I want to consider the difference between relevance and resonance.
I want to suggest that relevance is contextual. It is determined by a complex interaction of relationships and experience and need. Take ‘kairos : kisses’ for example. The number of people who visit my blog is tiny – on average, around 100 every day. But even this tiny number is diverse in age, gender, family circumstances, cultural background, current cultural context, religious belief, political persuasion, passions, interests, life experience, relationship to me...Each one finds different posts on my blog more, or less, relevant. Or more, or less, relevant in different situations (as in, “that is an interesting observation, but it isn’t relevant to the matter at hand”).
Relevance is important. But it is not the be-all-and-end-all. If it were, we could only engage with people who were very like us. The further we push relevance, the more fragmented we become, the more separated from one another.
I want to suggest that resonance is catholic, by which I mean pertains to all and is of interest to all. An ancient bard employed the sight and sound of the waterfall near the source of the Jordan river to express resonance: “deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls” (Psalm 42*). Here are the fundamental longings of every member of humanity – to be known, to be loved – longings that are an integral part of our created nature, because we bear the imprint of One who longs to be in relationship with us, and who calls out to us.
Anyone who has stood before a waterfall will know that there is a deep sound that one feels more than hears, under the noise: resonance is deeper than relevance, and sometimes we resonate in time – deep calling to deep – only when we have listened past the relevant.
As an example of relevance and resonance, consider the ongoing debate within the Church of England regarding how we will go about having women bishops as well as men bishops.
There is a matter of relevance, but what? For some, the Church is irrelevant anyway, and this only goes to confirm that opinion. For others, it demonstrates a wider move from relevance (still, in certain areas) towards irrelevance. For some members of the Church, the desire to see women bishops is an example of ditching truth in order to be perceived as relevant. For others, it is irrelevant, because they are so used to men bishops that they see no need for change even if they aren’t opposed to it. It is less relevant in the sleepy retirement resort I currently live in than in our cities. For many Christians in other traditions, women bishops are irrelevant because they see men bishops as irrelevant.
Then there is the matter of resonance. Many of those Christians in other traditions who see women bishops as irrelevant because they see men bishops as irrelevant nonetheless understand that there is a deeper issue of resonance with the foundational stories of Genesis 1 (male and female together created bearing God’s likeness and, with no hierarchy between them, to represent God’s rule in the world) and Genesis 2 (male and female are one; the woman is a ‘corresponding warrior’ to the man, to fight side-by-side against the incursion of chaos) and Genesis 3 (the rule of the husband over the wife, and the male over the female, is a consequence of humanity choosing not to trust that God has their best interests; it is not a God-decreed curse, but rather a tragic consequence God both places limits upon – death - and states his intention to overturn – as fulfilled in the person of Jesus, and demonstrated in the large number of women leaders of the churches recorded in the New Testament). It is not a matter of relevance, but of resonance.
Likewise, I would suggest, it is resonance with this equality that causes people – even if they can’t articulate that resonance in theological language – to see the Church as irrelevant in this matter, calling people to live in a story we ourselves fail to enter...while their longing remains unfulfilled.
*In physics, resonance describes the state of a system in which an abnormally large vibration is produced in response to an external stimulus, occurring when the frequency of the stimulus is the same, or nearly the same, as the natural vibration frequency of the system.