“In Victorian lifewriting, passionate references to hearts on fire and burning with love are a sure sign that a woman is about to discuss Jesus … People who thought of God as a friend easily linked friends to God … Loving the faraway friend echoed the human love of a Christ simultaneously distant in his divinity yet proximate in his humanity, and prayer thus became a medium of friendship as well as worship.”
Sharon Marcus, Between Women: Friendship, Desire and Marriage in Victorian England, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007, pp. 63-5.
I began by chuckling at the first sentence; by the end of the section I nervously began to suspect that I am in fact an out-of-time Victorian. Bother!
As you pass from outer to inner narthex, the doorway is crowned with a magnificent mosaic of Christ Pantokrator … As in all such Eastern Icons, frescoes or mosaics of Christ, his right hand is raised in an authoritative teaching gesture, with his fingers separated into a twosome and a threesome to command Christian faith in the two natures of Christ and the three persons of the Trinity. As usual, he holds a book in his left hand. But he is not reading the book – it is not even open, but securely closed and tightly clasped.
Christ does not read the Bible, the New Testament or the Gospel. He is the norm of the Bible, the criterion of the New Testament, the incarnation of the Gospel. That is how we Christians decide between a violent and nonviolent God in the Bible, New Testament, or Gospel. The person, not the book, and the life, not the text, are decisive and constitutive for us.
Alex, I’m pretty sure I already know what your response to this will be …
I haven’t written anything for a while because in the past three weeks I’ve had three funerals and a wedding. Anytime I haven’t been doing anything I’ve been slumped on the couch staring into space, because this ministry thing is hard work. It feels incredibly worthwhile and my sense of vocation has been confirmed one hundredfold, but these services have also confirmed just how exhausting ministry can be.
Yesterday was the third funeral, and for the first time I wasn’t finishing one funeral knowing that there was another one to prepare. So I’m hoping that I can now take a short break from burying people.
The wedding was amazing. I think I had a stupid, goofy grin on my face all the way through the service because I was so happy to be marrying these people to each other. They did pre-marital counselling with me, so I got to know them before marrying them, and their relationship is beautiful.
(And the groom started crying as he watched the bride walk down the aisle towards him.)
I’ve been reading Michael Gurr’s memoir, Days Like These, partly because it is a collection of vignettes and I could pick it up, read a page or so, and then put it down. There’s been no time to engage in serious narrative arcs recently. But I’ve also been reading it because it’s a great book and I strongly recommend it. And it’s always nice to have my prejudices confirmed:
I’m quite happy around old-fashioned Christians. I like the dagginess, the interest in the world – in small doses I can even take the holy stuff. What I like the most, though, is their lack of embarrassment about wanting to do good in the world. Christ seems to make them unashamed. New Testament parables are pretty straight-forward. Big nude ideas like justice and relief from suffering don’t seem to freeze on their lips like they freeze on the lips of the secular Left.
The new Christians, though, scare me with their smiling certainty. The Prosperity Gospel of the mall churches – that God wants you to have a bigger television – is just the latest import, of course, and it’s interesting how rarely you hear them talking about the poor, the downtrodden, the foolish and the ugly: all the people their prophet worried about.
Michael Gurr, Days Like These, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2006, p. 281.