Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for July, 2003

Perelandra, Chs. 14-17

This week’s reading for Perelandra was an ambivalent one for me. It’s not that there wasn’t a bunch of meaty theology. There certainly was that. And it wasn’t that the richness of Dante’s Divine Comedy was called to mind with Ransom’s emergence in the darkened underwater cave of another Fixed Land, through dimly-lit mountain, to mountain’s top. But like Dante’s Comedy the interesting bits are the ones dealing with the horrors of hell. I’m not sure why that is.

In any case, though we end in Paradise, and Paradise intended, it seems a let down compared to the cosmic battle that has been going on for many chapters now. The Lord and Lady of Perelandra are installed as rightful king and queen, and even the angelic ruler of the planet turns over her authority and becomes their messenger.

The wound in Ransom’s heel is clearly analogous to the Genesis 3 prophecy of our Lord himself. Ransom is, indeed, God’s savior of Perelandra. But here atonement is not necessary for there was never a rupture. The temptation has been faced and passed. Though not completely without cost. Even in Paradise, it seems, the divinized life is not lived apart from striving.

Were I not so tired and unfocused right now, I would love to deal more adequately with the metaphysics of space and time Lewis makes into expert poetic prose. But I rather suspect I will get my chance with That Hideous Strength.

Read Full Post »

The Church: Unity and Holiness

In disparate places on Tripp’s blog a discussion has risen from the reflections on the occasion of Tripp’s testimony at the local Theology on Tap at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Evanston last Thursday (24 July). The point at issue: the holiness of the Church.

Megan’s stance seems to see the Church in terms of relative uselessness. For Megan, it appears that the Church is an organization. I’m not sure that she thinks the Church is merely an organization. I think she would admit that there is a “spiritual” Church that isn’t equated with the organizational Church. It is this organizational Church that most often gets in the way of loving the world and living the faith. When the Church (organization) does whatever it is that it is to do well, then Church is helpful. Her experience, it seems, however, has been that the Church (organization) doesn’t do things well, in which case, she can take this Church or leave it. If it hinders her from living the faith in a way that makes sense to her, it is the Church’s loss. (Megan, if I’ve got this wrong in any way, please correct me. This is what I’ve heard you saying.)

Tripp wants to salvage the Church for Megan; though perhaps he could be a bit more clear which of Megan’s churches he wants to salvage. I read him to want to salvage it all. He wants Megan to see what he sees, that the Church (organizational and “spiritual”) is needed, that we need it as much as it needs us, and that this need plays itself out in reconciliation. The Church should forgive us. But we should forgive the Church. It’s the dance of reconciliation.

Not surprisingly, I take exception to these understandings. In brief, I posit what I take to be the Church’s historic and biblical understanding of herself. She is the Body of Christ. If we wish to be united to Christ’s incarnate body, then we can only do so through the body that incarnates Christ, the Church. If Christ is the only way to union with God, then the only way to union with Christ, because the only place where it can be said the fullness of Christ dwells, is in the Church. This Church is both the Church triumphant, waiting in glory, and the Church militant, presently here struggling for the Gospel. This Church cannot be separated from its visible organizational aspects, nor can it be limited to some invisible conglomeration of the Christians whose borders we cannot know. It is both visible and invisible, and inescapably one. It is one because it is the Body of Christ. Christ is indivisible. The Trinity is indivisible. The Church is one with Christ as Christ is one with the Father. Therefore the Church cannot be divided.

I’m sure I’ve left out stuff, but there you go.

Now, Megan and Tripp have disagreed with this historic, biblical and patristic understanding of the Church. Megan discards the visible, incarnate, organizational aspect of the Church, making the Church divided. Tripp asserts that the Church is both sinful and holy, because sinful and holy people are in the Church.

But these conceptions of the Church bring immense and irresoluble problems:

1. If the Church is not incarnate, therefore its visible organizational self can be discarded from its invisible spiritual self, then the Church cannot be the Body of Christ, because Christ cannot be divided. And if the Church is not the Body of Christ, then the question that follows: how are we then united both to Christ and to one another? Without the Church, that doesn’t seem possible. I would like to know the answer to these questions.

2. If the Church is in any way sinful (in whole or in part) then it cannot be the Body of Christ, because Christ is utterly holy. Without holiness no one will see the Lord, so if the Church is sinful, the Church can have no part of God. Furthermore, if the Church is sinful, she has no Gospel, because the Gospel is about deliverance from sin. But if the Church has not been delivered from sin, then she cannot speak authoritatively about what is holy and what is not. She has no standing to address the moral questions of our day: sexuality, war, the objectification of the defenseless and innocent as sexual tools, poverty, and so forth. If she is sinful, she cannot determine that which is righteous in these matters, and has no voice to speak. Furthermore, she proves the Gospel a lie. If the Church can be both sinful and authoritative, I would like to know how.

