Gospel Medicine & When G-d is Silent

Barbara Brown Taylor, Cowley Publications, 1995; Barbara Brown Taylor, Cowley Publications, 1998

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Gospel Medicine is a collection of brief meditations on biblical texts, on 26 meditations that tough on a wide spectrum of biblical stories.  All warrant attention in Taylor’s inimitable fashion:  Jacobs wrestling bout (Genesis 32), the ascension of Jesus (Acts 1:9),  the Silence of G-d (Isaiah 58:6,7).

        I was particularly moved by ‘The First Breakfast’, where Jesus meets the seven of his disciples post-resurrection (John 21:2,3).  ‘We are much better at beginnings; we are not so good at endings (p 84).  Jesus is not serving supper this time—that was the last meal of their old life together.  This is the first meal of their new life together (p 87).  Evocative imagery!  ‘There is a voice that can turn all our dead ends into new beginnings.  ‘Come,’ that voice says, ‘and have breakfast’ (p 88).’

        When G-d is Silent looks at religious language, especially at the role of proclamation:  the sermon.  Religious language is communal property, shared language about G-d which includes biblical narratives, creeds, liturgies, theologies, popular piety and folklore (p x).  ‘The problem is how to call people to the table with the language at hand’ (p xi), a language not unambiguous.

        Her lecture stretches the biblical ‘progression’ of G-d’s retreat from verbal and visible/audible encounters (a process seen in the Old Testament), ‘the acts of G-d were over but in Jesus G-d was once again made both audible and visible.  Taylor points out that silence is sometimes stronger than hollow words (eg in facing death).  She has a wonderful section on the strength of shorter sermons (she treats the virtues of economy, courtesy and reverence in sermons, p 99).

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.