Williams on Liturgy and Giving Our Words Over to God

As Rowan Williams explains, Scripture is narrative, but it is a particularly interesting kind of narrative, since it “weaves together history and liturgy” (On Christian Theology, 7).  The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is not only talked about, but he is spoken to.  He is praised; He is worshipped in song and poetry; He is addressed in prayer.  Not only in Scripture and the liturgy, but also in works like Augustine’s Confessions we find this interplay of speaking about God and speaking to God; yet, in each of these instances the discourse involved is open to the other and willing to be attentive to and challenged by what the other has to say.On Christian Doctrine by R. Williams

The language of worship ascribes supreme value, supreme resource or power, to something other than the worshipper, so that liturgy attempts to be a “giving over” of our words to God (as opposed to speaking in a way that seeks to retain distance or control over what’s being spoken of:  it is in this sense that good liturgy does what good poetry does).  This is not to say that the language of worship itself cannot be starkly and effectively ideological; but where we find a developing and imaginative liturgical idiom operating in a community that is itself constantly re-imagining itself and its past, we may recognize that worship is at some level doing its job.   That is what the overall canonical structure of Jewish Scripture puts before the reader; and insofar as the New Testament portrays the life, death and resurrection of Jesus as something which opens up an unprecedentedly direct and undistorted language for prayer, praise, “sacrifice”, and so on it is to be read as reinforcing the same point.  The integrity of a community’s language about God, the degree to which it escapes its own pressures to power and closure, is tied to the integrity it directs to God (7).

Our words about God are not final, not comprehensive, but ought to remain open-ended and receptive of new meanings (not just any meanings of course), just as we remain open to what the Word has to say to us.  The words we hear in Scripture and in the liturgy may require us to amend, alter, or give up not only certain ways of being but also certain ways of speaking (about God, others and our world).  Thus, the theologian must resist, to borrow a Nietzschean metaphor, a tendency to allow his/her theological discourse to become a columbarium, and hence, a language of death, rather than words of life.  Or as Williams puts it from a slightly different but related angle: “Language about God is kept honest in the degree to which it turns on itself in the name of God, and so surrenders itself to God” (8).

Sokolowski on the Eucharist, Death and Questioning Time

As Robert Sokolowski explains in his book, Eucharistic Presence:  A Study in the Theology of Disclosure, in the Eucharist past and future are made present.  That is, past events of salvation history such as the Jewish Passover, but especially the Christ-event and future eschatological realities are brought together.  Sokolowski then offers a beautiful reflection on our union with Christ in death.Eucharist Icon

[W]e in the Eucharist anticipate our own death as to be joined to the death of Jesus.  Our death becomes part of the divine mystery, part of the great saving actions of God, because it can be identified with the sacrificial death of Christ.  […]  The celebrations of the Eucharist at which we assist are like so many rehearsals of the one transition, the one exodus that is reserved for each of us, the one offering in which we no longer sacramentally but bodily participate in the death of the Lord.  As Jesus acted toward the Father in his death, so we are enabled to make our death an act before God, an act in which life is changed, not taken away. […] Our death, which is the horizon marking off the edge of our life, becomes a particular image of the final restoration of all things in Christ, an image of the death of things that is now to be understood as a transition into the kingdom of God.  The Eucharist thus presents a double future to each of us as we participate in it:  it presents our own entrance into the death and Resurrection of Jesus, and it presents the more remote setting in which everything will be restored in the kingdom of God.

These enactments of past are future are all woven into the Eucharist we celebrate in the present.  The celebration of the Eucharist is surrounded by temporal ripples through which past and future things are refracted.  The Eucharist does not give us merely images or signs of what is past and future; it presents these things as past and as future to us now. The Eucharist involves memory and anticipation, but it does not involve them as mere psychological states; rather, it reenacts and preenacts things God has done and will do  (104-5).

Sokolowski, a few pages later, says that the Eucharist is from one perspective something that takes place in time.  That is, it takes time to celebrate it; yet, “it also overcomes time as it reenacts an event that took place at another time.  In doing this, the Eucharist calls time into question.  It claims to go beyond time and thereby indicates that time and its succession are not ultimate.  It makes time to be an image; it makes succession to be a representation.  Thus the Eucharist, in its reenactment of the past and anticipation of the future, also enacts for us the context that encloses past, future, and present:  it enacts the eternal life of the God who could be all that he is, in undiminished goodness and greatness, even if the world and its time were not [!].  The Eucharist engages, and perpetually reminds us of, the Christian distinction between the world and God” (107).

