My interest is in biblical studies and an outward-focused spirituality. My main interest is not in theology.
I end up having to do theology anyway, because I can’t do biblical studies or spirituality without talking about God–theology. But academic theology is encumbered with parties, schools, and fads. There is liberal theology, neo-orthodox theology, liberation theology, empirical theology, feminist theology, and several varieties of evangelical and Catholic theology. I tire of all this easily.
One thing I get from biblical studies is that the Hebrew Bible was there first. So maybe even a committed Christian should start with Jewish theology.
With that thought, I begin a reading project with Michael Fishbane’s Sacred Attunement: A Jewish Theology.
Just to connect this up with another recent reading project, I am wondering if Fishbane may help me go further in the direction James Barr was going. James Barr argued that the Bible built on natural theology. Michael Fishbane says in his preface that “the path to theology undertaken here is grounded in the forms of experience found in the natural world.”
We should not be trapped, he says, in our ordinary perception of the world, though. Artistic creativity, for instance, looks at the natural world but finds ways to express heights and depths that go beyond ordinary perception. The material for theology includes the narratives of scripture. Jewish theology is a theology of interpretation or a hermeneutical theology. It tries to see transcendence shining through both the natural world and the Bible.
So he wants to go beyond both the ordinary perception of the world and the plain sense of scripture. He looks for diverse ways to interpret experience that
“foster diverse modes of attention to textual details, which in turn cultivate correlative forms of attention to the world and to divine reality. In this way a network of correlations is proposed between forms of reading texts, by attunement to their nuances and meanings, and forms of reading external reality, by attunement to its manifold details and their significance; and between (both) these various forms and modalities of divine perception, by cultivating types of theological consciousness and attunement.”
Whew! That is dense and jargony. Here is my try at saying this more plainly: You have to pay attention to a lot of different things both in the Bible and in the world. But if you do it right, you will find that there is a network or matrix of meanings that point you to God.
I looked into the word “attunement”, which is important in Fishbane’s title and the quote above. It has some musical and physical (bodily attunement for chiropractors) meanings. But we can apparently trace Fishbane’s use of it to the German poet Friedrich Holderlin and some lectures about him by Martin Heidegger (I am exerting some will-power to avoid going on another rant about Heidegger, but see here.)
The idea, I think, is that philosophy and poetry should not be utterly separated. Art has something to contribute to thinking. Thus philosophy and poetry, although not the same thing, are attuned.
The goal of looking at the world, then, is not to distill out some abstract formula, but to find something like an over-arching resonance. This goes back to the musical meaning of attunement as to bring into harmony. This reminds me of another Jewish author I have loved, Israel Knohl and his notion of the Bible as a divine symphony.
I am hoping that Fishbane’s prose will become a little less convoluted as we go along.