Friday, February 22, 2008


"Finally, I suspect that it is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere else to the One who, whether we realize it or not, is of all our secrets the most telling and the most precious we have to tell." Frederick Buechner

I have mentioned the wisdom of Frederick Buechner at least once before on FinS. This quotation calls three interrelated thoughts to mind.

First, the 'ray of darkness' that is God-talk. Our words never reach or capture the divine, who is unsurpassable love. Much modern scepticism confuses the inevitable fallibility of our speech toward the transcendent with a positivistic desire to 'prove' (or rather, disprove) its 'existence' (thereby using a contingent category to falsify the non-contingent). No-one can 'prove' the reality of God in empirical terms, for to attempt such an exercise is to misunderstand that of which we speak. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, the transcendence of God is not the transcendence of our epistemologies. Rather one 'lives into' God (Augustine), and discovers the truth of God in that way. Or not. The final 'verification' is eschatological, or not at all. The assurance offered by faithfulness is not the certainty of 'proof', as Jesus' episode with Thomas illustrates. (See also the discussion on doubt here.)

Second, there is an important distinction to be made between "invitation into a mystery" as the final form of Christian experience, and the promulgation of mystification aimed at the elevation of a supposed 'spiritual elite' over the 'common herd' (which is what Gnosticism can so readily be about). The former is wholesome, the latter a corruption. Jesus, in his filial relation to God, entered the darkness of Gethsemane and the light of transfiguration in a way that his disciples could neither emulate nor comprehend, because the conditioned (humanity) can never grasp the unconditioned. But he spoke and acted God's domain (kingdom) as arriving in the simplest and most accessible actions of justice, peace, love, hospitality and forgiveness. It is in these deeply human, natural, repeated gestures towards embracing life in its fullness that faith subsists and grace abides, not in six impossible metaphysical propositions before breakfast.

Third, Bonhoeffer, who said that in extremis (the world of Nazis that he lived in) the Christian vocation was simply to pray - to open oneself to ultimate love - and to act for justice, also spoke tantalisingly of 'the arcane discipline' in the Christian life. This has occasioned much scholarly debate. He meant, I think, the realisation of communion in the Eucharistic ritual and living which testifies to the final interconnectedness of everyone and everything in the new kind of life that Christ makes possible. There is mystery here, but it is preserved for the nourishment of all, not reserved for the edification of the few to whom it is granted.

[Hat tip to Elizabeth Kaeton's fabulous blog, Telling Secrets, of which more soon. And, yes, A Ray of Darkness - illustrated - is the title of a collection of Rowan Williams' sermons. Very good stuff. That is the title of the US edition. The English version is called Open to Judgement.]

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