Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Christ and Culture

The cover image of Graham Ward’s Christ and Culture is Caravaggio’s Doubting Thomas. The sensuality, grace and revelation communicated in this image infuses Ward’s text. Take the most graphic aspect of the image in Christ pulling back his robe guiding Thomas’s finger into the spread flesh of Christ’s wound. For Ward this represents how our concept of an erotic relationship is taken up into a larger spiritual or divine economy. Whereas Jesus’s post-resurrection encounter with Mary re-images a relational intimacy calling to mind Eden or Song of Songs so too Jesus’s post-resurrection encounter with Thomas employs erotic dynamics of sexual-spirituality. Ward quotes Luce Irigaray, “In the body of the Son of Man there appears, in the form a wound, the place that, in women, is naturally open.” (140) Ward reminds us of John’s testimony to the blood and water flowing from the wound of Jesus. Ward moves away from vulgar accounts of sexuality and erotic relationships as ends in themselves. In this way Ward is able to speak of the erotic relationship to Christ because “it is the completion or perfection of what is most desired in sexual intimacy; sexual intimacy being an intimation of the divine relation that operates between God and human beings.” (109) This allows substantial critiques and opportunities to engage the poverty of modern sexuality as well as more vigorous interpretations of such texts as Song of Songs and Paul’s analogy of the church as bride.

Another key aspect of Ward’s work is his discussion on the kenotic nature of Christ, that is, the giving or emptying aspect of his life and death (see Phil 2:5-11). The self-emptying of Christ is also set within the context of embodiment and sensuality. Our basic existence flows from our being a center of “touch”. We are covered in that which feels. Even our other senses are also centers of touch. In self-giving our “self” rises to greater extents to the level of touch and participation with the world around us and with that further away from any positions of “self”-centeredness. With Christ’s self-emptying he actually becomes the space that separates us from God and each other. I will need to re-read much of these sections as the subtleties are not altogether clear to me. However, one of the implications of this thinking is in the reading of Scripture. Reading Scripture becomes a spiritual exercise in which we dwell in the space of the Word. To bear fruit in the Word is to participate in the emptying dispossessed self of Christ were sign and meaning cannot be controlled or fixed but received and reflected. Here allegory becomes the dominant mode of communication and “a sacred space is opened. . . . This space can neither be limited nor defined.” (240) Meaning that emerges though is not arbitrary or relative though it is relational, being brought into relationship with the canonical Scripture, interpretive communities, and the living God keep the text is kept from being dominated hermeneutically. Taking seriously limited nature of human perception Ward writes that “Knowledge of God can only issue from allegory, an allegory created as the invisible operates through the visible, an allegory created by infinite love.” (243)

Ward offers a tremendous vision for a non-modern account of Christ and culture.

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