Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Viens, oui, oui

You know how they're going to come at you?
                                                                             ---Tom Hagen to Michael Corleone, The Godfather

'to come,' the verb, intransitive...
                                                       ---Lenny Bruce

Power and force come from a familiar horizon, in the trappings of the expected. The power of a word or the power of an assassination attempt rides on wings of sound and fury. Yet, God does not come in thunder and earthquakes and fire, but in a sound like a whisper; he does not come with an army or pomp and circumstance, but from the substance of ordinary life, and then thin and marginal.

"The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” " [1 Kings 19:11-13, NIV]

Theophanies are always invitations to incarnation. The theophany on Mount Sinai in Exodus came with the fury of hair-raising, blood curdling thunder, but God was in the silent writing of the law into stone brought to the people by a weary Moses. Elijah gets another crack at it at Horeb, and gets it right. He does not understand the natural wonders of the earth to be the shekinah, but hides his face to the gentle whisper, the very presence of God. The real event harbored in the name of God comes from the weak force of an apophatically derived whispering breath, not the strong force of thunder and fire from the mouth of a dragon.

"an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.  She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus." [Matt. 1:20-21, NIV]

"...she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them." [Lk 2:7, NIV]

"My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest" [Jhn. 18:36, NIV]

God does not enter the city with an army, in a parade of pageantry; he comes on the margins of the city's own excess, crystallized, as from a saturated solution,  in the saturated phenomenon of a newborn. The incarnation is the event where the chiasm of the divine and human enters time and space. In the Annunciation, God insists and Mary brings God into existence, into the plane of immanence. Hence, the incarnation is the response to a call for the impossible.

"How will this be?" [Lk 1:34, NIV].

God comes at us unconditionally and undecidable in a dream, in the voice of an angel. In the Matthean and Lucan narratives theophany is accepted as incarnation, and the Synoptic transfiguration (Mk.  9:2-8; Mt. 17:1-9; Lk. 9:28-36) is the event of resolution of past and present, Logos written, and Logos made flesh. All 3 evangelists record a dumb-founded Peter, who responds in haste, not understanding what he is experiencing. On this high place/Mt. Sinai/Horeb theophany morphs into the incarnation of the Logos ratified by a disembodied voice emanating from a nebulous somewhere. Peter should have deferred his interpretation, which he  based on experience of his senses alone. The imperative to 'listen' that haunts the 'voice' is also aligned with Moses and Elijah, whose own voices were not always heeded. The Tranfiguration validates the entire tradition received by Judaism and handed down to Jesus and his contemporaries, with an eye to the future; but any supersessionism would be a poor reading strategy here. At least Peter gets that part right: 3 booths/tabernacles for three embodied voices.

These texts give religious voice to the event(s) harbored in the name of God, to his insistence from where one knows not. This insistence, and the event released in its response, grounds the contingency of theophany. The Christ-event, which signals something new suddenly upon us, is the existent of the theophany's beckoning. It's denoument is in the faint cry of abandonment on Calvary, an apostrophe to a dying God, and resurrection in the making.

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