Hallo again to all.
Last Friday, a dear friend of ours — and of many — Deborah
Griffin Bly died, too young, too soon. She was an
extraordinary musician, a gifted singer, a brilliant voice teacher,
and one-half of the almost legendary Miserable Offenders,
with Ana Hernandez being the other. They capped their short
musical life together by being asked to sing at the 1998 Lambeth
Conference, their last concert. After 14 years of not singing
together, they had planned to reunite next year. Alas.
As well as a great voice, Deb possessed
one of the most supple minds we've ever known, which delighted
in vast reading and deep erudition equally with Dennis Potter
and Monty Python. Deb could be unbearably funny in her writing
and singular in her use of diacritical marks to emphasize her
meaning. On one memorable occasion a lengthy email — with punctuation
peppered through it like scat singing by Ella Fitzgerald — actually
ground a server to a halt. Although Deb experienced much
pain in her life and dealt with crippling illnesses of various
kinds, her indomitable spirit never gave up. She combined in
some magical way the imagination of an Anne of the Green Gables,
the world-weariness of a Marlene Dietrich, and all the best of
what it means to be Anglican. She lived much in her 58 years,
but would to God she had lived longer.
If you don't know the music of the Miserable Offenders, do hear
online their Advent
CD called Keepin' the
Baby Awake. (If you think you know Advent and Christmas
music, just wait.) Their second
and last CD, 'God Help Us', also
online, is breathtaking. In that music,
you'll catch something of just who Deborah was.
you do nothing else, listen to the spellbinding arrangement
of 'Breathe on Me, Breath of God', for it will take
your breath away. Ana has made the full track available at no
cost. Deb is the soprano; Ana the alto.
Deb was also a gifted lay theologian, a side of her not nearly
as well known. Her musings on what it means to 'sin against
the Holy Ghost' are arresting and, to our mind, right. We're
honoured to share them with you.
All my life, simply due to happy accident, I have been surrounded
by people who acted as if God and matters of God were the
most important thing in the world to them. When I was still
a little girl, I remember long fervent conversations with
other neighborhood kids concerning God and Christ and Church.
One of the (Roman) Catholic kids liked trying to trip me
up with difficult questions. He taunted me once: 'Hey
you, you Protestant you — What's the Unforgivable Sin, huh?
Betcha don't know!' Before
I could even think or manufacture an answer, he screamed
in triumph, 'It's
cursing the Holy Spirit. There! Ha!'
The Unforgivable Sin, known to many as acedia or accidie.
[acedia: from the Greek [a- + kedos] akedeia anti-care grief
hate apathy boredom accidie: 13th C spelling ...] Theologians
and other folks have argued and written quite a bit about
this one, u-bet-u. If I were truly as lazy as I think I am
I'd just regurgitate or paste in a bunch of citations from
real-live books here right now, but that, to me, is the coward's
way out. If I really believe something, I should be able
to put it in my own words. So here goes.
This sin against the Holy Spirit for which we will be swept
away at the last, unredeemed, isn't shouting 'Holy Spirit,
You Big Poop!' 'Poop on you, Holy Spirit' or
more purple variants of same. Not in my opinion. No, to me
(and others, I fondly hope!) this unforgivable
sin is better expressed as the repudiation of possibility,
the denial or refusal of Joy, the rejection of Hope. To deny
To my aging mind, blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is similar
to what we call Original Sin. We usurp the 'role' of God, the
rights — or purview — which are God's Alone. We sin in seeking
to claim for ourselves what is or can be only of God. We sin
irreparably when we believe ourselves to be equal to God or
to contain God in some way or to limit God to our own understandings,
the limits of our own creatureliness. We sin against the immensity
of God when we purport to fully understand God or act as if we
For example — and I am extremely stubborn about this, by the way
— I can't (or won't) use Bible translations that follow the habit
of referring to God by spelling out the name signified by YHWH.
I am far too Jewish in my heart to allow the Unpronounceable
Name, the Divine Name to be so falsely delineated. For my reading
and my belief recognizes the Semitic belief that naming establishes
dominion. God made us, and 'named' us. We cannot name God save
by the names or ways God has given us ... we can establish no
dominion over God.
For like original sin, this is hubris, that overweening
and self-worshipping pride we show when we, the creatures,
imagine ourselves as The Creator ... as if we could.
My heart and mind tell me that this is unforgivable, not in
that God could not or will not forgive us ... No, I
think it is more a case that we would not see or feel the
forgiveness even if given, for we would have no way of sensing
our need for it. Without hope, without humility, without
the space created for mystery or new word to inhabit there
is literally no room for the forgiveness to 'get in'. That
arching spaciousness necessary in our hearts is missing.
One cannot assuage a hunger without allowing for the possibility
that there is 'food'. And, that the truest food, the food
we crave, is the Body and Blood of Christ, the food both
literal and spiritual that returns us to communion with God's
call to us. We yearn for completion — in God.
We must leave room for the possibility that there is more than
we can know. More than we can ever know. That there is always
and still More.
Acedia or indifference to Grace leaves no room for God
to slip in. I believe we're supposed to 'leave a window open'
so that the ruach or nefesh or pneuma of
God can enter and stir things up a bit should it need to. And
it should ... it should! Often!
Denying the possibility of forgiveness or the hope of forgiveness
makes forgiveness impossible — unnoticed even if given ...
Grand possibility allows that we all shall be changed or
can be changed. To be forgiven is to be profoundly changed.
And it can happen in a twinkling ...
Where do we humans, weak and yet stubborn as we are, find
hints of Grand Possibility ... desire for melding of the
will into the Divine, yet without diminishment? We desire
to be corporately individual. As in in God. We yearn
for our own completeness — we yearn for GOD. For the
forgiven, or the penitent creature, the former things fall
away. And if we are these creatures, willing as we are, we
are reduced to our essentials, our essence.
Tell the Truth: Haven't you each, in some way, heard the Voice
in the night that seems to ask: "Who are you?" or
'Do you deny My Love? Do you deny My gifts to you? Can you
deny your creatureliness and make yourself God? Do you deny
And the one who asks is the one who made you and
all else, all that can be known. The Graceful Possibility. The
wall surrounding the little we all truly know must remain permeable;
at the very least permeable to God!
And even with the 'clues' God has given us — even Scripture
— even with these things we cannot extrapolate All, the All
of God. Humility ... Humous ... humo[u]r ... this earth
we are, this dust we were are and will be again, this humanity
we share. The tools are still recognizably
"ours" and are sufficient. But the Toolmaker —
the maker of ALL — is greater by far even than these.
This then, if you agree, is sin, hamartia, a breaking;
a falling short of the mark; to sin against the Holy Spirit
is to break faith or troth with the Holy Spirit, to deny
our subservience to the Spirit of Truth, to pretend our own
view, our human view, or individual view or apprehension
of God must be all there is. To pretend that God is knowable
or definable by us — you or me, or anyone of us — no matter
how inspired, how obedient, how good-hearted, or how certain
we think we are.
All that I know and am knows only that God IS, and I know that
my Redeemer LIVES.
Amen. Rest in peace, beloved Deborah, and may light perpetual
shine upon you.
See you next week.