Wednesday 7 February 2024

Prayer Letter: February 2024

Monday, February 5 - Friday, February 9:

On February 5, Senior Member Neal DeRoo gave an online lecture titled "The Case for a Phenomenological Politics" as part of a lecture series on "Critical and Political Phenomenology in Debate" put on by FernUniversität in Hagen, the Husserl Archives Cologne, and the philosophy department of TU Darmstadt. Neal's lecture was based on the work in his last book, The Political Logic of Experience. Please join us in giving thanks for this wonderful opportunity for Neal to connect with international colleagues in conversation and debate.

ICS is hiring! We are currently on the lookout for a Project Manager for an upcoming Capital Campaign. If you or anyone you know would be suited to this position, please visit our website for details on how to apply. Also please share this news widely and keep our search in your prayers as we look for the right candidate to fill this role.

February is tax receipt month at ICS. Please pray particularly for the Finance and Advancement offices as they lead the process of preparing the receipts for our donors and students. This is quite a time-consuming task and needs to be finished by the end of February. We ask for God’s sustaining grace for all involved.

Monday, February 12 - Friday, February 16:

Please keep the work of the Academic Council and its various committees in your prayers this term. In addition to the regular work of considering courses and academic policies, some of our faculty will be offering Reflective Practice Reports on their research and teaching, as well as participating in status reviews. Pray with us that these meetings, which make up an integral part of our communal academic life, and all the work and conversations involved therein might prove fruitful and celebratory.

Our MA-EL Open House is taking place online on February 15 at 4:15pm ET. This Open House will feature a presentation from Edith van der Boom, a conversation with current students in the program, and a question and answer time. Anyone interested in attending this event can RSVP to Brenna Wehrle at Please pray that teachers and school administrators who would benefit from this program may find opportunities to apply. 

Final grades for fall 2023 courses are due from our Senior Members on February 16. Please pray for the Senior Members as they engage the work of students in their courses, that they may be able to provide rich and meaningful feedback on students’ research and projects as the students continue their learning journeys.

Monday, February 19 - Friday, February 23:

It’s Family Day and Reading Week at ICS! There will be no classes this week, which will provide a welcome opportunity for Junior and Senior Members alike to focus their attention on various readings and to concentrate on their current research projects. May they find joy and inspiration in their studies this week!

Please keep our Recruitment Team, led by Recruitment Coordinator Brenna Wehrle, in your prayers as they work on promoting the various ICS programs of study and courses for the upcoming summer and fall semesters. We pray for creativity and vision as we pursue a promotional strategy that will seek out and connect with potential students looking for the opportunity to pursue graduate degrees, further education, and professional development in the vocations to which God has called them.

We give thanks this week for all the hard work of the Library and Scholarship Committee, our Librarian Anita Siraki, and the volunteers for the ongoing project with our Hamilton library collection. We’ve had to temporarily stow away the collection in order to enable renovations in response to flooding that happened late last year. This is a large-scale undertaking, but the first stages of the project are complete, the renovations nearly finished, and we look forward to getting the books back on the shelves soon! Please pray with us that the remaining tasks involved in this process will go quickly and smoothly when the time comes. 

Monday, February 26 - Thursday, February 29:

On February 26, the ICS community will welcome Dr. Sylvia Keesmaat for the Winter Term installment of the Scripture, Faith, and Scholarship Symposium. In her presentation, “Seeds of Resistance and Healing: Grounding the Bible,” Dr. Keesmaat will lead participants as they reflect on the link between the Bible and creation. Please pray for Dr. Keesmaat, the planning team, and all participants that this event be a space for fruitful dialogue and fellowship. 

There are still a few remaining $500 early bird scholarships available for ART in Orvieto 2024, and we continue to accept applications to the program until March 31. Please pray that interested artists, teachers, and students of the arts will find their way to this year’s program, and please share news of this wonderfully rich learning opportunity with everyone you know!

This month, the CPRSE team together with Senior Member Neal DeRoo will be hard at work organizing the spring conference:Beyond Culture Wars: Fostering Solidarity in an Age of Polarization” taking place April 18th-20th. Continuing ICS’s partnership with Martin Luther University College, and marking the start of a new collaboration with Vision Ministries Canada, this conference will be an opportunity to reflect on the role Christianity can have in addressing the polarization in North America. The conference will feature keynote speakers James K.A. Smith and Kristin Kobes Du Mez, as well as several workshops and conversation sessions. Please save the date, keep an eye out for more information, and pray for all those involved in planning and execution of this event.

What Might These Words Still Take from Us?

