In a previous post, mention was made of a quote by St. Isaac the Syrian, in which tears bore the capacity for renewing the self and the world. To paraphrase St. Isaac, the “place of tears” lays the foundations upon which the “path to a new age” can be paved.
It is arguable that such words come, not from mere mystical reflection, but upon an interface between one’s sufferings and the words of scripture, in particular the first two books of the Pentateuch. This becomes more apparent when one reads the first chapter of Walter Brueggemann’s The Prophetic Imagination.
To foreground his coverage of the prophetic literature, Brueggemann considered the narrative of the liberation of Israel, recorded in Book of Exodus. He noted how the process of liberation began with an act of grieving. To use Brueggemann’s words, he calls the Exodus a “primal scream that permits the beginning of history”. An act of grieving, he continues, is what stirs God into acting, freeing Israel from the yoke of Egypt.
But Brueggemann goes further than leaving the liberation narrative as just a liberation from slavery. He suggests that this episode is also an act of creation, a forging of a new reality, founded upon an act of lament. “Bringing hurt to public expression”, he writes, “is an important first tep in the dismantling criticism that permits a new reality”. Brueggemann then notes how the plagues that precede the final act of liberation, function as challenges to the gods of Egypt, exposing the limitations of Pharoah’s magicians and Egypt’s gods.
Why this is significant is because a similar act of challenging alien gods is taking place in an earlier narrative, in the first creation account of the Book of Genesis. The acts of creation are not just creating a new world, but also Israel’s narrative of putting alien gods in their place, as mere creations by the God of Israel.
Seen in this light, the Exodus narrative of liberation provides us with a comforting outlook as we enter the Advent season. The arrival of the Messiah is not just a time of liberation from sin. If we have cause to lament as a result of the fruit of our sin or the sins of others, we may do so in the confidence that we also play our part in laying the foundation of a new Genesical episode, a new act of creation which will end with the familiar refrain from the Book of Genesis, “indeed it was very good”.