I find some versions of panpsychism quite attractive

David Bentley Hart said in this interview:

You don’t need the morphology [of New Testament cosmology] to believe in a spiritually living creation that is full of spiritual life. You know, I’m something of a panpsychist myself. Not in the modern way, in which, you know, you’re supposed to believe that every atom has a kind of quality called mind. But rather, that everything is founded upon spirit, is full of logos, is full of spiritual realities.

I’m always on the hunt for more about these concepts. The Corinthian Body by Dale Martin is yielding some fruit, and I’m hoping to post a review of it on here for myself before long. Meanwhile, I’m “rereading” The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss as audio book. In portions of pp. 215-230 (2013 print book version), Hart writes:

Alternatively, one could opt for the naturalist version of “panpsychism” (naturalist, that is, rather than dualist or idealist). This theory claims that consciousness is not a unique property of organisms with brains, but is a fundamental property of the universe at large, present in all physical reality in some form: perhaps as, say, a natural accompaniment to the exchange of “information states” that occurs whenever one material reality affects another (so that a thermometer or a coffee spoon could be said to be conscious, presumably at a fairly idiotic level, of a change in room temperature or of stirring cream into coffee). In this view of things, there is a qualitative and intentional dimension to everything, no less fundamental than the particles of matter, though entirely different from them in nature. This approach to things does, at least, relieve one of the burden of explaining the existence of mind—why, it’s everywhere!—but few committed philosophical naturalists will wish to solve the mystery of consciousness by invoking some ubiquitous quintessence more mysterious still. And, in any event, the whole notion, when posed in naturalist terms, merely conflates the distinct realities of information and our consciousness of information, which is both logically illicit and explanatorily vacuous. (For the record, I find some versions of panpsychism quite attractive, but am also quite certain that the idea is irreconcilable with materialism.)

…There is no good reason not to accord serious consideration to the ancient intuition that the true order of ultimate causes is precisely the opposite of what the materialist philosopher imagines it is, and that the material realm is ultimately dependent upon mind rather than the reverse: that the fullness of being upon which all contingent beings depend is at the same time a limitless act of consciousness. What could we possibly imagine we know about matter or mind that would preclude such a possibility? That the concept of incorporeal or extraphysical consciousness is unintelligible? That, as it happens, is a vacuous assertion: We have no plausible causal model for how consciousness could arise from mechanistic physical processes, and therefore no reason at all to presume some sort of necessary bond between mind and matter. And, truth be told, we have far better warrant for believing in mind than we do for believing in matter. Of the material world we have compelling evidence, of course, but all of it consists in mental impressions and conceptual paradigms produced by and inhabiting the prior reality of consciousness. Of consciousness itself, however, our knowledge is immediate and indubitable. I can doubt that the world really exists, but I cannot doubt that I have intentional consciousness, since doubt is itself a form of conscious intention. This certitude is the imperturbable foundation of my knowledge of anything else. We have and share a world only because each of us has this incommunicable and integral subjectivity within. That whole rich inner universe of experience and thought is not only real, but more real than any physical object can be for us—more real, for instance, than this book you hold in your hands, which exists for you only within the far deeper, fuller, and more certain reality of your consciousness. Once again, we can approach nature only across the interval of the supernatural.

…Perhaps, to exist fully is to be manifest to consciousness. If there were a universe in which consciousness did not exist, in what sense precisely would that universe itself exist? Certainly not as a fully articulated spatial and temporal reality filled with clearly discrete objects, concretely and continuously flowing from a vanished past to an as-yet unrealized future, like the universe that exists in our minds: the reality we find represented in our thoughts, in which intensities and den- sities and durations and successions are arranged in such magnificently complex but diverse order, exists only relative to consciousness; in a universe devoid of mind, at the phenomenal level of reality as it appears to intentional awareness—nothing would exist at all. In itself, if it had any reality in itself, this “mindless” universe would be only a plenum or totality of particles or quantum potentialities “extended” relative only to one another, but in a way quite difierent from the kinds of extension in space and time of which we conceive. Even then, however, it seems fair to say that such a universe, if it existed, would exist exactly to the extent that it could be known to consciousness of some kind.

…There is a point then, arguably, at which being and intelligibility become conceptually indistinguishable. It is only as an intelligible order, as a coherent phenomenon (sensible or intellectual), that anything is anything at all, whether an elementary particle or a universe; perhaps it is true that only what could in principle be known can in actuality exist.

Finally, a friend just recommended Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe by Robert Lanza and Bob Berman. I’ll have to check it out. Anyone still reading this, do you have any other leads? Leave a comment.

Santa’s Family Tree in Pictures

Santa Claus has an old and lively family. Like all families, it is filled with stories, but here I want to focus on the images before the stories. Following multiple branches through time is not easy to represent, and I’ve opted to move first down a secondary branch from Odin to Santa Claus and then back up the heaviest branch of the family (with several strange forks) to Saint Nicholas, Bishop of Myra (modern-day Demre, Turkey). These sixty-six images from Santa’s family tree represent all of the basic characters and secondary branches within the these two primary ancestral lines:

01_Y Odin-cabalgando-a-Sleipnir 02

Above: Tjängvide image stone (dated between A.D. 700 and 1000) which features Odin riding his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir.

01_Y Odin-cabalgando-a-Sleipnir

Above: Detail from the Tjängvide image stone focused on Odin and Sleipnir. Odin was often described riding through the sky with animal companions in the Wild Hunt. Some have suggested that Sleipnir’s eight legs inspired the original number for Santa’s eight reindeer (before Rudolph joined in the 1900s and made it nine).

Three figures 12th-century Skog tapestry have been interpreted as the Norse gods Odin Thor and Freyja

Above: These three figures from the Skog tapestry (dated to the 1100s) have been interpreted as the Norse gods Odin, Thor and Freyja.

02_Y odin_with_his_two_crows_hugin_and_munin_poster

Above: Illustration of Odin with his two ravens, Huginn and Muninn, from a 1760 Icelandic manuscript.

03_Y NKS_1867_4to,_97v,_Odin_on_Sleipnir

Above: Illustration of Odin on his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, from a 1760 Icelandic manuscript.

04_Y Odin_rides_to_Hel W G Collingwood 1908

Above: “Odin Rides to Hel” by W.G. Collingwood, 1908.

05_Y Odin's Hunt Malmström by august-malmstrom 1850s to 1901

Above: “The Wild Hunt” by August Malmström (lived 1829 to 1901), illustration of Odin riding with his wolves and ravens.

06_Y GeorgVonRosenOdin1886

Above: “Odin in the guise of a wanderer” by Georg von Rosen in 1886. (Appeared in the 1893 Swedish translation of the Poetic Edda.)

Frontispiece_to_The_Vindication_of_Christmas_by_John_Taylor_1652

Above: Frontispiece to John Taylor’s pamphlet “The Vindication of Christmas” from 1652 (printed date 1653).

Father Christmas in Josiah King two pamphlets of 1658 and 1678

Above: Father Christmas in an illustration used by two Josiah King pamphlets (1658 and 1678).

07_Y yule goat The Book of Christmas 1836

Above: from The Book of Christmas by Thomas Kibble Hervey with “Old Christmas” shown riding a yule goat, 1836.

08_Y father christmas with Yule Goat

Above: Father Christmas with the Yule Goat (date and source unknown).

Christmas_and_his_children_by_Robert_Seymour_1836

Above: “Christmas and his children” by Robert Seymour, 1836.

