Archive for ‘beauty & priests’

March 11, 2018

humans are expert at wasting time

So far, machines are not very good at asking questions. So we have this world where, basically, answers have become cheap and ubiquitous and pervasive, and they’re everywhere, and so what’s much scarcer are good questions. And good questions are kind of like a discovery.

…And it turns out that [humans are] not very efficient. And so what machines are really good at are all the things where efficiency counts, where productivity and efficiency counts, and those are the kinds of tasks we’re gonna give to the machines. And we’re, as humans, left with things that are inefficient, which happens to be the things that we enjoy most, like discovery or innovation. Innovation is inherently not efficient — or science, for that matter. Science is inherently inefficient, because if you are 100 percent efficient as a scientist, you’re just not learning anything new. So trial and error, there’s the error part. There’s the failure. There’s the dead ends. There’s trying prototypes. All these things are the essential part of exploring, trying, discovering, which are all inherently inefficient. And so are human relationships. And so we’re — humans are — we’re expert at wasting time. We’re expert at the things where efficiency and programmability don’t count for much.

…And I think, in some ways, that does echo some structure of the universe — that it’s probably built on a question, rather than an answer; that it’s very likely that the universe is really a kind of a question, rather than the answer to anything. And so I think that’s why we resonate with a question — a good question so much, rather than just with a smart answer.

Kevin Kelly is actually a generous family friend (of my father and now of me as well). I love his Christmas letters every year. I’m always delighted and challenged to hear his mind and heart at work. I recommend listening to the unedited version of this conversation. Also, his account of Kevin’s Christian conversion experience in Jerusalem (on NPR’s This American Life) is a wonderful story. Finally, here is Kevin’s essay on The Next 1000 Years of Christianity.

March 6, 2018

all these things are alive in their essence

Supreme and fiery force who has kindled all sparks of life and breathed forth none of death, …fiery life of the divine substance, you blaze above the beauty of the fields, shine in the waters, and burn in the sun, moon, and stars.

You, the fiery force, lie hidden in these things, and they flame forth from you, as breath continually moves a person, and as the moving flame is in the fire. And all these things are alive in their essence. They are not found in death, since I am life.

From the Book of Divine Works by Hildegard of Bingen.

March 1, 2018

the leaping greenly spirits of trees

e e cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any-lifted from the no
of all nothing-human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Source: Complete Poems 1904-1962.

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.

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

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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

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.

January 9, 2018

St John saw the true temple restored, and this is the earliest picture we have of Christian worship

The fact that we call Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, which means the Anointed One, shows that Christians live and think in a world where the lost anointing oil and everything it stood for has been been restored. The perfumed anointing oil was fundamental to the original temple world. Tradition remembered that it represented oil from the tree of life,9 and the tree of life was the ancient symbol of the Holy Wisdom. One of the wise teachers of Israel had said: ‘Wisdom is a tree of life for those who hold on to her.’10

9 E.g. Clementine Recognitions 1.46.

…In the Church all this was restored. The name ‘Christians’, first used in Antioch14 meant more than just ‘followers of the Christ, the anointed one.’ Since Christians were also anointed at their baptism, the name means something like ‘little anointed ones’, and so we are all little Melchizedeks, little royal high priests. This is what St Peter said to those Christians in Asia Minor: ‘You are a royal priesthood’.15

…There is a lovely story in a 3rd century CE Syriac text which tells how Adam took three things with him when he left Eden: gold, frankincense and myrrh, which were the symbols of the original temple. These were buried with him in a cave when he died, and when the magi came seeking the infant Jesus, they took those same treasures from the cave to offer to the new Adam.17

17 Testament of Adam 3.6; there is a similar story in Syriac Book of the Cave of Treasures.

…When the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, or maybe a short while before their invasion, the oil, the ark and the cherubim disappeared from the temple; but in the time of the Messiah and the true temple, it was said, they would return, along with the seven branched lampstand, the Spirit and the fire. The Spirit and the fire returned at Pentecost, and, if you read the Book of Revelation with temple-trained eyes, [opened eyes] you will find all the other missing items restored too. St John saw the true temple restored, and this is the earliest picture we have of Christian worship. This vision shaped even the simplest worship on earth, because the Christians were a part of it.

