February 11, 2018

enough to make me hope there’s a minute or two between death and perdition

“It was all horrible enough to be funny, I suppose. Now that it’s over.”

“Yes, there’s always that to look forward to.” Then he shrugged and said, “It’s enough to make me hope there’s a minute or two between death and perdition.”

Marilynne Robinson in Home.

February 11, 2018

you are unable to be saved alone

You are unable to be saved alone, if all others are not also saved. It is a mistake for one to pray only for oneself, for one’s own salvation. We must pray for the entire world, so that not one is lost. …I am not afraid of hell, and I do not think about Paradise. I only ask God to have mercy on the entire world and on me as well.

St. Porphyrios in Wounded by Love.

February 10, 2018

a wise educator always trades in Beauty and Goodness before Truth

Remarkable interview with Dr. Timothy Patitsas:

You can’t consider yourself educated, unless you at least once have longed to have been born wholly other culturally—to have been born in another time, language, country, whatever. For many people, it’s reading the Tolkien epics that first give them that deep, erotic longing for a transcendent cultural otherness.

And thus Tolkien’s current significance for education, for modern Civilization, is deep. Eros is the beginning of human moral life, and Beauty in art and literature are oftentimes more effective than religion in awakening eros within us. Religion can just seem like God coming down at us, scolding us, telling us to stay where we are, but just do better. But real Religion must awaken the movement in the other direction, to make us come out of our- selves and move towards him, fall in love with him. It’s about beginning an adventure, becoming a pilgrim, an exile, a lover.

…Yes, and that was actually my point in bringing up Tolkien, and the importance of falling in love with other cultures and civilizations, or with something beautiful that can make us forget ourselves. Our lives only begin, our moral struggle only commences, once we’ve loved something enough to want to leave ourselves behind. That can be painful—but ideally it’s never worse than bittersweet.

Incidentally, a wise educator always trades in Beauty and Goodness, before Truth.

…The only real cure for bad eros is good eros, and plenty of it.

…Many times, starting with goodness—with the attempt to be good and to stop sinning—is a recipe for moral disaster, as we shall see.

…However often we fall, we cannot attack pride directly as our first priority. Rather, we return to the front lines: our simple devotion to Christ, our fasting, our chastity, and the sacred beauty our brothers, sisters, enemies, and all of creation. To contemplate this goodness, to be illumined, we must give alms. We are then illumined in both senses—we contemplate correctly, and our light “shines before men.”

…We will then look back upon that first vision of that person’s beauty, as the moment when our lives started, when we “came to be” out of a kind of nothing. We will know for ourselves what it means to be created ex nihilo, and we will weep.

…We talked about war in general, and trauma, as an anti-liturgy. Whereas liturgy knits our individual character together and integrates us; whereas liturgy promotes communion and deepens our connection to others and God and the whole of nature; and whereas liturgy teaches us the profound truth of who God really is, and thus who we are and who the world is—well, war and trauma reverse all this. They unravel our character by breaking our connection to beauty; drive us from close communion with others so that we don’t have the opportunity to be good; and teach us lies about God, others, the world, and ourselves.

The healing of the soul begins with noticing God’s many theophanies, and with falling in love with them. In other words, it begins with Beauty. In renewing our love for authentic Beauty, we slowly are cleansed of the ugly images of trauma and the false images of worldly pleasures. Our character, unraveled by what we experienced, begins to be knit together, to become whole again. We begin to be “created” again.

…First, the Beautiful: Shay says we begin when we take the trauma victim out of the ugly circumstances inciting the trauma. We bring them to good patterns of life, to friendships, to self-care. All of this represents the return of Beauty to the life. Good Patterns—in the Christopher Alexander sense of Patterns in Architecture, but applicable to patterns of action and self-care and relating.

…Shay knew that The Iliad was the crucial text; so did Simone Weil. I love the way that it combines beauty and goodness, art with empathy. In it, in its profound hearing, brother soldiers came together for a week or so, to listen to a beauty that made them forget themselves, in a safe context of hospitality and unity. Within that Beauty was Goodness, the empathic love. As we said last time, there are no enemies in The Iliad, only noble soldiers, trapped in war on both sides. Before such a monument of Beauty and Empathy, we can safely weep, practicing empathy for others—and by extension for ourselves.

You know, Truth isn’t really a “third moment.” If you have Beauty and Goodness, Truth is right there, inside them both. That weeping in the hearing of The Iliad is one of the moments that you are most alive—most true.

…All kinds of things are going on invisibly within us when we pray, though outwardly nothing has changed and we feel only the same. Although you mean everything to God, and He welcomes your urgent cries, sometimes He may be arranging things with your long-term interest in mind. And in the meantime, when you are being crucified by the trauma flashbacks, know that you are with God; you are his icon. But your strength is also limited, and He will descend.

February 4, 2018

teaching long of rest and waiting

These are thoughts that I put down as I sat with my Grandma and other family members near the end of my Grandma’s life. She was in her own bedroom and surrounded by loved ones:

My body holds me closer hourly
It will have me know it fully before I’m fully known
Jacob wrestled the Lord’s angel
I have my gasped breaths and throbbing heart

This morning, my eyes bring less daylight
But this less of sight, less of hearing, heralds more
And I have let go, almost, of saying

Today’s snowfall blankets my roof and windows
Without my knowing now
Still, it joins the many here over months and years
Teaching long of rest and waiting
These small white bodies
Carry downward flames from heaven
Without heat but made of fire still
That banks and burns
In quiet

My body cradles its own light as a treasure carried far,
Carried up, soon, past a snow that I’ll know newly,
A flame to lay down before my loving lord

Among her last words to me (the day before) were: “My little Jesse, you brought me tadpoles.”

And here also are the two passages that I included in my remarks at my Grandma’s funeral:

And following that train of thought led him back to Earth, back to the quiet hours in the center of the clear water ringed by a bowl of tree-covered hills. That is the Earth, he thought. Not a globe thousands of kilometers around, but a forest with a shining lake, a house hidden at the crest of the hill, high in the trees, a grassy slope leading upward from the water, fish leaping and birds strafing to take the bugs that lived at the border between water and sky. Earth was the constant noise of crickets and winds and birds. And the voice of one girl, who spoke to him out of his far-off childhood.

From Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card.

A man may say, “I like this vast cosmos, with its throng of stars and its crowd of varied creatures.” But if it comes to that why should not a man say, “I like this cosy little cosmos, with its decent number of stars and as neat a provision of live stock as I wish to see”? One is as good as the other; they are both mere sentiments.

…I was frightfully fond of the universe and wanted to address it by a diminutive. I often did so; and it never seemed to mind. Actually and in truth I did feel that these dim dogmas of vitality were better expressed by calling the world small than by calling it large. For about infinity there was a sort of carelessness which was the reverse of the fierce and pious care which I felt touching the pricelessness and the peril of life. They showed only a dreary waste; but I felt a sort of sacred thrift. For economy is far more romantic than extravagance. To them stars were an unending income of halfpence; but I felt about the golden sun and the silver moon as a schoolboy feels if he has one sovereign and one shilling.

From “The Ethics of Elfland,” chapter III in Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton.

February 1, 2018

speech connects us so immediately and vitally because it is a physical, bodily process

Ursula K. Le Guin in “Telling Is Listening” found in The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination:

The community created by printing and by secondary orality is not immediate; it is virtual. It can be enorrnous—the size of America. Indeed it may be literacy more than any other factor that has enabled or coerced us to live in huge nation-states instead of tribes and city-states. Possibly the Internet will allow us to outgrow the nation-state. Although the Global Village McLuhan dreamed of is at present a City of Night, a monstrous force for cultural reductionism and internationally institutionalised greed, who knows? Perhaps we shall soar electronically to some arrangement that works better than capitalism.

But so vast a community must remain more concept than tangible fact. Written word, printed word, reproduced speech, filmed speech, the telephone, e-mail: each medium links people, but it does not link them physically, and whatever community it creates is essentially a mental one.

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediment.” It is marvelous that we can talk to living people ten thousand miles away and hear them speak. It is marvelous that by reading their words, or seeing a film of them, we may feel communion even with the dead. It is a marvelous thought that all knowledge might be accessible to all minds.

But marriage is not of minds only; and the living human community that language creates involves living human bodies. We need to talk together, speaker and hearer here, now. We know that. We feel it. We feel the absence of it.

Speech connects us so immediately and vitally because it is a physical, bodily process, to begin with. Not a mental or spiritual one, wherever it may end.

…In most cases of people actually talking to one another, human communication cannot be reduced to information. The message not only involves, it is, a relationship between speaker and hearer. The medium in which the message is embedded is immensely complex, infinitely more than a code: it is a language, a function of a society, a culture, in which the language, the speaker, and the hearer are all embedded.

In human conversation, in live, actual communication between or among human beings, everything “transmitted” — everything said — is shaped as it is spoken by actual or anticipated response.

Live, face-to-face human communication is intersubjective. Intersubjectivity involves a great deal more than the machine-mediated type of stimulus-response currently called “interactive.” It is not stimulus-response at all, not a mechanical alternation of precoded sending and receiving. Intersubjectivity is mutual. It is a continuous interchange between two consciousnesses. Instead of an alternation of roles between box A and box B, between active subject and passive object, it is a continuous intersubjectivity that goes both ways all the time.

…Listening is not a reaction, it is a connection. Listening to a conversation or a story, we don’t so much respond as join in — become part of the action.

…When you can and do entrain, you are synchronising with the people you’re talking with, physically getting in time and tune with them. No wonder speech is so strong a bond, so powerful in forming community.

…The voice creates a sphere around it, which includes all its hearers: an intimate sphere or area, limited in both space and time.

Creation is an act. Action takes energy.

Sound is dynamic. Speech is dynamic — it is action. To act is to take power, to have power, to be powerful. Mutual communication between speakers and listeners is a powerful act. The power of each speaker is amplified, augmented, by the entrainment of the listeners. The strength of a community is amplified, augmented by its mutual entrainment in speech.