11_Y Dicken's christmas carole origional christmas present

Above: A colorized edit of an engraving by John Leech in 1843 for the “Ghost of Christmas Present” in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (illustration from first edition).

Merry_Christmas_Illustrated_London_News_25_December_1847

Father Christmas from the Illustrated London News 1847.

09_Y Old Father Christmas_with_the_Yule_Log,_Illustrated_London_News,_23_Dec_1848

Above: “Christmas with the Yule Log” by Alfred Crowquill (Alfred Henry Forrester), 1848 (Illustrated London News).

arthur-rackahm-father-christmas ca 1900

Above: “Father Christmas” by Arthur Rackahm (c. 1900).

arthur rackham old st nick 1907

Above: “Old St. Nick” by Aarthur Rackham from 1907. [Note: This image could fit below among the Saint Nicholas branch of the family, but I include it here because these two illustrations by Rackham show how Father Christmas and St. Nick are two distinct figures. This image of “Old St. Nick” also demonstrates a critical secondary-branch in the Saint Nicholas clan where the human saint is replaced by an elf or a gnome-like creature, often from the far north and living underground. This is the source of the “Jolly Old St. Nick” name that later becomes associated with Santa Claus along with ideas about where and how he lives.]

A-Merry-Christmas-made-in-Saxony-ca 1900

Above: Saxon postcard c. 1900 from the Kemper Chambers Collection.

victorian father christmas

Above: illustration of Father Christmas from the Victorian era (1837-1901, exact date and source unknown).

Victorian English Father Christmas in Green

Above: illustration of Father Christmas from the Victorian era (1837-1901, exact date and source unknown).

Father_Christmas_Tuck_Photo_Oilette_postcard 1919

Above: Father Christmas from a 1919 Tuck postcard (by the London company of Raphael Tuck & Sons), Photo Oilette series number C7513).

12_Y Father Christmas Tolkien

Above: The first Father Christmas letter by J.R.R. Tolkien to his children, 1920.

13_Y Father Christmas in Narnia

Above: Illustration of Father Christmas by Pauline Diana Baynes in the 1950 first edition of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (colorization added).

father christmas blue

Above: Illustration of Father Christmas (date and source unknown).

father christmas

Above: Illustration of Father Christmas (date and source unknown).

santa claus photo

Above: Contemporary image of Santa Claus. [Note: Although Father Christmas and Santa Claus are separate figures, several indirect influences on Santa Claus can be noted from the above members of the family. Below, after two more contemporary Santa images, the images from here on will reverse direction in time as we move back up the main branch in Santa’s family tree toward Saint Nicholas.]

Orthodox cross adorned with Santa 2015 Child in York Pa

Above: 2015 photo that I took at my Orthodox (Antiochian) church showing a cross decorated by a child with a Santa Claus.

santa-claus photo

Above: One more contemporary image of Santa Claus.

Reconstruction of St Nicholas by Professor Caroline Wilkinson

Above: 2014 reconstruction of Saint Nicholas by Dr. Caroline Wilkinson with Face Lab (Liverpool John Moores University). Based on thousands of minutely-detailed measurements and x-ray photographs (roentgenography) from the skull and other bones of St. Nicholas’ (at the request of the Vatican) by anatomy professor Luigi Martino when the bones were removed temporarily from their crypt in the Basilica di San Nicola (Bari, Italy) during the 1950s.

Reconstruction Image Foundry Studios produced a 3D Visualisation of the Real Face of St Nicholas

Above: Initial reconstruction and computer generated image of Saint Nicholas by Dr. Caroline Wilkinson from 2004 (with Image Foundry Studios and Anand Kapoor).

Kris Kringle 02

Above: young Kris Kringle (later Santa Claus) from the 1970 film “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.”

Kris Kringle holiday-specials-watching-slide

Above: young Kris Kringle (later Santa Claus) from the 1970 film “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town.”

Christkind 2019-20 Benigna Munsi

Above: German girl dressed as the Christkind in a traditional German protestant Christmas celebration. The name “Kris Kringle” comes from an Americanization of Christkind (German for “Christ Child”). This character developed after Martin Luther introduced it to refocus German Christmas traditions away from Saint Nicholas and back toward God’s incarnation as Jesus Christ. However, the Christkind developed into its own figure as an angelic child that sometimes appeared alongside both Jesus Christ and Saint Nicholas.

Coke Santa by Haddon Sundblom 1959 large 01

Above: Santa illustration by Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola in 1959.

Coke Santa by Haddon Sundblom 1934 large 02

Above: Santa illustration by Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola in 1934.

Coke Santa by Haddon Sundblom 1931 01

Above: another Santa illustration by Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola in 1931.

Coke Santa 1931 02

Above: Santa illustrated by Haddon Sundblom for Coca-Cola in 1931.

A-Joyful-Christmas-printed-in-Germany-ca 1908

Above: Card featuring Saint Nicholas printed in Germany c. 1908. Given as a comparison to the developments taking place in the United States.

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus 1902 children book L Frank Baum illustrated Mary Cowles Clark

Above: cover of The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, a 1902 children’s book written by L. Frank Baum (best know for authoring The Wonderful Wizard of Oz) and illustrated by Mary Cowles Clark.

Santa Claus Missouri History Museum Photographs and Prints Collections c 1900

Christmas color postcard with illustration of Santa Claus inserting a frightened child into sack c. 1900 (Missouri History Museum, photographs and prints collections, ID: N39366).

N-Pole-Wireless-Co-Santa-Claus-Proprietor-ca 1900 Kemper Chambers Collection

Above: “N. Pole Wireless Co Santa Claus Proprietor” c. 1900 from the Kemper Chambers Collection.

10_Y Goody_Santa_Claus_1889

Above: 1889 cover of the songbook “Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride” by Katharine Lee Bates (best known as the writer of “America the Beautiful”).

Nast Hello Little One 1884

Above: “Hello Little One” by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly in 1884.

Nast Santa Claus or St Nick by Thomas Nast for Harper s Weekly in 1881

Above: illustration of “Santa Claus” or “St Nick” by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly in 1881.

Nast And-to-All-a-Good-Night-1879

Above: “And to All a Good Night” by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly in 1879.

Nast Collection The-coming-of-Santa-Claus-1872 Jolly Old Elf arrival to pets

Above: “The coming of Santa Claus” (the “Jolly Old Elf” arrives to the pets) by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly in 1872.

Nast Visit of Saint Nicholas by Thomas Nast 1869

Above: “Visit of Saint Nicholas” by Thomas Nast for Harper’s Weekly in 1869.

Nast first drawing of Saint Nick, Santa Claus in CampWeekly Cover-January-3-1863 Thomas Nast

Above: “Santa Claus in Camp” was the first of the many Thomas Nast illustrations of Santa Claus for Harper’s Weekly. This was the cover on January 3, 1863. This Civil-War-era image was the most critical step in the development of a unified nation-wide identity for Santa Claus.

Santa Claus in Camp

Above: another image of Thomas Nast’s “Santa Claus in Camp” from 1863.

Swan-pulled-strawberry-sled-with-demons-reprinted-1870s-post card Kemper Chambers Collection

Above: Small demons on swans pull “Santa Claus” in a strawberry sled in this 1870s post card from the Kemper Chambers Collection.

