“In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God and was God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” So says the opening of John’s gospel. The logos, the word. Post-modern thinkers are all in a stir about it–seem to think it’s caused most of the trouble in Western civilization ever since Plato. But what if we don’t think of logos as a deep principle of ‘wordness,’ of God as ultimate assertion, or original possibility of thrusting out meaning, all phallic and pointy and absolute. What if instead, as a friend once suggested, we think about particular sayings–logia–that define a religion? These are material, they’re bits of markings and sounds that come to carry a people’s identity, because the people have learned to love them. Someone can wear one of them on the body, as in a phylactery. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” These make a Jew. Or “The kingly reign of God is within you” as a tiny mustard seed in the ground will grow into a great shrub–someone may wear a mustard seed on her chest. The logia about the ‘kingdom’ make a Christian.
Jesus the Jew also reaffirmed those two sayings of Judaism–they sum up the whole law, he said. The law had been spoken for a tribe of related clans, whose ruling males controlled their land and goods. It was even addressed to those men: you shall do such and such with your bondservant, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, etc. Now, Jesus would teach logia for an underclass–villagers, farmers, and some of their wealthy (mainly women) sympathizers–an underclass doubly ruled, by Roman occupation and by the ruling class fractions of Hellenized Jews, namely the Saducees and Pharisees. How to love God and neighbor with scant resources, keep one’s dignity, and get away with it? The Beatitudes were not just one logion but several logia for taking moral control, trying to live justly and to receive justice when you had no political power. “Blessed are the meek who know they don’t own the earth–it is theirs by touch.” “Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called the children of God.” “If someone takes your coat offer your cloak too.” “Blessed are they that mourn, they will comfort each other.” Whoever lived these would have the reign of God inside them, and among those around them–despite being under occupation.
How have such logia come down to us moderns, across uncounted borders of eras and cultures? I see them like streaks on a screen, like the traces of energy particles. But instead of going forward in time from some null point in the past, they streak, in a series, from a forward moment backward. Someone, out of desire, out of hunger for meaning, reaches back into a tradition, and in the electric charge of that reaching, one of the found logia comes alive, through being somehow revised, remade, refreshed–ego reficiam vos: I will refresh you/ remake you, says the Vulgate rendering of a gospel text. It invites the weary and heavy laden to come. A tired Roman aristocrat reaches back for simplicity, and founds a monastic order. A missionary urging peace between warring tribes reaches back to the Beatitudes and manages to get a treaty. Martin Luther King reaches back to those teachings and leads a revolution against racism. Layer on layer of the remade logia stretch back, time in them becoming a history of plenitude and manifestation–if someone tells it.
Gordon Kaufmann’s definition of God in a talk I heard was: “a serendipitous creativity, initiating radically unpredictable trajectories into novelty”–for example, the unforeseeable phase change on earth from inorganic to organic molecules, to the whole arena of the organism, remaking the planet’s chemistry. Yes. But despite being unforeseeable, the trajectories may not be pushed forward from some early point; they may instead be drawn from out of the future by urge and surge and possibility–layers of motion stretching one by one out to further layers ahead, that they ‘already’ touch on.