Today, I was explaining Vestal Virgins to my first-years, and I noticed that my slide said that the fire of Vesta was ‘symbolic of Rome’s power’. I took a moment to explain that that description is really inadequate. Symbols, I explained, were much more closely associated with that which they symbolised to the ancient Roman mind. You could almost say that the fire of Vesta was Rome’s power.
I went on to say that the world of the ancient Romans was interpenetrated by a sense of the numinous, that the divine interacted with daily life.
What I wanted to launch into was a discussion of the sacramental and transcendence.
But that wouldn’t necessarily fit a lecture on Roman mythology.
But I find even this Roman pagan view of the world much more appealing than the dead, inanimate world proffered by the Enlightenment. A world where the divine lurks behind every corner, where your hearthfire is an access point to another reality, where gods walk among mortals.
And my mind is turning this direction because I am reading Boersma’s Scripture As Real Presence, where he discusses a sacramental worldview, a world where God Himself is readily available to us hidden beneath the sacramental veil, and especially available to us in the words of sacred Scripture.
At the same time, I’ve begun reading a dissertation about the loss of a sense of transcendence in Canadian culture, including the Canadian church, and how this has led to the haemorrhaging of young people from our churches.
Maybe my excitement about divine immanence in the Roman world excited some young minds about finding that here and now.
Because these are realities we need — the transcendent, ever-present God who makes Himself known through symbol and sacrament.