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In spite of the tennis...

Wimbledon is here. Wait, now... didn't Beckett's Lucky have something to say about tennis? Ordered to 'think', and supplied with his requisite hat, he spouts...
“Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell and suffers like the divine Miranda with those who for reasons unknown but time will tell are plunged in torment plunged in fire whose fire flames if that continues and who can doubt it will fire the firmament that is to say blast heaven to hell so blue still and calm so calm with a calm which even though intermittent is better than nothing but not so fast and considering what is more that as a result of the labours left unfinished crowned by the Acacacacademy of Anthropopopometry […] waste and pine waste and pine and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the strides of physical culture the practice of sports such as tennis football running cycling swimming flying floating riding gliding conating camogie skating tennis of all kinds dying flying sports of all sorts autumn summer winter winter tennis of all kinds hockey of all sorts penicilline and succedanea in a word I resume and concurrently simultaneously for reasons unknown to shrink and dwindle in spite of the tennis I resume flying gliding golf over nine and eighteen holes tennis of all sorts in a word for reasons unknown in Feckham Peckham Fulham Clapham namely concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown but time will tell to shrink and dwindle I resume Fulham Clapham […] I resume for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis the facts are there but time will tell I resume alas alas on on in short in fine on on abode of stones who can doubt it I resume but not so fast I resume the skull to shrink and waste and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis on on the beard the flames the tears the stones so blue so calm alas alas on on the skull the skull the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the labours abandoned left unfinished graver still abode of stones in a word I resume alas alas abandoned unfinished the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the skull alas the stones Cunard (mêlée, final vociferations) tennis… the stones… so calm… Cunard… unfinished…” (Beckett, Waiting for Godot, Act I)
Eventually the others can bear it no longer and snatch the hat from his head.

So. Tennis. Just another of the mindless, futile distractions we amuse ourselves with to avoid thinking about existence, identity, death, the meaning or meaninglessness of it all. We can throw ourselves fervently into all manner of healthsome physical diversion and it won't make reality go away. As for 'tennis of all sorts' -- I doubt even Beckett could possibly have apprehended the absurd contemporary trend for pretend tennis -- indeed, I should not have imagined it myself had I not seen it with my own eyes on one of those watchamacallit things with the wavy sticks. But reality ever lingers in the wings, awaiting an opportune moment (a power cut, perhaps?) to torment our unoccupied consciousness. Or, at this time of year especially, we can emotionally invest ourselves in the tennis of (more proficient) others to the point where we begin to believe it really matters enough to get het up about. Hey, but just one match could provide as much as 5 hours of play during which we don't have to get het up about living!

I've tried to absorb myself in such trivialities (moreso football, when it comes to spectating, for Mr. W's sake). I suspect it would make me a more chilled and affable companion (especially for said spouse). It would at least broaden the grounds on which I am able to engage with normal people.[1] (Hehe, reminds me of the episode of the I.T. Crowd where Moss and Roy subscribe to a website that teaches them to 'say football things in a football voice'). But alas, on on the skull the skull…in short, for reasons unknown and all that. Sports of all sorts just don't quite cut it as a distraction, and unlike Lucky I can't just quiet my mind by removing my hat.

Beckett certainly wasn't the first great thinker to look at the frivolities of life and question the point of it all…the writer of Ecclesiastes springs to mind:
"I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad”, and of pleasure, “What use is it?”" (Ecclesiastes 2:1-2)
For Beckett the reasons really were unknown, and sadly seem to have remained so. The writer of Ecclesiastes eventually works his way round to hint towards a higher purpose: "Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man." (Ecclesiastes 12:13b), though, in terms of column inches, meaninglessness wins out in the book as a whole.

Hmm. I begin to recognise that I have an aesthetic preference for gloom. It suits my image; complements my wild hair and wonky glasses; resonates with my penchant for drinking red wine in a dark corner on the sunniest of days and my determination to undermine the pleasantries of conversation with obdurate abstrusity. The option to remodel despondency as a character quirk is one of the luxuries of being on a more even emotional keel than heretofore; past encounters with genuine despair have been rather numbing than poetic.

Besides, on a pragmatic, 'when it comes down to it' level, I find that nowadays I am forced to face the reality of hope. Because, by the grace of God I really do recognise a reasoned reason in Jesus -- I look at the evidence of what took place in first century Palestine and am compelled to conclude that through Jesus, God intervened in His broken Creation leaving sufficent evidence for rational faith and concrete confidence -- a genuine challenge to the bewildered, fearful state of unknowing which Beckett seems to think our only option.

