25 February 2014

Followup on God as Master Story Teller

[[Dear Sister Laurel, I wanted to thank you for your post on God as Master storyteller. Thank you also for linking it to other posts that refer to God as absolute future and to the idea that not everything that happens is the will of God but nothing is left outside his will. All these ideas are new to me but they make sense of events in my own life in a way other ideas have not. Have they done the same for you? I understand if that question is too personal but I felt I had to ask it. It seems to me that doing theology has to be driven by the effects it has in a theologian's life. If it is not then what good is it?]]

Thanks so much for your note. That particular piece God as Master Storyteller was important for me both profes-sionally (theolo-gically) and personally. While the ideas are not entirely new to me, and especially are not new in theology generally, as a result of the game the parish staff played at Halloween they came together with a clarity and power I had not appreciated as even possible before. Especially I think they help us to make an even clearer sense of the ways in which suffering and death (including both "big" and "little" deaths!) are real in our lives while maintaining hope that these will never have the last word or constitute a final silence. Similarly they help us to come to terms with an evolving universe which is still unfinished, which includes elements of randomness, and which, at the same time is the creation of a God who will one day be all in all. Despite this being contrary to the way NT writers and the Fathers of the Church conceived of things it is also consonant with the central dogmas of Christian faith while respecting the findings of contemporary science.

Let me say that this perspective did not make sense of aspects of my life precisely, but it did strengthen and deepen the sense I have come to know in light of God and my faith in the Christ Event.  Over the past 40 plus years I have had to let go of many dreams, hopes, interests, relationships,  and so forth because of chronic illness. And yet, at the same time I have always (eventually!) found God there redeeming the situation so that it had a very real future and continued to have genuine promise --- especially the promise that I would and could serve both God and his Church in significant ways in spite of and even IN and through chronic illness. As I have written here before that led me to embrace Paul's statement that, "God's grace is sufficient for us; God's power is perfected in weakness," as my profession motto; it is also the key to my really understanding Paul's position more generally that weakness is not only transformed into strength by some shift in perspective we ourselves accomplish, but that to the extent we can humbly embrace it as our own truth it IS strength because it is a true counterpart to the grace and power of God. However, it still left me grieving the things I had lost, believing that they were irretrievable. The perspective in the post you mentioned demanded I go far beyond that.

Events in my life this last year and the several preceding it have prepared for my own appreciation of the perspective presented in the post on God as Master Story teller. Not only have I been reading (or thinking) a lot in the areas of narrative theology, the nature and power of parables, and the relation of faith and science but, for instance, while on retreat in August I found all kinds of threads from my past being brought together in ways which assured me that nothing had been or would be lost.

Because I had expected never to have these threads returned to me in a way which allowed their promise to be fulfilled (or new promise realized), it was an incredible gift from God --- full of serendipity, awe, and consolation. This was a bit different than what I had experienced in the past, namely, that God could and would bring good out of evil, life out of death, meaning out of senselessness, and so forth. It included that insight but was a broader or more comprehensive vision of things as well. It reminded me of a prayer I have sometimes used during communion services that we can come to see the way God's providence encompasses even the worst that happens to us (poor paraphrase). Because of the reading I mentioned earlier it also reminded me of the perspective recounted in the work of John Haught, Ted Peters, et al., that treats God as absolute futurity working from "in front of" the story or drama of creation as well the way Jesus effects the coming of the Kingdom by cooperating with God and drawing us into the story which is God's own and which is God's own life.

So, these things and many others have prepared me for seeing God as the weaver of an immense narrative where the future comes to be at every second while no threads of the past are ever ultimately lost or dropped. The new piece of things was the game the St P's staff played at Halloween and my own abject failure at it. I was intrigued and frustrated as the game proceeded. I started many different narrative lines in my own head (being ninth in line allows and calls for that!) and had to abandon  most of them. At the same time I and everyone else had to create new narrative lines which allowed as many of the clues as possible to make an ultimate kind of sense; we had to continue to build on the work of those who preceded us and even (something which was much, much harder!) anticipate places for the clues (Halloween terms) others might also be seeking to use as they continued the narrative. My eventual solution was pretty awful and really desperate but it served to cement in my own mind the dynamics of the game and the immense demands of this way of telling a story. It stayed with me and focused my reflections --- even though I was mainly unaware that was the case.

But for instance, I could imagine God deciding to scrap the whole project and starting over (as he is said to have done with the story of Noah and the Flood) just as I could imagine him "taking a deep breath" and continuing his persistent storytelling/weaving until one day the finished "product" would be a creation where he was all in all. I could see clearly the immense risk God takes in loving and seeking to allow us to love or reject him freely (that is to weave our own narratives). I could begin to appreciate how constant and persistent his love must be for creation to continue, how patient and forgiving he must be to continually call us back to our places in the real story (GOD'S own story!), how immense his creativity and comprehensive his authority as well as how really important it is for each of us to commit to THIS same story and cooperate with God as love-in-act at every possible moment.

Many people commit to building an empire of sorts whether that be political, economic, academic, intellectual, domestic, or ecclesiastical. But each of us is really called to cooperate in the process of creation itself and in its completion or fulfillment in that reality we call the Kingdom of God; unfortunately, relatively few of us really do that. We are concerned with our own salvation and may certainly see an obligation to assist others, but participating with God in the fulfillment and completion of the drama of creation? Imagine coming from a position of chronic illness where weakness and incapacity are defining terms every day and discovering that embracing this truth meant being suited for Empire-building on an immensely, even inconceivably larger scale than I had ever thought about before! That is part of the fresh realization I came to because of the Halloween game and the work of contemporary theologians taking seriously what it means to be covenant partners with God and part of bringing an unfinished universe to fulfillment.

Theologians are passionate about their faith, of course; they are entrusted with this as a respon-sibility, but they are passionate because the theology they do mediates a message and presence to others which is ultimately healing and hope-filled. My major professor taught us right from the beginning that any theology worthy of the name is profoundly pastoral and he was completely correct in this. Similarly, in the Eastern Church theologians are recognized first of all as those who pray --- that is, they are not merely folks who are about some intellectual pursuit but are committed to the Life of God --- and committed to making this Life present and accessible to others both for their sake and for God's own. Just as physicians are concerned with science applied to lives in ways which heal, theologians are concerned with ultimate truth and mediating that in ways which heal and make sense of things more immediately. Of course the intellectual part of the theological enterprise is intriguing and even exhilarating (I can't describe the excitement I feel when reading some "hard-core" theology!), but  ultimately we do this for the Glory of God (that is, for making God known and personally present in every part of creation) and for the well-being of his creation (which is, at best, incomplete and distorted without God).

Again, thanks for your note. I am glad you found the post helpful. A number of other people found a related piece similarly helpful so that was all very gratifying to me.