Showing items filed under “October 2016”

They Knew They Were Naked

I had a bishop once who said that the most creative thing he had done in his life was to rear his children. When I repeated that comment to a (single male) academic, his retort was instant. “Of course; he’s never written a book.”

. . . A good story, no? And it’s literally true, as well as deeply revealing. I can’t see how any object of our making, whether it be a book or a symphony or even an important public institution—I can’t see how any made thing can be compared to a living human being. In a fire, you save the people first, and then, if you can, you rescue the other things.

And yet our children (for those of us who have children) are themselves no more to be the repositories of our importance than those objects we have made. We say that people live on in their children, but saying that, we fool ourselves.

For what we should see, when we see our children, is that we are mortal dust. And it is to dust, and not to a secondary immortality in heirs or productions, that we shall return.

            . . .

Biblical narrative is highly reticent; it refuses to explain itself. The first couple in Genesis 2 had no shame in their nakedness. Why, after they ate of the forbidden tree, did they know they were naked? What did they know, and how did it give them shame?

One might say that the original man and woman were meant to be immortal: the tree of life was not forbidden to them. Their sexuality would have been the joy of reuniting that, which, originally, had been one being, the “Adam” that God had made. It was found that that original human needed a helpmate, but also that no other animal or bird in the world was fitting. So the original human was divided, and the other that he needed to see before him was originally part of himself. Sexual union there was the sheer joy of reunion.           

But after their disobedience, they became mortal. Hardship entered the world, and struggle, and death. At this time we first read about childbirth; at this time that first couple first learns of childbirth. Now, when they see each other’s nakedness they understand that they will have children, and that they will die. Children are thus, in a sense, a replacement for a lost immortality.

            . . .

You may have written a book, or not; you may have had children, or not; but in some way it will be true for you, that you have sought a replacement for your lost immortality. Such is indeed our duty and our privilege in this world; the “curse” of toil and labor is also a blessing to fallen humanity. There is joy in work, joy in art, joy in children; the toilsomeness of it all does not remove the joy. But what is hard to see is that the joy becomes superficial if we forget that we are naked, i.e. mortal.

Salvation is not to go backwards and recover immortality. It is to move forwards with consciousness that we will return to dust. But, of course, not only that! Salvation is living with the consciousness that there is one who has gone before us into death and through death. He now reigns over all things with true knowledge of good and bad, alive and never to die again.

            . . .

Out & About. I will be at St. Augustine’s in Oak Cliff this Sunday, October 30, preaching at the 8 and 10:15 a.m. Eucharists and giving a talk at 9:15 on “God and the Caregiver”: 1302 W. Kiest Blvd., Dallas.

On Wednesday, November 2, I will give the homily at the 7 p.m. Requiem for All Souls’ Day at Church of the Incarnation: 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas.

Asking God for Stuff

            When I started realizing how strange God is—that he is no thing, that he is to me as an author is to a character—I then realized I’d have to reconsider prayer. So I asked an Aquinas scholar about this. Aquinas famously draws out the strangeness of God, that we can know that God exists, but not what God is, and so forth. What then, I asked, does Aquinas say prayer is?

            “He says prayer is asking God for stuff.”

            The plainness of the answer surprised me, but in fact Aquinas often is very plain. And behind all the complexities of theological thought, this truth remains: prayer is simply telling God what’s on our heart, asking for what we want.

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            An awful song from my childhood is stuck in my brain. “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz? My friends all drive Porsches; I must make amends.”

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            One cannot overstate the importance of honesty in prayer. If what you really want is a new car, that’s what you should be telling God in your prayer. Don’t worry if your wants strike you as rather pathetic, self-centered, or “unspiritual.” Your wants are your wants, and it is you yourself, and only you, that can say your prayers. Pretending you want peace in the world will not become a real prayer when what you really want is your neighbor to stop pestering you. (Jesus told a story about prayer in which a man granted someone’s request just so he’d stop pestering him! That’s not a story about God, but about us.)

            And whatever you pray for, don’t worry: God will give you what is good for you. In fact, just by going honestly into prayer, our wants get changed, as do our hearts and minds.

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            Out & About. On Sunday, October 30, I’ll be preaching at St. Augustine’s Oak Cliff, at the 8 a.m. and 10:15 a.m. services, as well as teaching a class at 9:15 a.m.: 1302 W. Kiest, Dallas.

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."