A STRANGE, NEW WORLD
by Randi Rashkover

This is the most difficult editorial I've ever tried to write. For the past several weeks I have seesawed back and forth between paralysis and prayer. This morning I had a conversation with a colleague of mine concerning a panel we're going to do here at York College entitled, "Perspectives on Evil." In the conversation my colleague offered the commonly held belief that human beings are meaning generators, always seeking to lend word and culture to the raw datum of human life experience, evil included. If this is so, I've had a tough time being human lately. I've found it difficult to allow my reactions to the recent events find their way into my writing, my work. As a scholar of religion, I should have the resources I need to speak to these events. Caught in the whirlwind of my reactions, I have not always had the composure needed to seek them out.

Despite my reactions, there is no doubt in my mind that the recent events issue forth a new imperative to consult our religious resources. A well-known biblical scholar and friend of mine, Ellen Davis recently suggested that in our strange new world we can never read scripture the same way again. In a moment of some despair, I picked up Psalm 31 the other day. Ellen is right. I often avoid reading the psalms. I don't have much taste for their rhetoric of battles and conflict. Still, as I read Psalm 31, I began to appreciate it as a testament of divine revelation. God does not speak actively in the psalm. This is not Sinai. This is not the apostle's experience of the risen Word. Here God reveals Godself through the overwrought petitions of a person praying. "In you, O Lord, I seek refuge. . . Be a rock of refuge for me. . . Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress." Revelation happens not when we are secure -- when our world is whole and fully painted with meaning. Revelation happens when we break -- when despite ourselves, a space opens up -- an emptiness that we cannot fill. God happens in our disruption and as the famous Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas has helped us see, the emptiness of our despair issues forth a command -- we must see the emptiness -- we have no choice but to dismiss our self-certainty. Such a command is as Karl Barth well knew, both grace and law. Of course, God's grace is not what we might expect or want. Here grace is the sheer fact that I cannot not see the emptiness or space between myself and my certainty. Here is a command that I need no will to follow -- an imperative that I cannot will not to follow.

Prior to September 11, I planned a simple issue devoted to new ways of reading scripture. I am still committed to an issue devoted to new ways of reading scripture. We need -- I need, the resources of scripture even more than before. Lost in the relentless noise of bombings and the incessant news reports of anthrax, silenced by fear and apprehension, we must continue to listen for the quiet voice of the soul that testifies to God and God alone and seeks God's strange new world of understanding and love of the other.

Some of the essays in this issue were written before September 11 and some were written after. I find solace in them all.

 

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Source: Cross Currents, Winter 2002, Vol. 51,  No 4.