Hermeneutics of Delight: Mutual, Interconnected, Curious

Hermeneutics. It’s an intimidating word. Many of us have never heard of it, let alone understand what it means. Which is interesting, considering we all have a hermeneutic we employ on a daily basis. Or, perhaps another way of saying it: a hermeneutic has us all and is manifested through us on a daily basis.

Basically, hermeneutics is the method or manner by which we interpret the world we inhabit. Texts, verbal communication, body language and all other forms of communicative interchanges are in need of interpretation as they flow between people, both the individual and community. The collection of explanations we come to – again, both on the individual and communal levels – expose our hermeneutical framework.

Moreover, hermeneutics is not a mere theory or an art, but encompasses the essence of our existence. The manner by which we interpret followed by the conclusions we espouse give us a trajectory by which we actually live out our day-to-day lives. The stories we tell, the symbols we make, the institutions we form, the communities we partake within all have to do with hermeneutics. Again, we might not always be – indeed, we are more often than not – making conscious decisions due to our hermeneutical orientation, but, nevertheless, we are making conclusions evidenced in our actions. There is not a moment that goes by where we are not interpreting. In many ways, it is the metaphorical water we swim in.

(This is a very diluted, non-specific view of hermeneutics. Please don’t think this is a blanket statement defining it at all. I am very aware of the immense complexity underlying this conversation.)

I have tried to take notice to how many people interpret the world around them. I come from a placed position, which informs, guides, and directs my hermeneutics. And so do you. The question is whether or not we are aware of it.

In today’s world, we have a host of hermeneutical methods vying for our devotion. Many of them are at odds with each other, of which violence – whether physical or not – is often used to help us make a decision as to where to place our allegiance. This has been called the plurality of our age and while certainly being true, is not necessarily an evil in itself as it is often described. Liberal/conservative, theist/atheist, postmodern/modern/post-postmodern, the list goes on describing polarities of interpretation.

However, it seems to me, that regardless of one’s (either individual or communal) interpretation, underneath much of this is a pervasive hermeneutics of suspicion. This isn’t a new thing or an unexamined thing, but again, many of us have fallen into lives bereft of self-reflection and are unaware of how much we have been interpretively persuaded. Lives that aren’t reflected upon tend to be spastic, disconnected, and atomized all the while being highly individualized. Much of this can be given to our tendencies toward suspicion.

Part of the problem is that excessive doubt prevents us from fully entering into the world, as Susan Felch states. Far too often doubt and suspicion go on unchecked flattening the world around us into an experience that is lacking diversity. Constant questioning and interrogating produce “modes of distance and distrust” leaving our vision muddy rather than clear.

I have seen this time and time again at both the individual level and the communal. Our current cultural mode of existence is nothing if it isn’t highly suspicious. We question everything. And I think this is a good thing. A healthy dose of suspicion is very needed. Questions are a staple of life; if you aren’t asking questions, you might need to ask why that is. Yet, when our suspicion transforms into cynicism we have a problem.

“In our desire to be critical we have simply become cynical.” (Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath, 136.) Contempt, bitterness, and division are the hallmarks of the cynical life. When our hermeneutics of suspicion jump into a hermeneutics of cynicism, nothing is good enough for us. We stay isolated in our own worlds, disparaging of the rest. In the communal form, this takes on the embodiment of autonomous cliques, cults, and factions separated from the world. Finger pointing, verbal violence, and general destruction become the norm for relating to those around and outside of us.

What I am afraid of – if it’s not too late in some cases – is that our need for deconstruction hasn’t allowed us to move into reconstruction.

Perhaps an antidote to this predicament would be to follow Susan Felch’s hermeneutics of delight. As a method of interpreting the world, it encourages us to ‘look up and around’ and to loosen the ‘constricted pathways of precept and rule'”. Delight is thus something that only comes about through the releasing our wanting to dominate and control.

When we practice the hermeneutics of delight, we will put ourselves into a more honest position as learners, not because we have forsaken all critical doubt but because we have opened ourselves to the mystery and grace of God and made ourselves available to share in, be responsible for, and enjoy the embodied love that creation itself is. – Norman Wirzba, Living the Sabbath, 137.

So, delight comes when we begin to see, experience, and live into the interconnectedness of life that only comes through mutuality. Yes, doubt can be there, but only in that is balanced by and rounded off by a seeking after mutual delight. It relishes in relationship and seeks the flourishing of all. Curiosity brings us into contact with others as we seek out the otherness of our world. Wirzba reminds us, “Delight follows from an affirmation of another’s God-given goodness” breaking us from our utilitarian quest to benefit ourselves above all through the powerful using of others and/or creation. As such, we are then inclined and allowed to be joyful in participating with the world around us. We enter into it not as skeptics seeking our own good, but as learners perpetuating further connection and relationship.