…The outer part of the temple was called the holy place; the inner part was called the holy of holies, sometimes translated ‘the most holy place’. Now ‘most holy’ in temple-talk meant more than ‘very holy’. It meant actively holy, infectiously holy. Anything ‘most holy’ conferred holiness, but only the anointing oil – kept in the holy of holies – could confer ‘most holiness’ on a person or on a sacred object. The LORD told Moses how to blend the perfumed oil, and then he told him to anoint the furnishings and the high priests of the tabernacle ‘that they may be most holy, and whatever touches them will become holy’.22 Anyone entering the holy of holies became holy, a holy one, and that meant an angel. The holy of holies was the visible sign of the Source of holiness at the centre.

…In the outer part of the temple was the golden table for bread, wine and incense.27 The table is mentioned in the tabernacle at Sinai28 and in Solomon’s temple,29 but nowhere in the Old Testament is there any detail about what the table and its offerings represented. Twelve huge loaves were set out with frankincense, and the Greek text says there was salt.30 The high priests [and by the time of Jesus, the other priests too] had to put fresh loaves into the temple each Sabbath, and then eat the ones they brought out. This was described as their ‘most holy’ food, which means it imparted holiness, and it was also an eternal covenant.31 The bread of the presence – ‘shewbread’ in some older Bibles – did not mean ‘set out in the presence’. It meant that the bread was, in some way, a presence. But whose presence did the high priests consume to nourish their holiness? The meaning of the temple furnishings and rituals was known only to the high priests, but some of them, such as Josephus, revealed enough to enable us to detect allusions elsewhere.

…I have deliberately not mentioned the first day of creation, because there is no ‘first day’ of creation in the text of Genesis. Both the Hebrew and the Greek say ‘Day One’, not ‘the first day’. The origin of creation was not within time but was outside time. It was not a case of first, then second, then third and so on. The origin of creation was outside time, and the text marked this by saying Day One, instead of ‘first day’.

Day One was represented by the holy of holies, the golden cube that housed the cherub throne of God. Whatever was within the veil was outside time and outside matter, since the outer area represented the world of time and matter. Within the veil, a state beyond time and matter, there could be no division, and so Day One was said to represent the divine Unity underlying all creation and from which all creation proceeds. It was also the state of the light before creation, the light of the divine presence. In temple-talk, this was the Kingdom. Some temple mystics were enabled to see through the veil to the light and unity beyond. The Transfiguration is the best-known account of such an experience. St John said that seeing and entering the Kingdom was for those who had been born from above. 37

On the sixth day of erecting the tabernacle, Moses purified the high priests to serve in the tabernacle, and on the sixth day in Genesis, Adam was created. The comparison shows that Adam was created to be the high priest of creation. He was created to be the presence of the LORD. When the high priest was anointed, the oil was put on his eyelids to open his eyes, but also on his forehead in the shape of a cross. This was the sign of the name of the LORD.38 The Christians also had this mark, given at baptism. In the Book of Revelation, St John tells how he saw a multitude whom the angel would mark on their foreheads, and then he saw them standing before the throne in heaven, which means they were in the holy of holies. They all had the name, that is, the cross, on their foreheads 39, and so they were all high priests.

…Now let us see how this understanding of high-priesthood can illuminate the Genesis story of Adam. He was created as the Image. He was set in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it. That is the usual English translation 42, but the writer of Genesis chose his words carefully and did not in fact describe Adam as a gardener. Jewish interpreters in the time of Jesus did not think of Adam as a gardener. The Hebrew word translated ‘to till’ also means ‘to serve a liturgy’, and the Hebrew word translated ‘to keep’ means to preserve the teachings. The role of high-priestly role of Adam and of every human being was to lead the worship of creation and to preserve right teachings about how we should live in the world.

