Saturday, May 26, 2007

We love Stringfellow (4): a post for Pentecost (on the Holy Spirit)

A Summer Series post.

From The Politics of Spirituality (1984). Also available in the Wylie Kellermann anthology of Stringfellow's works.

*****"... I was very impatient to be confirmed in the Episcopal Church. In my rearing as a child in that church I had come to think that confirmation was the occasion when the secrets were told. Confirmation, I supposed, was the event in which all the answers that had previously been withheld from me, because I was a child, would be forthcoming. In particular, I recall, I expected in confirmation to learn the secret of the Holy Spirit. ...

*****In my experience as a child in the church, when adults named the Holy Spirit in the presence of children, it was always an utterly obscure, unspecified, literally spooky allusion.

*****It did not specifically occur to me as a child to suspect that adults in the church did not, in fact, know what they were talking about when they used the name of the Holy Spirit. The reference, anyway, was always intimidating. ...

*****Needless to say, confirmation turned out to be a great disappointment.

*****... It was only later on, after I had begun to read the Bible seriously, on my own initiative, that the cloture about the Holy Spirit was disputed and the ridiculous mystification attending this name of the Word of God began to be dispelled. ...

*****Biblically, the Holy Spirit means the militant presence of the Word of God inhering in the life of the whole of creation. Biblically, the Holy Spirit is the Word of God at work both historically and existentially, acting incessantly and pervasively to renew the integrity of life in this world. By virtue of this redundant affirmation of the biblical witness, the false notion – nourished in my childhood in the Episcopal Church – that the Holy Spirit is, somehow, possessed by and enshrined within the sanctuary of the church was at last refuted, and I was freed from it. Coincidentally, as one would expect, the celebration in the sanctuary became, for me, authentic – a eucharist for the redemption of the life of the whole of creation in the Word of God –instead of vain ritual or hocus-pocus.

*****It was the biblical insight of the truth of the Holy Spirit that signaled my own emancipation from religiosity. It was the biblical news of the Holy Spirit that began, then, to prompt the expectancy of encounter with the Word of God in any and all events in the common life of the world and in my own life as a part of that. It was –it is– the biblical saga of the Word of God as Agitator, as the Holy Spirit, that assures me that wheresoever human conscience is alive and active, that is a sign of the saving vitality of the Word of God in history, here and now. "


Ed said...

Good grief, Jane, your light summer blogging puts us all to shame. You're a maniac!!! But we love you for it.

Jane R said...

Yeah, I am a maniac. Bear in mind that this is also because I am foregoing (sp) a huge chunk of my social life this summer, and not preaching, so, like Thomas the Talkative Trappist (which, to be fair, was originally my nickname for Thomas Keating, with whom I was once on a committee --I know, that is horrible name-dropping and he has probably forgotten my existence and the committee was an advisory thing which only met twice-- and who, great teacher of Centering Prayer and monk that he is, turned out to be extraordinarily chatty! but this sobriquet applies equally well to Thomas Merton, a.k.a. Father Louis, or as I recently dubbed him, that protoblogger of monkdom - so I'm talking about him in this instance) I spend much of my time (at least this late spring/summer) alone but need my verbal connections with the world. (Thank you all for being part of it...)

To be fair and lest you think I am a total monkette, I did go to church today, wearing bright red, and read the Acts reading in French (we also had the Epistle in German and the Gospel in Spanish -- and that passage from John sounds SO much better en español) and I am having a meal with friends tomorrow, and in a couple of weeks I will be at a professional conference full of theology geeks with whom, believe me, there will be talk talk talk; probably no blogging from me that week.

johnieb said...

Would you like a few of the English volumes of Church Dogmatics, speaking of verbosity? I think I have I 1, III 2, IV 2, parts 1 & 2, if I remember the nomenclature correctly.

I keep putting off Paul Ricoueur's *Rule of Metaphor*. I remember a UCC Conference Minister saying of her husband, "He's the guy who thinks Calvin's *Institutes* is beach reading." It makes me think more highly of John Le Carre.

johnieb said...

Dadgumit; Ricoeur.

Jane R said...

Sure, I'd love them. I think I can find your e-mail off-blog when the answer thingie lands in my e-mail box. Thanks. I'm not a huge Barth reader but I do teach bits of him of course and it's good to have him around.

