The following is an excerpt from John Knapp’s* short story “Thirty-Three Minutes to Live“ published on www.torahclass.com and is archived there. In it, a middle-aged man seeking direction (the “I” in the story) has been directed to a “tutor,” the other person in the conversation. He has brazenly announced he has 33 minutes left to live. They both are looking out a window near the top of a tower by the edge of a large lake. [The tower is taller and the lake is larger than suggested by our picture.] In this scene the tutor begins:
“Do you know how to sail?” [says the “tutor”]
“No.” [says the seeker]
“Do you know how far it is to land on the other side?”
“No, I cannot see because trees block the view.”
[For more use the DOOR.]
“Do you know the depth of the water? Places where boulders rise to within inches of the surface where you could tip over or break your centerboard?”
“No to all these,” I said.
“Well, I don’t have perfect knowledge about all these, but I and several of my friends can confidently take this boat across the water to land at the other side with great satisfaction…but not with complete safety…or by the clock.”
“Why is that?” I asked.
“Because of the wind,” he replied, “or the lack of wind. And the invisible wind always matters.”
“And how does that affect me?” I asked.
“Oh it does in every way!” he replied. “You see, a raging wildfire has forced you down the hill to the dock. [A great storm has suddenly arisen**] and your only hope of escape is the sailboat tied there.” He glanced at his watch. “And you have 24 minutes to get away.”
[And so the minutes continue their countdown…]
What does this have to do with our special philosophy/science/religion “series”?
As part of a story it illustrates the usefulness of knowing things in a world where much is still mysterious, including the possible need to navigate suddenly through a mix of the familiar and unknown.
And such a journey? For 3 reasons: (1) What’s above the water is inviting, beautiful, and beckons us to go. (2) That’s in spite of the fact we know little about what’s under the surface, except that some dangerous boulders are hidden near the top. (3) And in the story, there’s no other choice. Returning is impossible.
“And that’s supposed to represent my journey through life?” asks my suspicious invisible questioner [IQ].
“Yes, but do you have to make it sound so prosaic?” I reply.
“Please…be more direct?” IQ counters.
“O-kay…As human beings with consciousness, or minds, we are invited to think and…”
“Whoa! ‘invited’ by whom?” IQ interrupts.
“Okay, okay…Let me rephrase that. As humans we find ourselves thinking about everything! And in some ways that science can begin to measure, but never explain. Wait…let me give you an example: At this website I can discover the number of ‘visits’ made to every post each week (2 posts that appear for 2 days and 1 for 3 days). But what is a ‘visit’? If, say, 405*** people on the average leave their ‘mark’ (perhaps like a dog on a fire hydrant) for visiting each time a post goes up, does this mean that the post has been carefully read? Or simply glanced at and discarded? Or have the spammers and robots “out there” been busy testing the waters, looking for ‘cyber boulders,’ perhaps? Science is clever enough to deliver some information, but how far does it really go?
“We,” I continue, “don’t have a clue what visitors are thinking! And–despite my telling ‘you’ things–you’re still in the dark about what’s in my consciousness right now****.”
“Could you,” IQ interrupts again, ” ‘drift’ back to your main point?”
“Certainly…though ‘trimming the sail’ is a better way to express it. I believe we’re invited…uh…as adults to think about the ‘What is?‘ and the ‘What matters?‘ of everything. And also, the logical follow-up, ‘Then what should I do?‘ Philosophy is the (often stuffy) study of the nature of knowledge, reality, and the nature of existence. Our philosophy/science/religion series is an attempt to show how a person can look around, and inside, himself and make better sense of things. And to provide purpose.
“Stop!” orders IQ. “At the top of your home page you say you’re a Christian, yet this whole series– starts with your presenting some tryptych picture thing, probably from an artsy old movie***and wanders this way and that down to this post, a ‘snippet’ from one of your stories. What’s going on?! You’ve not mentioned God or the Bible once! Let’s pretend that I’ve read the Bible and don’t have any philosophical or science problems. I ‘just believe’ and that’s it. I’ve put myself in God’s hands, trusting Him. Why concern yourself about science and all that other stuff?“
“Well, maybe, you should,” I suggest. “But obviously, you’ve a lot of company–perhaps your children and those they marry, and many other Christians, as well as Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons–even some atheists, who dismiss ‘God things’ as nonsense, ‘just believing’ in the materialist creed of the’sensible’ people around them.
“But do you,” I continue, “as a Bible believer have anything–repeatable–to say to the Jehovah’s Witnesses that come to your door?”
“You don’t want to know,” says IQ.
“Or what do you say to a spouse, or someone else you love, or your child just back from school who declares, “There’s no place for God in the modern scientific world”? Or she ‘cleverly’ asks something she’s obviously been thinking about: “Why should we base what we do on centuries of proven superstition?'”
“Okay then, you want a Bible verse. Here it is: ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone for the hope that you have.’ (I Peter 3:15b). Oh…for that ‘snippet’ of my story, as you described it, don’t forget the ‘clock’ and the ‘wind.’”
[In our next post we’ll give a bumper-sticker review of the 12 previous posts in our philosophy/science/religion series.]
* Forgive the less formal “I” instead of the usual “we” here. I, John, the prime mover of the words here, am sharing from “my” story, which can easily be found in its entirety at the archives tab on the website, www.torahclass.com. “We” just sounds strange in this context.
** The bracketed part, a clarification, is not in the original story.
*** The “405” is, roughly, the average number of visits for each of the 6 posts for the last 2 weeks (as of this writing on July 15, 2013). We welcome comments at each post.
**** Though not a perfect example, this is a good illustration of how science can probe, but only so far.
***** This is from our first post in this series that appeared on June 19, 2013. The 12 posts (with a few more planned) are distinguished by each having a ” * ” and a 3-word, rather than a 2-word title.