Monday, April 02, 2012

Holy Week

Holy Week is a difficult time for a lot of people, not least because of the atonement theology that developed after Paschasius changed the eucharistic liturgy from a celebration of the communion of heaven and earth in a new creation to a focus on the material things of the altar, replacing what he probably mis-perceived as Saxon runic magic with a 'Christian' magic that led to questions of worth, judgement, guilt, power and alienation. To put this another way, Paschasius discarded a liturgy that awakened the resonances of direct perception of the deep mind, and replaced it with one that confined its participants to the lifeless, linear re-presentations of the self-conscious mind. One cannot help but surmise that Eriugena translated Pseudo-Dionysius as a direct riposte to Paschasius.

Although it took 200 years for Paschasius' incantations to take hold, once the institution realised the advantages of controlling people through fear and guilt, the Paschasian takeover was relentless. Of course history is far more complex than this: Paschasius' changes conjoined with other momentous currents developing in society at this time. But there is little question that his refocusing of attention in the liturgy changed forever the psychology of Western Christianity. And today we are stuck with the consequences—institutional religion at a dead end and a Christianity that is more or less opposite to the fundamental teachings of the New Testament; a religion preoccupied with death instead of celebration of the reuniting of heaven and earth in a new creation.

In the early Syriac tradition of Christianity death was not mentioned in the baptismal rite. It was rather about putting on the life of God.

Margaret Barker in Temple Mysticism points to texts that suggest that Jesus' resurrection at his baptism explain the earliest Christian baptismal practice. 'In the old Syrian rite the newly baptised Christian emerged from the water as a "son of God" and "a son of light", and the font was called the womb. The resurrection state began with baptism, and the question is: Was this rite drawn from Jesus' own [p. 109] experience of sonship and resurrection at his baptism? The Gospel of Philip has a saying that makes best sense in this context:

"Those who say that the Lord died first and then rose up are in error, for he rose up first and then died. If one does not first attain the resurrection, will he not die? As God lives, he would be already [dead]."'

And Isaac of Nineveh notes that

'The whole purpose of our Lord's death was not to deliver (or redeem) us from sins, or for any other reason, but solely in order that the world might become aware of the love which God has for creation. Had all this astounding affair taken place solely for the purpose of forgiveness of sin, it would have been sufficient to redeem us by some other means [ . . . ] . What wisdom is God's! And how filled with life!'

In Holy Week we explore the darkest places where we find that the love of God is never absent and ever preceding us (or 'preventing' us, as it says in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer collect). This perception is foundational to Christian Wiman's writing [articles cited in the links in the previous post]. He hides from nothing, he is painfully clear in his particularity, but everything he writes about himself—his illness, his family, the pain he has suffered and is suffering—is presented in the context of amazement at the context of the love of God '..that ...wrappith us, [halseth] us and all beclosyth us for tender love, that hee may never leave us, being to us althing that is gode...' (Julian, LT, chapter 5).

Wiman's beholding is a far cry from the manufactured sentimentality that far too often replaces genuine emotion; his vision of the holy is an infinite distance from the whipped up frenzies and devotional extravaganzas that some people think necessary to 'prove' their love of God, especially during Holy Week. God requires no such proof: he would rather we be stupefied in beholding than wallow in the sort of narcissistic breast-beating of, for example, the Prayer of Humble Access—which, incidentally, short-circuits the moment of beholding at the Fraction to which the liturgy has brought us, dragging us from the beholding of God to the 'miserable sinner' language which—let us be honest—some of us enjoy far too much.

By contrast, Wiman's restraint deepens us to silence, and silence, even at the end of our best and most beautiful liturgical efforts, is the only appropriate response in Holy Week, the one that opens to us the way of gladness of Easter Day.

My dear Readers, my Friends, may this holy season fill you with the joy of new life in the renewed creation.


NB I am going on retreat for ten days or so; no access to internet or technology (hooray!). Look for the next post around the First Sunday after Easter, April 15.


Blogger Stella said...

As usual, so much of what you write is far above my head, but I can grasp enough of your meaning to help me look afresh at the events of Easter.
Just what I need to help me see through all my ingrained perceptions as taught by the church.
I hope that your retreat will be a time of peace and refreshment.

8:53 am, April 03, 2012  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Thank you, Stella!

11:32 am, April 03, 2012  
Blogger Mike Farley said...

Have a blessed retreat, Maggie, long beyond its days!

Peace & all blessings


4:35 pm, April 07, 2012  
Blogger stone seal said...

ooooh! Maggie Ross, you rock! Maggie Ross you kick butt and turn the air crystal for us yet again! :) thank you!!

4:36 pm, April 12, 2012  

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