God gives us just enough to seek Him, and never enough to fully find him. To do more would inhibit our freedom, and our freedom is very dear to God.
…Even now I look out at a cat huddled down in the adder’s fern, at a fresh wind nagging the sheets on the line, at hills like a green sea in the east and just beyond them the priory, and the magnificent puzzle is, for a moment, solved, and God is there before me in the being of all that is not him.
And yet sometimes I am so sad. Even when I have friends over often for tea or canasta, there is a Great Silence here for weeks and weeks, and the Devil tells me the years since age seventeen have been a great abeyance and I have been like a troubled bride pining each night for a husband who is lost without a trace.
From Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen.
I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch
He said to me, “You must not ask for so much.”
And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door
She cried to me, “Hey, why not ask for more?”
Lyrics from Leonard Cohen’s “Bird On a Wire” (recorded 26 September 1968 in Nashville and included on his 1969 album Songs from a Room).
For some time now, I have been growing in my understanding of how many cultural disorders are related to hatred of limits. The aspiration to limitlessness was embedded in the first temptation and the original sin, it informed the earliest docetic and Gnostic heresies, and it inspired the founding intellects of modernity. Many sincere Christians still have some sense that being limited is an effect of sin, rather than a condition of the Creation. Both Genesis accounts of Creation (in chapters 1 and 2) resound with the establishment of boundaries—in time, in space, in ontology, and in vocation. God created all things (including his image-bearers) to thrive within limits, and he then asserted that this circumstance of Creation is very good. After delivering the mandate to serve as his regents and stewards over all Creation, God reminds Adam and Eve that they are creatures who are bounded. They do not exist independently, but must turn to the earth (from which they came and to which will return) for food, for the stuff of life. But not all the food in the Garden was on the menu. Man was limited and needy in his created state, and his continued fellowship with God required the recognition of boundaries.
Almost all human cultures have pursued the task of defining and governing boundaries in human behavior. Philip Rieff argued (in The Triumph of the Therapeutic) that every culture survives “by the power of its institutions to bind and loose men in the conduct of their affairs with reasons which sink so deep into the self that they become commonly and implicitly understood.” The story of modern Western culture, however—a culture built around the ideal of the sovereign self—is a story of the abandonment of restrictions and restraints in the name of human freedom. Our institutions have increasingly been defined in terms of encouraging liberation from limits rather than cultivating a conscientious honoring of limits.
…With echoes of numerous theologians who have related the imago dei to our essential relationality, Berry questions the understanding of freedom that dominates modern culture. “In our limitless selfishness, we have tried to define ‘freedom’ for example, as an escape from all restraint. But, as my friend Bert Hornback has explained in his book The Wisdom of Words, ‘free’ is etymologically related to ‘friend.’ These words come from the same Indo-European root, which carries the sense of ‘dear’ or ‘beloved.’ We set our friends free by our love for them, with the implied restraints of faithfulness or loyalty. All this suggests that our ‘identity’ is located not in the impulse of selfhood but in deliberately maintained connections.”
Ken Myers rarely has a thought that is not backed up by much reading and reflection. These thoughts of his from an online posting spoke volumes to me in several areas.
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.