the penultimate WORD
Series 2005 -
The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
“Anglicans drink their religion straight. Nothing to distract from their misery.” :Sir Leigh Teabing. The Da Vinci Code, page 346.
My copy came home wrapped in a grocery bag. Seems a plain brown paper wrapper is more of an urban myth than a means of commerce. I felt uneasy opening the bag, verging on guilt. After months of walking by best sellers even I had succumbed and now even I possessed a copy of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.
Friends and acquaintances have spoken highly of the book, almost with a tone reserved for holy writ. I know of small book clubs that even study the piece with a discipline unknown by most bible study groups. This book that I held in my hands was taken seriously for what lay hidden between its covers. In the eyes of many this book had transcended its position as a novel. It had become a point of reference.
Settled into my reading chair, with a mug of strong coffee within reach, I cracked the book and began to read. The unfolding of a conspiratorial mystery grabs our attention and the pages turned quickly and often.
The story hung sufficiently on a skeleton of reality that the sinews and tissue of fiction found in the development of the plot took on a life that led me on a feverish race of investigation and discovery. Had the premise of the story been espionage I would not have been so affected. But this was no formula mystery predicated on the evasive question of “Who done it?” This story dealt with the intrigue of faith and applied the conspiratorial turn of the screw to issues we seldom speak but more often harbour… our suspicions, doubts and fears. When these are vested in the liturgical robes of ghosts haunting ancient sanctuaries belief is suspended and the novel takes on a new life.
This was going to take more than one pot of coffee.
Brown demonstrates the need for serious adult study of the faith. Not simply to discredit the plot of the Priory of Sion and the Knights Templar and its suspicions of the Roman Catholic Curia, but to begin to address Jesus’ question to Simon Peter: “And you, who do you say I am?”
Truth expressed in fiction demands a critical assessment so that the reader may cleave the two. The homicide and intrigue, the wonderful myth of the Holy Grail, the cloak-and-dagger transactions amongst cardinals and the Episcopal office charged with Opus Dei and its goals and aspirations – these are enough to ignite the faggots of doubt and suspicion and burst another conspiracy into flames – reminiscent of earlier fears and darker days of the Church illumed with pyres consuming the objects of hatred.
But the kernel of truth that spoke to me was the throw-away comment by Sir Leigh Teabing to Robert Langdon in the crypt of London’s ancient Temple Church: “Anglicans drink their religion straight. Nothing to distract from their misery.”
Here was no fiction, no research, and no conspiratorial suspicion. Here was an observation that Dan Brown puts on the lips of Sir Leigh – an observation that added nothing to the plot, an observation that expanded the scope of the Church and made it ecumenical.
I needed another mug of coffee. And some time to reflect.
In this season of Pentecost we are charged to bear witness for Jesus – crucified and risen – beginning where we are and in ever widening circles of diminishing influence. As the Body of Christ we are charged to bear witness of that into which we have been baptized – Jesus’ death on the cross and his Easter event. Our baptism somehow presents and prefigures this reality for us.
Yet it is our misery that we often proclaim and in which we are more content to exult.
Recently I was at a gathering at which time I observed that we are the Body of Christ, as St. Paul reminded his disciples and often. We need to take this seriously and while it is a difficult concept for us to embrace in a self-centered age, it is foundational to our being.
“Jim, get real,” was the dismissive response to my comment by one who added, “We have our divisions!”
Now I have to tell you I have never been told to get real in my life. And in this I find the admonition curious.
In this Pentecost season we find our unity and in this unity we proclaim a faith without conspiracy, totally lacking in fear and suspicion. Yes, divisions exist but in them we find no cause for exultation. In spite of them we find our foundational unity in the cross and empty tomb of Jesus. Our divisions are left outside our assembly and they keep company with misery and uncertainty.
In this season that will lead us throughout the summer months and into the autumn – Ordinary Time – better we say, “Bill, get real – we have our unity in Jesus who has died, who is raised, who will come again!” Better we say, “Susan, get real, we are the Body of Christ!” “John, our divisions are offered on the altar of Jesus’ brokenness – and we are one in him!”
Too many see us as exulting in our misery. And for that they see only a fictional Jesus with whom they may have their way. As for me, my observation remains unchanged for the reprimand.
Get real – we are the Body!
Copyright © 2005 James T. Irvine
Stephen Crittenden: The Religion Report, 26 April 2006
Australian Broadcasting Corporation