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A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

A postmodern Christianity

Nov07Monty011.jpg In considering this third article from the workshops of Canadian Jesuit, Monty Williams, in Wellington last October, I found myself increasingly affected by the idea in Matthew’s gospel of last week (Mt 4:12-23) where Jesus calls the disciples to give up their tasks and sometimes their families to follow him. (To read the first in this series from Monty’s workshops, click here. For the second, click here.)

Monty called on workshop participants to think in a postmodern way; that is, as I understand it, to think of life as a continuum, a movement or journey towards the ultimate prize, intimacy with God.

In postmodern thinking one is always moving whether it be through the various stages of maturation, or through the messiness of the crises life brings us. It is this constant letting go of the old and moving on to new relationships and new ways of seeing ourselves that Jesus was alluding to when suggesting to his new companions that they leave their families and jobs and take on a new and less ordered life.

For the disciples this was a leap into the unknown. Remember they had not yet read the new testament. They did not know that Jesus was God. To them he was a teacher, perhaps a prophet who seemed to have a special gift for relationship.

Going beyond

Matthew’s gospel tells of Jesus returning to Galilee to begin his public ministry. This was seen at the time as an odd choice for a Messiah to make given the region’s remoteness.

But seen in postmodern terms, it is precisely appropriate for Jesus’ mission of teaching us to see things as God sees them, to go beyond ourselves and to be creative in community.

In a background paper titled ‘Ignatius’ Incarnation Contemplation and the Stories We Live By’, Monty Williams speaks of facing the darkness ‘which is the face of the future, as the context of emerging possibilities based precisely on relationship’ (4).

In basing his ministry in Capernaum, Jesus goes to the edge of society as it were. He embraces the marginalised in this town where, Frank Doyle SJ tells us, even the Jews were rebellious ( www.sacredspace.ie/livingspace/SundayArchive/A-03.htm).

But here in Galilee, the gospel echoes the words of Isaiah, ‘the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned’ (Mt 4:16).

Re-creating and co-creating

Jesus saw his ministry as cultivating relationships with those on the margins—the woman at the well, Zacchaeus, the tax collector, those involved in the messiness of life who were perhaps more open to letting go of what little they had to follow Jesus and face the darkness in the hope of the light of the future.

Postmodernist thinking, Monty says, realises that we are evolving creatures, growing through our relationships into deeper intimacy with God.

‘Transformation comes about when one is presented with a God who delights to roll in the mud with us, the God who formed humanity out of wet red clay, the God for whom the Sabbath is a time to relax and re-create, and we accept ourselves as co-creators, manifesting the artist that is each of our vocations’ (p.12).

An open myth

The postmodern thinker, then, sees the manifestations in time that we call ‘the past’, as an open myth—always open to re-translations and transformations that come with a growing awareness of the mystery we call God.

We may know what we are going to do tomorrow but we do not know who we will meet, say next week or next year. Linear time as a particular interpretation of the temporal passage of events becomes irrelevant. It is through chance meetings that we have the opportunity to engage with the transcendent God who takes us out of ourselves and offers us a vision of God’s reign which can be realised in communities of relationships with the Divine.

Monty Williams SJ: ‘Ignatius’ Incarnation Contemplation and the Stories We Live By’ can be obtained by emailing c.mcneill@wn.catholic.org.nz or phoning (04) 4961759.