Fall Issue 10
WHAT I'VE LEARNT FROM
BREAD MAKING: BERNARD'S THREE LOAVES
BY ANTJE CARREL
And yet, again, I find myself in the kitchen, late at night, on a Tuesday. That’s what happens when you take a class that requires you to quickly read books that are at their best when slowly digested. Are you acquainted with lectio acceleratio yet? Well you might want to consider taking Classics next year. However, it might be wise checking with your doctor whether forced and high-paced digestion is bearable for your body (my doctor, Mrs McClaren, disapproved!). No matter how early in the week my reading starts, the kitchen table on Tuesday night, that’s where you will find me. It’s also because someone is already sleeping in my room; that’s what happens when you decide to share a bunk bed with your best friend to afford another year at Regent. But that’s another story.
This week, Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sermons on the Song of Songs is on the menu. Bernard addresses his fellow monks of Clairvaux about the spiritual life. It’s high time to feed on something other than milk: bread. “In Solomon there is bread, and bread that is fine and flavorsome.” Solomon was a great baker. Did you know that? He instructed people on the spiritual life with solid food, starting with Ecclesiastes and its crunchy crust. Ecclesiastes is like baguette, very practical, indeed. You eat it daily, as you make sandwiches with it. And then, there’s Proverbs. Yes, Solomon gives you some more lightness and sweetness as practicality is mixed with the deliciousness of richer ingredients. Higher spiritual truths and depth: yes, I am talking about brioche. And finally, Solomon’s specialty, the Song of Songs, evoking the lightness and delights of a buttery and flaky pastry, the pinnacle of all breads, of course, you’ve guessed it, I am talking about croissants.
As I read Bernard’s interpretation of Solomon’s three spiritual loaves, I find myself longing to eat bread, earthy flavoured food. Food that’s not just digested because it’s part of an assignment; but bread that we can chew on, for weeks. Bread that comes out of the oven and its smell embalms the whole house, bringing joy into our hearts. Brown bread that feeds the restless hunger that sits in our stomach, while drawing our eyes to higher realities due to its croissant-like texture. I grab the flour and various seeds and nuts on the counter next to me. I mix them with water and yeast and start kneading the dough. Then, I turn back to my reading again with this lump of dough by my side, restless until it rises. Memories of last summer suddenly come flooding back. The sourdough bread made by the monks in Cîteaux comes to my mind.
I had decided to follow the footsteps of Bernard of Clairvaux. My first stop was Cluny, where the grandeurs of the Cluniac Church were displayed for all to see. The local bakery had some very sophisticated pastries; a lot of butter, and shiny coulis, but the bread that feeds the deepest hunger was all gone. It was late morning already. After a few Cluniac chapels in some small countryside villages, where grey bricks and beautiful gardens were the norm, I made my way to Clairvaux, the climax of this trip. Little did I know that I was entering a jail. That’s what Napoleon did with Clairvaux when he decided to turn every significant religious landmark into French national sites to the glory of the motherland. Despite the closely guided visit and the tremendous changes made to the buildings, I was in awe when I got to enter a medieval hall newly renovated. The broadness of that room, the light, the cold stone, the deep silence, everything was beautifully simple, beautifully beaming with light and fresh air.
Expecting Clairvaux to give me clues on Bernard’s epiphany of love and union, the rather dim cells of the prison left me fairly perplexed. I decided to add another stop to my journey: Cîteaux, where it all began. On a beautiful late spring morning, the crispiness of the air being smoothed by the rising sun, the doors of the monastery finally opened. The introduction to the community, its rhythms, its lifestyle and its history was like a breath of fresh air, wiping away the deceptions of the Napoleonic ravages. Cîteaux still has a community of 15 monks whose humble lifestyle alternates in between rigorous study of the Word, liturgical services and agricultural work. Dedication. Integration. Illumination. A deep commitment to the gospel and a sense of love, peace and humility fill the place. Their creamy brie cheese is known across the whole of Burgundy. Their bread, freshly out of the oven, feeds and delights. Brown enough to fill empty stomachs. Airy and sour enough to bring joy to taste buds. This bread, dense and delicious, invites us to feed on the bread of life, our Lord Jesus Christ.
I am taken back to my page. There is still a fair amount of words to read and write that night. Bernard’s Christology and his emphasis on the incarnation, God reaching down to us, strikes a chord. He embraces us. He kisses us. And in Christ, we are reconciled to Him. I feel like I have reached a new threshold of my Christological understanding. The lump besides me has risen. I slip the bread in a blasting hot oven, and keep on reading. Some time later, the kitchen is filled with the aroma of a hearty loaf freshly out of the oven. And as I finish those sermons about the highest spiritual truth, croissants seem over-rated when I contemplate this concrete, tangible, feeding bread of life. Christ our hope.
