Tuesday, March 26, 2013
The subordination of Omnipotence
It has been one of those weeks were a number of disparate references touching upon similar themes have presented themselves to me in passing, and so it would seem to be my obligation to Providence to offer some comment on them.
Last week (or the week before?) I read a blog post advocating ‘communion on the tongue’ as opposed to ‘communion in the hand.’ Now, it is known that communion in the hand was at least practiced, if not the norm, in the early church; but communion on the tongue came to be the norm at least by the middle ages. I myself prefer on the tongue, primarily because to me it presents a weird and incongruous symbol to have the priest be careful of crumbs, and wash his hands after handling the bread - but to deny laity the same opportunity. This blog post I read, however, went much further, advocating forbidding communion in the hand (and, furthermore, forbidding communion to those who hadn’t previously proved themselves to the priest) in an effort to prevent Sacrilege. According to this individual, consecrated hosts are routinely sneaked out of Roman parishes in order to be used in black magic or desecrated by atheist college professors.
About the same time, I’d been reading “Many Dimensions” by Charles Williams. The premise of the book is that the crown of King Solomon was purchased by an evil British scientist, and he was experimenting with the Stone it contained, in an effort to profit from it. Although he never explicitly connects the Stone of Solomon to the consecrated bread of the Eucharist, he does describe it metaphysically in ways that imply that it is a manifestation of The Word. One property of the Stone is that it can be divided without being diminished (like the Bread of Life!) The main character ended up with one of the “types” of the stone, and was one of the few people not trying to use it. One night someone broke into her house to steal it, and she was torn whether or not to finally “use” the stone.
“She was protecting it. Not being a reader of religious history Chloe was ignorant what things have been done in the strength of that plea, or with what passionate anxiety men have struggled to protect the subordination of Omnipotence. But in her despair she rejected what churches and kings and prelates have not rejected; she refused to be deceived, she refused to attempt to be helpful to the God...”
With what passionate anxiety men have struggled to protect the subordination of Omnipotence!
God made flesh, and eternally present in the Bread in wine - Ever broken but never divided - does not need our help! This is not to say we should be casual with consecrated bread - but the reason is for our sakes, not his. Just like a grudge or hate, sacrilege does not harm its object in anyway: it only harms the subject - or rather, gives exposure to the sickness already present. Once upon a time, the Book of Common Prayer required the reading of certain Exhortations with greater or lesser frequency warning people to examine their motives - not to protect God, but to protect themselves from spiritual damage.
Today, many in the United States are looking to a couple courts for a ruling on same-sex marriage. Those opposed, it seems to me, are also concerned about protecting the subordination of Omnipotence.
There's much talk about the “institution” of marriage, and it’s sacred nature. It seems to me that marriage has moved in and out of institution during the past 3 thousand years depending on the priorities of various societies. It certainly wasn’t an institution in the early middle ages, perhaps a ‘custom’ would be more accurate.
Jesus doesn’t seem to be ‘pro’ or ‘anti’ marriage, it’s simply a thing that exists. He goes to wedding feasts, but points out that in the Life of the World to Come, we are neither married nor given in marriage. Paul the Apostle has no problem with marriage, but doesn’t encourage it: it’s just one more part of this passing world.
There is one Marriage in the new testament that is Instituted and Sacred beyond all doubt: and that Marriage is between the Lamb that was Slain, and his Bride, the New Hierusalem. In my daily lectionary right now, I’m coming up toward the end of John. Just yesterday, during his farewell discourse, Jesus described Love: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” God laid down his life for his bride, for us. “Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you.” “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”
This is The Marriage. This lasts beyond death, world without end. And nothing humans can do can touch this.
But what we can do, is participate in it. We can be about our father’s business by loving as he loved us. For many, this is best rehearsed, as in a laboratory, with one other person, so that those two in turn can better take and share that love to all they come in contact with. That particular agreement to be safe, to trust, to not give up - just as God does not give up on his people, no matter how they stray. This love is what we are called to as Christians. Earthly marriage is a means to facilitate that, but it is no end in itself. Married or unmarried, Christians are called out of themselves, to give themselves fully to others, and in doing so both to open themselves to God’s love, and thereby draw water from that well which never runs dry and which makes glad the city of God. Et omnes ad quos pervenit aqua ista salvi facti sunt!
But - that the civil order should facilitate this purpose is challenged by some right now. To quote an early 20th C. liturgical book I was reading, “These modern Manichees, consisting as they do partly of fanatics, and partly of remorseful sinners who, having for a long time failed to govern themselves and keep within the bounds of decency and reason, are now determined to govern the rest of mankind which never had any inclination to transgress.” Those who would assert that they are for “Family values” or ”tradition” seem frequently to oppose the very Life in Christ that I have above described. They do not lay down their lives for their children or parents - those ‘natural affections’ that arise from blood - but instead kick out the children who are gay, and send mom and dad to ‘the home.’ They don’t lay down their lives for ‘the least of these’, but rather assert that those are getting what they deserve. Again turning to Charles Williams, this time in “Descent into Hell”:
“... don’t you know how quiet the streets of Gomorrah are? haven’t you seen the pools that everlastingly reflect the faces of those who walk with their own phantasms, but the phantasms aren’t reflected, and can’t be. The lovers of Gomorrah are quite contented, Periel; they don’t have to put up with our difficulties. They aren’t bothered by alteration, at least till the rain of the fire of the Glory at the end, for they lose the capacity for change, except for the fear of hell. They’re monogamous enough! and they’ve no children- no cherubim breaking into being or babies as tiresome as ours; there’s no birth there, and only the second death. There’s no distinction between lover and beloved; they beget themselves on their adoration of themselves, and they live and feed and starve on themselves, and by themselves too, for creation, as my predecessor said, is the mercy of God, and they won’t have the facts of creation... When all’s said and done, there’s only Zion or Gomorrah.”
In a great irony, when searching for this quote, I turned up several “fundamentalists” blogs or posts using this as if he were talking about gay people! But it is exactly that they have turned within, and do not wish to be confronted with the “other” that is in fact God, and to have to exist in relationship and communion with them that makes them the subject of this description, and not the gays. Those of us for marriage equality are precisely trying to counter this: We attempt (haltingly, but by God’s grace better every day!) to Love one another as Christ loved us, to see in other faces God’s own; to lay down our lives to create a safe place for another to in turn find that they are loved of God so that they too may love.