LIGHT

In the beginning, God spoke His own point of view into creation, and called it Light. Then God spoke his own nature into existence: Beauty, Goodness, and Truth. Then God gave His light to men and women, and that’s why we all originally share God’s point of view towards the lovely and the unlovely, towards righteousness and unrighteousness, and towards the rational and the irrational.

But Light also creates Darkness: one cannot exist without the other. And they are in perpetual conflict: one cannot exist with the other. They are like the opposite poles of a magnet

Maintaining anything in existence requires effort: this effort is God’s Will. The effort is like that required to keep the opposite poles of a magnet apart, or like the wick of the candle, or the energy of the sun.

It is God’s Will alone that maintains the existence of Light, Beauty, Goodness and Truth against the weight of their opposites, but the light given to each of us has no such support. Our individual lights are like seeds, and we along with the culture in which we exist are the soil.

Our individual light can fail in different ways, and the ways in which it fails define the various spiritual pathologies: gluttony, wickedness, pride, and their permutations. Those in turn add their pollution to the cultural soil. The growing conditions for our seeds of light become more and more difficult, and the pathologies more and more commonplace.

And as it fades from populations of individuals, it fades from cultures. Thus, in the West, we found first the yielding of beauty to ugliness in so-called Modern and Postmodern Art, then the yielding of righteousness to unrighteousness in so-called Moral Relativism, and we are now experiencing the yielding of rationality to irrationality in various grievance movements: call it Truth Subjectivism.

Men and women without light themselves cannot provide it to their culture.

I wish there were good news.

THE DOLL

A mother picks up her baby, turns it to face a doll, and then taps the doll on the head and repeats: Doll. Doll.

That’s an image of the problem Jesus has with human language and understanding.

A FOREIGN COUNTRY

When you find yourself in a foreign country, the only way you can communicate is through signing your desires and instructions.

That’s an image of the problem Jesus has with human language and understanding.

THE TRUCK

A farmer needs to transport his abundant harvest of grain to market, but the only vehicle he has is a flatbed truck.

That’s an image of the problem Jesus has with human language and human understanding.

THE WORD BECAME FLESH

There are three spiritual elements that distinguish us from the rest of known creation.

(They are present in everyone, although our spirits, being delicate things, are all-too-often twisted and damaged, starved into insubstantiality, or overwhelmed and imprisoned in spiritual cages of pride, lust, envy, and so on.)

The first is what we might call moral sensibility, which has both an emotional component (empathy, pity, gratitude) and a cognitive/willful component (the recognition of fairness, of the difference between good and evil, along with the resultant motivations.)

The second is aesthetic sensibility, which responds to and feels gratified by beauty in all its guises (the emotional element), and strives to create beauty (the cognitive/willful.)

The third is what we might call rational sensibility, or simply, understanding. The emotional element here is the longing for and love of order, and the cognitive/willful element is the ability to recognize that order, along with the motivation to seek for it and make use of it.

These of course touch upon and blend into each other in many ways, as the functions of the physical body do. Your body’s ability to metabolize food is related to your body’s ability to heal itself. Just so, your sensibility to visual beauty may be related to your abhorrence of cruelty. But the distinctions – though in the substance of an actual life, they may blend and mix in various ways – are still real.

Our rational sensibility is today’s focus.

John’s Gospel uses the thought of logos – the Word – to express the Christian revelation that Jesus is both the order in creation, and that in each of us which recognizes and responds to that order. The truth, as Jesus represents it, is not simply a correspondence between propositions and reality; it is the shape of reality itself, and the resonance between that reality and our own spirits.

There is, therefore, a certain comic absurdity in questioning or contending that God does not exist, since that which can contest and contend rationally is itself God in us.

SAINTS

Once we have done anything, the consequences, like birds released from our hands, are outside our control. A word once spoken now has its own life, separate from the speaker, and the accomplishments of that word stem entirely from the world into which it is spoken. That’s why a gentle act of mercy can result in death and destruction; while an act of cruel murder can save a civilization. And that’s why the effects of one’s actions have no bearing on true sainthood, and why we cannot read backwards from the effects of one’s actions to the quality of one’s life.

Only God knows the heart.

The Catholic saint must be proven to have performed a miracle, that is, to have done something, after which something inexplicable happened. But since everything that happens once an action is released into the world is a function of the world, for something truly inexplicable by the world’s reckoning to have occurred it must have been accomplished by God, who is beyond the world’s reckoning. Why then would we credit the supposed saint?

The things we do and say, in fact, are like material we offer to God, who may either allow the world its way with them, or who may put them to some special purpose. But that is God’s decision, not our own.

