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Summer 2011 Vol.47, No.2

A Quarterly Journal of Christian Thought and Opinion published by Regent College


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CRUX, a journal of Christian thought and opinion, seeks to expound the basic tenets of the Christian faith and to demonstrate that Christian truth is relevant to the whole of life. Its particular concern is to relate the teachings of Scripture to a broad spectrum of academic, social, and professional areas of interest, to integrate them, and to apply the insights gained to corporate and personal Christian life and witness.

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Contents

CRUX Summer 2011,Vol. 47, No. 2

A Quarterly Journal of Christian Thought and Opinion published by Regent College

Articles Remembering Margaret Avison/Margaret Avison Remembering Maxine Hancock . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 Words and the Word: Metaphor, Analogy and Dialogic Discourse as a Theology of Language Eva Braunstein. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Beautiful Inadequacy: Examining Augustine’s Use of Words Monica Westerholm. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

Poetry Ark Lance Odegard. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16 Signature, Event, Context Bethany Hindmarsh. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29

Book Reviews Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Letters and Papers from Prison”: A Biography by Martin E. Marty, reviewed by John Conway. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34 The End of Suffering: Finding Purpose in Pain by Scott Cairns, reviewed by Julie Lane-Gay . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37 Advertise in CRUX. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39

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Cover - Photograph of Margaret Avison (by Joan Eichner). Margaret is in Edinburgh, 2003, on Rose Street, during the Edinburgh Festival of Books where she read from Concrete and Wild Carrots, winner of the Griffin Prize for Canadian poetry. The lead article, starting on p. 2, is on Margaret Avison by Maxine Hancock. Our thanks go to Joan Eichner, friend and editor of Margaret Avison, and Brian Hubner, Acquisition and Access Archivist, University of Manitoba Library, Winnipeg. The background is from a piece by Mako Fujimura, on the by/for.org site, from a series called Countenance; this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.


Remembering Margaret Avison/ Margaret Avison Remembering Maxine Hancock

Maxine Hancock is Professor Emerita of Interdisciplinary Studies and Spiritual Theology at Regent College. Author’s Note: This article is based on an Under the Green Roof Lecture delivered at Regent College in June, 2010. Much of the oral flavour of the original lecture has been retained, but some additional material and notes have been added.

A

lthough Margaret Avison is arguably Canada’s greatest poet to date and one of a handful of Canadian poets to have gained a discriminating and respectful international readership, she still needs to be introduced to audiences beyond dedicated poetry readers or those with an academic interest in modernist poetry, Canadian literature, or the dialectic between Christianity and literature.1 As one of the teachers at Regent’s first Summer School in 1969, and as a long-time friend of such “Regent people” as Laurel Gasque and Dal Schindell, Margaret Avison had an early association with Regent College. So both for those who know her work and for those to whom this article may be an introduction, this consideration and celebration of her work is an opportunity for me to “bring Margaret home” to Regent College. In this discussion, I will be considering Margaret Avison’s life and work not only from a critical posture as a careful and respectful reader; I will share also from within a special, privileged friendship with Margaret which began in late fall 1986 when she and I were both speakers at a “God Uses Ink” writers’ conference in Toronto, and which continued over the next decade and a half through sporadic visits with her as I spent time in Toronto on business, through occasional phone calls, and through a cherished correspondence that spurted up in sudden small exchanges. As Margaret aged and my own life no longer took me to Toronto, our connection burned down into glowing

embers of remembered moments. The last really personal note I have from Margaret Avison is dated August 6, 2003. I had written to tell her of my joy at her having been awarded the Canadian Griffin Prize for Poetry, a major poetry award with substantial monetary value. In a crabbed hand (her handwriting was always challenging to read and occasionally indecipherable, the letters so tight along the line that they always made me think of my grandmother’s tatting), she wrote inside a notecard with a cover image of a dairy farm scene, dominated by a large red barn: Dear Maxine and Cam, The card was chosen to celebrate that you have rented, but not left, the land. I understand that. Few people do understand permanent landscapes, alas—the exile and immigrant experience baffles my imagination. It’s lovely of you both to celebrate with me; and I have an annuity now; and for the first time, aged 85, I’ll see the British Isles.2 Scotland is all I’ll see, but is part of a hunger since high school when Depression, then War, then “Reconstruction” of bombed Europe, put travel for civilians-onholiday out of bounds until the time when I was no longer earning good paid vacations and had developed human responsibilities here.3 So now: it’s exciting, and your letters bring you in on it. … As ever, Margaret 2


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Nova Scotia, as was the first edition of her Pascal lectures on Christianity and the University, A Kind of Perseverance (1993). (“I gave my poetry to William Pope to publish,” she told me, “because he made no demands of me to do readings or other publicity stunts.”) When Lancelot Press ceased publishing, Margaret Avison turned to another small press, Brick Books of London, Ontario, to publish what became the Griffin prize-win ning collection Concrete and Wild Carrots (2002). Mom ent ary Dark (2006), the final collection to be published while she was still living, came out under the imprint of McClelland a nd Stew a r t , r et u r n i n g her work to her original mainstream publisher. The Essential Margaret Avison, with introduction a nd a selection of poems by Robyn Sarah, was published recently by The Porcupine’s Quill, Erin, Ontario (2010). More comprehensively, Selected Poems were published by Oxford University Press, Toronto (1991); and Always Now: The Collected Works were brought out in three volumes by The Porcupine’s Quill (2003, 2004, 2005). Ma rga ret Avi s on’s l ater c ol le ct io n s a nd A l w ays Now: The Collected Works, as well as her posthumously published works, have all been brought to publication under the careful editorial hands of Stan Dragland and Joan Eichner. With her body of work now complete, we have the opportunity to perform a retrospective reading of Margaret Avison’s writing. Of the posthumously published works, one is a final collection of poetry,6 one a prose memoir,7 and one a republished

Biography and Bibliography Margaret Avison was born in 1918 and died in 2007. One of three children in a Methodist ministerial family,4 she moved with her family to Western Canada where she lived in Regina (1920) and Calgary (1924). These she claims to have been the happiest and most imagination-forming years of her childhood. The family moved back to Toronto in 1929 when Margaret was eleven years old, her parents later moving on to a final posting in Ottawa. She received her BA from the University of Toronto in 1940, and her MA from the same institution in 1964. She completed PhD course work and comprehensive exams there; because of the death of her supervisor, she broke off from her doctoral studies in 1966 before writing her dissertation. She was a researcher, librarian, and sessional instructor at U of T for a number of years, but her primary vocation was clear from the outset: she was first and always a poet, taking various day jobs to pay the rent and enable her writing. She was twice the winner of the Governor-General’s Award for Poetry, Canada’s most prestigious literary award: for her first collection, Winter Sun, in 1960, and again for the collection No Time, in 1990. She was also awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize, a major award, for her collection Concrete and Wild Carrots, in 2003. She was named Officer of the Order of Canada in 1985, and received honorary doctorates f rom Acadia Universit y (1983), York University (1985), and Emmanuel College, Victoria University (1988). In 2005, she accepted the Leslie K. Tarr Career Achievement Award for Outstanding Contribution to Christian Writing in Canada. Margaret Avison wrote and published throughout her long life. Her collections of poetry, in order of their appearance, are as follows: Winter Sun (1960) and The Dumbfounding (1966). 5 Her next collections, Sunblue (1978), No Time (1989), and Not Yet but Still (1997), were published by Lancelot Press of Hantsport,

One of three children in a Methodist ministerial family, Margaret moved with her family to Western Canada where she lived in Regina (1920) and Calgary (1924). These she claims to have been the happiest and most imaginationforming years of her childhood.

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set of two essays delivered in the form of the Pascal lectures at University of Waterloo in 1993.8 Because of this diverse body of work, we have the privilege of hearing Margaret Avison in three different genres in a final ingathering of her words.9

school cohort, then my students and my colleagues. That afternoon had all the elements of richness one could wish for: an invitation into a mentor’s life and home, a great book with a deeply personal history (“Just think,” Margaret told me as she described the work to me, “Klein lost his family and, in his grief, raised a memorial of words to share with the world”), a time of quiet absorption in a conversation not only in words but about words with a great wordsmith. That afternoon I felt truly both in this world and somehow beyond it—“here” and “not not-there,” in Margaret’s inimitable enigmatic phrase. Our fellowship that day in Margaret’s suite in Fellowship Towers was just one vignette in the friendship that began when Margaret and I first met. At the writers’ conference, I was the flown-in plenary speaker; Margaret was a workshop leader who had commuted to the conference venue by public transportation. I think I felt a bit like I imagine John the Baptist felt when he met Jesus, someone so much greater in degree that his shoelaces he was not worthy to untie. I remember being somewhat surprised at her academic, professional look—she was very much a no-nonsense tweed-suited university professor with her well-cut steel grey hair and a mouth full of noticeably well-cared for teeth, and a voice that betrayed the many years when she had been a smoker. She certainly did not match my mental image either of a “reclusive poet” or “recently retired missions worker.” Since I had the guest suite at the conference facility, I was able to offer Margaret hospitality. I invited her to come and relax there with me after her workshop. When we got to the suite, I plugged in the kettle to make a cup of tea and offered her the guest bedroom as a place to lie down for a while. To my amazement, she instead decided to lie down on the brown shag rug of the sitting area floor. “I have a relaxation method a friend of mine who is a dancer taught me,” she said. “Great,” I said. “I’ll learn it, too.” And

Memoir of a Friendship The voice I hear in Margaret’s works is gravelly, thoughtful, with a slow, exactword-seeking delivery, the voice of a beloved and esteemed friend. I am not sure just how to imagine the life after this one, but I think I came close to experiencing it brief ly one afternoon in Margaret’s s e n i o r ’s a p a r t m e n t i n Fellowship Towers on Yonge Street, when she carefully pulled a heavy red-covered book from her bookshelf and suggested I look up a word we had just used in conversation. Ma rg a ret de s cr ib e s t h i s volume in her first essay in A Kind of Perseverance as “my treasured Etymological Dictionary [Ernest Klein’s, completed in North York, published by Elsevier in 1971] … dedicated to his mother and father, his wife and only child, all of whom died in the concentration camps of the Second World War.”10 I do not remember all the words Margaret and I looked up and discussed that winter afternoon, but I do remember the word “compete,” which, we found as we looked it up together, Klein explains as meaning not “to try to win” but rather to “run together” (“com” + root “–ped,” for foot); the best literary picture of it, Margaret thought, was that of the disciples who ran together to the empty grave of Jesus. Our conversation that day changed my way of thinking about “competition” in the academy, so often invidious; it was to become my great joy to “run together” with younger scholars—first, my graduate

The voice I hear in Margaret’s works is gravelly, thoughtful, with a slow, exactword-seeking delivery, the voice of a beloved and esteemed friend.

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I flopped down on the floor beside her. Margaret began to describe an envisioned scene: “You imagine yourself in a woods where there are fallen trees,” she said. “And you become wax on a log. As the sun warms you, you gradually melt down over the log.” I shut my eyes and tried to envision the woods. I asked: was it somewhere like the Everglades with curtains of hanging moss, or was it like our Windless Woods on the farm in Alberta, all poplars and straggly spruce? And what time of year was it? Was the sun a shy, wind-cooled spring sun or a hot summer one? And what kind of wax was I to be: paraffin, in a cool white block, or bee’s wax, malleable and golden-yellow? Margaret finally sat up and looked at me in utter exasperation. “I don’t know how anyone could relax with you around,” she said. “Let’s have tea.” I was to receive Margaret’s first note, dated 29 November 1986:

side” sense of humour. Margaret’s laugh was a joy to win—a low rolling chuckle. In a letter begun on November 11, 1987, in handwriting and then re-dated February 17, 1988, and completed in typing after a serious flare-up of lupus had made holding a pen too difficult, she enclosed an unsigned birthday card showing a notyoung woman trying to get across a rail fence to reach greener pastures, with the caption, “There’s only one trouble with getting older! By the time we reach greener pastures … we can’t climb the darn fence.”12 Margaret’s note said: The … card enclosed I bought for me (… I did want it—I’ll not mark it—dare you!). I am the old girl in the picture, and that misuse of the “green pastures” is a familiar pre-conversion memorytrace of Scripture I well recall—and there must be a lot of the old man in me, for it still makes me laugh. You may diagnose this sorry state.

Dear Maxine— It was very good to meet you. The time with you is oddly timeless. Doesn’t happen that way often— Your vibrant shining witness would make me rue my own becloudedness, if you weren’t such a valiant realist in your writing. In the Reality that Makes it New, then, Love, Margaret I sometimes wondered what bonded Margaret and me, over and above her great grace and generosity. There was, of course, our mutual love of—and respect for—words, and our shared desire to be faithful followers of Jesus, but there was that something else that made our occasional visits “oddly timeless”—maybe it was that I was from Alberta, where the mythic landscape of prairies and distant mountains had shaped and charged her imagination as it had mine.11 Maybe, later, it was that I was doing what she had done, resuming graduate studies a quarter century after a first degree. Or maybe it was just that we both had a slightly “far

She goes on to make a comment that added value to every line she ever sent me:

At the writers’ conference, I was the flown-in plenary speaker; Margaret was a workshop leader who had commuted to the conference venue by public transportation. I think I felt a bit like I imagine John the Baptist felt when he met Jesus, someone so much greater in degree that his shoelaces he was not worthy to untie.