So wait, you started out a Baptist, then you were a UCC minister, and now you're an Episcopalian? Welcome home :-). (My own journey is rather checkered too, so I'm not being snarky, just trying to get the story straight.) And this bureau chief from Hartford, was this a woman who then went to the Pacific Northwest? 'Cause if so I think I know her. Okay, the gossip stops here. I'm going to visit MadPriest's place. (From which I am still banned, last I saw. Geez, I even sent him a note off-blog about a great news story on sharks who don't need male sharks to have babies or some such great item.)

johnieb said...

Stop. Oregon Bureau Chief.
"Oh well. Whatever. Never mind."

You almost startled me into inadvertently upping your count; MP has BANNED you? WTF? (Does this count, Mimi?) How can this be? He is being playful, yes? He is being a**h*le, no?

And is this a "serious" or a "playful" blog? What manners are appropriate?

johnieb said...

Oh yeah. I was a de facto Methodist as an undergrad, otherwise Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) through ordination, parishes in OK and AR, one tour in CT with the UCC, then received in 1991 in TEC. I blame PTSD for much of my vocational confusion, which was broad and shallow; otherwise, I worked with the homeless and taught U S History to undergrads.

Jane R said...

Oregon. Okay, we'll talk ;-). Don't know this person well but I think that's the one.

No, MP bans people periodically in jest -- no a****** involved. But we stay away until called back. It's utterly playful. I think the last to be banned was Clumber, but I may be wrong. Mimi may remember. Anyway, I still stop in and read even if I can't open my big mouth. It's all in the comments.

I have a friend you should meet. You sound a little like him. He's in New Jersey though. He could use a friend right now, he has been through a lot. (Not PTSD but some other stuff.)

Thanks for telling us more about yourself! I think we've all had interesting journeys.

johnieb said...

There's no doubt about it in my mind. Hurry up and look up my e-mail, would you?

Yes, I know; the siren song of work.

Jane R said...

It's not working when I click johnieb on this computer. I'll try the other. I know you're on aol though.

Hey, none of you has commented on Stringfellow!!! Didja like what he said on the Holy Spirit? Auntie Jane wants to know.

Jane R said...

No, wait, johnieb, you're not the aol person, Ed is. Never mind.

johnieb said...

I liked it; do you want to "unpack" it here? :)

I first read Stringfellow before I was an Episcopalian; I didn't recognize the church of his childhood. Now I see it as a former self of the band I'm part of, which in its true forms is a fine conversation partner to Stringfellow.

Did you hear what Barth said when he was at Chicago in 1961 with Stringfellow, a layman and non-Theologian, on a panel offering comments? Addressing those who had come to adore him, Barth says of Stringfellow "This guy's good; listen to him!" One of my professors was there. Is he a Barthian? He publishes monographs at T & T Clark.

johnieb said...

PS I'm the sbcglobal person.

Jane R said...

Yup, heard the Barth story.

I think the editor of the Stringfellow anthology quotes it.

Hard to tell who is a Barthian or neo-Barthian or whatever till one reads them. And Barth wasn't into founding a school of thought, really. Interesting theological factoid: Barth is one of the theologians who influenced Gustavo Gutiérrez. GG said so himself.

johnieb said...

Doesn't surprise me about GG. I got the Barth story from the oral tradition (my friend and Christian Ed professor, Stuart McLean), but the same strands clearly inform Wylie-Kellerman's introduction, which I have rummaged around for in the interim, stumbling across, among other treasures, Jim Saunders on Canonical Criticism and an eyeball survey of the things I've kept in Religious Studies. I mention this because I didn't remember where I learned it, at first; it's nice it's in a written source I have.

I was taught by "Barthians", if that means anything, in the late Seventies; they all attempted to keep that fact very much in mind. I notice Joe Jones published a well-received theology; one of their daughters--Serenity?-- followed Dad into Theology. She came up from Yale one year in our Lenten series that year--spoke on the Second Person of the Trinity. Good work, I thought.

Not much chance to talk theology with the clergy in the last decade or so; I'm enjoying it, though I've neglected my reading, as I'm sure you will have noted.

Jane R said...

