In-Sight: Living Beyond Explanations

The movie “Selma” moved me deeply for a number of reasons.  But one scene has lingered–the one where Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis are riding together in King’s automobile.  King is exhausted, both by the effort it has taken to be a leader in the civil rights movement and by the paltry results compared to the enormous resistance of racists.  He says it right out–he is ready to call it quits.   The young Lewis responds in effect, “You cannot quit something God has told you to do.”

In that moment in the movie, at least for me, King’s face shows that he knows the truth of Lewis’ words–the truth that there are times when you must live beyond explanations.  They continue driving, and King continued his efforts.

Like King, and Lewis, and almost everyone who joined in the protest of racism–and like virtually everyone who seeks to live deeply in God–there comes that time when we must live beyond explanations.  We pass through at least two stages in order to do this.

We begin in the phase of living without explanations.  This can be negative–living with no sense of purpose, just wandering aimlessly through life.  But it can also be positive, entering into life under the influence of Mystery–entering into something in the early stages when understanding lags behind experience.  Most of us do not make major life changes on the basis of detached research.  Rather, something grabs us and engages us–something we cannot yet articulate.  We just feel “led” to do it.  In fact, we feel that we “must” do it.

If we do so, we enter the second phase, living with explanations.  We discover reasons for our actions–reasons that confirm the validity of our initial inspiration.  We meet people and encounter ideas that enable us not only to answer the “what” question of phase one, but now also (at least partially) the “why” question of phase two.  We live into the initial experience with enough (not a complete) rationale to keep going.

We may think this is the end of the process, but as King, and so many others before and after him realized, there is a third phase called for if we are to be involved in something for the long haul–living beyond explanations.

Standing on the first two phases, we come to the place where emotion and reason are not enough.  We are tired, and we have in mind as many good reasons to stop as we have to keep going.  And truth be told, like King, we drive around on the verge of throwing in the towel.

But there always seems to be a “John Lewis” (literally or figuratively) whom the Holy Spirit uses to give us a vision that takes us beyond explanations–takes us to convictions.  We no longer do what we do on the basis of either energy or rationality–we continue on the basis of trust that we are doing what God has called us to.

We must not enter this phase apart from community; otherwise, we will fall prey to presumption or despair–either of which will take us off the course God wills for us.  Living beyond explanations demands living with humility more than before–remaining open to the counsel of mentors and the corrections of the Spirit.  There must be more life together beyond explanations, not less.

But when we are willing to do this, we discover that it is not only possible to live beyond explanations, it is necessary. Being “all in” demands it, and the best of all is, God is with us! 

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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