Monday, January 29, 2007

A Beef with James, and Schleiermacher Too

I had the honour of preaching this Thursday at an ordination (the ordination of my own mum, no less!), on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. I had to cut this piece out of the sermon, but I am so attached to it, I thought I would post it here, and not let it go completely to waste.

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Faithfulness to tradition is not as far from the story of St. Paul's conversion as we might think. St. Paul isn’t exactly changed in an instant, so much as everything that he once knew was revealed under the scrutiny of a blinding light.

St. Paul may very well have been a Jew by necessity in salvation history, because if he wasn't a Jew, he would not have recognized the voice of the Messiah. Only the most Jewish of Jews would recognize that the one who spoke to him in the light was the Holy One of Israel. Without knowing the history of Israel, and God’s uncompleted work within that history, St. Paul would not have understood the way in which his life and faith were changing. And after that, where does St. Paul go? He enters a Christian household, the house of the Damascene believers, where he learns to see again, where his life is re-oriented according to an ancient faith understood in a new light, the light of the coming of the Messiah.

St. Paul’s experience on the road was not a singularity within his life, as William James would have it; nor was it a subjective experience that was later, and with great hesitancy, put into words, as Schleiermacher might put it. St. Paul already had the words and the knowledge to understand his experience, and the experience was contiguous with the life he led before he saw the light, even as it changed his life in deeply significant ways.

So St. Paul's experience was not of the breaking with tradition, but rather it was of the breaking open of tradition. St. Paul never broke faithfulness with who he was, nor with what he knew, even if he and his world changed completely that day on the road to Damascus.

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