Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In the Midst of Death's Dark Vale


I had a job in high school working at a nursing home preparing food, delivering food to patients, and cleaning dishes. Most of the time was spent simply delivering large carts filled with trays for all the residents. The food was soft, chopped, and pureed for easy feeding and digestion. Prune juice came in abundance for the digestive track.



It was not an especially pleasant place. Human odors, the smell of bleach and cleaning products was mixed with the skin emissions of residents due to an inordinate amount of medications and various prescriptive drugs. Walking down the halls you will hear cries of pain, anguish, and unintelligible noises of distress. The faces of residents are often wrought with confusion, panic, and the look of complete terror. The process of dying and abandonment is not victorious. It is not pleasant. It is not inspiring, hopeful, filled with dignity and honor. It is not pleasant or cute. Most importantly, it is not natural.



These days with my visits to the nursing home I am no longer pureeing carrots or hamburger meat. I spend time visiting with the residents – socializing, praying, or singing a hymn. When an aged woman near death meets you with her tired eyes they often reveal an anxiety – eyes searching and questioning – what has happened to me? What has gone wrong? This is not where I want to be – this was not supposed to happen. Who is going to help me? There is little harmony in a nursing home where residents are cared for by strangers and await death. There is disorientation, complaints of abandonment, and physical pain.


Lutherans sing “In the midst of death’s dark vale Pow’rs of hell o’er take us. Who will help when they assail, Who secure will make us?”[1] Often times with our vain imaginations we have sought to secure ourselves on our own by trivializing and tranquilizing death. In our quest to naturalize and defang death we have partitioned it off from the youthful and more productive economic community – lest the elderly daily remind us of its unpleasantness. With the neglect of elderly we can keep our romantic ideas about death - its inherent honor and dignity – or simply ignore death altogether.



The bitter pangs of death are real and unsettling for all of humanity. It is a curious fact that most children are profoundly moved by their first encounter or experience with the death of a relative or acquaintance. They are affected and bewildered in the deepest of ways because they cannot conceive of death. It simply does not register in the human mind. Why did he go? Where is he now? There is an awareness that non-existence just does not sound reasonable. The idea of death is not naturally apprehended and requires an explanation.



The human heart naturally can detect an abnormality of one’s apparent departure from life. It simply does not sit well and is met with confusion and sorrow – the idea of death as simply non-existence seems preposterous – and it is. This is seen with ancestor worship which is commonplace in a variety of eastern or African religions. The living attempt to acquire the favor and presence of the deceased, asking for fortune and guidance. Shamans whip themselves into a drug induced frenzy to contact the spirit world and pacify the evil spirits.



In our universal frenzy to skirt death, we poke fun at it, laugh and joke, marginalize death, and make a mockery of those enduring it with the faith that has been granted to them in Christ. Deliverance is willfully sought through every avenue apart from the Father whose heart is truly moved with tenderness -this good and gracious Father who pities us in our distress. He grants us with the honor of being sons and daughters – a heavenly dignity which enters in from outside – from a source of which we can be certain – from the very mouth of God. Have mercy Lord.



[1] Martin Luther, “In the Very Midst of Life,” LSB 755.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Christian Ethic of Address

Old Woman Praying (known as "Rembrandt's Mother Praying")
1629/1630




The American historian, and social critic Christopher Lasch observes, “The ideology of personal growth, superficially optimistic, radiates a profound despair and resignation. It is the faith of those without faith.”

The modern mind’s idea of “self,” and identity is of primary importance in any discussion of a Christian ethic. Where contemplations of self were once more reserved for philosophers and speculative psychological theorists, now the cultural, commercial, and broader philosophical marketplace is completely saturated with the idea of “individualized self” and its self-defined and self-directed identity. Countless industries are dedicated to meeting the individualized self and its desires. The watchwords of this new secularized spirituality are “self image,” “self ideal,” the “authentic” or “true” self, the “inner” self, and “self actualization.” Yet, what is the locality of selfhood? Whom defines the self?