Bram van der Vlugt nog één keer Sinterklaas

Above: a Dutch celebration of a traditional visit from “Sinter Klaas” accompanied by Zwarte Piet (Dutch meaning “Black Pete”). This traditional figure among largely Protestant Dutch colonists in New York city (originally called New Amsterdam) likely provided the primary basis for the name “Santa Claus” as well as for his basic features and costume. [Note: this tradition of Zwarte Piet has sad and hurtful aspects with regard to the portrayal of different people groups. See next image. Many other “companions of Saint Nicholas” showed up in other countries throughout Europe: Père Fouettard (French), Knecht Ruprecht (German meaning Farmhand/Servant Rupert/Robert), Belsnickel or Pelznikel (German meaning “Walloping-Nickel”), Kriskinkle (German for “Christmas woman”) and Krampus (a fearful figure in Austria, Bavaria, South Tyrol, Slovenia, and Croatia probably originating in the pre-Christian Alpine pagan folklore).]

Sinterklaas and Zwarte Piet or Black Pete

Above: a contemporary cartoon by Andy Warner (2013 for an article the-magazine.org) showing the concern of parents at the troubling associations with Sinter Klaas as he is typically surrounded by numerous figures in costume as Zwarte Piet. Although the idea was much older in other parts of Europe, the idea that Sinterklaas had a servant was first printed in Dutch within a book by Jan Schenkman called Sint Nicolaas en Zijn Knecht (English: Saint Nicholas and His Servant, 1850).

08_St._Nikolaas_bij_een_Snoeper

Above: Illustration from Jan Schenkman’s book Sint Nicolaas en Zijn Knecht (English: Saint Nicholas and His Servant, 1850).

Sinterklaas Dutch

Above: one more image of a traditional Dutch Sinterklaas costume. [Note: Another theory sometimes given for the name “Santa Claus” is that it was an American mispronunciation of the saint’s name as used by Italian immigrants: “Sant Nikolas.” However, given how early “Santa Claus” appears in print in New York city, it is most likely derived from the Dutch “Sinterklaas.”]

Old Santeclaus with Much Delight 1821 page 1

Above: illustration from page 1 of “Old Santeclaus with Much Delight,” an anonymous children’s poem published in New York in 1821. [Note: A few other publication dates to note are: 1809 with A History of New York by Washington Irving (a satirical book that described the Dutch settlers’ Christmas traditions including a jolly St. Nicholas who delivered presents and flew over houses in a cart pulled by horses), 1823 with “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (better known subsequently as “Twas the Night Before Christmas”) by American Bible scholar Clement Clarke Moore (first published anonymously and then under Moore’s name in 1844 and with some arguing that the poem was actually by Henry Beekman Livingston, Jr. from a few years before) and 1836 with “The Knickerbocker’s Rescue Santa Claus” by James Kirke Paulding (1778–1860) from The Book of Saint Nicholas.]

Christkind_1893

Above: Looking again at contemporary developments outside of the United States, this is a German “Christkind” illustration from 1893 (Stadt Gottes, Illustrierte Zeitschrift für das katholische Volk, Sammelband). Children are throwing open a window to watch an infant Christ and angels descending to them with a Christmas tree.

Knecht_Ruprecht_und_das_Christkind 1800s

Above: “Knecht Ruprecht und das Christkind” from the 1800s in Germany, showing how the Protestant figure of the “Christ child” was mixed with older figures such as Knecht Ruprecht (one of the German companions of Saint Nicholas).

Krampus victorian xmas 02

Above: Krampus in a Victorian era Christmas card. Krampus was first connected to Saint Nicholas in the 1600s. After a period of repressing this figure in many areas, postcards featuring Krampus were extremely popular again in the 1800s and 1900s.

Krampus 02

Above: Krampus in a Christmas card from the 1870s.

Krampus 03

Above: Krampus in a Victorian era Christmas card.

Saint Nicholas and Krampus visit a Viennese home 1896 illustration

Above: Saint Nicholas and Krampus visit a Viennese home in a 1896 illustration.

1863 Otto von Reinsberg-Düringsfeld Das_festliche_Jahr_img444_Weihnachtsmasken

Above: 1863 illustration of a visit from Saint Nicholas and Krampus by Otto von Reinsberg-Düringsfeld in Das festliche Jahr in Sitten.

St Nicholas with Money bag icon Our Brother For the Birds

Above: traditional iconography showing the story of Saint Nicholas saving a man’s three daughters from slavery by secretly bringing them money during the night.

Saint-Nicholas-Icon-1500

Above: traditional icon of Saint Nicholas. Prior to the 1600s, images of Saint Nicholas were all religious icons used for prayer and veneration (primarily within the life and services of local churches). These icons contained only the saint (with no companions, although he was sometimes surrounded by smaller images of fellow saints as well as his Lord Jesus Christ).

Icon veliky-novgorod-russian-st-nicholas-painted-on-wooden

Above: traditional icon of Saint Nicholas.

Saint-Nicholas-Icon

Above: traditional icon of Saint Nicholas.

Icon St Nickolas from monastery of St Catherine in Sinai 10th cent

Above: traditional icon of Saint Nicholas dating from 900s. This icon is from the monastery of Saint Catherine in Sinai, and it is the oldest image of the saint that is still in existence.

To recap, the images above represent these two main branches of Santa’s ancestral tree:

1. Christian and Wider-European Folklore Branch: Saint Nicholas of Myra (the town of Demre in today’s Turkey) lived from A.D. 270 to 343. He grew to be deeply loved throughout the Christian world (including Africa and Asia). Many stories and figures were connected to him in later European folklore. Key names from this family clan:

  • Saint Nicholas
  • Companions of Saint Nicholas
    • Knecht Ruprecht: German meaning Farmhand (or Servant) Rupert (or Robert)
    • Belsnickel or Pelznikel: German meaning “Walloping” and “Nickel” (from “Nikolaus”)
    • Kriskinkle: German for “Christmas woman” a variation on Belsnickel
    • Zwarte Piet: Dutch meaning “Black Pete” a serving person who was a Spanish Moor [Note: this and the French equivalent below clearly have deeply sad and hurtful aspects with regard to the portrayal of different people groups.]
    • Père Fouettard: French equivalent to Zwarte Piet
    • Krampus: Austria, Bavaria, South Tyrol, Slovenia, and Croatia a fearful figure probably originating in the pre-Christian Alpine traditions and sometimes accompanying Saint Nicholas
  • German Protestant Folklore Branch: Martin Luther wanted to recenter Christmas on the incarnation of Jesus as an infant. In German protestant traditions, the Christkind became a sprite-like child, usually depicted with blond hair and angelic wings. Sometimes the Christkind is shown as a specific angel bringing the presents (as it appears in some processions together with an image of little Jesus Christ). Later, the Christkind was also said to make rounds delivering gifts with Saint Nicholas as one of his companions. In United States, the term developed into Kris Kringle which was then sometimes used in stories as a proper name for the person with the title of Santa Claus. Key names from this family clan:
    • Christkind
    • Kris Kringle (developed from “Christkind” later in the United States)

2. British Pagan and Folklore Branch: Stories of Odin likely developed among (or were introduced to) the Germanic Iron Age peoples. With over 170 names, Odin is the god with the most names among the pantheon of the Germanic peoples. Key names from this family clan:

  • Odin
  • Yule Father
  • Father Christmas

This family tree culminates in the images and stories of Santa Claus as they developed in the United States. Do in large part to product marketing and popular entertainment, these stories and images of Santa Claus have also spread to many other parts of the world (including back into many of the originating countries such as Holland, England and Germany):

  • Sinter Klaas (Dutch meaning “Saint Nicholas,” although another version of the story is that Santa Claus comes from Americans imitating the pronunciation of Saint Nickolas by Italian immigrants).
  • Santa Claus

P.S. Some of you might appreciate these excerpts from a delightful GKC essay on Santa Claus and the giftedness of life.

