Saturday, 22 November 2008

William Stringfellow: theology at the circus

Some time ago, a reader here at F&T recommended the work of William Stringfellow – a writer I had never really come across till then. And when Kim Fabricius came to visit recently, he told me that he had also started reading Stringfellow. So this week I finally started reading him too, beginning with the excellent Eerdmans anthology. This is astonishing stuff – Stringfellow’s analysis of the principalities is especially good. I’m also intrigued by his love for the circus (he and his partner Anthony Towne once spent the summer traveling with a circus!). Here’s an excerpt of Stringfellow’s theological reflection on the circus:

“The circus is among the few coherent images of the eschatological realm to which people still have ready access and ... the circus thereby affords some elementary insights into the idea of society as a consummate event. This principality, this art, this veritable liturgy, this common enterprise of multifarious creatures called the circus enacts a hope, in an immediate and historic sense, and simultaneously embodies an ecumenical foresight of radical and wondrous splendour, encompassing, as it does both empirically and symbolically, the scope and diversity of creation. I suppose some ... may deem the association of the circus and the Kingdom scandalous or facetious or bizarre, and scoff quickly at the thought that the circus is relevant to the ethics of society.... To [these people] I only respond that the connection seems to me to be at once suggested when one recalls that biblical people, like circus folk, live typically as sojourners, interrupting time, with few possessions, and in tents, in this world. The church would likely be more faithful if the church were similarly nomadic.”

—William Stringfellow, A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings of William Stringfellow (Eerdmans, 1994), p. 53.


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