The “self” as the modern mind understands it, is stable with latent capabilities and means of creativity, capable of self fulfillment, and finding the inner and “authentic me.” To the self is attributed a great and unlimited human potential. Wells has the following observation about this optimistic faith of the autonomous human agent:

“Deep within it are the spring from whence flow its own healing waters. This understanding of the self implies an unwavering faith in its capacities, as well as in our ability to tap into its capacities. This sets us apart from many others cultures, in which it would be inconceivable for people to imagine that they could look inside themselves for the answers to life. Even more remarkable is the thought that buried within are the balms for our wounds and moral failures. There is a touching innocence to this trust. It is almost as if no one has toldus that we now live east of Eden, that these internal streams are also polluted waters.”[1]

Most conservative cultural critics, including Wells summarily identify three reference points of the human ethos. The church has traditionally understood selfhood as relationally defined by God’s revelation - His spoken living Word in Christ. The reference point of identity and one’s place in the cosmos was therefore God’s address. Beginning in the late 17th century, renaissance humanism and scientific discovery brought about a new optimism of the human agent to discern the inner workings of universe. The Enlightenment experiment ushered a new set of assumptions about the use of reason and absurdity of the supernatural, the workability and perfectibility of man, and the operations of the universe as a natural and reasonable system of cause and effect. Utopian schemes were dreampt up which envisioned a society ruled by utility, reason, and a new logic of social machinery. The understanding of humanity was divorced from God’s revelation in creation and had to be defined by an ethic of utilitarianism, which in turn brought about the greatest genocidal acts of world history. The compounding of Darwinism and Marxism with the enlightenment experiment reduced the “self” and all of humanity into descendents of bottom feeders, tape worms, and monkeys whose identity is marked as an agent of production and capital.

The third and present stage of philosophical fashion of “self hood” and therefore of an ethic is much harder to summarize, because it is neither directed by God’s Word, nor by the enlightenment quest for a universal and apprehensible human reason. The church is now called to witness to the Gospel in a world which does not believe in absolute truth, objectivity, and God’s revelation – a world where the very existence of matter itself is called into question. The point of reference in the universe is neither God nor a consensus of reason, but rather the individualized self. The self, with its intuitions, feelings, preferences, and desires is creator, redeemer, and sanctifier.

Man’s understanding of himself has been cast inward, into the inner recesses to look for the buried remnant and spark of divinity. He is looking for his “authentic self” and is inwardly oriented to the dark clouds of his confused human heart. He goes where the wind blows, dedicated to self-creation and self-justifying thinking. The post-modern mind is therefore not so much concerned for encountering truth but rather the ethic of self-actualization, which has simply become the predominate faith in both secular and Christian communities. Wells observes, “At the center stands the belief that others are the threat to our own reality.”[2] Furthermore, this ethic of self realization “assigns ultimate moral priority to the self, over and against society” so that “any action governed by social convention rather than individual preference…is tantamount to self violation.”

Market forces of the emerging church, mainline Protestantism, self help gurus, and the psychiatric and pharmaceutical juggernauts have voraciously capitalized on this religio-philosophical culture. The human agent is now enslaved to market forces which appeal to this internalized reference point, making promises of psychological wholeness, transcendence, and various forms of secular salvation. The psychotherapeutic industry works with religious motifs , utilizing the language of “progress,” “10 step programs,” “breakthroughs,” “moving toward the light” and so forth.

This sort of liberation psychology taps into the inner distress of the modern mind and makes a profitable business of it - keeping the victim enslaved to the chaos of a sinful and rebellious human heart, and the psychotrophic drugs that accompany the diagnosis of the unfulfilled and less than enjoyable human experience. The dialog of the ever questing doctor/patient relationship assumes that the inner self can make sense of the world and achieve a comprehensive unity of soul and healing, thereby reconciling the experienced contradiction common to every human life. It is the quest to know good and evil and apprehend a “god consciousness” that is divorced from what is graciously given. It is a desire to forsake one’s creatureliness” by ascending to God to be something other than mere creature. The undergirding idea is that the patient or creature may deliver himself if he just has the right mind set or technique. This is the first temptation of satan, and the central axiom behind all pagan religions. The temptation is this: you are divine, you are your own god, the creator of your own universe, the creator of your own reality and self-devised ethic. Self deliverance is the origin of idolatry, which seeks to thrown the human will into God’s face and say, “look what I have done.” It overthrows the lovely speaking of creator to creature, and the handing over of love to fellow creatures, speaking back to God what he speaks to us.

