Friday, 1 July 2011

Radiance; a book review

Dan W. Hardy's last book (co-authored and published posthumously by his daughter, Deborah Hardy Ford, the Jewish philosopher, Peter Ochs and his son-in-law, the Regius professor of Divinity at Cambridge University, David Ford) is well worth consideration. Wording A Radiance; Parting Conversations on God and the Church, SCM Press 2010, is remarkable because it records the conversations of a dying theologian with a psychotherapist, a Jewish philosopher and a Christian theologian. The conversations grew out of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the book sets out some of Dan's last thoughts on God and on ecclesiology. It is not an easy read. As anyone who knew Dan will realise, he had a way of inventing new theological terms which he then explored from every possible angle and used to throw light on concepts which brought together theology with other disciplines. 

In this book, he speaks a lot about 'abduction', a term he takes from his beloved Samuel Taylor Coleridge to refer to our capacity to be drawn by light and to see more than our perception without this light would allow. This process is associated by Coleridge, always, with God. It produces something akin to Hooker's 'divinely infused rationality' though Coleridge applies the term to moral, affective and somatic aspects of human life as well as to rational and cognitive ones.

Dan, in his pilgrimage to the Holy Land and in his mind (he had a brain tumour), is seeing light and seeing with eyes that lead him away from self engagement to attention to God and others. This leads him to reflect on both the church and the way in which society comes together. He talks about 'measurement' - a way of speaking about human attraction towards God (or lack of it), seeing Jesus' physical presence in Palestine, the scriptures and the eucharist as means of measuring the power of abduction in the world. This is heavy stuff, not easy to grasp per se, but additionally difficult because there is a real sense that Dan was running out of time to say  all that he desired. The insights come thick and fast and are densely packed. The book (partly written by Dan and partly by his three co-authors) brings together personal narrative, a mature and distinct approach to theology and a mystical sense of the relationship between life and death, or at least of the sensibility of someone who is caught between the two.

Transcendence, Ripon Cathedral
The Eucharist; a means of attraction Godwards

To those of us who learned some of our systematic theology at Dan's lectures on ecclesiology, all this will come as no surprise.  The book is very recognisably Dan at work, in full flow, asking, 'What is is that grows a good, whole human being and a good society?' and finding the answer in his own abuction Godwards.

No comments:

Post a Comment