A few years ago when I was a high school humanities teacher, I would begin the school year teaching Nathaniel Hawthorne’s, Scarlet Letter. Before my first year teaching the novel, I was doing some background research on the life of Hawthorne and came across a compelling line about him in a journal article. While I don’t remember the article or even the direct quote, I do remember being struck by what the literary critic said about Hawthorne.
He was Christ haunted.
I think about the notion of being “Christ haunted” a lot. Christ as a ghost in the shadows of our lives and experiences, always making himself known to us, drawing us toward himself and to a fuller life in him, but always somewhat hidden. He is the person on the train or bus standing behind you; while he isn’t touching you and while you don’t see him, he is whisper close — ubiquitous as the oxygen we breathe and the wind always subtle (or not) against the autumn leaves.
Referring to Jesus in this odd way — as one who haunts — is maybe a bit disconcerting or even appalling. We are to apprehend Christ in our minds and accept him into our hearts. We are to parse Christ the adjective and define Jesus the noun, so we can place the bits and pieces of his reduced character into the prescribed boxes we set out for him.
After we have stuffed the boxes full of our own notions of Jesus, after we have labeled each one with our categories and the “isms” of our day, and after we have stacked them nice and neat, or if you are me, crammed them haphazardly in a forlorn shed or closet, we have now rid ourselves of his yoke that bids us to come and die and have taken on the yoke of our (or the world’s) imagination. Yet…
Christ is still haunting us — like the fly that flirts with the wax of our ears.
The amorphous feeling, the ever present reality of Reality, is still there — not “boo-ing” us as we see ghosts doing in the flashing lights of pop culture, but “woo-ing” us to see him as he truly is.
The Jesus we follow is not some sterile, flat character who can be defined and described fully by our limited language and syllogistic reasoning. While our theology, philosophy, and linguistics have the ability to shed light on the nature of God as made manifest in Jesus, what we catch in these words is not the Word himself but merely a glimpse at his shadow — the same robe of Being that shuffled quickly past Moses at the burning bush.
Yet, we still try to describe the shadow materially and call it the thing itself. And we find a bit more space in our shed or closet and cram it in there to fit the space we have allotted for our Jesus, and rub our hands together satisfactorily as we go and attend to the doldrums of our day.
Abilene Christian University psychology professor, Richard Beck, in his fantastic new book, Hunting Magic Eels: Recovering an Enchanted Faith in a Skeptical Age. would say our incessant desire to reduce Christ and the transcendent to the purely material and understandable is borne out our abhorrence for “the sacred standing ‘over and above’ us…[because] a transcendent enchantment creates the possibility for judgement and critique, that our lives could be evaluated by a God who is watching over us.”
By reducing Christ, the transcendent, to our prescribed categories, we have kept the ghost who haunts us at arms length because we materialized him in our own image. We can’t be judged by him because we, in effect, have done the judging already. Our lives remain the same, unmoved by the prime mover.
While we subconsciously believe Christ has been held at bay through this process, the reality is…
He still haunts us.
I keep coming back to this word, “haunt,” because of its mystical, transcendent, and enchanted-ness. It is a recognition of otherness, a rejection of pure scientism, and the belief that truth is found in more than just the observable world around us and our ability to perfectly describe and understand it.
It is sensed. It is perceived. It is found in the beauty of nature and the dignity of humanity. As Gerard Manley Hopkins says, “Christ plays in ten thousand places” — all around us and in all things.
This is not an argument for moral relativism or a call to a pantheistic spirituality.
No, it is a call for us, for me, to remember that the world is enchanted by a transformative transcendence. The transcendence is not a pageantry of paganism but the unfurling of a latent grace brought about by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
In an age when we buck against the existence of enchantment in favor of a Jesus we dictate, I pray we lean into the haunting of a wooing Christ, an enchantment that is “over and above” us, “draw[ing us] to both the beautiful and the ugly, to delight and disgust, to the easy and the hard. Follow enchantment toward your lepers. That voice you are hearing is the voice of God.”
For a haunting Christ is always taking us away from what we want him to be and into a fuller relationship with the one who Is. In this relationship, he is ultimately calling us to do the very thing Restoration is called to do.
Join him in the restoration of all things.