“Before the beautiful—no, not really before but within the beautiful—the whole person quivers. He not only ‘finds’ the beautiful moving; rather, he experiences himself as being moved and possessed by it.”—Hans Urs Von Balthasar
“So this is why, and how, I became a philosopher: my great, aggrandizing empires of self have succumbed to a continuous shattering, only to be resurrected within a much more wonderfully infinite epektasis (the eternal ascent of the soul, as St. Gregory of Nyssa put it) of desire towards the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. And perhaps it is only when we, as society and individuals, are willing again to resurrect the question of being—to wrest it from its recent incarceration—and come to ourselves in a dark wood, that we may begin again to open ourselves to being’s revelations; that is, open to a guide, which is also to say, open to the past, present, and future rather than dwelling merely within the fleeting scintillations of, say, shopping, or watching TV. Can we reopen the doors and windows of what St. Augustine called the vita vitae, the Life of life? Here, and perhaps only here, we may discover that to be a philosopher—a lover of wisdom—is ultimately synonymous with, however dark one’s nights may be, the desire to be surprised by Joy. A desire that leads to the discovery that being’s light is manifested both within, and as, Joy. Hence the novelist Marilynne Robinson ends her essay, Facing Reality, with one of the more brilliant and succinct summations of Dante’s thought ever written: “And Dante, who knew the world about suffering, had a place in hell for people who were grave when they might have rejoiced.”—Trevor Logan, “Becoming a Philosopher,” http://www.curatormagazine.com/trevor-logan/becoming-a-philosopher/
Christian theology, particularly in the East, has long championed the use of an “apophatic” approach to theology. The word “apophatic” literally means, “what cannot be spoken.” It is a recognition that “what cannot be spoken” is not the same thing as “what cannot be known.” Apophaticism is a mystical approach to theology (and even to the world), in which participation becomes the primary means of cognition. We come to know something or someone because we have a share in its existence. Rationality is not dismissed, but is made to serve the primary life of participation.
“Grace is something that can be talked about on any number of scales. There is the amazing verse in the Gospel of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” People have a way of treating that as if it were a formula for an exclusivist Christianity. For me the emphasis falls on the first part “For God so loved the world,” and I think one of the hardest exercises that we have is to believe that and see how it could be true. If you can, then you are sensitized to all the free-floating beauty there is, and all the graciousness and poignancy of human beings. I think that when you share with someone else a good thing, like tender bread or tart jam, in a way that’s an almost sacramental participation in the grace of God because these things exist and we can be articulate in their terms. And if you think of everybody that way, you can understand that people who might be disappointing if judged by normal standards, may also be very articulate in material, verbal, or other ways, in certain circumstances or toward certain people, and that this could be the real life—the gracious life that we tend not to see in each other.”—Marilynne Robinson, http://littlevillagemag.com/marilynne-robinson-interview-reading-1024-at-englert-theatre/
“Education for Rocha has little—perhaps very close to nothing, actually—to do with schools and classrooms. It is always going on, constantly and indiscriminately. Its ubiquity makes it hard to describe, which is where philosophy comes in. Rocha suggests that people typically know more about philosophy than education, which is an extremely counter-intuitive claim. If he is right, then his observation shows just how poorly most people are educated. Philosophy is not about studying philosophers or the history of philosophy, though those are the tasks of a philosophy major and are an important ingredient in a “good education.” Studying a philosopher, Rocha claims, won’t tell you much about how to be a philosopher, that is, how to think philosophically. Studying education will, because education and philosophy are not just similar activities. They are the same thing, seen differently. In fact, they are nothing more than the practice of seeing things clearly.”—Stephen H. Webb, “Sam Rocha’s Strange and Startling Philosophy of Education,” http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2013/11/sam-rochas-strange-and-startling-philosophy-of-education
“It is hard to begrudge Protestants who convert to Catholicism, or Orthodoxy for that matter, especially when justification, the Reformation’s “article by which the church stands or falls,” is undergoing a very public, Protestant overhaul. But the tragedy of a church divided can obfuscate what might otherwise be clear. Even when conceding the superiority of another tradition, we can be bound to our own through personal history or pastoral commitments, or a bottomless sense of genuine indebtedness. A faith formed chiefly by the New Testament will intuitively grasp the absurdity of having to choose not only Christ, but among the fragments of his broken ecclesial body as well. But the church has been sundered, and this is our lot.”—Matthew Milliner, “Conversion Matters,” http://firstthings.com/blogs/evangel/2010/05/conversion-matters/
“I have written that all Western churches should be under the jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome, in his role as patriarch of the West. I have written that the universal church needs a universal pastor and that Rome is the only place for this ministry. I stand by all that. But I have never believed and do not now believe that one’s soul is endangered merely by lacking full communion with Rome. Nor do I believe that a celebration of the Eucharist or of other of the mysteries lacks any reality or efficacy sheerly because the celebrant has not been ordained by a bishop recognized as such by Rome. Thus individuals – as distinct from churches – who are not in full communion with the bishop of Rome can and therefore must decide for themselves whether to seek it. That such individual choices are inescapable is among the punishments visited upon a divided church.”—Robert Jenson, quoted in Matthew Milliner’s “Conversion Matters,” http://firstthings.com/blogs/evangel/2010/05/conversion-matters/
About suffering they were never wrong, The old Masters: how well they understood Its human position: how it takes place While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along; How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting For the miraculous birth, there always must be Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating On a pond at the edge of the wood: They never forgot That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry, But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky, Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
If we’re thinking that modern Western “singleness” is the same as historic Christian celibacy, or—conversely—if we’re thinking that lay, parish celibacy, which many of us are hoping to live into, is simply equivalent to modern “singleness,” then we are, as the kids say, doing it wrong.
