Rowan Williams speaks with Emily Maitlis (BBC Newsnight) about some implications for living amidst the coronavirus crisis.
Rowan Williams speaks with Emily Maitlis (BBC Newsnight) about some implications for living amidst the coronavirus crisis.
Scott Kirkland writes:
COVID-19 has brought the frailty and vulnerability of the body into sharp relief. Some have suggested that in the wake of COVID-19 we should consider practices such as virtual eucharists. I would like to suggest we resist that, and think a bit more about what bodily absence might symbolise.
COVID-19 provides occasion to think about the bodily absence of Christ in productive ways. There’s something about the absence of the eucharist which gives way to a realisation that it is always an act of hope, of anticipation. The Eucharist, however, can be something we take for granted, something we don’t miss until it is gone. The absence of the eucharist is also indicative of the absence of an ability to meet together in, as, and through the body of Christ. That which binds us together as one body is taken away for a time.
Søren Kierkegaard tells a story of a lover watching the beloved disappear on a ship over the horizon. It is in that moment of absence that love is somehow brought to attention. This is more than not knowing what you have until it’s gone, it is a matter of not knowing what we don’t have in the first place. We don’t have Christ, his body has ascended and we await his coming. The eucharist is an enactment of this hope.
Image: J. M. W. Turner, Seascape with a Sailing Boat and a Ship, c.1825–30. Oil on canvas, 46.7 × 61 cm. The Tate Gallery, London.
I have known the silence of the stars and of the sea,
And the silence of the city when it pauses,
And the silence of a man and a maid,
And the silence for which music alone finds the word,
And the silence of the woods before the winds of spring begin,
And the silence of the sick
When their eyes roam about the room.
And I ask: For the depths
Of what use is language?
A beast of the field moans a few times
When death takes its young.
And we are voiceless in the presence of realities—
We cannot speak.
A curious boy asks an old soldier
Sitting in front of the grocery store,
“How did you lose your leg?”
And the old soldier is struck with silence,
Or his mind flies away
Because he cannot concentrate it on Gettysburg.
It comes back jocosely
And he says, “A bear bit it off.”
And the boy wonders, while the old soldier
Dumbly, feebly lives over
The flashes of guns, the thunder of cannon,
The shrieks of the slain,
And himself lying on the ground,
And the hospital surgeons, the knives,
And the long days in bed.
But if he could describe it all
He would be an artist.
But if he were an artist there would be deeper wounds
Which he could not describe.
There is the silence of a great hatred,
And the silence of a great love,
And the silence of a deep peace of mind,
And the silence of an embittered friendship,
There is the silence of a spiritual crisis,
Through which your soul, exquisitely tortured,
Comes with visions not to be uttered
Into a realm of higher life.
And the silence of the gods who understand each other without speech,
There is the silence of defeat.
There is the silence of those unjustly punished;
And the silence of the dying whose hand
Suddenly grips yours.
There is the silence between father and son,
When the father cannot explain his life,
Even though he be misunderstood for it.
There is the silence that comes between husband and wife.
There is the silence of those who have failed;
And the vast silence that covers
Broken nations and vanquished leaders.
There is the silence of Lincoln,
Thinking of the poverty of his youth.
And the silence of Napoleon
And the silence of Jeanne d’Arc
Saying amid the flames, “Blesséd Jesus”—
Revealing in two words all sorrow, all hope.
And there is the silence of age,
Too full of wisdom for the tongue to utter it
In words intelligible to those who have not lived
The great range of life.
And there is the silence of the dead.
If we who are in life cannot speak
Of profound experiences,
Why do you marvel that the dead
Do not tell you of death?
Their silence shall be interpreted
As we approach them.
– Edgar Lee Masters, ‘Silence’, Poetry (February, 1915), 209–11.
Image: Anselm Kiefer, Die Ungeborenen (The Unborn), 1978. Acrylic, shellac emulsion and lead on paper collage laid on canvas, 170 x 189 cm. Private collection, Switzerland.