We ought not think of the identity of creature – of addressee, as a denial of authentic self. For it is the true self. The authentic individual is established in this address, as one adopted and recast in the sonship of Jesus. Wells writes extensively about the recovery of morality in the public sphere and discernment of good and evil and so forth, but cannot definitively point to the means by which the world is redeemed. The address of God in his continuous work of creation and through the preaching of the gospel is the first and last word concerning “identity” and “self,” which thereby guides how we understand a Christian ethic and morality. For the Christian, an ethical system cannot be artificially devised by a complex web of moral precepts and demands. Christians should consider the ethical life, not as an ethic of striving with a tenacious will to do the “right thing.” Rather, Christian ethics must be guided by the spokenness of creation, in which Christ grants all good gifts. God’s word of justification frees creation, granting that the eyes, ears, and human heart are opened up in faith toward God and therefore all of creation which God declares “good,” in fact desiring to suffer and die for (Gen 1:25). Only in holy absolution and God’s declarative act of mercy can an authentic ethic be realized.

[1] Wells, David F. Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans Pub, 1998, 122.
[2] Ibid., 126.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Reflection on Hamann Conference in NYC

Dr. Zeigler, myself, and Dr. Bayer


This weekend I had the honor of attending a conference on Johann Georg Hamann titled “Hamann and Tradition” an international conference held at Hunter College New York City, NY. Hamann is a rather obscure but highly influential 18th century German philosopher admired by the likes of Goethe, Hegel, and Kierkegaard. He was the intellectual opponent of Immanuel Kant, and his work can be characterized as a critique of the broader assumptions of the Enlightenment such as man’s perfectibility, autonomy, reason, and so forth.

Hamann as a philosopher, was first and foremost a Lutheran. He understood that the speaking of God and the need of the neighbor are more reflective of “self knowledge” than any sort of Socratic inward looking speculation. To know “self” is to be addressed by God – to be spoken to – and therefore to exist and live in and for creation. Language, relations, things, senses, images, symbolism, metaphor, and the natural world are ways that God graciously meets and addresses creation and the means by which creature responds both to God and fellow creatures. The human creature, itself, is God’s text and exists in being addressed and being known by God. There is therefore no great chasm between God and man that must be awkwardly forged. Rather God by his grace and condescension inclines his ear intimately in speaking, hearing, apprehending, and passing on.

Therefore God delights in his children and communion with God is expressed and given in language and community. Real existence – real identity – is relationally apprehended. The “I” is not self evident but is located through God’s speech spoken by creature through creature in the biblical text.

Hamann understood that man’s being is the gift of speech, for at man’s opening of the mouth he is human. This philosophy – this appreciation for God’s linguistic acts – posits that “I am spoken to therefore I become” or “I speak therefore I am.”

Hamann critiqued such philosophical categories as “being,” “belief,” “substance,” and “essence” because they are disconnected from real use of language. Our being, if the word must be used, therefore ought be understood as existing as one whom is “addressed.”

Oswald Bayer’s reflection of Hamann’s influence is centered around not only a theology of the cross but also a theology of creation. Through this loving condescension of God he is author and poet who communes relationally through creation – through speaking, hearing, feeling, eating, and teaching.

This fundamental anthropology of “dignity” presupposes “no worthiness in me” but rather "givenness." The Lord speaks and it happens. This giveness of God as poet and of author testifies to the action of language.

