Thursday, November 25, 2021

Faithful improvisation


In these Last Days at the tail end of the Church calendar, we are sitting with Daniel at Holy Communion. The book of Daniel concerns the experience of the civil service of Jerusalem after they were deported into exile in Babylon. It is full of big, bold, colourful episodes, such as The Writing On The Wall and Daniel in the Lions’ Den.

To help make sense of what had happened to them, and to keep hope alive for what might happen, the exiles engaged in what we might call faithful improvisation. Drawing on ancient resources to sustain their present and imagine their future into being, they wrote down stories.

So the neo-Babylonian empire is depicted as Adam, and the Medes, with whom they had made a marriage alliance and who would eventually betray them, become Eve. Babylon with its fabled gardens and mighty rivers becomes Eden. The presence of Yahweh, the god of the exiles, in their midst becomes the Tree of Life; and the presence of his people, represented by civil servants of unparalleled, godlike, insight becomes the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Their hosts are prohibited from devouring the fruit of that tree, on pain of judgement; nonetheless, they do attempt to consume the fruit, in fiery furnace or lions’ enclosure. The talking dragon sidekick of the god of Babylon even makes a cameo appearance.

In this faithful improvisation, the story of Adam and Eve is reimagined as a pre-history not of humankind but of the return from exile, after the judgement of these superpowers.

How might we engage in faithful improvisation, reimagining this story from within the context of being a church community in the northeast of England who have welcomed into our midst a significant number of Christian asylum seekers from across the Middle East, largely of Persian background?

Adam stands for the regime in Iran, ruling over the ancient Persian empire.

Eve stands for the British government, for in their financing, and selling of arms, and occasional sabre-rattling, the Mother Of All Parliaments is both a support and a liability for the Iranian regime.

Eden is the beautiful land of Iran.

The Tree of Life represents God’s faithful presence to bless the Persian people through the centuries. (Did you know that the Magi who visited the infant Jesus were Persian ambassadors?)

The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil represents the Persian church, rapidly growing in the face of strong persecution.

Through this faithful improvisation, the story of Adam and Eve is reimagined, within my context, as a pre-history of the future time when my Persian sisters and brothers can return home, to live their lives openly and without fear of imprisonment, torture, or death.

Of course, this is not the only way to reimagine the Genesis pre-history. But it is the only way to read the Genesis pre-history, asking, how does this text live for us and give us life?


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