The Song of All Creation

“The world has been disenchanted.” This is a sentiment first voiced by Max Weber in 1918. Nothing since has been able to convince the world otherwise. There is, however, an increasing awareness that a disenchanted world is less than desirable. We want elves, orcs, wizards, and demons. We want magic.

This is an observation that can easily be made by looking at how we entertain ourselves. Movies, books, gaming, and more point towards a cultural appetite for fantasy. It is well-suited to a world in which much of our time is spent in front of a screen. You’re never more than few clicks away from Middle Earth.

What we fail to understand is that the life of Middle Earth (and any other well-crafted fantasy) is as far-removed from entertainment as possible. In Middle Earth, fighting dragons is not a form of entertainment – it is a matter of life or death. In the well-supplied world of modernity, we take life itself for granted, its only real problem being that it’s boring. All of our dragons are in books, movies, or games. Indeed, such distractions easily serve to help us ignore the true dragons that lurk in the heart.

It is interesting that Lewis and Tolkien, two writers who wrote brilliantly in fantastic fiction, both shared the common experience of the trench warfare of World War I. The brutality and futility of that war are beyond description. Some 20 million perished in its maw. Lewis was grievously wounded by shrapnel in the leg and abdomen. Both men lost their best friends and a large part of their generation in the struggle. At its end, there was no great sense of accomplishment – only a relief that it had ceased. Two decades later, the battles would begin again.

What is quite certain is that neither Lewis nor Tolkien saw themselves as entertainers. I suspect both would have been loath to have seen their work taken up by Hollywood. And though both clearly had children in mind as they wrote, they would have seen such story-telling as a very serious business.

G.K. Chesterton offered this observation:

Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon. ~ G.K. Chesterton, writing the original lines, in Tremendous Trifles, Book XVII: The Red Angel (1909)

From within Orthodoxy, it is possible to say that the world is more than enchanted. It is magical and wonderful, as well as dangerous and deadly. All of us will die at its hand.

The difficulty with a materialist account of reality is its total indifference to every form and instance of suffering as well as its emptiness of meaning (perhaps the greatest suffering of all). It is little wonder that entertainment (as a form of escape) is such a strong feature of our culture. It assuages the boredom of an empty world.

The classical Christian witness, though, is that the world is not empty. It is filled with a depth of meaning and witness, of presence and signification. As clearly as we are wired for hunger, for fear, for sight and sound, so we are wired for transcendence. Without it, our lives begin to shrink and we fail to thrive.

C.S. Lewis once said that it would be strange to find a creature with an instinctive thirst that lived on a planet without water. It seems clear from the evidence (including the Biblical evidence) that human beings were late in coming to believe in the One God. But we have no evidence of human beings without transcendence. It is only in our very latest years that so many of us have come to despair of anything beyond ourselves. And so we turn to fantasy of the most empty kind. One whose very emptiness and make-believe can only deepen our despair by its lack of substance.

I recall my first exposure to Tolkien and Lewis. The books amazed me, not because they suggested a world of fantasy that I could enjoy. Rather, it was the amazement of realizing that someone else had sensed something that I already knew was true. And I knew that they knew it as well or they could not have written in such a common language.

There has only ever been one door in all of history that truly mattered: the door of Christ’s Empty Tomb. It is that place where that which was hidden beneath and within showed forth into what is present and clear. The meaning of all things (the Logos) revealed Himself and spoke with us. If we saw Him then, or see Him now, then we are not wrong to see Him in every tree, rock, and cloud – in all created things.

St. Paul is among those who saw Him. Of Him, he said this:

All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. (Col. 1:16-17)

St. John who also saw Him, handled Him, and heard Him speak, said this:

All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:4-5)

The world is enchanted, but with a Magic deeper than our fantasies. In every individual, the drama of the Nativity, Holy Week, and Pascha are re-enacted, re-lived. We are baptized “into the death of Christ,” and “raised in the likeness of His resurrection.” Each moment of our existence is the life of Christ. St. Paul described it, “Christ within us, the hope of glory.”

Modern culture may indeed have become “disenchanted.” It represents a cultural amnesia, a forgetting of the fulness of our humanity. When we become lost in our entertainments, we become prisoners of the passions and seemingly immune to true wonder. The passions are an easy mark for a culture lost in commerce. Nonetheless, there remains within us a quiet suspicion that there is more to the world than meets the pocketbook. That suspicion, along and along, can blossom into faith when doors are opened, or we perceive the One Door that truly matters reflected in the world around us.

Within all things, there is the quiet hymn, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life…”

Glory to God.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



by

Comments

103 responses to “The Song of All Creation”

  1. Paul Lee Avatar
    Paul Lee

    I am a 50 yo man who lost my father last year and almost lost my wife a few years ago to advanced cancer. The older I get, the more I feel that the most powerful force in our world is love. In modernity’s eyes, love is not a physical force because it cannot be seen or touched but I believe it is the most powerful force in our world and in our lives. It has the power to melt our hearts, join us with each other and join us with Christ. It took me so many years and so many heartbreaks to recognize this but I am finally recognizing it now. Thank you for this post Father and all your posts. They bring much healing and comfort to me.

  2. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Paul,
    I think love, at its most complete, is “ontological” in nature, that is, it is an actual matter of being. Our culture wants to reduce it to mere emotion, but that is an inadequate explanation. “Love never fails,” St. Paul says.

  3. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Fr. Stephen said:

    “I recall my first exposure to Tolkien and Lewis. The books amazed me, not because they suggested a world of fantasy that I could enjoy. Rather, it was the amazement of realizing that someone else had sensed something that I already knew was true. And I knew that they knew it as well or they could not have written in such a common language.”

    Maybe someday, someway when I understand and experience things rightly I will be able to write about them in common language that speaks to everyone with love and simplicity. I have for nearly all of my adult life sensed that there is something more in this world than meets the eye, meets the hand, meets the mind, etc. There is something more than commerce and consumption. There is something more to life than what I was raised to believe. I KNOW this, and being in Christ attests to this, but I seldom experience this. Only thoughts in my mind. Only words on a page. Only rhetoric in a listener´s ear.

  4. Bonnie Avatar
    Bonnie

    C. S. Lewis’ space trilogy is based on an unlikely hero, a middle-aged professor of philology. Although unscientific, its detailed description of alien worlds is different from most fiction. (No spoilers.) The question is asked: what would an unspoiled world be like if its rational beings did not experience “the Fall”? The books are “Out of the Silent Planet”, “Perelandra” (some editions call it Voyage to Venus), and “That Hideous Strength”.
    These books do not seem to be as well known as the Narnia series, but the portrayal of evil, and its way of making people twist the truth, is eye-opening.
    As he did in writing, “The Screwtape Letters”, Lewis exposes the ways we try to rationalize our way out of doing what needs to be done, in ourselves. and in our relations with others. Narnia for grownups.

  5. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    I think that we are all permeated with “this world” – and that we have a hard time shaking it long enough to experience the truth. Nonetheless, what is an occasional fleeting moment gives way to smaller stretches of time…sometimes to hours on end. I’d be glad for days at a stretch. The practice of the Jesus Prayer is of help (though often it has to persist for a bit before it “kicks in.”). But, all of this is simply the place where we battle. The Fathers warned about times like hours. I think we seriously underrate the heroic nature of what we undergo.

    I want to know if you visit Ireland (much less move there). I’ve heard stories about that wonderful place. Perhaps I’ll get there myself. The picture with this article is only about a couple of miles across town from me. I didn’t want to post a picture from some faraway place – because the doorways are always at hand.

  6. Margaret Avatar
    Margaret

    Glory to God for All Things! Thank you for this blog post Fr. Stephen!

  7. thomas Avatar
    thomas

    “It seems clear from the evidence (including the Biblical evidence) that human beings were late in coming to believe in the One God.”

    There is a youtuber called Inspiring Philosophy that did a video showing many tribes started out with one supreme God and then moved slowly towards multiple Gods. I can post the link if you are interested. Fascinating if true.

  8. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Thomas,
    You can post the link. I’m very dubious about various treatments of pre-history (there’s so much stuff out there that’s just plain bogus!). My reference to the Biblical evidence points towards Abraham, who seems to be the first person to be called by the One God that we can place within something like a historical period…and his story seems to indicate no such worship prior to him (excluding the very early chapters of Genesis). But, I’d be interested in see the link anyway. When it comes to history, like science, I prefer something with some amount of peer review. It doesn’t have to convince everyone – just a range of reasonable minds. I’m also very comfortable with not knowing a lot of things…and there’s so much that we will never know. After a while, various speculations feel like going down rabbit holes of conspiracy theories.

