Tuesday, April 21, 2015
Why "The Golden Ass"
So, first of all, there is a famous Roman novel called "Metamorphoses," to which Augustine refers using the name of my blog (in other words, Augustine calls the novel "The Golden Ass"). Wikipedia summarizes the plot as follows:
"The plot revolves around the protagonist's curiosity (curiositas) and insatiable desire to see and practice magic. While trying to perform a spell to transform into a bird, he is accidentally transformed into an ass. This leads to a long journey, literal and metaphorical, filled with in-set tales. He finally finds salvation through the intervention of the goddess Isis, whose cult he joins."
The "salvation" referenced there by wikipedia corresponds, in the actual story, to Luscus'- Luscius being the protagonist of the story - being returned to human form. The amazon link to the book refers to the series of events that lead to Luscius' return to human form as "trials and humiliations." That reminds me of Christ's plan for humanity and his church, as revealed in both his death and resurrection and in his scriptures.
As my choice for a title to my blog might indicate, then, I find the basic plot line of that Roman novel to be quite autobiographical. I have always been a very curious person, as others in my life have noted from time to time. This curiosity has lead me to some fruitful pursuits as well as some that might have been, with more foresight, considered to be less than fruitful, just as they turned out to be, lol. It should be noted that this blog received it's name while I was still an Architect. My favorite architect took the name "Le Corbusier," which was a french word for a shadowy bird that flies overhead with a view of everything from above (actually a crow, I think). That high-flying view of things could be said to characterize the end and shape of the pursuits that arose from my extreme curiosity. For those who know the Architectural work of Le Corbusier, that high-flying view of things could also be said to shape how I thought of Architecture and what I considered architecture to be, as well.
Of course, as my blog photo indicates, that aspect of the story in which Lucius ends up being turned into an ass rather than the intended beautiful bird with a god-like view from above is also autobiographical, lol. On my way to becoming human again, I have also experienced numerous "trials and humiliations." Two big ones I could easily and quickly mention are my failure as an architect (especially in light of my grandiose ideas of myself as an architect prior to said failure) and my failure in my first job as a nurse, which was one of those instances in life of having something taken away from you that you thought you were supposed to have.
Also, genuinely speaking, a big aspect or direction of my spiritual life has been God's gently, peacefully, and lovingly asking me to correct of those parts of myself that are or have been - and please forgive the potential vulgarity here - ass-like. The protagonist of the story being turned into an ass, then has the double meaning. For one, I am, quite clearly, apparently am not the planner of my own life. On top of that, my stubborn efforts to transform myself into the planner of my life are generally met with appropriately comedic or tragic results, depending on how you want to look at them. The other side of the coin of meaning of the image of an ass being an image of ME is that, quite simply, I can tend to be an ass. As my blog's "about me" indicates, it is only by the grace and power of God that I am ever not an ass, really.
The title of my blog is also a brief nod to one of my favorite stories in the bible. In that story, an animal who is known for its astonishing stubbornness is used by God to correct an apparently even more stubborn prophet. And, yes, my reason for that story being a favorite of mine is also autobiographical. Who knew God could speak through an ass!? Wait, is the ass the animal or the stubborn prophet? Lol.
Speaking of prophets, the "golden" portion of my blog title is a nod to my great propensity towards idolatry. Just as it is only by the grace of God that I am not an ass, it is only by the power and love (well, and grace) of God that I am not always and constantly building my life into a golden calf. And, that great love and grace is precisely why my blog's "about me" makes reference to God's valuing me as gold. He didn't die for me for nothing. The streets of the eschatological end of all things are said to be paved with gold for a reason.
