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5.0 out of 5 stars Turning through night to light, 20 Jan 2014
Ian Mcpherson (Dundee, Scotland, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: A Phenomenology of Christian Life: Glory and Night (Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion) (Hardcover)
A Phenomenology of Christian Life: Glory and Night

Names can be important, as they hover or plunge between the commonplace and the far from commonplace. I am told by an expert acquaintance that the author's last name, Ó Murchadha, is pronounced quite differently from the manner in which it is spelled, namely as O Mur - a - chú. It means 'warrior of the sea' and is anglicized as Murphy.

The heart of Ó Murchadha's new book is concerned with the beyond of beyonds as involved deeply within the commonplace world to which we belong as we suppose it belongs to us. This means that Ó Murchadha explores as the heart of Christian faith how this differs differently from differences we may be trapped by, or may play with, in our commonplace world. or worlds. All too often, Christians have supposed that they or we could assimilate through faith the best of Platonism and Greek philosophy and yet ended up by being assimilated by this more or less living but questionable tradition. Those who aim to become Platonist Christians turn out to become Christian Platonists, benighted by their forgetting of how faith that lives in Christ differs differently.

Ó Murchadha here works in a space between Christianity and philosophy as phenomenology, aiming to be fair to both and engage with both in empathy. He describes his book as an experiment, in the sense that a work of art may be an experiment in developing beyond conventional versions of experience some insight into, or intimation of, a more glorious beyond.

This means that Ó Murchadha implicitly invites his readers to respond with versions of hopefulness, trust and generous empathy, not entirely alien from the phenomena he is exploring. Thus, across his distinctive logical space, he begins to enrich our appreciation of both phenomenology and Christianity. Respecting their differences, and allowing us full scope for questioning, doubting and suspension of judgment, Ó Murchadha suggests versions of philosophy as phenomenology and Christianity as authentic life that are surprisingly good friends. Better ways of distinguishing can bring things and people together in better ways. The phenomena of common and uncommon courtesy come to mind.

The phenomena of daylight and darkness, summer and winter, enlightenment and confusion, have their commonplace aspects. Amongst and beyond these, Biblical and especially Christological phenomena of glory and night can speak again and with surprisingly abundant power, for those given new powers, or even given old powers renewed, to open themselves up in the direction that Ó Murchadha indicates. Patient and persistent readers will find, in seeking, his phenomenological and theological accounts of desire and delight, of being and becoming, of the appearance of the beyond of beyonds, of faith and evil, of blessing and cursing, of worship and idolatry, of incarnation and sacramental presence, of deliverance and self-discipline, of precariousness and prayer, of creation renewed and rediscovered and consummated, of renewal and resurrection and ascendancy through and across the depths, and of the time of times for transformation after transformation, - all promising and more than promising overflowing riches.

What reservations do I have? Should we be anxious about the proximity of Martin Heidegger in this book? On reflection, no, because Ó Murchadha has long been engaged in a deep and charitable rethinking of Heidegger's enigmatic contributions, as shown by Ó Murchadha's previous books. Should we be concerned that relatively little is said here explicitly about the Christian Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures? No, because Ó Murchadha is clear that he can't do everything in this one book, and much is already here between the lines, as well as in his occasional comments. Given his ecumenical hospitality towards Christian theology, I was slightly disconcerted that he did not write a little more about the development of Karl Barth's thinking, given various misunderstandings and uncertainties to do with what the younger Barth might have understood by the slogan of God as `totally other'. This however, seems to be a very minor limitation.

Where I struggled most in my reading and rereading of this book is to do with something that may be obvious to some other readers on their first reading. I already recognised that glory (sun-like) can be dangerous and blinding for prisoners or victims of the night. However, I did not quickly enough recall the implications of the Biblical warnings, especially in the New Testament, that if we claim to have seen, or suppose we can see, the light of divine glory even in Christ, and culpably fail in our love for the least of his and our sisters and brothers and other neighbours in being, then we are in effect lying, speaking nonsense and confusion, vain words akin to brute and destructive darkness.

Conversely, this means that only as we turn from facing the glory of divine and human love, to re-enter the darkness in which others suffer, so as to become their companions, may we hope for the glory to return as light and overtake us together. It is face to face in our darkness that we may hope for the coming of the light. Otherwise we should not be surprised when the inescapable and inexhaustible glory may seem to withdraw or be eclipsed in the absence that is really our would-be absence from the solidarity of love, divine and human.

Do such thoughts still count as phenomenology? Having read and reread Ó Murchadha, I am sure that they should and do. Lose no time in spending time with his feast of a book, a feast for those who really hunger and thirst. This is one book that genuinely represents, even embodies, the transformative time of all times.
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