  9. Michael D Avatar
    Michael D

    I was just thinking today about how the Orthodox life is quite like the world of Tolkien. What made me think of it js the troparion for St Makarios of Egypt for today:

    Truly, the Lord has appointed you as an abode of abstinence, / and as an unerring star, enlightening the ends of the earth, / O Venerable Makarios, the Father of Fathers.

    We often talk about the saints as being made “stars,” much like Earendil is made into a star in Tolkien’s world. So there’s a sense where Tolkien was right in his imagination. People can and do become stars that guide us and lead us as we slog through Mordor.

    I also, confessedly, often liken beautiful liturgical services (such as the prayers of St Basil’s Liturgy, or the Akathist of Thanksgiving) to elf song. Maybe that’s bad, but it does make me feel like I have a real life experience of what I imagine Rivendell to be.

    Great article, Father. Thank you!

  10. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    I like your message of the “song of the universe” very much. Indeed, as you say, “Within all things, there is the quiet hymn, “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life…”

    Amen!

  11. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    To add to Bonnie’s comment, I was exposed to “Till We Have Faces” before becoming Orthodox. I intend to re-read it because I might better understand it now. In retrospect, it seems to have had Orthodox themes that at the time I didn’t recognize as such.

    The title (I think) comes from “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

  12. thomas Avatar
    thomas

    Thank you Father. Here is the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b-bMgXQV7no&t=76s

  13. thomas Avatar
    thomas

    I like the idea that the closer we get to Adam (or Noah) the more likely the the idea of one True God would be. As the people disband and form different tribes, they begin to fall away from that knowledge and turn towards idols, as Israel did countless times. So by the time we get to Abraham, there are very few who still know about the One God. I am not studied enough yet to know how Melchizedek fits in.

  14. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Thomas,
    Fascinating – better than I was expecting. Thanks!

  15. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    Fr. Stephen,

    When I saw the title I felt certain you were going to reference the beginning of “The Magician’s Nephew” where Aslan sang the world into existence. I know of no better picture of enchantment actively bringing things into being in such a creative way.

  16. Drewster2000 Avatar
    Drewster2000

    Bonnie,

    I readily agree. The Space Trilogy was a marvel at least as deserving of recognition as the the Narnian Chronicles. My speculation is that Narnia was created for children – which we all are at heart – whereas the Perelandria and such took things to the next level and required more from the reader. Or something like that.

    But it contained so many good insights. I was truly Ransom throughout the first two books. The third seemed disjointed but I actually think that was part of the point: all of creation is in harmony with God…except us. God gets His way in the end, but the world can look pretty strange and chaotic until then.

  17. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    Mark, Lewis himself explained. From Wikipedia (but I’ve also read this elsewhere):

    quote: C. S. Lewis originally titled his working manuscripts “Bareface”. The editor (Gibb) rejected the title “Bareface” on the ground that readers would mistake it for a Western. In response, Lewis said he failed to see why people would be deterred from buying the book if they thought it was a Western, and that the working title was cryptic enough to be intriguing.[4] Nevertheless, Lewis started considering an alternative title on February 29, 1956, and chose “Till We Have Faces”, which refers to a line from the book where Orual says, “How can [the gods] meet us face to face till we have faces?”[4] He defended his choice in a letter to his long-time correspondent, Dorothea Conybeare, explaining the idea that a human “must be speaking with its own voice (not one of its borrowed voices), expressing its actual desires (not what it imagines that it desires), being for good or ill itself, not any mask, veil, or persona.” /quote

    I need to re-read it, too.

    Dana

  18. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    It´s my Protestant understanding that monotheism developed over time for the people of ancient Israel. I also have heard scholars say that the Israelites came out of polytheistic people groups or tribes within Canaan, not out of Egypt as the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament reports.

  19. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks Fr. Stephen. You said:

    “I think we seriously underrate the heroic nature of what we undergo.”

    I don´t feel much like a hero.

    I will keep everyone posted about Ireland. I contacted Fr. Robert and am waiting to hear back from him. We are also traveling to Greece later in the year. We will see where this all leads. I need to simply be patient.

  20. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Fr. Stephen said:

    “I didn’t want to post a picture from some faraway place – because the doorways are always at hand.”

    🙂 I live in a huge urban area. The surrounding countryside, landscape wise, is not my cup of tea … so as such I often miss doorways! I have to travel to get to the places that speak to my heart!

    You live in a beautiful part of the U.S. Be blessed!

  21. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I find Christmas to be an interesting study in disenchantment. I find Christmas enchanting even though I know it is filled with mythology. Also, I can’t separate the feeling of enchantment from the mythology. When I do Christmas is no longer Christmas. What does it mean to find anything enchanting given that all the trappings of enchantment are fables, myths, and stories?

  22. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    There has only ever been one door in all of history that truly mattered: the door of Christ’s Empty Tomb. It is that place where that which was hidden beneath and within showed forth into what is present and clear. The meaning of all things (the Logos) revealed Himself and spoke with us. If we saw Him then, or see Him now, then we are not wrong to see Him in every tree, rock, and cloud – in all created things.

    So, if this is true…if it really is true…then is it fair to say that Jesus is saving the appearances?

  23. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    I suppose that would be fair to say.

  24. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    Some stories are historically true stories. Some myths are stories drawn from history that are so large that they become “mythic.” But, when I think of a world without “trappings,” then I think mostly about a group of dour Puritans in a white-washed Church with a cult-like ideology that has robbed their world of all wonder. Many times, I think, the “trappings” exist because they show outwardly what is true inwardly. The tree, the decorations, the gifts, the music – none of it would mean anything if the Child in the manger is not God-Made-Man. So, I suppose we can say that the Child “saves the appearances” of Christmas.

    Human beings weren’t made to live without the trappings (just as we’re not made to live without enchantment). Only people who have been captivated by a modern myth/fable of an empty materialism have no trappings – and even then – they’ll make some up. For me, I long ago came to rest, with confidence, in the death and resurrection of Christ. Everything (all the trappings) flow from that. If I had to re-think that at every moment of every day, as though it were the first time, I think it would become incredibly tiresome. It would be like wondering every day if I wanted to stay married to my wife. I decided it long ago and it is settled in my life.

    There are times that we question even very settled things – but it is important, at some point, to find them settled. And then live.

  25. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    The enchantment of Christmas. I feel it in the air. I know in some sense it is very real despite all the myth associated with it as well as the commercialism. This feeling of mine comes from somewhere – I just know it. I know this may sound triumphant, but I can think of no other holiday with the exception of Pascha that brings something so alive inside of me. I know this feeling of enchantment, especially the kind of enchantment I see in the eyes of my niece everytime Christmas rolls around, is all because Jesus Christ is God-Made-Man (even if my niece is being raised in a non-Christian home).

    Fr. Stephen said:

    “There are times that we question even very settled things – but it is important, at some point, to find them settled. And then live.”

    I am coming to that settled point after years of deconstruction and reconstruction and also a lot of restoration. I am nearing the finish line of theological and spiritual mind-bending. It´s time to live.

  26. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    My understanding is that one moves from being to well-being to eternal well-being which also is a ‘movement’ toward increasing stability. One who doubts, whose soul is divided, is like a wave driven about by every wind. I doubt. Not because I have to, but because I want to.

  27. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    You wrote:I doubt. Not because I have to, but because I want to.

    You have shared before that you came out of a background within a cult. Cults use belief for the purpose of control and abuse. They are not about their belief – but their belif serves their abusive purpose. Coming out of that, doubt becomes a tool for freedom, a protective instinct that finds something very important in the act of doubting – a sense of making for a kind of safety.

    Forgive me, I don’t me to over analyze – only to say that it makes sense. There’s a sense, however, that it keeps the abusers in control. Protestantism began with a questioning and rejection of many elements of a belief system that was seen as corrupt and oppressive. It also became a habit of mind. But the deconstructing eventually creates its own abusive structures.

    I think that in coming to Orthodoxy, it was an instinct to abandon the deconstructing project of Protestantism (whose culture is even now collapsing in on them), and to “settle” on the foundations of Orthodoxy itself. But our own personal stories have an impact on what we do and what we can do. God give us grace!