The portion of the plot line of "Golden Ass" novel in which Lucius "finally finds salvation through the intervention of the goddess Isis, whose cult he joins" also has autobiographical value for me. Although I have no ties to Isis in particular, my studies of mythology and mysticism have certainly influenced me greatly in the past. They also, probably, tend to influence me a bit still today. What do I mean by that? Well, it is a long story that probably has both positive and negative contributions to my life, but I could just depict the highlights here. On the negative side, I have had to learn that the word of God is simple and, at least in some way or some level (and probably in the most important way and at the most important level), has a basic meaning that is powerfully applicable to all, regardless of one's initiation into the mysteries of the universe. In passing, I would like to note that I do not mean to say that (a lot of) scripture has a "plain and obvious meaning" with an "objective truth." I take those things to be "figments of the Enlightenment imagination," as N.T. Wright put it. Speaking of the Enlightenment, then, leads me into what I still take to be mysticism's positive influence on my life and thinking.
My study of and immersion into mysticism was both a reaction against the Enlightenment's cup from which I was forced to drink throughout all of my grade school years and also, to a degree, the sway back to the other side of the pivot point as part of the balancing act of the tightrope walker who was me. In other words, I mean to say that I was reacting against Enlightenment objectification and reductionism as I went into my studies of mysticism, and what remains with me from those mystical studies still, to a degree, serves as part of a way to positively re-orient my being away from who an allegiance to Enlightenment Liberalism would tell me to be. All that said, there is a lot from my studies of mysticism to which I am no longer attached or which I view as having little to no role in the narrative of the scriptures by and in which they call us to live.
On a completely different note, in the choosing of the title of my blog, I was aware that some Christian brothers and sisters might be offended. I should note, then, that, generally speaking, I don't go around using the word "ass" out loud with my mouth. I do that because of Paul's exhortation to not offend your brother or sister for the sake of unity, irregardless of whether or not the offense is valid or correctly characterized as offensive. With that said, I like the idea that the written form of the word might engender conversation about what a curse really is.
Of course, one of the ten commandments is, "You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain." I think of that as connected to the question of what a curse is, because of what Deuteronomy 28-30 spells out as the blessings and curses connected to obedience and disobedience of God's commands. Also, Ephesians 4: 29 says: "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear." Colossians 3: 8 says this: "But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth." Also, in speaking of the wicked and arrogant, Psalm 10: 7 says, "His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression;/ under his tongue are mischief and iniquity." The common theme I see here is God's concern for edification of others, in both word and deed. I get the picture of the tongue having great power for good or for evil.
As James 3: 9-10 say, "With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so." I get the image of a witch or a voodoo practitioner pronouncing a curse over someone. The intention is for harm to come to that person, for that person's life to come to destruction and ruin. We all have such power, as we are all made in the image of God. James is saying that this power ought not to most properly be used to build the Kingdom of God, which is one of life, justice, and harmony. The body that lives in the Kingdom of God and by His rule is one of strength and soundness. The kingdom of God is not filled with vanity, anger, wrath, malice, slander, obscenity, arrogance, wickedness, deceit, and oppression. And, the tongue of the citizen of the Kingdom of God, although it has the power to have a role in what appears or disappears in the world, does not use that power to bring about oppression and destruction. In short, the tongue can pronounce death and destruction, or the tongue can speak the grammar of life and edification. One is to curse, the other is to bless.
With that as the picture, then, I do not think of curses as a list of words that, by rule, should not be used, regardless of the meaning, context, or circumstances. Some of those "four letter words" - well, in this case, the word in question is "ass" and is a three letter word, but you get the point - that we tend to abstract from actual reality are, I think, often or generally filled with vulgarity and obscenity that give color to the outlined content of the language spoken by the hearer, which may not be intended for cursing and destruction. That vulgarity and obscenity is often, then, I think not the color of life, harmony, and edification. In other words, my hearing of the F word doesn't make me think of God's blessing and command over humanity to multiply and fill the earth so that He can dwell in the midst of the speaker of said F word. The F word, instead, makes me think of a crass vulgarization of the act that leads to such filling and multiplication. Said vulgarization may imply pleasure, fun, and maybe even a shadow of power, but I have a hard time reconciling it with love. In other words, who is (generally speaking) being blessed by the F word? (not God)
That said, I don't tend to equate the word "ass" with the F word. I have a hard time thinking of a circumstance or context in which the F word would not be obscene or vulgar, or even filled with malice and anger. As I hope I demonstrated in the above paragraphs, however, the word "ass" can be used rather easily in a way that, I don't think, is filled with any of that. In fact, I would venture to at least hope that the use of the term "ass" in the above paragraphs, and in the title of my blog post, paints the world a different color other than that of the vulgar and crass. And, I would hope that it's use here is filled with quite the opposite of anger, malice, and bitterness.
