Sunday, September 04, 2011

Only Connect the Prose and the Passion II

A few months ago I wrote this post on the connection between prose and passion in Christianity.

Today I'm thinking about something a bit different--the way that Christianity connects the prose and the passion in the sense of connecting doctrine and emotion.

Last evening I enjoyed myself watching several Youtube videos of the late, immortal Gospel singer Vestal Goodman. Here was one that lifted me up. Vestal's joy is contagious:

If you are, like me, a somewhat cerebral person, it's easy to miss that passion. That's where people like Vestal remind me of what my parents and teachers all taught me when I was little: You have to have a relationship with Jesus Christ. It's not enough just to have head knowledge. You have to love Jesus; you have to follow Him. You have to be committed to Him.

I sit and watch Vestal sing or talk (and there are many more videos of her out there, as you can see at Youtube) and feel a kind of wonder. What must it to be like to be that filled with joy and love? What is it like to have that kind of confidence and peace, a confidence and peace that obviously come not from mere innocence but rather from suffering and pain?

That wonder of mine is a fruitful wonder. It conveys some of her peace to me just to know that there are people who have that peace, that confidence and joy, that trust that God "doeth all things well," that "all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

Then this morning, I went to church, and we said the Nicene Creed, and for some reason, when we got to "Who for us men and for our salvation came down from Heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary and was made man..." I thought of Vestal.

What an amazing thing: There is a deep connection between that solemn, even in some sense "dry," theological truth that the Eternal Son was incarnate as a man, incarnate as a baby in the womb, and the excitement, wonder, and love of the Lord Jesus that one sees in a Gospel singer. The two are not at odds. They may seem to be at odds from the perspective of one Christian tradition or the other: To one person, the joy of Vestal Goodman may seem over-the-top, overly emotional, alien. To another, the solemnity of the Anglican liturgy, including the Creed, is dead and has no heart.

It's my opinion that Christianity desperately needs both. We need joy unspeakable and full of glory, and sometimes we need that joy to take the form of hand-clapping and foot-stomping. Not in all times and places, to be sure, but in some times and places. We need Vestal Goodman, with the Light that lightens all men, the Light that shone in darkness, shining in her face, so that we know that the darkness will never overcome it. We need the opportunity to sing with her, cry with her, and lift up our hands.

We also need doctrine. We need the structure, the discipline, the architectonic, the heart-ravishing beauty of the liturgy. We need to say, slowly and deliberately, the things we believe. We need to do it with some frequency and in words that we did not get to make up ourselves. We need to join hands with the men of all ages who have believed these things, in words that, like fine coins, have pased through many hands and have been polished thereby to a high lustre. We need quiet. We need sacred places.

We need all of these things, because there is a sense in which Christianity contains all of these things. And Christianity contains all of these things because Christianity, alone of the religions of the world, connects the prose and the passion.

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