Having such ongoing misery puzzles me about my general approaches to things. One difficulty, I know, is procrastination: not keeping up with mail was unavoidable when I was working and caring for mother in her last years, but it became a heavy load, dragged along (i.e., as bags of unanswered letters etc. in sequence) when I moved here, and still not tackled. So maybe if I can 5


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make my hands do it, I can cope with these piles bit by bit, and go on to a new and less tedious failing.

filled.” Margaret was not a cheerful or easy optimist; not cynical, but certainly sceptical, she characterizes herself in one of her letters to me as your “yeah-butting friend.” She found me (as she did also the poet Robert Browning) a little too quick to claim “God’s in his heaven— / All’s right with the world.”13 To any apparently pat expression of “all will be well,” she could quickly find a “yeah but” exception to test it against. But that evening, in the battered elevator of a student residence in Toronto, she spoke a sentence that has continued to brighten my way with hope, a sentence I need to repeat to myself from time to time as I read the newspaper or listen to the evening news. Over the years we were in touch, Margaret shared a number of poems-inprocess with me. In a typed letter dated 1 June 1988, Margaret concludes by saying: “here is yesterday’s poem, titled ‘Seeing So Little.’” The poem she sent, with only very minor changes, later appeared in her collection No Time.14 In another letter dated 19 September 1994, Margaret responds to a letter in which I told her about our life on our Alberta farm, especially describing the particular hue of blue of flax in flower. Margaret begins her note, “Dear Maxine—The lovely flax flower! Thank you indeed. … Your letter conveys you right now. It made me write a poem.” Enclosed was a poem about a farmer’s reply to an agribusiness salesman, titled in the version she sent me “A Peculiarity: Patriotic Piece.” Again, with only a few very small changes, this poem appeared under an altered title (“A Peculiarity: Local Loyalties”) in Margaret’s 1997 collection, Not Yet But Still.15 Margaret continually encouraged me as I, hearing always the rumble of “Time’s winged chariot hurrying near,” moved at pell-mell pace through my MA and PhD (1987–92).16 We talked frequently by phone during those years. Before having met her, I had considered doing my doctoral dissertation on her life and poetry. But she warned me sternly away

Margaret ends the letter with an invitation:

As the graffitiscarred elevator doors shut and we went up to a student apartment, she said, “One thing about the state of things in society today: after a while, people will get hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and then, Jesus promises, they will be filled.”

Come East again. This is no fun when you’re not answering everyother sentence. Love to Cam too. Margaret

By now, my husband, Cam, had also come into Margaret’s loving regard. She loved that he loved the prairie soil and had honoured his vocation to care for it well. Once, when he and I had travelled together to Toronto, Margaret invited us to her apartment for a meal she herself cooked. I remember her asking Cam to lift the casserole out of the oven to save the possible problem of a sudden weakness i n her k nobble d lu pu sdamaged hands, which might cause her to drop it. At table together, we ate baked fish, boiled potatoes, and steamed green beans. Again I felt something like the disciples must have felt in the company of Jesus, especially that postResurrection morning when he cooked for them on the shore of Galilee. We were deeply honoured to be so served; we were truly and wholly nourished. After supper, we went with Margaret to her regular weekly Bible study with a group of international graduate students at the University of Toronto. As the graffiti-scarred elevator doors shut and we went up to a student apartment, she said, “One thing about the state of things in society today: after a while, people will get hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and then, Jesus promises, they will be 6


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from working on her biography or her poetry: “If you do that, of course, I will never meet with you again. I don’t believe in giving one scholar a privileged ‘insider view’ over others—what I write is for the public; my own life is private,” she told me. In a phone conversation on June 1, 1988, she said, “I think these things published while the person is alive do all kinds of damage to other peoples’ private lives, and I will not have it.” I chose her friendship and another research project. Having warned me away from doing critical or biographical work on her and her poetry, she strongly supported my work in seventeenth-century literature, Milton and Bunyan being well and thoroughly dead, and, in her mind, well and thoroughly deserving of careful critical attention. She loaned me her own copy of Milton’s Complete Works for my Milton seminar, asking to read my papers as I wrote them, and commenting back to me on them. At one point, she told me how delighted she was with the perceptive reading C. David Mazoff had done of her work.17 “I think he gets it,” she told me, and asked me to write to him and send him some of my work on Milton, to whose work he was turning next. Margaret was solidly confident that academic work, however unrewarding and out of sight, was important work. “Scholars serve underground, unseen and mostly unappreciated, like earthworms to aerate the soil of a culture,” she told me. She approved of my academic work in almost direct correlation to the degree to which she came to disapprove of my media work—which she saw as distracting me from more important work. Margaret read my dissertation on Bunyan’s margins in its entirety and wrote firmly to me, “This must be published.” When it was finally published, after some longish delays occasioned by interruptions in my own life, I was particularly happy to send her a copy.18 As she had already read the dissertation, I did not expect her to read the book, sending it only to let her know that I had, indeed, followed through

to publication. But to my great surprise, she sent a note postmarked June 27, 2002, to my Vancouver address, commenting on her pleasure in receiving the book, and giving evidence of the close attentiveness with which she read it (postcard, both sides): Dear Maxine, Your Key came. The readership of yesteryear touched me again—lovely lively context, for text & side-text. Oh thank you. Hidden delights— fn 17 p. 162 e.g. I thank you. I love to delight in the delight of your Regent students. Good to hear of Cam’s ploughy pattern imprint on your loved landscape in Alberta.… Remember me to him.19 Living in community here [at Fellowship Towers] is increasingly good—met a new resident from PQ recently who grew up way up in northern Quebec— her mother died when she was 8, but had given her this one book—for almost another decade. The book was Pilgrim’s Progress. As ever, Margaret

Margaret was solidly confident that academic work, however unrewarding and out of sight, was important work. “Scholars serve underground, unseen and mostly unappreciated, like earthworms to aerate the soil of a culture,” she told me.

Last Published Works— Margaret in Prose Margaret had commented to me on the difficulty of writing prose, at a time when she was finding typing easier than holding a pencil: Writing prose is much much harder than writing verse. For me anyhow. Because in prose a persona seems to form and dictate a tone. Key relationship with readers. Going along in prose I feel I am labouring explanations, 7


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and that makes me feel that the explanations are not covering the marvellous explosive sideissues that could come in easily (in just the shape of an adjective) if this were a poem. The problem does not worry me. For I do not feel I have to write prose after all.20 Considering the difficulty with which she wrote prose, and the growing disability that arthritis inf licted on her, her two posthumously published prose work s represent something of a miracle. A Kind of Perseverance, the print version of the Pascal lectures on “Christianity and the University” that Margaret delivered in 1993 at the University of Waterloo, illu st r ate s t he di f ficult y Margaret had in developing the connections, redundancies, and expansion required of prose. Her opening “Preamble to the Propositions” exemplifies her problem with prose:

For Margaret, the perfect genre was the elliptical, allusive, imagistic mode of modernist poetry. Prose forced her to plod when she would rather dance. But even when writing prose, she found herself incapable of simplifying. She explains, “The ideas are in cumulative clusters, rather than in logical steps,” and then proceeds by way of “propositions,” of which the first is, “No mortal person has perfect understanding.” The third is, “Each new perspective can make some further misunderstanding evident.” But Margaret does not stop in this agnostic posture; she offers a sixth proposition as a pardox: “Thinking we know, now, is the key danger to confront. Knowing, now, is essential. In other words, the growing process is dangerous, and essential.”23 It is this open, affirmative posture that Margaret advances in her paradoxical aphorism, “I am here and not not-there.” She first defined the poet’s position in this way while participating in a Vancouver poetry symposium in 1963, where she shared the platform with other modernist and experimental poets, including Denise Levertov and Allan Ginsberg. Thirty years later, she reiterates this statement as central to her Pascal lectures: “Being a poet means saying, I am here and not notthere,” she states, but later broadens this as a proposition: “The true believer’s problem: how to say ‘I am here,’ and still be saying ‘I am not not-there.’”24 Finally, she presses the enigmatic phrase into service as the title of her autobiography. The sense, as I take it, is that the poet occupies a particular “subject position” without thereby negating another possible position; one takes one’s stand in positive affirmation of what one has come to know and understand, in a progression of understanding rather than through a process of negation, recognizing the partiality of all human knowledge. In the Pascal lectures, she sums up the limitations of our knowledge at any given time in the memorable and parabolic sentence: “And the robin in the egg does not know that the robin’s egg is blue.”25

For Margaret, the perfect genre was the elliptical, allusive, imagistic mode of modernist poetry. Prose forced her to plod when she would rather dance. The “and” in Christianity

and the University raises the question: what connection is implied by this connective? Certainly I cannot pretend to speak for, or to, the University, or for all Christians. I can speak only from a sporadic acquaintance with University campuses, and as a Christian.21 One hears an echo of such careful distinctions in a poem in her final collection, “Two Whoms or I’m in Two Minds”— Whenever I say, or even think: all, launching out upon a train of thougt, then such a clamour— we’re coming, we’re about ready, don’t go without …22 8


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Margaret’s autobiography, I Am Here and Not Not-There, published posthumously from a partially completed manuscript, employs a kind of prose very different from the tightly, if enigmatically, reasoned discourse of the Pascal Lectures. In her autobiography, the language is neither poetic, nor cryptic and laconic, but rather flows as the fluent prose of memory and narrative. Here is how Margaret describes spring on the Canadian prairies,

had written and I would take it home and type it up on the computer and print it for her. I would bring the typescript back to her in the morning, and she would make emendations and changes. Later, we brought Stan Dragland into the process, and I would email the draft to him. Stan was a marvellous editor— he could make an awkward s e nt e nc e wo r k by ju s t changing a single word.” With Joan Eichner’s and Stan Dragland’s assistance, Margaret wa s able to substantially tell her story, her way. She tells it as a before-and-after story whose plot pivots on a dramatic con f rontation wit h t he Risen Christ, who spoke commandingly one morning through the scriptural text. Margaret writes:

“I am here and not not-there.” Margaret first defined the poet’s position in this way while participating in a Vancouver poetry symposium in 1963, where she shared the platform with other modernist and experimental poets, including Denise Levertov and Allan Ginsberg.

Does spring come with particular grace after a harsh winter? How keenly I sense again the prairie grass, a clear bright sky, and the ground brushed with a lilac bloom clear across to the far horizon: crocuses! Not the frail party-dress garden kind called by that name in the east, but true crocuses, soft to the touch, both stem and flowers, with invisible fur, purplish blue, everywhere, everywhere. Whoever brought me these gave me some newspaper to hold the ones I picked. They lay there, fading now in the sun, small ants running from them along the folds.26 The difference in prose style between the autobiography and the text of the Pascal lectures is so striking that I found myself wondering if Margaret had dictated these memoirs to her trusted friend and editor, Joan Eichner, the verbal telling rendered in a more fluent prose style than Margaret herself could have achieved by writing. But in a conversation with Joan Eichner, I learned from her what had been the method of composition of this autobiography/memoir. “Well now that really was quite a process,” she told me. “Margaret’s eyesight was beginning to fail and her hands were too arthritic for the typewriter, so she sat where she had good light with a huge pad of lined yellow paper and wrote long-hand throughout the day. Then when I [i.e., Joan] came in later in the day, we talked over what she

Early on the morning of January 4, 1963, dressed for work as usual, I read on. “You believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1). I did believe in God. Whoever had spoken, the “Me”—it was not visual, but not a mere feeling—that Person was impingingly present, before me. Not even questioning this strange visitation, I spoke: “I believe in You, You will take over. I’ll believe, but oh, don’t take the poetry. It’s all I’ve got left. … Finally I hurled the Bible across the room and said, “Okay, take the poetry too!” I think I expected to lose my identity then. But what happened was odd. On the 9


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cleared desktop, what looked like iron filings appeared, all joggled about, until they began to arrange themselves in a design— angles, arcs, curving lines. After a few moments the desk was its plain, old surface again, cluttered with papers. With a glance at my watch, I firmly stood up, collected coat and bag, and left for my daily assignment, resolutely blanking out the morning’s events. But the new direction declared itself bit by bit. My five senses were noticeably quickened. Creative ideas abounded. … In fact, a new design had come into my life.27 This story, which surely ranks with the great Christian conversion narratives, was one Margaret told often. 28 She told it to me personally in one of our conversations. Now we have her own written version, as well as the story emb edded i n i nter views included in an appendix to I Am Here.29 However punctiliar her actual conversion, there can be no doubt that the new life of obedience to Christ which Margaret entered so decisively had been long in gestation— early poems, even in her first collection, Winter Sun, were marked by an awareness of a spiritual or “metaphysical” dimension.30 In I Am Here, she tells of her childhood spiritual formation in a process including her parents and grandparents, the church, and the Scriptures. 31 A distinctive

characteristic of Margaret Avison’s story is the degree to which the experience of the presence of Christ is mediated by the Scriptures:

Margaret Avison had, as a student, been a political “radical,” joining the Young Communist League with her friend Josephine Grimshaw. The two women were deemed too radical even for that group and were “ dismissed as Trotskyites.” This early concern for the disenfranchised is refracted later through her Christian faith, and she lived in life-long solidarity with the poor.