On the Neglected and Underprivileged Metaphors of the Western Tradition

Jesus Heals the LeperAs Alfred North Whitehead famously said, the history of Western philosophy “consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”  The more I study the Western philosophical tradition, the more convinced I am that this is the case.  At the center of Plato’s philosophy is his doctrine of the Forms or Ideas.  In Greek there are two words, which we translate into English as “idea”:  εἶδος (eidos) and ἰδέα (idea).  Interestingly, in Greek these works mean something that is seen; however, Plato uses the terms to mean that which is not seen physically, but mentally.  Nonetheless, seeing is still the root metaphor pervading his philosophy.  Consider some of his most famous images-the cave, the sun, and so on.  In the cave, there is no light, no knowledge.  When one emerges from the cave into the light, one comes to know (or potentially comes to know) reality by first seeing the things of the sense world and then ascending to the Forms or Ideas in which the sense objects participate and imitate.  As is well-known these days, postmoderns have challenged this privileging of the visual metaphor and have attempted to imagine what it might mean for some of the other senses to serve as a central metaphors.  For example, postmodern philosophers and theologians such as Jean-Luc Marion and Catherine Pickstock have written with great effect on the more “neglected” senses such as taste and hearing.

Personally, I think that touch offers particularly fertile ground that ought be explored and put to use in philosophy.  To be touched is, I submit, something that all humans need.  Unfortunately, it is something that has been lost in our interactions with one another-perhaps in part due to our technological mode of being-in-the-world and perhaps also because of a fear of communicating the wrong idea or of a negative response from the other to whom we wish to encourage. Yet, an embrace and a simple clasping of hands can often communicate more than anything we might say.  Two examples come to mind:  one personal and the other Scriptural.

My husband and I lived in Moscow, Russia for about three years.  During our time in Russia, we had the opportunity to visit various cities, small towns and villages. One winter we traveled by train to Kirov, staying approximately two weeks. While there we were invited to spend a day at one of the orphanages just outside the city. The memories of that visit are quite vivid, and the time with the children, though brief, was a life- changing experience. When we first arrived, the children, who ranged in age from 4-16 years old, were extremely shy and stand-off-ish. I noticed immediately a small, very cute little boy, Sasha, who was about 5 years old and very withdrawn. I walked up to Sasha and said, “Привет Саша,” (“hello, Sasha”).  But Sasha said nothing – no smile, no handshake, no eye contact – nothing. As the day progressed, we played games, performed skits, ate lunch and attempted to get to know the children better. While playing one of the more active games (something like dodge-ball), Sasha and I began slowly to “bond.”  When it was time to eat, I noticed that he wanted to sit with me (which made me of course extremely happy), so I tried to take his hand; however, he did not want me to touch him and quickly pulled his hand away.  Nonetheless, he still wanted to sit with me. So we sat and ate borsch together and then went off to play more games. As the day was drawing to a close, I was sitting on a bench resting and Sasha walked up to me, sat next to me, and to my surprise (and joy) he let me hold his hand. After that connection, he would not leave my side and even let me hold him. He actually wanted very much to be held and touched, but he of course was simply “one among many” in the orphanage and had been for most of his short life deprived of physical touch. When it was time to leave, he did not want to let go of my hand (nor did I want to let go of his). Then the dreaded time came and we were told that the bus was leaving and we’d better pack up and board the bus. As we drove off, the kids ran behind the bus as long as they could keep up, and we of course cried our eyes out. I often think about Sasha, and hope that he remembers me-more than that, I hope that he finds a home and a family that will give him the love and affection for which he longs, needs, and deserves.

Not long after our short trip to Kirov, I began studying the book of Leviticus, which among other things describes the law of the leper’s cleansing (chapter 13).[1] For example in Lev. 13:45-46, we read,

The person who has the leprous disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head be disheveled; and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’ He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.

