I happened to come across the title heading yesterday:
The universe is made of stories, not atoms.
Muriel Rukeyser (1913-1980)
I have no idea who Muriel Rukeyser is but I like her style! (Actually, she was an American poet.)
Her quoted words are on a New York sidewalk as part of a series of New York Public Library plaques expressing humanity’s commitment to the written word. Or maybe just a commitment to words.
In a week when the universe has yielded yet more amazing information and illustrations about its “atoms” (e.g. here, with bonus about NZ swamps!), it is worth a little reflection on how the universe is just an “is” if there are no words. Even a universe with a planet with animals but no humans is an “is” with no history of or stories about the “is.” No knowing that we know things about the universe. No knowing that there is a universe to know things about. No knowing that there might be choices to be made about how we shall live. The universe is made of stories, not atoms.
The Judeo-Christian response to a universe of stories has always been to tell one story as the story which makes all other stories possible and to tell that story as the only story which all humanity should hear and live out as the story of their individual and communal lives. (And, yes, the Christian story has parted ways with the Judaic story, not least because Christians inherited from the Judaic story the singularity of the most important story to tell).
So, among comments to the previous post here, has been a discussion about the present state of, and possible demise of Protestant Christianity, and whether Anglicanism is likely to survive the 21st century, possibly if not probably because of its catholic features.
From a “story” perspective, Protestant Christianity has flowed out of a Reformation in which the then version of the Christian story was critiqued and corrected (rightly) with the corollary that Protestantism committed itself to telling and safeguarding the corrected story through much story retelling (sermons more important than liturgy). Five hundred years later the corrected story remains correct but the emphasis on the way the story is told is under severe pressure.
From a “story” perspective, Roman Catholic Christianity has flowed along with some correction via the Counter-Reformation and a significant correction via Vatican II - when the story’s main form of telling, the Mass, was permitted to be told in the language of the congregation and not the language of a once “universal” community (the evolving Roman Empire). It took Rome 450 years to learn one of the main lessons of the Reformation and some 50 years later some want to unlearn that lesson!
But 500 years after the Reformation, it is time (IMHO) for Protestant Christianity to sit at the footstool of the Mass and learn what it likely should never have forgotten, that the telling of the unique Christian story does not have one and only one form of telling.
Much of Anglicanism has not forgotten that there is more to Christian gatherings than the sermon. Yet what we do and say in sermon and in liturgy needs reflection as we Western Anglicans lose statistical ground (and as other stories permeate Western culture, e.g. here). The significance of the Mass is not purely its liturgical form, as though mere copying of the Mass is the way forward (most Anglican eucharistic services are, more or less, “copies” of the Mass) but its role in the Catholic telling of the Christian story. A role, for instance, which gives people not particularly minded to engage with doctrinal propositions, or depth analysis of biblical texts, a means of refreshing their living out of the Christian story week by week, if not day by day.
The renewal of Christianity in the 21st century must be about engaging people who know the universe is made of stories and are disinclined to elevate one of those stories above others. What do we need to do and say telling our story that one story matters?
Postscript: isn’t it critical to the “success” or “failure” of the Lambeth Conference 2022, that we renew our Anglican telling of the Christian story? What story, instead, will be heard if we either descend into the politics of sexuality, or end with a set of “calls” which are indistinguishable from the story the Green movement tells? Our Bible studies on 1 Peter will include reflection on what it means to give explanation for the hope which lies within us!