Magazine article The Christian Century

Shaken

Magazine article The Christian Century

Shaken

Article excerpt

A FEW WEEKS AGO as I came out of the local Cineplex, my eye was caught by a large display proclaiming the thrills and wonder of the movie 2012.

According to an ancient Mayan story, 2012 is the year when the earth is to encounter some extremely unpleasant stuff, perhaps even its own demise. At least that is the simplistic meaning being adopted for Hollywood's purposes, and it makes for wonderful disaster movie material. Above me on the display, a city was being lifted into the air while at the same time being broken into vast separate pieces.

For me, the sight brought something different to mind. I suddenly became aware of the degree to which earthquake imagery had appeared early in my ministry and had shaped my understanding of who I was as a priest.

Ordained in Ireland in 1953, I served in active ministry as an Anglican priest until officially retiring in 1993. That puts me in the generation of clergy who straddled changes that have utterly transformed ways of ministry, understandings of faith, roles of clergy in society, relationships between clergy and congregations--everything! It was an extended period of theological and social earthquake. When Walter Brueggemann directs me to consider 587 BCE and look at the Judaism that existed before and after that cataclysm of invasion and exile, I think of the 1960s, when everything was changing: congregational life, my role as priest, the relationship of Christian faith with the surrounding culture. And nothing about the process was gentle!

Out of that experience, images of earthquakes became rich and vivid metaphors for ministry. One such experience came through on television news one day in the 1970s, when earthquakes were shaking regions of northern Italy. The scene had been captured on camera by someone in the rear of a crowd at an outdoor mass. On a hillside a rough altar of stones had been assembled and an elderly priest was about to elevate the chalice when an aftershock came. The tremor rippled through the crowd until it reached the priest. He staggered but succeeded in keeping the chalice aloft with one hand while supporting himself on the altar with his other hand.

I immediately identified with the scene. I understood my priesthood as being in such a world, a world in which foundations were being shaken but where my task was to reach for and hang on to what remained solid and lasting. …

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