Carse asks “With what does God answer prayers . . . and why is it so terrifying to open ourselves to it?” (56). To answer these questions, he looks at the way we trust people. Often what we call trust is closer to control or obedience. To actually trust creates an atmosphere of surprise. And “If I can genuinely trust you, I can expect you to do exactly what I do not want, but exactly what I need for growth” (60). To embrace this attitude and allow others the freedom it will bring them requires that we be willing to become stronger persons.
Returning to our ability to trust God, Carse says “Even if we are certain that God loves us, we can have no certainty whatsoever how this love will express itself, or even that we can recognize it as love” 65). Then he asks, “How can we speak to someone when it is impossible to know what they have heard us say, or whether they have heard us at all?” (66). He also points out that “If I control what you hear or how you respond, it is no longer you listening” (67). Carse is challenging us to see that authentic speech actively welcomes something more than just wanting to be understood. If my purpose in speaking is to eliminate the difference between us, the conversation will come to an end. Informing and silencing another is not speech. To keep my mind open too your response keeps me open to life. Real listening is equal to radical trust.
Carse introduces the concept of theatrical and dramatic speech. Theatrical speech is essentially acting. One is speaking and observing oneself as the speaker. This is a controlling behavior. Dramatic speech is open-ended—we cannot know how we will be heard. Carse continues, “Whenever we presume to know the mind of God sufficiently to know how we are being heard, God is no longer God, and we are no longer listened to” (72). He suggests the gospel brings evidence that God has limited use for theatricality. If we try to direct the responses of those listening, we do not believe the words we say. The future is open. It is God’s unintelligibility, God’s silence evident in all the chaos of the world that offers us the chance of a real life.
As I read Carse’s essay, I feel really good about my life. I feel like my life is good enough to be real. I feel surprisingly whole, like having some earlier understanding of my life given back to me. Carse affirms my recent journey that includes inconceivable aspects of my life integrated into my consciousness. I am thinking this listening to authentic speech includes listening to my own intuition.
When we can understand the silence of God as giving us space to be fully human we begin to see the theatrical dimensions of our world. We see we have created scripts we have the power to alter or to throw out altogether. Good theatre does have a legitimate roll. Good theatre is playful. It gives us opportunities to imagine new worlds for ourselves.
Carse does not simply use styles of human conversation to talk about prayer, rather he asks us to see our relationships with God and those with human beings as both requiring the expanded kind of speaking he is writing about in this essay. Carse points out that even when we are attempting to listen in the most relaxed and open posture, we still are listening for something (74). We are listening with an effort to shape our reply, simply because we will always be limited to some degree in our humanity. But God listens offering us “the gift of authentic humanness” (76).
Indeed, the more predictable and rational a world is the more it suffocates true discourse between persons, and the less possible it is to speak to each other from the heart. In a family where everyone has a clear part and adheres consistently to an order all the others observe, we may be certain that the wishes of the heart are not known to each other. (76)
“The wishes of the heart are not known to each other,” how painful. This was true in my family’s life together. Fear and control, secrets and lies held captive our true selves. The horrible thing about it is that we hid out fairly effectively in the established church structure. I was a ‘good Christian woman.’ I played my rolls well even through my anger and loneliness. Finally, when my son could no longer play his roll, I figured out I had a lot of catching up to do with reality. It has been painful and liberating each step of the way. I am feeling stronger and realizing Christ is here especially in each moment I am willing be aware of pain.
Carse suggests God’s silence does not destroy human culture, rather it is our habit of speaking on God’s behalf. When encounters are filled with surprise and grace we have real conversations. Carse says that this is miraculous. Idolatry tries to replace the silence of the holy with the world’s voices. But God’s silence is more powerful and “rots out the feet of all our idols” (77). The truth is that we are given the ability to create our worlds. If we use theatre well, artists show “us a way of looking and listening that makes a new world possible” (78). They expose the rules of a society as only one way things could be.
In conclusion, when I speak to God, God gives me more than a response meaningful in my world. God invites me into the whole world. God invites me to be surprised and if I am willing, supported by mystery.