But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

—Luke 1:29 (NRSV)

In my ICS seminar on Ludwig Wittgenstein, I use an essay by Stanley Cavell that attempts to explain the intimate link that Wittgenstein posits between the meaning of words and the way we learn to use them. To illustrate this relationship between meaning and use, Cavell describes his infant daughter’s efforts to learn the word ‘kitty’: Witnessing her petting the family cat and saying the word ‘kitty’, he assumes she has learned the word, yet his conclusion is thrown into doubt when later he sees her stroking a furry pillow saying the same thing.

Cavell finds himself forced to conclude that, although she is well on her way, his daughter has yet to learn the word ‘kitty’; she has yet to master the various ways the linguistic community into which he is welcoming her do and do not use that word. He makes the point rather provocatively:

Kittens—what we call ‘kittens’—do not exist in her world yet, she has not acquired the forms of life which contain them. They do not exist in something like the way cities and mayors will not exist in her world until long after pumpkins and kittens do; or like the way God or love or responsibility or beauty do not exist in our world; we have not mastered, or we have forgotten, or we have distorted, or learned through fragmented models, the forms of life which could make utterances like ‘God exists’ or ‘God is dead’ or ‘I love you’ or ‘I cannot do otherwise’ or ‘Beauty is but the beginning of terror’ bear all the weight they could carry, express all they could take from us.

(Cavell, The Claim of Reason, p. 172-73)

Cavell’s gloss (the part I italicized) leapt from the page the moment I read it roughly twenty years ago. His words caught me completely off guard, and so I pondered them. Was he right to draw the tragic conclusion that most of us today merely go through the motions, simply mouthing empty platitudes when we use words like ‘God’ and ‘love’ and ‘beauty’, and that we do not let these words demand anything too deep or personal from us? A troubling thought, indeed.

In My Bright Abyss, which I have just finished reading, the poet Christian Wiman wonders whether the decay of religious belief among educated people in the West has caused this decay of language, or whether it is the other way around: “[D]o we find the fire of belief fading in us only because the words are sodden with overuse and imprecision, and will not burn?” (p.124)

How different is Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel’s greeting and announcement in Luke 1:28? Mary gives herself permission to be troubled and perplexed by the angel’s words—to let them hit—leading her to ponder “what sort of greeting this might be.” In her book Into the Mess and Other Jesus Stories, Debie Thomas describes Mary’s response to Gabriel as “holy bewilderment.” She suggests that Mary’s holy bewilderment models for us a way to take distance from the all-too-settled dogmatic certainties and platitudes we have come to accept, the dead words that no longer burn, and search for ones that do. She thus finds Mary’s bewilderment to resonate with her own faith journey as she deals with the suffering, vicissitudes, and ambiguity that daily life visits upon us all:

What an interesting shock reality has been. Who knew that my life with God would actually be one long goodbye? That to know God is to unknow God? To shed my neat conceptions of the divine like so many old snakeskins and emerge into the world bare, vulnerable, and new, again and again? (p. 5–6)

I believe Thomas has hit on something important here, something of what Jesus meant when he told us to become like little children, filled with a child’s “sense of wonder, this excess of spirit brimming out of the body” (to quote Wiman once more) (My Bright Abyss, p. 160). Yet I do not think our Messiah’s admonition means that we must completely shed our first religious language. The demand we face, rather, is to prevent this first language, the basis for everything that follows, from becoming a dead letter. We must strive to maintain its original spiritual charge and vitality, so that it remains a trustworthy language that helps us love reality with the faith and hope that the restoration and renewal of all that is and has been broken is possible.

While the task of maintaining such spiritual vitality is a task we share as a community of faith, graced by God, I remain convinced that no human words, from the most inspired spiritual poetry to the most capacious and systematic theology, will ever be able to contain the profound divine mystery and charge that suffuses and transcends creation. So, the job of preventing these words from becoming settled certainties, the job of maintaining their ability to demand something from us by connecting us to the divine mystery they always fail to express, remains perpetually before us. Yet use these words we must, for as Wiman (again!) reminds us: “At some point you have to believe that the inadequacies of the words you use will be transcended by the faith with which you use them.” (p.141)

And in this way, perhaps, we may welcome God (not to mention love and beauty, or kittens) into our world again.


Ron Kuipers

Save the Date: Conference with James K.A. Smith and Kristin Kobes Du Mez in April 2024

On April 18–20, 2024 the Institute for Christian Studies will collaborate with Martin Luther University College, Vision Ministries CanadaShalem Mental Health Network, and Citizens for Public Justice to present a conference on the topic: “Beyond Culture Wars: Fostering Solidarity in an Age of Polarization.”

Hosted at the campus of Martin Luther University College (Wilfrid Laurier University), this event will be an education and discussion forum for faith communities, and for the larger public, to counter the ‘culture wars’ mentality and explore together more positive and mutually beneficial ways of relating religion to the broader society. To accomplish this goal, “Beyond Culture Wars” will engage a wide variety of academic and community voices in seeking to raise awareness and understanding across sectors through facilitated dialogue, knowledge mobilization, and community cooperation.

