Sunday, February 15, 2004
I have just returned from watching Big Fish at the cinema. I am not entirely sure exactly how I feel about it yet. In one sense I found it very enjoyable. On the other hand, it is somewhat of a parable for postmodernism, which discomforts me. I do not like the idea of truth that it leaves you with. I must admit, Edward Bloom reminded me of someone I know. When I was in Ireland, my best friend's father often told us stories. I have never heard such a great storyteller. He is a real Irish seanachai and I remember being spellbound by the tales that he would tell. In the evening we would be sat around an open fire in his house on the side of the mountain and he would tell us stories well into the night. They always had some grounding in the truth, but where the truth ended and the fiction began you could never quite tell. He was well-versed in the mythology and history of the local area. The mythology was never kept too distinct from the history. As a child such stories were magical, but as I grew up I began to become more and more suspicious of them. Nevertheless, the history I studied in school was never as interesting and absorbing as the 'history' Jim used to tell us. I have become increasingly convinced that, whilst we should not 'mythologize' truth and history (in the sense of embellishing it with fiction), there is a way of speaking of the truth and history that robs them of meaning. Any account of historical events that lacks a sense of drama, beauty and mystery strikes me as a dishonest account; God is at work in the course of human events and our lives are consequently full of mystery. When we speak of history (on a larger scale or of our own personal histories) as a largely impersonal sequence of events we can lose sight of the fact that we live in a world where nothing is impersonal. If history is personal we cannot truly understand it as detached observers. I feel that liturgy must serve to inform our understanding of truth and history. When historical events are dealt with in the course of worship, they are never mere facts and dates — they are a recounting of the covenant dealings between God and His people. Part of the danger that we face is that tools such as historical dates can often prevent us from seeing history exhaustively in terms of human and divine action. Rather than taking our bearings from the realm of personal action, we say 'in 1765' or something like that. This tempts us to depersonalize history. In the course of the liturgy we are so absorbed into this history (particularly in the Lord's Supper), that we cannot stand as detached observers, but find ourselves moulded and formed by it. The dramatic power of liturgy provides, in my opinion, a far more faithful way of teaching history than a dry scientific textbook approach. Whilst storytelling should not be abused, its necessity should never be ignored.