Jesus … … you are as if strolling through the morning, saying those fierce, or disarming, words within the word. … It is my best good to let you speak your remembered, translated, printed, painfully accessible word. …32 She is, in fact, reluctant to use the term “mysticism”—“‘Mysticism’ is a word I’m nervous about. Fruitful meditation is all I know,” she tells her interviewer, Sally Ito.33 Margaret Avison experienced life as a wage earner. Her story is marked throughout by a fierce dedication to financial independence. Her commitment to being a working woman comes through clearly in her memoir. Even as a highly respected and established poet, she refused to apply for government grants. After one eight-month position as writer-in-residence (University of Western Ontario, 1972–73), she turned down all other requests from other universities, having decided that the position was a sinecure without real work responsibilities attached. She told me that she could not justify her wage when others around her were working so hard, teaching and grading, while she was being paid to simply sit and write. Margaret Avison had, as a student, been a political “radical,” joining the Young Communist League with her friend Josephine Grimshaw (who would later be the subject of a suite of poems called “the Jo poems” in Margaret’s second GovernorGeneral’s award winning collection, No Time). The two women were deemed too radical even for that group and were “dismissed as Trotskyites.”34 This early concern for the disenfranchised is 10


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refracted later through her Christian faith, and she lived in life-long solidarity with the poor.35 Influenced in her thought by Dorothy Day and the Christian Workers’ Movement, Avison, after her conversion, left the University of Toronto where she had worked as a sessional teacher, a researcher, and a librarian, choosing to earn her daily bread through working with a Toronto mission, Evangel Hall, and finally through doing clerical work for Mustard Seed Mission. In Margaret Avison’s autobiography, there are two sets of characters who would otherwise have no point of contact. The first set is made up of the Toronto literati with whom she interacted. This is a glittering array of Canadian literary stars, including such writers as A.J.M. Smith, Irving Layton, Miriam Waddington, Leonard Cohen, George and Angela Bowering. Northrop Frye, who was to become Canada’s most famous literary critic, was a close friend of her brother’s and often in her family home. The second set of characters is made up of people with whom she laboured in mission work among Toronto’s poor during her post-conversion, post-university years: Mr. Cunningham and Mr. and Mrs. McIlvean of Evangel Hall; and A.J. Stewart and Mrs. Lillian Dickson, secretary and founder of Mustard Seed Mission, respectively. No doubt the greater literary interest will be focused on the earlier chapters—but throughout, we hear the voice of a woman who, like Browning’s Andrea del Sarto, has “grown peaceful as old age tonight / I regret little and would change still less.”36 There is little here that is evaluative of Canadian literature or its icons, and she maintains nearly total taciturnity regarding her own personal relationships with a number of major figures. According to his biographer, George Grant, the Canadian political philosopher best known for his work Lament for a Nation, “took out poet Margaret Avison from time to time,”37 and Margaret in tribute

addresses him in a poem written late in her life.38 But her relationship with Grant is not mentioned by Margaret in her autobiography, the omission perhaps as notable as a short comment regarding their friendship might have been. Although literary critics will be most interested in Margaret’s role as part of that cohort of writers and thinkers w h o b r o u g ht C a n a d i a n literature to a new level of maturity, Margaret would be insistent that those who spent their lives in mission work made an equally important contribution to civic life in the city of Toronto and thus to the fabric of Canadian life and national identity. G i ve n h o w d i f f i c u lt Margaret Avison found it to write prose, and given the daunting task of self-narrative, it seems worth asking why she might have decided to tell her own story. In addition to her determination to tell the story of her own conversion, there appears to be a proprietorial defence strategy involved. Margaret’s own telling will have to be taken into account i n all later biog raphies. She has erected a barricade around some areas of privacy that will take some scaling to breach; she has declared the outline of the plot and structure of her life-story. Her autobiography, unfinished as it is, stands as Margaret Avison’s staking a strong claim to the way her own story is to be told and read. I n her m at ter-o f-f act way, she tells (and leaves untold) stories which will take a g reat deal more teasing out: stories as complex as her

Although literary critics will be most interested in Margaret’s role as part of that cohort of writers and thinkers who brought Canadian literature to a new level of maturity, Margaret would be insistent that those who spent their lives in mission work made an equally important contribution to civic life in the city of Toronto and thus to the fabric of Canadian life and national identity.

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adolescence compounded by depression and anorexia nervosa, her absorption into the star-studded world of North American modernist poetry, the loves and relationships of her life, and a more nuanced account of her years as a social worker with Evangel Hall—all are open to further interpretation and elucidation. But that is work for other writers, for another day. And no biographer will be able to disregard Margaret’s own first-person voice in the appropriation or retelling of the story of her life.

What I see as a critic in these final poems is a deeply rooted poetry, a person speaking in a space that has been cleared by careful craftsmanship over many decades.

first: moralizing tags in the last line or two of a poem, for example, and some of these were edited out before publication. Poems kept developing out of the new excitement of Bible reading. … Gradually there developed a peaceful confidence that my Lord knew who I was, knew my joy in writing with my ear in our good language, and had freed me from any obligation except a thankfulness for his companionship.40 In these final collections, Margaret truly seems to write from a full integration of her poetic and Christian self. Since the citation for the Griffin Award, which said, in part, “Margaret Avison is a national treasure. For many decades she has forged a way to write against the grain, some of the most humane, sweet and profound poetry of our time,” there has been a nearly reverential respect for her work. But there will be a time for the careful analysis and conversation that is thoughtful, probing criticism. Of course I will always read Margaret Avison through a lens of love, as I read George Herber t or Gera rd Ma nley Hopkins. How can I not? But what I see as a critic in these final poems is a deeply rooted poetry, a person speaking in a space that has been cleared by careful craftsmanship over many decades. There are constants and reiterations here, including her fascination with etymology and language. She continues, deep into old age, to write “urban nature poetry” (as D.S. Martin terms it), which keeps finding beauty in city scenes, life flaring up from between the cracks, and the sublime glimpsed through an apartment window. While Margaret has learned much from the Romantics in her attention to nature, she is also a twentieth-century realist, and her theodicy is held without oversimplification. In one of the poems in her final collection, titled “Witnesses,” she asks provocatively:

Last Words: Margaret Avison’s Final Poems

Turning from her end-of-life prose publications to poetry published since the Griffin Award-win ning Con c ret e and Wil d Carrots (2002), we have two collections to consider: Momentary Dark: Ne w Po e m s (20 0 6) a nd Listening: Last Poems (2009). Here is fresh work for all who have worked on Margaret Avison to date, final words for all who have learned the rewards of thoughtful reading of her work. There will, of course, always be some critics who find her Christianity a difficulty, who with Bruce Whiteman, who reviewed her Selected Poems (1991) for Books in Canada, find “often the poems are infuriatingly obscure or use a diction that overreaches itself or is old-fashioned”—but who, after such grumbling, still grant that “the best … is truly remarkable and should be read by everyone interested in Canadian poetry.”39 Margaret Avison tells D.S. Martin in his interview for Image, My approach to the writing of poetry has evolved somewhat since [my earlier post-conversion writing]. My beliefs were obtrusive at 12


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What’s “good”? Springtime? The cat just Brought me a chewed fledgling, his love-token.41

had worked its way into her very being: as a child, her grandmother’s assurance that God speaks through the Scriptures “had / for me no heft.” But “Once, for good, came the discovery. / Print privately can be / come Voice,” she discovers that the words her grandmother had spoken “now / murmur within, massy as a / golden heirloom. … Meanings / soundlessly deep forever.”44 In these final collections, there are poems that tease the mind or bring a chuckle, poems to come back to another day, and poems that, read and re-read, will settle in, “massy as a golden heirloom.” “Faithful in her generation” would certainly be the most succinct way in which to summarize the life and work of Margaret Avison. She succeeded in blending the radical and the romantic and the realist in one cleareyed always-true person. She husbanded words the way she imagined the apple farmer with “local loyalties” would guard the art of growing apples, taking as a poet the advice of the farmer father to his son:

She continues to insist on forging a theodicy in the face of the reality of death (as in “The Jo Poems” in No Time), or chewed fledglings, as in the later poem quoted above, willing to leave unanswered questions. There is the “mysticism of the word” that marks her in continuity with George Herbert in her attention to the printed Scriptures. Her conversional poetics makes her a companion to other great writers of the twentieth century who, in gaining a Christian vision, win through to hope in a culture of despair: T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden, and Denise Levertov. But these final collections are also unabashedly the poetry of old age, written by the meticulous and painstaking methods that were gained by age:

In old age, Margaret laughs at foibles and weaknesses: in “Ocular” she has mistakenly seen a lilac bush where there was only pavement—but nonetheless enjoys the beauty she has only imagined.

In my own experience lyric flow was gift to youth, an overflowing ease like an athlete’s ease, confident, full of energy and drive. One rides with it as far as possible. But to push on when it isn’t a given is to risk writing parodies of one’s own earlier poems. At that point, word, music, word-sounds, images no longer simply cluster and come almost of themselves. Contriving them is useless. Head-knowledge, life-experience etc., gradually change the process. Impulses of feeling become less impotent than quickened interest in some visual object or a vividly imagined situation. … I speak only of what seemed true for me.”42

Offer something choice. Fewer may want it but in the course Of giving them quality you’re giving Yourself incentive, and satisfaction— Just about enough, at the day’s end.45

In old age, Margaret laughs at foibles and weaknesses: in “Ocular” she has mistakenly seen a lilac bush where there was only pavement—but nonetheless enjoys the beauty she has only imagined.43 From the angle of vision of age, she is able to reflect on the long process by which the Word that would one day win her heart

Endnotes

1 “You can measure the success of Margaret Avison’s career by the major awards accorded to nearly half of her books. … If you put little stock in awards …, then the better measure may be the list of anthologies … in which her work has appeared. … She was first anthologized by A.J.M. Smith in … 1943. … Irving Layton, Earle Birney, Bliss Carman, Ralph Gustafson, and Eli Mandel all selected her 13


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work for Canadian poetry anthologies, and Denise Levertov pursued Avison’s second book, The Dumbfounding (1966), for Norton. … Before Avison had published her first monograph, she was recognized as a representative Canadian poet by some of the enduring names in Canadian poetry, and after Winter Sun, that reputation spread.” Chris Jennings, “Books of Revelation”: Feature Review, Arc Poetry Magazine 56 (Summer 2006), 82. 2 Joan Eichner (Avison’s editor) explained further to me in an e-note dated July 6, 2010: “The Edinburgh trip … was really part of the Griffin Prize. … The Canadian winner ‘had’ to do a reading at the Edinburgh Festival of Books. Of course this was a thrilling opportunity … largely paid for by the Griffin Trust (Margaret would never have travelled, otherwise).” As in so many matters related to Margaret Avison, Joan Eichner has been very helpful to me in the preparation of this article. 3 Among Margaret Avison’s “human responsibilities” were not only her various jobs, but also her long-time care of her aged and finally blind mother. Margaret spent long evenings reading favourite classics such as Dickens’ novels aloud to her mother; when her mother died in June, 1985, she began a ministry of visiting patients in palliative care. 4 Wi t h t h e m e r g e r o f M e t h o d i s t , Congregationalist, and some Presbyterian churches to form the United Church of Canada in 1925, Margaret Avison’s father became a minister in the United Church of Canada, with his final charge being Dominion United Church, Ottawa. 5 The Dumbfounding was first published by W.W. Norton, New York, through a connection forged by American poet Denise Levertov. Margaret Avison’s first two collections were later published together as Winter Sun and The Dumbfounding: Poems 1946–66 (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1982). 6 Margaret Avison, Listening: Last Poems (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2009). 7 Margaret Avison, I am Here and Not NotThere: An Autobiography (Erin, ON: Porcupine’s Quill, 2009). 8 Margaret Avison, A Kind of Perseverance: Two Essays, reprinted with corrections, Stan Dragland and Joan Eichner, eds. (1993; repr., Erin, ON: Porcupine’s Quill, 2010). 9 In a number of Margaret Avison’s last collections of poetry, she makes special mention of the editorial assistance of Stan Dragland and Joan Eichner; e.g., in “Acknowledgements,” an afterword to Momentary Dark, she writes: “The careful editing of Stan Dragland made some passages clearer and some spots easier to follow. His practised skill is an ornament to his perceptive reading of manuscripts. I am grateful. No poem would exist without the primary sensitive reader who sees its strength but can be candid about its blurry places and dogged until revisions make it come into focus. Joan Eichner is that reader, for me. My fingers being by now unreliable on a keyboard, Joan both deciphers my cryptic handwriting and prepares successive typescripts until together we reach the manuscript stage. I need to acknowledge

