therefore call one man

Today several friends spent the morning together reading poetry connected to Pentecost (June 12 on the church calendar). I had several other passages vying in my mind for today, but this poem by Czeslaw Milosz drove them all out for now.

VENI CREATOR

Come, Holy Spirit,
bending or not bending the grasses,
appearing or not above our heads in a tongue of flame,
at hay harvest or when they plough in the orchards or when snow
covers crippled firs in the Sierra Nevada.
I am only a man: I need visible signs.
I tire easily, building the stairway of abstraction.
Many a time I asked, you know it well, that the statue in church
lift its hand, only once, just once, for me.
But I understand that signs must be human,
therefore call one man, anywhere on earth,
not me–after all I have some decency–
and allow me, when I look at him, to marvel at you.

Berkeley, 1961

And here’s a little background on the poet:

Miłosz wrote all his poetry, fiction and essays in Polish and translated the Old Testament Psalms into Polish.

…In 1980 Miłosz received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Since his works had been banned in Poland by the communist government, this was the first time that many Poles became aware of him.

…Through the Cold War, Miłosz’s name was often invoked in the United States, particularly by conservative commentators such as William F. Buckley, Jr., usually in the context of Miłosz’s 1953 book The Captive Mind. During that period, his name was largely passed over in silence in government-censored media and publications in Poland.

The Captive Mind has been described as one of the finest studies of the behavior of intellectuals under a repressive regime. Miłosz observed that those who became dissidents were not necessarily those with the strongest minds, but rather those with the weakest stomachs; the mind can rationalize anything, he said, but the stomach can take only so much. (poemhunter.com)

she remembered them years later

As this whole life is a kind of journey or exile, exercising the office of priesthood often involves a deliberate, steadying or arresting of time (cycles such as weeks, months, anniversaries and festivals help in this regard):

They were now in the palace garden which sloped down in terraces to the city wall. The moon shone brightly. One of the drawbacks about adventures is that when you come to the most beautiful places you are often too anxious and hurried to appreciate them; so that Aravis (though she remembered them years later) had only a vague impression of grey lawns, quietly bubbling fountains, and the long black shadows of cypress trees.

Lewis is always interested in light and it’s transformational effects, especially sun light. Our whole world begins in Genesis and ends in Revelation under the light of God himself. Exercising the eyes of a priest often involves noticing these hints at what the world might truly look like.

Then suddenly the sun rose and everything changed in a moment. The grey sand turned yellow and twinkled as if it was strewn with diamonds. On their left the shadows of Shasta and Hwin and Bree and Aravis, enormously long, raced beside them. The double peak of Mount Pire, far ahead, flashed in the sunlight and Shasta saw they were a little out of the course. “A bit left, a bit left,” he sang out. Best of all, when you looked back, Tashbaan was already small and remote. The Tombs were quite invisible: swallowed up in that single, jagged-edged hump which was the city of the Tisroc. Everyone felt better.

(Both from The Horse and His Boy, chapter 9.)

nothing to yours

Yesterday, I listened in the car with my family to part of The Horse and His Boy (C.S. Lewis). I teared up a little at this sentence: “The two boys were looking into each other’s faces and suddenly found that they were friends.” There are many goodbyes with family, friends and even brief acquaintances where I have felt that I was saying goodbye to someone that I had known for a long time and would really like to adventure with forever.

There is also the beautiful element of this story where Shasta gets a glimpse of his true self in the person of Corin. Significantly, however, the prince recognizes that, in some sense, the pauper’s adventures are more substantial than his own. It’s a hint, I think, about how we might view our current lives in the light of eternity. (All from chapter 5.)

“I’m nobody, nobody in particular, I mean,” said Shasta. “King Edmund caught me in the street and mistook me for you. I suppose we must look like one another. Can I get out the way you’ve got in?”

After hearing Corin’s story, Shasta adds:

“I’m a Narnian, I believe; something Northern anyway. But I’ve been brought up all my life in Calormen. And I’m escaping: across the desert; with a talking Horse called Bree. And now, quick! How do I get away?”

And here are their parting words:

“Thanks,” said Shasta, who was already sitting on the sill. The two boys were looking into each other’s faces and suddenly found that they were friends.

“Good-bye,” said Corin. “And good luck. I do hope you get safe away.”

“Good-bye,” said Shasta. “I say, you have been having some adventures.”

“Nothing to yours,” said the Prince. “Now drop; lightly I say,” he added as Shasta dropped. “I hope we meet in Archenland. Go to my father King Lune and tell him you’re a friend of mine. Look out! I hear someone coming.”

freedom is as much a matter of seeing

I need to read Gregory the Great and Maximus the Confessor directly, but these passages from Robert Louis Wilken’s study of Early Christian Thought illuminated human nature for me in some fresh, clear and simple ways. Yesterday’s post reminded me of these passages.

