17 January 2010

Going in circles

I’m young. I realise this. I have a long way to go before I know enough to find a place of rest in this beautiful, mad universe. But that’s not going to stop me searching for it.

Peace Corps was a blow; that much is true – in that I thought I had found a place where I belonged but ultimately a false sense of security did me in. The Friends meeting was a quiet site of solace and peace; I have already described my family ties and my attraction to the Quaker philosophy and discipline of meditative silence. But I can’t help but feel that some things still need to be said, sometimes again and again. What’s more, some things need to be sung, in joy!

So I find myself going in circles; once a member of an Episcopal Church, I decided to return. Today, I went to S. Stephen’s Church in Providence the high-church community up near Brown, to hear Solemn High Mass. The church building was beautiful in itself, with great Gothic architecture and massive stained-glass windows. The service was mostly sung by a choir and by the celebrant and rector, and processions were done at the call to worship, at the Gospel reading and at the benediction, complete with burning incense. The entire service was elaborate and ornate, taking place mostly up in the choir before the altar (which was not screened off from the congregation). It reminded me strongly of Alexandrovski Russian Orthodox Church in Saimasai, while I served there as a Trainee; but the hymns and the liturgy were familiar, and I took the opportunity by the throat (as it were) to sing. Ecstatically. It was good to be able to do that again.

The sermon was greatly enjoyable. Fr. Alexander talked about theology and symbolism intelligibly but without talking down to us, describing the differences between miracles (in the synoptic Gospels) and signs (in John). He dropped the name of William Willimon (the Methodist bishop and former chaplain at Duke University), but the theology he preached was much more in line with a liberal interpretation of Thomas Aquinas than with Willimon (in a good way!). The sign of Jesus turning the water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana was the matter of Fr. Alexander’s sermon: a deeply symbolic narrative ‘place’ in Jesus’ ministry, with the feast as the recurring analogy for the Kingdom of Heaven, or God’s covenant with humanity (likened to that between a bridegroom and a bride!). And the wine has run out. Something, somewhere, has gone wrong for this wedded couple, God and us. But Jesus brings forth new wine – not from nothing, but from the water that was already there.

Fr. Alexander’s interpretation – which I thought very highly of – was that Jesus had not come to destroy the old creation and replace it from nothing. The world is not beyond redemption; the water has the potential to be transformed into something worthy – the new wine. This is not Resident Aliens theology; this is a few turns in the opposite direction. We are in the world that Christ has come not to condemn, but to save. As members of Christ’s body, it is upon us to carry forth his will with our fallible and imperfect abilities, to bring forth what is worthy in the world. That is something I feel must be said – and heard! – again and again.

I’ll go a few more Sundays; keep going in this circle, see where it takes me.

No comments:

Post a Comment