Monday, April 20, 2015
The Appearance of (Theological) Systems
Zizek writes in Absolute Recoil - "In the final pages of his history of World War II, Winston Churchill ponders the enigma of military decision making: after the specialists (the economic and military analysts, psychologists, meterologists …) have offered their multiple, elaborated and refined analyses, someone has to assume the simple and for that very reason most difficult act of reducing this complex multiplicity of views, where for every reason there are two reasons against, into a resolute ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ … in this sense, a decision to act always involves the unlearning of the complexity of a situation." I think this is worth thinking more about. For Zizek, there is always a (Hegelian) negation in the process of a resolution, a canceling out of what is finally not constitutive of the situation. And this usually happens as an interpretive event within a social constellation by a skilled interpretive leader. Decisions aren't made through an all embracing synthesis, but a disruption of the frame, by which some things no longer become relevant to a situation. And they happen within a social constellation, not imposed upon a socielity coercively by a singular leader. This means a leader has to wait, patiently in the process. Does this help clarify the role of an interpretative leader?
The following was (pretty much) my commentary on Fitch's use of Zizek to help make sense of interpretation. I post it here, because I have studied it quite a bit in the past and may pursue this line of thinking more in the future....
Well, interpretation originally meant bringing order out of chaos, right? In other words, it was poetic or "creative." Something was being formed or made. As with anything else, then, there is sacrifice, right? For something to appear, something disappears. The temptation to think that interpretation is about "an all embracing synthesis" confuses interpretation as making (something appearing) and analysis (after the entire globe has been conquered). I am partially talking to myself here, I think.
As a continuation of that thought, I was just reading Yoder last night. He mentioned, in passing, that interpretation in a Christian community doesn't always happen through the systematizers. The term for system comes from a Greek word that means "all." But that is also the meaning of "Pan," who is the god of shepherds and flocks (keeps wild and choatic things together), also the god of fertility (making things appear), but whose voice teorrizes Titans and lonely folks of the wild. Interestingly, Chesterton ascribes the appearance of theology to the death of Pan. For something to appear, something has to disappear. Usually, what appears is related to what disappeared (like the relation between a wood table and a cherry tree). Anyway, I refer to Pan also because of the temptation for "an all embracing synthesis."
Monday, April 13, 2015
I Became A Burnt Offering
I had a view that for me was extraordinary, of the glory of the Son of God, as Mediator between God and man, and his wonderful, great, full, pure and sweet grace and love, and meek and gentle condescension. This grace that appeared so calm and sweet, appeared also great above the heavens. The person of Christ appeared ineffably excellent with an excellency great enough to swallow up all thought and conception … which continued as near as I can judge, about an hour; which kept me the greater part of the time in a flood of tears, and weeping aloud. I felt an ardency of soul to be, what I know not otherwise how to express, emptied and annihilated; to lie in the dust, and to be full of Christ alone; to love him with a holy and pure love; to trust in him; to live upon him; to serve and follow him; and to be perfectly sanctified and made pure, with a divine and heavenly purity. I have, several other times, had views very much of the same nature, and which have had the same effects.