Why must the leper wear torn clothes?  In the Old Testament, the rending of a person’s clothes was a symbolic expression of mourning over death. Here the leper is to wear torn garments to represent his/her absolutely hopeless condition-after all, the disease was incurable.  Prior to aids, leprosy was perhaps the most dreadful disease a person might contract.  For example, the body becomes covered with ulcers, the person loses his/her hair, s/he experiences extremely slow bodily decay even to the point of losing limbs, and the mental and psychological anguish endured is excruciating.  The person with leprosy is alienated from his/her own family and from societal life; s/he experiences death daily, moment by moment over period of many years and, worse of all, isolated, alienated.   Although we are not exactly certain of the kind of leprosy that existed in the time of the OT, we can, however, grasp how this disease illustrates well the nature of sin in the spiritual sphere.

In addition to wearing torn clothes, the leper must cry, “Unclean, unclean.” Here “unclean” is not so much a reference to the physical disease itself, but speaks of the ceremonial status of the person according to Levitical law. That is, the individual remains unclean ceremonially until s/he is pronounced “clean” by the priest – that is, when and if healing comes. As mentioned above, “He shall live alone; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.” The leper experiences a separation, s/he has no koinonia with the people of God, and is considered ceremonially under judgment.

Though we do read in the OT of some lepers who were healed, there are very few illustrations of healing the disease until Jesus came on the scene. In other words, as to the “tonal center” of the OT, it was extremely unusual for anyone to be healed of leprosy. Yet, in Mark’s Gospel account, we read:

A leper came to him [Jesus] begging him, and kneeling he said to him, ‘If you choose, you can make me clean.’  Moved with pity, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, and said to him, ‘I do choose. Be made clean!’  Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean.

Jesus, who was well-acquainted with the Torah and the intricacies of Levitical law, did not rebuke the leper, explaining that lepers are social outcasts who belong outside the camp.  Nor did He worry about being socially stigmatized or becoming ceremonially unclean through contact with the leper.  Rather, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the leper.  Then the Incarnate Word said, “be made clean,” and it was so.  Jesus, who would soon know exile, alienation, condemnation and ultimately death, stretched out his hand of flesh and touched this diseased, dying leprous man.  Jesus, whose body was rent and broken for us – we, who in Adam are spiritual lepers – acted with compassion towards the leper, touching him and thereby affirming his humanity, and I assure you the leper knew love as he had never known it before.

If philosophy can’t find a use for these kinds of images, then theology certain should, indeed, it must.


[1] Many of the observations given here were first brought to my attention about a decade ago through a lecture series on Leviticus by Dr. S. Lewis Johnson.

Part II: Williams on Two Eccentric Female Philosophers, Simone Weil and Etty Hillesum

The second eccentric “outsider” Williams discusses is Etty Hillesum, who, like Simone Weil, was also of Jewish origins.  Hillesum grew up in Holland and during the German invasions was arrested and eventually died at Auschwitz.   Like Simone Weil, her family was secular; yet unlike Weil, she had a wild youth, which she describes in detail in her wonderful diaries.  Williams, having read some of her diary entries, describes her as “full-blooded.”  Increasingly, however, she felt unsettled by a certain lack in her intellectual and emotional life.  As has sometimes happened with other famous figures who have endured grave suffering, during the most severe period of Gestapo activity in Amsterdam, Hillesum begins to discover God.  She already had an interest in religion, and reads, for example, Augustine and Dostoevsky.  However, she comes to realize that simply reading about them and nothing more is not sufficient.

In Hillesum’s case something more, something that she didn’t quite understand was happening to her, and she describes in her diary a new desire to kneel.  This is significant for her own story, because she describes herself as having been one who would never kneel.  But now she felt that the most appropriate response to whatever it was that happening to her was to kneel.  She wasn’t sure to whom she was kneeling, yet it was something she was compelled to do.  As Williams explains, “she sensed that there was something that had such a claim on her that she had to express with her whole body what that claim is. Actually, the fact that she had been a very sexually active young woman and had thought a great deal about the body, she felt that she had to use her body to express her faith.”