P.P.S. Here are some more illustrations by Mary Cowles Clark from The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by Frank L. Baum in 1902 (which I have read).

Baum The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus 1902 children book L Frank Baum illustrated Mary Cowles Clark 01

Above: a wood nymph finds the baby who grows up to be Santa Claus.

Baum The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus 1902 children book L Frank Baum illustrated Mary Cowles Clark 03

Above: bringing the baby to the king.

Baum The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus 1902 children book L Frank Baum illustrated Mary Cowles Clark 02

Above: the child who grows up to be Santa Claus.

Baum illustrated Mary Cowles Clark

Above: Santa Claus as a grown man.

His mother had been careful to make him aware of that

From Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt (chapter 4):

Suffering at the mercy of the elements was accepted by Jethro as being quite as natural as the hunger for green vegetables and fresh fruit that was always with him during the winter. When one found comfort, he was grateful, but he was never such a fool as to expect a great deal of it. The hardships one endured had a purpose. His mother had been careful to make him aware of that.

If you would find the newborn king

From the sermons of Meister Eckhart. Sermon One (Pf 1, Q 101, QT 57):

Here, in time, we are celebrating the eternal birth which God the Father bore and bears unceasingly in eternity, because this same birth is now born in time, in human nature. St. Augustine says, ‘What does it avail me that this birth is always happening, if it does not happen in me? That it should happen in me is what matters.’ We shall therefore speak of this birth, of how it may take place in us and be consummated in the virtuous soul, whenever God the Father speaks His eternal Word in the perfect soul. For what I say here is to be understood of the good and perfected man who has walked and is still walking in the ways of God; not of the natural, undisciplined man, for he is entirely remote from, and totally ignorant of this birth. There is a saying of the wise man, “When all things lay in the midst of silence, then there descended down into me from on high, from the royal throne, a secret word.” This sermon is about that Word.

…Now I say, as I said before, that these words and this act are only for the good and perfected people, who have so absorbed and assimilated the essence of all virtues that these virtues emanate from them naturally, without their seeking; and above all there must dwell in them the worthy life and lofty teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. They must know that the very best and noblest attainment in this life is to be silent and let God work and speak within.

…Now observe the use and the fruit of this secret Word and this darkness. The Son of the heavenly Father is not born alone in this darkness, which is his own: you too can be born a child of the same heavenly Father and of none other, and to you too He will give power. Now observe how great the use is! For all the truth learned by all the masters by their own intellect and understanding, or ever to be learned till Doomsday, they never had the slightest inkling of this knowledge and this ground. Though it may be called a nescience, an unknowing, yet there is in it more than in all knowing and under­ standing without it, for this unknowing lures and attracts you from all understood things, and from yourself as well. This is what Christ meant when he said, “Whoever will not deny himself and will not leave his father and mother, and is not estranged from all these, is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37), as though he were to say, he who does not abandon creaturely externals can be neither conceived nor born in this divine birth. But divesting yourself of yourself and of everything external does truly give it to you. And in very truth I be­lieve, nay, I am sure, that the man who is established in this cannot in any way ever be separated from God. I say he can in no way lapse into mortal sin. He would rather suffer the most shameful death, as the saints have done before him, than commit the least of mortal sins. I say such people cannot willingly commit or consent to even a venial sin in themselves or in others if they can stop it. So strongly are they lured and drawn and accustomed to that, that they can never turn to any other way; to this way are directed all their senses, all their powers.

May the God who has been born again as man assist us to this birth, eternally helping us, weak men, to be born in him again as God. Amen.

Sermon Two (Pf 2, Q 102, QT 58):

“Where is he who is born king of the Jews?” Now observe, as regards this birth, where it takes place: “Where is he who is born?” Now I say as I have often said before, that this eternal birth occurs in the soul precisely as it does in eternity, no more and no less, for it is one birth, and this birth occurs in the essence and ground of the soul.

…Your heart is often moved and turned away from the world. How could that be but by this illumination? It is so charming and delightful that you become weary of all things that are not God or God’s. It draws you to God and you become aware of many a prompting to do good, though ignorant of whence it comes. This inward inclination i s in n o way due to creatures o r their bidding, for what creatures direct or effect always comes from without. But by this work it is only the ground (of the soul) that is stirred, and the freer you keep yourself the more light, truth, and discernment you will find. Thus no man ever went astray for any other reason than that he first departed from this, and then sought too much to cling to outward things. St. Augustine says there are many who sought light and truth, but only outside where it was not to be found. Finally they go out so far that they never get back home or find their way in again. Thus they have not found the truth, for truth is within, in the ground, and not without. So he who would see light to discern all truth, let him watch and become aware of this birth within, in the ground. Then all his powers will be illuminated, and the outer man as well. For as soon as God inwardly stirs the ground with truth, its light darts into his powers, and that man knows at times more than anyone could teach him. As the prophet says, “I have gained greater understanding than all who ever taught me.” You see then, because this light cannot shine or lighten in sinners, that is why this birth cannot possibly occur in them. This birth cannot coexist with the darkness of sin, even though it takes place, not in the powers, but in the essence and ground of the soul.

…The blessed see God in a single image, and in that image, they discern all things. God too sees Himself thus, perceiving all things in Himself. He need not turn from one thing to another, as we do. Suppose in this life we always had a mirror before us, in which we saw all things at a glance and recognized them in a single image, then neither action nor knowledge would be any hindrance to us. But we have to turn from one thing to another, and so we can only attend to one thing at the expense of another. For the soul is so firmly at­tached to the powers that she has to flow with them wherever they flow, because in every task they perform the soul must be present and attentive, or they could not work at all. If she is dissipated by attending to outward acts, this is bound to weaken her inward work. For at this birth God needs and must have a vacant free and unencum­bered soul, containing nothing but Himself alone, and which looks to nothing and nobody but Him. As to this, Christ says, “Whoever loves anything but me, whoever loves father and mother or many other things is not worthy of me. I did not come upon earth to bring peace but a sword, to cut away all things, to part you from sister, brother, mother, child, and friend that in truth are your foes” (Matt. 10:34-36; d. 19:28). For whatever is familiar to you is your foe. If your eye wanted to see all things, and your ear to hear all things and your heart to remember all things, then indeed your soul would be dissipated in all these things.

Accordingly a master says, ‘To achieve an interior act, a man must collect all his powers as if into a corner of his soul where, hiding away from all images and forms, he can get to work.’ Here, he must come to a forgetting and an unknowing. There must be a stillness and a silence for this Word to make itself heard. We cannot serve this Word better than in stillness and in silence: there we can hear it, and there too we will understand it aright – in the unknowing. To him who knows nothing it appears and reveals itself.

…Here we must come to a transformed knowledge, and this un­ knowing must not come from ignorance, but rather from knowing we must get to this unknowing.6 Then we shall become knowing with divine knowing, and our unknowing will be ennobled and adorned with supernatural knowing. And through holding ourselves passive in this, we are more perfect than if we were active.

…Our bliss lies not in our activity, but in being passive to God. For just as God is more excellent than creatures, by so much is God’s work more excellent than mine. It was from His immeasurable love that God set our happiness in suffering/ for we undergo more than we act, and receive incomparably more than we give; and each gift that we receive prepares us to receive yet another gift, indeed a greater one, and every divine gift further increases our receptivity and the desire to receive something yet higher and greater. Therefore some teachers say that it is in this respect the soul is commensurate with God. For just as God is boundless in giving, so too the soul is boundless in receiving or conceiving. And just as God is omnipotent to act, so too the soul is no less profound to suffer; and thus she is transformed with God and in God.8 God must act and the soul must suffer, He must know and love Himself in her; she must know with His knowledge and love with His love, and thus she is far more with what is His than with her own, and so too her bliss is more dependent on His action than on her own.