For this reason Bayer sees Hamann and Luther as sharing a robust theology of cross and creation – that God births through speech – creates, redeems, and sanctifies through speech. Hamann’s critique of philosophy involves a brilliant positing of a locating and relational interaction betweent a divine logos and human reason. True reason is not contra God’s revelation but is established by it. For Luther “reason” apart from revelation “knows nothing but the law.” Yet reason, ultimately for Luther and Hamann comes as gift – comes home in the light of the gospel. Listening to the words which proceed from the mouth of God mobilizes reason – purifies it – opens it up to the eternal by resting in the temporal, and creaturely life. “Authentic reason” therefore is not found in rigorous intellectual and contemplative speculation but is handed over as the divine logos - a loving address.

At this Hamann conference were Kantians and defenders of the enlightenment. There were unbelievers, feminist theorists, and philosophers of various stripes. Hamann’s influence in philosophy and the poignant address by Oswald Bayer at the conference testify to the necessity of actively engaging the academic, the philosopher, and the anarchist, for Christ speaks his word and gives himself for the many. Lutheran theology and true philosophy and true reason are compatible and work for one another in faith. The theologian who is equipped with true reason, finds his identity as creature – as one who is addressed – and given the wisdom of God through hearing.


If your interested in more in Hamann, John Henry III at CTSFW has a great paper exploring some helpful Hamann scholarship.

Unsanitzed Prayer and Preaching


The theology of lament and its expression is gritty and bloody. It is not a dialogical utterance sanitized by a disciplined will, which attempts to do any cleansing of its own. Pastoral care and the church’s liturgy ought to let God be God in his preaching and lamenting of creation. Likewise, the church’s lament should be permitted to stand, in its disorientation, in its unattractiveness, along with the piercing shriek that attends it. Furthermore, it is ok for the despair of disorientation to exist in the daily life of the congregation, to be suspended and attended to by the preaching and prayers of the church.

The word of God is not spoken and received in perpetual and harmonious bliss. The creature who wrestles against God still encounters affliction – still encounters the speaking of God’s law, which comes by way of a devastating obliteration of the human self-justifying will. In keeping with the Lutheran tradition of prayerfully distinguishing between law and gospel, the pastor’s task remains to diagnostically and prescriptively apply these two fundamental words. However, the pastoral and liturgical care of lament ought not simplistically equate law with disorientation and likewise the gospel with orientation. The living God is not bifurcated down the middle into two wills – this law and gospel, but speaks rather one will, that “thy will be one,” and “deliver us from evil.” These relationships work more dynamically and are resolved teleologically in God’s work, rather than man’s theological apprehension. And the first and final act is God’s work in Christ, in which the gospel is located in the disorientation and forsakenness in atonement. Only through the preaching of the atonement and resurrection can the pastor truly preach “all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28).

The dialogical procession of lament, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me” works out law and gospel in the life of the church – the lamenting community. Furthermore, this speech act of lament is authorian and creative speech that hands over the disorientation of sinful humanity into Christ’s passion, in which he becomes its bearer. In this blessed exchange humanities’ sonship is claimed by the handing over of Christ and his righteousness and life to His dear bride. The atonement is therefore not merely expressed in the imagematic language of lament and its drama, but rather its giveness is created and handed over to the church by way of gift through lament. Christ’s eternal confession of “my God!” in the hell of forsakenness – in the drinking of this cup of hell is the confession given and granted through the church’s ears and passed on through her lips. That God is for me, that God desires me and wants to be mine is found in its fullness in this linguistic Trinitarian drama, that God himself makes a grave with the wicked of the earth, to be raised and justify the many.

The promissory performance is that God laments for his creation and joyfully condescends in flesh to court his lover and lead her to baptismal waters. Only in divine condescension, through crucifixion, resurrection, and forgiveness of sin can one speak of a “relationship” with God that is oriented and open toward and for creation and neighbor. The relation is that God has surely done it and built the house of the lamenting community of the church, by raising up a son that he might tear the curtain and lay claim upon his creation in violent communion and divine mercy.