Hillesum reads from her own Jewish tradition and from the Christian tradition, and she senses increasingly that something or someone has a claim on her life.  After her arrest and while waiting to be deported, she writes that she has come to realize that in this world someone has to take responsibility for God.  “That is, someone in the middle of the horrors of the Gestapo destruction in Holland-somebody has to live as thought the Gestapo was not controlling the universe.  Somebody has to live as though things are just different, and she says that someone unfortunately seems to be me” (rough quote of Williams’ commentary).  So Hillesum becomes burdened with the idea of taking responsibility for God-that is, living in such a way that God becomes credible.  And that is precisely how she lived in the deportation camp and at Auschwitz.   In some of her last diary pages which were crumpled up and thrown out of the train, she writes, “and we left the camp singing.”  Williams’ then highlights the notion of “making oneself a sign of God in a godless world.”  Then he adds, “you can see that that is about your body, not just about what you say but putting your whole self on the line, as when you kneel down you are expressing a wholeness in response to God.” Thus, even in the midst of something as horrible as Auschwitz, one can by becoming a sign of God “make God real.”  This recalls what Williams said in his first lecture about Nyssa and prayer and reconciliation.  It also sits well with the 17th century idea of “landing where you are” (discussed in his second lecture).  Williams sees Etty Hillesum as “a powerful and unconventional 20th century version” of just such a landing.  Sadly, she died at the very young age of 27 at Auschwitz.  Like Weil, Hillesum was never baptized and no one is quite sure where she stood at the end of her life with regard to the Christian faith.    Nonetheless, in the last years of her life, she lived the Gospel in a way that would perhaps put most modern, Western Christians to shame.  Interestingly, among the people whom she met at Westerbork, which was the holding camp which people were sent before being shipped to Auschwitz, were two Jewish, Carmelite nuns both members of St. Theresa’s reformed Carmelite order.  One of these nuns was the great Edith Stein, who was of course one of the greatest Catholic thinkers of the twentieth century.  Stein also died in Auschwitz because she refused to separate herself as a Catholic from her Jewish brothers and sisters.

These are Williams’ “outsiders,” all of which, as he says, are “challenging, quirky, strange figures.”  Before transitioning to discuss the monks, Williams ends with a great line and an image that has made me smile for several days:  “I sometimes fantasize about that particular corner in heaven where 20th century, Jewish, women philosophers get together.  Simone Weil, Etty Hillesum, Edith Stein, Gillian Rose, Rosa Luxemburg, and Hannah Arendt.  And my goodness that would be a hard place to eavesdrop.”

Part I: Williams on Two Eccentric Female Philosophers, Simone Weil and Etty Hillesum

Archbishop Rowan Williams’ recent Holy Week lectures focused on the subject of prayer.  He began by discussing insights of three early Church figures:  Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Cassian.  In his second lecture, he discussed several Protestant and Catholic Reformers, highlighting their common emphases on God’s free action, God’s majesty and God’s mystery.  (Williams, by the way, gave a very positive presentation of John Calvin’s views on prayer, referring to one of Calvin’s sermons on Abraham and Isaac.  Hermeneutically speaking, it is interesting to note that Calvin’s exposition of the text is anything but a strict grammatico-historical reading.  I applaud Williams for avoiding the herd mentality about Calvin and engaging in a bit of 21st century ad fontes activity). In this post, I draw our attention to the Archbishop’s third lecture, viz., those who have written on prayer in the 20th century.  More specifically, I focus on the two eccentric female “outsiders” (that is, outsiders to Christian orthodoxy), Simone Weil and Etty Hillesum.

The question of prayer and how to pray, as Williams’ points out, was still quite pressing in the 20th century.  That is, the events of the war, the Nazi invasions and the resultant crimes against humanity, all played a role in pushing people to seek God.  First, Williams’ discusses Simone Weil, a Jewish philosopher, who died in 1943 at the young age of 34.  Because of Jewish identity, her historical situation, and her own desire to connect with the plight of the poor, Weil was intimately acquainted with suffering.  For example, when the Nazis took over France, Simone was uprooted and forced to flee.  In the final months of her life, she decided to eat no more food than was available to the poorest in France in her day. This decision had deleterious consequences on her health and contributed to her death.  Weil’s family was a secular Jewish family and also a very intellectual family.  At an early age, Simone evinced intellectual gifts and a proclivity for philosophy and languages.  In addition to teaching at a high school, Weil also worked in a factory, as she wanted to relate with the working class and their struggles.  Weil’s life was one of intensity, and that intensity comes through in her writings.