I was delighted to receive an invitation to contribute a short piece for Zadok and their issue on ‘Urban Spirituality’. It’s a great issue, with pieces by some amazing people – Karina Kreminski (who edited the issue), Alison Sampson, Simon Carey Holt, Glenn Loughrey, Siu Fung Wu, Jo Kadlecek, Sherry Maddock, Geoff Maddock, Melinda Cousins, Joel McKerrow, and Matt Anslow. My own contribution is some scribbles about street art. Details: ‘On the Gifts of Street Art’. Zadok 146, Summer (2019): 13–15. [pdf]
I was even more thrilled when they chose to use one of my photos for the front cover.
[Update: the Australasian Religious Press Association awarded this essay silver prize for ‘Best Theological Article’ in their 2020 ARPA Awards.]
Art/s and Theology Australia is excited to provide an update about our upcoming conference – Vision, Voice, and Vocation.
Keynote speakers and a rich offering of short papers, creative presentations, and workshops, will lead us in stimulating conversation about what roles the imagination and the vocations of the artist play in navigating and shaping the complex and changing climates of contemporary life.
The keynote speakers are Emmanuel Garibay (a visual artist from the Philippines), Lyn McCredden (an academic and poet from Melbourne), Jione Havea (a Melbourne-based bible scholar), Trevor Hart (a theologian and priest from Scotland), and Naomi Wolfe (a Melbourne-based historian). Emmanuel Garibay will also be Artist-in-Residence, and his presentation on Thursday 16 July will be open to the public.
Registrations are now open for the conference, with early bird and day-only rates available.
And we are issuing a call for short papers and presentations. Academics and practitioners in the fields of theology, visual art, music, performance, literature, cultural studies, poetry, philosophy, and/or history are invited to send an Abstract (approx. 250 words) of their proposed presentation, plus a short bio, to Jason Goroncy (email) by 31 March 2020.
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned here on the blog that I’m currently on sabbatical, and that the major focus of my work during this time is on trying to better understand and to write about trauma. Today marks Remembrance Day, and I happen to have been reading a fine essay by the American sociologist Neil Smelser wherein he makes the following apt observation:
When seeking an analogy [between individual trauma and socio-cultural trauma] at the sociocultural level, we discover such dual tendencies – mass forgetting and collective campaigns on the part of groups to downplay or ‘put behind us’, if not actually to deny a cultural trauma on the one hand, and a compulsive preoccupation with the event, as well as group efforts to keep it in the public consciousness as a reminder that ‘we must remember’, or ‘lest we forget’, on the other. A memorial to an event, it has been pointed out, has elements of both reactions: to memorialize is to force a memory on us by the conspicuous and continuous physical presence of a monument; at the same time a memorial also conveys the message that now that we have paid our respects to a trauma, we are now justified in forgetting about it … One major qualification on psychological analogizing, however, should be stressed. At the psychological level the battle between the two tendencies goes on within the psyche; at the cultural level, there may be instances of alternating between compulsive avoidance and compulsive attraction in some individuals and groups, but the major manifestation is a conflict among different groups, some oriented toward playing down the trauma and others in keeping it alive.
(I share this from a smoky room, not too far from the fires that are currently ravaging large sections of Australia’s east coast. I share this as the ‘conflict among different groups’ in response to those fires is being played out across the endless news and social media circus. I share this as Walpiri people in Yuendumu are in grief and anger over yet another needless death at the hands of the police. I share this in the hope of better and patient understanding.)
The photo was taken by me this morning.
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies, a South African-based open-access journal, has just published a little piece that I wrote:
‘“A Pretty Decent Sort of Bloke”: Towards the Quest for an Australian Jesus’. HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies 75, no. 4 (2019), e1–e10. (HTML| EPUB | PDF)
From many Aboriginal elders, such as Tjangika Napaltjani, Bob Williams and Djiniyini Gondarra, to painters, such as Arthur Boyd, Pro Hart and John Forrester-Clack, from historians, such as Manning Clark, and poets, such as Maureen Watson, Francis Webb and Henry Lawson, to celebrated novelists, such as Joseph Furphy, Patrick White and Tim Winton, the figure of Jesus has occupied an endearing and idiosyncratic place in the Australian imagination. It is evidence enough that ‘Australians have been anticlerical and antichurch, but rarely antiJesus’ (Stuart Piggin). But which Jesus? In what follows, I seek to listen to what some Australians make of Jesus, and to consider some theological implications of their contributions for the enduring quest for an Australian Jesus.