with thankfulness her keeping at it on my behalf throughout all stages of a finished work” (Momentary Dark [Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2006], 91). 10 Avison, A Kind of Perseverance, 31. 11 Re: the remembered world of her childhood in Calgary, Margaret Avison writes: “An almost unclouded world it seemed. Only on Chinook days did we see a heavy cloud-mass above the clear band of greenblue sky at the horizon. … In hindsight I marvel at the prevailing sunniness” (I Am Here, 29); cf. my short essay “On the Wings of the Wind,” in Maxine Hancock, Gold from the Fire: Postcards from a Prairie Pilgrimage (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2004), 39–42. 12 Copyright, Carlton Cards, Toronto, Canada. 13 Robert Browning, “Song from ‘Pippa Passes,’ in Pocket Volume of Selections from the Poetical Works of Robert Browning (London: Smith, Elder, 1895), 10. 14 Avison, “Seeing So Little,” No Time, 159. 15 Avison, “A Peculiarity: Local Loyalties,” Not Yet But Still, 43. 16 Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress,” in Seventeenth-Century Prose and Poetry, 2nd ed., enlarged, Alexander M. Witherspoon and Frank J. Warnke, eds. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982), 966, l.22. 17 C. David Mazoff, Waiting for the Son: Poetics/ Theology/Rhetoric in Margaret Avison’s “Sunblue” (Dunvegan, ON: Cormorant Books, 1989). 18 Maxine Hancock, The Key in the Window: Marginal Notes in Bunyan’s Narratives (Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2000). 19 She refers here to my description of Cam’s zero-till approach to farming—which was, in fact, to refrain from making a “ploughy pattern” in order to preserve the soil from wind and water erosion, and to return nutrients to the soil by the natural attrition of the crop residue each year. 20 Letter cited earlier, dated 11 November 1987 and 17 February 1988. 21 Avison, A Kind of Perseverance, 19. 22 Avison, Listening, 5, ll.1–6. 23 Ibid., 19. 24 Ibid., 37 (original italics); see also 52n1. The earlier edition of A Kind of Perseverance published by Lancelot Press perpetuated a mistake in Margaret’s “knotty proposition” that her editors, Joan Eichner and Stan Dragland, correct in the new edition. 25 Ibid., 24. 26 Avison, I Am Here, 16. 27 Ibid., 142. 28 See, for other examples, Emilie Griffin, Turning: Reflections on the Experience of Conversion (Garden City: Doubleday, 1980); Conversions: The Christian Experience, Hugh T. Kerr and John M. Mulder, eds. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983). 29 Interview with D.S. Martin, in Avison, I Am Here, 327–39 (previously published in Image 45 [Spring 2005]); interview with Sally Ito, in I Am Here, 310–25 (previously published in Tim Bowling, ed., Where the Words Come From: Canadian Poets in Conversation [Roberts Creek: Nightwood Editions, 2002]). 14


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30 See, for example, “The Swimmer’s Moment,” Winter Sun and The Dumbfounding, 47. 31 Avison, I Am Here, esp. 15–44. 32 Avison, “Prayer of Anticipation,” in Momentary Dark, 58. 33 Avison, I Am Here, 320. 34 Ibid., 72. 35 When I met Margaret, soon after her retirement from Mustard Seed Mission, she told me she had struck a deal with God on matters material: “We agreed,” she told me, “that if I ever had less than seven dollars to my name, I was allowed to worry.” 36 Robert Browning, “Andrea del Sarto,” in Pocket Volume, 37. 37 William Christian, George Grant: A Biography (repr., Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1994), 14.

38 Avison, “For George Grant: A Prairie Poem,” in Concrete and Wild Carrots, 13, 14. 39 Bruce Whiteman, “The Ciphering Heart,” Books in Canada: The Canadian Review of Books, www.booksincanada.com/article_view.asp?id=1785. 40 Interview with D.S. Martin, in Avison, I Am Here, 338. 41 “Witnesses,” in Listening, 36. 42 Interview with Sally Ito, in Avison, I Am Here, 321. 43 “Ocular,” in Listening, 18. 44 “Listening (For Grandma),” in ibid., 3–4. 45 “A Peculiarity: Local Loyalties,” in Not Yet But Still, 43.

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Poetry

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Ark

Lance Odegard It begins by staring into the dark, walking right into the forested fray, to scan for life in all of the choking and decaying. What you want (if you’ve studied your ecology, looked at the etymology) are the one’s with roots— you’re looking for growth rings, the oldest ones stand truest. It’s one thing to find and fall the old specimens— anyone can use a chainsaw, can read a dictionary. It’s another to make something, to heave the massive concepts, dragging them from the old growth of the unconscious out into a clearing. You begin trimming the broken grammar, peeling back the barked adjectives, slowly working the timbered treasures. Nail by nail, word by word, you are connecting boards, forming long sentences, Rough-hewn syntax hoisted in place, large paragraph beams fastened down— the necessary structure to hold the coming rush of ideas, a procession of creativity born way before your time. Looking on, convention taunts, common sense sneers: a waste of good materials, a useless contraption, this building out of season, this vocation of day dreams. The whole undertaking—all of it outlandish. The strangest of contractors— Who builds by covenant? This you ignore. You build something for the oncoming deluge, you make something to hold and preserve creation, you write something, to carry us into a promise. Lance Odegard (MCS, Regent College) lives in East Vancouver with his wife Aimee, raising their three kids, writing poems and stories, and pastoring with the Artisan community. 16


“Title Words and the Word: Metaphor, author Analogy and Dialogic Discourse as a Theology of Language Eva Braunstein Analogical and metaphorical forms of discourse offer a way forward in articulating a theology of language that redeems the dominant forms of discourse in the modern and postmodern world. Metaphor, I argue, is built into our conceptual framework as human thinkers and can be understood as the basis for human consciousness. Metaphor is also uniquely useful for what Janet Soskice has termed “reality depiction,” the disclosure of truth about the world, in the disciplines of both science and theology. Additionally, the multiplicity of reference born out of poetic language exposes the way in which words themselves possess a sacramental character by manifesting more than what appears to be immediately present, often by means of sensory evocation. As sacraments mediate the presence of things greater than themselves through the liturgical means of sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste, so words, and poetic words in particular, mediate meaning to us beyond their phonological characteristics. In later sections, I will explore the socially determined dimension of signmaking and language use. Avoiding the Scylla of the “necessity” view of reference and the Charybdis of an arbitrary semantic theory, I will argue for the contingency of word meaning as the sensible middle way forward in semantic theory. The ageold debate, beginning as early as Plato and Aristotle, about the natural versus conventional status of signs, has been polarized between a medieval “magical” view of reference wherein words are

Thou art also … a figurative, a metaphorical God too; A God in whose words there is such a height of figures, such voyages, such peregrinations to fetch remote and precious metaphors, such extensions, such spreadings, such Curtaines of Allegories, such third Heavens of Hyperboles, so harmonious eloquutions. … O, what words but thine, can expresse the inexpressible texture, and composition of thy word.1

J

ohn Donne’s exclamation of the fig urative text ure of Christia n Scripture and its fundamentally literary nature cuts across much of the preoccupation in modern hermeneutics with propositional content. God is a metaphorical God, and this form of discourse is taken by Donne to be uniquely chosen as the best mode of communication for divine revelation. While the concerns of this article extend beyond biblical hermeneutics, Donne’s ref lection on the richly figurative tenor of biblical text, rather than its straightforward, unambiguous, scientific disclosure of propositional truth, captures the general spirit of my endeavours here. The nature of non-discursive, poetic language and what has been termed its “polysemy,” or its “surplus of meaning,” wherein single words have multivalent functions that evoke whole sets of associations rather than single referents, seems to hold a unique power for several reasons. 17

Eva Braunstein (BA Philosophy and Psychology, UC Santa Barbara; MCS Regent College), currently lives in Vancouver, BC. With interests in hermeneutics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of language, she plans to continue graduate work, with an eye to theology and cultural criticism, hoping to bridge the gap between analytic and continental philosophy. She also hopes to integrate intellectual pursuits with work on behalf of the politically and economically oppressed.


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thought to be intrinsically connected to the objects they denote (“cat” being the only way to speak of a furry four-legged creature, making “gato,” the word for cat in Spanish, incorrect or silly) and the postmodern view of reference which has deconstructed meaning altogether in its reduction to the whimsical play of signs. A view of the contingency of meaning, wherein social convention generates word definition a nd st yles of discourse, acknowledges the context-specific nature of language while maintaining its capacity to accurately r e p r e s e n t r e a l it y. T h e contingency of language betrays the way in which reference is bound up in communities and traditions, such that meaning is fluid without being arbitrar y, and truth-depicting without being rigidly deterministic a b o u t t h e o n e -t o - o n e correspondence of word and thing. The sacramental nature of la ng uage, mitigati ng against the reduction of la ng uage eit her to deconstructed discourse, to tech nical speech, or to propaganda, is our first subject of examination.

normative state of affairs in ontology and in language. This nihilism can be redressed profoundly by a consideration of words as sacraments, as that which manifests more than is immediately present. Language, particularly of the poetic kind, can be thought of as sacramental in virtue of its sensorial evocation, in virtue of its manifestation of presence, and in virtue of its participation in or resemblance to its referent while still remaining infinitely distant from the object it denotes. Regina Schwartz points out the way in which poetic language is especially evocative of the five senses in its calling forth of “images and sounds, indeed, an entire sensory reservoir.”2 Because of this, “poetry is especially suited to the surplus of meaning,” a fact which the synaesthesia, or “the blurring of sensory distinctions,” that “marks the ‘spiritual senses’ for apprehending God in t he mystical tradition” makes particularly apparent.3 Much as the liturgy uses material, sensory means (the positioning of bodies in standing and sitting, incense, music, etc.) to heighten our awareness of sacred mysteries and bring us into communion with the otherness of God, poetic language operates on our senses to bear witness to transcendent reality. In the most straightforward sense, words can be thought of as signs insofar as they fulfill the definition put forth by Jacques Maritain: “a sign is that which renders present to knowledge something other than itself.”4 Indeed, words render present, in a sense, their objects of denotation, not simply their syntactical, semantic, semiotic, or phonological characteristics. For example, the letters “d-o-g” evoke more than two consonant sounds and a vowel. To English speakers they evoke a sense of a four-legged furry creature who barks. The chief function of words is to point beyond themselves, not to reflect back upon or remain fixated on their visual or aural attributes. “The curve of that s is so very sharp!” “The sound of that a is so very nasal!” If these

Language, particularly of the poetic kind, can be thought of as sacramental in virtue of its sensorial evocation, in virtue of its manifestation of presence, and in virtue of its participation in or resemblance to its referent while Discourse as Presence: still remaining Poetic Words as Sacraments solution can we pose to infinitely distant What the effects of deconstructed, from the object it propagandized discourse? How can we rescue denotes. meaning from the throes of technopoly (the priorization of efficiency and technical calculation), scientific abstraction, and the arbitrary play of signs? The great challenge of deconstruction and propaganda is the way in which absence is taken to be the

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preoccupations constituted the extent of a subject’s interest, we would consider them confused or unintelligent. While the transcendent view of signs applies to language use more generally, it is poetry in particular, with its use of metaphor and sensory evocation, that “signifies more than it says, that creates more than its signs, yet does so, like liturgy, through image, sound, and time, in language that takes the hearer beyond each of those elements.”5 The signifying and revealing capacity of language, its status as a mediator of meaning, is where language has its being. Hans-Georg Gadamer’s analogy between the relationship of thought and speech and the relationship of the members of the Trinity exemplifies this point well. Words do not seek to be anything besides the manifestations of things beyond themselves. Their existence is “consubstantial” with the concepts they denote.6 In a related vein, Walker Percy explains the symbolic, incarnating nature of words from an epistemological view, noting the way in which words make present and known that which would be absent without them. Describing Helen Keller’s famous linguistic breakthrough in connecting the word “water” with the wet substance on her hand, Percy observes that this pairing