…Nobody knows for certain the origin of this Slavonic text, the Book of the Secrets of Enoch. The oldest known copy was made in the 14th century AD. It could have been translated from much older materials, or it could have been composed at any time before that. Either way, it shows how Psalm 110 (109) was understood by someone at that time in old Russia. Enoch entered heaven and stood before the throne. There the LORD commanded the archangel Michael to remove Enoch’s earthly clothing, to anoint him with perfumed oil, and to vest him in the clothes of the LORD’s glory. In temple reality, this was the garment of fine white linen worn in the holy of holies. This was the equivalent of Jesus’s shining white garment that the disciples saw at the Transfiguration. Enoch described the oil as like sweet dew, perfumed with myrrh.52 This was the temple oil, the dew of Psalm 110 (109). Then, said Enoch, ‘I looked at myself and I had become like one of his glorious ones’. Enoch had become an angel. He was an angel high priest, wearing the robes of divine glory.

“OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST: THE CHURCH AS THE NEW TEMPLE” by Margaret Barker. Fr Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture. St Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, New York, 28 January 2012.

January 6, 2018

God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves

The lecture and essay “On Fairy Stories” by J.R.R. Tolkien is incredibly rich. I’ve just reread it and am only realizing this time how little I understand it. I’ve posted several portions of it in past years, but here is a comprehensive set of passages that I wish to reflect upon more when I can.

For it is man who is, in contrast to fairies, supernatural (and often of diminutive stature); whereas they are natural, far more natural than he. Such is their doom. The road to fairyland is not the road to Heaven; nor even to Hell, I believe, though some have held that it may lead thither indirectly by the Devil’s tithe.

…Fairy-stories are not in normal English usage stories about fairies or elves, but stories about Fairy, that is Faerie, the realm or state in which fairies have their being. Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.

Stories that are actually concerned primarily with “fairies,” that is with creatures that might also in modern English be called “elves,” are relatively rare, and as a rule not very interesting. Most good “fairy-stories” are about the adventures of men in the Perilous Realm or upon its shadowy marches. Naturally so; for if elves are true, and really exist independently of our tales about them, then this also is certainly true: elves are not primarily concerned with us, nor we with them. Our fates are sundered, and our paths seldom meet. Even upon the borders of Faërie we encounter them only at some chance crossing of the ways.

…A real dream may indeed sometimes be a fairy-story of almost elvish ease and skill— while it is being dreamed. But if a waking writer tells you that his tale is only a thing imagined in his sleep, he cheats deliberately the primal desire at the heart of Faerie: the realization, independent of the conceiving mind, of imagined wonder. It is often reported of fairies (truly or lyingly, I do not know) that they are workers of illusion, that they are cheaters of men by “fantasy”; but that is quite another matter. That is their affair. Such trickeries happen, at any rate, inside tales in which the fairies are not themselves illusions; behind the fantasy real wills and powers exist, independent of the minds and purposes of men.

…It is precisely the colouring, the atmosphere, the unclassifiable individual details of a story, and above all the general purport that informs with life the undissected bones of the plot, that really count.

…It is plain enough that fairy-stories (in wider or in narrower sense) are very ancient indeed. Related things appear in very early records; and they are found universally, wherever there is language. We are therefore obviously confronted with a variant of the problem that the archaeologist encounters, or the comparative philologist: with the debate between independent evolution (or rather invention) of the similar; inheritance from a common ancestry; and diffusion at various times from one or more centres. Most debates depend on an attempt (by one or both sides) at over-simplification; and I do not suppose that this debate is an exception. The history of fairy-stories is probably more complex than the physical history of the human race, and as complex as the history of human language.

