Friday, January 24, 2014

"Barren enough to conceive"

This past week I have been reading Hans Urs Von Balthasar on the "theological style" of St. John of the Cross, which account is found in the third volume of The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics: Studies in Theological Style: Lay Styles. My reading of Balthasar on St. John of the Cross was prompted by re-reading Michael Waldstein's introduction to the thought of Bl. Pope John John Paul II, which constitutes the first 128 pages of the paperback edition of Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology Of The Body.

Hannah prays to the Lord, by Marc Chagall, ca. 1952-56- Like Sarah and Elizabeth, the mother of the prophet Samuel was barren enough to conceive

Writing about the Spanish Carmelite in the context of his medieval milieu, Balthasar observed,
Medieval ways to God were, for the most part, 'asecents', ladders that were meant to lead the soul closer to God by means of an ingenious series of spiritual acts and habits (active renunciations and contemplative dispositions). St. John of the Cross lived within this tradition and even availed himself of entire sections of these schemes of ascent in his works (such as the decem gradus amoris sec. S. Bernardum of pseudo-Thomas Aquinas). Nonetheless, his criticism of all acts and habits places him far beyond these ways of ascent. His approach is no matter of cleverly dovetailing the via negativa and the via positiva into the via eminentiae. No, John is much closer to the original rhythms of Denys, although he is much more consistent and relentless in his logic: everything is gained when everything is abandoned, the ship lands when it is wrecked, you leap on to firm ground when all rungs of your ladder break
This put me mind of the song "Faith Enough" by Jars of Clay. This song is off their 2003 album Who We Are Instead, which ranks among my top five contemporary Christian albums of all-time, is our Friday traditio:

The land unfit enough for planting
Barren enough to conceive
Poor enough to gain the treasure
Enough a cynic to believe
Enough a cynic to believe

It bears noting that today is the tenth anniversary of my ordination as a deacon. Tempus fugit! As I continue in ministry, I pray that I am strong enough to recognize and acknowledge my weakness and inadequacy to accomplish what I have been called to do and so come to know, as did St. Paul, that "when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor 12:10).

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