We're not talking vague spiritual abstracts here; the Christian faith rests on the event of the resurrection, when the claims and example of Jesus were validated and when, Christians believe, death itself was defeated. Whether or not it actually happened matters crucially:
"And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ." (1 Cor 15:17-23)
Indeed, if it did, the implications are astounding. Take, for example, this bit from the start of one of Peter's letters:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith -- more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire -- may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:3-8)
Even a cursory look at history is enough to realise that there is evidence -- not proof, in the scientific sense, perhaps, but meaningful, interrogatable evidence, well worthy of our attention.[2] My assessment leads me to conclude that belief and disbelief are both rational, and both require faith. In the words of Pascal, "In faith there is enough light for those who want to believe and enough shadows to blind those who don't." Moreover, the decision of belief seems to bear fruit in further, experiential evidence: the reality of my life as I exercise faith is increasingly characterised by what can only be described as a real and powerful relationship with God and an outpouring of His transforming grace. The subjective nature of this additional evidence might weaken its influence in persuading someone else, but is surely an inescapable feature of any meaningful personal relationship. (And besides, it's not all so subjective after all -- anyone who's known me any length of time would surely have to admit that, well, a lot of 'impossible' change seems to have been occurring, albeit that I've still a pretty long way to go).

So, as worldviews go, mine probably sounds pretty crazy to some, but for what it's worth I make the bold claim that it's not unchecked, and has been repeatedly validated by my experience of reality. Besides, I am increasingly of the opinion that all worldviews sound crazy when you dare to interrogate them -- even, or perhaps especially, the majority worldview in our culture. Sadly, that sort of interrogation (on either side of the belief/disbelief divide) seems very rarely to take priority. The primary attitude towards truth of all sorts seems to be indifference; the media prefers a story, we prefer whatever will allow us to live life in the most appealing way.[3] Aldous Huxley recognised something of this in his own philosophical position:
"I had motive for not wanting the world to have a meaning; consequently assumed that it had none, and was able without any difficulty to find satisfying reasons for this assumption. The philosopher who finds no meaning in the world is not concerned exclusively with a problem in pure metaphysics, he is also concerned to prove that there is no valid reason why he personally should not do as he wants to do, or why his friends should not seize political power and govern in the way that they find most advantageous to themselves. … For myself, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation, sexual and political." (Huxley, A., Ends and Means, 1937)
Indifference to truth: is that a stance that can ever be justified? Or do we always secretly think it probably matters? Often we're too tired to think about it/anything. It is pretty wearing and we don't know where it will land us. Or whether it will land us anywhere; perhaps Beckett's right and there's nothing to know or even if there is we can't know it or wouldn't want to. Perhaps we're just plain scared…there's enough in the world to make us nervous about encountering reality in all its realness. There are certainly no guarantees a priori that we will like what we find. "…on on the beard the flames the tears the stones so blue so calm alas alas on on the skull the skull the skull the skull…" shut it off, block it out, seek consolation in any possible distraction…why wouldn't we?

I can't justify indifference. I've had too much experience of hope and transforming grace to use the fear excuse, or the lack of energy excuse -- though that's not to say I don't get afraid in my attempts to pursue truth, or that it doesn't tire me, or that I am consistent. But the evidence for Jesus' life, death, resurrection, identity, invitation… is way too compelling to ignore. It is too compelling to dismiss, but it is also too compelling to let me be content with blind faith or to fearfully block out all challenges to faith without rational investigation. If, as I believe, He is true -- indeed, if He is Truth -- then I have nothing to fear from other ideas. To love God with all my heart, soul, strength and mind (Luke 10:27) includes, I think, for me at least, being committed to seeking a right (or, more realistically, an increasingly right) understanding of reality, emboldened by the confidence that He is at the heart of it.

In spite of the tennis, the facts are there. Scared, tired, reluctant to face the consequences... But what if? What if...



[1] Hehe, the way I've framed that sentence subtly betrays my perception of socialising as somewhat of a battle…

[2] William Lane Craig sets out a thoughtful, well-rounded case for the resurrection here, though the poor chap does tend to come across as rather too pleased with himself sometimes, which can be a bit of a distraction from the content of what he's saying!

[3] I also enjoyed this Os Guinness talk about truth (not sure if this is quite the same version, I never seem to be able to find stuff again).

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