"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Bp. Seraphim Sigrist on the Tapestries of Life

In this blog's infancy, I hit upon the idea of interviewing authors when talking with Bishop Seraphim Sigrist more than five years ago, when I sent him some questions about his then-new book A Life Together: Wisdom of Community from the Christian East.

He has a new book out, Tapestry, and I sent him some questions for an interview about it. Here are his thoughts.

AD: Tell us about your background.

Vladyka Seraphim: By way of introducing myself I would say that I studied at St Vladimir's Seminary and then served in the Orthodox Church in Japan for 19 years as teacher, as deacon, and priest in a village church and finally as Bishop of northern Japan. Returning to the United States I have taught at Drew University, and, becoming involved with movements in Russia for Christian renewal, traveled to Russia many times. I live in the lower Hudson Valley and have written five books, including one Japanese translation.

AD: When we spoke on here several years ago now, it was about your book A Life Together: Wisdom of Community from the Christian East. What, if anything, links that book and your newest one, Tapestry? In other words, give us a bit of chronology and background over the past few years leading up to this newest book.

I am not a prolific writer but Tapestry perhaps fits to a set of three that  begins with Theology of Wonder in 1999 and then as you mention A Life Together in 2010 and now Tapestry. The theologian Antoine Arjakowsky has described the Church as a network of friendships and this is a theme which runs through all my writing and is central in A Life Together. For its part, Tapestry approaches from many angles in its sections perhaps more the theme of the way of knowledge of God for the individual within the Christian community.

AD: You start off by referring to Fr. Alexander Schememann, whose love of poetry is well known, and who reflected in his celebrated Journals that there was more theology in the poetry of an E.E. Cummings than in many theology books as such. Is that your view also? How do you see the relationship between poetry and theology?

It seems that poetry can represent more the intuitive side of life and then there is a way of doing theology which is more careful , could we say, and analytic. But these surely can at least ideally fit together. A scholastic analysis with its back and forth of mind opens into ,the reader may suddenly realize, a sort of dance. The dense expression of Dun Scotus "haecceity" or "thisness," becomes the inscape of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

AD: I heard it said once—I forget by whom—that Christianity has produced two outstanding poets—Dante and Ephraim the Syrian. But you draw on others, including those not necessarily identified as Christian. How do you see those works and authors as part of God’s creation?

Now first of all there are more Christian writers, even in our own time, than is sometimes recognized. We are right to love Chesterton or the Inklings but there are so many others. And beyond these are there not those with gifts of wisdom and spiritual ardor such as Rainer Maria Rilke who did not also have the gift of a clearly defined theology?

AD: Your references and sources range very widely—Cardinal Newman, Clement of Alexandria, the Jungian analyst John Perkins, C.S. Lewis, Fr. Alexander Men, Wittgenstein, and others. Are there any common threads in this very diverse tapestry of characters?

Well I cite those who have inspired and interested me and whose themes resonate to me and which I share. All these whom you mention certainly have a shared quality of being alert and open in their thinking and also a godwardness, an orientation towards God as the end of their thought. You know Josef Pieper in his admirable book about St.Thomas Aquinas The Silence of St.Thomas says that new territory awaiting use by Christians is "of virtually immeasurable scope" including depth psychology, advances in physics and biology and the wisdom traditions of the East. Perhaps I have a little attempted to at least look into the new territories of our time and the time that is coming.

AD: Tell us what your hopes were and are for this book,
Tapestry. Who should read it, and why?

Tapestry is a collection of at first sight quite diverse materials ranging from the personal to the more formal in style and from the straight forward to the possibly somewhat poetic. But the life we have is also like that isn't it? A great diversity of feelings with the warm and the cold, the fast and busy and the slow and meditative, coexisting at once like levels of the sea as Thomas Merton said. The theme then, implicit at every point, is that this whole life in every moment is our knowledge of God. It is the medium through which and in which we encounter the Lord. It is life itself, in all its impermanence and change, which is or is seen to be what in the Eastern Church is called Theosis, or I would like to render it Becoming-as-Divine.

Does not realizing this bring Theosis into focus a little more than when it is held out there as simply a future destiny? Similarly there is the via negativa, the way of negation of all images and there is the positive affirmative theology. But these are not first of all abstractions rather they are grounded in the rhythm of the blood and of life, exhaling and inhaling, the arterial and the veinous blood, the light and shadow of all our moments. Tapestry is a personal expression, which I think will resonate to readers, that in realizing the depth of this life we have, we may live in, or into, eternity's sunrise.

AD: Having finished
Tapestry, what are you at work on next?

Perhaps more than another book just now, I would wish to take to heart the words of Angelus Silesius which are for reader and for writer alike, "Go and yourself become the writing, yourself the essence."

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