And so I went busking this Sunday at St George. The weather forecast was for heavy rain, but mercifully, it was only very windy. I did not busk a penny, and as I was standing in front of St George reading St Paul, I decided that I shall go on busking, once a week, until I begin to receive at least a living wage for what I have been doing for the past thirty five years, ever since I came to Oxford in 1980 at the invitation of the Master of Balliol College at Oxford University.
I enjoyed the Service. The Second Reading was from The Letter of Paul to the Colossians 3:12-17: ‘As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved …’ I wondered, did anyone in the congregation consider themselves chosen, holy, and beloved? I followed the text in Novum Testamentum Graece. When Paul wrote to the Colossians as eklektoi (‘chosen’) tou theou (God’s) hagioi (holy) kai êgapêmenoi (and beloved) he did believe the members of the Christian communities to be God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved.
The Vicar started her Sermon by depicting the life of the early Christian communities and the important role they played in the society of their time; similarly, the St George congregation must endeavour to find its place and fulfil its role in the world of today. It was a powerful Sermon.
I have always been attracted to Christianity – as a stranger. In my late teens I was full of Tolstoy, and Tolstoy himself was full of Christianity – as a stranger. When I decided to refuse military service, I copied a copy of the English translation of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. I hoped I could derive spiritual strength from it during my imprisonment. But the police confiscated it.
During my imprisonment I was in a prison camp with some 60 catholic priests. Prisoners in that camp worked as miners in a coal mine. The prison doctor did not allow me to go to the coalmine because of my poor eyesight, and so I waited in that camp for six weeks, for the next escort. Those six weeks were some of the most memorable and most happy weeks in my life. The prison camp was in the middle of beautiful hills, we lived in nice houses, which were built for civilian miners, which were never recruited. And most importantly, one of the priests, Václav Divíšek, took me under his care. I was a vegetarian (inspired by Tolstoy and Gandhi) and Václav enriched my diet by whatever he could buy for me in the canteen. And he gave me a textbook of German, and I read there my first German book, a tiny booklet, The Secret of the Holy Mass by Romano Guardini. (The priests had smuggled many books into the prison camp; at the coal-face there were no prison guards with them, just sympathetic civilian coal miners.) We had long talks during Divíšek’s free hours, walking around and around the courtyard. Our relationship was bitter-sweet; I learnt to admire the spiritual strength the priests derived from their Catholicism, but I could not make it my own, although I was baptized a Catholic. It pained me, my being just a sympathetic outsider; it would have been glorious to attend their secret Masses in the camp, the Holy Communion with wine smuggled in …
After reading 1 Corinthians 12-15, I found the Service fascinating. The words ‘For your sake he was crucified, suffered death and was buried. On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures’ reminded me of 1 Cor. 15, 3-4, 12-17, 19, 32 : ‘I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures … Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile … If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied … If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’
I can derive great strength from Paul’s words and activities – as a stranger to Christianity; for I can see him and embrace him as a source of much that is good and strong in our present day civilization. There would be no Christianity without Paul’s bringing the Good News to the Gentiles. He was the truly ecumenical man among the apostles. But how can a present day Christian, fed on the popularized neurophysiology, according to which all we are is just brain, put up with Paul? If one reads Paul in the original, his words can’t but sink deep down into one’s subconscious and into one’s consciousness.
Imagine what the brain must do: the visual cortex must be active, the motor centre must be engaged, bringing into play all the muscles involved in speaking, the auditory cortex must be active, to give you the necessary feedback, the short and long time memory must be involved … But in the brain it’s all just action potentials and chemical processes. All those brain activities must be transformed by the sub-conscious into what passes through one’s consciousness when one reads the text aloud. What a job one’s sub-consciousness and one’s consciousness must perform to make all this work!
As I have pointed out in ‘Self-knowledge as an imperative’ on my website and in the related posts on my blog, brain being corporeal, our sub-consciousness and our consciousness must be non-corporeal.