The Lutheran Pastor will face continued pressure to become a cheap tool for furthering the demonic creeds of personal self empowerment and fulfillment. He must speak honestly about the nature of suffering, which no human will or intellect can overcome. The tension between experience and promise must be met in the lament which can call a thing what it really is. For even the richest and orienting theology of vocation and cross cannot by necessity escape the disorienting theology of lament. The church must honestly speak the language of lament making a home in the Psalter, which provides the very vocabulary to navigate the spiritual life of God’s past, present, and future work.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Christian Life of Prayer

Detail of the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan Van Eyck 1430



"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the door-posts of your house and on your gates" (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).



Prayer and meditation is gracious invitation by God to cast our cares on him, with full assurance that our prayers will be answered. Though prayer is often times spontaneous and from the heart (ex corde), we should also consider it fixed, with a certain form, and repeititious that we might internalize prayer and make it part of our ontological makeup. In Luke 11:2 Jesus tell the disciples "When you pray, say: Father, hallowed by thy name..." Notice our Lord does not say pray "something like this" but actually provides the sweetest words of heaven, for they come from God himself. The Lord's prayer therefore is an outline of personal prayer and the ultimate model for the entire church. We can never exhaust it throughout the day and we may let it speak for us and form our prayers throughout the day (I have written about the Lord's Prayer here).



Due to sin and general laziness, a disciplined prayer schedule is necessary. If it were left to me to pray when I felt like it, or when it is convenient I would rarely or never get around to it. Submitting to a prayer schedule is necessary for me, for extemporaneous prayers are few and far between. It is a delight to pray the psalms and daily sing historic hymns with the brothers. A blessed way for Christ to make theologian is to pray the psalms for in this way we become entrenched in the Lord’s very vocabulary. Therefore theology may "do us" rather than us "doing theology." For the Lord gave us the psalms that we might pray them with him. We know that Jesus himself prayed them in the synagogue and most likely knew them by heart. We know from the scriptures that Jesus prayed the psalms as he was dying on the cross. In this way God prays the psalms with us, it is the songbook of our faith. They are the words that will echo in the halls of heaven with armies of angels. Singing is a natural consequence of receiving the pure doctrine of our Lord. Why would one pray without singing or go about the day without singing psalms, hymns, and versicles of the divine liturgy? It is impossible to be without continuous song and singing if one is given the faith of our Lord. Many church goers unfortunately are deprived of the pure doctrine, the sacraments, and historic catholic Christianity, and therefore are without voice and without song. Instead they have an intellectual or scholarly discourse about the bible and lord over the scriptures instead of receiving Christ (for truely receiving is the only way to worship).

I have written about the Daily Office of prayer here.
"Jesus Preaching" a woodcut by Rembrandst



The Word exists to be known to men. Man was birthed by the Word and lives from the Word. He has no existence apart from the word. Likewise, the Word exists to be preached to men.

The Word is purely creative in nature – this creative Word is fleshly and is Christ himself. The relationship between this Word and Men is therefore physical – a bodily encounter with the living Christ. Man does not move autonomously but is rather bound to God’s Word whether it be under his wrath or the forgiveness of the cross.

The reading of a scriptural text is not necessary for preaching and the procession of the Word. The message of the Gospel can proceed from Pastors, missionaries, and Christians by plainly speaking its content – speaking about Christ’s work.

The primacy of the Word deals with the correct economy of the Gospel. The Word is first simply because Christ is first and this Word is then spoken and addressed to men. The Word creates the church and Christ sends out apostles to speak. If one starts first with the office or church rather than the Word, God takes a back seat in our theological imaginations. The creative word must always be the starting point.

The Bible defines the church and apprehends it as historical fact. The Scriptures are about God and his people. The church therefore relates internally to the Scriptures rather than externally. The church is present in the biblical text and present in the preaching of the Word. God’s people, all humanity belongs to preaching, is constituted for it. Likewise the Word is for people.

The pitting of God’s objective word against man’s subjective experience creates a chasm between Christ and his people. When we speak of the objective fact of Christ’s death and resurrection we must not separate it from the church’s experience but grant it to them. Speaking about the objective nature of Christ’s work is a commentary on the objective work that is presently being carried out in the body of the church. When we talk about God’s objective work we speak about the objective work and creation taking place in the human heart. Some modern notions of preaching speak about the objective Word and then attempt to make it “apply” to man’s subjective experience. This is poor preaching for the objective Word of God actually performs and is diagnostic of that which takes place for the man sitting in the church pew.

