Monday, July 17, 2006

God’s Life in Trinity

From Trinity and Gender Reconsidered, by Sarah Coakley – chapter 11 of God’s Life in Trinity, [a ‘conversation’ with the work of Jurgen Moltmann] edited by Miroslav Volf and Michael Welker, published by Fortress 2006.
[Other contributors include: Harvey Cox, Jr, Douglas Meeks, Daniel Migliore, Gerald O’Collins, John Polkinghorne, Nicholas Wolterstorff.]

[Moltmann] never explicitly raises this question: What ‘difference’ does it make to the issue of gender that God is ‘three’? Also, what difference does it make to gender that in the Incarnation the Son crosses (and we might say transgresses) the ultimate ontological binary ‘difference’ – that between God and humanity, Creator and created?

Although I admittedly bring these current ‘interests’ [secular gender theory] to the theological discussion, I also wish to appeal to Christian spiritual practices that can claim to aid a radical dispossession to the Spirit’s power to reformulate and redirect our worldly thinking about gender. Precisely by the regular discipline of silently listening to the Spirit in prayer and of meditating on the Bible , precisely by the invocation of the Spirit’s epicleptic power over bread and wine, precisely by the handing over – in these pneumatological interactions – of my human desire to control, order and categorize my world, I am already inviting what is ‘third’ in God to break the hold of my binary thinking.

The Spirit, then, is from this perspective no longer seen – as in so much Western medieval iconography of the Trinity – as the waiting ‘feminine’ adjunct to an all-male negotiation of salvation; but the Spirit becomes the very source and power of a transformed understanding of gender, one rendered labile to the workings of divine desire in us. No longer do I start with the binary building blocks of ‘male’ and ‘female,’ but instead with a primary submission in prayer to a form of love that necessarily transcends, and even ruptures, my normal forms of gender understanding. To speak thus, and admittedly boldly, is no mere subjective appeal to ‘experience’ (for if such a repeated activity of prayer can be called an ‘experience,’ it is a highly paradoxical one, a sort of blanking of noetic certainties.)

It is, however, tied to a very close rendition of the textual authority of Paul in Romans 8 , where he speaks simultaneously of prayer as divinely done in us by the spirit ‘with sighs too deep for words,’ and yet as also forging us – through this painful process of nescience and loss of control - into the very likeness of Christ, into ‘the glorious liberty of the children of God.’ Such too, as I read Paul (rather differently on this point from Moltmann), is the significance of the celebrated saying ‘neither male and female’ in Gal. 3:28; it is not, as I see it, that maleness and femaleness are necessarily obliterated by what Paul envisages, either now or eschatologically, but rather that they are rendered spiritually insignificant, or (as we might now put it) nonbinary in their possibilities, in the face of the Spirit’s work and our transformations into Christ’s body.

Epicleptic: Epicletic prayer acknowledges that God is the primary agent that makes worship effective and nourishing. Preaching is ultimately effective because the Holy Spirit uses it to comfort, challenge, or convict us. The Lord’s Supper is not made powerful by how hard we think about Jesus, but by the how the Spirit works through it to nourish our faith. Epicletic prayer places us in a posture of humility, longing, and expectation, and frees us from the burden of thinking that the power of worship is all up to us. From the Reformed Worship site.
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