When Rational Thought Meets an Irrational Season

One of the best pieces I read this week came from the New York Times by Stephen Marche. Called “Let My Tebow Go” the author, an admitted atheist confronts his dilemma: how does he as an atheist make sense of good things happening. Just as the Christian struggles with the question of how a good God can allow pain and suffering, the atheist struggles with the opposite — and that, he says, is “contending with joy” or “how can randomly good things happen”.

For him this is represented in two things: the first, the 3-year old daughter of a friend of his fell down a steep staircase and got up, unharmed. “I could barely stand to look at her afterwards” he says. “Every time I thought about what might have happened to my friends’ child, a fierce constriction grabbed my chest and a sickening feeling roiled in my belly. Over the rest of their visit, I kept randomly repeating, “That was a miracle.” It was the only phrase I could come up with. I didn’t know how to deal with inexplicable good fortune. Even after my friends returned to New York, the strange constriction in my chest persisted.”

The whole thing didn’t make sense. It wasn’t rational.

Tim-Tebow-Sports-Illustrated-Cover-4The second – Tim Tebow. That Tebow, a quarterback who is not that good, led the Broncos to victory after victory is not rational. The author is “confounded by the absurdity”. He finds himself longing to see this continue, he feels the Jets must let Tebow play. “Tim Tebow is a prophet of happy absurdity. He is a moment of inexplicable joy.”

It’s rational thought confronting irrational happening. It’s Susan from Miracle on 34th Street “I believe… I believe… It’s silly, but I believe.”

And where is this most at play? During the absurd and irrational season of Christmas. A virgin birth is not borne of rational thought, a death on the cross and resurrection three days later is not logical, rational. And that’s the mystery of this whole thing, this whole season. A baby is born of a virgin and history changes.

Madeleine L’engle articulates it best in her book, The Irrational Season, and her famous words:

This is the irrational season, When love blooms bright and wild, Had Mary been filled with reason, There’d have been no room for the child.”

In the midst of this last weekend before Christmas, where the ‘rational’ demands our attention, may we make room for irrational joy and promise.

10 thoughts on “When Rational Thought Meets an Irrational Season

  1. What a beautiful quote you ended on! We stifle the miracle that God wants to do through us when we refuse to step out in faith and accept the irrational in our lives. What an interesting article that sounds too!


  2. My whole life is framed up by faith, by the irrational, by mystery. I wear those glasses. It’s an interesting thing to think about taking them off…how would I then interpret what I see and what I don’t see?
    I love Marches’ analysis of Tebow’s game. I want that. I want to be the “prophet of happy absurdity.” I want my life to be a series of “moment(s) of inexplicable joy.”
    This is good stuff Marilyn. Thanks for this tidbit of deep thought to think about this morning…like a cookie to dip into my coffee!


    1. Oh you took this to a wonderful place….and that is looking at your life and what you want. You’ve articulated what I want as well. Here’s to 2013 being about moments of inexplicable joy. Thank you Robynn.


  3. Just as the Christian struggles with the question of how a good God can allow pain and suffering, the atheist struggles with the opposite — and that, he says, is “contending with joy” or “how can randomly good things happen”.

    Both the Christian and the atheist are operating in the same paradigm, one of duality. There’s good and there’s bad.

    But there are other ways of experiencing the world, and apprehending the spiritual. Definitions like “Christian” and “atheist” bother me. They are an attempt to control something that can’t be controlled, codify something that can’t be codified, reduce something that can’t be reduced.

    It seems to me that life itself is a prism. Tiny movements shift meaning and experience. Sadness, joy, and wonder, and learning to grieve are all part of the complexity of our experience. Faith is surrender to a mystery.


    1. I would love to go further in this conversation over coffee Elena. I agree that the words “atheist” and “christian” like so many words, hold far more than mere definitions can.give. I think the author used the word in his article to help give weight to the absurdity he was left with as he watched what he didn’t want to describe as a miracle in his friend’s daughter but ultimately had to call it that. One can use those words in a variety of ways but they are dependent on context to get true meaning. I agree with your words “Faith is surrender to a mystery”. I have indeed found that to be true in my life.


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