Friday, January 30, 2015

The Gradual Incarnation, or, From Advent to Advent to Advent.

There is a curious trajectory in the Genesis narrative. In the Garden, God's intimacy with man was unimpeded and full; God could walk amongst his vicegerents and observe their works; He could bring the animals before the man and watch him name them according to their kind. After the Fall, however, Holy God must be separated from the man. Man is put out of the Garden and his nakedness is clothed with the skin of a sacrificial offering. 

With each new evil, it seems as if the rift between God and man grows beyond repair. Cain slaughters Abel and must not only be exiled from the Garden, but must wander detached from the land and from his relations. Even as Lamech draws many wives to himself, he sunders life from those who offend him, signifying in his wrath the state into which he is himself plunged by his rebellious autonomy. By the time of the Flood, the rift is complete, and every intent of every thought of man is only evil continually. 

Yet in the midst of the increasingly wide gap between God and man, there is a gradual movement towards intimate presence. God visits Eve in her grief and provide a life where there was death. The moment is somewhat fleeting, but it is sure. We even get the glimpse of God's desire to receive man into His fellowship again, for Enoch, who walked with God, was taken from the earth--out of corruption and into the Lord's presence. Noah is visited by God, and not only the man, but his whole family and a host of animals--Noah's name was itself a prophetic hope that relief from the curse upon the rift between man and the earth would come. When God promises never again to flood the earth, it is not a message of grandfatherly leniency ("no matter what you do, I won't punish you THAT badly again"), but of promised presence, as if to say, "I will never let you go so far from me again that such measures are necessary." It is the promise of His presence where the world before the Flood was a picture of a world utterly devoid of God's restraining and embracing Spirit.

Abraham, the father of nations, is also an answer to the Flood, and to Babel. The cleansing and scattering are sundering man, but in Abraham the nations are gathered together under the promise of God's abiding presence. God reassures Abraham of His continued presence, even so far as to be his shield in battle--a protection not before offered to man. God moves closer to man; he is more visible in the incarnate affairs of man's life.

Abraham's own relation to the promised seed goes from decreasing to increasing intimacy. Sarai is barren, but Abraham has provisions, albeit at a remove. Eliezer, a servant of Abraham out of Damascus, is his first recourse. Too far removed. The next recourse is to his concubine, Hagar, and the son of their union, Ishmael. Too far removed. From the flesh of Abraham and from the flesh of his flesh, Sarah, shall the promised son come into being.

The entire history of Israel could be made an image, the approach of the King from His distant throne into the presence of His people. With each step comes more power and influence in the affairs of His people, until it is such that when the Risen Lord returns to His distant throne the Spirit of His Presence pervades His People; His blood courses through His Body, His flesh envelopes His Body; and each summons is met with the nourishing invigoration of this intimate communion, so bountiful in its provision that it overflows wherever His Body stretches its limbs and ambulates about His Kingdom.

There is no turning back, no reversals, no Floods or sunderings left to happen. The Body is only just realizing what it is like to live without the separation caused by sin; to live in the liberating life of the One Who sundered Himself in death, Who scattered Himself in Resurrection, and Who will Gather Himself (that is, His Body) in due time.

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Intellectual Life, #10

A quote that encapsulates the effort of all classical education:

Study must be an act of life, must serve life, must feel itself impregnated with life. Of the two kinds of men, those who endeavor to know something, and those who try to be someone, the palm is to the second. What we know is like a beginning, a rough sketch only; the man is the finished work.

The Intellectual Life, #9

Ariel one day asked himself in his Journal: "Why are you weak? Because times without number you have given in. So you have become the plaything of circumstances. It is you who have made them strong, not they who have made you weak."

The Intellectual Life, #8

A brilliant chreia, and all too often advice not followed:

When Edison was asked one day to say to a child something that he might remember, the great inventor uttered with a smile the words: "My boy, don't keep your eye on the clock."

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Intellectual Life, #7

As true now as when Sertillanges first penned it in 1921:

Many writers today have a system: every system is a pose, and every pose is an insult to beauty.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Leisure: a concept I've misunderstood

I only just finished reading Josef Pieper's essay, Leisure, the Basis of Culture (I haven't yet read the second essay in the book, The Philosophical Act). I need more time to digest it, but it was a stunning perspective-shifting thesis that gave me the feeling of "I should've known that."

Pieper's thesis is that leisure is an activity entirely different from the concept of work, that in fact leisure is inherently worship, where work is separated so that the Divinity exercises full rights over the activity of the worshipper. Like most people today, I suppose, I've always considered leisure something that is a break from work for the sake of rest and a little "mindless activity." Pieper argues that leisure is not basically a break from work, but rather that work is designed to enable leisure--that is, work is for the sake of leisure, not leisure for the sake of work (i.e. a little rest makes one more productive). Not only is work designed to enable leisure, but leisure is not mindless activity, but the opportunity to receive epiphany or illumination.

Pieper describes the activity of leisure the way an athlete today might describe being "in the zone." One has worked diligently to prepare for "the game," and when the time comes, everything "just flows" and the activity is "effortless" and one may even become "unconscious" of all things other than the object of focus. Maybe it is because I played so many sports for so much time for half of my life that the sports analogy seems to fit, but I'm not sure there isn't more to it, especially when one considers how much singular dedication and focus modern-day athletes put into their sport, and how sacramental each competitive engagement becomes, down to the rituals that athletes follow, religiously.

Another thought-provoking observation of Pieper's is how, after Kant, intellectual activity could only be justified when considered as a form of work; individual and societal labor producing a product for evaluation, consumption, and subject to economic analysis. I have often felt compelled to justify my own intellectual activity as "work" and it has always been a difficult thing to do, since much of the intellectual "work" I do has no definite outcome, no time-table, no product. I often have a hard time telling my wife how much time I'll need to "work" on the intellectual preparation for teaching, which is certainly a kind of work, but the kind of work that requires a measure of illumination born of the kind of leisure of which Pieper outlines.

As I said, I need more time to digest Pieper's thesis, but on the first reading it has stirred a lot of rethinking about the nature of work, its purpose, and just how much the modern West has imbibed the notion of "total work."