Patterns, patterns everywhere. Is it because everything is structures and patterns…or is it because we can only comprehend reality by seeing it through patterns? I tend to think both are true.
Once upon a time I was interested in chaos theory. I’m not a scientist, and it was hard reading, but I understood this: chaos happens within a system. This means that the chaos is contained within a structure, pattern.
So I’m the product of patterns and a pattern-seeker. I find myself naturally looking for patterns in things: literature, behavior, the natural world. I think it’s impossible to comprehend the world without viewing it through a structure, through glasses, so to speak, which is a particular set of assumptions based on patterns.
Scientists look for replicable events, then create a theory. If this, this and this, then that. The theory represents a pattern, and it allows us to see reality in a new way. If something happens that contradicts the pattern, it might lead to elaborating the original theory or changing it. Either way, it provides a somewhat different vision.
The popular way to make this statement about patterns today is to say that everything is a construct. That statement doesn’t necessarily say that humans make up everything, create structures of mind through which to view things. That would be a fairly anthropocentric point of view. Structure and patterns are part of the nature of things. Humans didn’t create the universe. We do, though, create structures to understand the patterns we see.
Consciously or unconsciously, we all see the world through colored glasses, through the patterns or constructs that allow comprehension: culture, language, national origin, religion, science, all the things that make up our lives. Sometimes we experience an event that causes a paradigm shift, something like what happens when contradictions threaten a well-established scientific theory. We might have to expand or change our worldview, not an easy thing to do.
A very important point that follows from this idea that we comprehend our world through the patterns we perceive, and culture and history determine the patterns we see, is that any view of reality, ANY, is partial. And that should generate a certain amount of humility in each of us.
I’m a longtime student of Bible, for me, a fascinating and inspirational book, but perhaps not in the way you would immediately think. I often hear people dismiss the Bible as myth…yet as a teacher once said to me, “myth gives meaning to history.” Myth is a pattern. The pattern allows us to comprehend an otherwise meaningless series of events. We might say at some point, no, that particular myth doesn’t explain this or that, this event contradicts the pattern — and then, like a scientist with a theory, we will have to expand our myth or develop a new one. Religions do exactly that, so it’s impossible to understand a myth without exploring it in its contexts…the context of its time of origin, its textual or oral tradition context, its context over time as the myth expands or changes, its context in the religious, social, cultural and historical circumstance of today.
So I’m interested in the patterns in the biblical text, the structure of stories, what themes patterns suggest, what these patterns tell me about worldview…and it’s this worldview that inspires me. Archaeological and scientific corroboration or contradiction of the biblical text, while interesting in its own right, doesn’t disturb me at all. My question isn’t about the time span in which creation occurred but about its meaning. I’m interested in archaeology only to provide some cultural and historical context to what I read, to the extent it offers that. Sometimes archaeology reveals a myth from a civilization close to the one that produced a particular biblical myth, and it’s interesting how the biblical retelling varies. It tells me something more about the biblical worldview, one that has meaning for me today.
My most recent search for patterns and meaning in the biblical text led me to some discoveries. I did graduate work on meals in Genesis many years ago and found interesting structural patterns that placed meals, including what I call “the meal in the Garden”, at the center of major story cycles. Now I wanted to think more about the content of biblical meals, in other words, in the worldview of the Bible, what should we eat? Watch for an upcoming post about what I found. This is exciting stuff!!
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