We are now about five months into writing An Owl Among Ruins. It would be understandable that our few readers don’t find much logical consistency in the thing so far. We may have created more frustration than clarity. That’s not good for one who is still trying, at 73, to get control his mother tongue. He knows all the best advisors on the subject say Keep It Simple; no extravagant turns of phrase, no complex compound sentences—you learned it in grade school. I’m slow. By now it’s fair to ask, What Is the Owl Trying to Say? Put it down in as few words and as plainly as possible.
OK, here goes. It will help to start with the key terms. Luckily they are few, but unluckily, from the first they don’t mean what people think they mean. Here they are: Faith, Covenant, Love, Freedom, Obedience. These are things already alive in human hearts, maybe in all human hearts. Let’s take them one at a time, then see how they fit into a whole.
Faith is usually taken to mean a human accomplishment, either potential, developing in the heart, or full blown and ready for action. It is more accurate to say Faith is first God’s faith toward us, his creatures, whom he has chosen to be different from himself. Before that, he elected to have a Son, a Person other than himself, and a Spirit of Love flows between them. Through the Son he chose to create us, his creatures, and another thing, the cosmos in which for us to live, also exchanging love; love between himself and us, and love among ourselves. All this choosing went on before there was such a thing as time. If only one thing is clear so far, let it be this: the initiative belongs to God. Our lives as his creatures come from that source, which lies behind all of the creative forces we can observe. Faith—God’s faith, which we find in ourselves—is the most fundamental fact of human existence.
The Covenant between God and his creatures is actually a succession of covenants; we might call them agreements, or treaties, or promises. The key point here again is God’s initiative. God makes promises to Noah, that there shall never be a flood that covers and destroys all life on earth; to Abraham, that he will be the progenitor of a numerous people; to Moses and the Hebrew people at Sinai, that he will be their God and they will be his people through thick and thin; to his people Israel, that it will prosper as long as they obey his laws and avoid the idolatries that surround them; last to the New Israel, the church, established by the Holy Spirit after the death and resurrection of his Son, who became a man and lived and died as a man, seen, heard, and touched by other men.
The Bible is the record of human efforts to cope with this God. He never gave them a choice about making a covenant. The most important feature of the Ten Commandments is the first line, which is not a law at all, but a divine roar: I am your God. Everything after that is commentary, a footnote. The most fundamental fact of human existence, of life in covenant with God, is Love. The Creation is the material basis for the covenant. There is no reason for it to exist except as the crucible of Love between God and his creatures. The Covenant is the spiritual basis of Creation, its whole reason for being. In the absence of Love between God and his creatures—all of them, not just Israel old or New—it would not matter in the least what we do or don’t do. The love between God and Israel has its ups and downs, sometimes terrifying but never lost sight of. Eventually Israel returns from Babylonian exile to its homeland, and is living there under Roman imperial rule when Jesus come on the scene.
The first thing Jesus has to say is this: “The Kingdom of God is at hand.” That declaration is as powerful the one at Sinai, “I am your God and you are my people.” It reiterates what we said twice above: the initiative, the kingly power belongs to God. Jesus goes on to demonstrate by his words and actions what kind of human life corresponds to that knowledge. That is, living for others. Notice his first words are not “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That had already been said many centuries before, in the book of Deuteronomy. But Jesus’ life was a life lived for others, healing, feeding, and proclaiming God’s kingship over all. The world knows how it played out.
Freedom in this context means the freedom to live for others, knowing full well that one may lose this earthly life, as Jesus did, ignominiously —but knowing also that we have dual citizenship; we have another true life, hidden from us now, but secure in God with Jesus Christ. The technical word for that dual citizenship and the knowledge of it is eschatological consciousness. It surpasses all the other kinds of “consciousness raising” about which people are so zealous, for the Self is no true self outside this truth: we are first citizens under God’s reign. Understanding where our true life is, and that it cannot be lost, we are free to do anything this earthly life calls on us to do, up to and including laying down this life for others’ sake.
Obedience is another response to God’s initiative. Having received the gift of faith from God (reminder: not a decision, not a leap into the dark, not a human accomplishment—from God), the joy and the thankfulness one has for it burns toward an outlet. Then God in his freedom answers the individual with a vocation; a task to perform, probably completely individual. The meaning of obedience is not conforming to social or sexual or any other kind of moral principles; it means hearing the uniquely individual call, the vocation, however surprising, and carrying out the task. Not everybody likes what they are given to do. Think of Saul on the road to Damascus, thrown down and blinded, stripped of his identity, given a different name. Think of Moses making excuses at the burning bush before he goes to Pharaoh.
Conclusionn: Waiting on God
Faith, Covenant, Love, Freedom, Obedience. These are the main points of the Owl’s message. The Owl denies there is any doctrinaire or hegemonic content to them. The Owl has no stake in whether a reader takes to them or not. In the Resurrection everything that needs to be done has been done. Now it is for us to live and let live, and take care of each other the best we can while we wait on God’s good pleasure going forward.