As Williams explains, although she was an intellectual, Simone had a life-changing mystical experience in her twenties while on a retreat at a Benedictine Abbey.  As she read George Herbert’s poem, “Love Bade Me Welcome,” she had what she describes as an encounter with Christ-as she puts it, “Christ came down and took possession of me.”  She, however, was eccentric and struggled with Catholic theology.  For example, she refused to be baptized.  Why?  She believed that most of the human race was not baptized and out in the cold and felt that her call was to stay out in the cold with most of the human race.  Had she lived longer, perhaps her views on baptism would have changed; nonetheless, one can respect her desire to existentially connect with the alienated and downtrodden.  Weil did, in spite of her differences with traditional theology, spend much time reflecting on the Eucharist and the Trinity.  In addition, she spoke out against the impersonal and technological totalitarianism of her day-that is, against the kind of life she had seen and experienced in the factory.

Weil’s best known book is entitled, Waiting for God. As Williams’ explains, for Simone, the essence of prayer begins in attention, in waiting attention.  This kind of posture involves self-denial, a kind of selflessness.  That is, (quoting Williams) “you put your thoughts and anxieties on the backburner, [you] let your self be there and let your mind be shaped by what is in front of you.  In learning a language, you submit your mind and your feelings to the structure of something that is there, and as you do that you enter into a kind of freedom.”  In other words, by de-centering the self and one’s own concerns and preoccupations, you allow what is there to shape you.  You allow the Other a voice, a potentially transforming voice.   In fact, Weil sees the de-centering necessary for prayer as that which is required in many “ordinary” activities.  As Williams’ puts it, “the selflessness of learning a language or a craft-all of that is a preparation for the deep attention of waiting in which you turn toward God.  That is her most central idea.  It connects experiences that we all share in some way with the experience of connecting with God.”  Thus, whether learning to ride a bicycle (or in my daughter’s case, a tricycle), learning a craft, or learning a foreign language, we are de-centering ourselves and being shaped by an “other.”

Weil’s philosophical ideas are quite complex.  (Interestingly, they remind me of some of Balthasar’s teachings).  For example, “Simone sees this selfless giving as the ground of God, because God himself is always giving himself so selflessly that you can almost say that he cancels himself out, so that the world can exist, can come to light.  That gift, in which you cancel yourself as the giver, she translates into the idea that somehow in our own relationship to God, we, in response to God’s stepping out of sight, cancel ourselves and our absorbed into God.”  Weil speaks of this as “de-creating” ourselves. Of course, that moves a bit outside of Christian orthodoxy; yet, her point about self-less giving is very much at the heart of Christianity.    Williams ends by saying, “the power and density of her writing is addictive. She covers such a range of thinking and feeling, and though she herself found it very hard to accept love, she never lost sight of that experience where Christ came down and ‘took possession of me’ when she was contemplating George Herbert’s poem,

‘LOVE bade me welcome; yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.'”

In part II, I shall summarize Williams’ lecture on Etty Hillesum.

Nietzsche on the Human Tendency to Ossify Metaphors and Christ Who Shatters All Columbaria

According to Nietzsche in his essay, “On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense,”[1] what we take to be knowledge involves two metaphors.  Here metaphor is understood in a broad sense, namely, as transference.  First, we have a transfer that occurs from a nerve stimulus caused by the external world, which is then translated into an image.  Secondly, that image is then transferred into a sound, that is, it becomes language.  Nietzsche’s point is that we construct our knowledge at a distance from (here at least two steps) the flow of life.  For example, when I look out the window and see a tree, a series of brain and nerve activities occurs, but these neural stimulations bear no intrinsic similarities to the tree “out there.”  Thus, we have the first metaphoric-ization or transference.   Then, having received this stimuli, I translate this information into a word, into language, which provides the second transference. From this picture, Nietzsche concludes that there is no natural connection between what is perceived in the external world and knowledge.  Rather, the relation between what is out there and my claims to know it is purely conventional.  According to Nietzsche, language is not a reflection of essences.    Our knowledge does not reflect the deep structures of reality; rather, it is a mere human construct.