…This is why utterance is magic. Words do have power. Names have power. Words are events, they do things, change things. They transform both speaker and hearer; they feed energy back and forth and amplify it. They feed understanding or emotion back and forth and amplify it.

January 29, 2018

Honor all Matter and Venerate It


As modern Western people, our dichotomized categories and preconceived notions about body, soul, matter, and spirit are tragically inadequate to the task of engaging with the full mystery and beauty of reality. Ancient people understood reality in ways that we have lost the ability to understand: its full dimensionality, interiority, and microcosmic qualities. As a modern myself, I’m not able to see just how far short our concepts come from being able to appreciate what is truly around us. Moderns have flattened the creation into just a few simple dualities such as: energy and matter, time and space, or (the ugliest reduction of all) supply and demand. In this simplified and demystified world, we’ve blinded ourselves to both the true beauty and meaning of the world outside as well as to the power of the same world as it also exists within ourselves. For human beings, the material world is supposed to be a powerful portal into the realities of life and beauty, into full communion with our Creator. Instead, we have lost this capacity, and we have allowed the material world to become a curtain that hides the rest of reality from our eyes. To undo this, requires long practice. However, there is also some value in trying to understand the categories of thought that blind our minds. This essay is my attempt to share how my own categories of thought have begun to shift.

Ancient Christians (and all ancient peoples in many essential ways) understood the world to be multi-layered, with simultaneous aspects of the same things coexisting within or across space and time. For example, stars and angels were often understood as the same thing but with multiple aspects: changeless cosmic bodies moving in a stately pattern according to the highest laws and mighty spiritual powers who are both conducting a sacred dance and waging a heavenly war.

The “heavenly hosts” made famous by English translations of the Bible have two distinct meanings: one is a reference to the stars; the other to God’s celestial armies, presumably of angels. Sometimes the two references seem to merge. In fact, the two meanings of the Hebrew phrase for “host of heaven” … reflect a probable association between angels and stars and planets in the Hebrew imagination. The heavenly hosts of stars, moreover, sometimes have associations of idolatry, since surrounding pagan nations were given to astrology and worship of the heavenly bodies. [Dictionary of Biblical Imagery by Leland Ryken, Jim Wilhoit and Tremper Longman, page 372.]

C.S. Lewis makes this same point in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (chapter 14):

“I am Ramandu. But I see that you stare at one another and have not heard this name. And no wonder, for the days when I was a star had ceased long before any of you knew this world, and all the constellations have changed.”

“Golly,” said Edmund under his breath. “He’s a retired star.”

“…In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”

“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”

It was no different within the earthly realm: a stream was also a naiad, and a tree was also a dryad.

Ancients also saw the world as microcosmic or structured like fractals, with the whole complex pattern recurring at progressively smaller or larger scales. The entire cosmos existed at multiple levels simultaneously:

  1. Many ancient philosophers as well as the Bible taught that each individual human person is a replica of the whole cosmic pattern, a particular union of heaven and earth, and a complete temple to God.
  2. Likewise, the tabernacle/temple is a miniature presentation of the entire cosmos.
  3. Finally, the entire cosmos itself is a temple modeled after God’s heavenly temple and throne room (with humanity as the priest and the divine image who makes God present within all of creation).

This kind of teaching is taken for granted throughout the scripture. For example, when Christ said that the kingdom of God is within us (Luke 17:20-21). Ancient Christian authors also reflected often on this theme. For example, Augustine wrote:

These things do I within, in that vast chamber of my memory. For there are near me heaven, earth, sea. …Therefore is the mind too narrow to contain itself. And where should that be which it does not contain of itself? …Men go forth to wonder at the heights of mountains, the huge waves of the sea, the broad flow of the rivers, the extent of the ocean, and the courses of the stars, and omit to wonder at themselves. …Where in my memory do You abide, O Lord? …What manner of chamber have You there formed for Yourself? What sort of sanctuary have You erected for Yourself? You have granted this honour to my memory, to take up Your abode in it. [Confessions (Book X)]

Ancient people understood the heavenly realm or the spiritual world to be both inside and above the physical world or earthly realm. Each of these spatial analogies are true, and both are metaphorical. As moderns, we have only kept a distorted understanding of the idea that the heavenly world is “above” the earthly realm, and this idea only makes it easier for us to reject the relevance or the reality of the heavenly world. Ancients believed that the spiritual world was “within” all of the physical world because the spiritual or heavenly realm expresses deeper truths about us and our world. Heaven, as it exists inside each thing around us, can shows us how each thing is made and what each thing truly is (at the core of its being). Finally, these more essential realities are said to be “inside” because they tend to be “hidden” or “mysterious” to us. We cannot as easily see, take, and try to possess or control the heavenly realities that surround us within the material world. This presumption of possession and control is a terrible mistake that we make constantly as modern people. It blinds us more profoundly than anything else to the true beauty and value of all that surrounds us. Thinking of the world in simply material terms, we make the world less sacred, and we make is more easy for us to think that we can “have” or “use” the  things around us. As we try to “make use of” the material things surrounding us to increase our power and comfort, we become completely ignorant of the more powerful and uncontrollable spiritual qualities that are internal to these things. We utilize material things without realizing the spiritual death that we are bringing upon ourselves. We are like orcs chopping down trees while heedless of the ents.

Walter Wink’s book Naming the Powers does an excellent job of unpacking the old idea of heavenly or spiritual realities being “within” all earthly or material realities. Although recommending the book highly, I am critical of his implication that the “internal” metaphor can be an almost complete explanatory category. Heavenly and spiritual realities are neither “above” or “within” in any complete or literal sense. Wink would agree with this, but his ideas rely heavily on the “‘withinness” of all spiritual realities.

One more way that we moderns have demystified the world is by splitting the world into material and spiritual realities that do not have any vital need to coexist. In the ancient mind, heaven and earth depended upon each other in a wide variety of complex ways. The spatial metaphor of “above” did teach that heavenly realities were more meaningful, substantial, or vital (“higher” in some sense). However, this idea of heaven being above the earth did not mean that heaven is in any sense distant from the earth. Heaven was always understood to be close at hand. We are in both heaven and earth at the same time every day, and heaven only becomes distant as a result of our own blindness and sin. Paul and other New Testament writers talk repeatedly about us being seated in heaven and carrying out vital activities in heaven at the same time as we are on the earth. We are clearly understood to be in both places. However, the heavenly Jerusalem still needs to “come down to earth” and be married to the earth in a wedding celebration that will heal the rift that has opened between heaven and earth as a result of our human rebellion and blindness:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.” [Revelation 21:1-3a]

Earthly and heavenly realities are created to be complementary (as are material and spiritual realities by extension). Each aspect of the world offers something to the other. Earthly things are good and offer to us a relationship or contact point with heavenly things. Likewise, heavenly things are good and can show us the true nature and value of earthly things. As embodied creatures, our communion with heaven is clearly intended to be mediated by a right relationship with the material world (understood as the good and revelatory gift of God that it always is).

To regain contact with reality as a marriage of both the earthly and the heavenly, we must go back into the history of terms such as “body” and “soul” or “spirit” and “matter.” There are well over a thousand years of profound Christian writings (and even more importantly, practices) regarding a whole host of terms about our human abilities and parts. As just a few examples: heart, spirit, soul, body, strength, will, passions, flesh, and nous (“understanding” is a good translation, but we generally just don’t get this term today). Of course, these terms are all rich Greek and New Testament concepts, several with deep Hebrew roots as well. Regaining the good use of these (and several other such terms) should start with word studies, and these words have very physical (enfleshed) roots, particularly in Hebrew. Word studies are not abstractions, because language is always grounded in concrete metaphors from the bodily experiences of human persons. “Spirit,” for example is “breath” or “wind” in Hebrew, which is both remarkably tangible but also impossible to fully see or constrain.

To get at what “spiritual” and “heavenly” mean, it is critical to keep both the earthy word origins as well as the earthly target clearly in view. As the Lord’s prayer says: “on earth as it is in heaven.” As humans, our wholeness is primary, and we cannot separate any part of ourselves fully out from the rest of us or place any part of ourselves into competition with other parts. Ultimately, our spirit, soul and body are mutually dependant entities, and we must start with our bodily experiences as the basis of our spiritual lives.

Another fact that keeps the study of these terms profoundly practical and embodied (vs. abstract or theoretical), is that all of these terms were first developed and debated in the context of learning to worship and pray (by Jews and later by Christians). We don’t realize today that virtually all arguments over the technicalities of terms such as “will” or “nous” or over the human nature of Christ (as well as over trinitarian doctrines and the hypostatic union of Christ’s divine and human natures) were grounded in the daily practices of worship and prayer. Christ prayed “not my will but your will be done,” and Maximus the Confessor had his tongue ripped out and his right hand cut off because he insisted that Christ had a fully human will. Maximus was a scholar, but his scholarship was grounded in practices of prayer that imitated Christ’s prayer in Gethsemane as well as practices that relied upon Christ’s restoration of our human will to freely cooperate with the will of God. The emperor who ordered that Maximus to be rendered incapable of speaking and writing was actually the one obsessed with pure abstractions. He was intellectually offended at the idea of Christ having a human will. Maximus, however, was motivated by his own experiences of prayer and of striving to be unified with God’s will.

From my little reading in the monastic traditions (desert fathers and mothers), it seems that “nous” and “passions” are the two most seriously lost or misunderstood terms. I won’t try to write about “nous” other than to say that I think it has something to do with having our perceptions wide open to God’s presence. My focus hear, however, is the interrelationship of seeming dualities such as matter and spirit or body and soul. In this context I will say more about the passions, but first I must back up to talk about our bodies.

Monastics systematically subdued and trained their bodies in order to regain their bodies as an essential and powerful means for communion with their loving Creator. They loved their bodies and wanted their bodies back from the tyranny of the passions, and that is why they pushed their bodies to the point of ruination. A weak body that worked powerfully as a mediator and conduit of God’s presence in all of the created world (the original purpose of our bodies) was far more healthy and delightful than a strong body that was enslaved and insensible to God’s presence.