  28. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Simon,
    For what it’s worth, I appreciate your expressions of doubt. At the same time, I agree with Father at some point; certain things need to become settled in one’s heart for the sake of sanity if nothing else.

    So often, I hear disparaging remarks about “doubting Thomas” because he needed empirical proof of the scared hands and feet and side. I get his need.

    What remains in my own heart after what I’ve been subjected to in my life (it wasn’t a cult but another abuse) is a form of ‘constant assurance’ from Christ. At first when I was initially a catechumen and newly baptised, I needed a lot of assurance. More often then than now, I resorted back to the turning point (within a scientific endeavor I had been engaged in) when I first realized there was ‘a Christ’, to reassure myself that I wasn’t deluding myself. But that turning point receded into years in my past. Over time, such returns to that memory are now fewer, having other moments (of glimpses, bread, and water for my often tormented soul) to return to in prayer. It grieves me to hear what likely happened to you in those experiences of a cult. But I believe such experiences also bring you a depth of faith as you live in Christ in the Orthodox Way. Such are the foundations that provide your life in Christ authenticity.

    You mentioned that you care for your son and maybe a full-time father in care of your child (if I understood correctly). To me, this is a full-time ascetic practice, and you have my deep admiration for what that is worth. To me, this is a holy life in Christ.

  29. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    I need to correct myself once again to clarify my words. I wish there was an edit function.

    Intended words to Simon: [What remains in my own heart after what I’ve been subjected to in my life (it wasn’t a cult but another abuse) is a form of need of ‘constant assurance’ from Christ.]

    Adding these thoughts: That need is still there in my soul and heart, but sometimes I lose sight of Christ and the Holy Spirit in myself, and this is a difficult phase because I do not receive the assurance I hope for. But I have been prepared for it through the scriptures and reading the lives of the saints such as St Silouan. And so, following their guidance, I abide (following the commandments, seeking communion in prayers, participating in Divine Liturgy, and receiving the Eucharist) and wait and pray patiently in hope. I wait for a window or door to open. Though I will for something to open, I pray not by my will or some self-construction on my part but by the unexpected doings of the Lord.

    In short, I’m learning how to wait in the desert.

    Simon, I ask for your prayers.

  30. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    For clarification on your thoughts, how close is Owen Barfield’s “Saving the Appearances” book/conceptions to the Orthodox Way of perceiving the universe?

  31. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Dee,
    Barfield is a very interesting thinker. Both Tolkien (a Catholic) and Lewis (a classical Anglican) found him helpful and were influenced by him at certain points. Barfield’s own background was as an Anthroposophist, following Rudolf Steiner, which can be some pretty strange stuff. I think he left all of that and certainly mellowed (more towards a Christian point of view), but his work has to be digested in order to be made use of. I do not recommend him except on certain points. When I was in seminary, in a senior philosophical theology course, his book, Saving the Appearances, was required reading. I wound up doing my senior thesis on Barfield’s doctrine of God. I think that six months later, I would have had a hard time understanding what I had written (I had simply immersed myself in his work).

    The phrase, “saving the appearances,” comes from Aristotle, who used it to mean “giving an explanation that works.”

    Barfield’s first book, Poetic Diction, is probably the work that most influenced Lewis and Tolkien, and it was on the nature of poetry and language. He had some interesting ideas, and they certainly influenced Tolkien’s notion of language (his field). As an exploration of phenomenology, it can be useful. Learning to think about what we see and what is behind what we see can be part of an Orthodox understanding. However, it’s easy to lose yourself down that road. Oftentimes, such thought is part of a process for trying to find yourself after you’ve gone too far down modernity’s road and need to see something more.

    So…that’s my thoughts on Barfield, in a nutshell.

  32. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Father,
    Your explanation is very helpful.

    “Learning to think about what we see and what is behind what we see can be part of an Orthodox understanding. However, it’s easy to lose yourself down that road. Oftentimes, such thought is part of a process for trying to find yourself after you’ve gone too far down modernity’s road and need to see something more.”

    Very cogent, Father, indeed.

  33. Ioana Avatar
    Ioana

    Father, is it possible that the world is getting disenchanted because there are too many words? Too much talking, not enough living? Too many words, explanations, descriptions and analysis of what is going on around us to actually be able to see what is happening. It’s like words take up so much if out time and energy. When reading the Psalter, after a few years, one gets to that point where one cannot concentrate any more on the meaning of the words. And for some reason, just had this thought a minute ago that it might actually be a good thing. Not sure… Concentration is also a gift from Him. But what if it gets taken away from us because He wants us to just say the words and not worry about it. Because no matter how focused we are, we definitely still get things wrong. So maybe we are closer to the truth this way.

  34. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    In the sciences, sigmoidal functions–like the Hill equation (wink, wink, Dee)–describe a probability of response based on a concentration. Sometimes these are called activation functions. There is a critical point along the curve delineating a change in concavity which represents a greater than 50% probability of activation. These curves are frequently used to model dose-response relationships. Imagine the probability of my ‘believing’ has a very high threshold so that any given idea has a very, very low probability of crossing the critical point and yielding a belief response. Using that as a sigmoidal model of cognition, I imagine that the critical point should filter out all sketchy ideas. I imagine that what is ‘real’ or most likely ‘real’ is so qualitatively different from the garbage heap of ideas that only what is ‘real’ will clear the critical point and activate the belief function. What do you think about that, Dee?

    I believe my time with the JWs has raised my bar very high. I think you how you connected the dots is spot on.

    I may have misunderstood Barfield. Reflecting on Father’s comments I was wondering that if to see a cloud or rock or blade of grass is to see Christ, then perhaps what is lost isn’t the nature of things, but only their appearance. In other words, the world only appears to be lost. It isn’t lost in its ontology, but only in its phenomenology.

  35. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    To be clear, I was thinking about how Father discerned the connection to my JW experience. My wife and I were watching a documentary on Mormon cults. And at the end of the series one of the victims raised in the FLDS said that she was constantly evaluating and reevaluating her beliefs to be sure that they were actually hers. I told my wife I understand that completely. She didn’t say it like she was a critical thinker expressing something rigorous about her thinking. The continual reevaluating was a source of distress, just as you had indicated earlier, Fr.

  36. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    There’s a sense, however, that it keeps the abusers in control.

    Ouch…but you’re not wrong.

    It also became a habit of mind.

    Yes. It is very much a compulsive habit of the mind. But, also there are good reasons to not trust my mind. You know what I mean?

  37. Eliza Avatar
    Eliza

    Iowan,

    For some reason your statement rings so true. “Not enough living” to go with all that talking and analysis. Sounds pretty disenchanting.

    I’ll only add that I see this everywhere with pretty much everything.

  38. Eliza Avatar
    Eliza

    Ioana, I am sorry about the spell check. I did actually spell your name correctly.

  39. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    I hope to be enchanted this week as I travel a bit. The sun is rising. I can see it through the train’s window. Glorious. We so need enchantment.

  40. Ioana Avatar
    Ioana

    No worries, Eliza. I like my name spelled that way. It looks Irish. 🙂

  41. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Dear Matthew,
    I firmly believe an open heart to God leads to the ‘enchantment’ you seek! Glory to God for the sunrise! Glory to God for All Things!

  42. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Ioana,
    “The language of heaven is silence,” according to the Fathers. So, words can indeed be distracting. But silence isn’t emptiness or the mere lack of words. It itself is a “language.” It is stillness of the heart, resting in Christ, that we want.

  43. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    I think you’re right – not lost in its ontology – but in its phenomena. And that phaenomena is itself to be changed, in the end.

  44. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    I indeed know what you mean.

  45. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Eliza,
    “not enough living” It hit me that living means embracing the fullness of both the unseen AND the seen. Then through word and deed offering it continually back to God in thanksgiving and joy…
    “This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

  46. Dee of St Herman Avatar
    Dee of St Herman

    Simon,
    I think your use of the critical point and threshold analysis is amazing. I appreciate your hints of how you suffer as well. I believe this too is part of the asceticism of your life. May God bless all that you do.

