Gathering Those Driven Away: A Theology of Incarnation
By Wendy Farley
Westminster John Knox, 256 pp., $30.00 paperback
A few friends gather on Christmas Eve, sharing the joy of the season. Women tell stories that reveal the depths of pain and love in ordinary life. One improvises on the piano. They agree that mothers, like Mary, recognize the divine in their children. Men "pontificate" until Joseph enters the dialogue. He observes that "the subject of Christmas claims" creates a "speechless joy," soothes deep pain, gladdens the heart and eye; it was "one long affectionate kiss given to the world." The evening ends with all united in song.
This is the scene of Friedrich Schleiermacher's Christmas Eve: Dialogue on the Incarnation. It is also the setting of Wendy Farley's preface to Gathering Those Driven Away. In the spirit of Schleiermacher's Dialogue, she offers meditations, songs and spiritual practices-all rooted in the pain and joy of ordinary life. She formulates a theology of Wisdom incarnate--unleashed by divine desire, found in sublime moments and ragged places of ordinary life and born in a manger. In doing this, she gathers not merely the cultured despisers of Christianity, but "those driven away."
Farley's title comes from a paraphrase of Micah 4:6, "And in that day, says the Beloved, I will assemble the lame and gather those who have been driven away." In her book, "those driven away" first refers to casualties in the fight over sexual minorities in churches. Her premise is that the harm, betrayal and self-loathing caused in this "wreckage" reveals wounds of other times and places. But her focus is "the Beloved." The book is "mostly a long love letter to the Beloved, incarnate in the world, in Scripture, in Jesus, and in every human being." She offers words that "caress" the Divine and that intend to foster human participation in "divine eros and caritas for the world."
This love letter assembles voices from the margins through the centuries, including Origen, Pelagius, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Marguerite Porete, Schleiermacher, feminist and queer theologians, gnostic gospels, platonists, yoga practitioners, folk singers, prostitutes, tax collectors, Samaritans, a very young and "indecent" Mary, and Jesus of Nazareth. Some canonical voices join this mostly noncanonical chorus.
The metaphors of margin and of being driven away assume a center and a force. The center that Farley wants to displace is a "logic of domination" that continues to create heresies and marginalize persons. The struggle for orthodoxy associated with the promulgation of the Nicene Creed epitomizes this logic of domination.
Not coincidentally, the Nicene affirmation of the unity of divinity and humanity became decisive for Christian theologies of Trinity, incarnation and soteriology. Farley distinguishes the creed's "majestic poetry"--God from God, Light from Light--from the history of effects associated with the struggle against heresy. She eventually retrieves Nicaea's poetry, a "sense of intoxicating oneing between humanity and divinity," and an understanding of salvation as theosis or divinization that, she notes, Athanasius largely shared. But first she purges the theological narrative of human thraldom to evil, a Lord God bent on punishment, substitutionary atonement and institutional control of right doctrine and the means of salvation. She associates a sweeping list of "collateral damage" with the drive toward orthodoxy and control: decimation, torture, enslavement, genocide, persecution, abuse, suicide.
These are not new critiques of hierarchy, of creedal Christianity, of substitutionary atonement or of Christian complicity. Farley's critique is preparatory to her constructive work, which is to hold divine mystery and love in the place where domination has ruled and to see Jesus Christ with the eyes and in the faces of those driven away. …