Saints bodies are precious to themselves and likewise precious to those who love the saint. Christ’s body, even dead, was precious to the myrrh-bearing women. Christ’s body, even dead, was a means of God’s presence and communion with us. This is why the Orthodox still treasure and honor the bodies and even the cloths of saints. Elijah’s mantle carried his holiness, and Elisha’s ancient bones brought a dead man to life. Even since God’s Spirit brooded like a mother bird over the surface of the primordial waters and ever since this Spirit indwelt the clay of our first parents, this Spirit has been deeply involved with material things. Our human bodies both make manifest God’s presence (as does all matter) and also bring that presence to us via all five senses.

Paul seems to use “flesh” to denote the desire for things other than God. “Fleshly” and “worldly” vs. “heavenly” in Paul’s writings are not actually about material vs. immaterial. Platonists and Gnostics despised material things. In Plato’s cave, the shadow world had to be left far behind. This is not the Christian message. God’s material creation is good, and it is a powerful tool for communion with God. Paul’s terms “flesh” and “world” do not denigrate the human body or the material world. “Fleshly” and “heavenly” indicate purposes or orientations (specifically, realms of power and authority), with the same good material things being subject to different purposes and powers. Material things are “heavenly” insofar as we allow them to mediate God’s presence and God’s communion with us. These same material things are “fleshly” or “worldly” insofar as we abuse them to serve as distractions, alternatives, or barriers to God’s presence with us.

In a similar way, “passions” (within the writings of the monastics) were not simply strong feelings or bodily desires. This term, again, has to do with orientation or purpose. Within a long and profoundly practical tradition of writing and teaching about Christian prayer, the “passions” came to mean all of the habitual needs and desires that we develop for anything other than God. Feelings that do not control us or draw us away from God are not evil. However, we tend to need much work to learn to desire God, and our strong desires are often cruel taskmasters that work against our ability to love and long after God. Death is sometimes called the greatest passion because all of our desires for things other than God lead naturally to death. Christ’s death is also called his passion. In a remarkable reversal, St. Maximus the Confessor argues that Christ turned death from the most powerful weapon against our human natures (threatening to destroy them) into our most powerful weapon against sin (setting free our human natures). Christ made our passions and death itself a means of our salvation.

At this point, I want to close with a series of reflections that draw primarily on my personal experience. I find that it is delightful and profoundly comforting to be able to recognize and respond throughout my day to Christ’s presence with us in human history—to be able to enjoy (with my own body) the material results (or relics) of his incarnation as a man among us. What I mean is to be able to venerate his image, his cross, the bodies of his ministers and saints, the chalice from which I receive his body and blood. The Seventh Ecumenical Council restored the use of icons to the church after sophisticated thinkers (who wanted to make Christianity as spiritually and philosophically tidy and impressive as Islam) had taken the icons away.


Photo by Heather Mason.

St. John of Damascus wrote beautifully in defense of icons. Adam and Eve were the first icons (same word as images and idols) of God, and God told humans not to make any images of God because God did not want humans to replace themselves as the image of God. The tabernacle and temple were full of images. However, the mercy seat appeared empty (although filled with the fire and cloud of Spirit glory at key times), and the priest was the primary image or mediator of God’s presence. With Jesus Christ, the image of God in humanity is perfectly restored, and all images of the human Jesus Christ are images of God. Jesus Christ brings together the glory-cloud and the priest at His transfiguration. Also, all images of Christ’s saints are primarily icons of Jesus (including his living icons—us the church militant).

Now that Christ has come to live a perfect life among us, participating fully in our material existence, the only way to combat idolatry is to reverence, cherish, kiss, and adore every material thing that points to Jesus Christ (which turns out to be just about every single particle of matter that surrounds us). The only way to learn to worship the true God is to venerate all of the icons, images, and holy object that have been taken up into the celebration and worship of Jesus Christ over the thousands of years since his life among us. I love the line from Winks book: “We discover our body as ‘temple’ by going to a temple.” I would add that we also discover all of creation as a temple (it’s clear purpose throughout the Bible).

Here’s a little from St. John of Damascus (7th century):

I honor all matter, and venerate it. Through it, filled, as it were, with a divine power and grace, my salvation has come to me. Was the three-times happy and blessed wood of the Cross not matter? Was the sacred and holy mountain of Calvary not matter? What of the life-giving rock, the Holy Tomb, the source of our resurrection — was it not matter? Is the holy book of the Gospels not matter? Is the blessed table which gives us the Bread of Life not matter? Are the gold and silver, out of which crosses and altar-plate and chalices are made not matter? And before all these things, is not the body and blood of our Lord matter? Either stop venerating all these things, or submit to the tradition of the Church in the venerating of images, honoring God and his friends, and following in this the grace of the Holy Spirit. Do not despise matter, for it is not despicable. Nothing that God has made is. Only that which does not come from God is despicable — our own invention, the spontaneous decision to disregard the law of human nature, i.e., sin.

Even when we can’t see or feel it, we are blessed by having any small sign of Christ’s presence tangibly offered to us. Here is an extract from The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (a short scene described from memory by Prince Myshkin, the title character, when he is pressed to suggest a subject for a painting):

There is a ladder to the scaffold. Suddenly at the foot of the ladder he began to cry, and he was a strong, manly fellow; he had been a great criminal, I was told. The priest never left him for a moment; he drove with him in the cart and talked with him all the while. I doubt whether he heard; he might have begun listening but not have understood more than two words. So it must have been. At last he began going up the ladder; his legs were fettered so that he could move with only short steps. The priest, who must have been an intelligent man, left off speaking and only gave him the cross to kiss. At the foot of the ladder he was very pale, and when he was at the top and standing on the scaffold, he became as white as paper, as white as writing paper. His legs must have grown weak and wooden, and I expect he felt sick as though something were choking him and that made a sort of tickling in his throat. Have you ever felt that when you were frightened, or in awful moments when all your reason is left, but it has no power? I think that if one is faced by inevitable destruction—if a house is falling upon you, for instance—one must feel a great longing to sit down, close one’s eyes and wait, come what may…When that weakness was beginning, the priest with a rapid movement hastily put the cross to his lips—a little plain silver cross—he kept putting it to his lips every minute. And every time the cross touched his lips, he opened his eyes and seemed for a few seconds to come to life again, and his legs moved. He kissed the cross greedily; he made haste to kiss, as though in haste not to forget to provide himself with something in case of need; but I doubt whether he had any religious feeling at the time. And so it was till he was laid on the plank…It’s strange that people rarely faint at these last moments. On the contrary, the brain is extraordinarily lively and must be working at a tremendous rate—at a tremendous rate, like a machine at full speed. I fancy that there is a continual throbbing of ideas of all sorts, always unfinished and perhaps absurd too, quite irrelevant ideas—‘That man is looking at me. He has a wart on his forehead. One of the executioner’s buttons is rusty.’—and yet all the while one knows and remembers everything. There is one point which can never be forgotten, and one can’t faint, and everything moves and turns about it, about that point. And only think that it must be like that up to the last quarter of a second, when his head lies on the block and he waits and…knows, and suddenly hears above him the clang of the iron! He must hear that! If I were lying there, I should listen on purpose and hear. It may last only the tenth part of a second, but one would be sure to hear it. And only fancy, it’s still disputed whether, when the head is cut off, it knows for a second after that it has been cut off! What a thought! And what if it knows it for five seconds!

Paint the scaffold so that only the last step can be distinctly seen in the foreground and the criminal having just stepped on it; his head, his face as white as paper; the priest holding up the cross, the man greedily putting forward his blue lips and looking—and aware of everything. The cross and the head—that’s the picture. The priest’s face and the executioner’s, his two attendants and a few heads and eyes below might be painted in the background, in half light, as the setting…That’s the picture!

Since reading this passage, my life now maps in many ways to this prisoner on the way to the executioner’s block. I’m offered the little cross to kiss (in daily and weekly prayers and sacraments), and I’m recalled to life long enough to take one more step, to get up and move forward for one more day or week or minute. Although, in day-to-day living, I am only occasionally aware of my needs to this extent.

To close with a few images that resonate more regularly in day-to-day life, Saint Macarius (4th century) describes the human heart this way:

Within the heart are unfathomable depths. . . . It is but a small vessel: and yet dragons and lions are there, and there poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There likewise is God, there are the angels, there life and the Kingdom, there light and the Apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace: all things are there. [The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 15.32]

Outside of ourselves, Chesterton has lovely passages about our “cosy little cosmos,” and how it should feel like a warm and welcoming home (rather than a vast and uninhabitable universe). Chesterton captures the idea of the whole material cosmos as conveying the presence of our Creator and Father in heaven. Gerard Manley Hopkins also does this remarkably in many of his poems (for example, when he describes the stars as our glimpse into the home of “Christ and his mother and all his hallows“). Finally, I’m reminded of Robert Kirk’s claim (in The Secret Commonwealth) that there is “no place nor creature but is supposed to have other animals (greater or lesser) living in or upon it as inhabitants; and no such thing as a pure wilderness in the whole universe.” Taken together, these images of the universe from Chesterton, Hopkins, and Kirk suggest that the physical sciences of astronomy and atomic physics are both exploring the domains of human and angelic life. Madeline L’Engle is another author who makes this point that microscopes and telescopes both point into the realm of heavenly powers. This is the entire premise of A Wind in the Door, and Meg’s battle cry at the end of that story captures much of this:

Be caterpillar and comet,
be porcupine and planet,
sea sand and solar system,
sing with us,
dance with us,
rejoice with us,
for the glory of creation,
sea gulls and seraphim,
angle worms and angel host,
chrysanthemum and cherubim
(O cherubim)
Sing for the glory
of the living and the loving
the flaming of creation

Even Disney Studios has given it’s own voice to this ancient understanding of our entire cosmos as the home of us and our ancestors:

Pumbaa: Timon, ever wonder what those sparkly dots are up there?
Timon: Pumbaa, I don’t wonder; I know.
Pumbaa: Oh. What are they?
Timon: They’re fireflies. Fireflies that, uh… got stuck up on that big bluish-black thing.
Pumbaa: Oh. Gee. I always thought that they were balls of gas burning billions of miles away.
Timon: Pumbaa, wit’ you, everything’s gas.
Pumbaa: Simba, what do you think?
Simba: Well, I don’t know…
Pumbaa: Aw come on. Give, give, give… Well, come on, Simba, we told you ours… pleeeease?
Simba: …Well, somebody once told me that the great kings of the past are up there, watching over us.
Pumbaa: Really?
Timon: You mean a bunch of royal dead guys are watching us?
Pumbaa: Who told you something like that?
Timon: What mook made that up?
Simba: Yeah. Pretty dumb, huh?