…In this way your unknowing is not a lack but your chief perfection, and your suffering your highest activity. And so in this way you must cast aside all your deeds and silence your faculties, if you really wish to experience this birth in you. If you would find the newborn king, you must outstrip and abandon all else that you might find. That we may outstrip and cast behind us all things unpleasing to the newborn king, may He help us who became a human child in order that we might become the children of God. Amen.

These passages are from The Complete Mystical Works of Meister Eckhart, translated and edited by Maurice O’C. Walshe (revised with a foreword by Bernard McGinn). Taken from an edition by Crossroad Publishing Company, copyrighted 2009 by The English Sangha Trust, this work is a reissue of the three-volume Meister Eckhart: Sermons and Treatises translated and edited by M. O’C. Walshe. Sermon three in this collection continues to speak of this birth in us while continuing into the childhood of Jesus Christ with an exposition of “I must be about my Father’s business.”

I came across these sermons when seeking to find the source of this passage that is attributed to Meister Eckhart in many places (but without any full citation that I can find beyond “as quoted in Christianity by Joe Jenkins, 1995, p. 27″):

We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to His Son if I do not also give birth to Him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.

a slave society which might be called either capitalist or Communist

George Orwell in “Second Thoughts on James Burnham” (1946):

Chesterton predicted the disappearance of democracy and private property, and the rise of a slave society which might be called either capitalist or Communist.

My Accidental Day with Super Power

[Note: In preparation for our Thanksgiving get-together this year, my mother-in-law asked all of the extended family members (of a capable age) to write a short story describing one day with a superpower of their choice. I did not entirely follow the directions, but this is what came to me. It’s a foolish and wordy ramble, so read at your own risk.]

Emily Dickinson poem 1544:

Who has not found the Heaven — below —

Will fail of it above —

For Angels rent the House next ours,

Wherever we remove —

“You wish to have super power for a day?” asked my guardian angel. He dropped the indefinite article, doubtless in an effort to make sense of my request, and he had the same tone that I would use if one of my children asked for permission to wash the dirty dishes.

“Yes, that’s right,” I replied. “Just for a day.” In my dream, I did want a superpower, and I was too careless to correct my angel’s missing indefinite article. A super power would not normally make it onto my wishlist. However, you must keep in mind that I was sound asleep and dreaming. Therefore, there was no real accounting for my request.

In hindsight, my angel clearly had no concept of what “a superpower” meant. He had corrected my request in his mind to “super power” because he understood each of those words in their clear and straightforward metaphysical senses: “super” simply meant “higher” or “more enduring” while “power” simply meant “more fully able to realize its true intent or telos.” My own telos, as a human, was to perceive and enjoy God and to render thanksgiving back to God for His goodness and for the goodness of everything within God’s creation. My angel understood me to be asking for a day with a more enduring and properly functional existence, i.e. being able to know and perform all that I was intended to know and perform. In summary, my angel thought that I was asking to have a glorified body for a day, the kind of body that we were made for and that each of us will possess after the general resurrection.

If I’d been awake, I not only would not have asked for a superpower, but I probably would have realized that this concept would be misunderstood by my angel without a careful explanation. Guardian angelsalthough they are intimately and immediately present with us from our conception to our death—don’t actually experience most of what we experience, and they don’t watch most of the movies that their humans watch. Instead, our guardian angels are focused exclusively on giving praise and thanks to God for his continual mercy and grace to their beloved humans. Whenever we are engaged in an activity that we actually recognize and enjoy as a gift from God in a fairly complete way (a very rare experience for most of us humans), then our angels do share our conscious experiences because we are actually doing that which we were created to do. When we function properly, we join our angels in their constant task of bringing thanks and praise to God. In fact, when fully functional, we take a leading role that our angels delight to support. Guardian angels look forward to these fleeting instances as moments of sheer bliss. As a guardian angel assigned to a particular human from the dawn of time, they hear the unique timbre of our particular modes of enjoying God as something like sounds that they were created specifically to hear and to participate in with their own voices.

Most of the time, however, our angels hear very little from us, and they simply do battle with the demons who are continually tormenting us. This battle does not look like what we might expect. By singing praises to God for the beauty of all that God made us to be, our angels are doing battle. While we are watching films about superpowers, our angels are glorifying God for the beauty and goodness displayed in every one of the unique qualities and giftings with which God designed us. Although this may not sound like “doing battle,” by giving glory to God for us, our angels confound the devils and imps that revel continually in our distraction from God.

Generally, this happens without much strife or effort on the part of our angel, but occasionally the conflict over the health and direction of our souls gets heavier, and our angel actively engages with the enemy by gently speaking to us directly. Out of deep respect for us, our angels will only discourse with us in the quietest and most elemental ways. They whisper truths to us about how beautifully and uniquely God has made us. They breathe of God’s love and desire to commune with us. They let us know what a marvel it is to them how God came as Jesus Christ to be united with us, becoming one of us and inheriting Mary’s entire humanity. They sing with quiet trembling of Jesus going even to the point of becoming our sin and joining us within death itself before rising from the grave to ascend and to seat our humanity upon the throne of God. They grow most hushed and referent when they encourage us to listen for the voice of God’s own Spirit who lives with all of God’s children until the end of time but whose gentle, reasoned voice we are almost always too frantic to hear. At only the rarest times, will they appear to us or give us direct and open help.

With all that they have to do, I was hardly surprised that my guardian angel didn’t have any real grasp of pop culture trends or blockbuster movies that would allow him to understand my request for a superpower. Only very infrequently, holy women or men who have come close to dwelling within the ceaseless realm of prayer will watch something like a superpower movie while continuing in their steady communion with God. In these cases, a few angels do get to know something about the modern popular notion of superheroes and superpowers. However, even this knowledge would hardly be recognizable to most of us, and it is mixed with elements of sorrow that would at first be disorienting to most of us. Honestly, because most humans so rarely connect even their highest joys with a sense of gratitude to their Creator at any conscious level, most angels have not ever had any opportunity to learn anything about even the most sublime points within the artistic and literary classics.

This explanation of my angel’s mistake has been a long digression, and it is high time that I got back to what happened. My angel followed up by saying, “Do you realize that this will be very difficult for you to bear within the current state of things in this world?”

Not feeling any need to wonder why my angel would say this (at least while I was still dreaming), I simply said, “Yes, that’s fine.”

My dream did not last much longer. As I slowly woke to the morning light and to the sound of a car door closing outside on the street, I heard my angel say: “This will afflict you for only a day. I earnestly desire that you may find wisdom and encouragement in this experience that you have requested from me.”

As I awoke fully, a myriad of voices seemed to be singing a beautiful but heartbreaking song. It began to overwhelm my mind, and I ask Elizabeth, “Can you hear some kind of singing?”

She answered a little testily, “What? No. If you don’t start your shower quickly, you’ll get Nessa late for school.”

