United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold once said: “For all that has been – thanks! For all that shall be – yes!” This has become my personal mantra and the lens through which I look at my own life, the passing of the years, and the impact of persons of stature on my life. With the passing of David Ray Griffin, I must say, “For all that has been – thanks!”
Now almost fifty years ago, I remember sitting in David Griffin’s Christian Doctrine class at Claremont School of Theology and hearing him warn us to “beware of the split infinitive.” I am not sure that this grammatical rule was a doctrine of faith for David, but he made sure that we first year graduate students and seminarians were well aware of it.
That warning regarding the split infinitive reflects the spirit of David Ray Griffin. He wasn’t a fundamentalist or purist, nor did he demand that his students emulate his approach to theology, but he was an analyst. No one was more analytic in my experience than David. He studied hard, studied precisely, and knew the details of everything he studied. You could depend on anything David said about Process and Reality was accurate. If a paper came back with no comments about the text, you knew you got it right, too! That was true in the Fall of 1975 and no doubt will be embodied in my future work.
David was much more than an analyst. He was a synthesist and large thinker. In many ways, he was the yang to my yin in interpreting the resources of process theology. Virtually every time I explored a seldom traveled area in process theology – in my case, mysticism, healing, and the afterlife – I found that David had written something about it. While I presented the mystical, ambient, intuitive aspects of these areas of thought, David reflected on the metaphysical and textual bases of our common interests. David’s analysis was not dry but pointed to a deeper truth grounded in the heart as well as the head. I was always certain of my approach when I could find a connection with David’s interpretation.
David was my mentor and dissertation advisor reader at Claremont Graduate School, and having him – along with Chuck Young in the Philosophy Department – as my reader inspired me to “get it right,” not to cut corners (notice I didn’t split the infinitive!) and to be precise in my analysis as well as creative in my synthesis.
David remained a friend and supporter through the years. His foundation provided the “yes” for much of my own intellectual creativity as a process theologian. I was over the moon when he cited my work in a footnote related to process visions of the afterlife, now almost thirty years ago. He was a genuinely hospitable advisor and later friend. Our son now in his forties remembers David making pasta from scratch when we visited Ann and him in Santa Barbara.
I have written quite extensively over the years on a variety of themes just as David did. In going over my texts, especially if I was exploring an uncharted area in process theology, David was always in the back of my mind. I often pondered, “What would David think about that?” or “Is that accurate to the text – whether Francis of Assisi or Alfred North Whitehead?” and David’s precision always challenged me to be precise even when I was dealing with the imprecise subjects of mysticism, healing, and spirituality.
From David I learned that you could be both intuitively ambient and intellectually precise. You can soar to the heavens, and you can get your facts straight. In fact, the mystic to be faithful to the Holy must aspire to get their facts straight! Although I have fashioned my own theo-spiritual blend of process theology, I have built on the foundation of David’s and John Cobb’s teaching, and even when I soared and advanced beyond the analytics of process theology and Whiteheadian thought, David was always, in my mind, looking over my shoulder reminding me to remember the text even as I interpreted it in my own intuitive way and never to split an infinitive.
I can truly say that David is one of the most formative figures in my life, not just my intellect, and I thank God for his impact on my theological and spiritual reflections, and the integrity of his work that I have tried to embody in my own theological work and teaching life. He was an intellectual older brother. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Your memory is a blessing and lives on, David.
“For all that shall be – yes!” In God’s Holy Adventure – the integration of the “natures” of God – in the ongoing history of life here and beyond, and in the process theology evolving in new directions but always shaped by the life of David Ray Griffin.
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, spiritual guide, and author of over seventy books, including THE ELEPHANT IS RUNNING: PROCESS AND OPEN AND RELATIONAL THEOLOGY AND RELIGIOUS PLURALISM; PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM; MYSTIC’S IN ACTION: TWELVE SAINTS FOR TODAY; WALKING WITH SAINT FRANCIS: FROM PRIVILEGE TO ACTIVISM; MESSY INCARNATION: MEDITATIONS ON PROCESS CHRISTOLOGY, and FROM COSMOS TO CRADLE: MEDITATIONS ON THE INCARNATION. His latest book is THE PROPHET AMOS SPEAKS TO AMERICA. He is also the author of the “12 Days of Christmas Books” – Celtic Christianity, Howard Thurman, Madeleine L’Engle, and Francis and Clare, from Anamchara Books. He can be reached for seminars and talks at email@example.com.