There are no one-to-one corollaries between the material and the heavenly realms. The connections between “earthy things” and “ethereal things” work like language—like metaphors and the etymologies of words—with multiple clusters of association and with rooted histories branching back into the past. Scientific knowledge is wonderful. However, when we think of knowledge as the exploration of how matter and energy interact (or any other reductions), we impoverish our understanding of the world that we seek to know. True knowledge is always a form of love. The starting point, therefore, is simply to honor all matterfrom galaxies to nucleito love both their stories and their structures as beautiful and mysterious revelations.

We must regain ways of seeing and talking aboutGod (and all of God’s creatures) within all of Creation. This is simply learning to “pray without ceasing” during every type of work throughout our daily lives. This means learning to have a different consciousness of the physical world and of our own bodies. Our modern lives do not teach us this. Ancient prayer practices did teach this greater consciousness of ourselves and our surroundings. In addition, all of the natural processes of maturation and suffering (such as losing a loved one) still do teach us these ways of understanding. We simply have many distractions in our current ways of living. We have to move slowly but deliberately to recover these older ways of seeing.

When Christ ascended to heaven to be hidden behind a cloud (and enthroned beside God the Father in glory until his return), Christ was hidden from view like the sun—just veiled by the clouds. Many ancient hymns draw close parallels between Christ and the sun (reigning victorious from heaven and giving light to all). I often tell my children that Jesus is not far away. Although he has a glorified body in heaven that we cannot see, I emphasized that his heavenly body is “as close as the sun.” It is just hidden by clouds for now, not immediately visible but close at hand, still indirectly seen and felt. I also remind my children that the body and blood of Jesus are given to us in the chalice from the altar—as food and drink that we take into our bodies. We know Jesus Christ through many different things and in many different ways, including this sunlight and this bread and wine. His closeness to us is profound.

Note: here are two books that I felt were particularly helpful to me with some of this a few years ago:

  • The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God by Robert Louis Wilken.
  • Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K.A. Smith.
  • I’m also drawing (very ineptly) upon my understandings of many other writers such as G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, David Bentley Hart, and Fr. Stephen Freeman.


January 23, 2018

I fill you with Naming

We finished A Wind in the Door by Madeline L’Engle this evening. Here’s part of Meg’s final battle song:

I fill you with Naming.
Be, butterfly and behemoth,
be galaxy and grasshopper,
star and sparrow,
you matter,
you are,
Be caterpillar and comet,
be porcupine and planet,
sea sand and solar system,
sing with us,
dance with us,
rejoice with us,
for the glory of creation,
sea gulls and seraphim,
angle worms and angel host,
chrysanthemum and cherubim
(O cherubim)
Sing for the glory
of the living and the loving
the flaming of creation
sing with us
dance with us
be with us

Tags: , ,
January 14, 2018

no such thing as a pure wilderness in the whole universe

From The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies by Robert Kirk (1644-1692). (Find more here about Kirk and this work of his.) The first paragraph is my rewrite into modern English, and the next is the original spelling:

Their bodies of congealled air are some times caried aloft. Other times they grovel in different shapes, and enter into any cranny or cleft of the earth where air enters, to their ordinary dwellings (the earth being full of cavities and cells)—and there being no place nor creature but is supposed to have other animals (greater or lesser) living in or upon it as inhabitants; and no such thing as a pure wilderness in the whole universe.

Original spelling:

There Bodies of congealled Air are fome tymes caried aloft, other whiles grovell in different Schapes, and enter into any Cranie or Clift of the Earth where Air enters, to their ordinary Dwellings; the Earth being full of Cavities and Cells, and there being no Place nor Creature but is fuppofed to have other Animals (greater or lefler) living in or upon it as Inhabitants; and no fuch thing as a pure Wildernefe in the whole Univerfe.

January 13, 2018

Response to Walter Wink’s book Naming the Powers

Father Stephen Freeman recommends Walter Wink’s book Naming the Powers:

A book worth looking at viz. the powers is Walter Wink’s Naming the Powers. As successive volumes of this came out, I thought it got a bit strange, but I remember this volume as very much worth the read.

I just read Wink’s book, found it eminently worthwhile, and have shared selections here.

In addition, below are my brief responses to Wink’s book. This book recommendation from Father Stephen comes in the comments to his blog post “When Chaos Ruled the World – Part I” (January 9, 2018).

Several comments compared points made by David Bentley Hart in his recent essay, “Everything you know about the Gospel of Paul is likely wrong.” Hart and Freeman do say some similar things. From Hart, for example:

The essence of Paul’s theology is something far stranger, and unfolds on a far vaster scale. For Paul, the present world-age is rapidly passing, while another world-age differing from the former in every dimension – heavenly or terrestrial, spiritual or physical – is already dawning. The story of salvation concerns the entire cosmos; and it is a story of invasion, conquest, spoliation and triumph. For Paul, the cosmos has been enslaved to death, both by our sin and by the malign governance of those ‘angelic’ or ‘daemonian’ agencies who reign over the earth from the heavens, and who hold spirits in thrall below the earth. These angelic beings, these Archons, whom Paul calls Thrones and Powers and Dominations and Spiritual Forces of Evil in the High Places, are the gods of the nations. In the Letter to the Galatians, he even hints that the angel of the Lord who rules over Israel might be one of their number. Whether fallen, or mutinous, or merely incompetent, these beings stand intractably between us and God. But Christ has conquered them all.

In descending to Hades and ascending again through the heavens, Christ has vanquished all the Powers below and above that separate us from the love of God, taking them captive in a kind of triumphal procession.

From Freeman, for example:

But in the Eastern Church, the Baptism of Christ takes up these Old Testament references of struggle with the watery chaos. Christ’s entry into the waters is understood as a foreshadowing of His entrance into Hades. It is a defeat of the hostile powers. The same theme runs throughout the sacrament of Baptism itself. The destruction of the demons is easily the strongest theme within that service. …It is not a hymn of payment, or punishment, but of going into the strongman’s kingdom, binding him and setting free those who are held captive. The heads of the dragons are crushed, the heads of leviathan are broken in pieces, Rahab has been cut apart.

Within the comments, Freeman acknowledges some common ground with Hart:

Hart is close on in his description, but his article is far too short. “Archons” (Ages) and the like (principalities, powers, etc.) are various forms of spiritual beings – though we shouldn’t necessarily equate them exactly with angels. It’s more complex than that. The gnostics use some of the same terms, but do not seem to have in mind the same things as described in St. Paul.

…It’s a very complex set of understandings – which makes it so easy for pseudo-scholars to manipulate for various agendas rather than trying to articulate what is, in fact, the case (with St. Paul, etc.). But I would agree with Hart, that what most people (i.e. our present Western understanding) see when they read St. Paul is, in fact, not what’s there.

In addition to my reading of Freeman and Hart as a recent convert to Orthodoxy (the tradition that both authors espouse), I personally have been teaching a medieval literature class (to middle school students) and reflecting on the nature of elves and monsters within medieval literature as well as the works of Tolkien, Lewis, and Macdonald. See here and here, for examples.

Within these contexts, I have again encountered the ideas of “the principalities and powers” of the Biblical authors.

Naming the Powers by Walter Wink was a very strong study of the terms involved. Wink starts with the texts and responds to the tendency of modern liberation theology to reduce “the powers” to the institutional, social, and legal structures of injustice. Wink also responds to other modern authors who have attempted to reduce the powers to “good” angelic beings carrying out the will of God.

In his own conclusions, Wink seeks to fully synthesize or reconcile ancient (mythic and spiritual) with modern (material or institutional/phycological/sociological) understandings. In his own conclusions from the texts, Wink is critical of both ancient and modern ideas or worldviews. Wink is critical of traditionalists (including the “orthodox church” specifically) for simply spiritualizing these “powers” as well as of moderns for reducing “the powers” to material or scientific categories. (Wink’s criticism of the Orthodox is ill-informed but in a very typical and understandable way.)

Read Wink’s more complete case for yourself. Here is a core sample:

What I propose is viewing the spiritual Powers not as separate heavenly or ethereal entities but as the inner aspect of material or tangible manifestations of power. I suggest that the “angels of nature” are the patterning of physical things-rocks, trees, plants, the whole God-glorifying, dancing, visible universe; that the “principalities and powers” are the inner or spiritual essence, or gestalt, of an institution or state or system; that the “demons” are the psychic or spiritual power emanated by organizations or individuals or subaspects of individuals whose energies are bent on overpowering others; that “gods” are the very real archetypal or ideological structures that determine or govern reality and its mirror, the human brain; that the mysterious “elements of the universe” (stoicheia cheia tou kosmou) are the invariances (formerly called “laws”) which, though often idolized by humans, conserve the self-consistency of each level of reality in its harmonious interrelationship with every other level and the Whole; and that “Satan” is the actual power that congeals around collective idolatry, injustice, or inhumanity, a power that increases or decreases according to the degree of collective refusal to choose higher values.

…These “Powers” do not, then, on this hypothesis, have a separate, spiritual existence. We encounter them primarily in reference to the material or “earthly” reality of which they are the innermost essence. The spiritual aspect of the Powers is not simply a “personification” of institutional qualities that would exist whether they were personified or not. On the contrary, the spirituality of an institution exists as a real aspect of the institution even when it is not perceived as such.