  47. Shawn Avatar
    Shawn

    Father Stephen,

    Do you see Satan as behind the mass disenchantment of our modern world? I still only have a basic conception of how we got here, but it sounds like it had to do taking good things, like science and reason, to the extreme and using it to explain the world without God, creating a two-story universe in the process. Throw in the conflicts in the Catholic Church, and it seems like an opportune moment for the enemy to seize and slowly sever those lifelines to the transcendent that we’d had for so long. Now we’ve been sold a substitute source of transcendence through entertainment and consumption, just enough to keep us disenchanted without waking us up. If I were the enemy of humankind, it would seem like a pretty good strategy to keep them estranged from their maker and redeemer.

  48. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Thanks for the reminder, Dee, to keep my heart open.

    Shawn … outstanding post. Thank you.

  49. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Shawn,
    The adversary certain takes advantage of every opportunity. Historically, the origins of secularism (which is the root of disenchantment) is found in certain parts of the Reformation. Oddly, the early versions of that movement were often anti-miracle (all miracles ceased when the New Testament was completed – they said), primarily as a means of attacking the Catholic Church which was filled with belief in miracles (the Mass, saints, relics, shrines, etc.). It was slow making headway (because the culture of the Medieval period did not disappear overnight, nor without a fight). But after the Enlightenment (what an mis-named movement), it wasn’t just science and reason being exalted, but also science and reason being used as a weapon to bash religion (especially Catholics).

    In the Eastern Church (not many know this), the Hesychast Movement (beginning on Mt. Athos and on the islands of Greece) was a quiet response to the dangers of the Western Enlightenment. Today, I would describe Orthodoxy as grounded in the insights of that movement. It recognized that true enlightenment is in the heart and involves the transformation of the whole person – rather than mere rationalism. It’s not anti-rational, but sees reason as one of a number of human faculties that should all work in common.

    We’re in a very long battle.

  50. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I think that I am very uncomfortable with the idea of settling on anything based on someone’s presumption to tell me the matter is settled. The matter maybe settled for you, but that does not mean that it is settled for me. What happens when I take a look at something and I come to an alternative conclusion. Whose conclusion am I going to accept?

    I am a pretty sharp guy and the idea that someone else is going to presume to decide for me what I should believe is unacceptable. I believe that a majority vote even in a council can be very wrong for many reasons. The time component is not a factor. All that means to me is that there is a possibility that once something becomes a creed of course it has lasted 2000 years. Creeds are like glaciers in size, force, and momentum.

    When I had cancer my first oncologist insisted that I needed 9 weeks of chemo and radiation. I disagreed with him. I said based on the type of cancer there was no reason to think that surgery alone wouldn’t be enough. My oncologist said–and I quote–“I don’t like your attitude.” And I said–and I quote– “That’s irrelevant. You’re not answering simple questions.” So I went to the Siteman Cancer Center (2.5 hours away) in St. Louis, and guess what? Dr. Picus agreed. I have never had any chemo or radiation in the 11 years since. I am not an oncologist, but I am able to process information. It annoys me to no end when someone presumes to have an authority or a knowledge that will rival my ability to become their equal and then presume to decide for me what I am going to think.

    I hate the fact that I bear this onus. I sound arrogant and unlikable. Maybe I am. But at the end of the day I don’t know what it means to say that this issue is settled whenever my available experience doesn’t cross threshold and generate a belief response from my sigmoidal model of cognition.

    If a belief response isn’t activated, then I am compelled for the sake of consistency to interpret the experience as potentially harmful. However, on reflection, what is wrong with thinking about my beliefs in that way? Are they my beliefs or not? If that approach is wrong, then I am asking you sincerely to teach me what is the right approach?

  51. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    I don’t think I suggested that you should accept something as settled in your life/belief because I have accepted it as settled (or that the Orthodox faith has done so). I described, instead, the dynamic that is set in place when something is not settled. My on case (faith), as I stated it, is rooted in the crucifixion/death/resurrection of Christ as a fact – and that remains settled. That faith rests, on the one hand, on my own careful examination of the historical evidence that supports that contention. I find it both plausible and compelling. The compelling part comes particularly from everything that has flowed from it – including its impact and place in my life. It is not compelling in the sense of running a series of repeated tests in a laboratory and coming up with the same results. But that is not the threshold of belief for me. That historical fact, as it is embraced and taught (with all of that comes with it) by the Orthodox Christian faith is compelling to me.

    I do not simply embrace the Orthodox faith without critical examination. I’m pretty upfront about the messiness of the Church and its historical problems. What i do not see in that messiness, however, is a shaping of doctrine to suit political convenience or to yield to the machinations of the various powers-that-be. It holds up with all of the critical examination I can bring to it.

    I once walked out of a denomination and its various rewards because I thought it was false. I embraced Orthodoxy because I believed it was true, and supported myself and my family with a secular job for the first two years (and took severe pay-cut when asked to serve as a full-time priest for the mission in Knoxville). That is, I did not become Orthodox in order to preserve a career.

    But, those are existential realities of my life – and cannot be a basis for anybody else’s faith. I would dare ask that of anyone.

    It’s also true that you can live your life well and honestly with great integrity (and God’s blessing) still holding some things as “unsettled.” It’ll just be tiring from time to time or will sometimes “bite” you when you wish it wouldn’t. I would suggest that this is the benefit of life within the Church – no one of us has to bear the burden for all of us. I have tough days myself. As i age, certain questions, including the most settled things, come into greater and greater focus. I certainly hope and plan on professing Christ to the end. I recently quoted Reepicheep the mouse:

    “My own plans are made. While I can, I sail east in the Dawn Treader. When she fails me, I paddle east in my coracle. When she sinks, I shall swim east with my four paws. And when I can swim no longer, if I have not reached Aslan’s country, or shot over the edge of the world into some vast cataract, I shall sink with my nose to the sunrise.”

    I like that a lot. It’s a direction, not saying that one has reached the end and is standing there. “Settled” might be too strong a word in that light.

  52. Shawn Avatar
    Shawn

    Thanks Father Stephen,

    Very interesting that there was such foresight in the eastern church as to what was coming in the Enlightenment. Is that movement still going on, or was it only for a certain time?

    For most of my life, I’ve heard those older than me talk about “a simpler time”. A time when life was good, our country was Christian and people were tough. This led me to believe that, in reality, most of culture’s problems were due to the current generation. If we could just fix these recent cultural problems, we’d go back to the good life, like it used to be. Now I realize, like you said Father Stephen, we’re in a very long battle, a battle of centuries. I guess it’s easier to focus on a current issue that we imagine we could “fix” than to admit that we’re dog paddling in a raging river that started flowing hundreds of years ago.

  53. Shawn Avatar
    Shawn

    This post made me think of the refrain of Jesus in the gospels, something to the effect of, “he who has eyes, let him see….he who has ears, let him hear”. Although I’ve been fully engulfed in modernity with it’s two-story universe….I still think, deep down, knew something was off. Over the past decade or so, that has only grown. It was like, at some level, I knew I was blind. Some part of my soul heard Jesus’s call. Of course, as a protestant, I thought that most of what Jesus spoke about was for us to believe in Him and thus have eternal life when we die. I’m so grateful for the Orthodox who are teaching me that Jesus speaks to all of creation, to all levels of our being. More than just believe for salvation from hell, He wants to draw me into true life each and every day. Here recently, I believe some of the scales on my eyes have started to fall off….although there’s still plenty remaining. I didn’t realize just how blind I was, how thick the cataracts of my soul were.

  54. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Shawn,
    Hesychasm would, more or less, be the default position/understanding of Orthodox theology at the present time, for sure. It actually has a complex history. Some would see it as a “renewal” of ancient practice and understand applied to a modern problem. I think that’s accurate. But, it began in Greece, and then did not gain full traction there. It spread to Eastern Europe, particularly the Russian Empire (at the time) and took root there (and flourished in many ways). Full circle, it nurtured the heart of Orthodoxy in that land and also provided and nurtured Orthodox scholars. In the 20th century, with the “diaspora” of many peoples through persecution and economic conditions, it spread elsewhere, including back to Greece itself.

    In this account, I’m following a series of lectures by the Archimandrite Maximos Constas, a modern Athonite scholar who is American. He’s got a book coming out on this in the next couple of years that I look forward to. There is nothing “new” in Hesychasm – just a wider application of its understanding and teaching in the face of the over-rationalizing of the West (which has, of course, got stranger and stranger).

    A simple example: The modern West would have a hard time answering the question, “What does it mean to be a human being?” much less, “If being a human being a good thing?” We can see the implications of such failures all around us. We know what makes money, but we don’t know what is good.

