Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A new season

No, not only the welcome transition from Football to Not-Football, but also the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. We are entering, again, an annual period given over to examining our human mortality, our human frailty, and that, inexplicably, that the God-Person affirms it's gonna be alright.

Naturally, theologians try to explain the inexplicable and so offer reflections for the season. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, takes a swing at this difficult target in Meeting God in Paul. Less than 100 pages, this little volume assembled from lectures delivered at Cambridge in 2015 looks at the Apostle Paul's "social world," his "disturbing idea," and his "Christian universe."

For liturgical Christians, there are particular obstacles to the project of making Paul come alive. We hear his letters (epistles) read every week in snippets, become familiar with these bits, but seldom think of his "theology" as a whole -- if, indeed, it is accurate to call "theology" the often practical reflections of someone who was propagandizing a novel, blinding, direct experience of God to noisy, fractious communities.

Williams tries to put across how startling was Paul's central message in this rendering of the letter to the church in Ephesus (which Williams concedes may have been written by a follower of Paul):

'Now at last,' he says, 'we have got the point. The penny has dropped. The secret that has been hidden from before the world was created has been made clear.' And what is the secret? That God is already determinedly and lastingly in love with ... Creation. That's the secret, and now it is out there in the plain light of day.

This puts me in mind of a line from the opening prayer of the Ash Wednesday service that marks the beginning of Lent:

God hates nothing that God has made ...

For an academic theologian, Williams is wonderfully readable. For example, this:

Why is there a world? Because God is that kind of God. Why are we able to give thanks to God? Because God is that kind of God. Why can we be confident that we have reconciliation and absolution for our failures and sins? Because God is that kind of God, the God whose form and face we see in Jesus.

You can find this gobbledegook, or you can, as I do find it rich material for cogitation, the right stuff for "the observance of a holy Lent" as today's service enjoins.

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