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“w-a-t-e-r,” and that this is accomplished in virtue of the fact that the symbol “contains within itself ” the mode of existence of the symbolized object, seems, indeed, like a sacramental phenomenon. We require mediation at the conceptual level—not just in order to apprehend God, but to apprehend the world around us. As Percy so aptly puts it, “since we do not know being directly … we must sidle up to it; and at the symbol-object level, we can only do this by laying something of comparable ontological status alongside. … ‘The philosopher must go through phantasm [a mental representation of a real object] to reach being.’”8 T hat t hi ng we lay alongside, the phantasm through which we pass to reach being, is most often of the linguistic sort and, as Schwartz would have it, is specifically of the poetic sort. The capacity to transmit something new t hrough t his pha nta sm can only be appreciated if sacramental poetics is seen not as “any sign-making,” but as that which “entails a radical understanding of signifying, one that points beyond the life and presence of the artist, to manifest a new world.” 9 The signs of sacramental poetics are “empowered to be effective” insofar as they change the hearer and, if not granting her eternity, at least “manifest a world.”10 However, Gadamer’s disti nction between a sign and a copy complicates a view of words as sacraments. In his view, a sign bares no resemblance to its referent. Its being, its ontological essence, has no relation to what it means, to where it points. A sign, according to Gadamer, is univocal rather than analogous:

The signifying and revealing capacity of language, its status as a mediator of meaning, is where language has its being. Words do not seek to be anything besides the manifestations of things beyond themselves.

is unique and unprecedented in the causal nexus of significatory meaning. … The two terms, it is clear, are related in some sense of identification, yet not a real identity. To express it in modern semiotical language, the water is conceived through the vehicle of the symbol. In scholastic language, the symbol has the peculiar property of containing within itself, … in another mode of existence, that which is symbolized. Helen knows the water through and by means of the symbol.7 That water can be conceived through this noncausal “vehicle” of the symbol 19


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All visible content of its own is reduced to the minimum necessary to assist its pointing function. The more univocally a sign-thing signifies, the more the sign is a pure sign—i.e., it is exhausted in the co-ordination. … Here a sign-being subsists only in something else. … In this case the sign acquires a meaning as a sign only in relation to the subject who takes it as a sign. … It is still an immediate entity …, and only on the basis of its own immediate being is it at the same time something referential, ideal. The difference between what it is and what it means is absolute.11

the criterion of manifesting presence. In a copy, “the thing copied is itself represented, caught, and made present. That is why it can be judged by the standard of resemblance—i.e., by the extent to which it makes present in itself what is not present.”13 This view of words as mediating presence could function powerfully as an antidote to deconstructed, technopolized modern discourse. In addition to Gadamer’s helpful definitional categories for words as sacraments, in distinguishing signs from copies, Calvin also makes way for a participatory, sacramental view of language. While he would maintain, contra the Catholic insistence on Real Presence, that Jesus’s utterance “This is my body” is a figurative rather than literal statement, Calvin leaves room for a participatory model of symbols in which they are not utterly divorced from the realities they represent. Barbara Lewalski cites this key passage from The Institutes regarding biblical symbolic language:

In some sense, this definition of a sign sounds like an appropriate definition to apply to words. A word is ultimately still a lexical, syntactical entity whose being really is exhausted in its relation to the thing it denotes. While “d-o-g” in a sense relates to a four-legged furry creature, it does so in a socially determined sense rather than in an ontologically substantive sense. There is nothing ontologically preventing “c-h-i-e-n” from also denoting a four-legged creature, as it does in French. The sign subsists in something else, namely its relation to the actual animal for which it stands. However, Gadamer’s definition of a copy sounds somewhat like the way sacramental poetic language functions. Unlike a sign, which does not resemble its referent, a copy possesses a “resemblance that lies within itself. It does not acquire the function of pointing or representing from the subject who takes it as a sign but from its own content. It is not a mere sign.”12 Insofar as poetic language, particularly onomatopoeia, does in fact mimic its referent in certain attributes, it seems that it is indeed more than a mere sign. While poetic language does not exactly allow subjects to “take it as a sign” based on its own content (insofar as poetic language is, like all language, socially determined), it does seem to meet

For though the symbol differs in essence from the thing signified (in that the latter is spiritual and heavenly, while the former is physical and visible), still, because it not only symbolizes the thing that it has been consecrated to represent as a bare and empty token, but also truly exhibits it, why may its name not rightly belong to the thing? Humanly devised symbols, being images of things absent rather than marks of things present … are still sometimes graced with the titles of those things. Similarly, with much greater reason, those things ordained by God borrow the names of those things of which they always bear a definite … signification, and have the reality joined with them.14 Here Calvin articulates a position of referential semantics, in which words have fixed objects of reference, bearing “definite” rather than contextually 20


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and therefore God is unknowable) to the extreme of univocity (where language about God is the same as language about all other things), failing to differentiate between divine and human knowledge. This failure resulted in “the eclipse of mystery” such that “truth had been reduced to the autonomous claims of a universally shared rationality.”17 An ominous precursor to the positivism and scientific reductionism of the twentieth century, “the new rationalist dialectics” of neo-Thomism “maintained that truth meant complete, rational comprehension of propositional statements” to be mastered and exploited, rather than conceiving of truth as “participation in divine mystery.”18 As a response to this tech nocratic t rajector y, theologians of the twentieth cent u r y, such a s Hen r i Boulliard, argued that the doctrine of the analogy of truth (related to the famous analogy of being) avoided t he problem s of bot h equivocity and univocity. The benefits of an analogical model is as follows: “If one and the same revealed truth is expressed in different s y s t e m s (A u g u s t i n i a n , Thomist, Suarézian, etc.), the various notions that one uses to translate it are neither ‘equivocal’ (or else one would no longer speak of the same thing), nor ‘univocal’ (otherwise all the systems would be identical), but ‘analogous,’ that is to say that they express the same reality in a different way.”19 Analogous speech thus avoids the pitfalls of Scholasticism, technopoly, and propaganda. Paul Ricoeur elucidates the connection between the concepts of the analogy

sensitive significations, which aligns him with medieval linguistic theory. Richard Waswo characterizes the medieval view, epitomized by Dante, as one which holds that whatever is found in the human mind must be found or be realizable in actuality, because “nature is perfect and man is the most perfect thing in it.” Due to the assumed correspondence between epistemology and ontology, words have fixed signification because they correspond to a fixed external reality rather than to the mutable contexts of varying language communities.15 Despite this resemblance to medieval semantics, Calvin’s position is markedly non-Catholic in its denoting a distinction between the “essence” of the symbol and the essence of the “thing signified,” and in asserting that “humanly devised symbols,” words, act as mere placeholders marking an absence rather than a presence (the very antithesis of pre-Reformation Eucharistic theology). But despite Calvin’s radical dichotomizing of spiritual and physical realities, he argues that names in fact have the “reality” of what they signify “joined to them,” such that “by showing the symbol the thing itself is also shown.”16 Thus signs are imbued themselves with the sacramentality of their referents.

The “devaluation of the word” into a mechanism of propaganda and technical, univocal speech, as lamented by critics like Jacques Ellul and Terry Eagleton, has resulted from what Regina Schwartz and Hans Boersma identify as a loss of sacramentalism.

Analogous Discourse: Truth as Sacramental Participation The “devaluation of the word” into a mechanism of propaganda and technical, univocal speech, as lamented by critics like Jacques Ellul and Terry Eagleton, has resulted from what Regina Schwartz and Hans Boersma identify as a loss of sacramentalism. Hans Boersma locates the modern loss of sacramentalism less in the shift away from transubstantiation than does Schwartz. He identifies it in the unravelling of an intricate “sacramental symbolism” of the pre-modern era wrought by neo-Thomists who jumped from the extreme of equivocity (the view that language about God is completely separate from language about all other things, 21


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of being and the analogy of truth and clarifies the metaphysical system upon which the possibility of analogy is premised. “Analogy functions at the level of names and predicates, and it belongs to the conceptual order,” but that which makes analogy possible is participation, the “communication of being. … Participation through deficient resemblance [rather than direct resemblance] implies no common form that is possessed unequally. … The diminished image ensures an imperfect and inadequate representation of the divine exemplar, half-way between fusion in a single form and radical h e t e r o g e n e i t y.” 2 0 T h e “deficient resemblance” of analogical thinking avoids both idolatrous fusion with the divine and an impersonal account of God that exhibits “radical heterogeneity.” However it is not “resemblance of copy to mo del” t h at m a kes t he analogy of truth, as well as the analogy of being, possible. Rather, both are possible due to a certain kind of causality, which is “the communication of an act.” However, this act is “at once what the effect has in common with the cause and by reason of which the effect is not identical to the cause. It is creative causality, therefore, that establishes between beings and God the bond of participation that makes the relation by analogy ontologically possible.” 21 Thus it is participation that not only requires analogical theological discourse (over and against equivocal or univocal discourse) but that makes such discourse possible in the first place.

Just as analogy helps avoid the two extremes of idolatry and heterogeneity, so poetry offers a unique set of relations between dichotomous pairs. “Poetry … sketches a ‘tensional’ conception of tr ut h for t hought …, ten sional between subject and predicate, between literal interpretation and metaphorical interpretation, between identity and difference. Then these are gathered in the theory of split reference. They come to completion finally in the paradox of the copula, where being-as signifies being and not being.”22 This paradoxical signification, where “is” consists more of the kind of relation between two concepts in a simile than of a relation of straightforward identity, is what preserves theological discourse from either idolatry or an over-emphasis on God’s otherness. The upshot of all of this talk about sacramentalism and analogy is that the question of how we handle language (and the implications of the kind of handling we choose) is posed rather seriously, especially to those concerned to depict reality with faithful accuracy. If there actually is a ‘“real presence” of divine affirmations in our human representations, then a change in Eucharistic theology, that is, a movement away from the “discourse of transubstantiation,” or even a change in the language used to express trinitarian doctrine, such as a movement away from the Greek differentiation of “nature” (ousia) and “person” (hypostasis), evokes the question of whether the relation of these expressions to “eternal divine affirmation” has also changed. 23 Because proper methodology for theological discourse is still an open question, the bottom line from this discussion of sacramentalism and the relation of language use to Eucharistic theology is that “sacramental participation of human discourse in God’s own truth means that human language is sacred and must be treated with the utmost care that it deserves.”24 The preservation of metaphor and analogy in discourse may be one way to treat language with care, and to

The upshot of all of this talk about sacramentalism and analogy is that the question of how we handle language (and the implications of the kind of handling we choose) is posed rather seriously, especially to those concerned to depict reality with faithful accuracy.

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mitigate against the univocity of modern discourse.

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This straightforward instance of the power of metaphor to generate concepts makes tangible what can at times seem obtuse in O we n B a r f ield’s t he si s about et ymolog y in t he history and development of human consciousness. Bar field argues that the literal language we now have evolved out of what was originally a totally figurative semiotic system, wherein all words were “vehicles” with “tenors,” or layers of nuanced meanings. Any literalness our language now has is “achieved” rather than given, which accounts for why metaphor may be so deeply embedded in our conceptual systems. “The vast majority of words by which we today denote the objects of the outer world have at some stage in their history been vehicles with a tenor, and, if that is so, it follows … that they began life as vehicles wit h a tenor. T hey too can only have achieved a literalness with which they were not born.”28 Ralph Waldo Emerson makes a similar argument, stating, with some mo der nist presumption, that in virtue of the “radical cor respondence between visible things and human t houg ht s, s ava ge s, who have only what is necessary, converse in figures. As we go back in history, language becomes more picturesque, until its infancy, when it is all poetry; or all spiritual facts are represented by natural symbols.” 29 Emerson and Barfield agree that the origin of language

Human Consciousness and the Origin of Metaphor Over and against views of metaphor that only see it as “a neutral or ornamental aspect of speech,” Janet Martin Soskice argues that “in almost all areas of abstract thought … the very frames within which we work are given by metaphors which function in structuring not only what sort of answers we get, but what kind of questions we ask.”25 Metaphors impose a structure on our discourse, a hermeneutic lens on our observations, that can radically alter our understanding of the ideas present in the metaphorical comparison. Soskice gives an apt example of the consequences of the claim that “metaphors become not only part of our language but also part of the way in which we interpret our world”: she notes that “one who sees the political unit as a ‘body politic’ may have a different procedure than one who regards it as a ‘ship of state,’ for if the nation is a body and the monarch its head, if one cuts off its head the body will die, whereas on a ship of state mutiny against an incompetent captain is not only possible but obligatory.”26 The way in which we conceive of, say, “argument as war” (retreat from the line of fire, indefensible claims, attacking weak points, using argumentative strategy, etc.) or “words as containers” (spatial metaphors such as it’s all down hill from here, being at the peak of one’s health, being in an upper echelon, being high-minded, etc.), demonstrates the extent to which metaphorical language is inescapable, as well as culturally particular. In a fairly phenomenological take on semantics, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson argue that “the meaning of a sentence is given in terms of a conceptual structure” that is always “metaphorical in nature” and is “grounded in physical and cultural experience. … Meaning, therefore, is never disembodied or objective and is always grounded in the acquisition and use of a conceptual system.”27

Metaphors impose a structure on our discourse, a hermeneutic lens on our observations, that can radically alter our understanding of the ideas present in the metaphorical comparison. Soskice gives an apt example: “one who sees the political unit as a ‘ body politic’ may have a different procedure than one who regards it as a ‘ship of state.’”

