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Via Negativa (or Wrestling With How to Say Anything…)

Written by Daniel Tidwell : March 11, 2008

negativa.jpgI find myself at a loss for words of late. This has led to a stint of “e-silence” from me in the past few weeks.

I feel like I have been emerging (think butterfly from cocoon rather than church movement) from a deep silence of my soul. I have been a little lost for many years, thinking I had been shaken loose from the anchor of the faith I had grown up with. My beliefs were the anchor that held me in place, kept me from being adrift. Now I feel like that metaphor has been pressed so far passed breaking that I must start anew.

I’d like to think now that my faith is swimming. It’s the action of moving in and through all that surrounds me. For where I was developmentally in the past, not drifting served me well. But now, to just sit in one place would be to atrophy and, quite probably, to drown. But as I swim around, I wonder how do I communicate about where I am to those still holding the anchor I came from, those on other anchors, and those merely drifting all around me?

It seems like I’m dealing with a sort of “analogy of the cave.” When I talk to some “anchored folks” they have a really hard time listening to me when they perceive that I am no longer anchored.

When I think about this whole shift in my faith–my identity being in the life of Christ (swimming) and not being anchored in Christ–I wonder how I can talk about where I am. As I am constantly growing I am left without a square definition of my faith. I don’t believe I can ever again cling to a particular concrete set of beliefs/ statement of faith/ essential doctrines. Although, I am attracted to the concept of “no creed but Christ.”

I am realizing that my belief is tied up in how life intersects the narrative that God is writing in the world through the person of Jesus Christ. But when I talk, I feel like I come across as being without belief. So, when I talk to those “anchored folks,” they end up hearing a lot of what I don’t believe, which means they tend to shy away from me before they get a chance to know my story and see the narrative of Christ being played out in my life.

Besides being deeply saddened by our western neglect of valuing the idea of gaining knowledge through defining what we don’t know (a gross oversimplification of the tradition of via negativa), I also wrestle with how to communicate the truth of Christ at work in my life.

I want others to know Christ in me. Sometimes that means letting them get to know me. I am not a great portrait of Christ. Often my life works more like the “white space” in a picture, negatively defining the picture of who Jesus is. Only in exposing my brokenness in the light of relationships with people do they begin to see where my lack of definitions have given way to the life of Christ that is transforming my life. This requires so much work and energy. People ask for definitions and it means I have to dodge to question, giving them much more than they bargained for.

Ask me what I believe and I will show you my broken places. Demand of me my definition of atonement, redemption, incarnation, etc. and I will tell you a story of a boy on a journey who has encountered grace beyond reason. This is all that I can offer.

I am no longer “anchored in Jesus,” instead I am inviting people into the darkness of a life at sea in which I am coming alive with the motion and life of Jesus as in my weakness he is being proven strong.

Daniel lives with his wife Jocelyn in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. He is an occasional blogger, poet, artist, baker, and student. He hopes to have a few kids, plant a few gardens, teach a few students, live in a few countries, and learn how to live hospitably before he reaches his 75th birthday (a lot to do in the next 52 years).


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    thanks for that
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    I can very much relate to this, as can so many people I know so you are certainly not alone :)
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    Thank you. I let go of the anchor a couple years back and haven't learned to swim yet. I've popped above surface (or been helped) enough to keep from drowning.

    I empathize strongly, and wish you the best.
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    And a beautiful piece of writing, I must say.

    I'm touched by your courage to swim where it's sometimes not safe and often lonely.
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    Nicely spoken Daniel. You are beginning to put words to how so many people feel. That's why we need the poets.
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    I'm glad to hear you have entered into the mystery of Christ. When you look through a dark glass you can either focus on the well defined dirt on the glass or the vague image coming through the dirt. The dirt can be a fine map of where you need to go, but it's easier to get where you're going if you look through the dirty windshield to the road, even if it is hard to see.

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