The article can be accessed here.
All photos taken by me, on 11 October 2019.
One of the Goroncy sprogs has written a couple of funky little tracks. Enjoy.
So I’m bingeing on Beckett lately (for a book that I’m working on) and happened across this sharp little comment on patriotism (p. 21 in his essay ‘First Love’, first written in French as Premier Amour, 1946):
What constitutes the charm of our country, apart of course from its scant population, and this without help of the meanest contraceptive, is that all is derelict, with the sole exception of history’s ancient faeces. These are ardently sought after, stuffed and carried in procession. Wherever nauseated time has dropped a nice fat turd you will find our patriots, sniffing it up on all fours, their faces on fire.
This four-day event will provide a unique conversation space for artists, performers, creatives, academics, and activists, to consider the vital role of the imagination in today’s complex climates – social, cultural, environmental, political, racial, religious, spiritual, intellectual, etc.
It will also invite conversation around further questions: What kinds of change? What are the grounds and manner of hope, transformation, and resilience? What might the arts and theology have to contribute to such discourse and action, if anything? How do we attend to the margins of this discussion, and speak and act more holistically as communities of change?
More details here.
Among the National Gallery of Victoria’s newest acquisitions is this small and intricate okimono, carved out of ivory and finished with ink. It comes from the Meiji Period (1868–1912) in Japan, and is titled ‘The Demon and Attendants in Hell’. I stand to be corrected about this, but it appears to be a Shinto rather than a Buddhist vision of hell, for whereas Buddhist hells (see here and here) give Dante a run for his money, Shinto hells are not very hellish at all. This one reminds me of a children’s playground.
This is what insanity looks like.
‘There are a few ways you can lose your religion – in a slow drift where the time between mass attendance and sacraments like confession gets longer and longer, until you can’t in good faith claim to be a member of the flock any more. And then there’s the frank event, where something happens and you realise you cannot continue supporting the institution that has inflicted so much pain’.
– Brigid Delaney, ‘Losing my religion: after the Pell verdict, the conflict for Catholics’, The Guardian, 30 August, 2019.
‘Repression is a seamless garment; a society which is authoritarian in its social and sexual codes, which crushes its women beneath the intolerable burdens of honour and propriety, breeds repression of other kinds as well’. – Salman Rushdie, Shame (London: Vintage, 1995), 173.
‘Literary criticism, to survive, must abandon the universities, where “cultural criticism” is a triumphant beast not to be expelled. The anatomies issuing from the academies concern themselves with the intricate secrets of Victorian women’s underwear and the narrative histories of the female bosom. Critical reading, the discipline of how to read and why, will survive in those solitary scholars, out in society, whose single candles Emerson prophesied and Wallace Stevens celebrated’.
– Harold Bloom, from the ‘Foreword’ to Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays.
[Image from The Paris Review]
‘People clearly do not need [pastors and theologians] to live. But it seems like they want to use us to die; their entire lives stand in the shadow of death. History marches along at its pace without us, but when the eschatological, the final things, appear on their horizons – and which problems in history do not ride the wave of the final things? – we apparently ought to be there and have open and decisive words to say. They are for the most part well adjusted in themselves and their own capacities and life possibilities. But amazingly, when it comes to the state of the gossamer upon which the entire net of this life hangs, when it comes to the razor-sharp ridge between time and eternity along which they suddenly find themselves wandering, after having long forgotten it, they want to hear from us. The theological problem comes into being on the boundaries of humanity. The philosophers know this, but quite often, it appears that we theologians do not’. – Karl Barth, ‘The Word of God as the Task of Theology, 1922’, in The Word of God and Theology (London: T&T Clark, 2011), 178.
I thought I’d start to put together in one place a list of resources that I have found helpful and that might serve as a resource to guide the church in its responses to the challenges posed by Euthanasia/Voluntary Assisted Dying. The list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it will be constructive. I intend to keep editing it as other resources become known to me. Suggestions welcome.