…It is far from the case, then, that human beings create their gods. The “spirits” of things emerge with the things themselves and are only subsequently divined as their inner essence. The gods, spirits, and demons are not mere personifications or hypostatizations. That is the language of reductionism; it means that these entities are not regarded as real, but only as poetic fictions or shorthand for speaking about realities the historian knows how to describe more precisely with his analytical tools. Personification means illusion. The Powers we are speaking about, on the contrary, are real. They work on us whether we acknowledge them or not. They do not depend on our belief for their efficacy. Humans cannot even lay claim to creating these Powers indirectly, by virtue of creating the structures…. To be sure, we do establish new structures and modify old ones. Insofar as we share in the creative process and bring new consciousness to it, we help create the spirituality of things. There is a reciprocity, so we could argue that it is as true to say that the gods create us as to say that we create the gods.

I agree with Wink that the ancient Christian understanding of these powers (and of the heavenly realm in totality) did not separate the physical and the spiritual realms but rather understood them to be radically and totally coterminous. Wink draws this critical insight out beautifully. However, in his synthesis of ancient and modern categories of thought, Wink does not fully account for the continuity and distinctness of the various “powers” as creatures made by God. We must recognize that God creates the “inner aspect of material or tangible manifestations of power” and that these “inner realities” can exist across time and in relation to multiple physical or “outer realities.” Wink himself gives an excellent example of this without seeming to concede the full implications of his example:

The very demons themselves, so long regarded as baleful spirits in the air, are pictured by the Gospels as abhorring decorporealization. When Jesus orders the “Legion” of demons out of the Gerasene demoniac, they plead to be allowed to possess a nearby herd of swine (Mark 5:12). The historicity of the conception is guaranteed regardless of the historicity of the event. The unclean spirit can find no rest without a physical body in which to reside (Luke 11:24-26). The sense is clear: demons can become manifest only through concretion in material reality. They are, in short, the name given that real but invisible spirit of destructiveness and fragmentation that rends persons, communities, and nations.

I fully appreciate the point about the “demons themselves … abhorring decorporealization,” but Wink seems to miss that it is the same demons inhabiting a single human at one moment and multiple pigs at the next. The demons are more than the “the psychic or spiritual power emanated” by a man (or a herd of pigs) “whose energies are bent on overpowering others.” These demons are intimately bound up with these destructive qualities in the man and the pigs, but they are also independent of both the man and the pigs in some fundamental way. Wink may account for this by not connecting all “powers” and interior realities to specific outward realities, but I did not notice him making this case.

Having read Wink, it seems to me most likely that God made more specific internal and spiritual realities than there are specific material and external realities. Every single person, nation, city, star, and blade of grass has its own unique angel that participates fully with the outer reality of that particular person or blade of grass (God and His spiritual servants being outside of time, the shortness of life for blades of grass is not a major issue here), but there are also angels (fallen, faithful, or just ignorant and confused) who are not directly connected to specific material things and who move among all of the many external/material realities that align with their own ways of being. Any person or institution manifesting hate and pride can accommodate Satan or some other such devils, for example.

These quibbles not withstanding, I am very grateful to Wink for his clear and thoughtful exposition of “the powers” in the Bible. My list of “things learned” from his book would be long indeed! Please see these excerpts and buy his book to read in full. Here are some of the areas in which I took away clarified and enriched understandings:

  • All New Testament authors were heavily invested in sophisticated ideas and complex vocabularies regarding hierarchical spiritual powers (that were typically coterminous with earthly and material powers).
  • Heaven is not a remote realm that is separate from earth in terms of space. Rather, heaven is the realm where the spiritual and inner qualities or truths of all things within the created world are seen and manifest.
  • Spiritual realities are not best understood as simply “immaterial” but in positive categories such as more fundamental, hidden, or interior.
  • Biblical authors had sophisticated ideas of angels connected to each nation of the earth.
  • Biblical authors understood heaven, earth, and each human person in terms of macrocosm and microcosm. They understood there to be a deep reciprocity, connection, or correspondence between different realms and on different scales. Each human person is a temple that in some sense reflects all of the material cosmos which is itself a temple that reflects the heavenly throne room of God.
  • In prayer and in faithful service to God, the church preaches to the angelic powers, teaching and changing realities within their realm. In connection to this, the book includes some specific and meaningful consideration of the divine liturgy in Revelation.
January 13, 2018

every blade of grass, every rock crystal, acorn, and ovum has its “messenger” (angelos)

Selections from Naming the Powers by Walter Wink (see my own thoughts here):

The language of power pervades the whole New Testament. No New Testament book is without the language of power. The phrase archai kai exousiai (“principalities and powers”) is but one of many paired expressions for power and should not be singled out as of unique significance. Other such pairs are:

  • Rulers (archontes) and great men (Matt. 20:25)
  • Those who supposedly rule (hoi dokountes archein) and great men (Mark 10:42)
  • Kings (basileis) and those in authority (hoi exousiazontes) (Luke 22:25)
  • Chief priests (archiereis) and rulers (archontes) (Luke 24:20)
  • Authorities (archonten) and Pharisees (John 7:48)
  • Rulers (archontes) and elders (Acts 4:8)
  • Kings and rulers (archontes) (Acts 4:26)
  • Angels and principalities (archai) (Rom. 8:38)
  • Power (dynamei) and name (onomati) (Acts 4:7)
  • Power (dynamin) and wisdom (sophian) (1 Cor. 1:24)
  • Power (dynamin) and authority (exousian) (Luke 9:1; Rev. 17:13)
  • Authority (exousias) and commission (epitropes) (Acts 26:12)
  • Authority (exousia) and power (dynamei) (Luke 4:36)

Half of these (7) are found in the Gospels, 4 in Acts, and only 2 in Paul.

…Not only do expressions for power tend to be paired, they also attract each other into series or strings, as if power were so diffuse and impalpable a phenomenon that words must be heaped up in clusters in order to catch a sense of its complexity. One need only scan this list of phrases to get a sense of their variety and frequency:

  • Chief priests, captains, elders (Luke 22:52)
  • Chief priests, rulers (archontas), people (Luke 23:13)
  • Rulers (archontas), elders, scribes (Acts 4:5)
  • Synagogues, rulers (archas), and authorities (exousias) (Luke 12:11)
  • Death, life, angels, principalities (archai), present, future, powers (dynameis), height, depth, any other creature (Rom. 8:38)
  • Rule (arches), authority (exousias), power (dynamebs), dominion (kyriotetos), iotetos), name (onomatos) (Eph. 1:21)
  • Principalities (archas), powers (exousias), (dynamebs), dominion (kyriotetos), iotetos), name (onomatos) (Eph. 1:21)
  • Principalities (archas), powers (exousias), world rulers (kosmokratoras), kratoras), spirits of wickedness (pneumatika tes ponerias) (Eph. 6:12)
  • Thrones (thronoi), dominions (kyriotetes), principalities (archai), authorities thorities (exousial) (Col. 1:16)
  • Angels, authorities (exousion), powers (dynameon) (1 Pet. 3:22)
  • Power (dynamin), throne (thronon), authority (exousian) (Rev. 13:2)
  • Salvation, power (dynamis), kingdom, authority (exousia) (Rev. 12:10)
  • Glory, majesty, dominion (kratos), authority (exousia) (Jude 25)

Of these strings, the first four decidedly consist of human agents, the last two run more to attributes of one who has power. The remainder appear to be at least heavenly, perhaps also earthly, powers; for now that question, which will remain one of the chief preoccupations of this study, must remain open.

…Chapter 2 headings: The Powers:

  • Arch and Archon
  • Exousia
  • Dynamis
  • Thronos
  • Kyriotes
  • Onoma
  • Angels
  • Fallen Angels, Evil Spirits, Demons

[In “The Disputed Passages” of chapter 3 (“The New Testament Evidence”), the author also includes careful treatment of “the seven references to the stoicheia (‘elements’) in the New Testament.” Appendix 4 includes a survey of stoicheia (‘elements’) within the writings of the early church fathers.]

…For the ancients, heaven and earth were a seamless robe, a single interacting and continuous reality. To read the literature on the subject, one would never have suspected that the spiritual Powers comprised only 15 percent of the uses of the term. We are fascinated with the supranatural forces the ancients described; they seem to have taken them for granted and to have been much more preoccupied with that more amorphous, intangible, indefinable something that makes it possible for a king to command subjects to voluntary death in war or for a priest to utter words that send a king to his knees. Perhaps they lacked the systematic precision of modem sociological analyses of power, but that does not mean they lacked experience of what our modem analyses describe or a vocabulary for designating it. And they may have been in touch with dimensions of power which our more materialistic point of view scarcely glimpses.

…The plurality of thrones around a central throne suggests the “sons of God” (bone elohim) of the heavenly council, but no further reference is made to them. No surviving documents allude to these thrones again prior to the New Testament. Those that have been cited by some scholars are all late.” But some kind of speculative ferment must have existed almost from the publication of Daniel, for what crops up in the Book of Revelation is a full-blown and mature picture of God’s throne surrounded by twenty-four thrones, on which were seated twenty-four elders with golden crowns (Rev. 4:4 [twice]; so also 4:2; 11:16; 20:4). We are given little data for deciphering the identity of these heavenly “elders”; by analogy they are “advice-givers” and possibly represent the heavenly council. But in this book they give no advice, only praise.

…This connection between the angels or “princes” of the nations and the “sons of God” is also reflected by Isaiah 41-46 and 48, where Yahweh, in a “divine lawsuit” (rib) before the heavenly council, addresses the pagan nations, calling them to hear his case. The real suit, however, is not with the nations as such but with their idol-gods. Since Israelite tradition had already long since identified the “sons of God” or “sons of gods” with the heavenly council, and the heavenly council with angels, it was perfectly natural and inevitable that early on these gods of the pagan nations would be understood as the guardian angels appointed over them. What we find in Daniel 10, the Jerusalem Targum, and the Dead Sea Scrolls had thus already had a long prehistory.

The notion of angels appointed over each nation, devoted to that nation’s well-being and responsible for its fate, represents a kind of systems-view of international politics under the aspect of God’s final sovereignty.

…We must not regard these angels of the nations as necessarily evil; they merely represent the interests of their own people, which would not evidently be served by Israel’s ascendancy over them.