Making my way slowly to collect my towel, stepping into the dark bathroom and closing the door behind me before turning on the light, I continued to hear voices from all around me. Their songs were in words that I half-understood although without being able to put their words into words of my own. They were like long ballads, telling stories of obscured beauties and broken joys. I thought of Entish in which every name tells an entire story. Turning on the water and stepping in, I found the sound was only a small part of how the world was now going to make itself known to me. Water, I’ve heard, carries memories within it from the dawn of time. These memories were not consciously present to my mind, but the warm water flowing over my shoulders carried an uncanny sense of having washed over a thousand other surfaces: shoulders of slaves as the rain fell upon them in the fields, rocks over which the melting snow coursed in rivulets, breaking waves casting spray across the sea’s surface. In the flow of this water, my back felt an ancient kinship, a oneness even, with the soil, stone and flesh of a thousand years and more. This was both a comfort and a grief. Washed in this water, I waited with numberless particulars of creation for something like a recompense or a restoration. Perhaps the best I can say is that I felt as if I was united to all of these middle lines of Hopkin’s great poem:

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

After dressing myself, trying all the time to accept all of the new sensations and sounds as something normal, I somehow I made it through a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal. Eating and drinking, however, was even more intense than the shower had been. My cereal and milk carried with it, into my very gut, the full histories of sun in fields, the cold steel of dark machines in hot processing plants, long sojourns in and out of transit and storage facilities from a disorienting array of disparate locations across the globe. I had the sense that unprocessed foods from nearby fields might leave me feeling alive to the soil under my feet, but this meal left me feeling that my core was somehow torn apart and rooted simultaneously within in a dozen or more far-flung places throughout the world.

Finally, I opened our front door and stepped outside to get into my car for the drive to work. This turned out to be almost insufferably disorienting in ways that are profoundly hard to know how to describe. First of all, the outdoors was utterly and astoundingly alive in a way that I can only turn to George MacDonald for any help in describing. Secondly, within the context of this living world into which I had stepped, I somehow had the feeling that I was facing an excruciating tourture as I climbed into my car. Enmeshed as I was within the living world that held me transfixed at my doorstep, I could not comprehend what it would mean to be carried alone at high speeds in a box of steel and glass, powered by the concentrated combustion of fossil fuels along roadways of concrete and asphalt.

To try to express what I was experiencing, I must turn to the one master who, alone out of everyone that I have read, has made such a concerted effort to put into words a description of how creation is actually constituted. This passage from George MacDonald’s Lilith describes a man who is alive within a kind of Eden. C.S. Lewis can only imitate this master within all of his most lyric passages describing a fully alive presence within God’s world: think of the creation story with The Magician’s Nephew, the account of climbing “further up and further in” within the restored Narnia at the end of The Last Battle or of those in The Great Divorce who stumble off the bus into the meadows on the outskirts of heaven. All of these accounts, however, describe mankind in touch with a creation that is rejoicing. In contrast, I found myself in a profound living communion with an Eden held hostage, oppressed and tortured. Still, I have no better way to introduce you to this sensation than to turn to MacDonald, asking you only to convert, within your own mind, all of the notes of ecstasy and bliss into notes of loss, suffering and intense longing for a departed glory. Although I was wore shoes and was in downtown York, PA rather than a pastoral setting such as this, the world still reached out to me in this same way. Just as the protagonist does within this passage, I stepped out into the early morning half-light:

A wondrous change had passed upon the world—or was it not rather that a change more marvellous had taken place in us? Without light enough in the sky or the air to reveal anything, every heather-bush, every small shrub, every blade of grass was perfectly visible—either by light that went out from it, as fire from the bush Moses saw in the desert, or by light that went out of our eyes. Nothing cast a shadow; all things interchanged a little light. Every growing thing showed me, by its shape and colour, its indwelling idea—the informing thought, that is, which was its being, and sent it out. My bare feet seemed to love every plant they trod upon. The world and my being, its life and mine, were one. The microcosm and macrocosm were at length atoned, at length in harmony! I lived in everything; everything entered and lived in me. To be aware of a thing, was to know its life at once and mine, to know whence we came, and where we were at home—was to know that we are all what we are, because Another is what he is! Sense after sense, hitherto asleep, awoke in me—sense after sense indescribable, because no correspondent words, no likenesses or imaginations exist, wherewithal to describe them. Full indeed—yet ever expanding, ever making room to receive—was the conscious being where things kept entering by so many open doors! When a little breeze brushing a bush of heather set its purple bells a ringing, I was myself in the joy of the bells, myself in the joy of the breeze to which responded their sweet TIN-TINNING, myself in the joy of the sense, and of the soul that received all the joys together. To everything glad I lent the hall of my being wherein to revel. I was a peaceful ocean upon which the ground-swell of a living joy was continually lifting new waves; yet was the joy ever the same joy, the eternal joy, with tens of thousands of changing forms. Life was a cosmic holiday.

Now I knew that life and truth were one; that life mere and pure is in itself bliss; that where being is not bliss, it is not life, but life-in-death. Every inspiration of the dark wind that blew where it listed, went out a sigh of thanksgiving. At last I was! I lived, and nothing could touch my life!

As I said, imagine all this but within the context that Paul describes in Romans 8:19-22:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

I stood on my doorstep on North Newberry Street and felt that the trees growing along the sidewalk (which I had stopped to enjoy many times over the last seven years) had suddenly entered “the hall of my being” where they had taken up a lament for my lack of tending and attention. I felt that all the plants and stones of the whole morning around me—from the bushes of Farquhar Park to the grasses beside the railroad track—longed with a painful hunger to have my care and particular consideration, longed to share their individual joys with my own joy in a mingled dance of restored fellowship.

Out of all this longing, I had to extract myself and climb in behind the steering wheel of my car. I’ve read that medical professionals used to think that they human body could not survive speeds over 75 mph. With the invention of trains, automobiles, airplanes and rockets, we have roared past that threshold ten times over. However, there may be a truth, still, to this intuition. Our bodies can, in some superficial sense, prove immune to such speeds, but we may not realize what damage is done to our souls. Driving in my box of metal and glass past a thousand fields and forests as well as a dozen streams, creeks and rivers—all of them calling to me as a son of God who belonged potentially to each of them as an instance of paradise itself—I arrived at my office utterly pummeled by the sad grandeur of a fallen world desperate for communion and perpetually rushed past in an astounding disregard of particular places as so many individual manifestations of Eden.

Sitting down to my computer in a windowless office without so much as a potted plant, I had some relief. Slowly my mind cleared a little from the vivid sounds and images of life as well as the deep calls of ancient hillsides and rushing waters all dancing perpetually with arms and voices outstretched to me. In contrast, my office had the stillness of a tomb. It was not completely silent, for I could tell as I leafed through books or even scrolled past information on my computer screen that the words and images there were not entirely dead. Once or twice, I read a sentence or two out loud and found that the sound brought more than just audible vibrations into vivid reality around me. I could tell that human speech and art and architecture would all be alive in their own ways with meanings and stories reaching deep into the lives of others. Nonetheless, alone and looking mostly at columns of numbers and technical formatting codes, I was able to isolate myself from all of this with relative ease, and I could almost forget my glorified body.

A couple of hours into this blessedly quiet work, my phone rang, and I picked up the receiver to hear the first human voice since that of my wife, Elizabeth, telling me to hurry up and shower so that I would not get our children late for school. On the phone was a mother and her son interested in homeschooling resources such as local co-ops, curriculum or online courses. The mother had recently taken her ninth grade son out of school because he was wanted to slow down and perhaps find some more like-minded friends after the unexpected death of his older sister. She had been a junior, just two years ahead of him. Both children had attended a small Christian classical school together and were very close. When they had to move recently because of their father’s work, the two children had decided to attend a large public high school together. It had been going well, but the two of them were a help to each other. Now with his sister’s death, the young man wanted to adjust his schedule, allowing time to grieve. He also hoped to find some friends who could better understand his loss at his sister’s death.

