The attention of the congregation is a major part of the attention that the pastor gives to his or her utterance. It's very exceptional. I don't know anyone who doesn't enjoy a good sermon. People who are completely nonreligious know a good sermon when they hear one.
I think to the degree writers are serious, there is a greater tendency for them to write to themselves, because they're trying to compose their own thoughts. They are trying to find out what is in their minds, which is the great mystery. Finding out who you are, what is in your head, and what kind of companion you are to yourself in the course of life. I do think people have very profound lives of which they say virtually nothing.
A sermon is a valuable thing now and so impressive when you do hear a good one - and there is a lot of failure in the attempt; it's a difficult form - is because it's so seldom true now that you hear people speak under circumstances where they assume they are obliged to speak seriously and in good faith, and the people who hear them are assumed to be listening seriously and in good faith.
If we focused on using the opportunities we have, which are very great by any standard - health, longevity, comfort and privacy, endless resources of culture and information - we would not just navigate this world, we would leave a good inheritance to succeeding generations.
I really can't claim ever to have had an exceptionally close relationship with a minister. I'm always there. I pay my pledge. I listen and observe with interest. I'm very sympathetic with the rigor and the aesthetic quality of what they do. Aside from that, I don't have a kind of personal experience with any of them that I could consider privileged, so to speak.
Protestantism, of course, is much more explicitly divided into different traditions - the Pentecostals, the Anglicans. But there is the main tradition of Protestantism that comes out of the Reformation and that produced people like Kant and Hegel and so on, who are not normally thought of as being people writing in a theological tradition, although Hegel, of course, wrote theology his whole life.
It is an amazing thing to watch people laugh, the way it sort of takes them over. Sometimes they really do struggle with it . . . so I wonder what it is and where it comes from, and I wonder what it expends out of your system, so that you have to do it till you're done, like crying in a way, I suppose, except that laughter is much more easily spent.
That's the strangest thing about this life, about being in the ministry. People change the subject when they see you coming. And then sometimes those very same people come into your study and tell you the most remarkable things. There's a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that. A lot of malice and dread and guilt, and so much loneliness, where you wouldn't really expect to find it, either.
I wish I could leave you certain of the images in my mind, because they are so beautiful that I hate to think they will be extinguished when I am. Well, but again, this life has its own mortal loveliness. And memory is not strictly mortal in its nature, either. It is a strange thing, after all, to be able to return to a moment, when it can hardly be said to have any reality at all, even in its passing. A moment is such a slight thing. I mean, that its abiding is a most gracious reprieve.
Many times when I stop working on a problem consciously, my mind continues to work on it below the surface. Often solutions come on me quite by surprise. I've learned over time to allow that to happen, rather than to feel that I can simply solve the problem by continuous, grueling effort.
The idea that the universe itself is physically structured around hierarchy was sort of an integration of earlier science and theology that was made by people like Thomas Aquinas, that was assumed doctrinally in that tradition. The Reformation rejected that model of reality and created a highly individualistic metaphysics in the sense that it located everything normative that can be said about reality in human perception, there being, of course, no other avenue of knowing. There is Scripture, there is conscience, there is perception itself.
The assumption behind any theology that I've ever been familiar with is that there is a profound beauty in being, simply in itself. Poetry, at least traditionally, has been an educing of the beauty of language, the beauty of experience, the beauty of the working of the mind, and so on. The pastor does, indeed, appreciate it.
Everything that falls upon the eye is apparition, a sheet dropped over the world's true workings. The nerves and the brain are tricked, and one is left with dreams that these specters loose their hands from ours and walk away, the curve of the back and the swing of the coat so familiar as to imply that they should be permanent fixtures of the world, when in fact nothing is more perishable.
I want to overhear passionate arguments about what we are and what we are doing and what we ought to do. I want to feel that art is an utterance made in good faith by one human being to another. I want to believe there are geniuses scheming to astonish the rest of us, just for the pleasure of it.
Having a sister or a friend is like sitting at night in a lighted house. Those outside can watch you if they want, but you need not see them. You simply say, "Here are the perimeters of our attention. If you prowl around under the windows till the crickets go silent, we will pull the shades. If you wish us to suffer your envious curiosity, you must permit us not to notice it." Anyone with one solid human bond is that smug, and it is the smugness as much as the comfort and safety that lonely people covet and admire.
You see how it is godlike to love the being of someone. Your existence is a delight to us. I hope you never have to long for a child as I did, but oh, what a splendid thing it has been that you came finally, and what a blessing to enjoy you now for almost seven years.
Isaac Watts, of course, is a hymn writer in the tradition of Congregationalism who lived in the seventeenth and early eighteenth century. He is very interesting and important because he was also a metaphysician. He knew a great deal about what was, for him, contemporary science. He was very much influenced by Isaac Newton, for example. There are planets and meteors and so on showing up in his hymns very often. But, again, the scale of his religious imagination corresponds to a very generously scaled scientific imagination.
I sometimes am discouraged by what seems to be a sort of conventional disparagement of humankind. I think often people feel that they are doing something moral when they are doing that, but that's not how I understand morality. I much prefer the "everyone is sacred, and everybody errs" model of reality.
Oddly enough, my favorite genre is not fiction. I'm attracted by primary sources that are relevant to historical questions of interest to me, by famous old books on philosophy or theology that I want to see with my own eyes, by essays on contemporary science, by the literatures of antiquity.
If you read Calvin, for example, he says, How do we know that we are godlike, in the image of God? Well, look at how brilliant we are. Look how we can solve problems even dreaming, which I think is true, which I've done myself. So instead of having an externalized model of reality with an objective structure, it has a model of reality that is basically continuously renegotiated in human perception. I think that view of things is pretty pervasively influential in Protestant thought.