Monday, September 29, 2008

Tears and Fire: Recovering a Neglected Tradition IV

For the early Christians, the 'passions' were to be traded for a single passion, that is the love of God manifest in the life of each person. Ephrem, who lived 300 years before Isaac, was not the monk the later biographical tradition portrays him to be, but a dedicated choirmaster. He may have made some kind of religious consecration, but that is not important. In the early Syrian tradition there was only one standard for Christians, applicable to both celibate and married. The idea of virginity is single-heartedness, the true chastity which may or may not include celibacy. We are impoverished by our much narrower modern notion of virginity, which seems to have become technical like everything else.

In Ephrem's hymns there is no confusion of 'the world' and creation: creation is revered and celebrated with the single-heartedness that can come only when theology is united to prayer. Ephrem's theology is worship, engagement with God as opposed to the positing of God. He understands that a kenotic God who points away from the divine Self in outpouring love cannot be posited, and that to systematise is to kill the life of the very God whom theology purports to reveal. Ephrem's theology of prayer knows that to confine God to mere human reason is to blaspheme.

Ephrem understands 'virginity' as the mystery of human focussed relatedness to God, who reaches over the ontological abyss. Thus virginity is not confined to mere genital continence, but is closer to Kierkegaard's description of purity of heart: to will one thing, that is, to be willing to mirror God's life, contained and outpoured, over that cannot but move to the heart of pain to find new life, hope, and joy. In willingness to be so emptied, God is revealed indwelling the daily life of each Christian in whatever walk of life.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

i am a woman you don't know, living in los angeles. your life, through your words, has helped me more than words can say. i just wanted to say thank you.

8:34 pm, October 15, 2008  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

I am humbly grateful that the Spirit gets through somehow. Bless you and thank you.

9:24 am, October 16, 2008  

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