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is poetic and figurative. This fact, however, does not entail the right to intellectual elitism toward ages past. Rather, it suggests that humanity’s fundamental engagement with the world is not of the univocal, scientific sort, which we so often presume as the normative ideal. It is only in the wake of positivism that metaphor has been relegated to a position of so little authority. While the modern scientific mind views metaphor with suspicion, as a thing that obfuscates rather than mediates meaning, Barfield argues that it was originally the way to most directly manifest the world around us. That is, “Mythology is the ghost o f c o n c r e t e m e a n i n g. Con nections bet ween discrete phenomena, connections which are now apprehended as metaphor, were once perceived a s immediate realities.”30 The discrete phenomena of, for example, a boat and a system of governance were seen to be more immediately related in the origin of huma n consciousness. Furthermore, the act of symbolization, of figurative representation, is a prerequisite for human understanding in the first place. As Barfield puts it, “discovery, consciousness itself, and symbolization g o h a n d - i n - h a n d . ” 31 Walker Percy similarly sees symbolization, particularly of the comparative, figurative kind, as the basis for human knowledge. He writes, “The semioticist … imagines naively that I know what this is and then give it a label, whereas the truth is … that I cannot know

anything at all unless I symbolize it. We can only conceive being, sidle up to it, by laying something else alongside. We approach it not directly but by pairing, by apposing symbol and thing.”32 Metaphor is one mechanism by which we can lay something alongside something else to discern what it is. Along with Barfield and Percy, Regina Schwartz argues that the “sign-making” of poetic language is part of human nature, as far back as records of human history go. “Paleolithic man was a sacramental animal. … This creature juxtaposed marks on surfaces [that] had not merely utile, but significance, intent; that is to say a ‘re-presenting,’ a ‘showing again under other forms,’ an ‘effective recalling’ of something [that] was intended.”33 The “re-presenting” of two discrete concepts in a common metaphorical frame constitutes the basis of our knowing. What can guarantee the cor respondence bet ween the ter ms of comparison in a metaphor and the objects they purport to represent? Barfield argues there is something of a “givenness” in nature that produces the relation between the terms paired in metaphors. Words appear from the start as vehicles with tenors, which relate objects to each other in nuanced but mimetic ways. As Barfield writes, “If the word on its very first appearance was already a vehicle with a tenor, then the given affinity which I suggested between the concept of wind and the concept of spirit must have been ‘given’ in the nature of things and not by some kind of friction in the machinery of language.”34 In addition to this givenness of comparative terms, where “wind” and “spirit” do seem to exhibit a natural resemblance, it is humanity’s empathetic experience of the world that generates metaphorical con nection s bet ween discrete phenomena. Barfield quotes Bruno Snell’s observation that “man could never have come to experience a rock anthropomorphically if he had not also experienced himself ‘petromorphically.’”35

Emerson and Barfield agree that the origin of language is poetic and figurative. Humanity’s fundamental engagement with the world is not of the univocal, scientific sort, which we so often presume as the normative ideal. It is only in the wake of positivism that metaphor has been relegated to a position of so little authority.

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Imaginative engagement with the world, a sort of changing of places, produces the figurative language we find to be so ubiquitous and foundational. The givenness of the relation between metaphorical ter ms a nd huma n em p at het ic e n g a geme nt w it h t he environment constitute a sort of feedback loop, a phenomenological account of word meaning. Barfield says, “the mind is not, as Coleridge put it, ‘a lazy onlooker’ on an external world but itself a structural component of the world it contemplates.”36 If we accept that the origin of language is metaphorical, and that the origin of language is connected both to the structure of the human mind and the structure of the external world, it follows that metaphor usage itself is closely tied to the nature of human consciousness.

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fully contained in their signifiers makes metaphor ideal for science and theology in particular, whose paradigms are frequently shifting and whose data require a good deal of abstraction to conceptualize. Metaphor, like analogy, allows the theologian and the scientist alike to call their language genuinely referential without making claim to definitive, exhaustive, monolithic knowledge. The theist “can reasonably take his talk of God, bound as it is within a wheel of images, as being realit y depicting, while at the same time ack nowledgi ng it s inadequacy as description.”40 Inadequacy of description does not eclipse referentiality but qualifies it. Soskice goes on to say that “the language used to account for [experiences of believers] is metaphorical and qualified, it stands within a tradition o f u s e a n d i s t h e o r yladen[;] yet in so far as it is grounded on experience, it is referential, and … that to which it refers is God.”41 Empirical verification allows metaphorical language to be referential.

Metaphor, like analogy, allows the theologian and the scientist alike to call their language genuinely referential without making claim to definitive, exhaustive, monolithic knowledge.

Metaphor and Reality Depiction In addition to metaphor being foundational for human concept formation and language development, it is also uniquely useful for “reality depiction” in both science and theology. The “figurative ‘speaking about’ that generates new perspectives” that is “concerned with expanding descriptive powers” is a feature unique to metaphor, not present in literal, straightforward speech. 37 It is in fact the ambiguity of reference that makes metaphor essential for reality depiction. As Soskice puts it, “senses of terms are important not so much for determining reference as for guiding access. It is because senses [culturally determined meanings, etymologies, etc.] are important but not fully definitive” that metaphor is so useful in reality depiction.38 Wit ho ut g iv i n g a n e x h a u s t ive description of a phenomenon (in science, the motion of subatomic particles, or in theology, the nature of the Trinity, for example), metaphors provide “networks of partially denoting terms” and depict relations as well as entities. 39 T he capacity of metaphorical predicates to denote “candidates for real existence” without requiring that the referent be

Tradition and the Contingency of Meaning: Critical Realism as Formal and Social In addition to being marked by a suspicion of non-univocal, ambiguous, or metaphorical language, modernity has also been marked by a suspicion toward tradition as a valid foundation for knowledge. However, upon closer examination it becomes clear that tradition and its bestowal of “tacit knowledge”42 is the way in which we receive not just theological content (for example, church doctrine) but scientific content (for example, biological taxonomy) and language use as well. 25


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The focus in this section will be upon this tacit knowledge in the realm of semantics and semiotics and it’s relation to a critical realist perspective on meaning and interpretation. (Critical realism holds that there is a knowable external reality, but that it is only knowable through the subjectivity of the observer.) T he context-relative, socially determined aspect of word meaning involved in the critical realist perspective is exemplified by reflection upon the fact that something as basic as taxonomy or biological classification could have been delineated based on different criteria. Soskice gives us the “classic example” of fish and whales; “originally whales were classified as fish, but subsequent study of their mammalian structure re su lte d i n t hei r b ei n g reclassified as ‘non-fish.’ We can conceive, however, t h a t a r e cl a s s i f i c a t i o n might have ta ken place along dif ferent lines for different purposes, say, if our main focus of interest was animal locomotion.”43 Thus creatures currently classified a s “non-f i sh” wo u ld b e re-classified as “fish.” While cases of biological categorizations lend t hem selves to u nusually simple definitional formulations and exhibit less polysemy than, say, political or poetic terms, they serve to highlight both the contingency and the tradition-dependent nature of meaning and reference. Indeed, “the way in which we divide up the world is not the only way this might adequately be done, nor need the realist aim for such exclusiveness.”44 Rather, our taxonomy

of the world “is the way guided by the cumulative access of the investigating community to important causal features of the world.”45 The context of inquiry itself will affect how we decide to isolate “kinds,” which, rather than a threat to realism, is simply a fact about engagement with and transmission of accumulated knowledge about the world. Soskice identifies experience and community as the central features of critical realism in language theory. Reference is ultimately grounded in the experience of those around us modeling language use to us and thus, without being empiricist (entailing that reference is fixed by unrevisable description), critical realism is an empirical theory. Additionally, acknowledging the essential role of community in reference allows us to see that “each speaker is a member of a particular community of interest, which provides the context for his referential claims. A great part of our referential activity depends on what Hilary Putnam has called a ‘division of linguistic labor,’ that is, we rely on authoritative members of our community to ground referring expressions.”46 It is not up to the autonomous individual to generate the basis of their referring expressions; we take it as fairly straightforward that in the case of linguistic norms, tradition, the body of knowledge in community, is the measure of veracity. This tradition is not monolithic, but context-sensitive.47 Perh ap s t hi s di s cu s sion on t he importance of tradition in language use, a less contentious claim, will lend credence to the view that tradition in theological and socio-political contexts may also hold vast reservoirs of insight. Appreciating the ubiquity of tradition-dependent theories of knowledge may also assist in demystifying the supposed ultimate objectivity of scientific inquiry by highlighting the contingent, communally determined features of the discipline.

Appreciating the ubiquity of traditiondependent theories of knowledge may also assist in demystifying the supposed ultimate objectivity of scientific inquiry by highlighting the contingent, communally determined features of the discipline.

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Conclusion Articulating a coherent, synthesized accou nt of la ng uage t hat capt ures its dialogic nature, its sacramental participation, its metaphorical etymology, its social history, and its adherence to formal linguistic rules, while also including in the account its limited capacity as only an analogous form of truth depiction, is, to say the least, a formidable challenge. However, I hope t hat t his cursor y examination of these myriad issues will open into further conversation about the nature of language and interpretation, particularly with regard to scientific and theological methodology, as well as in regard to the field of hermeneutics. Poetic language contains a vast reservoir of explanatory possibilities, and this fact offers a promising way forward in interdisciplinary studies. It also provides a middle way between the propositional, positivist rationality of modernity and the nihilist tendencies of post-modernity. As such, both the academy and the church could benefit greatly from a renewed appreciation of its power.

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of language, upon reflection, indeed seems as miraculous as the mystery of the Trinity. 7 Walker Percy, The Message in the Bottle: How Queer Man Is, How Queer Language Is, and What One Has to Do With the Other (New York: Picador, 1975), 261. 8 Ibid., 263. 9 Schwartz, Sacramental Poetics, 7. 10 Ibid. 11 Gadamer, Truth And Method, 413. 12 Ibid. 13 Ibid. 14 Quoted in Lewalski, Protestant Poetics, 77–78. My italics. 15 Richard Waswo, Language and Meaning in the Renaissance (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987), 48. (Martha Colish takes issue with the monolithic portrayal of medieval linguistics in Waswo; however, there is limited space to discuss Waswo’s potentially dubious historical interpretation). 16 Calvin, quoted in Lewalski, Protestant Poetics, 78. 17 Hans Boersma, Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011), 4. 18 Ibid., 4. 19 Henri Bouillard, “Notions conciliaires et analogie de la vérité,” quoted in Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 10. 20 Paul Ricoeur, The Rule of Metaphor: Multidisciplinary Studies of the Creation of Meaning in Language (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987), 274. 21 Ibid., 276. 22 Ibid., 313. 23 Boersma, Heavenly Participation, 10. 24 Ibid., 11. 25 Ja net Mar tin Soskice, Met aphor an d Religious Language (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), 63. 26 Soskice, Metaphor and Religious Language, 62. 27 Mark Johnson and George Lakoff, Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 196–97. 28 Owen Barfield. The Rediscovery of Meaning and Other Essays (San Rafael, CA: Barfield Press, 1977), 46. 29 Emerson, quoted in Owen Barfield, Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning (New York: McGrawHill Book Company, 1964), 92. 30 Barfield, Poetic Diction, 92. 31 Barfield, Rediscovery, 44. 32 Percy, Message in the Bottle, 72. 33 D av id Jo ne s , q u o t e d i n S c hw a r t z , Sacramental Poetics, 4. 34 Barfield, Rediscovery, 47. Interestingly, the “friction” present in an un-oiled “machine” is already a metaphor in his explanation. 35 Bruno Snell, quoted in Barfield, Rediscovery, 47. 36 Barfield, Rediscovery, 47. Barfield goes on to argue that scientific discovery and discovery of the self as a user of language are co-occurring and

Endnotes

1 John Donne, Sermons, 6, quoted in Lewalski, Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-Century Religious Lyric (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 85. 2 Regina Schwartz, Sacramental Poetics at the Dawn of Secularism: When God Left the World (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008), 6. 3 Ibid., 6. 4 Jacques Maritain, quoted in Schwartz, Sacramental Poetics, 4. 5 Schwartz, Sacramental Poetics, 7. 6 Gadamer comes to the conclusion that “the mystery of the Trinity is mirrored in the miracle of language insofar as the word that is true, because it says what the thing is, is nothing by itself and does not seek to be anything. … It has its being in its revealing. … The human relationship between thought and speech corresponds, despite its imperfections, to the divine relationship of the Trinity. The inner mental word is just as consubstantial with thought as is God the Son with God the Father.” Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth And Method (New York: Continuum, 2000), 421. While the full implications of this dense onto-theological claim cannot be exhausted in this cursory examination, the sacramental character of language in its revelatory power comes through in this passage. The liturgical power 27


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Words and the Word: Metaphor, Analogy and Dialogic Discourse as a Theology of Language

consubstantial. “To renounce the heterogeneity of observed from observer involves, if it is taken seriously, abandoning the whole ‘onlooker’ stance, upon which both the pursuit of science and modern language-use in general are based; it means advancing awareness of another relation altogether between mind and matter. … The mind cannot refer to a natural object without at the same time referring to its own activity. And this in turn would require an equally unforced awareness not only that scientific discovery is always a discovery about language, but also that it is always a discovery about the self which uses language.” Ibid., 158. 37 Soskice, Metaphor and Religious Language, 66. 38 Ibid., 132. Ricoeur takes quite a different approach to the relation between “ordinar y” a nd scientific la ng uage, arg uing t hat scientific language is trans-contextual and not polysemic. “Communication is not the aim of scientific language. … The meaning is contextually neutral, or, if you prefer, insensible to the context because the main purpose of this language is that the meaning remain the same all through the arguments. This continual sameness in the meaning is secured by the one-to-one relation between name and sense and by the indifference to the context. Thus, I should say that the aim of scientific language is not communication, but argumentation.” The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur: An Anthology of His Work (Boston: Beacon Press, 1978), 129. 39 Ibid., 133.