    If there was a simpler time (and there was), it would not have had such difficulty with those questions. The philosophical underpinings that made that simple life possible were already eroding but most people did not notice. That not noticing is how the problems have become so huge…in various cultural locations the problems are overwhelming such that you might suggest to a young person that they should flee (say, from certain college campuses).

    But the battle has been going on a very long time. When everything is said and done, and the battle is over, perhaps we will sit with the saints and hear tales of battles – losses and victories – and sing songs that have yet to be written.

  55. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Oops. I didn’t intend to address anything you said directly. Only the idea of ‘settling’ and what that might entail for someone who might arrive at other conclusions. I apologize for wording the post in a way that appeared pointed at you. I assure you I only meant to tackle the idea.

  56. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    Not a problem. I also think the word “settle” could be problematic because of it’s double meaning. Sometimes it means “settling for” something (which is simply being less than rigorous, etc.) That would be, I think, a wrong thing for anyone to do. For me, “settle” means to have reached a conclusion that is a point of faith – that is, a point upon which you stand. I could never have stood (settled) in that manner as an Anglican, for example. Anglicanism itself is just a compromise within the English Reformation – not worth dying for. My Christian faith was settled – and had been since college. Orthodoxy came slower – and did not become settled until somewhere in the early 90’s (which was in my 40’s).

    I used the image of a marriage at one point in talking about “settled.” I like that image because of the dynamic aspect of it. By the same token, I could say to my children, “I love you no matter what.” That’s a settled matter.

    But, again, I want to say that such a “settled” position is not always a given – and not always obvious. The community aspect of our believing life matters. When I was an Anglican, I could get together with a group of priests and not be at all sure that we were on the same page doctrinally or morally. They not only didn’t “have my back,” some of them gladly stabbed me in the back when push came to shove.

    I think of our community of commenters on the blog – hopefully, we know that when we “tune in” or click on the site, what will be there will be the Orthodox faith – at the heart of the discussion. That it’s settled makes it possible for us to have the conversations we have – including sharing our questions or questioning someone else’s settled faith. That, to me, is life in the Church.

    We are all in this together – and it’s not a cliche. You are daily in my prayers (that’s also a settled matter).

  57. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    “[W]hat is wrong with thinking about my beliefs in that way? Are they my beliefs or not? If that approach is wrong, then I am asking you sincerely to teach me what is the right approach?”

    One reason to reconsider you have already given, Simon: “I hate the fact that I bear this onus. I sound arrogant and unlikable.”

    If you “hate” being a certain way, then that’s an indication it may not be to your own personal well-being. Do you wish to sound arrogant and unlikable? If not, that’s another reason. (Moreover, if the way you think about your beliefs is the right approach, why would stating it sound arrogant and unlikable? That is, what about your audience causes you to believe they would find sound, thoughtful reasoning arrogant? Just something to consider in self-analysis.)

    I do, however, think this annoyance you describe is unwarranted:

    “It annoys me to no end when someone presumes to have an authority or a knowledge that will rival my ability to become their equal and then presume to decide for me what I am going to think.”

    My daughter and I joke that no one needs to be a pilot to recognize a plane crash, but some people *are* better at certain things than others. I can’t do calculus as well as my son, no matter how much I studied it in school and even though I recognize its immense value.

    If you appear to have been right about your oncology treatment, that does not mean you were a better oncologist than your doctor. The nature of statistics (which he was relying on) is that they tell us something about populations, but not about an individual.

    For example, 85 percent of people with a certain type of cancer may have no recurrence without chemo, but with chemo their odds go to 95 percent. Clearly, then, much of the time chemo is not needed, but using it means out of 20 patients only 1 will have a recurrence, rather than 3. If the oncologist did not recommend the chemo, what would he or she tell the two extra patients whose cancer returned?

    You, the individual patient, can decide you want to live with that extra risk, and most of the time you will be right, but if the cancer does return, it will probably be incurable.

    To go back, then, to the question of settling, Dee wrote, “Certain things need to become settled in one’s heart for the sake of sanity if nothing else.”

    Yes. Even if it is possible to have the talent and intelligence to become an expert at anything we choose, we do not. The best violin player who learns in isolation so as not to be influenced must rely on someone else to make the violin.

    That I have to examine every tenet, religious opinion, and dogma for myself and weigh all the conflicting evidence until my belief response is activated is treating my faith differently than I manage the rest of my life. Why would anyone choose that?

    (You said “I doubt. Not because I have to, but because I want to.” On the other hand, you later wrote, “If a belief response isn’t activated, then I am compelled for the sake of consistency to interpret the experience as potentially harmful.” I’m going with the earlier indication that you feel your doubt is a choice.)

  58. Eliza Avatar
    Eliza

    Michael and Simon

    Michael,
    “ embracing the fullness of both the unseen AND the seen. Then through word and deed offering it continually back to God in thanksgiving and joy…
    “This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

    Lovely observations that can be correlated with Fr. Stephen’s comments,

    “ The language of heaven is silence,” according to the Fathers. So, words can indeed be distracting. But silence isn’t emptiness or the mere lack of words. It itself is a “language.” It is stillness of the heart, resting in Christ, that we want.”

    The seen and the unseen – the said and the unsaid.

    I really like the thought of silence as “language.” So much to think about and , dare I say, talk about.
    Btw, Michael, I hope things are well for you. I saw where you mentioned about hardships in the past month, so prayers there. Hope Kansas gets the little bit of spring that we will have here for a few days.

    Simon,
    I hear what you are saying and I still get it. I don’t know why but at some point I feel like I have thrown up my hands and said to myself, “ If I can’t know everything, I may as well know nothing. Feels like a cop out at times. I want to push on. I want to “know.” I want to have the assuredness of people like Michael and Fr. Stephen and others here. I want to know everything about everything.

    But, for a long while, I have thought that The Truth would have to be something that the simplest person could grasp. That it would be something that someone unlearned could perceive , anywhere in any time. Because otherwise it would seem unjust. Who says this is how it must be? I don’t know but I just believe it. I cannot believe that a just God would have us all be theologians and highly educated. The Truth must be something that even children can perceive. How Christ as redeemer fits into that, I don’t really know because how could anyone just know that? I don’t have it all worked out, it’s just what I have landed on.

    If I have time later I can come back with the Scriptures about being childlike and God chose the foolish, etc.

    To the point of enchantment, I think it is a natural state of being in children uncorrupted. It’s the thing in that song, one of my favorites, some of you will know,

    “When I was a child, I caught a fleeting glimpse
    Out of the corner of my eye
    I turned to look, but it was gone
    I cannot put my finger on it now”

    That to me is the thing that has been lost. The It. Whatever it was…

    Anyway, too many ramblings and too little time and I never really came to whatever point I was trying to make.

  59. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I confess I find a rational approach to belief — irrational ultimately. Jesus Christ is a real person. He is not some “belief matrix”.
    As I have said before: At 18 my mother sat me down and told me “God is real. You need to find Him.” That was in 1966.

    When I found the person, the rest followed…The first time I entered an Orthodox Parish, He and His mother were there to greet me. 1985. My wife, our new born son and I were received in 1986. Thirty eight years Orthodox. Jesus, the person, is still around. He reveals Himself in many ways: Sacrament, including the Sacrament of Penance. He and His Mother and the Holy Angels are just behind the veil of judgement, anger, and my other sins.

    So is His Grace and Mercy. When I receive the Body and Blood of my Lord and Savior, He gives Himself feeding me and bringing me closer to the reality of “God is with us!,’ Closer than hands and feet.

    It is not now, nor has it ever been something as artificial as a “belief system”.

    True Orthodox faith is an encounter with the living God that through attendance on the Sacraments, prayer, fasting, almsgiving reveals and deepens that encounter. As often as I attend…

  60. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Eliza,
    Thank you for your prayers. Much happening and our Lord is with my wife and me — especially His Joy. But we each face a battle: nurture the Joy while recognizing the attempts of darkness to overwhelm my recognition of Jesus..

  61. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Michael,

    Maybe you have a deeply personal relationship with Jesus. I am genuinely glad for you. As much as I would like to say that I do too…I just don’t. Furthermore, brother, if I barely recognize the next-to-nothingness of my own existence, how would I ever recognize Christ if I were to ever meet him? Can the shadow really recognize itself in the body that casts it?

  62. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Mark,

    Moreover, if the way you think about your beliefs is the right approach, why would stating it sound arrogant and unlikable?

