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Life in the Body
 

For fifty years now the Chapel of the Resurrection has towered over Valparaiso University. This striking presence in the center of our campus testifies boldly to the university’s faith and character. It is actually hard to walk anywhere here without going around—or at least past—the chapel.

And it is more than the physical center of the campus; it is also the heart of this university. We go there to worship together, of course, but we also gather in its vast nave with soaring windows and angled walls for convocations, concerts, and lectures, as well as for baptisms, weddings, and funerals. We all came together there one sad September night in 2001. We recently installed our new president there. Since its dedication in 1959, this building has sheltered and structured the common life of our community.

As part of this university’s commemoration of our chapel and the role it plays here, Prof. Gretchen Buggeln presented her lecture “The Shape of a New Era: Valparaiso’s Chapel of the Resurrection in Historical Context.” Buggeln shows us how the Chapel of the Resurrection is a product of a particular time and place. Its design reflects both the possibilities and limitations of mid-twentieth century American culture, but, even in its modern style, it evokes centuries of Christian theological and liturgical tradition.

Buggeln places the Chapel of the Resurrection in context. She shows us how the design was shaped by its age, and how it, in turn, shapes our community. Jean Bethke Elshtain’s “The Incarnational Vision of Marilynne Robinson” is also an essay about time and place. But instead of focusing on an enormous building, Elshtain’s reflection on a great American novel helps us recognize that it is in the midst of the smallest particulars of our lives—in the most ordinary pains and pleasures, frailties and follies of everyday, embodied existence—where the truly extraordinary beauty of the eternal God bursts into the world.

And in “Transforming Christian Theology,” Philip Clayton asks how Christians can understand their faith in the circumstances of the present day and age. We live in an age of doubt and questioning, in a world where we daily encounter people who don’t think or act like us. How can Christian theology be transformed so that it remains meaningful in such an age?

These three essays pose questions about how we come together as the body of Christ in whatever place we happen to be—how we build buildings, perform liturgies, sing songs, and write books, and how we love one another—all particular acts of flawed, limited, mortal creatures who long for the perfect, the transcendent, and the eternal.

I’m the type who doesn’t like change much, especially in church. I always like the older hymnal better and the traditional rites. But times change, and in every time and place we work out who we are, how we will worship, how we will spread the Gospel. This is all part of life in the body of Christ.

Lent is a time to simplify, a time for stripping our lives of externals, of the unnecessary. Or as Eileen Campbell-Reed writes, Lent is a time to let go. When we let go, we are freed to experience beauty and truth and love in new ways every day. We can know the presence of God in this world and feel the mark of the cross on our brow. In Lent, we prepare ourselves for Holy Week and Easter, when we will remember and celebrate both the death and resurrection of Christ, events that are part of history, of time and place. But in this history, Christ transcends history and points us beyond our time and place.

 

                                                —JPO

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