40 Ibid., 141. 41 Ibid., 159. 42 Mich ael Pola ny i’s ter m i n Pe rso n a l Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1958). 43 Ricoeur, Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur, 131. 44 Ibid. 45 Ibid. 46 Ibid., 149. 47 Interestingly, Hans-Georg Gadamer seems to disagree that word meaning is sensitive to context, which is surprising given his broader hermeneutic endeavour to accept that we’re entrenched in our historical moment with regard to texts. He seems to hold a medieval, essentialist view of language wherein “a word has a mysterious connection with what it ‘images’; it belongs to its being. … It is not just that mimesis has a certain share in creating language. … A word is not a sign that one selects, nor is it a sign that one makes or gives to another; it is not an existent thing that one picks up and gives an ideality of meaning in order to make another being visible through it. … Rather, the ideality of the meaning lies in the word itself. It is meaningful already.” Truth And Method, 416–17 (my italics). It is hard to know whether to read him as arguing for nature over convention, where words have eternally fixed referents, or whether he is simply arguing that once generated, social, conventional meanings remain fixed.

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Poetry

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Signature, Event, Context Bethany Hindmarsh At the bus stop you cried tears that moved singly over your face, each distinct. Hiding their salt with your scratches behind an almost-forgotten corner of the bulky light blue coat you had on yesterday, you were all but altogether sure that I couldn’t tell from where I stood. Today, we study Derrida poorly together. Sight as gift, loss as gift, Milton On His Blindness. I don’t want to look at you across the table, and I try not to think about how tears work like meanings, veils, and winter coats. I fail. Friend, loss can make tomorrow into another invisible origin of visibility, can’t it? One reason we stand in falling rain, and why we’ll keep waiting here at the same stop.

Bethany Hindmarsh is presently studying Classics at the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She is from Vancouver and grew up in the Regent community.

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Beautiful Inadequacy: “Title author Examining Augustine’s Use of Words Monica Westerholm

Monica Westerholm is a student in the MCS program at Regent College. She has a Bachelor of Music Performance from the University of Toronto, where she studied as a violinist.

W

e begin with a bright-eyed young theology student. Eager to learn and keen to learn well, she opens Augustine’s Confessions. In its pages, she hopes to find words that expand her mind and feed her soul. And she does. But she does not get far before something perplexes her. Augustine begins a section with the question, “Who then are you, my God?”1 He answers his question with poetic descriptors: “Most high, utterly good, utterly powerful, most omnipotent, most merciful and most just, deeply hidden yet most intimately present, perfection of both beauty and strength, stable and incomprehensible, immutable and yet changing all things, never new, never old.”2 Our reader feels that she is getting a glimpse of who God is. But before the section ends, Augustine surprises her in saying: “But in these words what have I said, my God, my life, my holy sweetness? What has anyone achieved in words when he speaks about you?”3 She begins to wonder. If such a beautiful section did little to describe God, is there ever any hope for words about God? Then, just as she is about to give up on words entirely, Augustine finishes with “Yet woe to those who are silent about you because, though loquacious with verbosity, they have nothing to say.”4 She is stumped. The passage our young theology student has stumbled upon is not unique in Augustine’s writing. Further study of his works reveals an approach to words that allows for them to be of use even while

being insufficient. Words are a means to an end. The true end of all things is God. When a person’s loves are aligned toward God as the true end, that person is better able to know God and consequently better able to articulate who God is. Words, when rightly ordered in love, can be used to enjoy God. For Augustine, words are never an end in themselves. Because words are used to communicate, they are always pointing to something beyond themselves. “Nobody, after all, uses words except for the sake of signifying something,” he writes.5 As signs, they do not embody the things to which they refer; there is a division between signs and the things they signify.6 The difficulty, then, in expressing a thought is that putting it into words involves distancing it from itself. Peter Brown writes that Augustine “despaired of ever being able to communicate all he felt to anyone else: for a conversation to him meant dragging vivid thoughts ‘through the long, twisting lanes of speech.’”7 This problem is compounded when attempting to describe God, because no thought fully grasps his Being. In light of 1 Corinthians 13:12, Augustine writes of “our constant failure to comprehend what God is.” 8 He sees this resulting “both from our fallenness and naturally from our distinction from the Creator.”9 The fallen creature cannot have a perfect understanding of the holy Creator, much less find words to capture the holy Creator. Augustine writes as much in The Trinity: “The total transcendence of the godhead quite surpasses the capacity 30


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Beautiful Inadequacy: Examining Augustine’s Use of Words

acquire deceitful riches.”17 He grew up knowing that words are things to be used. It was not until his conversion that he came to see what words (and indeed all things) are to be used for. As Augustine comes to see that God is the ultimate goal, his prayer is that the use of his words will be redirected: “May I dedicate to your service my power to speak and write and read and count.”18 His words become tools for the enjoyment of God. In Teaching Christianity, he writes that Go d “ h a s w i she d u s to rejoice in praising him with our words.”19 As Augustine opens his Confessions, he writes to God: “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”20 We rejoice and take pleasure in directing words to God. Because human beings are made for God and our ultimate enjoyment is God, our words ought to be used to facilitate enjoying him. While God can never b e p e r fe ct ly k now n o n this earth, having a better ordering of loves allows for a truer understanding of God. Because God is not a thing on this earth as all created things are, he cannot be known in the same way as things of this earth can be known. In looking at Augustine’s The Trinity, A.N. Williams explains, “precisely because of the strong sense of the divide between God and humanity, in terms of both ontology and sin, we can come to God only through God.”21 It is through the mediating work of Christ on the cross that people may come to know God. Augustine writes:

of ordinary speech. God can be thought about more truly than he can be talked about, and he is more truly than he can be thought about.”10 Augustine was keenly aware that his words about God fall short. Words, only ever used to communicate, are imperfect tools of communication. They cannot be an end in themselves. In Augustine’s view, God alone is the end and everything else is to be seen as helping toward that end. He speaks of this in terms of “use” and “enjoyment”:

To properly relate to anything in this world, one must have it rightly placed in the order of loves. For a true understanding of words, then, one must see them as used for the right enjoyment.

So then, there are some things which are meant to be enjoyed, others which are meant to be used, yet others which do both the enjoying and the using. Things that are to be enjoyed make us happy; things that are to be used help us on our way to happiness, providing us, so to say, with crutches and props for reaching the things that will make us happy, and enabling us to keep them.11 Augustine goes on to say that God alone is to be enjoyed.12 Having values oriented toward God as the ultimate goal is crucial to living well. Augustine writes that “living a just and holy life requires one to be capable of an objective and impartial evaluation of things; to love things, that is to say, in the right order.”13 As John Burnaby writes, for Augustine “the whole of morality can be summed up as the direction of our faculties of ‘use’ and ‘enjoyment’ to their appropriate objects.”14 To properly relate to anything in this world, one must have it rightly placed in the order of loves. For a true understanding of words, then, one must see them as used for the right enjoyment. In Confessions, Augustine describes the trouble of being taught to use words with a wrong goal in mind.15 He says that he learned to speak out of selfishness, “to express the intentions of [his] heart to persuade people to bow to [his] will.”16 He criticizes his teachers for wanting him to “excel in the arts of using [his] tongue to gain access to human honours and to

Our enlightenment is to participate in the Word, that is, in that life which is the light of men (Jn 1:4). Yet we were absolutely incapable of such 31


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Beautiful Inadequacy: Examining Augustine’s Use of Words

participation and quite unfit for it, so unclean were we through sin, so we had to be cleansed. Furthermore, the only thing to cleanse the wicked and the proud is the blood of the just man and the humility of God; to contemplate God, which by nature we are not, we would have to be cleansed by him who became what by nature we are and what by sin we are not.22

his Being. The greater our love for God, the truer our words about him will be. Words will never be able to capture God’s essence. They should never be meant to. As long as a person’s goal is to find a perfect description of God, that person is already doomed to failure. Williams writes that “theology’s end … for Augustine is the blessed Trinity alone.”27 So it ought to be for anyone approaching theology today. We should not get caught up in the desire to find the right words, as if writing a thesis or publishing a book were the goal of theology, as if God were the means to the end of getting a paycheque. Instead, the words we read and write must be merely tools with which we enjoy God. Their insufficiency then ceases to be an obstacle. Such as they are, they may be used in praise of God, in prayer to God, to teach about God, to learn about God, and to clear up misunderstandings about God.28 The more we journey in love toward God, the more able we are to use words for his glory.

For Augustine, knowledge of God does not come to a person’s mind in a manner disengaged from that person’s To know God requires s u b m i s s i o n t o G o d ’s heart. Knowledge cle a n si n g wo r k, wh ic h involves a reordering of and love come loves. Williams writes that together, as gifts of for Augustine, “knowledge of God is distinct among forms grace from God. of knowing, one in which intellect cannot function Growing in love the without the will.” The here must be directed for God allows will toward God, not to use him, to enjoy him. Williams for thoughts that but continues: “Looking for God thus entails intimate contact more clearly with what we seek, and not reflect who he is. only contact, but love.” In how a person’s From there, the considering spiritual orientation affects or her ability to know words attempting his God, John Burnaby writes: like is known by like. to express those “For Platonist and Christian were agreed that only the pure thoughts are in heart may see God.” representing For Augustine, knowledge God does not come to a things closer to the ofperson’s mind in a manner disengaged from that person’s truth of his Being. hea r t. K nowledge a nd 23

Endnotes

1 Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henr y Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 1.4.4. 2 Ibid. 3 Ibid. 4 Ibid. 5 Augustine, Teaching Christianity, trans. Edmund Hill (New York: New York City Press, 1996), 1.2.2. 6 Jeffrey Ringer, “Faith and Language: Walter Hilton, St. Augustine and Poststructural Semiotics,” Christianity and Literature 53, no. 1 (Autumn 2003): 12. 7 Peter Brow n, Aug u st in e of Hippo: A Biography (Berkley: University of California Press, 1969), 161. 8 Lewis Ayres and Michel R. Barnes, “God,” in Augustine through the Ages: An Encyclopedia (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999). 9 Ibid. 10 Augustine, The Trinity, trans. Edmund Hill (New York: New York City Press, 1991), 7.3.7. 11 Augustine, Teaching Christianity 1.3.3. 12 Ibid., 1.5.5. 13 Ibid., 1.27.28. 14 John Burnaby, Amor Dei (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1938), 105. 15 I am indebted to Martin Westerholm for pointing this out to me in an email on November 10,

24

25

26

love come together, as gifts of grace from God. Growing in love for God allows for thoughts that more clearly reflect who he is. From there, the words attempting to express those thoughts are representing things closer to the truth of 32


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Beautiful Inadequacy: Examining Augustine’s Use of Words

2010. 16 Augustine, Confessions 1.8.13. 17 Ibid., 1.9.14. 18 Ibid., 1.15.24. 19 Augustine, Teaching Christianity, 1.6.6. 20 Augustine, Confessions 1.1.1. 21 A.N. Williams, “Contemplation: Knowledge of God in Augustine’s De Trinitate,” in Knowing the Triune God: The Work of the Spirit in the Practices of the Church, ed. James J. Buckley and David S. Yeago (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 139. 22 Augustine, The Trinity 4.1.4. 23 Williams, “Contemplation,” 128–29. 24 Ibid., 132. 25 Burnaby, Amor Dei, 67. 26 Williams, “Contemplation,” 124.