…It may be that an awareness of the relation between the good will of the angel and the responsiveness of a people to preaching is what later led Father Peter Faber, a colleague of Ignatius Loyola, to pray to the angel of a region before entering it.’6

Origen interpreted Acts 16:9 in a similar way. When Paul saw in a vision a “man of Macedonia” beseeching him, “Come over and help us,” Origen understood this to be the angel of Macedonia appealing to Paul for help in bringing the people under its care into alignment with the purposes of God.’

…”The heavenlies,” in short, is that dimension of reality of which the believer becomes aware as a result of being “raised up” by God with Christ. It is a heightened awareness, the consciousness of a noumenal realm in which the final contest for the lordship of all reality is being waged. The “sons of disobedience” are “dead” to this reality.”‘ It is known only by It is a gift that cannot be achieved,”‘ a mystery that cannot be plumbed apart from divine illumination,”‘ a knowledge that cannot simply be added to existing knowledge but that requires an altogether new mind, indeed, a new humanity. 115

But it is not simply a state of rapture. It is an actual, new, epistemic standpoint which surpasses gnosis (Eph. 3:19), and the believer’s comprehension pertains not just to the things of God, but also to the reality, deceptions, and delusionary snares of evil. Against this they must be armed (6:10-20); thus armed, they are able to “expose” the “unfruitful works of darkness” (5:11) and make them become “visible” (5:13).

This is of utmost importance. The true dimensions of evil, according to the writer, are known only through revelation, however bad life may have seemed before. And the consequence of revelation, conversely, is not to rescue the believers from a world of evil but to open their eyes, to bring them “light” (Eph. 5:14), and thereby to enlist them in the struggle for liberation. Just as peasants liberated from the control of a military dictatorship are not freed from conflict but freed for conflict, the Christian is recruited into the ranks of God in the grace-ful struggle to bring the world to the truth (1:13) that the crucified and risen Christ is its principle of harmony and power (1:20-23). “The heavenlies” where the believer has already been established is thus a kind of “liberated zone,” in John Pairman Brown’s phrase,120 although with this caveat: those who are in this “liberated zone” are not at all free from the possibility of collusion with the old Powers or even of apostasy. But they are provided a space of relative freedom from determination by the Powers. Ta epourania is thus very similar to the phrase “the kingdom of God” as used in the Gospels, and subject to the same ambiguities.

…The most puzzling aspect of Eph. 3:10, however, is why-and how-the church is to preach to the Powers in the heavenlies. The image is similar to Revelation 1-3, where the one like a son of man commands John to tell the angels of the churches what needs to be done in their churches. We are not told why this communication is not made directly by Christ to the angels. Apparently humans are necessary as intermediaries to the angels: angels’ angels! But how this message is to be communicated to the Powers is not said, nor do any commentators remark on it.127 Rev. 12:11 speaks of Satan being conquered by the faith and testimony of the martyrs, but not of their addressing Satan. The same is true of the passage in Ignatius which speaks of “the powers (dynameis) of Satan” being destroyed by the frequent gatherings of the church to give thanks and glory to God; “his mischief is brought to nothing, by the concord of your faith. There is nothing better than peace, by which every war in heaven and on earth is abolished” (Eph. 13). In both cases the Powers are affected by what the church does on earth, but in neither case does the church address them.

Chapter 4. Toward an Interpretation

1. The language of power pervades the whole New Testament. Surveying all the data covered, it is amazing that this has been so consistently overlooked. On every page of the New Testament one fords the terminology of power. those incumbents, offices, structures, roles, institutions, ideologies, rituals, rules, agents, and spiritual influences by which power is established and exercised. The language and reality of power pervade the New Testament because power is one of the primary ways the world is organized and run. No human activity can be described without recourse to this language. Earlier scholarly preoccupation with personified aspects of power has diverted attention from the pervasiveness of this use of the language of power. Since the Book of Revelation fails to use the stereotypical phrases of the Pauline and Paulinist literature, some scholars have declared that it lacks interest in such matters altogether-a staggering claim, since no other writing in the New Testament burns with such intense political fury. When we broaden the issue to the language of power generally, however, quite a different picture of Revelation emerges. John the Seer uses thronos 45 times, onoma 36 times, exousia 20 times, dynamic 2 times, and archon I time, a veritable thesaurus of power terms. But with the sole exception of the latter (used of Christ in 1:5), John uses these terms not as names of spiritual powers (for which he prefers more surrealistic images, such as Dragon, Beast, frogs, locusts, etc.), but as names of political rulership (2:26; 17:12-13), the dominion of angels (14:18), delegated authority (9:3; 13:4, 5, 7, 12), and so forth. The fact is that no book in the whole Bible is so thoroughly preoccupied with evil powers and their defeat.

Another surprising finding of our study is that the synoptic Gospels use the terminology of power almost as frequently as does Paul, whose name is most often associated with the Powers. This fact has been overlooked looked simply because the Gospels tend to use the language of power of human or structural, rather than spiritual, entities. Paul for his part developed a quite unique manner of dealing with the determinants of human existence, substituting such quasi-hypostatized words as sin, law, flesh, and death for the terms more frequently encountered in Jewish apocalyptic: Satan, Azazel, Beliar, evil spirits, demons. In short, when we attend not merely to the terminology but the meaning field which is being denoted, Paul’s letters, like the rest of the New Testament, can be described as a theology of power.’

2. The language of power in the New Testament is extremely imprecise, precise, liquid, interchangeable, and unsystematic, yet

3. Despite all this imprecision and interchangeability, certain clear patterns of usage emerge. We found ourselves to be dealing not with analytically precise categories used consistently from one passage to another other but with terms that cluster and swarm around the reality they describe, scribe, as if by heaping up synonymous phrases and parallel constructions an intuitive sense of the reality described might emerge. So we discovered series, strings, and pairs of terms used with a kind of consistent indiscriminateness, and within this field of language, a genuine power-reality that comes to expression. However, this very promiscuity of language meant that

4. Because these terms are to a degree interchangeable, one or a pair or a series can be made to represent them all. Furthermore, an initial sifting of data suggested that

5. These Powers are both heavenly and earthly, divine and human, spiritual and political, invisible and structural, and that

6. These Powers are also both good and evil. Evidence for these two observations should have by now proven cumulatively overwhelming and needs no further elaboration.

7. Unless the context further specifies, we are to take the terms for power in their most comprehensive sense, understanding them to mean both heavenly and earthly, divine and human, good and evil powers (see beginning of Part Two, p. 39).

…These categories are mythic. Consequently, our approach to interpretation must avoid all attempts to “modernize” insofar as this means ignoring the mythic dimension of the text and transferring it in an unmediated mediated way into modern (mythic) categories. It may be that the principalities and powers have been neglected as much as they have since the Enlightenment precisely because they were not easily reducible to modem themes.

Chapter 5. Interpreting the Myth

…Eph. 3:10 spoke of the church’s task as proclaiming now the manifold wisdom of God to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. We were unable to find anything in the first-century background capable of making that intelligible within the limits of the modem worldview. But perhaps that point of unintelligibility was reached for some readers even earlier, when, for example, Christ was declared to have already put the Powers under his feet, or when God was said to have led them captive in Christ’s triumphal procession, or when the Powers were affirmed as having been created in and through and for Christ. For the mythic dimension—the atemporal, cosmic, supernatural aspect of the story—was not inserted in the final text we dealt with, as if we had held back the worst for last. It has accompanied us from the outset, permeating every statement made about the Powers. We found, in short, that the mythic is not the residue left over and discardable after precisely that which we may have lost sight of and need to recover.

…What I propose is viewing the spiritual Powers not as separate heavenly or ethereal entities but as the inner aspect of material or tangible manifestations of power. I suggest that the “angels of nature” are the patterning of physical things-rocks, trees, plants, the whole God-glorifying, dancing, visible universe; that the “principalities and powers” are the inner or spiritual essence, or gestalt, of an institution or state or system; that the “demons” are the psychic or spiritual power emanated by organizations or individuals or subaspects of individuals whose energies are bent on overpowering others; that “gods” are the very real archetypal or ideological structures that determine or govern reality and its mirror, the human brain; that the mysterious “elements of the universe” (stoicheia cheia tou kosmou) are the invariances (formerly called “laws”) which, though often idolized by humans, conserve the self-consistency of each level of reality in its harmonious interrelationship with every other level and the Whole; and that “Satan” is the actual power that congeals around collective idolatry, injustice, or inhumanity, a power that increases or decreases according to the degree of collective refusal to choose higher values.

…These “Powers” do not, then, on this hypothesis, have a separate, spiritual existence. We encounter them primarily in reference to the material or “earthly” reality of which they are the innermost essence. The spiritual aspect of the Powers is not simply a “personification” of institutional qualities that would exist whether they were personified or not. On the contrary, the spirituality of an institution exists as a real aspect of the institution even when it is not perceived as such.

…The very demons themselves, so long regarded as baleful spirits in the air, are pictured by the Gospels as abhorring decorporealization. When Jesus orders the “Legion” of demons out of the Gerasene demoniac, they plead to be allowed to possess a nearby herd of swine (Mark 5:12). The historicity of the conception is guaranteed regardless of the historicity of the event. The unclean spirit can find no rest without a physical body in which to reside (Luke 11:24-26). The sense is clear: demons can become manifest only through concretion in material reality. They are, in short, the name given that real but invisible spirit of destructiveness and fragmentation that rends persons, communities, and nations.

…Even to say, as Cullman did, that the Powers are both earthly and heavenly is, on this reading, still too imprecise. “Both” suggests two different sets of agents, some human or institutional, others divine or demonic. What we are arguing is that the Powers are simultaneously the outer and inner aspects of one and the same indivisible concretion of power. “Spiritual” here means the inner dimension of the material, the “within” of things, the subjectivity of objective entities in the world.2 Instead of the old dualism of matter and spirit, we can now regard matter and spirit as united in one indivisible reality, distinguishable in two discrete but interrelated manifestations.’ Nothing less than insistence on this unity makes sense of the unexplained ambiguity in the usage of the New Testament language of power. Nothing less can account for the authors’ apparent expectation that readers will understand exactly what is meant despite the great fluidity and imprecision of usage.