    Because people are notoriously superficial. They really don’t handle honest confrontation well. I do not think that I am arrogant. I do not think that I am dishonest. But, the first thing that people will do when feeling uncomfortable is attack another person’s character.

  63. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    My kid’s confidence in Christ is heart-warming. I love listening to him recite how great he thinks Jesus is because ‘He loves the animals and the people.’ I wish I had that. The purity and innocence of it seems like a treasure one might find in a field and for the joy of having discovered something so amazing you conceal it so the Bolsheviks don’t stomp around on it.

  64. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    This is a wonderful discussion. I cannot really participate this week because I have no access to a laptop or PC. Typing on my phone is very difficult. Happy discussions everyone! I’ll be reading from Eselsburg! 🙂

  65. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    I’m not sure that superficiality is the issue – rather, I think it’s the dynamics of shame. Perhaps shame makes us behave and respond superficially – we’re protecting something or hiding something we don’t want to see. It’s pretty widespread and common. In our conversations – we are the wounded speaking to the wounded. Only love sees anything – and it’s hard to come by. You love your son – and he loves you – and marvelous conversations flow from it. May God preserve us in His love.

  66. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Simon,
    I am not sure I understand exactly what you mean by “deeply personal relationship with Jesus” ?

    The reality that Jesus Christ is a person, not an idea, is my main point. To accept that premise was the starting point for me, that and the Dynamic Spiral cosmology of my mother and my Dad.
    It took me 57 years to arrive at the point I have and I am just starting.

    A daily struggle, spiritual warfare, is part of it. Rejoicing in thanksgiving is part of the warfare .

    I rather think you know the last part in your own circumstance. Your posts certainly indicate you do. All I am saying is that my recognition that Jesus Christ is a Person enhance my journey immensely. Before I entertained the Holy Trinity being three persons in one God.

    “This is the day the Lord has made! Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”

    My mother’s instruction on finding God implies a one God who is fundamentally male. My bias has always been Christian. It was in that context that I made my prayer: “Jesus, if you are real, I need to know it.”
    I was given evidence enough to convince me but unlikely to convince anyone else.

    It is a da

  67. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Michael, forgive me if “deep personal relationship” comes across as somewhat Protestant. I don’t doubt anything you say. I take you at your word. If Jesus is a person, why take exception to the word “personal”?

    Father, to be clear, I am not claiming any depth for myself. Although I believe I work hard at being honest. I don’t take it for granted that I’m just “not a liar”.

  68. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    I suspect that Christ as “person” is not quite what most modern American believers mean when they say personal or person. I suspect that mean to much of one thing and too little of another.

    On the one hand, it certainly means that He is not a principle, nor an abstraction, much less an idea. Neither, however, does it mean something to which we apply our modern notions of personality and psychology to.

    More than that, though, we see in the Incarnation that God accommodates Himself to us that we might know Him. So, though He is more than we can possibly imagine, He has given Himself to us in ways in which He can be known.

    I have said any number of times in comments, that I think the general problem of “belief” (as a problem) is tied up in wounds of the soul. That, to me, is why simple reason is insufficient. Even in the process of knowing another human being, reason and observation are insufficient. There is a going-out-of-the-self, a mutual giving and receiving, some level of communion involved in knowing another human being – all of which requires love.

    I think it is a great gift when it happens, even on the human level. Slowly, I think, God heals the soul so that we can know Him yet more fully. God give us grace and patience in that work. You are an honest man. No guile.

    I’ve started reading a book, drawn from a series of talks by a Romanian nun, Siluana. The recommendation for it came from someone who had finished it and thought I would be interested. She speaks much about the wounded soul. I’ll share some as I make my way through it.

  69. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I just had a realization. I kind of break through thinking about your response, Father Stephen. I think it could be an interesting study to consider how attachment styles–like avoidant attachment–influences how a person implicitly views God and affects their spirituality. I can tell you that as someone with a text book case of avoidant attachment that when my wife gives me the silent treatment it is absolutely crippling. Now imagine that type of person trying to not feel abandoned by God because of the deafening silence in prayer.

  70. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    Absolutely. I’m no expert on such stuff – but I know in my own life, there have been several key moments of healing (with lots of stuff in between), where looking at my own wounds (and a little past them) was helpful. To a degree, it’s the deep message of my book on shame. Shame (in its various forms) create the wounds within us (or give them their shape). We’re survivors. We form all kinds of layers of protection (including avoidant-attachment – which I have very little knowledge of).

    There were times in my life in which, when I prayed, I called on the name of Jesus, but I largely worked at “not knowing” the stuff I thought I knew. The “apophatic” approach uses this to some degree. On the whole, I’ve probably spent as much time working on “my stuff” as I have doing any kind of theology.

    There have been several “foundational” assumptions that I have embraced and given priority over anything I think or feel:

    1. Christ is the revelation of God. When I say “God,” I mean, “The One revealed in the God/Man Jesus Christ.”
    2. God is good. (and the nature and character of that goodness is revealed in the words and actions of Christ)
    3. God loves us. (whatever it is He is doing, He is doing because He loves us)
    4. God loves me. (sometimes harder than #3.)
    5. It’s gonna be ok (basically, the doctrine of providence)
    6. I eat and drink Him in the Eucharist

    But…another thought about what you shared:

    To continue being available to God, despite the deafening silence in prayer, with an avoidant attachment disorder – is heroic. It’s not just difficult, it’s heroic. It speaks of a hunger and a desire that have not been squelched. And being honest about all of it (including expressing the pain) is heroic. God give you grace!

  71. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Thank you for that Father Stephen. And those 6 points look like a healthy, doable scaffolding for me. Thank you for those constellation points.

  72. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    You’re welcome. It’s been helpful to have them to hang on to, knowing that I can get crazy from time to time and think otherwise. I embraced them in a period of sanity.

    Some months before I got married, I sat down and had a serious “think.” My thinking was to be clear with myself that I was going to get married. I came to a “yes” conclusion. One reason for that was that I was in the throes of a terrible panic disorder at the time, and I knew that the closer I got to the event itself, the likelier it was that I would have lots of panic (which makes for really terrible decisions). Sure enough, I stayed up all night the night before my wedding in the grip of a terrible panic attack – but I did not let it change my mind or actions. Pictures from my wedding (as we were coming out of the Church) show me with an amazing smile (everyone said they had never seen a happier groom). The smile was because the panic had just ended. But I’ve kept smiling now for 48 years.

    It’s been useful to have that “settled” sort of point (or several of them) in my life. God give us grace!

  73. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    There are times that we question even very settled things – but it is important, at some point, to find them settled. And then live.

    It occurs to me that the zealot cannot see the point of settlement. It is always off in the future, over the horizon. They never live; they simply fight and look for confrontation(s), thinking this moves them “on their way” to wherever they imagine they are going. I think this may be a part of the shame which Father mentions: a zealot cannot bring themselves to embrace the humanity of communion. They can only confront, in an inhuman, objective manner. Just my thoughts.

  74. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Byron,

    They never live; they simply fight and look for confrontation(s), thinking this moves them “on their way” to wherever they imagine they are going.

    You’re not wrong. On the one hand, as Father Stephen has mentioned there can be times when having the ability to be confrontational with dragons is helpful. On the other hand, when everything becomes a potential bogeyman, then it’s not helpful at all. It reminds me of Elrond’s words to Aragorn, “Put aside the ranger. Become who you were born to be.”

  75. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    I agree. Simon. It was a very general impression on my part. Never seeing the end to the confrontation is the issue of which I was thinking.

  76. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Simon,
    No offense taken, just trying to be clear. What I have is an inter-relationship possible because of the Incarnation. There is a personal dimension to be sure. His being and forgiveness makes my distinct life possible. In Him, by Grace, my life can become transcendent. He created me and gives me life which I often mess up.
    Mt.4:17 “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”

  77. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    The difficulty with a materialist account of reality is its total indifference to every form and instance of suffering as well as its emptiness of meaning (perhaps the greatest suffering of all).

