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Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

Norris, Kathleen | Riverhead, 1999


p. 368

She cites a lovely passage from Augustine: “Let us sing alleluia here on earth, while we still live in anxiety, so that we may sing it one day in heaven in full security . . . We shall have no enemies in heaven, we shall never lose a friend. God’s praises are sung both there and here, but here they are sung in in anxiety, there in security; here they are sung by those destined to die, there, by those destined to live forever; here they are sung in hope, there in hope’s fulfillment; here, they are sung by wayfarers, there, by those living in their own country. So then . . . let us sing now; not in order to enjoy a life of leisure, but in order to lighten our labors. You should sing as wayfarers do–sing, but continue your journey . . . Sing, then, but keep going.”

pp. 318-319

pp: 318-19: Apocalypic is a genre we don’t like very well. It’s weird, scary, off-putting. People use it to control others. It’s not actually a map of the future, and it’s not meant as an invitation to withdraw from the present. “It is a wakeup call, one that uses intensely poetic language and imagery to sharpen our awareness of God’s presence in and promise for the world.” An apocalypse is an “uncovering” or a “revealing,” so it’s a word about possibilities we had never dreamed of. Thinking of these possibilities is meant to sanctify our lives here and now. But we also have to work in the same direction as we hope. The apocalyptic images get us stirred up. Scripture, says a fourth century monk, “works the earth of our heart.” It’s only when the ground has been disturbed that a seed of grain can grow in it. Apocalypses tell us of communal possibilities. Here we often go wrong. We speak of “personal spirituality” and of “personal watercraft,” “personal trainers,” my “personal Savior.” We speak of ‘personal’ which in a trinitarian sense is always ‘persons-in-relation’ and we mean by it something private, individual, separate, apart, as in “I’ve got mine; too bad about you.” But Pentecost is a communal event including diverse tongues that bring people together, not apart. It reverses Babel. John on Patmos, Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, Daniel to Israel in exile—the apocalyptic ones speak from and to a marginalized community. It’s when we see the fault lines in life that we need the uncovering of possibilities. Blacks in the U.S. and oppressed people everywhere have traditionally loved apocalyptic literature. We learn to love it when we’re broken.