…It is the tendency to deify the mechanism and reduce human agents to mere things that creates the peculiar demonism of modern capitalist economics.

…We must learn to break the habit of taking a merely visible part for the whole. No one, comments Hinkelammert, has ever seen a company, a school, a state, or a system of ownership. What they have seen are the physical elements of such institutions, that is to say, the building in which the school or business functions, or the people who are its operatives. The institution, however, is the totality of its activities and as such is a mostly invisible object.’ When we confuse what the eye beholds with the totality, we commit the same reductionist fallacy as those Colossians who mistook the basic elements (stoicheia) of things for the ultimate reality (Col. 2:8, 20). The consequence of such confusion is always slavery to the unseen power behind the visible elements: the spirituality of the institution or state or stone.

…The early church understood this quite clearly. When the Roman archons (magistrates) ordered the early Christians to worship the imperial spirit or genius, they refused, kneeling instead and offering prayers on the emperor’s behalf to God. This seemingly innocuous act was far more exasperating and revolutionary than outright rebellion would have been. Rebellion simply acknowledges the absoluteness and ultimacy of the emperor’s power, and attempts to seize it. Prayer denies that ultimacy altogether by acknowledging a higher power. Rebellion would have focused solely on the physical institution and its current incumbents and attempted to displace them by an act of superior force. But prayer challenged the very spirituality of the empire itself and called the empire’s “angel,” as it were, before the judgment seat of God.

Such sedition could not go unpunished. With rebels the solution was simple. No one challenged the state’s right to execute rebels. They had bought into the power-game on the empire’s terms and lost, and the rules of the game required their liquidation. The rebels themselves knew this before they started. But what happens when a state executes those who are praying for it? When Christians knelt in the Colosseum to pray as lions bore down on them, something sullied the audience’s thirst for revenge. Even in death these Christians were not only challenging the ultimacy of the emperor and the “spirit” of empire but also demonstrating the emperor’s powerlessness to impose his will even by death. The final sanction had been publicly robbed of its power. Even as the lions lapped the blood of the saints, Caesar was stripped of his arms and led captive in Christ’s triumphal procession. His authority was shown to be only penultimate after all. And even those who wished most to deny such a thing were forced, by the very punishment they chose to inflict, to behold its truth. It was a contest of all the brute force of Rome against a small sect that merely prayed. Who could have predicted that the tiny sect would win?

…The gnostics were the earliest psychologists, comments Victor White. They explored the inner world by the indirect means of the language of myth, projecting their interior phantasms out on the screen of the heavens and dressing them out in a pretentious allegorizing philosophy. Their radical introspection led them to reject the material world and to be caught finally in the abyss of the archetypes of the collective unconscious.’ The gifts they might have brought to the world at large were vitiated by their understandable inability to make this unconscious process conscious. But they were not even drawn to do so, because their ideology had already rejected the structure of this world for a pseudoreality in the beyond.10

The orthodox church, for its part, rigidly cleaved to materiality but soon found itself the darling of Constantine. Called on to legitimate the empire, the church abandoned much of its social critique. The Powers were soon divorced from political affairs and made airy spirits who preyed only on individuals. The state was thus freed of one of the most powerful brakes against idolatry, although prophetic voices never ceased to be raised now and again anyway.

…What is the mythic point common to all these texts, with their insistence that Christ was previously unknown to the angels? How is it possible for them to be ignorant of their very own principle of systemicity (Col. 1:17, synestiken, the etymological root of our word “system”), the one in whom all things “hold together,” “cohere,” “find their harmonious unity”? How is it that they are ignorant of that in and through and for which they exist (Col. 1:16)? We must lay aside all systematic and logical objections and simply let the myth speak for itself. What it seems to claim is that the universe itself is blind to its own principle of cohesion. It operates cohesively, but without the parts perceiving that fact. Put in a more modern mode, the universe is late in arriving at awareness of itself as a unity, and this awareness has come into the world for the first time with humanity. We can actually date the moment of its dawning in the axiological period of the great prophets of Israel, the philosophers of Greece, and Buddha and Lao-tzu in the East.” It was then that the historically unprecedented sense of the unity of all things first was effectively articulated, although it was probably intuitively sensed far earlier. On the strength of that apprehension, both Israel’s conception of Yahweh’s universal sovereignty and Greek science and philosophy became possible.

With Christ Jesus a new dimension was added, however. The just man is killed. The embodiment of God’s will is executed by God’s servants. The incarnation of the orderly principles of the universe is crucified by the guardians of order. The very nucleus of spiritual power in the universe is destroyed by the spiritual powers. The parts do not or cannot know the effect of their acts on the whole, and some, less innocently, by their worship of their own selfish short-term interests, have become detrimental to the good of the whole. The angels did not know the Lord of glory, nor did the captains and jailers and chief priests and governors. The cosmic process of reconciliation could not begin until they “saw” him.

…The Powers did not know, but they know now. Even many modern secular states bear a legacy of titles that remind them, against even their own dominant ideologies, Whose they are, and why. These states continue to name the various branches of government the civil service, the military service, the ministry of justice, the ministry of education, revealing in these very titles the tacit recognition that they exist only on behalf of the Human revealed as the criterion and basis of all governmental action. When such agencies make themselves ends in themselves, or subject human needs to departmental efficiency or budgetary convenience, they do so, consciously or not, in violation of their vocation. “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” (Heb. 1:14). Did not Paul himself say that the person who is in authority “is God’s servant for your good” (Rom. 13:4)?

…Evil, as always, is parasitic of the good and must masquerade as good in order to remain in office.

The church’s task, then, in making known the manifold wisdom of God now to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, does not involve the arduous and hopeless effort of bringing the Powers to a place they have never been, or to a recognition they have never shared. It involves simply reminding the Powers Whose they are, a knowledge already encoded in their charters, titles, traditions, insignia, and money.

…Popular culture has tended to regard heaven (if it has any regard for it at all) as a transcendent, otherworldly sphere qualitatively distinct from human life, to which the dead go if they have been good. What if we were instead to conceive of it as the realm of “withinness,” the metaphorical “place” in which the spirituality of everything is “located,” as it were. “Heaven,” in religions all around the world, is precisely that the place in which the spirituality of everything is “located,” as it were. “Heaven,” in religions all around the world, is precisely that the habitat of angels, spirits, cherubim, and seraphim, but also of demons and the devil and all the Powers “in the heavenly places.” Heaven is simply where they “reside.”

But heaven is a great deal more as well. It is where God is enthroned and thus is the source of the transformative possibilities that God presents to every actual entity. In the language of process theology, God envisions all possibilities and is forever presenting every created thing with the particular relevant possibilities that can maximize the total situation in which it exists, both for itself and for the larger unity of which it is a part. To paraphrase Whitehead, “Heaven” is the “home of the possibles,” not simply in the abstract sense that our potentialities have been planted in us like seeds and that it is up to us to make them sprout. Quite the contrary, our own given potentiality, like that of the acorn, is always merely to repeat the past, to go on being and doing what we have always been and done before. The heavenly possibilities are presented to us as a lure challenging us to go beyond our conditioning and habits, our collusion in oppressing or being oppressed, our inertia, fear, and neuroses. God offers the heavenly possibilities for creative novelty, and we can accept wholly, or accept in part, or reject completely and simply go on repeating our past.

When we do realize a transfonnative possibility, we quite rightly speak of the experience of ecstasy that accompanies that realization as “heavenly.” We have a sense of enhanced realness, of becoming more than we knew we could become. There is a rightness about it that resonates throughout the universe and unites us with the larger purposes of God. Thus when Jesus healed or cast out demons or preached to the poor, he could declare that in that instant the “Reign of heaven” had come on them. When justice is done, we experience a sense of heaven. When a person’s individual interests coincide with the interest of the Whole, there Is an epiphany of heaven. When we die to our egocentricity and abandon ourselves to God, what opens to receive us is heaven. “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:4-6).

…”Heaven” here cannot be conceived of as “up there” in such a way that it is out of relationship with the earth, for believers are already, while alive, established in it. It was precisely this problem that created the impasse in the interpretation of Eph. 3:10. If the church now must make known God’s manifold wisdom to the principalities and powers in the heavenlies, the heavenlies must somehow be accessible to the church. Insofar as “heaven” encompasses the entire universe, it is certainly not limited to the earth, but it interpenetrates all things, is present in all things, bearing the secret of the potential and inwardness and unfolding of all things.” Thus, according to the Gospel of Thomas, when Jesus’ disciples ask him when the kingdom will come, he responds, “It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying ‘Here it is’ or ‘Then it is.’ Rather, the kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it” (NHL, sec. 113). It was said just as well by a seventh-grader in a recent confirmation class: “Heaven is wherever God is acknowledged.”

The ancients sought to express the ubiquitous quality of heaven by piling up numbers in astronomical proportions to indicate the infinity of the hosts of angels (Rev. 5:11, 13; 19:1, 6). Yahweh was the Lord of the universe, but even more often and specifically, “Lord of hosts,” “Lord of Spirits,” “Lord of the Powers,” as if the real test of lordship is the capacity to control the transcendent realm of determining forces that exercise the real day-to-day governance of every aspect of life on earth. The ancients perceived that there was an angel for everything, down to the last blade of grass. This notion, laughed to scorn for the past few centuries, now appears to have been, symbolically, precisely correct: every blade of grass, every rock crystal, acorn, and ovum has its “messenger” (angelos) from God to instruct it in its growth, however we name it (DNA, the “laws” of crystalline formation, etc.).

Such a view of heaven finds it to be “nearer than breathing, closer than hand or foot,” yet still transcendent. But its transcendence is not a transcendence of matter; that is the bias of the old worldview, infected by Neoplatonic aversion to the material universe. “Heaven” in our hypothesis has a transcendence of an altogether different kind; it is the transcendence of the “worldly” way of viewing reality, of the alienated order of existence, of egocentric ways of living, of idolatry of the part in defiance of the Whole, of the unrealized present by the consummation to come. It is transcendent by virtue of inwardness, invisibility, and futurity, not by remoteness and distance. One must, in traditional terms, be “saved” in order to perceive it, not just be better informed. It cannot just be known about; it must be known.

