Saturday, February 1, 2014

'"By this means he moves them": on parables and the retrieval of reserve'

Here's some support for my thesis about koans, stories, puzzles, and allusion in general, in an interesting post from catholicity and covenant:
Today's Gospel reading at Mass - Mark 4:26-34 - could lead us to reflect on Isaac Williams' Tract 80, On Reserve in Communicating Religious Knowledge.   Specifically discussing the parables, Williams quotes Chrysostom:
"Had He not wished them to hear and to be saved, He would have been silent, and not have spoken in Parables. But by this means He moveth them, by speaking things overshadowed and darkened." (Homil. on St. Matt. xiii.)
 It's a beautiful approach to the parables - "this view of a parable as a veil of the truth", discourse couched in metaphors and imagery, purposefully without explicit interpretation, to challenge, engage and entice the imagination to a deeper, meaningful reflection on the Kingdom.  And, as Williams notes, it has considerably more credence than the lazy assumption (quite contradictory of Synoptic accounts) that the parables were 'difficult-teaching-made-easy-for-plebs':
It has been said indeed that they render moral truths more plain and easy, as well as more engaging; and that this was their purpose. But is this the case?
What is more, Williams emphasises, the 'parables as veil' coheres with the mode of revelation in the Incarnation:
The circumstances attending our Lord's  birth, and the important transactions at the early period of His life, we might have expected beforehand would have been more known to the Jewish nation, instead of being concealed, like the actions of apparently obscure persons ... There is something in the thought of our Saviour's being for thirty years among men, not known and not believed on, even by those about Him, and the witnesses of His early life, very remarkable and awful. And the great pledge and seal of the truth of the Gospel, the Resurrection itself, seems in such a striking manner to have been kept back, if I may so speak, from the gaze of the multitude, from the broad light of the common day. Its great manifestations break forth, as if indistinctly, and according to the great need of certain persons, the watchful and weeping Mary, then the penitent Peter, then (the perhaps aged) Cleopas ... Surely, in all this there is something of mysterious wisdom, which it is good for us humbly to consider.
The purpose of Tract 80, of course, was to lead mid-19th century Anglicans to ask what this meant for evangelisation, catechetics, pedagogy and formation - the need to recover reserve.  Reserve is a means of orienting our imagination towards, attuning our hearts and minds to, moving us to be open to the Mystery, the Way, the strangeness of that Water, that Bread and Wine.

 In an era when much Anglican reflection on evangelisation and catechetics has been determined by Mission-Shaped Church and accessibility, by HTB and Alpha, can catholic Anglicans aid in a retrieval of reserve which might allow the Crucified and Risen One to "occupy the imagination and affections" (a phrase from Williams' penultimate paragraph) of the citizens and consumers of postmodernity?

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