Sunday, April 14, 2013

2013.04,14 Potentiation Never Ends

“In the beginning . . . “  he began in somber tones.

I wrote it down in my brand new spiral notebook marked Old Testament; “In the beginning  . . . “  Then I waited, through a long pause, for more.

“In the beginning God potentiated life—over and over and over.” 

I loved that word, potentiate. I’m not sure if that is exactly what he said but that’s what I heard and never forgot.

Potentiation is what God, by whatever name, and there are many, is all about—over and over and over.  My time as a seminarian at Yale Divinity began in 1978 with this enormous required basic biblical course in Hebrew scripture.  The professor, Robert Wilson, has been teaching, potentiating, there for 40 years. (I never thought this then, but I bet he’s about my age now:)

I remember when some students nearly went nuts over an exam question which asked us to connect the texts about Sarah and Abraham in their aging process, with its attending issues, to our own lives and ministries. How would we use these texts to inform our pastoral care work, say in a nursing home? 

My recollection was that many students were angry and protested this approach, calling it proof- texting and all kinds of other putative interpretive “abnormalities” they thought were forbidden when working with sacred texts. I guessed they were afraid of aging and death, or other demons too fierce to mention.

But I loved it.  The issues were the same then as they are now, and I got it.  For me this approach made scripture come alive, and its people real. Years later I wrote two book of midrash stories using this connective experiential approach.

Recently I read that Robert Wilson said:”Religious tradition canonized the biblical text but it didn’t canonize an interpretation.  That is the job of each generation. . . .That’s the human condition. It was also an exilic problem.  How did I get where I am? How do I deal with tradition, with what has happened in the past? You have to figure out where you are and how you got there. It’s what being a fully involved adult means.”

It’s what Creator-God is all about: unending potentiation.