Whether one’s reputation for being a saintly character spreads out into the world – how far, and to what effect – is also beyond one’s control. From the general tenor of Christ’s teachings, I expect God has no interest in it, and probably regards it, if at all, as a source of temptation.

The true saints of God, I am quite certain, are people we’ve never heard of.

THE NARROW GATE

There is a tendency to think of the realm of God and the realm of the world in human terns, as if these were geographic designations. But there is no gate between the two, pearly or otherwise. Jesus wasn’t talking about physical barriers, but about changes of perspective.

Entering into the spirit of the game can mean different things depending on the game, because the spirits of the games are different. Entering into the spirit of a game of chess will look very little like entering into the spirit of a game of hide-‘n-seek, or a game of baseball, or a game of chance. One thing, though, they all have in common: an acceptance of the rules and acquiescence to the manners and mores of the game.

Of these, the rules are the most obvious. The pieces on a chessboard can only be moved in ways defined by the rules of chess, and to enter into the spirit of a game of chess must require, at a minimum, to abide by those rules.

The manners and mores of the game are much more nebulous, but in a way more important, and probably what we usually have in mind when we speak of the spirit of a game. The spirit of chess, to stay with our illustration, has elements of respect for the deliberation of one’s opponent. Although its practice is nowhere prohibited within the formal rules of chess, it goes without saying that whistling loudly while awaiting your next turn would not be at all in the spirit of the game. Just so, wandering without curiosity, aloof and morose, would not be entering into the spirit of hide-‘n-seek. And so on.

And what is true of games is true of most of the elements of life. To enter into the spirit of a festive holiday meal is quite different from entering into the spirit of holy communion; the spirit of neighborliness has nothing in common with the spirit of battle; the spirit of worship differs dramatically from the spirit of tyranny, and itself may look very different in different religions.

What Jesus revealed to us is what we might call the spirit of heaven, its rules, of course (which are only two ), but more importantly, its manners and mores. The many images he uses of gates and doors and precincts, the symbolic miracles, the explicit beatitudes, are all about entering into that spirit, as he himself is its embodiment.

FOR GREAT IS YOUR REWARD

You can think of the reward of friendship in two ways. You can think of it as the benefits that accrue to you from the outside, or those that accrue to you from the inside.

The benefits of friendship from the outside are manifold. Friends provide the pleasures of companionship, which themselves come in many varieties. Whatever enjoyment we get from dining alone is a different and more constricted enjoyment from that of eating the same food in amiable company. A walk in the woods gains depth from the resonant experience of shared peregrination. Conversation with another taps into wellsprings of wit and perspective and information that freshen and stimulate the dry grounds of our private reflection. The list goes on and on.

And the outside benefits can, of course, also be less ethereal and aesthetic. In times of our need, friends provide succor and support: a visit to relieve boredom, a financial assistance, a ride to the hospital. The list here is also endless.

But it’s of the benefits from the inside that we need to speak. The mere reality of being someone with a friend makes you different, deeper than you would otherwise be. This is true, regardless of the nature of the friend, but the nature of the friend does affect the nature of your new depth.

We find ourselves drawn to and affectionate towards goodhearted people. Why? Because the part of our own spirit that is grounded in charity, perhaps unknown to our conscious awareness, has found a source of nourishment for its own growth. We find ourselves respectful towards and attentive to some people, but not to others. Why? Because the part of our spirit that is grounded in humility senses balm for its own painful pride, and a source of nourishment for its own growth. We yield to the attention of some while remaining suspicious of the attention of others. Why? Because our purest heart warms to their transparent light.

Jesus often talked about the greatness of the reward from knowing God. He was talking about the reward from the inside.

IT IS FINISHED

Most of the great and often tragic misconceptions that have plagued Christianity through its long history have their roots in the attempt to force the Way of Christ back into the mold of the religion local to the time and place in which Jesus ministered, and from which all of his followers emerged with many of their native commitments still intact: thus the doctrines of hell, of the wrath of God requiring a sacrificial atonement, of the Manichean battle between darkness and light, and many others. Perhaps none of these misconceptions has led Christian hope and faith farther astray than that of Christ’s second coming, which was introduced into the Way almost from its inception as a means of salvaging the Hebrews’ Day of the Lord. Utterances of our Lord were wrenched out of context, parables were amended, and fantasies concocted (Revelation) to recast that established idea of a transitional period of upheaval and retribution, only now with Christ himself as both the warrior of destruction and also the dispenser of justice.

But on the cross, Jesus himself said of his earthly mission that it was concluded, and successfully so.

We are not waiting for Christ. He is waiting for us.