Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Advent, the season of "negative capability"

A friend writes:

“I needed something to read during my daughter’s choir rehearsal last week, so I grabbed Help My Unbelief [one of Fleming's books] on my way out the door. I read the Advent sermons, and found them extremely edifying. I am very fond of the clergy at our church, but with all due respect they have no sense whatsoever of 'negative capability'; while they preach on the texts (good), they fail utterly to reach into the dark and unattractive places in people's lives or the world at large (bad). I think this leaves the congregation with precisely the anxiety you mention: 'the priest has so much faith, but as for poor old me....' Anyway, it was an excellent choice of reading material."

I am very grateful for this, not only for the praise, but, more important, for the insight. So many sermons in this season are upbeat and full of Christmas cheer. Advent is the time above all others for "negative capability." This famous phrase was invented by John Keats, who used it in one of his letters. It refers to the capacity for entertaining perplexing, disturbing, unreconciled thoughts in one's mind without premature reaching for answers and solutions. Negative capabililty, reinterpreted for Christians, means that life is lived not according to formula, but trusting in the promises of God even in the midst of uncertainty and doubt. That is the nature of Christian hope.

Help My Unbelief is readily available on Amazon.