    Back in the day when I was hanging out with the secular humanists at the Center for Inquiry I had come to see meaning and eudaimonia as something that was radically defiant. Despite the indifference of the world to my existence I was not indifferent to my existence, and I began to see my insistence on the value of our lives as a defiance of all that was indifferent in our struggle for meaning. I didn’t frame the question as “what is the meaning of life?” I framed it as “What is a meaningful life?” Those are two very different questions. Maybe I will never know THE meaning of life, but I figured I could live life meaningfully and I wondered “why isn’t that enough? why isn’t it enough just to live a meaningful life?” The thought of death haunted me for a bit, but one day when I was walking in the woods with the dogs I was gazing up at the sun shining down through the leaves and I thought “The world is full of life” and when I looked down at the ground I thought “The world is full of death” and in that moment something toggled inside me because I saw death and life connected. And I have not been able to shake that sense of things: Life and death in the forest (thinking of the forest as an organism) is one. They cannot be separated. After that I never feared death and it ceased to be an enemy for me. Meaning was something I was capable of creating as part of an insistence that my life was worth living to me and I saw no need to justify that instinct by appealing to higher powers. In my mind I had come to real insight. AND it was mine. It emerged unexpectedly in an instant. But I do. not doubt that things were percolating beneath the surface for some time.

    I still hold tightly to all of those ideas. Even now it is hard for me to see death as an enemy when it is so absolutely necessary for the life of the world.

    What I have come to see in all this is the shape of the cross. When I get time to lay on the ground and just look at a tree I see myself in that tree. It is an icon of me stretching toward the Light of the Sun (wink, wink). I see the Spirit springing up within imparting life giving water to all things. Just as the tree draws from the many lives that have passed and decomposed, I see my life as an extension of all the many lives that have come before me. They are a part of me. And one day I will die and I will become part of another life reaching for the Light of the Sun. My hope is that as one life after another is granted theosis the entire life of the world will be organically transformed. Perhaps one day it will reach some threshold and its salvation will burst forth on all creation like a butterfly from a cocoon: Beautiful and transformed.

  78. Eliza Avatar
    Eliza

    Simon’s statement, “My hope is that as one life after another is granted theosis the entire life of the world will be organically transformed. Perhaps one day it will reach some threshold and its salvation will burst forth on all creation like a butterfly from a cocoon: Beautiful and transformed.”

    Nice. This brings to mind Romans 8:22 which is on my mind a lot for the past few years.

    First reference is from the KJV which I like despite the missing Apocrypha books.
    “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”

    Also, from the Catholic Bible,
    “We are well aware that the whole creation, until this time, has been groaning in labour pains.”

    I take comfort in the thought that the whole of creation, all the earth, awaits transformation, even if I don’t have all the answers.

  79. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    Your description of death seems to me to be biological – which is less than what the Fathers mean when they speak of it and describe it as “evil.” The process of something dying, decaying, and its components being used by something else is not “evil” in the patristic sense. “Death,” in their usage, is “non-being.” It’s not decomposition into the next begin – but non-being.

    Your description is a sort of celebration of life, a joyful meditation on being a participant in the biological movement of our existence. There’s a bit of a kinship in what you’re saying with the writings of Teilhard de Chardin (Catholic theologian of sorts). I only know him second-hand, having never read him.

    But “death as enemy” or “death as evil” is death seen as non-being. There is not really anything to be said of non-being. It is nothing, and even that word is giving it more than is proper. Being is God’s gift. Being is goodness. So there’s the movement: being, well-being, eternal being. Which is a movement into truer and truer being – the opposite of a movement towards non-being.

    I would observe that the desire for meaning (even the terribly perverse power-as-meaning) is a testament to an inherent desire for transcendence, for union with the Logos (that can be translated as “meaning”). I would say that in human beings (and maybe some animals) that desire takes a form of a sentient expression. But everything that exists “desires” form and order, even if the “desire” is not sentient. All of creation is marked by its “logoi.”

    It’s interesting to me that the word “meaning” has its roots in a word that means to “think” and that sense still clings to it somehow – often giving it a bit of a subjective feel in our thought. “Logos” doesn’t have that burden for me. Although “logos” does have its roots in the word “lego” – to speak – but that seems to be related to how the ancients saw the relation of objects and words (now there’s a Barfieldian moment!). But “logos” as “form,” “shape,” “purpose,” “direction,” “order,” etc. is much broader than thought or thinking.

    A Christian argument against pure materialism is in the resurrection of Christ. His “materiality” in the resurrection does not seem to behave like any materiality that we know. Space and time don’t seem to be issues (locked doors, now you see Him, now you don’t, etc.). It is a case of materiality that has become supra-material (just as we would say that God is “beyond being”). Mere miracles do not have the same kind of force about them, for me, and are almost always the weakest sorts of argument. So, when I come back, again and again, to Christ’s Pascha as the root of faith and belief, it is because it seems the singular argument (logos) that makes other arguments possible. Somehow, it’s more than an argument for life after death (and leaves most of that topic unanswered).

    And this, for me, is the root and ground of theosis: that the Uncreated became created…so that the created might become Uncreated.

    Just thoughts and conversation…it’s also early in the morning…with only one coffee…

  80. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Eliza,
    The original edition of the KJV contained the Apocrypha books. The Anglicans (who first produced the KJV) accept the Apocrypha as “edifying” and they do read from them in their services on various occasions. They do not treat them as authoritative Scripture (because they are Protestant, after all). But, it’s possible to get a KJV with those books, and they’re good translations.

  81. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, is it proper to say that as we seek union with Christ through the celebration of the Sacraments, our own prayer, repentance and forgiveness that Life is both lived now and revealed as path to eternal communion with Jesus Christ through the Cross.

    Forgive my meander, but there is core there of the truth I think.

  82. Eliza Avatar
    Eliza

    Thank you, Father Stephen for the clarification on Anglicans and the Apocrypha. I will look for one of those Bibles.

    Michael, your question to Fr. Stephen is an interesting one.

  83. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Michael,
    Yes, I think that’s proper.

  84. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Somehow, it’s more than an argument for life after death (and leaves most of that topic unanswered).

    I have never thought of it that way, but it makes complete sense, but it does leave the door open to a number of questions.

    I see an implication in your last comment an implication that the resurrection isn’t a response to death per se, but more specifically ‘fallen death’ that leads to non-being. I almost immediately connected your comment to God’s words in Genesis where he says “dying you will die” as if to say death was always entailed in biological component of their existence and was not exempted from the wear and tear of entropy. If that is true, then death did not have to be ‘fallen.’ It could have been like a metamorphosis, i.e., theosis. This is also implied in what you noted earlier that creation is not lost in its ontology, but only its phenomena. What is lost and being saved are the phenomena, the appearances, the disordered outwardness of the material domain. Perhaps the phenomena, such as the biological features, were always intended to be ‘corruptible’ (subject to entropy) but not ‘corrupted’ (subject to non-being). What do you think?

  85. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    Just as one might sin but ‘not after the likeness of Adam’s transgression.’ So is it proper to say that one might die, but not after the likeness of Adam’s death, which might be called a ‘fallen’ death?

  86. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    I tend to favor St. Maximus’ account where human beings fall “almost immediately”… I find the Genesis story useful for theology, but I don’t use it for thinking about creation as such (at least not too much). Also, I think of St. Basil’s language regarding the fall as “falling out of paradise into this world…” which is to say that, for me, I tend to think of the creation in which we live to have always (or since its inception) been “subject to futility.” I don’t think of it as “fallen” in the sense of being “sinful” in any particular way. But, I think of it as a shadow or icon of what it is intended to be – that it groans for the something more – the “liberty” of resurrection. But, because of the resurrection, I don’t look for more than shadow and icon in this world (this “aeon”). I see some glimpses of it here and there.

    A couple of startling experiences have been in encounters with individuals (3) whom I suspect to have been saints. They were “larger” somehow than any human being I’ve encountered otherwise – and I don’t have any better word for it than that. It was uncanny. I could add to it…but I’ll stop there.

  87. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I try to retain the pattern of the Genesis account. In Genesis there were animals before there were people. Makes sense. With respect to the garden there are inner and outer regions: Noetic and sensory.

    “falling out of paradise into this world…”

    I have read something similar previously, but Basil wasn’t credited for it. It’s interesting to think of humanity (loosely speaking here to avoid discussions of an original pair) as being cast into a ‘creation which has always (or since its inception) been “subject to futility.’

    Any way you could elaborate on that?

  88. Byron Avatar
    Byron

    It is a case of materiality that has become supra-material (just as we would say that God is “beyond being”).