“The world may or may not need another cookbook, but it needs all the lovers—amateurs—it can get. It is a gorgeous old place, full of clownish graces and beautiful drolleries, and it has enough textures, tastes, and smells to keep us intrigued for more time than we have. Unfortunately, however, our response to its loveliness is not always delight: It is, far more often than it should be, boredom. And that is not only odd, it is tragic; for boredom is not neutral—it is the fertilizing principle of unloveliness.”—Robert Capon, The Supper of the Lamb
“Why do we marry, why take friends and lovers? Why give ourselves to music, painting, chemistry or cooking? Out of simple delight in the resident goodness of creation, of course; but out of more than that, too. Half earth’s gorgeousness lies hidden in the glimpsed city it longs to become.”—Robert Capon, The Supper of the Lamb
“The value of myth is that it takes all the things we know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by the veil of familiarity… . If you are tired of the real landscape, look at it in a mirror. By putting bread, gold, horse, apple, or the very roads into a myth, we do not retreat from reality: we rediscover it.”—C.S. Lewis, “Review of Lord of the Rings”
“The most splendid dinner, the most exquisite food, the most gratifying company, arouse more appetites than they satisfy. They do not slake man’s thirst for being; they whet it beyond all bounds. Dogs eat to give their bodies rest; man dines and sets his heart in motion. All tastes fade, of course, but not the taste for greatness they inspire; each love escapes us, but not the longing it provokes for a better convivium, a higher session. We embrace the world in all its glorious solidity, yet it struggles in our very arms, declares itself a pilgrim world, and, through the lattices and windows of its nature, discloses cities more desirable still.”—Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb
“Communion among the churches is achieved through the eucharist. The Church is not only built on Christ as Truth, but also on Christ as Life, and this Life comes to the faithful through the eucharist and through all the sacraments (including the reading of the gospel) of which the eucharist is the center and source of radiance.”—Olivier Clément, You Are Peter: An Orthodox Theologian’s Reflection on the Exercise of Papal Primacy, page 26
“The family farm is failing because it belongs to an order of values and a kind of life that are failing. We can only find it wonderful, when we put our minds to it, that many people now seem willing to mount an emergency effort to “save the family farm” who have not yet thought to save the family or the community, the neighborhood schools or the small local businesses, the domestic arts of the household and homestead, or cultural and moral tradition—all of which are also failing, and on all of which the survival of the family farm depends.”—Wendell Berry, “In Defense of the Family Farm,” Home Economics, page 167
“The smallest possible “survival unit,” indeed, appears to be the universe. At any rate, the ability of an organism to survive outside the universe has yet to be demonstrated. Inside it, everything happens in concert; not a breath is drawn but by the grace of an inconceivable series of vital connections joining an inconceivable multiplicity of created things in an inconceivable unity. But course it is preposterous for a mere individual human to espouse the universe—a possibility that is purely mental, and productive of nothing but talk. On the other hand, it may be that our marriages, kinships, friendships, neighborhoods, and all our forms and acts of homemaking are the rites by which we solemnize and enact our union with the universe. These ways are practical, proper, available to everybody, and they can provide for the safekeeping of the small acreages of the universe that have been entrusted to us. Moreover, they give the word “love” its only chance to mean, for only they can give it a history, a community, and a place. Only in such ways can love become flesh and do its worldly work.”—Wendell Berry, “Men and Women in Search of Common Ground,” Home Economics, pages 117-118
Millions of people, moreover, who have lost small stores, shops, and farms to corporations, money merchants, and usurers, will continue to be asked to defend capitalism against communism. Sooner or later, they are going to demand to know why. If one must spend one’s life as an employee, what difference does it make whether one’s employer is a government or a corporation?
People, as history shows, will fight willingly and well to defend what they perceive as their own. But how willingly and how well will they fight to defend what has already been taken from them?
”—Wendell Berry, “Property, Patriotism, and National Defense,” Home Economics, page 111
For me, living faithfully after Christendom is an exercise in improvising in the key of gospel. We face – daily; hourly – previously-unimagined challenges and situations; a set of rules is too solid, too clunky, to cope. Obeying rules, however well-intentioned and well-written, will make us irrelevant and offensive. Instead, we need to learn to indwell the gospel narrative the way a jazz soloist learns to indwell the music, and to be as responsive to the ever-changing context as a soloist is to the audience and to the previous solos of her fellow players. We need to immediately, instinctively, create new movements that beautifully express one example of what gospel might look like in this particular context.
