Monday, November 22, 2010

How “It” Talks to Us

Having waxed eloquent about deuterocanonical or apocryphal books of the Bible yesterday, occasioned by a quote, let me today present the full context of that quote and show how It, the dimension beyond, but not further specified, communicates with us. I take the quote from Owen Chadwick’s book, The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century, Cambridge University Press, 1975, p. 257-258. Chadwick, as I’ve already mentioned yesterday, is an Anglican Priest. He was born in 1916. Here is the quote:
On 31 October 1941 at breakfast time, more than fifty people were burnt to death in a factory fire in Yorkshire, and a few were killed when they jumped from the top storey down to the pavement. That was a long day. I spent all of it seeing burnt skin and the relatives of corpses, the most miserable and most exhausting day of my life. When at last I got home after 11 p.m., dog-tired and empty and wretched, I opened a Bible and found, reluctantly, the lesson for the day. And the words leapt out from the page as though they were illuminated, and swept over the being like a metamorphosis, with relief and refreshment:
The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God; and no torment shall touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die, and their going from us to be utter destruction… Like gold in the fire he put them to the test — and found them acceptable like burnt offering upon the altar.
The quote in the quote is from The Book of Wisdom, 3:1-6—and what the Book of Wisdom is was the subject of yesterday’s post.

In a secular age, we are surrounded by mysteries. And, indeed, we’re always thus surrounded, never mind the label not quite firmly sticking to the times. But it is an indicator of our era that we speak of such experiences as meaningful coincidences, serendipities, and such—rather than as revelations or as communications from beyond. When we experience this sort of thing ourselves, it’s always quite another matter—even when the circumstances are not as powerful, dramatic, and meaningful as what happened to Professor Chadwick.

My own views of revelation as a whole, as a reality, as a doctrine, are built upon these up-close-and-personal experiences of humanity. This particular case is doubly enlightening in that for a large portion of Christianity the Book of Wisdom is not considered to be canonical, thus is not viewed as inspired. It was written at a time when a Greek version of the Old Testament was already partly available, because Wisdom quotes from it. Biblical scholars believe that the writer was a Jewish sage living in very secular Alexandria and wrote towards the middle of the first century BC. The book reveals Platonic influence, thus the presence of a real distinction between the body and the soul. “For a perishable body presses down the soul, and this tent of clay weighs down the teeming mind.” Wisdom 9:15. This view becomes accepted in Christianity as it develops.

Revelation, it seems to me, is continuing, personal, and comes from all of humanity—as It communicates something of Its reality to this dimension. A Jewish sage living in Alexandria in the midst of the hellenistic decline, an Anglican priest in World War II tending to burn victims, a Greek sage writing dialogues in the fourth century BC. Official revelation is but a sampling, and multiple canons exist. In some the Book of Wisdom is excluded; in others the Tao Te Ching is included. But what really matters ultimately is that It communicates…

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