...except for me and my monkey! "Everything we see hides another thing. We always want to see what is hidden by what we see." -Rene Magritte

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Mysteriummmmm Tremendummmmmm... (spooky!)

Today has been weird and disjointed. I was up late reading The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto for my Methods class, then I had to wake up earlier than normal to go see Wendy, my Hispanic Studies advisor. On Tuesdays and Thursdays I normally have class at 9:40, and as I walk over to Miller I pass dozens of people returning to their dorms, going to class, standing around, chatting, smoking, but today since I left earlier I was the only person on the foot bridge, the only person out on that rainy wet morning. It was disorienting. Then after Short Story, as I was walking to James Joyce/Virginia Woolf, I ran into a classmate who told me that the professor Rishona had cancelled class. On the one hand, I'm glad, because I still I had to write my reading summary on Otto for Methods, and it makes me nervous to try to cram that in to the 50 minutes between the end of Joyce/Woolf and the beginning of Methods (which, when you factor in stopping by the bathroom, going over to the library, getting set up, and printing out the paper, really only translates into a half hour of writing time). But on the other hand, I was disappointed to miss a class with Rishona, and she's not normally the kind of professor who cancels class). I hunkered down in the Dovecote for a few hours and got the summary done, but the change in schedule, combined with the misty hazy raininess, made the day feel very strange and unreal--made me feel like I might accidentally become detached from the day and float away somehow. "Jessica J. had become unstuck in time." That kind of thing, you know.

Methods was good, though. Rudolf Otto, a Christian theologian and a rough contemporary of Emile Durkheim and Sigmund Freud, developed this theory of the mysterium tremendum that's at the heart and inner core of all religious experience. It's a sort of mystical experience of awe and dread when the individual comes into contact with the supreme, sublime universality of the Divine. He describes it thusly:

"The feeling of it may at times come sweeping like a gentle tide, pervading the mind with a tranquil mood of deepest worship. It may pass over intoa more set and lasting attitude of the soul, continuing, as it were, thrillingly vibrant and resonant, until at last it dies away and the soul resumes its 'profane,' non-religious mood of everyday experience. It may burst in sudden eruption up from the depths of the soul with spasms and convulsions, or lead to the strangest excitements, to intoxicated frenzy, to transport, and to ecstasy. It has its wild and demonic form and can sink to an almost grisly horror and shuddering. It has its crude, barbaric antecedents and early manifestations, and again it may be developed into something beautiful and pure and glorious. It may become the hushed, trembling, and speechless humility of the creature in the presence of--whom or what? In the presence of that which is a mystery inexpressible and above all creatures."

I can't tell you how thankful I am that my undergraduate education in Religious Studies includes a dramatic reading of that quotation by Paul Powers. I'm not being sarcastic; it was great: tortured, Frankenstein-esque facial contortions, dramatic changes of voice and tone, the whole works. I bet he's great at reading books to his toddler son; you know he's the kind of guy who--as the kids I used to baby-sit would beg--"does the voices."