5/9/2017 09:03

Welcomed and Alienated

On Sunday, I started out feeling confused and uncertain. I felt a need to visit a different church. I didn't know which one, or why, or when. (Equally important, the meaning of "need" in that context was obscure; surely I felt, but what exactly did I feel and how did I come to assign that sensation to the category of neediness?) Ticking off a series of possible destinations I got on my bicycle and rode away without a clear plan. As I rode, Union Congregational Church grew in my awareness and I turned my bike up the side street. As I did so, I found that I was arriving at the right time to join them for worship, and then that the morning was designated as "Youth Sunday", and finally that communion was not being served as described in the morning's bulletin but rather in a fashion more comfortable to myself.

In the shorthand of religious experience, I "felt led" to where I was on Sunday morning. The bike trip could be characterized as God's Spirit directing me from beneath my consciousness to arrive at the time and place I was intended to be. Of course, one could argue for alternative explanations. For example, it might be that my unconscious mind worked out an appropriate response to my mood; perhaps even found some analog measure of the time to arrive. The scheduling of Youth Sunday might be fortuitous and there is no parallel experience with which to make a comparison.

Either story of how I came to be at Union Congregational Church forms an explanatory narrative of wonder. Neither provides a scientific explanation; each leaves great gaping holes in the sequence of causes and effects and each suggests a different unknown to motivate me in making the decisions which led to my destination. Was it God? Was it subconscious mental computation? Are these alternative narratives mutually incompatible?

On Monday, I started out with a clear plan, or at least far more clear than the day before. First I rode to a retail service establishment where I was frustrated to find no welcoming entrance. Later I rode to the college box office where I learned that all performances were sold out. Toward the end of the day I sat in front of my computer and found that one of the websites I have adopted as a primary news source was being forwarded to a different site, one less respectful of my privacy and security (and which, consequently, does not display on my system).

In the shorthand of religious experience I was chastened and deterred from a path which, one has to assume, was not appropriate for me to follow. One can only assume this because there is no explicit explanation provided as to what aspect of my plan wa inappropriate or what alternative might be better. Of course, one could argue for some alternative explanation. But the result is the same, the experience is the same.

In playing the actual reality game our explanatory narratives are not provable. Often they are not even defensible. But they do provide a framework within which we can reflect on the harms and benefits of each day's choices.