Failure to recognize this state of affairs is, for Nietzsche, one of the central problems with the scientist or rational human being in contrast with the artist or intuitive person. That is, the scientist, who, of course, also constructs metaphors, takes his metaphors to be the truth, the way things really are.  According to Nietzsche, the scientist takes his metaphors too seriously; he ossifies them, whereas the artist recognizes their fluidity and transiency.  To be sure, these metaphors do serve practical and pragmatic purposes.  They help us to affirm ourselves and aid in our self-preservation to some degree.  However, when we forget about their provisional nature, we come to believe that our conceptual edifices are immovable.  When this occurs, the metaphors harden, they ossify-rather, we ossify them, and turn them into columbaria.   (A columbarium is a Roman vault for funeral urns!)  So the rational human being has lost touch with the metaphorical origins of human knowledge and lives his life constructing conceptual systems that display “the regularity of a Roman columbarium” (112).  According to Nietzsche, our (rationalistic) tendency to forget the earthy, metaphorical rootedness of human knowledge, moves us to increasing levels of abstraction-abstractions which we then take to be reality.  These systems of abstractions are likened to a columbarium; they are life-denying and lead to death.  (By the way, I think his critique of the scientist also applies to the philosopher and the theologian).

Clearly, Nietzsche values the flow of life and wants us to remain close to our, so to speak, humble origins.  His warnings against taking our conceptual edifices to be the reality and the one and only way to truthfully describe and explain the world are compelling and worthy of our reflection.  Part of his critique also involves cautioning against pride and calling us to acknowledge our finitude-two points that Christians ought to take seriously.  Yet, as a Christian, there are certain matters, which are central to the Christian narrative and understanding of reality, which Nietzsche fails to consider.  For example, according to the Christian tradition, the created order is now not as it originally was.  In fact, St. Paul, employing a number of earthy metaphors, tells us that creation has been subjected to futility and eagerly awaits its eschatological renewal.

The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.  For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (NRSV, Rom 8:19-25).

So there is a sense in which, for the Christian, life and the world as now experienced involves a struggle against the natural world-a natural world, which groans and awaits a final release from its dislocation and disintegration.  In other words, something more than a return to the flow of life or even a recognition of the metaphorical origins of knowledge is needed to overcome the prideful tendencies of which Nietzsche speaks.  According to the Christian narrative, a kind of cosmic redemption is needed-a redemption that not only saves us from our pride but also transforms and renews the present state of creation itself.  This is of course precisely what St. Paul claims Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection accomplished and is accomplishing.  St. Paul doesn’t deny that our life in-between Christ’s advents is a life of eschatological tension both within ourselves and with creation as a whole.

In addition to St. Paul’s use of metaphors, we should also consider the use of metaphor and mythical language in the Genesis creation account.  For example, the author of Genesis speaks of a solid dome upon which fixed stars hang (the raqia).  This mythical description, of course, doesn’t square with contemporary science and our current understanding of the sky, stars etc.  Nonetheless, God chose to condescend to the then-current conceptual categories and to use this mythical language to speak of his creation, as his point was not to give us a scientific account of the universe but to proclaim himself as the Creator.  So perhaps we could say that God himself is more like the artist, who plays with metaphor and recognizes its inherent limitations.  Yet, he is unlike the artist (at least the artist in Nietzsche’s description) in that he is in fact trying to teach us something about reality itself, the reality that he himself brought into being and the reality which he is.

Lastly, perhaps participating in liturgical life provides a way to properly acknowledge our finitude and to combat modernity’s “columbaric” tendencies which Nietzsche so aptly describes.  For example, in the Ash Wednesday liturgy of the Anglican/Episcopal Church, as the priest marks our foreheads with ashes, s/he says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” (Of course, for those in Christ, there’s more to story. We, who are in Christ, shall be resurrected in glorified bodies).  In addition, participation in the Eucharist reminds us through humble material means (bread and wine) of our need for spiritual nourishment, that is, our need to be nourished by Christ’s resurrection life. Confession of sin reminds us of our weakness, our proclivity to idolatry and our continual, moment-by-moment need for God’s grace and forgiveness.  The preaching of the word keeps us rooted in the Christian story and challenges us to submit to God’s, as it were, “interpretation” of reality.

How fitting on this Easter Sunday to allow Nietzsche to teach us about the power and relevance of the Christ-event.  Whether ancient, stone columbariua or modern, conceptual columbaria, neither are able to contain Christus Victor.  He is risen!  He is risen indeed!


[1] All citations are taken from an anthology edited by Lawrence E. Cahoone, From Modernism to Postmodernism:  An Expanded Anthology, 2nd edition, (Wiley-Blackwell, 2003).