By the Power of Her Word: Absence, Memory, and Speech in the Song of Songs and a Hindu Mystical Text

In: Exchange
Francis X. Clooney sj Harvard Divinity School

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Religious pluralism today surely poses an ongoing theological challenge, requiring us to think through the significance of the many religions of the world for Christians. But facing the challenge is more urgently the work of the imagination. Even the best theological solutions fall short if they block or ignore the deeper, required work of interreligious learning that occurs in the careful study of the poetry, dramas, and other literary productions of the various traditions. Using as a guide Hans Urs von Balthasar’s great trilogy — aesthetics, dramatics, and theologic — this essay is an exercise in reading together the Biblical Song of Songs along with the medieval Hindu Holy Word of Mouth (Tiruvaymoli) with special attention of the scenes of absence, wherein the human lover waits for the divine beloved to return. From both we learn that in waiting, there is anguish, but in anguish arise powerful memories about, and speech evocative of, the beloved. Each text is read also with attention to medieval religious interpretations. Practicing this dynamic across religious boundaries is an imaginative interreligious exercise that first causes a crisis for theology — where is the beloved? who are those other lovers and beloveds? what to do with the flood of new images and scenes? — yet then a new source for a Christian theology that redeems and deepens Christian particularity after and through, not despite, interreligious learning.

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