“The last function of reason is to recognize that there are an infinity of things which surpass it.” Pascal, Pensees, 1670
What did Pascal have in mind when he referred to things that can exceed rational opinions? I’m hoping he would accept profound emotions bubbling up from the depth of our beings.
It dawned on me that during most of my schooling there was very little if any permission to express one’s underbelly feelings in classes – which in a way is a form of truth-telling. There may have been some permission in my kindergarten days where children might have screamed and acted out but my brain doesn’t let me go back that far to help me here. I don’t recall ever revealing my deepest sentiments in middle or high school classrooms, and I definitely don’t remember ever unloading them during my undergraduate or graduate years.
Wait a minute, I did explode once with some gushing terms in a homiletics class. My professor, who was grading us at the time, came apart when I expressed my own distress in my sermon. He let out some ire when he exclaimed “That was totally inappropriate, Stevens!”
My seminary prided itself as being a highly intellectual institution and known as the Harvard of the west. I was fortunate to be accepted at Claremont School of Theology but I may have taken it down a notch during my stay. A classmate helped take the astute school down another notch when he let loose in that same preaching class with anger. He blurted out “Where’s the Jesus in all of this?” He was angry with the professor and students’ harsh critiques in analyzing a pupil who had risked expressing some angst in his practice sermon. My colleague’s outburst was one of the most notorious expressions in the class of ’62 and is still remembered to this day. He was merely asking ‘Where’s the empathy in this classroom right now?’
Most courses were way too serious from my perspective. Our philosophy professor required us to read ‘Young Man Luther: A Study in Psychoanalysis and History,’ a bestseller back then. Unfortunately he asked me to give a brief synopsis after having read it. I had a hunch my view might offend the brilliant teacher but I went ahead.
“Sir, my understanding is young Luther did most of his serious thinking in the tower which was near a toilet. He was known, of course, for his courageous statement “Here I stand, I can do no other” but he might have considered declaring “Here I sit, I can do no other” as an afterthought.
My somber professor looked stunned, glared at me, turned red and told me to leave the class. I was lucky I survived five years at that prestigious academy.
I was reluctant to preach about feelings related to anger, rage, or sex during my tenure. Evidently my homiletics professor put the hex on me. I made up for it after retiring when I was asked by pastors to lead Methodist men’s retreats. It’s smarter and safer to have a colleague pastoring a church take the heat on controversial topics such as rage, sexual affairs and porn. The pastors and I were surprised the men, from twenty to eighty years of age, would be willing to open up on such hot topics.
There are an infinity of things which can surpass reason and they are waiting to be unearthed.