Hearing their story, I began to share some of their pain. I slowed down a little to listen and to consider what help I could offer. Putting the name of their town and state into my computer, I found that there was a large active co-op not far from them. Hearing of the young man’s love for literature, I also recommended that they consider an online course in poetry that we would be offering soon. I gave them the name and number of the principal of our online program so that they could contact her to learn more. We were close to concluding our conversation when the young man shared a few lines that he particularly loved from “The Ballad of the White Horse” by G. K. Chesterton:

For the end of the world was long ago,

And all we dwell to-day

As children of some second birth,

Like a strange people left on earth

After a judgment day.

This recalled a line from a book that I had recently read, and I picked the book up, wishing that I could somehow point out the passage to him through the phone. Taking up George MacDonald’s Lilith, I put my fingers on the lines: “Annihilation itself is no death to evil. Only good where evil was, is evil dead. …None but God hates evil and understands it.” As my fingers moved over the lines, preparing to read them over the phone, I found that I was no longer sitting in my office chair but was seated at a table in a dining room that I had never seen. I was seated, book in hand, beside the young man and his mother with whom I had been speaking over the phone.

This was rather disconcerting to all three of us, even an embarrassing invasion of both our privacy in some strange sense. We looked at each other awkwardly, they knew that I must be the person with whom they had just been nearing the end of a meaningful phone call, and I could think of nothing to say in our uncomfortable silence.

Finally, I said, “I’m so sorry. This is very rude. I wanted to show you this line in this book and suddenly I found myself here with you at your table. I honestly have no idea what has happened.”

Both of them were quite gracious to me and could tell that I was as confused and at a loss as they were themselves. Before long, I found myself sharing my dream with them from the night before along with a brief account of the entire wild and somewhat painful day that I was having, evidently possessed of a glorified body. To my relief, they were neither incredulous nor awkwardly impressed by my account. They both seemed to take it at face value and clearly felt a kind of straightforward compassion for my strange predicament. The young man suggested, rather practically, that if I could just desire something back in my office, I would be likely to find myself back there. He theorized that this was one of the abilities possessed by my glorified body and suggested that I give it a try, this time intentionally rather than accidentally. I thank him for this suggestion, and we said our goodbyes. However, it turned out to be slightly difficult to think of something in my office that could kindel the kind of desire that was sufficient to transport me their. I love my work and take real joy in it. However, sitting at the table with this mother and son, I found myself trying in vain to conjure a particularly strong desire for any specific object within my office. They laughed with me at my situation as I described my office to them, and we tried to think of what I might focus upon in my thoughts.

Finally, the young man suggested that perhaps it was not simply a desire for just any object that could transport my glorified body from place to place. As we considered this together, the mother pointed out that Christ in the gospel accounts always seemed to arrive somewhere in order to be with specific people for a particular purpose. I broadened my thinking beyond my little office then to other offices and to my co-workers, continuing in my thoughts until I came next to my wife and children. Still, my glorified body remained fixed, rather normally, in my chair at the dining room table of my new-found friends. Continuing to chat with me patiently and matter-of-factly about my predicament, we joked about me needing to take a train or plane back to my home. Then the young man asked me a question, “What would you most like to share with someone else right now? If you could say something or show something to anyone in the world right now, what would it be?”

I thought for a moment and said: “I would like to take a walk with my family near our home along Willis Run. I would like to eat a simple lunch with them along the rail trail where Willis Run empties into the Codorus Creek while I am still in this glorified body so that I can chat with them about what the world is like when your full humanity is restored, when you are no longer dead but alive. I want to walk slowly, rest often and finish this strange day quietly with them, listening and sharing all that I can share.”

My two friends smiled, and the mother said, “Your visit with us has been such a blessing to us in our recent loss and sorrow. My son must be right. Say something to your wife or to one of your children, and I think you will find yourself with them.”

With a look of thankyou, I picked up my book. Then, almost closing my eyes, I said, “Elizabeth, can we pick the kids up early from school and pack a picnic lunch to eat together?” As I looked up again, I was seated in a rocking chair in my own kitchen, and I was looking into the rather astonished face of my dear wife.

We did end up walking slowly together for the rest of that day, picking the kids up from school and making our way to the creekside with a simple meal to share. Along with listening as I related any tidbits that I could put into words from the songs and stories and shimmering lights that surround us, everyone took turns reading several favorite passages out loud from several of our favorite books. I could hear these familiar stories as realities almost like the creation surrounding us. As we chatted about these stories, everyone in the family could sense this closeness with the worlds of our beloved stories. As I tried to explain what the world was like through the senses of my glorified body, one passage that I shared was from “Imagination and Thought in the Middle Ages” by C.S. Lewis. This was first delivered as a lecture in 1956 and then published posthumously in the 1966 collection of essays called Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature:

We find (not now by analogy but in strictest fact) that in every sphere there is a rational creature called an Intelligence which is compelled to move, and therefore to keep his sphere moving, by his incessant desire for God. …The motions of the universe are to be conceived not as those of a machine or even an army, but rather as a dance, a festival, a symphony, a ritual, a carnival, or all these in one. They are the unimpeded movement of the most perfect impulse towards the most perfect object.

As the day passed, Elizabeth and the children flattered me with a thousand questions. Some were about the flights of insects from flower to flower. Others were about the contours of hillsides shaped by mythic glaciers. Although we hardly moved at all, the entire world around us spoke volumes. As we enjoyed this strange holiday together, I tried to thank God ceaselessly in my heart so that my guardian angel might be able to share in some of my joy. Truth be told, however, even with a glorified body, communing with my Creator did not come naturally. I was lost in the goodness of His world and in the love of my family who were kind enough to stop everything and to experience a little of what it’s like to have super power for a day.

Memory Eternal, Mom

This day last year, I helped to lay you in your bed downstairs when Dad, Joel, Katie, Luke and Liesl brought your body home. It was hard to have you with us and also no longer there. It was a blessing to have a few more days to see your beautiful face, to tend to your dear body that had born so much for us, to gather around you as all of your children and grandchildren in prayers and readings and songs. We read all the way through the Bible memory book that you and Dad made before you were married and kept working at all your lives. It was very hard to lay you in the ground and give your body over to the earth, but you would have loved the place that Dad picked out for the two of you. It’s truly a beautiful grave, among the native trees of Virginia, near a field sloping down to the nearby Shenandoah. You’re father and mother would have approved as well. How delightful it would be to show it to all of you. It’s kind of funny how much several of us also love to hear the prayers and songs of the Cistercian monks in their nearby abbey. You would have appreciated this too, although on some days you might have laughed and shaken your head at any of us mooning over monks. I’ve got a second essay being published in the Front Porch Republic. You missed them both, and I wrote them both thinking mostly of how much fun it would have been to talk it all over with you. And you would have really laughed to hear me laugh about being given more responsibilities at church and at the little company were I work. I don’t expect that your father would have fully approved of all the frippery, but grandma would have been proud nonetheless. There is an awful lot missing around home with you gone. We’re hurting in your absence, but you left behind a husband who really works hard to take care of himself and of all the children that you had together. And a few of those children are also working awfully hard to take care of each other. You did a pretty decent job of raising them and teaching them about things that matter. I don’t expect you’re in much danger these days of getting more big headed, but you know I always liked to hold on to the task of keeping you humble as one of my special chores around the house. So I’ll not say much more about what you left behind in case it tempt you to any self-congratulations as unlikely as that might be. But I will say that by remembering you as long as I keep being allowed to kick about this place, I’m also still learning who you were. You prayed with a terrible lot of heart for us all, and I expect that you’re still doing something mighty near to that. So here’s my hello and thank you and goodbye all over again on this anniversary of losing you. There’s a whole bunch of us praying with you, Mom, and even for you. May Jesus remember us all in His kingdom as we look to Him to bring us home.

a man who wanted to turn the whole world into a factory

Comments about secular modernity, Karl Marx, John Ruskin, classical liberalism, capitalism and nationalism from David Bentley Hart (in conversation with Jason Micheli) on Episode 230 of the Crackers and Grape Juice Podcast: David Bentley Hart— Once Upon a Time. This is my own transcription (used with permission but noting that all errors are my own):

The word socialism can evoke shivers of anxiety among Eastern Europeans as well because they’ll associate it with the rhetoric of the state communism that they labored under for so many decades. But on the whole, most nations, Western European nations, Canada …recognize that this is a word with a certain flexibility of connotations.

