Helder Camara lecture: Wisdom-Sophia in the life and prayer of Thomas Merton

Friday 6 July 2018

Media and Communications Office 
Last night at Newman College Renowned Thomas Merton scholar and Professor of Ignatian Studies, Dr Chris Pramuk delivered the Helder Camara lecture for 2018. The topic of Dr Pramuk’s lecture was ‘Wisdom-Sophia in the life and prayer of Thomas Merton’.

Dr Pramuk spoke about the works of the famous Trappist monk. He quoted one of Merton’s most cited passages describing an extraordinary moment that occurred on a busy street corner in March 1958:

In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the centre of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realisation that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers. It was like waking from a dream of separateness, of spurious self-isolation in a special world, the world of renunciation and supposed holiness ... This sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud, ’Thank God, thank God that I am like other [human beings], that I am only a man among others.’
Dr Pramuk cited this as a pivotal moment in Merton’s faith journey and an example of how the Church’s engagement with the world should be.

Dr Pramuk also explored the importance of the theme of Wisdom-Sophia, which is so prominent in the biblical tradition and also in the writings of Russian Orthodox theologians.

‘And I think the answer has to do with hope, that is to say, faith’s affirmation of divine and human possibilities even, if not especially, in those places and moments of our lives that seem by all rational accounts God-forsaken, devoid of hope, void of life, of goodness, of humanity,’ he said.
‘When Jesus prefaced his teachings with the words, Let those with eyes to see, see, and those with ears to hear, hear, scholars tell us he is speaking as a teacher of Jewish wisdom, appealing not just to the head but to the heart and imagination, the body and the senses, the whole person of the listener.’

Dr Pramuk ended the lecture with a discussion of the pronouns we use when discussing God. He suggested that it wasn’t just a simple matter of switching pronouns. He recommended that, as we explore the Trinitarian mystery of God, it is helpful for us to multiply metaphors, such as Mother, Sister, Spirit, and Shekhinah, to reflect our maternal and feminine experiences of grace and the flexibility of the Bible itself.
‘We are always on a journey to explore the mystery of our faith in a God who continues to speak to us,’ said Dr Pramuk.

These contemporary issues at the intersection of spirituality and theology left room for the audience to ask difficult questions and have important conversations.

Click here for the lecture transcript.
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