27 Ibid., 145. 28 In wrestling with terminology for the triad of the Trinity, Augustine again confesses the inadequacy of his words, while maintaining the importance of trying to articulate the truth for the sake of avoiding heresy: “Perhaps we just have to admit that these various usages were developed by sheer necessity of saying something, when the fullest possible argument was called for against the traps or the errors of the heretics. Human inadequacy was trying by speech to bring to the notice of men what it held about the Lord God its creator, according to its capacity, in the inner sanctum of the mind, whether this was held by devout faith or by the least amount of understanding” (The Trinity 7.3.9).

33


Book Reviews

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Letters and Papers from Prison”: A Biography

activities, and from his family and fiancée. But later, thanks to a friendly prison guard, he was able to smuggle out letters, especially to his closest associate Eberhard Bethge. And then, in the period from April to August 1944, he embarked on a voyage of theological exploration, with radically challenging ideas about the future of Christian witness and the role of the church. The texts of these fragmentary letters were to form the bulk of the book at its first appearance. Although his ideas were not fully developed, it is clear that Bonhoeffer hoped they would be the basis for a future book. He therefore asked for them to be securely preserved. Bethge was then serving with the German army in Italy. But he sent the letters back to his wife in Berlin with instructions to bury them in the garden, safe from the Gestapo or air raids. Miraculously they survived. Months later they were disinterred, and the task of deciphering Bonhoeffer’s terrible handwriting began. Thanks to Bethge’s determination, the first selection came to be published in 1951. As Marty rightly comments, “had Bethge not done his storing and editing work, the only Bonhoeffer the larger world would know was the promising (but rather conventional) theologian whose career had been cut short by the war.” Bethge knew that publishing Letters and Papers was a risky business. The majority of the German Protestant clergy

By Martin E. Marty Princeton University Press, 2011 275 pages ISBN 978-0691139210 US $24.95 Princeton University Press is to be commended for launching a new series of biographies, not of well-known authors, but of their well-known books, and also for including Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letters and Papers from Prison in the first group to appear. Equally welcome is the choice as biographer of the eminent Chicago scholar Martin Marty, who has done so much to popularize religious thought in his numerous writings. Essentially Marty gives us a wellinformed survey of Letters and Paper’s reception over the past sixty-five years. He begins by describing the exceptional, almost adventitious, circumstances of how the book was born. Bonhoeffer was arrested in April 1943, and placed in solitary confinement in a dank and fetidsmelling cell in Tegel Prison in Berlin. For months he suffered from being cut off from his former intellectual and pastoral 34


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regarded Bonhoef fer’s participation in the plot to assassinate Hitler as a criminal dereliction of both his national and professional loyalties. Protestant clergymen could neither condone nor connive at murder, especially of the head of state. Hence the refusal by the Bishop of Munich, Hans Meiser, in early 1953 to attend a commemorative service at Flossenburg concentration camp, because he saw Bonhoeffer as a political, not a Christian, martyr. It took many years before the climate of opinion in West Germany changed toward those who had taken part in the anti-Nazi resistance movement, and only grudgingly was this act of political witness accorded fitting recognition. By contrast, in church circles abroad, particularly among supporters of the ecumenical movement such as Bishop George Bell of Chichester, Bonhoeffer’s sacrifice of his life in such a cause was early on acknowledged and acclaimed. Letters and Papers provided the evidence such supporters needed. On the other hand, the question still remains open whether the reputation of Letters and Papers was enhanced by the fact that its author died a martyr’s death. The first translation of Letters and Papers into English was published as a slim paperback by SCM Press in 1953. It received immediate praise in Britain and subsequently in North America. It came at a time when many church members were questioning their traditional orthodoxies and pietistic practices. So Bonhoeffer’s controversial and provocative ideas about “a world come of age” and the need for a “religion-less Christianity” sparked great debate. His portrayal of Jesus as “the man for others” was enormously attractive to many, but to some an exaggerated and paradoxical distortion of Christian doctrine. In the English-speaking world, the ideas expressed in Letters and Papers gained even more notice and/or notoriety through their very wide popularization in Bishop

John Robinson of Woolwich’s short book Honest to God, which appeared in 1963. Robinson sought to show that Letters and Papers brought a message promising freedom and authenticity to a Christianity liberated f rom it s subser vience to the state and ecclesiastical tradition. Robinson’s advocacy was dynamite for a questioning church and an unstable academic community. Those seekers and devotionalists who had eagerly latched on to The Cost of Discipleship and found inspiration and spiritual sustenance were now jolted into a new dimension. In a world come of age, Christians were called to a much more radical obedience, both politically and socially. They were summoned to abandon the individualistic, egocentric pursuit of personal holiness, and rather share in the sufferings of God in the world. Robinson sought to enlist the ideas of Letters and Papers to shake up the comfortable English church establishment. But in the United States, Bonhoeffer’s radicalism was extended much further. T he America n theologia n William Hamilton took up the non-religious inter pretation of Christianit y—the coming of age of the world and the need to live etsi deus non daretur (as if God did not exist)—and formulated his theology for the death of God. Where Robinson sought to reform, Hamilton sought to abolish. For him, Bonhoeffer was significant because he had rightly focused on the accelerating pace of secularization, the increasing unimportance and powerlessness of religion, and the end of special privilege for religious men and religious institutions. Such iconoclasm, in pursuit of Christian at hei sm, evoked st rong respon ses. Hamilton was accused of distorting Letters and Papers for his own ends. But, as Marty rightly comments, Bonhoeffer did write some provocative and exploratory pages and did not live long enough to clarify and develop his concepts. In the meanwhile, and in another quarter, Bonhoef fer’s writings were 35


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being exploited for quite dif ferent purposes. In East Berlin, in what was then the Communist-controlled German Democratic Republic, the theologians of the Humboldt University sought to use Bonhoeffer’s challenging radicalism as part of their campaign for the creation of a new Marxist-based social order. Hanfried Mueller, for example, took up Bonhoeffer’s idea of the world come of age to propagate his view that Letters and Papers envisaged a religion-less and classless society. His advocacy for a kind of Christian utopian Marxism was aimed to build up support among the East German Protestant clergy for the new socialist regime in the GDR. Despite its brilliance, Mueller’s book found little credence. For most Western critics, he distorted Letters and Papers for obvious political ends. And the whole attempt, of course, collapsed in 1989. Such creative misuses of Letters and Papers were not destined to last. More recently, Marty notes, there has been an increasing interest in Letters and Papers among Catholic theologians, who find there an inspiring record of religious fidelity. Especially since the Second Vatican Council, many Catholics have found common fears and hopes expressed in Letters and Papers. In the drastically changed context of theology and faith, the old walls of separation have broken down, drawing both Catholics and Protestants to seek for a new ecumenically promoted agenda. Most notable in Marty’s view is the increasing interest in Bonhoeffer among evangelicals. Most of them, such as his recent biographer Eric Metaxas, had long favoured his earlier writings and had avoided or downplayed the radical questions posed in Letters and Papers. But here too, Marty believes, many evangelicals are on the move from frozen positions or stereotypes. Others were attracted by the family values and social order implied in Letters and Papers.

Marty’s penultimate chapter covers the reception given to Letters and Papers in the wider world. “Who is Jesus Christ for us today?” is as captivating a question in Cape Town as it is in Korea. Even while Bonhoeffer’s reputation was still a checkered or at least an ambiguous one in his homeland, Germany, he was much more readily hailed as a prophet abroad. In South Africa, for example, the story of resistance against tyranny echoed loudly in the struggle against apartheid. Letters and Papers showed the biblical basis for identifying with the suffering and oppressed in any situation. So too in Latin America the ideas of Letters and Papers could come to be seen as the “cusp of liberation theology.” But, in the course of time, there were also those liberationists and feminists who pounced on passages in Letters and Papers they believed displayed Bonhoeffer’s paternalistic, elitist, or even sexist opinions. Yet Marty is surely right to point out the dangers of anachronistic distortion. Some commentators have undoubtedly used the messages of Letters and Papers to further their own ends or to exploit Bonhoeffer’s ideology for their own purposes. Marty’s final chapter “Are we still of any use?” discusses continuity and change in Bonhoeffer’s ideas. Many commentators, he notes, have seen a striking change between his early writings and his later prison letters. Some, like Edwin Robertson, even regard the latter as dangerous for believers, both doctrinally and morally. But Marty emphasizes the continuity, especially in Bonhoeffer’s Christology. This, he claims, is the connecting thread that links but also goes beyond the numerous paradoxes contained in Letters and Papers. At the same time, he asserts that it is these same intriguing reflections that have already guaranteed Letters and Papers a long life cycle, and will undoubtedly continue to inspire and challenge both Christian and secular inquirers in the years ahead. Reviewed by John Conway John S. Conway is Professor Emeritus of History at the University of British Columbia 36


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The End of Suffering: Finding Purpose in Pain

really his understated apologetic for the value of this tradition. More accurately, Cair n s is probably holding up his own perplexity with suffering to the light of Orthodox tradition and parsing its answers and perspectives. Cairns clearly loves his new theological and liturgical home, and for readers it is a treat to be offered the wisdom of old monks filtered through a poet’s sensibilities. Cairns approaches his topic, theodicy, by investigating how suffering wakes us up, gives us clarity (about both our messes and about our way out of them), unifies us, and even can begin to change us and heal us. He doesn’t skip the hard parts— the wrenching pain that sinks individuals and whole nations—but he doesn’t profess to wholly solve them, either. Cairns looks at some less common answers. He starts by showing us the underside of self-esteem— the transformation of pride into a virtue. As a poet he ponders how the arts might be useful in our acceptance of mystery, how we can engage in things we simply cannot understand. Cairns looks at the frequent remaking of our church traditions to suit our own tastes and appeal. Looking at these less common routes to understand suffering is surprisingly helpful. At the very least it helps us understand what messes we have brought to the dilemma. Even with such useful chapters, the real contribution of this small volume is Cairns’s emphasis on suffering—our own and the world’s—and its healing, as something we do together. In an understated way, The End of Suffering is an elegant apology for the church, for working out our salvation in community. Cairns explains, “I see more vividly how we are called to work out this perplexing business together and I see that faith is not something that can be both solitary and healthy” (77–78). While Cairns’s own experience has no doubt been blessed and informed by his time with the Eastern Orthodox monks, he sees the need to

by Scott Cairns Paraclete Press, 2009 126 pages $19.99 CDN

Every time something catastrophically awful happens, like the earthquakes in Haiti or Japan, I’m catapulted back to reconstructing my own thinking on suffering. How can I make sense of this awfulness? What do I do with it? Where is God’s mercy? I race to the letters from Peter to the persecuted Roman Christians, to Lewis’s The Problem of Pain, to Sittsers’s A Grace Disguised. Most recently I holed up with poet Scott Cairns’s slim new volume, The End of Suffering: Finding Purpose in Pain. The End of Suffering is a hybrid—a personal theological inquiry—written in a humble, conversational tone. It is not a text or a memoir. It doesn’t cover every topic, and it doesn’t go deep. Instead, this is a thoughtful man’s eloquent reflection on why suffering happens and one tack Christians might take to grapple with the conundrum. Cairns looks at suffering that occurs on a global scale and on a personal scale, suffering that falls on the foolhardy and on the careful. He holds these dilemmas up to the light, trying to gain not only comfort but also a more enduring perspective. Scott Cairns is a renowned poet, professor of English and Director of the Creative writing program at the University of Missouri. He has taught poetry at Regent College’s summer school. Cairns is also a convert from the Baptist tradition to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and some readers may feel The End of Suffering is 37


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understand this mystery of suffering and tragedy/pain as a holistic one. According to Cairns, engaging in this lifelong act together gathers the wisdom of our joint history. In the end, suffering comes from not being together—from being at odds with one another—in our own homes and on the face of the earth. Cairns explains, “our deepest consolation lies in consciously experiencing our mystical membership in the Body of Christ.” Evangelicals in particular tend to look at sin individualistically, but Cairns disagrees:

tionships with one another has a profound and expanding effect—as the proverbial ripples in the pool.” (62) Some will feel that The End of Suffering is too much of a poet’s ramblings, without enough practical information or depth. Some may feel there are too many quotes from the Orthodox Church fathers. These frustrations would be poor reasons to skip the book. Cairns’s quiet offering is an excellent addition to tomes on suffering, contributing thoughtful concern, questions, and answers. In a world like ours, I will undoubtedly need to read it again, but maybe next time I can read it in the fine company of my church community. Julie Lane-Gay is Senior Editor of Crux.

Your sin is not only about you. … Every choice that separates us from communion with God and every decision that clouds our awareness of his presence or erodes our rela-

38


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Summer 2011 Vol.47, No.2

A Quarterly Journal of Christian Thought and Opinion published by Regent College

Crux  

A Quarterly Journal of Christian Thought and Opinion published by Regent College

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