Of Christ the Tiger


I am reading currently Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich’s new novel entitled Secondhand Time, the End of the Soviets. It is a fascinating account of the dissolution of the Soviet empire in which the author uses as her primary text interviews of of her friends and neighbors, government officials, political prisoners, intellectuals, really people from all walks of life in the former Soviet Union. A central reality emerges common to her protagonists, and that is that they all have a peculiar nostalgia for the way things used to be under Soviet rule. The people with whom she speaks long for the certainty they once had under a rigidly prescribed social, economic, and political structure, despite its insidious brutality and repression. How very strange. The new-found faux capitalism in Russia has shattered the former structure of Russian society. Poverty is now rampant except among the oligarch’s who have garnered the country’s wealth at the top of the socio-economic pyramid. The powerful Soviets have become the powerful capitalists, and the majority of the population is left to fend for themselves in a society that has no legitimate means for economic mobility. The system is closed still; it just has another name. What was once a great hope for reform in Russia under Gorbachev and Yeltsin at the demise of the Soviet system, has now become a nightmare. And many Russians, choosing to forget the gulags, now yearn for the bad ‘good ole days.’

What is it about certainty that so seduces us, even unto our undoing? There are certainly sociological and anthropological reasons for such a neurosis to be sure. As post Enlightenment people we have become inured to facts and figures; iron clad explanations…. quantity matters with a certain disdain towards quality. In our own society we value less the arts, the glowing expressions of the imagination, the artifacts of our humanity, and opt for the prosaic certainties of correctness and predictability. Mostly, as far as western Christianity goes, we want a certain theology as well, a creedal formula by which to live our lives; unchanging; in stone… We say that God has a plan, hoping all the while that our own precious, well wrought plans don’t contradict. When I was in business there was a popular saying about that, “those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” Illusion.

If I have learned anything over the years, I have learned this: There is nothing certain about the life of faith…. That’s not a very good marketing strategy I’m afraid. The life of faith bids us let go of our illusions of predictability and certainty for a life of freedom, because truth can only be apprehended in freedom, and love can only flourish in freedom. The life of faith opens us to the joy and wonder of the infinite possibilities of God… God who is still creating the world…. not planning, but improvising creation into being… improvisation moved by love and its implicit beauty…. That we improvise in our lives of faith, we are kept open to new revelation, new possibility; open to the process of transformation and renewal…. we are much closer to the mystery that draws us toward God…. and not without risk.

” In the juvescence of the year comes Christ the tiger; us he devours,” writes T.S. Eliot. In Christ, in the life of faith, our illusions of certainty, our obsession with a right and predictable order, our very false gods, are devoured…. a stunning Eucharistic inversion… a form of death really…  devoured so that we may come to life…. It is not death we fear so much as it is a life of freedom and infinite possibility that daunts us…. So pray for courage good people… pray for the courage to receive God’s gift of freedom…. risk following the uncertain mystery, and live.


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Kathryn Scheldt
April 5th, 2017

Brilliant. Thanks!

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