Tuesday, 7 June 2016

God, Sexuality and the Self

The Rev'd Professor Sarah Coakley's first volume of  her projected four volume systematic theology is not overly huge, at 388 pages, but it took me a while to read. Professor Coakley's style is accessible, and she uses an intriguingly eclectic range of sources to make her case, but I couldn't rush it: she faced me with such new and such big ideas in every chapter. Recognising that the idea of a systematic theology is itself problematic, particularly to many feminists, in that it seeks to impose reductionist, prescribed system on our conception of the divine, she has set out to construct a Theologie Totale, a drawing together of a number of sources to recast theology not so much within the strictures of rationality but within the surrender which is the basis of her own contemplative practice. She is academically and Biblically rigorous, but manages to talk to a wider audience than the academy. 

The book is an extended essay on the Trinity, which she explores from a number of perspectives. She begins with Paul, moves through various patristic sources and follows with an intriguing examination of the way the Trinity is portrayed in Christian art. Her investigation of the Trinity includes sociological fieldwork in a contemporary Pentecostal church.

Evagrius Ponticus wrote, "If you are a theologian, you pray truly; if you pray truly, you are a theologian." and this is the basis of Sarah Coakley's Trinitarianism. In Romans 8 she identifies a surrender to the Spirit which, in the early church, was practiced in either  "charismatic" or "contemplative" forms of worship. Either of these involved a forsaking of self which, as it became more ordered, the church found uncontrollable and therefore profoundly threatening. She sees in the Trinitarian debates of the early church an attempt to frame the Trinity rationally, and therefore safely. The nature of reality (and I am paraphrasing and simplifying Sarah Coakley here) is Trinitarian. There is God, the ground of all things. There is the expression of God. There is the relationship between God and the expression of God. These three are one and they are three. It is impossible to have one and not simultaneously have the other two in all fullness. The relationship between God the Father, so named, and God the son is one of desire and love. These passions characterise the creation which arises from the Triune God so that the desire and love present in human relationships is a participation in and a sign of the desire and love which exist in the originating relationship which is God.

Sarah Coakley builds a convincing case that  all expressions of the Trinity have been informed by the political and social preconceptions of those who framed them, but in the end she arrives at a surprisingly conventional Trinitarian theology. She provides a broad, and for me helpful perspective on the gender and sexuality debates which threaten to divide the church. Most importantly she gave me a fresh understanding of God the Holy Trinity and a means to earth my new understanding in my contemplative practice. I am eagerly awaiting volume 2 of her Theologie Totale, due sometime this year.

Monday, 6 June 2016


This week past, Bridget and Scott moved house and I went North for a couple of days to help them. My job was to watch the kids while the boxes of stuff were taken out of the old house and transported about 30 km to the new one. So, Friday I loaded Ada (1) and Noah (3) into the car and took them off for a few hours. It's not the first time I've ever spent an extended period alone with a couple of toddlers, but the last time was thirty something years ago. This time won't be the last, so I'd better get in some training. A surprising amount of time was spent lifting a 12 kg weight and a 22 kg one, not so much dead weight as live, and sometimes willfully opposed weight. And the amount of continuous attention  required made it a very rewarding day for my spiritual development.

We went shopping. To Michael 10 - that's the big orange place quite near to Rolleston which has got lots of bits of wood and sticks and stuff. We went to parks. Noah walked along the top of a low wall, arms extended. I'm balancing Pappa. It's quite tricky.
Do you think I could have a go, Noah?
No Pappa, you're too big and you're very very old. 
We went to cafes. Coffee is disgusting Pappa. Fluffies are delicious. Why don't you have a fluffy?  I fed Ada a small cube of lolly cake and then another and another and I realised that she wasn't swallowing them when a huge sticky ball dribbled out of her mouth and down her shirt. I came home feeling I had done a pretty exacting workout, tired but sure of the appropriateness of this way of living.

There's an evolutionary oddity we humans share with no other species, and that is that women survive for decades after their fertility ceases. The reason for this is so obvious: in a society as complex as human society there is a need for grandparents. In fact there is a need for all manner of adults who are not parents themselves but who contribute to the raising of children. "It takes a village to raise a child". On Friday I reveled in taking my part in this little village.

I got home mid afternoon when Ada was finally starting to vocalise her disappointment at being so far and so long from the centre of the universe. The centre of the universe and her consort had managed to get the major furniture in place, fill the cupboards and get the kids' bedrooms looking welcoming. The two of them had had a few hours to enjoy, alone, this lovely house they have planned for so long and built so carefully. I unbuckled the seat belts yet again, went inside with my mokos, delivered them gratefully back to their parents, and sat on the new sofa by the new  logburner and had a beer. Then I started on the next of my grandfatherly duties: assembling a flat pack bed. A gym workout, an exercise in the development of awareness and a major jigsaw puzzle, all in one day!