…It is precisely the Jews’ insistence on the inseparability of soul and body that led them to affirm the resurrection of the whole person, spirit, soul, and body. Popular Christianity long since abandoned that for belief in the immortality of the soul, that is, of a bodiless continuation in the pure realm of spirit. Against this view Paul had already coined the notion of a “spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:35-57). Just what this paradoxical formulation means is not nearly so important as that it is asserted. We cannot conceive it, but it serves to hold the myth open into eternity and prevents its collapsing into a dualism of spirit versus matter. However incomprehensible it is in literal terms, it is the necessary symbolic affirmation that life is always life in a body, that spirit cannot exist apart from its concretion in form, that the victory of life over death includes the transformed vehicle by means of which, and solely by means of which, we have known what it means to be alive. All the rest is trust.

…If the theology of the future must win its right to speak by being a continual reflection on praxis, on the actual struggle of humanity for authentic being, then we must be careful to keep the ring of that voice clear in our ears.

At the same time, however, one still must ask how the neighbor became oppressed and is kept that way. How has she internalized that spirit of oppression and granted legitimacy to the very Powers that oppress her? How can all the “flaming darts of the evil one” that have carried their poisonous secretions into her very bloodstream be pulled out, one by one, and the toxins filtered out? How can she be freed to authentic struggle, unless the very ideas and images that have been planted in her are torn out by the very roots, through the vision of a counterreality capable of improving her lot?

…The issue, then, is not social struggle versus inner change, but their orchestration together so that both occur simultaneously. The transformation of society and persons can begin at either end. The early church began from the pole of steadfastness in prayer and the refusal of idolatry, manifesting that hypomoni which the Book of Revelation regards as the highest Christian virtue. It is usually somewhat limply rendered “patient endurance,” but it is in fact closer to “absolute intransigence,” “unbending bending determination,” “an iron will,” “the capacity to endure persecution, torture, and death without yielding one’s faith.” It is one of the fundamental attributes of nonviolent resistance.

…Social involvement of that kind can do wonders for the soul-if the leadership understands the essential unity of body and spirit and addresses them both.

This unity must be kept paramount in addressing the Powers. It is easy enough to set oneself against the visible evil of a Power. But we never have control over that inner dimension of reality which we are calling the spiritual dimension of power.

…Change is possible, but only if the spirit as well as the forms of Power are touched. And that spirit can only be spiritually discerned and spiritually encountered. This is what made Martin Luther King, Jr., a figure of world-historic proportions. With only the powerless at his side, he formulated actions that would provoke and make visible the institutional violence of racism. By absorbing that violence in their own bodies, they exposed the legalized system as immoral, stripped it of legitimacy, and forced unprecedented numbers of people to choose between their racism and their Christianity. He resolutely refused to treat racism as a political issue only; he insisted that it be seen also as a moral and spiritual sickness. He did not attack the soul of America, but appealed to its most profound depths. His confrontational tactics were attempts to address that soul. He called a nation to repent, and significant numbers did. In the process the spirit of the nation itself began to change. His assassination, and the abandonment of the moral basis of the struggle for one of black power versus white power, allowed the worst elements of the ugly racist spirit to reassert themselves, this time with blacks no longer the vanguard of reconciliation and conversion, but openly espousing a counterracism of their own. Those who continued to insist on loving the enemy and working interracially were buried under the flood of poisons now unleashed from both sides. Blacks and whites not only ceased to work together, but even stopped speaking. The adoption of the methods of the oppressor had finally turned all parties into oppressors, and it was now only a matter of finding someone weak enough to oppress.

…Impatient patient with the pace of a struggle that sought not only legal equality but the conversion of the very heart of the nation from racism, black power attempted the quick fix of structural change by a frontal assault on white power. Its epitaph can be formulated as an axiom: the direct use of power against a Power will inevitably be to the advantage of The Powers That Be.

…That is why we must not engage the Powers without rigorous examination nation of our own inner evil, which we often project on our opponents. We must ask how we are like the very Power we oppose, and attempt to open these parts of ourselves to divine transformation. We must attempt to stop the spiral of violence both within ourselves and in our tactics vis-i-vis the Powers. We must discern the spirituality that we oppose and be careful not to grant it victory within ourselves. And we must settle it within ourselves, once and for all and then over and over again, that we will not celebrate any victory feast that does not include a setting for our enemy.

In short, we must develop a fine-tuned sensitivity to what the ancients called “the war in heaven.”2′ It is the unseen clash of values and ideologies, of the spirituality of institutions and the will of God, of demonic factionalism and heavenly possibilities.

…I am referring to the macrocosm/microcosm view of reality-the notion that whatever happens on earth (the “microcosm,” or small world) is a mirror image of the activities of Powers in heaven (the “macrocosm,” or large world). The idea was already hoary with age when it was chiseled on the buildings erected by the Sidonian kings Bodastart and Esmunazar in the fifth century B.C.E., where the earthly Sidon is depicted as a copy of its heavenly prototype.” The idea of heaven as the origination and prototype of all that is can be traced back among the Greeks as early as Pythagoras and finds its most famous advocate in Plato, with his realm of the Ideas or archetypes. Greek Orphism made the unity of heaven and earth the goal of the mystical initiation, in which the quester sought to recapture this deepest and lost unity that characterizes divinization.21

Israel, too, held this macrocosm/microcosm view from earliest times,’ but hedged it carefully to prevent its being used to legitimate tyranny. The prophets especially were on their guard against the divine-kingship ideology, through which the most gross injustices were perpetrated in the name of heaven. The Jews were able to appropriate the notion of evil spirits, fallen angels, and Satan precisely because they could subsume these Powers within a secure henotheistic 27 framework in which Yahweh was ultimately sovereign.

…It is far from the case, then, that human beings create their gods. The “spirits” of things emerge with the things themselves and are only subsequently divined as their inner essence. The gods, spirits, and demons are not mere personifications or hypostatizations. That is the language of reductionism; it means that these entitites are not regarded as real, but only as poetic fictions or shorthand for speaking about realities the historian knows how to describe more precisely with his analytical tools. Personification means illusion. The Powers we are speaking about, on the contrary, are real. They work on us whether we acknowledge them or not. They do not depend on our belief for their efficacy. Humans cannot even lay claim to creating these Powers indirectly, by virtue of creating the structures, for studies of primates show that most of the hierarchical features that characterized Babylonian society had already been developed in primate societies.’ To be sure, we do establish new structures and modify old ones. Insofar as we share in the creative process and bring new consciousness to it, we help create the spirituality of things. There is a reciprocity, so we could argue that it is as true to say that the gods create us as to say that we create the gods.

…In the New Testament the idea of heavenly/earthly correspondence is a part of the background belief of the age and is alluded to in a fashion that assumes the hearer’s thorough familiarity with it. When the disciples return from the Lukan mission of the seventy, having successfully cast out demons on earth, Jesus exclaims, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). Casting out demons on earth casts Satan out of heaven! Or again, Paul’s irritation with women who have uncovered heads at worship is prompted by his fear that the angels, also present when the church worships, will be incited to lust (1 Cor. 11:10; see Gen. 6:1-4). And in the Epistle to the Hebrews the believer already participates in heavenly life on earth: “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering” (12:22).”

The Book of Revelation is thoroughly acquainted with this motif. Not only is John permitted access to the divine liturgy through vision (chaps. 4-5), but the prayers of the saints on earth actually constitute an important section of the angelic liturgy in heaven. Rev. 8:1-5 recounts how an angel gathers the prayers that ascend to God and mingles them with incense at the altar before the throne; then when God has, as it were, inhaled them, the angel mixes the prayers with fire from the altar and hurls them on the earth, setting off a chain of physical and historical repercussions in the world. This not only illustrates the unity of heavenly and earthly events but also indicates how the fatefulness of that connection can be altered. Left to themselves, the course of things runs to havoc in a world with an infinity of self-worshiping centers, but when any of that number turn from themselves to the Center of the whole, history itself can be changed. “Peals of thunder, loud noises, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake” (v. 5) throw the river of events out of its bed. The unexpected becomes suddenly possible, because humans on earth have evoked heaven, the home of the possibles, and have been heard.

…The soul or self is the active awareness of the entire living body itself. And yet this “withinness” is experienced as more than simply the sum of its parts, since our bodily parts continually change or can even to a degree be lost without impairing the sense of our selves. In an odd way, we seem to experience our selves as “outside” or “above” or “transcendent” to our bodies, even though the self is clearly the interiority of all that flesh. But this is one of the ways interiority is known. We can discover the self by introspection, reflection, revelation, but some aspects we can find only by projecting that aspect out on other people or things or events and recognizing it “out there” as parts of ourselves. We discover our body as “temple” by going to a temple.

…Once again, the meaning of an ambiguous statement is precisely its ambiguity. The Reign of God cannot just be inner or outer; it must be both or it is neither.

This being the case, the goal of personal individuation becomes inseparable separable from the goal of cosmic reconciliation: “Jesus said to them, `When you make the two one, and when you make the inside like the outside and the outside like the inside, and the above like the below, and when you make the male and female one and the same … then will you enter [the kingdom].’ “49

…The marriage of heaven and earth, which the author of Ephesians describes under the image of the marriage of Christ and the church (Eph. 5:21-33) and which the Book of Revelation depicts as a descent of Heavenly Jerusalem to the earth from God (Revelation 21-22), captures the sense of earth’s real possibilities and of ours with it. Paul describes the same longing in Rom. 8:18-25, when he speaks of the whole creation as groaning in speaks of the whole creation as groaning in travail together for the revealing of the children of God. It is nothing less than the desire for what Dorothee Soelle calls “the indivisible divisible salvation of the whole world.”-10 When God’s children will be revealed, and the groaning over, and every tear wiped from their eyes, is not for us to know. What we do know is that we have been handed the task of making known the manifold wisdom of God to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places—now.

%d bloggers like this: