- Wording a Radiance: Parting Conversations on God and the Church
This moving book defies facile description, commingling pilgrimage narrative, eulogy, mystical experience, systematic theology, memento mori, poetry, prayer, and spiritual reflections on the meaning of a theology lived in the face of death. Its mode of composition—a series of parting conversations with Daniel W. Hardy (1930–2007) whose scholarly life work was nearing its end—intertwines with its message—a markedly expansive notion of Christ’s Church as a “socio-poiesis.” Wording a Radiance offers the fruit of a three-fold series of conversations between Hardy and his daughter Deborah Hardy Ford, his Jewish friend and partner in inter-religious dialogue, Peter Ochs, and his son-in-law and academic colleague David Ford. They all draw the reader into conversations that illumine the mind, even as they warm the soul. We all become privy to Hardy’s expanded notion of the Church in a remarkable glimpse of community conveyed on the page.
The title of the book alludes to Hardy’s repeated experiences during his 2007 pilgrimage to the Holy Land where he saw a “play of light . . . really going deep into people and transforming them from within: irradiating them” (26). At the headwaters of the Jordan River, where Hardy and his fellow pilgrims renewed their baptismal vows; on the road to Jericho; in Jerusalem at the entrance to the tunnel under the Western Wall; at the Monastery of the Divine Fire, at the foot of Mount Sinai—at each of these sites, Hardy experienced phenomena of light, which he interpreted as symbols of God’s powerful presence, beaming forth and penetrating the realities of places and people. The very stones of the Temple were “alive: radiant with light” (28), he recalls, revealing the Temple itself to be “the repository of God’s light” (28). An attractive force, he understood “this light” to be “something that’s capable of lifting you deeply from within,” possessing an inherent “openness” and vitality (29).
Although Hardy was diagnosed with an aggressive, ultimately fatal brain tumor, shortly after his return from the pilgrimage, neither he nor his interlocutors [End Page 299] suggest such experiences, mystical in themselves, can be reduced to symptoms of disease. Instead, these perceptions of light and the narrative of the steps of the pilgrimage are wed throughout the text toward the guiding insights of Hardy’s life as a father, Anglican priest, and academic theologian. Like the prologue to the fourth Gospel (John 1:1–18), where the eternal Word is named a shining light, this book is Johannine in its practice of a mystical theology that is at home in the human intimacy of family-life and friendship and aimed at the understanding of the Church as a sacrament of the God who has revealed himself to be Light (1 Jn. 1:5) and Love (1 Jn. 4:8).
Four parts structure the exposition. The first includes a “portrait” of Hardy by his daughter and his memoir of the 2007 pilgrimage, as told to Deborah Hardy Ford. The second part—a fruit of Peter Ochs’ almost daily telephone conversations with Hardy during the months before his death—provides a sketch of Hardy’s ecclesiology, using the sites of the personal pilgrimage (the Jordan, Jericho, Jerusalem, the tunnel under the West Wall) to unfold his vision of a pilgrim Church. The third part consists of David Ford’s commentary on Hardy’s ecclesiology as it emerged during these parting conversations: its sources, its distinctive vocabulary, its possible significance for the Church today as it engages in ecumenical and inter-religious dialogues and transforms through them. Finally, the fourth part records Deborah Hardy Ford’s notes and memories of her father’s “farewell discourses” and dying.
The book is illustrated throughout, so that the different physical stations on the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, as well as various other places in Hardy’s life-journey, can be seen and “visited” spiritually...