Robert Farrar Capon, Child of the Covenant (1925-2013)

Robert Farrar Capon passed away last week, at 88. He was a writer about food and theology, and for many years an Anglican priest. His book The Supper of the Lamb is a paean to the incarnational qualities of food, but it has a broader scope than that: it is a defense of this world. As Capon says, Christ’s kingdom comes, it does not go. God wants us to make this world better instead of pining for the next. I have read and heard this in other places, but Capon’s work brought it home to me. Why are some things, like French bread and fiery sunsets, so good? Isn’t this world sort of a trailer park near an exit ramp, a place to catch our breath and keep our hands clean before getting back on the expressway to heaven?

No. God put us here, and then He came here Himself, and died here. The bones of the woman who bore God are part of the earth now, and although Christ rose and went away, He is coming back, and His feet will touch the new dirt of this world, remade. That’s what I learned from Father Capon, and it’s a glorious thing. I don’t have to worry about loving this world, the good things in it, or feel guilty that my fingers don’t itch to strum an ethereal harp on some eternal cloud—because that’s not what God has planned for us, or our world.

I also love Fr. Capon’s book on marriage, Bed and Board. However, at some point after the publication of his book on marriage, he went through a bitter divorce. That’s the sort of despairing irony humans create: we can’t seem to stop trying to kill ourselves with sin, when Christ is standing there offering life to us. It was disillusioning to find out that Father Capon had been divorced, had failed to keep the covenant he wrote so movingly about. Briefly, I wanted to toss his book in the bin. But I realized that if I only want to read books by good people, I’m going to have to pick a different world to live in. In this one, we sin, and it’s humbling, and it means that we have to repent and receive the free-flowing forgiveness of Christ. Capon’s marriage ended, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a gift from God while it stood strong, or that he and his ex-wife aren’t still children of the same God. We break our hearts as God breaks His heart, over divorce—but it doesn’t make us unforgiveable, because we are human, and God died to save our benighted race.

I suppose we’re not so benighted anymore, although sometimes it feels like it. I had a horribly unproductive day of studying, and I am storing up lots of work for myself and I will not do as well on my assignments as if I had done them in an orderly and timely fashion. So what? Christ died for me. That doesn’t give me license to procrastinate or turn in slipshod work, it’s just what we need to keep in the front of our minds to keep from hating ourselves for our failures. It’s true that every failure we have is ours, and every victory we have is Christ, but I and you are pronouns that Christ owns. He takes us as failures–and only we know how profoundly we have failed to love God and our families–and makes us victors by the spilling of His blood. I procrastinated. So what? The world is beautiful today, and the wet leaves smell of autumn. I came home and I cleaned off my desk and I put on some good music and drank a mug of something and I still didn’t get my homework done. So what? I will. The worry that constricts my head and heart is a lie, because I belong to the God who makes rivers run smooth. He inked the pages I read and fired the synapses that comprehend, in a small way, the grandeur of wet leaves, humble hearts, and the words of good men now dead.

Father Capon has joined the ranks of these dead, the ones who made it. “Sad,” I said, when I heard that he died. “Not for him!” Said Sam. Sam’s right. We cry when we lose the people who have traveled with us on the road, but we can rest a little easy remembering that they are not crying. Father Capon has gone on to greater joys than any in this tawdry world. But he is the one who showed me that the farther world is just what this world will be. Rest in peace, Robert Capon, forgiven sinner, child of the covenant. Come back when the Lamb brings His kingdom home.

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