A DEVOTION BEFORE THEOLOGY | BY ANDREW HEADLEY
Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice, to the rumbling that comes from his mouth." Job 36:16
There is a point in the Book of Job when God speaks. I've read it before, and as I near the moment, I catch myself soaking in the knowledge I have over the suffering man. Almost gloating, I read like a spectator with a knowing sort of expectation, with a growing excitement. My heart pounds and leaps. I don't know who is right or wrong in all the arguments. Men are speaking from every side, from anguish and anxiety, from pain and pious pride. Something makes me feel nervous, however. A solitary raindrop lands on my heart, and seeps into my bones, bringing with it: a trepidation, a shivering, a hesitance. Do I really know what is coming? Do I know Who?
He stops all people from their labour.
The Lord is patient with Job; I pray the same for me and my arrogance. Patient enough to let us come to the end of our words, however few or plentiful they may seem, however wise or foolish. Perhaps He was speaking all along, if we had only grown quiet enough to realize it; a Word, spoken from the darkness. But not a silence, right? A Word would make everything right. That Word would cut through the haze like a sun so bright we could not ever look on it. It would light our days. He fills his hands with lightning. He readies the clouds and opens the storehouses.
I always think I know what He is going to say, when I arrive to that fateful place.
Oh Job, if you only knew what we knew...
Tell me, what is it that we know again? Tell us, you who swelter in your clothes. Tell us, you who study the Word. Suddenly I don't feel like a spectator. I prepare a ready-made answer, and practice my facial expressions and intonation in the mirror. Because if I have the right word, then I'll never be caught unknowing. I'll never feel stupid or small, ever again. I'll win every argument; gather up these robes of knowledge and wear them like a shield.
Today, I realize I stand on the cusp of knowledge, on the border of a new country, a promised land. Am I ready to enter it? Will I quail at the size of the giants? I am one chapter before The Lord Speaks to Job. I pause and close my eyes and listen, ever so carefully, to the silence. I strain to hear, anything. I want to hear tomorrow, now. The Word, The Word, The Word. My inner ear feels like it's falling, into the vertigo of the night. I am tumbling with the exertion, losing my sense, until I realize I can hear the sound. The sound of His silence.
Who is a teacher like Him?
I release myself. I realize myself. I cease myself. And in that moment of cessation I become a student of the Most High. He is wooing us from the jaws of distress to a spacious place, free of restriction... So let go of the expectation, the words we are sure he would offer us, after we name them. Let the impudence spill like stones into our tiny hands, and lift them to the skies, where the clouds are forming, where the sunlight whispers in falling white shafts.
Settling in beside Job, with my own ashes and torn clothes and a shard of pot for scratching my sores, I find I am quiet. There is a freedom in handing back to Him the words I wanted to force into His mouth.
And do you know what? I notice this silence sounds like love, a silence with its arms around me, waiting for the sunrise.
Don't speak to me just yet. Thank you, my dear friend. I know you how near you are. I know you are here, in the silence that surrounds me like deep darkness. Take whatever I have, please. Take whatever these hands can hold, words, and hopes, and noise. Still me, that I can be still. Lead me, that I can be led. Love me, that I can know how precious I am. Maybe tomorrow, I will be ready to hear. But not tonight, I understand. Not just yet.
THE IMAGE OF GOD IN PSALM 84
BY JOEL STRECKER
Before I begin, I should clarify that this “bite-sized thesis” is not exactly a bite-sized thesis. It’s really some introductory ruminations as to why my thesis began and what it hopes to accomplish, rather than a summary. Hopefully you find my preliminary thoughts as interesting as I find them.
The kernel for my thesis began in a Hebrew readings course several years ago (under the erudite guidance of David Clemens), where we tackled many of the so-called archaic poems of the Old Testament (Exodus 15, Judges 5, Habakkuk 3 etc.) During this course I was struck afresh, both by how visceral the language was, and by how foreign the symbolic world of these poems was to me as a reader in the 21st century. The poetry was challenging. Not only because of the cultural distance and hapax legomena, but because good poetry always challenges. And there was a further challenge: I was struggling to understanding in what way these poems were authoritative, living words for the Church; words which pointed to our Lord Jesus Christ. These poems could not simply be summarized, and then slotted into a particular box of my theological framework. They demanded my engagement and my imagination (or perhaps I should say participation?). This naturally led to the question: what do these poems have to say to the Church? Behind this question lay another: what role does imagination play in our reading of the Scriptures? Amos Thornton Wilder summed up my own personal doubts rather well in his short treatise on religious imagination: “The rightful place of imagination in religion is subject to much confusion. It is set over against the reason and looked on as merely decorative. Or it is set over against the will and looked on as frivolous. It can even be set over against revelation itself and look idolatrous.”