I have many times had a sense of the glory of the third person in the Trinity, in his office of Sanctifier; in his holy operations, communicating divine light and life to the soul. God, in the communications of his Holy Spirit, has appeared as an infinite fountain of divine glory and sweetness; being full, and sufficient to fill and satisfy the soul; pouring forth itself in sweet communications; like the sun in its glory, sweetly and pleasantly diffusing light and life. And I have sometimes had an affecting sense of the excellency of the word of God, as a word of life; as the light of life; a sweet, excellent life-giving word; accompanied with a thirsting after that word, that it might dwell richly in my heart.
From: A Personal Narrative by Jonathan Edwards.
I would like to highlight some parts of this quote that I find most interesting and with which I most closely identify, and for what reasons.
First of all, Edwards speaks of "a view" or "views." The person of Christ "appeared" to him in some way; Edwards "had a sense of" something or someone far beyond himself. As I have said before, I was - not of my own accord - both tied more closely to and detached further from my senses than in either what is experienced in normal consciousness or even in the most concentrated meditative exercises. I guess you could say that my senses were heightened - beyond the heavens. And, yes, when I say "beyond the heavens" there, I have a double meaning in mind. The first is simply that my senses of the ordinary environment were greatly heightened; the second is that, because I was "sensing" something that is beyond sense, I, at the exact same time and from the same infinately fountanous source, also felt an extreme, other-worldly detachment from all sense. Of course, as with Edwards, when I say "beyond the heavens" there, I am also referring to the greatness and seemingly vast expansiveness of what I "saw."
Secondly, in my last paragraph, and, mostly in my previous blog post on the subject, I referred to my having a sense of "something or someone far beyond [my]self." It is very interesting to me that Edwards says he saw "the glory of the Son of God." He speaks of what appeared to him as "the person of Christ." This probably gets at the heart of why I feel that my last post on this subject ("Standing in the Door," linked above) was misleading. There, I associated what I "saw" with Aristotle, Heidegger, and Dante. Considering how language really works (not like a copy machine) and that God desires to make himself known to us and to have union with us, I do not necessarily doubt that there were elements of what I "saw" in the ideas to which I was referring in that previous blog post. I think, however, that I did not highlight enough there, as Edwards did in his quote here, that what I "saw" was, in reality, either the very person of Christ or the Holy Spirit, at least as God wanted to communicate something about himself to me. In all cases of the in-breaking of the Spirit into my consciousness and my sense (in all of my mystical experiences), there was an element of grace, as if what was being given to me in those moments was not only not possible without the substance of divine grace but was itself a gift of a special love. In other words, at the foundation of what was granted to me was the Cross. Of course, that also means that what I "saw" was "personal." I did not see the contours and physical embodiment of a "person", at least not separately and distinctly from the creation that was made through him. But, instead, it was as if I saw the making itself, which means, I suppose you could say, I saw the hand of the Maker, who is a person, at work.
Speaking of God's desire for union with us and to communicate with us, I find it interesting that Edwards refers to his experience of Christ as "Mediator" and as "communicating" something to him. Edwards referred to "his holy operations, communicating divine light and life to the soul. God, in the communications of his Holy Spirit, has appeared as an infinite fountain of divine glory and sweetness; being full, and sufficient to fill and satisfy the soul; pouring forth itself in sweet communications; like the sun in its glory, sweetly and pleasantly diffusing light and life." I just wanted to highlight from this that, in all of my encounters with God, I got the sense that God wanted to communicate something to, and possibly even (in a sense) through, me. I also always had a sense that this desire to impart something about Himself to me was an expression of His love. And, because what I "saw" was so far beyond myself, I always thought and/or felt that what was being loved was far more than only me.