From my vantage point, Tripp’s and Megan’s positions on the Church create more problems than they appear to solve. I would like to see them address these issues.

Read Full Post »

Today was a relative rarity at All Saints parish: we had two baptisms. Baptisms themselves are not rare here. We’ve had (including today’s) six baptisms in six months. But to have two at once . . . well, the last time that happened here was three years ago. (By the way, Orthodox evangelism methods would be enormously popular among evangelicals, if only they accepted infant baptism. But I digress.)

The baptismal rite begins with a threefold exorcism. Among the prayers, the priest prays, “Expel from him every evil and impure spirit which hideth and maketh its lair in his heart.”

What? we may say. How can an infant merely weeks old be a hiding place of the devil? Quite simply: through hearing. Infant children, in ways we cannot fully understand, are shaped and molded by all that goes on around them. Before they can reason in even the most rudimentary ways, language has shaped and molded who they will know themselves to be and all the world around them which they will experience. The profanity, obscenity and blasphemy one encounters on an el train will fill their minds whether we will or no. Their encounter with television will reinforce their understanding that the world exists to please them. If they are not raised in Christian homes, and in some cases, even if they are, the encroachment which the demonic may make within their new-formed souls is breathtakingly swift and wide.

No wonder the Church baptized infants from the time of the New Testament.

Shortly after the exorcism, we all, by proxy in the godparents, breathe and spit on the devil. I’m telling you, if nothing else will attract you to Orthodoxy, getting to “hawk a loogey” at the devil surely must.

Then comes the Creed. This is not like reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. It’s not a secret handshake that gets you into the club. This isn’t verbal permutations we must calculate so that we can both authentically recite the words yet keep our own autonomy. This is the living embodiment of the Faith. By reciting the words we do two things: we guard the deposit of the sacred Faith that has been handed to us and voluntarily submit our mind and will to the Church, in whom dwells the fullness of Christ. The recitation of the Creed is the regular public affirmation of discipleship.

Given that we have just expelled all the influence and machinations of the devil which had begun to germinate in the infant’s heart, we cannot sweep the place clean but leave it empty. We must fill it, lest the end state of the baby’s soul be worse than before. With what do we fill it? With the concentrated and distilled Faith which was first handed down to the Apostles by Christ, and from them to the first churches. And from them down all the storied centuries to us. This is no mere pleasant wine cooler. This is fiery stuff, 200 proof. One cannot sip it, testing it’s character and wondering whether one will like it or not. There is only one thing to do: open mouth and toss it back. We take the Faith whole or we do not take it at all.

However, in our Christian world today, we are used to the Gospel by sips. In our individualistic (and therefore, quite literally, impersonal) U. S. society we are infected with a blindness we fail to understand. We think we get to determine Truth. Our evaluation of whether or not something “works” for us, or “has cash value,” or “sits well with us” is all inescapably myopic and narcissistic. We think we are the arbiters of Truth.

But when one is hiding in the catacombs, or the concentration camps, or the gulag, one is hardly interested in the cold, scholastic, dispassionate evaluation of competing views. When one is looking at the lifeless body of one’s spouse or child, wondering whether this is all there is to life, one isn’t interested in the empty narcotic of bland syncretistic religion. When one is looking at the emptiness, the loneliness and disillusion of a ruthlessly competitive consumerist economy, quite aware one is merely creating some meaningless gagdet or shifting around the nullifying digits of the obscenely wealthy, one could really care less for political slogans masquerading as Gospel. One wants clear-eyed, back-stiffening, blood-thickening Faith. One wants the two hundred proof fire of the Nicene Creed.

Still, comfortable in our paradisical illusions, fed intravenously by the twaddle of sitcoms and “real life” dramas, we think we prefer Kool-Aid spiked with a drop or two of Macallan. See, we tell ourselves, there’s real Gospel here, and in a form that’s relevant to me.

But for an infant that cannot articulate anything more abstract than the need for food and love, relevance means less than nothing. An infant could care less whether his refined, modern sensibilities are offended. What she needs is exoricism. What he needs is 200 proof Gospel. What she needs is immersion in the name of the Trinitarian God, and the seal of the Holy Spirit on forehead, eyes, ears, chest, back, hands and feet. An infant needs parents, godparents, the Church to say to him, though he will not comprehend it till later: “I am NOT making this up. I pass on to you that which was handed down to me, that on the night our Saviour was betrayed . . .”