…But how powerful, how stimulating to the very faculty that produced it, was the invention of the adjective: no spell or incantation in Faerie is more potent. And that is not surprising: such incantations might indeed be said to be only another view of adjectives, a part of speech in a mythical grammar. The mind that thought of light, heavy, grey, yellow, still, swift, also conceived of magic that would make heavy things light and able to fly, turn grey lead into yellow gold, and the still rock into a swift water. If it could do the one, it could do the other; it inevitably did both. When we can take green from grass, blue from heaven, and red from blood, we have already an enchanter’s power—upon one plane; and the desire to wield that power in the world external to our minds awakes. It does not follow that we shall use that power well upon any plane. We may put a deadly green upon a man’s face and produce a horror; we may make the rare and terrible blue moon to shine; or we may cause woods to spring with silver leaves and rams to wear fleeces of gold, and put hot fire into the belly of the cold worm. But in such “fantasy,” as it is called, new form is made; Faerie begins; Man becomes a sub-creator.

…Even fairy-stories as a whole have three faces: the Mystical towards the Supernatural; the Magical towards Nature; and the Mirror of scorn and pity towards Man. The essential face of Faerie is the middle one, the Magical. But the degree in which the others appear (if at all) is variable, and may be decided by the individual story-teller. The Magical, the fairy-story, may be used as a Mirour de l’Omme; and it may (but not so easily) be made a vehicle of Mystery. This at least is what George Mac-Donald attempted, achieving stories of power and beauty when he succeeded, as in The Golden Key (which he called a fairy-tale); and even when he partly failed, as in Lilith (which he called a romance).

…But the land of Merlin and Arthur was better than these, and best of all the nameless North of Sigurd of the Völsungs, and the prince of all dragons. Such lands were pre-eminently desirable. I never imagined that the dragon was of the same order as the horse. And that was not solely because I saw horses daily, but never even the footprint of a worm. The dragon had the trade-mark Of Faerie written plain upon him. In whatever world he had his being it was an Other-world. Fantasy, the making or glimpsing of Other-worlds, was the heart of the desire of Faërie. I desired dragons with a profound desire. Of course, I in my timid body did not wish to have them in the neighbourhood, intruding into my relatively safe world, in which it was, for instance, possible to read stories in peace of mind, free from fear. But the world that contained even the imagination of Fáfnir was richer and more beautiful, at whatever cost of peril. The dweller in the quiet and fertile plains may hear of the tormented hills and the unharvested sea and long for them in his heart. For the heart is hard though the body be soft.

…Small wonder that spell means both a story told, and a formula of power over living men.

…Children are meant to grow up, and not to become Peter Pans. Not to lose innocence and wonder, but to proceed on the appointed journey: that journey upon which it is certainly not better to travel hopefully than to arrive, though we must travel hopefully if we are to arrive. But it is one of the lessons of fairy-stories (if we can speak of the lessons of things that do not lecture) that on callow, lumpish, and selfish youth peril, sorrow, and the shadow of death can bestow dignity, and even sometimes wisdom.

…But fairy-stories offer also, in a peculiar degree or mode, these things: Fantasy, Recovery, Escape, Consolation, all things of which children have, as a rule, less need than older people. Most of them are nowadays very commonly considered to be bad for anybody.

…Now “Faërian Drama”—those plays which according to abundant records the elves have often presented to men—can produce Fantasy with a realism and immediacy beyond the compass of any human mechanism. As a result their usual effect (upon a man) is to go beyond Secondary Belief. If you are present at a Faërian drama you yourself are, or think that you are, bodily inside its Secondary World. The experience may be very similar to Dreaming and has (it would seem) sometimes (by men) been confounded with it. But in Faërian drama you are in a dream that some other mind is weaving, and the knowledge of that alarming fact may slip from your grasp. To experience directly a Secondary World: the potion is too strong, and you give to it Primary Belief, however marvellous the events. You are deluded— whether that is the intention of the elves (always or at any time) is another question. They at any rate are not themselves deluded. This is for them a form of Art, and distinct from Wizardry or Magic, properly so called. They do not live in it, though they can, perhaps, afford to spend more time at it than human artists can. The Primary World, Reality, of elves and men is the same, if differently valued and perceived.

