Odd thing this morning. Up earlier than usual, I came down to the kitchen, pulled up the blind and sat at my ring side seat. I looked down at the deck and saw shadows--shadows in the dark! The source was my neighbor's outside lights shining on the deck railing. Shadows in the dark...

Strange, the forms of light. I'm recalling something I read a long time ago about a pioneer seeing light that no one else ever sees. We need light by which to see,  so I'm wondering about the light that doubt casts and the light of faith.  It sounds like a paradox to believe in doubt, but if that's the light one sees by....Perhaps the difference is that faith offers certainty; faith, by its nature, is absolute.   One then rests in the certainty of the absolute. One's search is over. One is at peace. But must doubt, then, mean the panic of uncertainty? Or might it mean openness to reality, a refusal to close down possibilities, a different form of strength, as steadying in the winds of reality as faith?

What John Keats wrote in a letter to a friend comes to mind. He's trying to get at something about the genius of Shakespeare, about the power of poetry, and, perhaps most deeply, most unconsciously, about his own personal situation and comes up with the phrase "Negative Capability": "I had not a dispute but a disquisition with Dilke, upon various subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason . . .This pursued through volumes would perhaps take us no further than this, that with a great poet the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration." I'll add one more quote, one of the best and most concise interpretations of this much-discussed idea: "Negative capability describes the capacity of human beings to transcend and revise their contexts. The term has been used by poets and philosophers to describe the ability of the individual to perceive, think, and operate beyond any presupposition of a predetermined capacity of the human being. It further captures the rejection of the constraints of any context, and the ability to experience [phenomena] free from epistemological bounds, as well as to assert one's own will and individuality upon their activity."


So there's faith, which finds its goal in peace, in an absolutism that forbids further thought. And then there's doubt, in its best form, Keats' "negative capability."  Different forms of light, different shadows in the dark.
 


Comments

Allan DiBiase
03/18/2013 8:11am

Base of pulpit Rock in the Sandwich Notch. Even in an natural edifice devoted to preaching the faith.... there is a negative capability if you look hard enough.

From the top of these rocks Pastor Meader used to preach to his Notch congregation on Sunday mornings. A much noted landmark from any civilization these days.

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