Monday, 25 August 2014

Narrenschiff: Journey to the impossible

Mk 6:45-52; Mt 14:22-33

In an age of rationality and scientific progress, those who believe in God are derided upon as being irrational and foolish, and this, in spite of the rigorous efforts (endless debates and arguments) of so-called Christian Apologists of our times. We still find ourselves in the same position as before, being looked upon as foolish in the eyes of rationality. Maybe, the very fact that we are foolish is, that, we are meant to be so. It was in fact the Christians, who have strongly admitted themselves, of being foolish, and called themselves "fools" (1 Cor 4:10), and made no claim to the rationality for their belief in God. And again, let us not make this claim as some kind of judgment on the rationality, by dialectically claiming we are fools in the eyes of rationality of the world, exactly because the rationality is foolish in calling us foolish, therefore we are wise. But, this might not be case, Paul, goes on to make a distinction of being "fools" in Christ and "wise" in Christ and among which he regards himself to be a "fool" even by the standards of Christ. And it is exactly those who are "wise" in Christ are the problematic in the Corinthian church. Therefore, those who believe in Jesus Christ as God, are the actual and real "fools" to the definition of the word, both by rationality and even by the standards of so-called Christian church (which in these times likes to defend (apologia) itself more wisely through standards of the world, while, still hating the world, which is a paradox of paradoxes).

Then to the question, how does one in the state of madness and insanity, achieve redemption. Madness, is in itself, is irredeemable because, the subject has lost one’s own mind and is in the state of “wandering,” “demented,” and “deranged” in disposition. Mind as the essence of one’s being is lost in the state of madness, and now, the being is left in the sea of sudden storms and endless nights while it waits for its mind to return to it. It is exactly in this position of madness is the belief in Christ is pictured as being “fools”. A dangerous position, wherein, “fools” though questioned will not endure to give a rational answer, and every word uttered remains only a blabber (meaningless), because in the state of madness one remains, hidden to oneself or even lost to oneself. This is the real position of belief in Christ; being “fools”.

In order to understand the story of redemption in and through the state of madness, the Foucaultian analysis of Narrenschiff becomes very helpful. In his book Madness and Civilization Michel Foucault gives his analysis of Narrenschiff (ship of fools) during the Renaissance. He says that it was a practice in those times that, in order to get rid of the madmen from their streets; these madmen were put on the ships and were carried off to some other ports in a distant land and they were “lost” there by the sailors. This practice made sure that the madmen never returned to the shore ever again.  Interpreting this voyage, Foucault observes that, the very voyage of the madman in the Narrenschiff is the “absolute passage” from which the return is impossible; it is an experience of the liminal (threshold) experience.  In this voyage, “the madman is delivered to the river with its thousand arms, the sea with its thousand roads, to that great uncertainty external to everything. He is a prisoner … at the infinite crossroads … [h]e is … prisoner of the passage.”[1] And again the destination or the disembarkation on the other land still remains alien to him as his origins, his real position remains in the sea of uncertainty and confusion; he exists only in the vast expense of the raging sea. This raging sea is the identity of madness, the Narrenschiff that holds them goes up “up to heaven” and are brought “to the depths” and “were at their wit’s end” (Ps 107:26-27). The passengers in the Narrenschiff are people without their minds in the unnavigable sea of darkness on a stormy night. This is what it means to be a “fool”, a passenger in the Narrenschiff.

The experience of salvation in and through the passengers of Narrenschiff is best captured in the gospels (Mk 6:45-52; Mt 14:22:33). In this passage the disciples of Jesus are in a boat which was “battered by the waves … the wind was against them”. This event is more complicated by Jesus walking on the sea towards them. It was early in the morning when they saw Jesus walking towards them, and they immediately cried “ghost”. This is the real “wits end” experience, the ship was full of fools (terrified) and their voyage to the other shore has been completely unsuccessful due to the contrary wind and they were stuck in the raging sea all night long. The climax of the experience is “madness” when they see someone walking on the water. They have no rationality left in them to reason out what they were seeing; they had certainly lost their mind. They imagine the impossible; they now are experiencing the unperceivable by shouting, it is a “ghost”. Now, what cannot be seen becomes visible now, in this experience of madness. Only in madness is this revelation possible. Only in madness can the delusion become real. Only in madness the impossible can be seen. Now the boat has become in Foucaultian sense the Narrenschiff of the Renaissance. The people in the boat are madmen to the very definition. Their voyage is now in the liminal space (between shores) and time (early in the morning (Mk 6:48)). Within this liminal experience comes the mind(lessness)  of the ghost(Jesus), “It is I”. The wandering fool’s mind is with the ghost on the sea. One among the fool frenzies over the boat to hold on to his already lost mind and performs is the impossible and becomes what he already called; the ghost by walking on the sea. This experience does not leave the fools anywhere transformed. The story ends not with a ship full of brightest minds on the planet but still remained the same, “they were sore amazed in themselves beyond measure and wondered” (Mk 6: 51), in other words, they were still clueless and witless than ever before.

It is here we actually see the salvation at action. Salvation as an act of impossibility performed by totally clueless and terrified (wits end) person, which can never be rationally explained or can be experienced by the rationality. The very experience of Christian belief is madness to the word as justified by the world, because, only the madmen can experience this schizophrenic visual of “walking on the water” and be able to realize an action of “walking on the water”. The boat in which authentic fools of Christ travels is a Narrenschiff, totally lost to the rationale of the world, hence pushed between shores where the salvation as such is not total recovery from madness, but on the contrary madness becomes acute, insomuch the impossibility is perceived as normality and unseen (ghost) becomes “It is I”. It can therefore said, madness (foolishness) is the condition of possibility in which the impossible can be perceived as real, that is, belief in God. And it is God that is named by rationality as impossible.

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