How (Not) To Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor by James K. A. Smith:
To sense the force of this shift, we need to appreciate how this differs from the “enchanted” premodern imaginary where all kinds of nonhuman things mean — are loaded and charged with meaning — independent of human perception or attribution. In this premodern, enchanted universe, it was also assumed that power resided in things, which is precisely why things like relics or the Host could be invested with spiritual power. As a result, “in the enchanted world, the line between personal agency and impersonal force was not at all clearly drawn” (p. 32). There is a kind of blurring of boundaries so that it is not only personal agents that have causal power (p. 35). Things can do stuff.
At this point Taylor introduces a key concept to describe the premodern self: prior to this disenchantment and the retreat of meaning into an interior “mind,” the human agent was seen as porous (p. 35). Just as premodern nature is always already intermixed with its beyond, and just as things are intermixed with mind and meaning, so the premodern self’s porosity means the self is essentially vulnerable (and hence also “healable”). To be human is to be essentially open to an outside (whether benevolent or malevolent), open to blessing or curse, possession or grace. “This sense of vulnerability,” Taylor concludes, “is one of the principal features which have gone with disenchantment” (p. 36)
Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship (1.20-26):
AELRED: It is proper for my friend to be the guardian of mutual love or of my very soul, that he may in loyal silence protect all the secrets of my spirit and may bear and endure according to his ability anything wicked he sees in my soul. For the friend will rejoice with my soul rejoicing, grieve with it grieving, and feel that everything that belongs to a friend belongs to himself…
IVO: Since there is so much perfection in true friendship, no wonder those whom the ancients praised as true friends were so few. From so many centuries past, as Cicero says, legend extols only three or four pairs of friends! But if in our own Christian times friends are so few, I seem to be slaving in vain to acquire this virtue, for I am terrified now by its astonishing height, and I almost despair of reaching it.
AELRED: As a wise man once said, “for great achievements, the effort is great in itself.”
Day by day, God presents us with a time to work, a time to eat, a time to sleep, a time to read our children stories before bed. The working, the eating, the sleeping, the reading… from day to day, tradition, fate, family, society, and the Church have already determined for us what we should do. If a man is willing to be common and to live a common life filled with times, seasons, and rituals which God makes common to all, he will submit himself to a mysterious, transcendent reality. The infinite Word entered finite history through a finite body; as a finite creature, through finite means, the common man enters the infinite. The man who is ever looking to make himself unique, to distinguish himself from others, to discern and seize the special things of the world— such a man will always isolate himself further and further until he is bereft of companions, bereft of comforters, heroes, and lovers.
Posted by Joshua Gibbs on his Facebook page yesterday (presumably from CiRCE’s Atrium lecture that he gave yesterday). Brings to mind maxim 18 of Fr. Thomas Hopko’s “55 Maxims of the Christian Life.” That is: “Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.”
“He has not yet learned that the day begins with sleep!” said the woman, turning to her husband. “Tell him he must rest before he can do anything!”
“…It was a glorious resurrection-morning. The night had been spent in preparing it!”
George MacDonald (Lilith)
“…I was hungry after the voice and face of my kind—after any live soul, indeed, human or not, which I might in some measure understand. What a hell of horror, I thought, to wander alone, a bare existence never going out of itself, never widening its life in another life, but, bound with the cords of its poor peculiarities, lying an eternal prisoner in the dungeon of its own being! I began to learn that it was impossible to live for oneself even, save in the presence of others—then, alas, fearfully possible! evil was only through good! selfishness but a parasite on the tree of life! In my own world I had the habit of solitary song; here not a crooning murmur ever parted my lips! There I sang without thinking; here I thought without singing! there I had never had a bosom-friend; here the affection of an idiot would be divinely welcome! “If only I had a dog to love!” I sighed—and regarded with wonder my past self, which preferred the company of book or pen to that of man or woman; which, if the author of a tale I was enjoying appeared, would wish him away that I might return to his story. I had chosen the dead rather than the living, the thing thought rather than the thing thinking! “Any man,” I said now, “is more than the greatest of books!” I had not cared for my live brothers and sisters, and now I was left without even the dead to comfort me!”
George MacDonald (Lilith)
She who hath put on thee, our Christ and God, keepeth her head bowed to thee, along with us. Do thou preserve her as an invincible struggler so as to endure those who bring vain hostility to bear against both her and us; and do thou show forth all as victors unto the end through thine incorruptible crown.
From the baptism service for my infant daughter (part of the “Third Prayer of Ablution” near the end in a service book for the Antiochian jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church).
The house as well as the family was of some antiquity…. It contained a fine library, whose growth began before the invention of printing, and had continued to my own time, greatly influenced, of course, by changes of taste and pursuit. Nothing surely can more impress upon a man the transitory nature of possession than his succeeding to an ancient property.
From Lilith: A Romance by George MacDonald.