What I appreciate most about Oliver O’Donovan’s Self, World, and Time (which I have mentioned here and here) is its assertion that the way we live life matters. This, I imagine, sounds like a no-brainer to most. Ours is a culture obsessed with living particular ways of life. It is perhaps the other end of the telescope for identity politics: this is not just who I am, this is also how I understand an authentic life to be lived. We may not necessarily have a smorgasbord to choose from, but we do have a confusing collection of ways to navigate. O’Donovan asserts:
Alas, it is the doom of modernity to be bound up in an over-simple knowingness about itself! Our own age is the hardest of all ages to understand.
If he’s right, then our reflections on the way we live life matters deeply. Our understanding of the world we wake-up to matters deeply. O’Donovan adds:
I find myself poised between the saving and losing of my soul. The summons to wakefulness confronts me with the menacing possibility of failure to realize myself: “Awake! Keep hold of your clothes!”
The “clothes” exclamation is, of course, connected to the New Testament pictures of preparedness in light of the coming of Jesus and God’s kingdom. It is clear, though, that O’Donovan understands the stakes well: that practical reason, the way we understand and make our way through the world, truly matters. And with his “inductive” intent throughout Self, World, and Time, he paints broadly and yet with the eye of a realist.
Without a key to the world’s meanings we shall never be able to sift through the complex of information we receive about, and through, the world, and bring it to some kind of order . . . Practical reason looks for a word, a word that makes attention to the world intelligible, a word that will maintain the coherence and intelligence of the world as it finds its way through it, a word from God.
Such a word from God, I believe, is possible. What I find most interesting about O’Donovan’s approach is that it speaks so easily of “Christian Ethics” (or ethics in general), that one forgets that he isn’t simply talking about the Christian life. And while many of us would not say the two are synonymous, there is a sense that there is a deep interchangeability between the two.
And so, O’Donovan claims, we “wake up” to find a self, a world, and a time, all unique and yet all part of a larger picture, a broader tapestry, that require no small amount of reflection that can lead to positive action. The call of Christ, from beginning to end, demands it.
(image from locksmithracine.co)