Serene Jones. Very good theologian. Feminist. Also recently wrote/edited very moving theological- spiritual- ethical book on pregnancy loss (the whole gamut -miscarriage, abortion, stillbirth et al.- with a bunch of other women theologians.

Re: Stringfellow: unpack away. I'm interested in what you all have to say, this isn't a one-way Summer Series. But conversation isn't required either!

johnieb said...

OK; here's a start, perhaps, with some top of the head jottings, but "militant" presence? I remember how we used that word in that time: "tenacious, utterly devoted to the cause = militant". It was a good thing to be; it meant you weren't wishy-washy, a "summer soldier" in Paine's memorable phrase. Good qualities in a Comforter and Advocate.

"To inhere", my little Webster's tells me, is from the L. inhaerere "to stick in, adhere to". "Stick" is a nice, layered word in English, meaning a wooden rod, to adhere, or to plunge into, or thrust.

This statement of WS doesn't do much for any special favorites of this Presence, does it? More likely to find an example in solemn assemblies, or less? Who can say? We may expect to find it in the whole of creation? Sticking up like a spoon in the cookie dough? Or a poke in the ribs? The Apostles, in the account of their Acts provided by Luke, sometimes find the Spirit acting among the jailers who beat them before locking them away. What poise, to look for it there!

Remember what the Messenger tells the first witnesses, or, rather, asks them a rhetorical question. And isn't that a interesting device! "Why do you (of all people?) look for the living among the dead? Such amazing stories! What people tell them, and to what end?

And what person--indeed, what creature, in one sense, does not tell a story, even if it is only "don't eat me."? Let me continue, pass on my DNA, tell my story, as I was told, and as you will tell.

The notion of the Spirit as the presence of a Word (Dabar), or word/ act which sticks to the whole of creation is itself lively and creative, isn't it? Doesn't it imply, the whole thing makes sense, even if that "sense" is necessarily beyond our grasp? Our metaphor for this itself is a "word", a sound, a pattern of letters or marks that points to the meaning, or even the thing which cannot be pointed to, but we note effects: energy, light, warmth, comfort, imagination, inherence. (H/T to Trible's discussion of metaphor in *God and Rhetoric of Sexuality*) It is as if a word has been spoken, or is being spoken, or will always be spoken, which sticks , not entirely predictably, in everything. It is the presence of this word from God, which is of God, which is God: Love that will not let us go.

It certainly gives ample food for those who encounter God's lively and present word, in its comprehensiveness and its insistence that we reconcile ourselves and our lives to God's Word, which the church bears witness to in Jesus, so we may set about the work of reconciliation itself. It is a mission-focused witness; does it contribute? Uplift? Mend? Heal? And a universal one: in all that is we find the presence of the creative Word of God; how may we then exclude what God has made and honors with her presence?

Again, the Lucan account is one which lifts up the activities of God's Word present to the Apostles. They see the work of the Spirit, and say, "why not baptize them?" They ponder what to do with Gentile converts, and they accept them, asking them not to dishonor the image of the Spirit in the blood by not eating that of animals as directed in Torah (yam, if I remember right: life, the stream of spirit). Luke shows us a very open, tolerant, welcoming, cosmopolitan Spirit, akin to Jesus' saying, in Mark I believe, whoever is not against us, is with us, and truly, you are not far from God's realm.

Alas, it's late and I don't want to re-read this too much more; let it stand, or not.

Peaceful night and blessed end, all.

johnieb said...

Second thoughts.

The Holy Spirit is, in some sense, not passed on, nor transmitted, which to me implies duration: being bounded by time. But isn't this what Heisenberg teaches doesn't "happen" as a flow, but as events separated by the time of the observation, as "quanta"? And what, then, of that which is not so bounded by time, which is, literally, and, under such conditions as we find ourselves, mysteriously (Via Negativa), the Present Dabar of God? "Present" itself, is fundamentally of another order and must therefore be discussed, if at all, in appropriately different ways. This may be the grounds of "God-talk" (not a subject I devoted much attention to, I'm afraid, though I owned *Sexism and God-Talk* for decades.), however inadequate our efforts. It is important for theology, no matter how it may draw upon our common life in the world as we know and feel it, to be a distinctive activity and discipline.

Please stop me whenever this is too much like grading student papers.