Thursday, January 28, 2010

Considering "the Word"

“The sower sows the word…” (Mk. 4:14) How odd that I have long felt linked to this oft referenced “Parable of the Sower” and yet never hat I stopped to ask, “what word?” And I wonder; is this the same “word” Catholics speak of when they kneel before the Eucharist and pray, “Only say the word and I shall be healed.”? Jesus, can a person know the difference between what you meant and what your successive followers have taught and continue to teach? Do we now follow Christ or do we follow the church; and is it reasonable to draw a distinction as if all were not one? Tension creates a desire to understand, to know and to strengthen relationship. Would joining a church, for me, be a way of experiencing a sense of resolution for a challenge that has not yet truly been met?

These were the thoughts and reflections that rose in response to yesterdays readings (part of the “readings for the week” that tend to be distributed in liturgical churches). Today’s readings brought further consideration and along similar lines. The Old Testament reading is an account of David responding to God’s promise to “establish his house,” so to speak. While reading David’s words by habitually frame of mind rests on the image of David being literally present with God, having this conversation. I was not aware of my frame of mind until I reached the line, “Therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you” (2 Sam. 7:27b). David responded to God in prayer—suddenly the image shifts to this man, David, alone in large room, on his knees—how did God speak to David? That, I could not so easily imagine. In what way was the promise made known? It was through the voice of Nathan, the prophet (I had almost forgotten the previous days reading accounting for this; how easy it is to lose context!), to whom “the word of the Lord” came at night.

There is the word again. This time it is elucidated; it is narrated by the voice of Nathan and specifically directed toward David. Not entirely to David though, as it does incorporate his offspring. This is the word that God delivers through Nathan telling of how he will relate to David’s offspring: “I will be to him a father, and he shall be my son…I will discipline him with the rod of men…but my steadfast love will not depart from him…” (7:14-15). Perhaps this is the “word” to which Jesus refers in the parable, only he has expanded it beyond David’s line, because as he called God, “Father,” he called those around him “brother and sister and mother” (Mk. 3:35). This relates to what I had just been reading in Martin Buber’s philosophical work, I and Thou (I had read the parable just after the passage that follows and wondered if Jesus’ “word” was more closely akin to the basic word “I-You” than to a compendium of doctrine. Incidentally, Buber is not Christian but Jewish and his book is not considered a work of theology):

***How powerful, even overpowering is Jesus’ I-saying, and how legitimate to the point of being a matter of course! For it is the I of the unconditional relation in which man calls his You “Father” in such a way that he himself becomes nothing but a son (an act that both elevates and humbles)…if detachment ever touches him, it is surpassed by association, and it is from this that he speaks to others (this I-You association with the Father is the root from which all other relationships grow)…everyone can speak the You and then becomes I; everyone can say Father and then become son; actuality abides (it is not limited to or possessed by one, all have equal access and equal level of association—when my You is Father, I am daughter; others or brother and sister to me—sons and daughters of the same—neither more nor less.)***

The italicized parentheticals were my own response as I read this text. Later though, C.S. Lewis threw a spoke in my wheel via this dialogue between two characters in That Hideous Strength:

***“I thought love meant equality,” she said.
“Ah, equality!” said the Director, “…we must all be guarded by equal rights from one another’s greed, because we are all fallen. Just as we must all wear clothes for the same reason. But the naked body should be there underneath the clothes, ripening for the day when we shall need them no longer. Equality is not the deepest thing, you know.”
“But I thought that was just what it was. I thought it was in their souls that people were equal.”
“You were mistaken…Equality guards life; it doesn’t make it. It is medicine, not food…”***

I have found, in reading this story, a disquieting tendency to relate to the characters who are being portrayed as caught of in the confusions and illusions of the world. Whether I ought to take this as a challenge to my own philosophy or that of Lewis, I cannot tell. In the past I’d have automatically gone with the former. Now, I think it reasonable to question both—in much the same way that I would question my assumptions behind what Jesus means when he says “the word” as well as I would both question and welcome another’s interpretation of it—we may not be equal but we are each significant, and doubtless carry a small piece to what amounts to a great and mysterious puzzle. In any case, I suppose the thing to do for now is to read on.

I would certainly welcome any thoughts and reflections from you…

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