    This reminds me of something C.S. Lewis noted (I don’t have the quote and can only go by memory, sadly). That angels are able to pass through walls because they are more real than the wall itself, not because they are less than it (or intangible, in a materialist sense).

  89. Mark Spurlock Avatar
    Mark Spurlock

    Byron,

    That seems to be from Lewis’s “Out of the Silent Planet”…and a reference to the Eldil (which are angelic beings). Quoting:

    [T]he body of an eldil is a movement swift as light; you may say its body is made of light, but not of that which is light for the eldil. His “light” is a swifter movement which for us is nothing at all: and what we call light is for him a thing like water, a visible thing, a thing he can touch and bathe in—even a dark thing when not illumined by the swifter. And what we call firm things—flesh and earth—seem to him thinner, and harder to see, than our light, and more like clouds and nearly nothing. To us the eldil is a thin half-real body that can go through walls and rocks: to himself he goes through them because he is solid and firm and they are like a cloud.

  90. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    In some ways, the extreme form was found in Origen, who basically has us falling out of paradise (heaven) into this world. He was a bit too Platonist. However, he certainly influenced later Eastern Fathers. St. Basil’s Anaphora (the Eucharistic prayer that’s used throughout Lent) says of Adam:

    …But when he disobeyed You, the true God who had created him, and was led astray by the deception of the serpent becoming subject to death through his own transgressions, You, O God, in Your righteous judgment, expelled him from paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in Your Christ.

    It has “hints” of Origen, but only “hints.” What you see, though, is a clear distinction between paradise and “this world.” Many conservative Protestants tend to treat the Genesis account with everything “falling” as a result of man’s sin. And, so “this world” becomes inherently sinful. I think it has caused more than a little mischief to think of it like that. (like “total depravity”)

    I’ve had conversations with folks who hold to a very historical account of the “fall” and assume some sort of radical disruption in nature as a result. There is, to my knowledge, no evidence of such a thing. We have a very old universe whose laws seem to have been consistent through the eons. With St. Basil’s treatment, there’s no need to posit a disruption.

    On the other hand, some folks prefer to think in very historical terms (including some Orthodox writers/thinkers) and they’re welcome to do so. It just doesn’t work for me. I tend to like the Cappadocians (Sts. Basil, Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory the Theologian) for many reasons. And, last time I checked, they qualify as perfectly Orthodox thinkers.

  91. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    “There is, to my knowledge, no evidence of such a thing. We have a very old universe whose laws seem to have been consistent through the eons. With St. Basil’s treatment, there’s no need to posit a disruption.”

    That seems really lucid. I like it.

  92. Matthew Avatar
    Matthew

    Can someone explain to this former total depravity Protestant what we are really saying here about the fall and about death? It seems Simon is suggesting that death is normal and was even something that occured in the garden.

  93. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    Not in the Garden. “Normal” in “this world” (outside the garden). “Death” is the “last enemy.” But “death” in the patristic sense is “non-being” or the “movement towards non-being.”

  94. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Matthew,
    There is no dogmatic account of creation and the fall. The Scriptures provide a framework for thinking about it, but there are some variations within the Fathers. Simon was “exploring the boundaries” about how to think about it, with some questions (and I sought to respond generously to those questions). That’s not the same thing as offering a hard and fast dogmatic teaching.

    I was (and do) especially lean towards St. Basil’s language used in his anaphora (the core and heart of the Liturgy).

    He says:

    For having made man by taking dust from the earth, and having honored him with Your own image, O God, You placed him in a garden of delight, promising him eternal life and the enjoyment of everlasting blessings in the observance of Your commandments. But when he disobeyed You, the true God who had created him, and was led astray by the deception of the serpent becoming subject to death through his own transgressions, You, O God, in Your righteous judgment, expelled him from paradise into this world, returning him to the earth from which he was taken, yet providing for him the salvation of regeneration in Your Christ.

    It’s not unusual to see treatments for various writers/thinkers, particularly among Evangelicals, who think of Adam’s sin having changed the world (where we live now) from a deathless paradise into a fallen, death-bound world. When that’s treated on a historical level, it becomes sort of problematic (to my mind), suggesting that the laws of physics (entropy, etc.) that obtain presently, changed at a certain historical moment (the fall).

    The Scriptures do not say that creation is “fallen.” Rather, it says that the creation has been “subjected to futility” by God and that He did so in light of humanity’s fall. But, in St. Basil, the expulsion from paradise seems to be “into this world,” that is, a world that is already subject to death and decay. Paradise is therefore something like a “parenthesis” in our story.

    In “this world” death is “normal” in the sense that it is written into the very physical laws themselves. It’s also said at present that death has been transformed for us – that it is no longer a threat of non-being, but has become the door to paradise (through Christ’s death and resurrection).

    Our hope and expectation is that death will be destroyed (1 Cor. 15). Which can mean nothing other than the resurrection of the whole created order (the “liberty” of Romans 8).

    I hope that’s useful.

  95. Shawn Avatar
    Shawn

    Thanks Father Stephen,

    Would it be correct to say that, in your understanding, that, from creation, there was the entire world governed by the physical forces we know today and then there was Eden in which death and entropy did not exist?

  96. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    I have to say I am a bit staggered by St. Basil’s penetrating insight. Thank you for following up with that discussion of the anaphora. Why isn’t this discussed more broadly??

  97. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Shawn,
    That’s how I’m thinking about it – bearing in mind that creation itself was “made subject to futility” in view of the fall (even if the fall is something that occurs at a later moment in history). That’s not to imply that the fall was “predestined” or required. It was foreknown, foreseen.

    This, again, is not dogma. The problem comes for us today when we try to mix “science,” “history,” and Scripture. I do not care to squeeze science or history into a set of dogmatic presumptions. For example, those who presume dogmatically, that the earth is only a short number of years old (like 7 or 8 thousand) and then have to offer explanations as to why the observable universe appears to be billions of years old, etc. Such musings are, to my mind, distractions and a waste of time. Nothing is gained theologically. Much can be lost.

    St. Basil (and others such as St. Maximus) seem to treat Paradise (Eden) as a special case, separate from “this world.”

    I do, however, believe that when God creates and says, “It is good, etc.” He is speaking of this world. This world is good, despite being made subject to futility. Indeed, it is made subject to futility for our sake. In a number of the Fathers it is seen that this world (with its death and decay) are uniquely suited to bring us to repentance. It is not subject to futility in order to destroy us – but to save us.

  98. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    Simon,
    Probably because it’s not a matter of dogma (definitive teaching, etc.). I also suspect that there are many who hear in St. Basil’s language, nothing more than him saying that Adam and Eve were kicked out of paradise. But, his language is far more loaded than that, I think.

    In the West, particularly in light of the penal substitution theory, or, just having a juridical approach to all things, there was a greater tendency to reflect dogmatically on the story in Genesis, pushing it into a tighter box. After all, Western thought was pressing a “legal case” against humanity.

    In the East, particularly in a number of major Fathers, it wasn’t a legal matter, but a matter considered in terms of ontology – of being/non-being, etc. There’s more room for “play” in that approach, and so there are more speculations and such than you see in the West.

    Poetry versus prose.

  99. Shawn Avatar
    Shawn

    Thanks Father Stephen, I appreciate your take and also agree that we can all waste time trying to make everything line up. The subject to futility for our repentance resonates with me. It’s like we know from an early age, deep down, that the world is beautiful and life is right, but so much keeps getting in the way. It never goes away. We actually see the extent of the conflict more as we grow up. I find in me both a strong love for creation and life, and a strong frustration in corruption and death. This ongoing conflict, though painful, has brought me to deeper faith and appreciation for the Christian story which is the only place I’ve found that holds both these realizations together. When I realize Christ entered into this willingly out of love for us to make it right, it does bring me to repentance.

  100. Simon Avatar
    Simon

    How do you understand the words “dying you will die”? I have taken it to mean that biological life is subject to physical laws and therefore in need of a union with incorruptibility. What are your thoughts, Father Stephen?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!


Latest Comments

  1. Matthew, My apologies for the late reply–such a busy last few days (and another, very wonderful, article posted)! Michael is…

  2. Fr. Stephen, “The mystery of the Incarnation of the Word contains in itself the meaning of all the symbols and…

  3. Matthew, Given some of your own comments about the negative effects of certain Protestant theology you have experienced, I would…

  4. Thanks so much everyone. So … I have been hanging around here regularly for about 6 months now. I have…


Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast



Categories


Archives