Sunday, May 26, 2013

Belief in Things Unseen: Views of Trinity and Soul

(Reflections on a sermon by Father Daron Vroon of St. James' Episcopal Church, Marietta; a discussion between Krista Tippett and poet/essayist Christian Wiman on her series "On Being" on National Public Radio; and some pages in John Updike's 1986 novel Roger's Version.)

Our young associate rector Daron Vroon eschewed all the usual jokes about Trinity Sunday ("I drew the short straw" is what preachers have said before -- often) and also the usual approach of finding a metaphor to explain the Trinity -- all containing some element of heresy, Vroon explained.

Instead, he spoke of the pleasures of conversation among adults.  There's no agenda, not much information being exchanged, and there's a lot of laughter without a lot of jokes.  He remembered walking in on such conversations during family gatherings.  Our response to the Trinity, he said, should be something like that:  Children  know it's real,  know it's a good thing, know they don't understand it, and  also know that someday, they will be a part of it.

Later, I heard Krista Tippett's 2012 interview with editor of POETRY magazine, Christian Wiman.  Reared a Baptist, he gave up his faith for many years. Falling in love, he reclaimed faith, and then found out that he has a rare, incurable blood cancer.  Their discussion ranged widely, and I heard much that I want to follow up on in one of his books.   But I was taken aback by a little side discussion about "existential angst," and it was Tippett who saw our complaints about "not having enough down time" as our generation's way of expressing that fear of meaningless existence.  Wiman agreed, adding that the idea of "soul" has been replaced by the idea of "self," and we dearly believe that we create meaning for ourselves by projecting the Self  to the public through fame through media, such as blogs, mea culpa.  The soul, Wiman said, is something that expresses itself in personal relationship.  Facebook doesn't count.

He also said something wonderful, quoting old-style critic Blackmur (I've forgotten his initials, but he pervaded my research into Henry James back in the day) saying that literature "adds to our store of reality."

From another angle, a convincing work of fiction by John Updike considers the related question, Is the soul something unseen, apart from the body?  Roger's Version is Updike's riff on Hawthorne's tale of Hester Prynne, her lover Pastor Dimmesdale, and her jealous husband Roger Chillingworth. Updike updates to 1984, probably Boston, and old Roger is a jaded theology professor who is both fascinated and repelled by Dale, a cocksure young born-again Christian who plans to use computers to demonstrate irrefutably God's intelligent design of the universe.  Oh, yes, and Roger imagines that his wife Esther is seeing Dale on the side.  Roger is imagining every sticky detail of one of their adulterous trysts while at the same time explicating heretical Tertullian's strong endorsement of the orthodox doctrine "resurrection of the body."  How, Tertullian asks, in Latin, can the soul be imagined apart from all the organs that give it its defining desires and tastes and expresssions?  Good question.  (Like Flannery O'Connor, I have to admit that I kind of close my eyes during those passages in Updike.  Happily, he italicized the Latin, so I can easily hop over the salty parts to one italic island after another.)

I've followed up on the Wiman reference, and I'm greatly enjoying an interview between him and Bill Moyers available at Krista Tippett's web site.  Here's the link that she provides:

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