Gregory speaks of human freedom as moral freedom, the freedom to become what we were made to be. Freedom, as he puts it, is the “royal exercise of the will,” but will is much more than choice, than deciding to do one thing in preference to another. It is an affair of ordering one’s life in terms of its end, freedom oriented toward excellence (the original meaning of virtue) and human flourishing. As we gorw in virtue we delight in the good that is God. Hence freedom is never set forth in its own terms, but rather is always seen in relation to God. Because human beings were made in the image of God, our lives will be fully human only as our face is turned toward God and our actions formed by his love. Freedom is as much a matter of seeing, of vision, as it is of doing. (location 1676)

…The human will is not less human but more human because it is in harmony with the divine will. Like Cyril, Maximus wishes to say that Christ showed us a “wholly new way of being human.” Christ’s life, writes Maximus, was “new, not only because it was strange and wondrous to those on earth, and was unfamiliar in comparison to things as they are, but also because it carried within itself a new energy of one who lived in a new way.” (location 1454)

From The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God by Robert Louis Wilken (Yale UP, 2003, Kindle Edition)

his will was in harmony with God’s will

This is a passage that I have been coming back to over and over during the past year. (I first heard it referenced in a sermon at our church.) It speaks primarily to kingship and mentions the issue of judging rightly (pursuit of the good), allowing me to categorize it under that heading, although it touches all three. (More on this theme tomorrow from Maximus the Confessor, as I populate these first several days with old treasures.)

To reign with Christ means to experience in one’s own life the restoration of the royal office. By virtue of creation man held the threefold office of prophet, priest, and king. As prophet his mind was illumined so that he knew God. As priest his heart delighted in God. As king his will was in harmony with God’s will. This threefold office, lost through the fall, is restored by God’s grace. The joyful response of the believer’s will to the will of Christ, that response which is true freedom, is the basic element in this reigning with Christ. Moreover, even during the period before death Christians rule the world by means of their prayers, in the sense that again and again judgments occur in answer to prayer (Rev. 8:3–5). In heaven they are even closer to the throne than are the angels (Rev. 4:4; 5:11). In fact, they sit with Christ on his throne (Rev. 3:21), sharing his royal glory. And when Christ returns, the saints sit and judge with him (Ps. 149:5–9; I Cor. 6:2, 3).

From New Testament Commentary: Exposition of the Pastoral Epistles. Vol. 4. by W. Hendriksen and S.J. Kistemaker (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1979. 258–259.

free from unnaturalness and austerity

From “The Essence of Christianity” preached by Geerhardus Vos at Princeton Theological Seminary, 22 November 1903:

Circumstances arose in which Jesus demanded the giving away of all earthly goods, where he even warned against yielding to the claims of natural affection, where he refused permission to go and bury one’s father and advised abstention from marriage because the interests of the Kingdom of God could not be properly served without these renunciations. But here again he kept clearly in view the positive end to which all self-denial must be directed. The negative self-repression must be accompanied by a positive self-surrender to God and the concerns of his kingdom. Without the cultivation of the latter, the former would not only be useless but harmful. Our Lord himself is the great example in this respect. He not only perfectly glorified God in his use of the natural world, but also kept his detachment from the world free from every taint of unnaturalness and austerity by the positive joy and satisfaction he found in always serving the Father.

Vos touches on the fact that knowing goodness and true enjoyment is the only valid reason for any abstinence. Negation or avoidance is not in God’s original (or final) economy. This passage also opens the door to a great deal of monastic zeal and discipline in the Christian walk.

taking ideas especially seriously

From “The Temple,” a lecture by Roderick T. Long at the Auburn Philosophical Society’s roundtable on “The Idea of the University” (12 April 2002):

The mind’s grasp of itself is valuable, not so much for what it makes possible – though what it makes possible is nothing less than the fruits of civilization itself – as for what it is: the status of freedom rather than bondage. But a free mind must also be a disciplined mind; the notion that intellectual discipline is an obstacle to intellectual freedom and creativity is on a par with the suggestion that my physical motions are freer and more creative than a gymnast’s, because they are less disciplined.

It is sometimes debated whether the university’s function should be to transmit the inherited wisdom of tradition, or to question that heritage and open ourselves to dissenting points of view. This way of stating the question is a confusion. The call to challenge inherited wisdom and open ourselves to dissenting points of view is itself one of the chief bits of wisdom we have inherited from our tradition; our heritage is an indispensable education in dissent. Hence if we wish to challenge our heritage, we must begin by learning from it, and if we wish to learn from it, we must end by challenging it. Confronting tradition is not a monologue, either from the past addressed to us or from us addressed to the past, but a conversation.

Our life with one another in the university also takes the form of a conversation. Contrary to what is sometimes claimed, however, the goal of academic conversation is not mutual tolerance and respect. Tolerance and respect are presuppositions of the conversational process, not its goal. The goal is nothing less than power. But the power in question is that of intellectual self-command – a power that is enhanced, not diminished, through engagement with the like power of others. To describe the university as a sacred temple is not to say that it should be a place of solemn demeanour, hushed tones, and reverential deference. Within the bounds of civility, university life should be characterized by free-wheeling and vigorous exchange, raucous and impassioned dissent, and even, when appropriate, withering scorn. Such boisterous behaviour is the natural expression, not of taking ideas lightly, but of taking them especially seriously.

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