The issue of imagination in biblical texts touched upon one of the larger conversations we have at Regent: the capacity of natural language to speak about the supernatural. If we accept that all predications of God are analogical, what role do metaphors play? Is all speech about God metaphorical? What kind of analogy are we talking about? Our own (pre nouvelle theologie) Hans Boersma, in his 2004 bestseller, defends the importance of religious metaphor by identifying four particular functions for them: (1) they are effective, pithy modes of communication; (2) they allow for creative contemporary engagement, inviting personal interaction; (3) they have transformative power to change the way we actually view the world; and (4) they allow us to avoid idolatrous claims of absolute knowledge, for behind every metaphor is an is and an is not. Coming to terms with the nature of metaphor has comprised the first phase of my thesis. Janet Soskice, in particular, has been influential in persuading me that metaphor is simply one of the ways in which we think about the world, and that religious metaphors always occur within a broader context of canonical speech, where the religious community inherits ways of speaking transcending one’s own experiences. If we are to make sense of the rich and powerful images of God given to us in Scripture we need familiarity with the entire Christian canon, and we need familiarity with the ancient Near East and ancient Israel.
This need for ancient Near Eastern and canonical competence forms the two broad thrusts of my current work, as I explore one particular metaphor in the Psalter. In Psalm 84, the LORD is compared to the sun. We read in v.11 “For the LORD God is a sun and shield / He bestows favour and honour” (NRSV). Because metaphors are freighted with cultural background, the second major phase of my research will deal with the role of the sun, and solar images, both in broader Mesopotamian culture, and within the archaeology of ancient Israel. I am particularly interested in the ways which chief deities of the ANE often take on solar imagery, and how these images become associated with monarchy, which seems to indicate an underlying assumption about the sun as an expression of absolute power and presence.
The third phase of my research has only just begun, and focuses on solar imagery across the Old Testament. The number of direct and indirect references to solar imagery in the Old Testament has frankly been surprising, and only serves to underline how unfamiliar I still am with much of Scripture. Since my thesis does not yet have a conclusion, I’ll instead close with these tantalizing words from Malachi 4: “But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.”
Poet of the Week: Tomas Tranströmer | BY BLYTHE HUTCHCROFT
Tomas Tranströmer (1931-2015) was a Swedish poet who noticed depths in the everyday. “To be spellbound—nothing’s easier,” he writes below. Actually, I’d argue that adopting a spellbound disposition can be hard. Sometimes, we have to train our imaginations to be oriented towards—or at least attentive to—the wonder that this line implies. And as the angel in “Romanesque Arches” suggests, this training can be lifelong, ever-inquiring after the never ending chamber in one’s self. Yet Tranströmer’s poetry can help us develop a muscle for this “vault opening.” To bring James K.A. Smith into the conversation, I think Tranströmer’s writing can line our imaginations with wonder for the everyday. It can train us to see ordinary signposts of the deep.
Tranströmer’s poems help me pay attention to existence. With a double career as a psychologist and poet, he wrote with rapt interest in the mind, the self, the seasons (read: lots of Scandinavian winter), and commonplace awe. His poems are curious and hushed and lead down hidden passageways to commemorate this business of being alive. When I read Tranströmer, I feel dizzy and un-selfed and excited about being a human. I feel what American poet Tom Sleigh articulates when he says that, “Transtromer’s poems imagine the spaces that the deep then inhabits, like ground water gushing up into a newly dug well.”
The Blue Wind-Flowers
(translated by Robin Fulton)
To be spell-bound – nothing's easier. It's one of the oldest tricks of the soil and springtime: the blue wind-flowers. They are in a way unexpected. They shoot up out of the brown rustle of last year in overlooked places where one's gaze never pauses. They glimmer and float, yes, float, and that comes from their colour. That sharp violet-blue now weighs nothing. Here is ecstasy, but low-voiced. "Career" – irrelevant! "Power" and "publicity" – ridiculous! They must have laid on a great reception up in Nineveh, with pompe and "Trompe up!". Raising the rafters. And above all those brows the crowning crystal chandeliers hung like glass vultures. Instead of such an over-decorated and strident cul-de-sac, the wind-flowers open a secret passage to the real celebration, which is quiet as death.
Local Students Create New Ways to Avoid Exchanging Names
Local first year Kevin (the Bunyan thinks it was Kevin) Adams (or something), sat down Tuesday in the library and gave an affirming nod to what he recognized as a fellow first year at the book-blanketed table.
Kevin’s (was it Kendrick?) nod was returned by an eyebrow raise and head tilt. Both gestures clearly signified “Yes, I see you, but I don’t need to meet you.” They had both agreed to live in a nameless existence in the same space.
Other first years have had similar experiences. “My capacity to meet new people is gone”, says an Albertan first year woman with a name that the Bunyan can’t quite recall but thinks it at one point was remembered by a name-association with wintry evenings, or maybe owls.
Another first year (the one with the big hair who was in my history tutorial) reported that often the exchange of names gets put off through more than one encounter: “I’d been working at the same table several times in the week, and saw the same guy working two tables away every time. I should’ve learnt his name, but I couldn’t bring myself to meet him. I’m just full.”
A second year (I mean she probably preferred anonymity anyways) reported that she is looking forward to April when the grads leave. She clarified it’s not because she doesn’t love them, but because she needs more brain-space to make room for Greek verb paradigms.