Thursday, 11 October 2007

An evening of feminist theology with Lytta Basset

On Tuesday evening our small Geneva feminist theology group hosted Lytta Basset. Our 2007-2008 programme focuses on the parables and Lytta spoke to us about the so-called parable of the prodigal son. She gave a bravura performance, using her own translation from the Greek to back up a deep spiritual and personal understanding of the story. I think all of us could have gone on listening to her for hours. As well as being being a professor of theology in Neuchâtel she also has a real commitment to communicating with people of the church. From the very beginning she encouraged us to use this parable to go on writing our own parables, a parable is never a neatly tied up story, it always continues beyond the story we know.
As always several translation questions she raised really stuck with me. When the younger son asks for his inheritance the Greek word is oussia (sorry no Greek Bible with me here and no idea how to get Greek on the blog for the time being either) which really means more "give me my share of existence", my share of being, perhaps even the right to exist. When later he is starving and working with the pigs the word asotos is used, which she translated (into French) as "désespéré" or disparing rather than disippated. The link here is to salvation - sotos being the root for soteriology. His longing was not only for food but for meaning, his emptiness was not merely physical. It is this longing that drives him back home from his self-imposed exile.
What Lytta said about the older son spoke to me particularly - it is only at the very end of the parable that he finally begins to say anything about his own desires, his own existence, his own wants.
It's really good that Lytta's work is beginning to be translated into English - but it is also a privilege to have her working locally as well as on a wider stage. She has also just brought out a new book in French based on writing she did following the suicide of her son five years ago. As I listened to her speaking about the three men in the parable and their roles, about how complex relationships in families are I knew she spoke from deep and painful experience. Yet her acceptance of others saying what the parable had awakened in them was just as profound. Much food for thought as we go on to prove that parable goes on for ever.