For my part, I’m not making anything up. Like Paul, I want to pass on that which I’ve received. My child will soon invade our world. No girly-man blended malt for my kid. Our progeny gets the good stuff.

Read Full Post »

The Fatherhood Chronicles VI

So . . . now we wait.

Anna had her last baby shower today. God has been so good to us. First, Anna’s sisters followed through on their word to hold a shower, back in May. (The following through is sometimes not to be counted on). Then Anna’s co-workers got together and held a shower for her in June. And today, one of Anna’s good friends pulled out all the stops (read: chocolate) and held a shower for her. Not being extremely wealthy, and not knowing what the distance from our families might mean as far as their involvement, and in the midst of a busy summer with our friends, we didn’t know what, if any, showers would be held. And, except for some of Anna’s co-workers, no one we know really has any money. So, what a surprise this summer has been. From one of them fancy, all-in-one, submarine, rocket, DVD player, with mini-wetbar strollers/car seat combo, to baby monitors, to scads of clothes. Our family and friends have really helped us out.

God has also been good in providing me teaching work. I was a bit miffed that I was scheduled late in the summer. I thought early summer would be better, leaving me more time and flexibility to look for full-time work at the end of the summer. But as it turns out, full-time work is hard to come by at the moment, and the teaching paychecks are a timely means to purchase a crib, changing table, and a futon (so family won’t have to sleep on the floor).

Oh, and I was able to get the car detailed today!

God’s timing is impeccable. We have proven his faithfulness. Even during the darkest moments of our marriage (which I wrote about earlier this week), God has provided food, clothing, shelter, honorable (if not always enjoyable) work.

We found out this week, that two of Anna’s sisters, and perhaps her mom also, will be able to come up for the birth. My sisters, both being pregnant, are on travel restrictions, so can’t come up. And my mom may not be able to get off work and/or afford the trip. But my dad and stepmom are going to come later this month, the weekend before I start school and teaching for the fall. So, we’ll have family around us. Thank God. (Really. Thank you, God.)

Anna has had some moments in the last couple of days in which she thought a slight, quick pain she was feeling might be hints of the onset of early labor (which, we learned, can last several days). And the baby isn’t quite as active as previously. But then again, there’s eleven more days till her due date. So, we don’t know if she’ll go into labor soon or not. I’ve got my cell phone, and thirty dollars in cash for a cab in my wallet (just in case). We’ve got our bags packed, and in the morning I’ll set up the car seat.

So now we wait. And pray. Forecast tonight is for rain. “Mercy drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead.”

Read Full Post »

The Third Man

Standing in the morning light of the stained glass window of the church, praying and chanting the Matin prayers, it soon came time for the Matins Gospel, Luke 24 and the disciples on the way to Emmaus. Luke has been my favorite Gospel since my twenties, and this passage is one reason why. One of my Bible bookmarks is a business card size reproduction of the painting of Jesus and the two disciples. And given that T. S. Eliot makes reference to this passage in “The Waste Land” cinches the deal.

As Father Patrick cried out “Let us be attentive” my attention was focused. Eyes closed I let the Gospel words pour through me. I was not prepared for how deeply I would be moved. The passage spoke to me of the palpable nearness of Jesus, and the intimacy of what is clearly intended to typify the Eucharist so awakened a longing in me that I felt as though I were being turned inside out. The thought of ever being given the chance to commune from the chalice stirred in me an almost overwhelming awe and what I can only describe as a fearsome wonder. When my time comes, I know I will both be drawn with the gravity of a dozen suns, and yet I know I will have only one response. I am not worthy.

I apologize for sounding so melodramatic. Believe me, I’ve toned down the rhetoric. But Sunday’s Matins experience was so profound that the memory of it gives rise to the same intensity of response.

In which case it is not good to go through one’s files so as to make room for new files. Especially if those files contain papers written in one’s “previous life” as a conservative non-denominational evangelical. I re-read the paper I wrote for my ministry class, “Thoreau’s Walden and the Minister’s Personal Life.” I looked over my paper on Ecclesiastes, footnotes and all, to which I had appended a poetic retelling. (And yes, you may safely assume that these were not usual fare for papers at the college.) There was my senior sermon, as well as my salutatorian address. I had kept some of the poems by a classmate of mine, who’d left the Bible college to pursue a journalism degree. I stayed in touch with her for a couple of years, then she disappeared into silence. Bible college, despite some personal tragedies, such as my parents’ separations and divorce, was among the best periods of my life.

