping the mystery up into smaller mysteries.

“Il n’y a pas hors de texte.” – Jacques Derrida

There is no outside-the-text.

Language refers to itself, to the labels it has put on hints and guesses at reality. What happens is that we become overly familiar with words and think we have become familiar with their referents. Scholars often write a certain way with a large vocabulary, articulating fine points and nuances, making us and themselves believe they know reality. In fact, they may only have become adept at naming and organizing the names of the many mysteries that constitute reality.

The more we we talk, the more we lose sight of the reality whose mysteries we name through language. This is why someone may become a doctor of theology without knowing much about how God works in reality, let alone God Himself. Unless one does theology to name the mysterious moves of God in one’s own life, one is merely reshuffling the conventional names for those mysterious moves.

The word ‘God’ doesn’t mean anything. It is a label for the greatest mystery of all – that mysterious reality we call ‘God’. How else can we say it? When one wants to truly and intimately know God and reality, it does no good to say ‘God’ if one does not otherwise apprehend the mystery so-named in one’s mind and heart.

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