Paschal Fearlessness

Reviewed by Daniel W. McClain

The Rt. Rev. Gregory Kenneth Cameron, Bishop of St. Asaph, Wales, has published the second installment in a series of Scripture reflections based on pivotal seasons in the Church year. An Advent Book of Days (Paraclete Press, 2021) provided 25 reflections, one for each day of December leading up to Christmas Day, designed to draw readers’ imagination from the concrete details of Scripture to the concrete details of our spiritual practices.

Now An Easter Book of Days takes the hermeneutical and ascetical project of the Advent book into the Paschal milieu. Rather than craft a 46-day Lenten book, however, Cameron has opted for a less wieldy, and less strict, series of 25 reflections that “may be read at leisure in the period around Eastertide.”

This Easter Book, I found, is almost equally at home in the 40 (or 46) days of Lent as it is in the 50 days of Easter. Perhaps this is because Cameron does not shy away from the difficult subject matter of the Passion, as well as adjacent difficulties that arise in the Christian tradition, as he makes a deeper case for the healing work of the Resurrection and the role that Christ’s followers play in that healing.

Cameron writes each reflection in four parts: Bible, history, tradition, and faith. The first part sets out a particular figure, place, or event in the story of Jesus’ Passion, death, and Resurrection. The second part addresses the figure’s historical significance. The third part treats the figure’s role in the Christian tradition, whether ecclesiologically, artistically, or intellectually. And the fourth part speaks directly to the kinds of ascetical, ethical, spiritual, and mystical issues that the figure raises for our development as Christ’s disciples. Finally, each reflection ends in a brief prayer that recapitulates the four parts and addresses the whole to God’s guidance, intervention, and grace.

It’s a kind of lectio divina, a selection of a word or idea in Scripture that is then read, reread, meditated upon, and prayed with. In fact, Cameron uses this language to talk about his choice of modern icons: “each chapter opens with a visio divina to prompt and focus the reader’s attention.”Happily, Cameron often refers back to the image during the course of the reflection, a practice to which homilists might attend as a potential preaching tool.

Each of his selected images is captivating. I was drawn especially to the very first image, the Tree of Life, taken from the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome. Equally as fascinating is the discussion of Pilate’s wife, perhaps Claudia Procula, and the origins of the image Cameron chose to depict her and introduce the reflection on her dream, as recorded in Matthew 27.

“We sometimes forget,” Cameron says, pondering Claudia’s influence upon her husband, “that the story of Jesus is embedded in in real humanity, where the motives and thinking of individuals are rarely solitary, but influenced by their background, family, and friends. … Claudia Procula humanizes Pilate, and reminds us not to rush to judgment.”

Indeed, this is what I would call a kind of sacramental or iconographic method. Each reflection pulls the reader through a familiar scriptural image to a less familiar, or perhaps less obvious, realization and invitation. We encounter the invisible in the visible, the hidden and surprising grace shrouded in the figures and drama of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection.

My favorite comes at the end of Cameron’s reflection on Mary at the foot of the cross. “To be loved in times of pain and hurt is sometimes the only balm for the soul, and love binds us in mercy and compassion to the victim and sensitivity to the suffering. The witness of Mary is that human love is drawn into the divine, and that human love and divine love are inextricably linked.”

Reading Scripture sacramentally or iconographically has the benefit of training our hearts, minds, and appetites. Once we’re invited to read (or hear) Scripture like this on our own, we may begin to see how reality in general can also be read, or perceived, thus. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” as the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins writes.

It’s part of the spiritual task to see not only ourselves, but our neighbors, both near and distant, and the broader world in a renewed and fresh way, as creatures, beings possessing a divine fingerprint. Generously applied, Cameron’s lectio and visio divina approach helps us to see people, places, and things in this renewed way, which is consistent with an Easter hope that springs forth from the Resurrection.

Cameron’s book ends with an appeal, spelled out over several chapters, for the Resurrection not only as a doctrine about Christ and the eschaton, but as a principle of the Christian life now: “The Christian is always free to begin again by God’s grace and power.” The Resurrection should imbue us now, not later, with a fearlessness as we follow Christ.

This fearlessness is, as Cameron stresses through An Easter Book of Days, at the heart of Jesus’ treatment of women, and outsiders, the lessers and lowest of his society. So too, as we encounter those without love, or as we face difficulties in following our calls, the Resurrection offers a hope amid potential hopelessness.

The Rev. Daniel W. McClain is priest in charge of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Dayton, Ohio.


Online Archives