Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Lord: Chapter 39, “Moses and Elias”

Dear friend,

In his great book on Jesus, Romano Guardini leaves few stones unturned. In chapter 37, he looked at the Transfiguration, described in the three synoptic Gospels and alluded to in the letters of Peter and John. In chapter 39, he doubles back to something curious about the Transfiguration: Why were Moses and Elias (Elijah) “selected” to stand with Jesus before the amazed eyes of Peter, John, and James? One, Moses, was the great lawgiver of the Old Testament. The other, Elias, was the prophet who left no book behind, the prophet who did not die. Why not Abraham? Why not Isaiah?

Let me pause over a side issue: Guardini’s use of the term selected: “There seems to be a special reason why precisely these two figures of Old Testament history are selected.”

Consider this question, my old friend: Who selected Moses and Elias to stand beside Jesus on a mountainside, probably Mt. Tabor, en route to Jerusalem? (Or did they just show up—a couple of free spirits—to lend support to the big guy from Nazareth?) It suggests to me the far bigger question of how the universe works and how the events in Scripture came about. Or came to be written.

To me the Transfiguration and its description leave me facing two diametrical positions. Either this crowning event of Jesus’s earthly life is some sort of joint artistic creation, a conspiracy of three Evangelists in which three key Apostles are complicit. Or there is a supernatural artist orchestrating such scenes. We are getting at what Catholics think of as “salvation history,” that the whole narrative of Old and New Testaments was written—is still being written—not by human dreamers but by God Himself, Who leaves ample room for human improvisation (freedom).

So, Moses and Elias. Very strangely, I admit, these two figures remind me of two others from our boarding school days: our school minister, whom we called The Rev, and English teacher B. Rodney Marriott, whom those of us in Dramat and others who admired him deeply called simply Marriott. Arguably, they were the Moses and Elias, the lawgiver and prophet, of senior year at Exeter.

Most people, looking back at their lives, can probably come up with such lawgiver-prophet-mentor figures like The Rev and Marriott, who accompanied them on their own roads to Jerusalem. You were much closer to The Rev than I so you should speak for him. He preached in Phillips Church, laying down the law, and you wrote a series of letters to him that were published in a book. For me, Marriott was the man. He codirected the first Dramat production in which I had a small part (Marcellus in Hamlet); he led improvisation exercises that irrigated my love for theatre; and he taught a powerful course, English 4M, on mythology, using Joseph Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces as his core text. He led a student expedition to Africa in the summer of 1969, which I did not go on. In the picture above, Marriott is the young-looking bearded redhead in the lower right corner. He was thirteen years older than us, so 31 in 1969.

As you know, he left Exeter for the New York theatre scene, where he was a figure of note at the Circle Rep. Then, sadly, he died too young in 1990, of “septic shock,” the papers said, of AIDS, some of us suspected.

Marriott inspired me in ways too numerous to mention. He will play a key role in the Exeter section in the memoir I am writing. But for now, let me return to the question at the top of this post: Who selected Marriott to stand beside me? Who selected The Rev as a mentor for you? Were they there by random chance? Or is Someone writing our own salvation history as well?

This strange early-morning post must be the result of too little sleep or too much coffee. You knew this series of 88—count ’em—posts on Guardini would be uneven, and so, QED.

But for all that, I remain—
Your devoted friend,
WB

This series of posts on The Lord by Romano Guardini continues here with chapter 40.

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