The conference will feature keynote speakers James K.A. Smith and Kristin Kobes Du Mez, as well as several workshops and conversation sessions.

Please save the date and keep an eye out for more information in the coming weeks.

New Book by Cal Seerveld, and a Recent Interview

ICS Senior Member Emeritus Calvin Seerveld has just published the first volume in a new series called Tough Stuff from the Bible, Tendered Gently with Paideia Press. The first volume's title is: Encouraging Faith Manifestoes for People with Open Ears: Biblical Narrative History. This volume is a collection of 18 Biblical meditations interpreting both Old and New Testaments. They are a compilation of what was spoken to mostly local congregations in the Toronto, Ontario area of Canada, between 1977 and 2011, by Cal. You can read more about the volume and get a copy for yourself here.

Also, earlier in November 2023, Cal gave a live-translated interview on a Brazilian show entitled Entre Amigos Internacional, hosted by Rodolfo Amorim, Bruno Maroni, and Guilherme Iamarino. 

You can watch the video below or find it on Youtube here:

Monday 5 February 2024

New Book by Lambert Zuidervaart: Adorno, Heidegger, and the Politics of Truth

Senior Member Emeritus Lambert Zuidervaart has published a new book on the German social philosopher Theodor Adorno, titled Adorno, Heidegger, and the Politics of Truth (SUNY Press, 2024). The front cover features the image of a recent sculpture by Lambert’s wife, artist Joyce Recker, titled "Longing for the Wholly Other" (2021). 

Lambert says this book completes a project begun more than forty years ago, when he wrote, and Joyce typed, a dissertation on Adorno’s aesthetics under the supervision of Calvin Seerveld (ICS) and Johan van der Hoeven (VU Amsterdam). He talks about the background and contents to his new book in the blog post "Hope for Truth in a Post-Truth World," which is on the SUNY Press website.

Adorno, Heidegger, and the Politics of Truth provides a critical and creative reconstruction of Adorno's conception of truth and shows its relevance for contemporary philosophy, art, and politics. It also rounds out the trilogy of books Lambert has published on the topic of truth since he retired in 2016. The other two books are Truth in Husserl, Heidegger, and the Frankfurt School (MIT Press, 2017) and Social Domains of Truth (Routledge, 2023). 

Saturday 3 February 2024

Sylvia Keesmaat Presenting at Scripture Faith & Scholarship Symposium on Feb 26

Seeds of Resistance and Healing:
Grounding the Bible

Date and Time:
Monday, February 26, 2024 at 2:00pm

Location (Hybrid):
1. Knox College, Classroom 3 (59 St. George St., Toronto)

From creation to new creation, the lament of the land to the grief of God, the Bible narrates the desire of the Creator to inhabit and rejoice in the wondrous and diverse creation that surrounds us. How does such a desire shape our response to the crisis of our age? And how does creation help us to understand the story of the Creator?

Join us online or in person for this semester's Scripture, Faith, and Scholarship Symposium with Dr. Sylvia Keesmaat. Details about the location and the link to join via Zoom are included above. Please email to if you have any additional questions. Hope to see you there!

Presenter Bio:

Dr. Sylvia C. Keesmaat is a biblical scholar, activist, and farmer. She obtained her doctorate at Oxford University, studying with N.T. Wright, and was a Senior Member in Biblical Studies and Hermeneutics at ICS from 1994-2004. She has most recently taught as an Adjunct Professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity College, Toronto School of Theology, as well as for the Creation Care Studies Program in Belize.

Sylvia is the co-author, with Brian Walsh, of Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice  (Brazos Press, 2019) and Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire (IVP, 2004). She is also the author of Paul and His Story: (Re)Interpreting the Exodus Tradition (Bloomsbury, 1999). 

Sylvia is the past co-chair of the Bishop's Committee on Creation Care for the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. She speaks frequently on topics related to the Bible and economic justice, climate catastrophe, gender justice, and Indigenous justice.

Sylvia founded her online teaching platform Bible Remixed in 2021 to help nurture a community of Jesus followers who are deeply rooted in the biblical story, and who are becoming a community of welcome, healing and nurture for those people and creatures who suffer most from the violence of our world. She offers online courses throughout the year that are open to all on a pay-what-you-can basis.

From 2016 to 2023 Sylvia held an heirloom tomato seedling sale every spring on her farm. She also speaks to horticultural societies and other groups about permaculture, forest gardening and pollinator insects.

Sylvia lives at Russet House Farm, an off-grid permaculture farm in the Kawartha Lakes on the traditional territory of the Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg, with her husband, Brian Walsh, and a fluctuating number of people and animals.