What I believe is needed is a turning to a hermeneutics of delight that affirms doubt and suspicion all the while being aware of its propensity for fragmentation. In an ecology of delight, we are pushed to recover the interdependence and interconnectedness of God’s creation. In a world plagued by division and rootlessness, a seeking after delight might be exactly what is needed.

Have you seen suspicion turn into hardened cynicism?

What does interconnectedness and interdependence look like in your context?

What is holding you back from delighting in the world?

I’d love to hear from you.



9 thoughts on “Hermeneutics of Delight: Mutual, Interconnected, Curious

  1. Yes! I would tend to name the hermeneutics of delight as a posture of worship. For me, worship and delight are two words for the same thing if we’re talking about ontological/epistemological (?) postures. What holds me back from delighting in the world is that I’m a performer. I am a hypo-crites — one who stands “under the critics.” I don’t know who my critics are exactly, but too often my hermeneutics is shaped by the need to defend myself against their imagined criticism or show them how much of a boss I am. I really think that’s the curse of Eden: the realization that we’re naked and vulnerable and need to defend and preserve ourselves when what we need is a restoration of our lost innocence so that we can simply delight.

    • Yes, a hermeneutics of delight is firmly rooted in an understanding of Sabbath begun in the Eden story(ies). I, too, find myself battling against my own thoughts and perceived weaknesses. It’s interesting to see the imperative to live with and rule over (as God rules over: in love and delight) creation given to humanity. Yet in our abuses of this power, we attempt to rule over others and, in a very real ways, ourselves. Delight is prohibited when power is abused.
      Thanks for your thoughts Morgan.

  2. Great post! It seems to me that the hermeneutic of suspicion is fundamental to postmodern thinking. And I agree with you that a healthy dose of suspicion (especially when being presented with something that has already been filtered through a hermeneutic of power and privilege) is a very good thing. But if, as you say, the hermeneutic is one of mere cynicism rather than healthy suspicion, then it is not productive of anything other than cynicism.

    I like the idea of a hermeneutic of delight. I’ve read in Bill Brown’s work his advocacy of a hermeneutic of wonder. And nothwithstanding my appreciation for the hermeneutic of suspicion I was impressed by the “hermeneutic of generosity” described by Paul Farmer in Mountains Beyond Mountains.

    You’ve given us some great food for thought here.

  3. hey man, first off, thanks for taking a risk and posting this. i know that i, for one, am a critic, though i hope more in the ‘movie critic’ sense of the word most of the time. at the same time, i’ve also experienced abuse, which sometimes adds an emotional dimension to my criticism of that which appears abusive. but honestly, i do love this hermeneutics of delight motif, and i think it could have a powerful effect on how we do criticism well and perhaps even be a subversive means of dismantling unholy power (strongholds).

    a couple questions: 1) what, if anything, would be the experience in your life that provoked you to write this post? and 2) how do you see prophetic critique/discourse as fitting into delight?

    again, wonderful job. this is probably your best post yet, imo. thanks man.

    • Thanks for responding, Zach. Let me attempt some replies to your questions. The numbers respond to your numbered questions.
      1. As I said above, too many people I have come across – Christian or not – employ and thus live out a hermeneutic of suspicion-turned-cynicism. Pausing to listen to stories, comments, and the actions flowing directly from them, it is easy to see how often cynicism is the preferred manner of living. For many, it is just the air they breathe due to being alive in our present time and culture. I know I fall into it all the time. And because its result is divisiveness and factions, it is all the more important for us as Christians to be aware of these tendencies. Too many of us in the missional world are separating ourselves out of the “traditional” church due to our cynicism, not our delight.
      So, to answer your question, I don’t think it was anything specific; it was more of a culmination of many conversations and observances.
      2. Prophetic critique/discourse fits into this as it is constantly calling the power inherent within us – both communally and individually – to align with the kingdom of God. In my opinion, power is the central facet of the Edenic stories. It’s abuse is the antithesis to Sabbath in that it is always resulting in divisiveness which ends in isolation. In isolation there can’t be delight. So, I’d say delight is the aim of the prophet because the prophet is ever-seeking to reconnect what is disconnected. The Empire’s first aim is to dissolve relationship through dividing and conquering, which is why we always see the prophets speaking against the Empire. The same is true today. The complexity begins when we attempt to decipher Empire and what is delightful within the kingdom of God.
      Don’t know if that helps at all, but they’re the first thoughts off the top of very tired head. Also, I had an awesome post on smokin’ hot wives, but someone beat me to it. 😉

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