Then I hit the “Church newsletter articles” file. I once served a small rural congregation in central Illinois. I had the best of intentions, a fair amount of ministry experience (considering I was just hitting my late twenties), and the optimism borne of conviction. It was to be the most damaging and horrible experience among Christian people of my life (though others have come close). Unsurprisingly, these newsletter articles i had written–despite their smiling, goodnatured propaganda–give hints, I can see now, of the ups and downs and the growing tensions. The “professionalism” is just a bit too crisp. The positive tones a bit too forced, but not enough to let some pain creep through. I went through every last one, keeping most, throwing out some of the more innocuous ones.

That time, my last in ordained ministry, was excruciating in its denouement. It brought my marriage to the brink of destruction. I worked three jobs, and we still had days we ate little. We retreated into our cocoons. It was the darkest time of my life. It tested me in ways I never want to be tested again.

I suppose they call it the meantime, because this time of transition, this standing between two destinations, can be so cruel. Is there any of God’s people who did not travel desert pathways on their pilgrimage? If so, I’d like to know their route. If not, I’d like to be the first.

This present meantime, though, is not nearly so agonizing. Or, if it is, it is so because of fullness, not because of absence. When we left that last ministry, the January winds of winter in central Illinois whistled around the eaves of our apartment drawing forth without words the deep loneliness we felt from God’s people, from one another, from ourselves. And, yes, from God. Now, however, though there are challenges and anxieties, and I may still feel stretched thin, but it comes of being too filled–or at least the promise of it. Once God felt so far away as to be without existence. Now God feels so near that I seem to be undone.

The Psalmist says of God, “All things are Thy servants.” The joys of Bible college, the darkness of Christian faithlessness, the bittersweetness of standing just within the door of the wedding feast.

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you

“My ears had heard of Thee, but now my eyes have seen Thee. I repent in dust and ashes.”

Read Full Post »

Perelandra, Chs. 9-13

The battles between the Bent One (Satan) and Maleldil (God) reaches high gear, though not yet the climax, in this week’s chapters.

The first battle is not a physical encounter, but the encounter between seduction and purity. The Bent One would tempt the Green Lady to a romantic role of tragedy: she’s is a victim of an irrational command, and, like many of her women counterparts on Thulcandra (Earth), she should rise above oppression and injustice, and transgress the command. For the sake of all the future daughters borne to her, she should pave the way toward the breaking of Maleldil’s command. Whereas Weston would tempt the Green Lady to view commands from absolute utility, Ransom attempts to point out to the Lady that of all Maleldil’s commands have for her joy and pleasure. The one command, not to spend the night on the Fixed Land, is the only one of the commands of Maleldil that are solely founded on love alone. There is no apparent utility to the command, only love and trust.

Weston’s argument, interestingly, turns on subsuming the prohibition about the Fixed Land under the other aspects of Maleldil’s will for the Green Lady such as growth and enjoyment. Weston’s argument, Ransom notes, is so powerful because it is half-true. Maleldil does want the Green Lady to grow in love and knowledge and wisdom. But, Ransom tries to argue, to transgress this one command is to transgress all.

The scene then turns to the second battle. Just preceding this is the powerful account of Ransom wrestling within himself as to why he was here on Perelandra and what good he can do to save the Green Lady from sin, loss of innocence and death. He only slowly comes to realize that the success of the encounter does, indeed, rest solely on Ransom’s ability. The Green Lady may well, indeed, fall to sin and transgress Maleldil’s command. Ransom can hope for no miraculous deliverence from Maleldil. This brings him to the point of despair, for he knows that the only way to bring about victory, is to battle the shell of a body that is Weston to the death. He must kill the Un-man. He is, after all, the voice from Deep Heaven points out, named Ransom.

And then, when Ransom is at the depths of hopelessness and doubt, the Voice reminds him, “My name is Ransom, too.” There may well be sin, and its catastrophic consequences, and though the Incarnation was a one time event that changed all the universe, still, Maleldil may yet work an even greater wonder, and bring from defeat the mystery of awful victory.

Steeled, then, Ransom begins the second battle and physically confronts the Un-man. And here there rises in him the purest of hatreds: the hatred of the holy for the unholy. A hatred so pure, it may well be that Ransom could not have experienced it on Earth. The Un-man/Weston and Ransom nearly kill one another, but just as Ransom has wreaked havoc on the physical shell that is Weston’s body, the Un-man escapes and heads out to sea. Ransom follows, and they both make it to the Fixed Land. But just as they do, the Un-man grasps Ransom about the legs and they sink beneath the waves.