Of course, it is hard – so hard…
And – we’re talking improv – of course there is no training manual…
But there is that moment in jazz when you hear it (Kind of Blue, anyone?) and know that here is something that is at once both powerfully authentic and immediately relevant, and so that stands as a marker of what it looks like, how amazing it can be, when someone just gets it right.
And when a Pope asks a beggar to hear his confession…
Or when Andrew and Brenda and Nathan print some T-shirts reading ‘I’m sorry’…
Or when Tony throws a birthday party for a prostitute at three o’clock in the morning…
Or when the women of the church I once led said ‘we’re going to give her the mother of all baby showers…’
Or – well, I have some more stories, but what would you add to this list?…
…when these things happen, I swear I hear angels singing as they did in the hills above Bethlehem, and Heaven partying the way only Heaven can – because someone has learnt how to improvise in the key of gospel.
“I’m interested in exploring the theological implications of vocation and what art and the artistic practice can reveal about the nature of our work east of Eden. When an artist goes into her studio on Monday morning, what faces her is freedom and responsibility, and I feel that what goes on in that studio, the constant presence of doubt and failure, the work that comes out of a deep sense of pain, is seminal for the church as it thinks about the nature of our work and its relationship to God’s work in the world.”—
from an interview with Dan Siedell, the new art-historian-in-residence at my alma mater
These stated preferences fly in the face of much of the wisdom that was afforded me in my youth: Focus on career and self-discovery first, I was told, and fortunes and family will naturally follow when you’re ready. I’ve since determined that the opportunity costs of this popular advice–namely, the forgone shared foundation, extended time horizons, and interpersonal skills developed through a (modified) old-fashioned courtship–outweigh the benefits to me of having a corner office in the next ten years. I’ve realized that these relationships and experiences may be harder for me to attain as a harried and tiring, albeit established and productive, thirty-something.
The paradox of declining female happiness is likely rooted in many sources. I am skeptical that any one person holds the secret to universal female happiness. I sure as hell don’t–I’m still figuring it out for myself! However, I do know that limiting the parameters of this discussion will necessarily limit the number of viable solutions that we can discover. Should we be weary that a social movement that purports to work on women’s behalf is so averse to any criticism or reflection that some of its methods and messages may be counterproductive? I certainly am.
Andrea Castillo, “Is Feminism Making Women Less Happy?”
“I want to suggest to you that our culture’s quest for power is based on a fundamental mistake. That fundamental mistake is laid bare in the opening chapter of the Letter to the Ephesians, where we read about power but we also read about something more significant than power. The problem with power is not just that power over death, which is the goal of all quests for power, is and will remain out of our reach – although that is true. The problem is that our quest for power, and for the eternal life we hope that power will bring, is one colossal detour from the quest that we were really made for and the gift that God truly offers us. This accumulation of power is one enormous insurance policy against there being no God. But the insurance policy fails because it’s powerless to deliver eternal life – which is the one thing we need it for. And what God offers us more than anything else isn’t power. What God offers us is glory.”—
No art ever came out of not risking your neck. And risk—experiment—is a considerable part of the joy of doing, which is the lone, simple reason all [writers] are willing to work as hard as they do.
The open mind and the receptive heart—which are at last and with fortune’s smile the informed mind and the experienced heart—are to be gained anywhere, any time, without necessarily moving an inch from any present address.
Find a market that sells a pomegranate in early summer, and you find a place that doesn’t understand how appetite has a season, how it takes the careful cultivation of months for its many-chambered heart to find fullness, a climate both steady and dry to swell blossoms to galaxies wrapped in taut peel. What true connoisseur hurries desire or endures the pith, the grain-grind of seed absent the anticipation of the small explosion from the aril that purples the tongue?
“Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon. The crescent is very beautiful and perhaps that is all one like I am should or could see; but what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing.”—Flannery O’Connor, from her journal. (via invisibleforeigner)
“She sways like a branch in the wind, her beautiful
eyes closed, and the tall thin bassist leans over
to glance at his watch because she has been dancing
forever, and now it is very late, even for musicians.”—Billy Collins, “Questions About Angels”
“When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all that time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble that we think we mean? How can they meet us face to face till we have faces?”—C.S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces (via invisibleforeigner)
“People are frightened of themselves. It’s like Freud saying that the best thing is to have no sensation at all, as if we’re supposed to live painlessly and unconsciously in the world. I have a much different view. The ancients are right: the dear old human experience is a singular, difficult, shadowed, brilliant experience that does not resolve into being comfortable in the world. The valley of the shadow is part of that, and you are depriving yourself if you do not experience what humankind has experienced, including doubt and sorrow. We experience pain and difficulty as failure instead of saying, I will pass through this, everyone I have ever admired has passed through this, music has come out of this, literature has come out of it. We should think of our humanity as a privilege.”—Paris Review - The Art of Fiction No. 198, Marilynne Robinson (via invisibleforeigner)