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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Theopoetics and Quakerism: I

I am reading Amos Wilder's seminal 1976 book, Theopoetic. Theopoetics, which I will define as the intersection of the literary with the theological, the manifestation of faith in art, has come to forefront as I have been thinking about Quaker literature.  I will, therefore, be working through Theopoetic in light of its relevance for Quakerism. 

Theopoetic is first of all a response to the 1960s--a period crystallized in the social upheavals of 1968 whose effects are still with us--and the kind of creativity and turbulence that upheaval unleashed. That dizzying, revolutionary, futuristic backdrop of the 1960s, that sense of the whole world shaking and ready to tumble, couldn't, on the surface, be more different than our own frozen and backward-looking times. On the other hand, the 1960s represents the last heyday of Quakerism (whether a heyday of happiness or horror is a matter of perspective) and the fervor of that period harkens back even further to the revolutionary upheavals that produced the earliest Quakerism.


I see truths about Quakerism looking at it through the lens of its fictions. But let's first focus on Wilder, whose concern is the way Christian imagination had not, by the early 1970s, kept pace with the revolutionary changes he saw in the world around him.

"It is at the level of the imagination," writes Wilder, "that the fateful issues of our new world experience must first be mastered. ... Old words do not reach across the new gulfs, and it is only in vision in oracle that we can chart the unknown and new name the creatures. Before the message their must be the vision, before the sermon the hymn, before the prose the poem." (1)

We are motivated, he writes, by images and stories, because these move us more than ideas. Imagination is the life's blood of religion. Without it, "doctrines become ossified, witness and proclamation wooden ... litanies empty, consolations hollows and ethics legalistic." Without imagination, "doctrine becomes a caricature of itself" and begins to "suffocate" us. (2)

And thus ends his prelude.

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