Friday, April 30, 2010

Thursday Homily

After J.D. Salinger’s death a few months ago, there was a not-surprising surge of stories about him in the media. The highly reclusive writer rejected the public arena for most of his life. Ironically, his self imposed exile from society moved him more and more into the penetrating glare of media scrutiny. One of the articles that appeared after his death praised him for venturing into new territory with his fiction. The fiction that nurtured him was written with the well worn plot structure of beginning, middle and end. Salinger rejected the literary spoon that fed him and raised the bar by writing fiction that was more impressionistic, that left more of an image than plot in the mind of the reader. He paved the way for writers like Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus, Frederick Batheleme and others who would craft enduring images with words and leave the niceties of plot to writers of thrillers and mysteries.
I am attracted to a similar contrast offered by our readings these days.
The first readings are taken from the Acts of the Apostles. Each section is open ended, awaiting the next part of the story as the early church experiences its fits and starts as it sputters to life and embarks on its journey of self discovery through the spirit. There is no neat structure. Something is known as being scripted by the Spirit and that kind of authorship surely broke the mold in terms of religious writing. The divine was permanently moved from the narrative myths of Olympus to the streets and traffic of humanity. And it is still moving, with twists and turns, an ongoing assault of the unpredictable.
We then have the gospel readings from John, taken from the farewell discourse, where the language is high, eloquent, and very amenable to plot. Each selection is beautifully crafted and there is even mention, as if in gratitude, of how Jesus is speaking in language that is not veiled, language that can be understood. Each section is almost self-contained, rich enough to be the theme of a full length book, which in fact has proved to be the case for centuries of reflections that are bound between book covers.
One of the best teachers I had in the seminary was Leo Farley, who taught us moral theology. I thought his homilies were wonderful. He had an inquisitive mind and relished valuing all sides of an argument. He had a genius for walking in the moccasins of the other and knowing that world of difference. He had no instinct for wrapping things up, for closure, for knowing the end of the story. When he preached, he would lay out some fascinating thoughts, let them hang in the air for a while, and then he would look about, smile, and say “Well, okay then” and leave the pulpit. I liked it. It drove others crazy.
And so we have our contrast in the readings. For those who like the plotted version of Jesus, there is the farewell discourse. And for those who want to know where and how the farewell hit the downtown area, we have the Acts of the Apostles. The message took life and took off, drawing us into the mysterious novel of God that is taking place around us and through us, breaking open with unexpected grace the daily events of life.

No comments: