The Human Need For Improbability
This is a photo of Writing Brush Pagoda found in Red Plum Park in Changzhou where I currently live while teaching English in a small university. Though I have seen a lot of pagodas while in China, I don’t seem to get tired of them. There is an elegance about them, as one of my readers once mentioned, a “flouncy” appearance that lifts the spirit. I think that is what our churches were once meant to do, to “lift” us out of our ordinariness and point us to something so much bigger, something extraordinary.
I had thought that I was going to save this particular photo for the posts that I intend on writing in response to one of the books I have brought with me written by Eugene Monick. But, that thought disappeared and I knew that this was the time to bring this image forward. There are enough “masculine” photos in the archives to find their way into that up-coming series of posts. And besides, there are always new photos to consider when the time approaches.
I have often wondered at the efforts the western world has taken in its efforts to bring religion down to earth. We have tried to abolish excessive ornamentation, the use of statues, and costumes that invoke spiritual imagery. We have opted for common-sense plainness. No frills and no idols and no distractions. Just the words to cling to and even those are presented in the plainest language possible. And out of all of this, one is supposed to “connect” with something that defies being contained by ordinary and plain words, defies being explained by common sense.
“”Exclusive appeals to faith are a hopeless petitio principii, for it is the manifest improbability of symbolical truth that prevents people from believing in it. Instead of insisting so glibly on the necessity of faith, the theologians, it seems to me, should see what can be done to make this faith possible . . . . And this can only be achieved by reflecting how it came about in the first place that humanity needed the improbability of religious statements, and what it signifies when a totally different spiritual reality is superimposed on the sensuous and tangible actuality of this world.” (Jung, CW 5, par. 336)
Looking at the actuality of the world, the places of grandeur, the places that invoke awe – this is where our spiritual roots are found. It is within out attempts to use images and architecture that we have tried to “inspire” a sense of the spiritual, to create a sacred space, a place of temenos, that we have given birth to religions. And all of this was done so that we can get a sense of the improbable, so that we can be taken outside of our prosaic simpleness to see the depths that dwell “within.”
This pagoda does this for me. It points upwards, begging me to surpass ordinariness, to reach as high as I can. And in seeing the reflection of the pagoda in the water, I know that in reaching up, I also reach within, into my own depths.