It’s interesting how the argument of the Un-man with the Green Lady is so contemporary. The encouragement to the transgression of God’s commands, clear and unequivocal, is so often painted in the tragic terms of justice and injustice. How could God deny that which is so manifestly useful: love and sacrifice and personhood? God would not prohibit that which was just, would he? But this is to fail to see that sometimes God’s commands are not intended to cultivate utility, but are intended to cultivate love and trust. How useful it was, how productive of knowledge, for our biblical Father and Mother to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. How unjust of God to withhold further development from his creatures. But then how unloving and untrusting of the first man and the first woman–and we in them–to transgress that command. Ah, yes, God was set against us, but we, in the quest for greater growth and maturity, steeled ourselves against this great tragedy and boldly stretched forth our hands. And our world and all our lives came undone.

It is also interesting how Lewis describes biblical godly hate. We moderns denigrate this sort of hatred. But the biblical and historical witness is clear: righteous hatred exists, we dare not discount it; and it is so dangerous that we dare not take it up without the infusion of God. Indeed, it is far from certain that our insistence on “Jesus’ love” gentle, meek and mild is more noble than the espousal of godly hatred. Instead of being more pure, it may well be that we are the more apathetic. We let evil increase, because left with the option of pure hatred, we reject it–how un-Christlike–and do nothing. We fail to remember that Jesus himself left us an example, and braided a whip, and, if I may, in holiness kicked some unrighteous ass.

There is much going on in our modern U. S. society about which we Christians should, in all likelihood, be braiding cords. But we fear the ill reputation that holy hatred brings in our society. We’re concerned about “witness” giving little thought to the fact that doing nothing in the face of evil is just as much a witness, albeit of another kind. Ah, but we could not handle that sort of hatred, one may say. True enough. And we are indicted in our pathetic immaturity and worldliness.

One final note: while in pursuit of Weston, Ransom takes of some seaweed, and is not only fed by it, but is given concrete knowledge by the food. This is nothing less than what the Eucharist does. It feeds body and soul, giving us a knowledge of the participation in the life of God that can only come from the sacramental reality we consume.

Read Full Post »

Perelandra, Chs. 5-8

Last week, we began Perelandra with Life as freedom and grace. This week’s reading reveals a contrast of life as determinism and force. One is the Life received from Maleldil and which proceeds from each good to another good; or, as the Gospel writer John says, from grace to grace. The other life is that which is a law unto itself and which is self-enclosed.

Ransom, through his own experience on Perelandra, and through discussion with Perelandra’s Queen, experienced no want, either of hunger or thirst, on Perelandra’s floating islands. In fact, for the first time in the first eight chapters and one hundred eight pages (in my edition) Ransom experiences hunger, thirst, and pain when on the Fixed Land. Maleldil has made it a law Perelandra that one is not to spend the night on the Fixed Land. The Fixed Land represents the antithesis of the Life of gracious gifts received among the floating islands and their flora and fauna. The Fixed Land is life as determined.

It is precisely on this point that Weston, now possessed by the Bent One in a scene as disturbing in its representation as it is in its brevity, attempts to insert the anti-gospel. Weston is the messenger of biological determinism romanticized. This is the life of Force, which “progresses” ever onward, “advancing” knowledge, yielding greater power and control. It is an anti-gospel which preaches greater “freedom” but which enslaves its adherents to a fatalist existence. Weston sees Ransom and the Queen, both naked and in something like an embrace, and assumes a sexual encounter. He assumes this not because he is some sort of puritancial prude. Rather he assumes it because, for him, life is irreducibly biological and the sexual urge is among the most basic and powerful of biology’s forces.

Ransom, however, knows different. After only a brief reflection on the non-erotic experience of his encounters with the Lady of Perelandra, his is an experience of freedom and gratitude. He does not think of provision, because Perelandra (and Maleldil) is abundant in its gifts. If he is hungry, there is that which he may eat. If he is thirsty, that which he may drink. He sleeps and knows deep refreshment. He is not troubled by biology and its needs and urges because his is an existence transformed by grace. “I have food of which you know not,” said Jesus to his disciples. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me.”

Alexander Schmemann, in his book Great Lent, notes that the first temptation of the Devil is to food, to life as merely biological. The Church’s great ascetics see through this facade. Their ascetical feats are such at which we marvel. But our awe is founded in our warped thinking. The Church’s ascetics know the truth which we forget or cannot hear for the cacophonous cackling of our world’s great hucksters: we live not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Our biology is not our fate. We are not slaves to our passions, urges and orientations. We are sons and daughters of God.

The Queen of Perelandra knows this, as does Ransom. But Weston has begun his great tempting of Perelandra’s Lady to fight this knowledge. And this world-shaping testing will soon reach its culmination.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 462 other followers