…Art is the human process that produces by the way (it is not its only or ultimate object) Secondary Belief. Art of the same sort, if more skilled and effortless, the elves can also use, or so the reports seem to show; but the more potent and specially elvish craft I will, for lack of a less debatable word, call Enchantment. Enchantment produces a Secondary World into which both designer and spectator can enter, to the satisfaction of their senses while they are inside; but in its purity it is artistic in desire and purpose. Magic produces, or pretends to produce, an alteration in the Primary World. It does not matter by whom it is said to be practised, fay or mortal, it remains distinct from the other two; it is not an art but a technique; its desire is power in this world, domination of things and wills.

To the elvish craft, Enchantment, Fantasy aspires, and when it is successful of all forms of human art most nearly approaches. At the heart of many man-made stories of the elves lies, open or concealed, pure or alloyed, the desire for a living, realized sub-creative art, which (however much it may outwardly resemble it) is inwardly wholly different from the greed for self-centred power which is the mark of the mere Magician.

…Dear Sir, I said—Although now long estranged,
Man is not wholly lost nor wholly changed.
Dis-graced he may be, yet is not de-throned,
and keeps the rags of lordship once he owned:
Man, Sub-creator, the refracted Light
through whom is splintered from a single White
to many hues, and endlessly combined
in living shapes that move from mind to mind.
Though all the crannies of the world we filled
with Elves and Goblins, though we dared to build
Gods and their houses out of dark and light,
and sowed the seed of dragons—’twas our right
(used or misused). That right has not decayed:
we make still by the law in which we’re made.

Fantasy is a natural human activity. It certainly does not destroy or even insult Reason; and it does not either blunt the appetite for, nor obscure the perception of, scientific verity. On the contrary. The keener and the clearer is the reason, the better fantasy will it make.

…For creative Fantasy is founded upon the hard recognition that things are so in the world as it appears under the sun; on a recognition of fact, but not a slavery to it. So upon logic was founded the nonsense that displays itself in the tales and rhymes of Lewis Carroll. If men really could not distinguish between frogs and men, fairy-stories about frog-kings would not have arisen.

Fantasy can, of course, be carried to excess. It can be ill done. It can be put to evil uses. It may even delude the minds out of which it came. But of what human thing in this fallen world is that not true? Men have conceived not only of elves, but they have imagined gods, and worshipped them, even worshipped those most deformed by their authors’ own evil. But they have made false gods out of other materials: their notions, their banners, their monies; even their sciences and their social and economic theories have demanded human sacrifice. Abusus non tollit usum. Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.

…We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness or familiarity—from possessiveness. Of all faces those of our familiares are the ones both most difficult to play fantastic tricks with, and most difficult really to see with fresh attention, perceiving their likeness and unlikeness: that they are faces, and yet unique faces. This triteness is really the penalty of “appropriation”: the things that are trite, or (in a bad sense) familiar, are the things that we have appropriated, legally or mentally. We say we know them. They have become like the things which once attracted us by their glitter, or their colour, or their shape, and we laid hands on them, and then locked them in our hoard, acquired them, and acquiring ceased to look at them.