I also very much identify with what Edwards refers to in these experiences as Christ's "meek and gentle condescension...so calm and sweet" In all of my encounters with God, I have sensed the heat from an overwhelming and purifying fire. But, to varying degrees in each of my experiences, I have also sensed this "meek and gentle condescension." I think God knew I would be ripped apart at the seams of my being if He let me see the source of that fire. At the same time, I believe that part of why God granted me these encounters with Him was because of His desire for union with me and with his church, as demonstrated by his Passion. This Passion of Christ is the climax of the Incarnation, in which he "emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant." In other words, because of His desire for union with me coupled with my inability to withstand the fullness of the fire, He was willing to, as Mediator, show me merely a drop from the glorious fountain that is Him, in order that I may be washed. And, not only does he so pragmatically take into consideration the weakness of the seams of my being, but, this "meek and gentle condescension...so calm and sweet" is part of His very character in the first place. That is also why that is part of what I was "seeing." In the times when He has, in the wake of these encounters, asked me to correct the impurities of my being and of my self, He has done so with supreme gentleness. He did not overwhelm me with the whole force or power of His hand, demanding either immediate change or death. As in the very substance of His appearance to me, His Word to me came with the sweet savor of both humility and sovereign power wrapped up into one. Yes; I experienced God's humility before me. That is mind-blowing.
The idea that what Edwards was sensing "appeared also great above the heavens" is very intriguing to me, as well. I discussed this above, but I wanted to highlight Edward's point about it here. Neither he nor I literally saw "above" or "beyond" the heavens. We stepped foot on neither Mars nor the moon. The phrase is a reference to the GREATNESS of what we were granted to see. "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." What - or WHO - appeared to me was clearly heavenly and greater than what ordinarily appears to me AS the very same objects and properties which you could say were what my eyes and ears were literally or physically sensing.
Also, Christ appeared to Edwards and myself with an "excellency great enough to swallow up all thought and conception." This is why I actually lose the capacity for speech when these encounters happen. As Eugene Peterson paraphrased Job 40: "I'm speechless, in awe - words fail me." Any words that Edwards or myself use to convey what Christ conveyed to us neither contain nor fully point out the reality at the heart of that fountain and fire that God, in His grace, revealed to us. It is not just that my mental and emotional capacities are overwhelmed. It's not just that I lose the ability to think on my own as I normally do on a day to day basis. It's that my very being itself - including my thoughts and feelings - is swept away into what I have described before as "something beyond myself," which Edwards here refers to as, well, Christ!
In addition, another brother in Christ was recently describing a similar encounter with God that was an answer to prayers requesting exactly that. Edwards' words would fit well with how my friend described what he experienced, namely that it "continued as near as I can judge, about an hour; which kept me the greater part of the time in a flood of tears, and weeping aloud..." I only experienced this in one of my encounters (while reading "The Shack"). For me, that particular experience was clearly one of healing. I think the intention to heal was largely why God broke into the hard, cold, stony tomb of my heart in that particular instance. Anyway, the point I want to make here is - as my friend described it and agreed with when I said it - the powerful and long-lasting emotion that we experienced was not the reality of the situation. Instead, we experienced constantly and regularly rhythmic tsunamis of the Spirit actually washing over, in, and through us. Waves of tears were what "naturally" came about as a result. The fact that the Spirit's work felt like overwhelmingly powerful waves of God's presence gently crashing through our being is why, I think, Edwards said that the communication of the Holy Spirit "appeared as an infinite fountain of divine glory and sweetness; being full, and sufficient to fill and satisfy the soul; pouring forth itself in sweet communications; like the sun in its glory, sweetly and pleasantly diffusing light and life."
Particularly in the encounter when I was left on the floor of my bedroom for about 45 minutes as a heap of holy tears of awe, thankfulness, and repentance, I also felt "emptied and annihilated; to lie in the dust, and to be full of Christ alone; to love him with a holy and pure love; to trust in him; to live upon him." From dust I came, and to dust I already returned. I am a new creation. I believe Edwards would have said the same. Like all of creation through the person and work of Christ, I became a burnt offering.
Thursday, April 02, 2015
The Face of the Waters
Reflections on Maundy Thursday Service of Darkness, at Churchland Baptist Church.
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