The following is a reflection from ESR student Abbey Pratt-Harrington on the 2013 ESR Willson Lectures:
“And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” Mark 15:38
Before I get started on any reflection on Peter Rollins, I must confess two things. First, while I’m sure I’d heard his name mentioned around the community I had no idea who he was before he came to ESR and I have not read any of his books. Second, that during the lectures I may have been fighting off a cold. This resulted in my not attending all the lectures and I’m sure I did not take in as much as some other people when I was there. So what you’re about to read comes from one thing that I did hear, comprehend and take away. I’m sorry if I missed some key points of his.
My mother always loved this line from Mark about the curtain being ripped apart. She saw it as God tearing away the barriers that were there between God and humans (who made those barriers she left open to interpretation). Rollins takes this same passage and looks into that room in the temple. What he finds is astonishing because there is nothing there, it is an empty room. God has fled and joined in with the gathered people and the scapegoats of the world. From there he goes into his main points of scapegoats, brokenness, and idols, which are all important points that need to be talked about. Yet, for some reason, I want to stay in that empty room in the temple.
(A drawing Rollins made during his lectures -
the heavy black line is meant to represent the temple curtain)
What does it mean that God is not in the temple? A temple that was built according to plans in the Torah. Does this mean that our churches are empty of God? If so, where is God? Out among the people perhaps; the outcasts and scapegoats of our day. If the room was already empty before the curtain was torn, if God was already out among the people, what does Jesus's death mean to so many Christians?
These can be terrifying questions, and I’m sure I could come up with many more. I see this observation as liberating however. It means we cannot capture God. We should not be looking for God in the big, grandiose places or where we have always assumed God resided. Those become idols and God is not present in idols. Instead S/He is out with us in all of our misery and brokenness. Not only that, but God always has been and always will be.
Abbey Pratt-Harrington is a member of Athens Friends Meeting, Lake Erie Yearly Meeting. She is a graduate of Wilmington College and is currently a residential student in Earlham School of Religion’s Master of Divinity program.