Of course, fairy-stories are not the only means of recovery, or prophylactic against loss. Humility is enough. And there is (especially for the humble) Mooreeffoc, or Chestertonian Fantasy. Mooreeffoc is a fantastic word, but it could be seen written up in every town in this land. It is Coffee-room, viewed from the inside through a glass door, as it was seen by Dickens on a dark London day; and it was used by Chesterton to denote the queerness of things that have become trite, when they are seen suddenly from a new angle. That kind of “fantasy” most people would allow to be wholesome enough; and it can never lack for material. But it has, I think, only a limited power; for the reason that recovery of freshness of vision is its only virtue. The word Mooreeffoc may cause you suddenly to realize that England is an utterly alien land, lost either in some remote past age glimpsed by history, or in some strange dim future to be reached only by a time-machine; to see the amazing oddity and interest of its inhabitants and their customs and feeding-habits; but it cannot do more than that: act as a time-telescope focused on one spot. Creative fantasy, because it is mainly trying to do something else (make something new), may open your hoard and let all the locked things fly away like cage-birds. The gems all turn into flowers or flames, and you will be warned that all you had (or knew) was dangerous and potent, not really effectively chained, free and wild; no more yours than they were you.

…There are profounder wishes: such as the desire to converse with other living things. On this desire, as ancient as the Fall, is largely founded the talking of beasts and creatures in fairy-tales, and especially the magical understanding of their proper speech. This is the root, and not the “confusion” attributed to the minds of men of the unrecorded past, an alleged “absence of the sense of separation of ourselves from beasts.” A vivid sense of that separation is very ancient; but also a sense that it was a severance: a strange fate and a guilt lies on us. Other creatures are like other realms with which Man has broken off relations, and sees now only from the outside at a distance, being at war with them, or on the terms of an uneasy armistice. There are a few men who are privileged to travel abroad a little; others must be content with travellers’ tales.

…And the point of the story lies not in thinking frogs possible mates, but in the necessity of keeping promises (even those with intolerable consequences) that, together with observing prohibitions, runs through all Fairyland. This is one of the notes of the horns of Elfland, and not a dim note.

…Fairy-stories are made by men not by fairies. The Human-stories of the elves are doubtless full of the Escape from Deathlessness. But our stories cannot be expected always to rise above our common level. They often do. Few lessons are taught more clearly in them than the burden of that kind of immortality, or rather endless serial living, to which the “fugitive” would fly. For the fairy-story is specially apt to teach such things, of old and still today. Death is the theme that most inspired George MacDonald.

…The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous “turn” (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially “escapist,” nor “fugitive.” In its fairy-tale—or otherworld—setting, it is a sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.

…It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy-story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history, without thereby necessarily losing the mythical or allegorical significance that it had possessed. It is not difficult, for one is not called upon to try and conceive anything of a quality unknown. The joy would have exactly the same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy-story gives: such joy has the very taste of primary truth. (Otherwise its name would not be joy.) It looks forward (or backward: the direction in this regard is unimportant) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is preeminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. But this story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men—and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.

But in God’s kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation. All tales may come true; and yet, at the last, redeemed, they may be as like and as unlike the forms that we give them as Man, finally redeemed, will be like and unlike the fallen that we know.

…I was keenly alive to the beauty of “Real things,” but it seemed to me quibbling to confuse this with the wonder of “Other things.” I was eager to study Nature, actually more eager than I was to read most fairy- stories; but I did not want to be quibbled into Science and cheated out of Faerie by people who seemed to assume that by some kind of original sin I should prefer fairy-tales, but according to some kind of new religion I ought to be induced to like science. Nature is no doubt a life-study, or a study for eternity (for those so gifted); but there is a part of man which is not “Nature,” and which therefore is not obliged to study it, and is, in fact, wholly unsatisfied by it.

January 3, 2018

when we are enchanted

It is man who is, in contrast to fairies, supernatural (and often of diminutive stature); whereas they are natural, far more natural than he. Such is their doom.

…Fairy-stories are not in normal English usage stories about fairies or elves, but stories about …the realm or state in which fairies have their being. Faerie contains many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.

…Most good “fairy-stories” are about the adventures of men in the Perilous Realm or upon its shadowy marches. Naturally so; for if elves are true, and really exist independently of our tales about them, then this also is certainly true: elves are not primarily concerned with us, nor we with them.

Happy birthday, Professor Tolkien! Quote taken from “On Fairy Stories.”

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