The church as “new humanity” becomes “man,” becomes truly “human” with the Word as the rock of existence. The human subject, with his human ordinariness is brought into the objective fact of redemption and freedom before God. Man is free now in his true humanity and lives his freedom in the congregation. He has no need to transcend or overcome himself.

With the communication of attributes we ought not force a radical separation between the divine and human, as if they were oppositely posited. In contrast to preaching in the Barthian sense, the divine and majestic God ought not be divorced from the lowly human. The human is not an obstacle for the divine, or a somehow lower sphere of existence. It is rather the means of salvation and entrance of God into our lives. God speaks to creatures through creatures - he condescends to them. Whats more this is natural to him, not at all awkward. Whats more, this a joyful encounter for God. The majestic God makes himself known in the manger and in the cross. We ought to be human rather than something else – humanity is good.

Preaching actually does something. It is not merely prescriptive or descriptive. The creative word in preaching is not descriptive of an alternative event but is the event itself. It creates, announces, and performs a true death and true ressurection.

Saturday, March 7, 2009



"But a rival, of Solutre, told the tribe my style was outre--
'Neath a tomahawk, of diorite, he fell
And I left my views on Art, barbed and tanged, below the heart
Of a mammothistic etcher at Grenelle.
Then I stripped them, scalp from skull,
and my hunting-dogs fed full,
And their teeth I threaded neatly on a thong;
And I wiped my mouth and said,
It is well that they are dead,
For I know my work is right and theirs was wrong."


Rudyard Kipling
"Neolithic Age"
1895

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Good Morning


Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes: "Morning does not belong to the individual; it belongs to all the church of the triune God, to the community of Christians livng together, to the community of brothers [Bruderschaft]."

It is common to think that we own the day - 'today is my day,' 'my space,' 'my time.' Yet each day - every hour and minute come by way of gracious gift of which we have no claim. Even prayer comes by way of God's gift. For in the morning worship of the church we pray that God "open thou my lips; and my mouth shall show forth thy praise" (ps. 51:15).

Heavenly Father, grant Your mercy and grace to Your people in their many and various callings. Give them patience, and strengthen them in their Christian vocation of witness to the world and of service to their neighbor in Christ's name. You give us the breath of life and grant the church life every day that we might continue to proclaim your eternal peace, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Preaching of Saint Bernard


It has been noted that Martin Luther often admirably observed the preaching of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux of the Cistercian Monastic community (c. 1090-1153). In some selected sermons on the Song of Songs Bernard meditates on the nature of love, which is granted as gift by God. In the opening meditation we can already see the great reformational breakthrough that Wittenberg thrust upon the papacy, “For by keeping the Law no human being will stand justified before him. Taking this commandment into our hearts and feeling our own inadequacy we shall call to heaven and God will have mercy on us, and we shall know in that day that he saved us not because of any upright actions of our own, but in virtue of his mercy.” Calling upon God’s mercy and being sure of it actually take place in Christ’s promise is the mark of great preaching. Bernard creatively teaches that being saved and receiving the riches of heaven come by way of gift.


Love however marks the gift of salvation and has no chance of remaining dormant. Saint Bernard here speaks on a meditation of love that arises from the content of the heart. A loving heart he sees as being received by categorical gift. It proceeds not as an emotion but rather as action – as deed. Bernard cites the word of our Lord, “If your enemy is hungry feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink” (Lk. 6:27). Therefore love is manifested in actions rather than a purely emotional encounter, or as Bernard beautifully puts it, “But there is an affective response bred of the flesh, another rules by reason and yet another seasoned with wisdom.” There exists a harmony in loves action in the physical concrete expression, in reason, and godly wisdom. Action that proceeds from a callous heart is deficient and emotions that abound without any action are vain.


