I've been reading through Paul's Letter to the Romans, alongside Tom Wright's commentaries. I keep connecting it with Jesus' parable of the prodigal son in which we see a father concerned for the salvation of his renegade son. Paul writes about the God who is concerned not only for his 'son' - Israel, but for the one who will become his adopted son - the Gentiles. I've often wondered, as many have, what happened to the father and his sons after the return of the prodigal? I imagine that the father had work for them both to do - working on his estate to make it prosper. Paul writes about God's plan not just for the salvation of individual people, but the redemption of the whole of creation - the cosmos. Israel's mission was to be a light to the Gentiles and bring the message of salvation to them, but Israel preferred to keep it to themselves.
So I toyed with the idea of using the parable of the prodigal son as a theme to which I would write variations based on Paul's letter. In musical terms this is not uncommon: Theme and Variations are a frequent form used by composers through the ages. The theme is stated, and then ideas are developed from it, but at the same time the integrity of its melodic or harmonic structure is maintained in each new variation. I went on to wonder if this had ever been tried in literature, and after a short search discovered a paper written on this very subject where the author discusses four novels all taking their inspiration from Bach's 'Goldberg Variations'. A series of some 30 highly structured by also highly imaginative variations based on a simple theme.
Now I have a structural idea with which to work. In fact it will be a Prelude, Theme and Variations and Finale. The Prelude describes the world created by God but polluted by sin - this corresponds to Romans 1 and 2. The Finale will concern God's ultimate plan for the salvation of Israel, all humanity and the cosmos. And the Theme and Variations will begin with Jesus' parable. Each variation will take as its starting point the phrase 'There was a man who had two sons...'
Paul himself writes in a variation form to some extent, often coming back to the same theme but from a different viewpoint, so I hope that in my own way I can do justice to his ideas, but also create something that will help people engage with these great motifs of creation spoiled and redeemed, Israel provoked by jealousy of God's grace to the Gentiles, the importance of family relationships and and calling God 'Abba' - Father.
This week I begin an 8 day retreat at St Beuno's near St Asaph in North Wales. I won't be blogging, posting on FB, tweeting, or communicating in any way. I think my very first blog in 2007 followed a similar retreat. It will be interesting to see if I have a similar experience of meeting with God through his word as I did then. I'll let you know.