When Vladimir Lossky emerged on the scene of Western theology, he took an ostensibly aesthetic category—the image—and elucidated its philosophical and theological significance. Lexi Eikelboom performs a similar service with rhythm. In her book, Rhythm: A Theological Category, Eikelboom describes how attention to rhythm can help reframe conversations about transcendence and immanence, temporality and eternity, form and deformation. Throughout her work, she widens the imagination for what theological aesthetics entails and shows how the concerns of that field (sometimes also called theology and the arts) are central to the concerns of systematic theology and philosophical theology. The range of thinkers she engages emphasizes that centrality and advertises the breadth of rhythm’s potential scope. They include, to name a few, Catherine Keller, Fred Moten, Augustine, Gilles Deleuze, Maurice Merleau-Monty, Jeremy Begbie, Julia Kristeva, and, most significantly for her project, Erich Pryzwara.
The diverse chorus of thinkers indicates the ambition of Eikelboom’s claim for rhythm. Rhythm is for her ubiquitous, found in ancient and modern thinkers, part of conversations set in theoretical, theological, and phenomenological keys. And yet the trajectory of her claim for rhythm is not ambitious in the way Lossky’s claim for the image was. Eikelboom wants not to claim that rhythm is the heart of theology but to show that rhythm is present in theology’s heart, even when we do not acknowledge it, and that recognizing and engaging it can take us into richer theological conversation.
Eikelboom’s first aim, then, is rendering rhythm perceptible in its pervasiveness to readers, a task that entails opening it up beyond a narrow conception of meter to show how rhythm can be approached from both synchronic and diachronic perspectives. The synchronic, for Eikelboom, describes rhythm architecturally, as offering an outsider’s take that conceives rhythm as a form or pattern. The diachronic describes rhythm phenomenologically, offering a temporally-inflected account of someone inside the rhythm as it unfolds. While she sees rhythm as often represented synchronically, Eikelboom wants to inject more diachronic approaches into our imaginings, such that we understand the rhythm of a musical piece, for example, not simply as a contained in that piece but as occurrent as and interruptive of the rhythm of our daily lives. For Eikelboom, negotiating the synchronic and diachronic descriptions of rhythm successfully enables robust descriptions of transcendence and immanence, as consummately displayed for her in the analogical theology of Erich Pryzwara.
As she moves through continental philosophy, philosophical theology, and systematic theology, Eikelboom concludes the body of the text with two chapters of constructive theological work on creation and salvation. In an account at once deeply scriptural and rigorously philosophical, Eikelboom shows how rhythm can help us describes God’s work in the world as both harmony and interruption, the ordinary and the apocalyptic. The concept of rhythm, Eikelboom demonstrates, helps theology slip the knot of a number of seemingly intractable theological debates.
The range of rhythm’s possibilities for theology are evident in the responses that follow. Anne Carpenter asks about sin, grace, and interruption. Colby Dickinson probes the analogia entis that is, for Eikelboom, so exquisitely rhythmic, to press questions about status of the church in the world and the viability of revealed religions’ unique truth claims. Barry Harvey describes her elevation of rhythm as de-privileging narrative as he frames a critique about the implications of this move for theological ethics. George Pattison employs the synchronic and diachronic distinction to engage with Martin Buber on the naming of God and illumine the possibility of mystical experience—and also justify his “bad” reading habit of flipping to the end of a book! In these lively engagements, the essayists expand Eikelboom’s wide-ranging conversation by introducing still more voices into the chorus, thus illustrating Eikelboom’s central contention that rhythm is a significant and generative theological category.