Bernard understands a great breakthrough occurs when the human acknowledges the following, “you will know your own self as your are when you perceive that there is nothing whatever in you to love, save only in so far as you are God’s, since you have poured all your capacity for loving into him. I repeat, you will know yourself as you are when the very experience of the love and affection that you bear yourself reveals to you that there is nothing in you deserving of your love, unless it be on his account without whom you yourself have no existence.” Here some lovely contours of Lutheran preaching take shape as we see a rather eloquent confession of justification by Christ alone. God’s action and claiming of the wayward human heart is the source and mediator of all love. That there is nothing within “deserving of your love” is a somewhat gentle way of acknowledging the deplorative and fallen state apart from God’s word, but it expresses it nonetheless. The personal identity of the Christian is rightly expressed this way, that true “self knowledge” antithetically distinguished from the Socratic tradition, is established by losing one’s personal egoism – with the result that the authentic self is realized in Christ’s identity. Ontological questions are met here in Bernard’s sermon. The question of being is met in God’s being and wisdom is met in the wisdom that emanates from God himself. The man who is wise in God’s love “reaches out to the rest of God’s creation with an ordered love.” This order is found by meeting the transient elements of the world with moderate involvement and clinging to “all things eternal with a desire that never flags.” Therefore involvement in the world is not disconnected from eternity but is rather moderated by it. The man wise in love therefore is acted upon by God and moves about in creation freely handing over the love shown to him by the Lord of Hosts.


Bernard ends his meditation with a lament of sorrowful expectation, “Weeping, I ask: how long shall we have the fragrance without the savour, we who glimpse our heavenly home from an unapproachable distance and are left sighing for it and hailing it from afar?” We might consider this the poetry of lament – that there exists a natural and apparent discrepancy between God’s promise of our heavenly home and the present circumstance of feeling disconnected and quite far from it. There is a “sighing” for the magnificent homecoming which of necessity finds a magnificent tension between promise and the present circumstance which cannot fully apprehend the wholeness of heaven. In closing he admits that he is “grimed with sin” but nevertheless seeks the Bridegroom of the Church.


A more mystic and stylistic detailing of the relationship between Bridegroom and the church takes place in Bernard’s meditation on Solomon’s Song 2:10, “My beloved spake, and said unto me, rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.” The meditation opens with the thought that “My beloved speaks to me.” Besides a linguistic exchange, the relationship between lover and beloved is described in rather lofty terms more illustrative of a graceful ballroom dance than anything else:

"Consider the gradual approach of grace and mark the steps by which the divine Bridegroom condescends. Notice the single-mindedness and the perception of the Bride, her sharp-eyed watching for the coming of the Bridegroom, the loving scrutiny she gives by turns to everything pertaining to him. As for him, he is coming, hastening, drawing near, he is here, he looks at her, he speaks with her. Not one of these moments escapes the Bride’s intent observation or catches her unaware."


In this mystical dance and interchange between the groom and bride it is the groom who is doing the leading and performing toward and for his bride. The theological proposition of the verbiage of the action is that Christ is doing the work. The dance is not guided and led by the bride but solely by the coming, hastening, and drawing near of Christ. This movement does not render the bride lifeless but her life arises from a more passive interaction marked by “watching,” “hearing,” and “turning” in reaction toward her lover. Bernard therefore begins with the great starting point of theology - that God intervenes, leads, and ultimately carries the church to the wedding feast. The bride, the church, does not meet the groom on the middle of the dance floor. She does not meet him “50/50.” Rather the groom condescends completely to the bride who is eagerly watching and waiting to be addressed and taken.


The groom’s action is not to be considered a projection of mystical illumination but instead as initiated and performed through means. Christ performs through “angelic messengers.” He is present in the flesh and addresses the bride through apostles. Therefore Christ’s speaking, his coming, hastening, and drawing near is not a contemplative pursuit on the part of the church but is achieved on the part of apostles and Christ’s encounter in the flesh. Bernard must have the apostolic ministry in mind with the priestly duties of the preaching office and administration of the sacraments. Therefore the church meets Christ through pastors who are entrusted to preach the gospel and feeds his dearly beloved his Holy Supper.