Christian socialism, I would point out, antedates Marxism. I’m not a great fan of Marx. The early Marx was something of a romantic—soaked in nostalgia for a sort of pristine world in which labor was not separate, was not alienated from the products of its hands. That Marx I like because he was still basically a pre-Raphaelite without realizing it. But the Marx who …wrote the last words of volume three of Das Kapital really is a man who wanted to turn the whole world into a factory. I mean, basically, he was no different from a corporatist capitalist. He just wanted one big corporation. If you look at what it actually says, he elevated labor over play, productivity, over leisure. …He becomes the ultimate capitalist by the end of Das Kapital. So yes, I thoroughly despise a fully developed Marxism, and I think it actually is to be blamed for the tyrannies of the Soviet period, that it was not a completely accidental alliance, that there is some real Marxist logic that went into creating the Soviet Union.

So what is socialism? Socialism is a much older, much broader, much wider tradition in Egnlish Christian thought and American Christian thought too. There was a form of socialism that, for one thing, doesn’t even have a political shape that we can recognize anymore. It was neither left nor right in our terms today. …The great father of Engilsh Christian socialism—not the first of them but the one who wrote the most compelling defences of the morality of Christian socialism—was John Ruskin, and he was an arch-Tory. He thought he was fighting against liberalism, what we would call classical liberalism. America, however, has two political parties that are classical liberal parties. John Stuart Mill could have invented either one of them depending on whether that day he was thinking in economic terms or social terms. The Republicans are Millian liberalism with an emphasis on his economics and presuming his liberatarian social theory. The Democrats are Millian liberalism emphasizing his social theory but excepting his free market economics. Their largely, in the grand scheme of things, indistinguishable from one another. The Christian socialist tradition, however, was a serious attempt to understand [the gospel]—not out of some nostalgia for a vanished golden age of Christian justice. (John Ruskin may have loved things medieval, but he understood the injustices of medieval society as well.) It was an attempt to take the gospel seriously, not only as some private morality to be crowded out of the public sphere into the realm of private fixation, but actually as a way of living together as an actual social picture of a real possible social ethos, a politics, a communal truth, a politics of love—one that …would be productive, that loved and even venerated labor and craft and trade but within a human framework not dominated by joint stock companies (as they had been called then and we would now call corporate structures) that reduce human beings to the commodity of labor and are devoted only to making a profit for their shareholders no matter what the cost either to workers or to the natural order or to society. To me there is no other politics that a Christian can adopt in the modern world without in some sense relinquishing one’s commitment to the gospel to some degree, and I really wish that Americans were not so neurostemically afraid of this word.

…There is this journal that you may know of: First Things. …The editorial staff has embraced the new nationalism or some form thereof. …They are so staggeringly unsophisticated in their analysis of the failures of liberal secularism that they don’t understand that nationalism is always and can only be the last terminal stage of the very modernity that they think that they are struggling against. …It’s tertiary syphilis. …It’s all based on, among other things, a handful of bad metaphors about boundarylessness. …One of my neighbors signed it, Patrick Deneen, and he should know better, but he doesn’t. …This is my complaint about First Things. I spent twenty years trying to convince them that economic and social liberalism are two manifestations of the same essentially voluntarist understanding of the good. …I threw around all of the inflammatory rhetoric about nihilism and how this differs from virtue ethics and elevating greed. I wrote against marriage of Christ and mammon and all that, and I was just always the sort of curmudgeonly eccentric. So along comes someone like Patrick Deneen and at the very moment that they are waking up to the fact that at least some of this critique might have had virtue but instead of going in the direction that I thought was the obvious alternative, which is the embrace of a kind of radical Christian ethos that recognizes the nation state and the corporation …as matasticies of certain vices that Christianity is meant to heal us of, they went to embrace nationalism on the grounds that boundarylessness is the problem. Of course it isn’t. …We have plenty of boundaries. …That’s basically what modernity is. It’s ever more narrowly opposed boundary until there is nothing left but the isolated consumer and the nation state and the dialectic between them. Modernity and the corporation, they love national boundaries and national sovereignty. They love labor markets split between the legal and the illegal, the foreign and the domestic, the wealthy and the poor. They thrive on national identity and division, and what Christianity preaches is a real universalism …in which the statement that there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, …man and woman, husband and wife …really is a political statement. …It’s about the breaking down of the boundary between Jew and Gentile, between law and nations. Instead of that understanding of just how radical Christianity is, how much it detaches us from loyalty to the nation state, to the folk, to the imperatives of the people, they’ve gone quite the opposite direction and basically allowed themselves to become patsies of the worst aspect of late modernity which is nationalism, the reductio ad absurdum of the modern project, or actually, let’s be honest, the reductio ad malum of the modern project. There is no nationalism that can be anything other than that.

a ruin—but an entire ruin

From my daughter Nessa this evening: “I just reread my, so far, favorite scene in Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Brontë:

Descending the laurel-walk, I faced the wreck of the chestnut tree…. The cloven halves were not broken from each other, for the firm base and strong roots kept them unsundered below…. They might be said to form one tree—a ruin—but an entire ruin.

“You did right to hold fast to each other,” I said, as if the monster splinters were living things and could hear me. “I think, scathed as you look, and charred and scorched, there must be a little sense of life in you yet, rising out of that adhesion at the faithful, honest roots. You will never have green leaves more—never more see birds making nests, and singing idylls in your boughs; the time of pleasure and love is over with you; but you are not desolate; each of you has a comrade to sympathize with him in his decay.”

even as the day softens away into the sweet Twilight

This has been my Object, and this alone can be my Defence–and O! that with this my personal as well as my LITERARY LIFE might conclude!—the unquenched desire I mean, not without the consciousness of having earnestly endeavoured to kindle young minds, and to guard them against the temptations of Scorners, by showing that the Scheme of Christianity, as taught in the Liturgy and Homilies of our Church, though not discoverable by human Reason, is yet in accordance with it; that link follows link by necessary consequence; that Religion passes out of the ken of Reason only where the eye of Reason has reached its own horizon; and that Faith is then but its continuation: even as the day softens away into the sweet Twilight, and Twilight, hushed and breathless, steals into the Darkness. It is Night, sacred Night! the upraised eye views only the starry Heaven which manifests itself alone: and the outward beholding is fixed on the sparks twinkling in the awful depth, though Suns of other Worlds, only to preserve the soul steady and collected in its pure Act of inward adoration to the great I AM, and to the filial WORD that re-affirmeth it from Eternity to Eternity, whose choral echo is the Universe.

From: Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria, Princeton University Press, 1983., Vol. II, p. 247-8. II, Chap. 24, Conclusion.

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