God's Little Jazz Trio
I got the opposite impression in scanning this article about Bill Clinton, linked at Lucianne. Despite all of the glamourous globetrotting and jetsetting, he still strikes me as pathetic. Slick, shallow, defensive, haunted, hopelessly earthbound, lost. Not only that, but he actually admits to coonibalism. He boasts of attending "an annual 'coon supper' as governor," and suggests that "until you have eaten barbecued ’coon, you have not lived." Oh really? It just goes to show how low some men will sink in order to try to kindle a spurious sense of being alive.
It's difficult to imagine how any secular philosophy could result in this mysterious daily renewal of the cosmos. Rather, I would think that such a philosophy would inevitably lead in the opposite direction: more jadedness, more boredom, and less mystery, along with a lifestyle aimed at trying to reanimate life through the senses or vital emotions. But that is such a dead end. In engaging in it, you have to constantly "give yourself away" and get nothing permanent in return. In other words, there is no growth, only distraction and dispersion.
In thinking about the source of this daily renewed mystery, I believe it results from the careful balancing of vertical and horizontal in Christianity, so that the transitory resonates with the eternal.
I find that I'm coming up against the horizon of the unglishable this morning, but I'll do my best to pull this together...
Much of the mystery has to do with the implications of an intrinsically trinitarian godhead, in which its being is a perpetual becoming, and its becoming a perpetual being. It is always "in motion," and yet, we cannot imagine that it is "changing" or "developing" per se. And yet, I visualize a kind of perpetual novelty taking place within the godhead, or an eternal "surprise" or "delight." It's not as if the Father becomes "bored" giving himself to the Son, or the Son becomes jaded or "entitled" in receiving him. In this regard, it must be the essence of love itself, which is always new. But how can something be "new" if it is eternal?
Ah, there's your mystery! Yesterday there was some discussion of the differences between surrender and submission. I didn't actually follow it closely, but Petey made the provocative comment that "It's like jazz, baby: you can't play it without surrendering to the music."
Now, some wise person or guy once made the observation that jazz itself is the sound of surprise. Not only is it a surprise to the audience, but more importantly, it is a surprise to the person playing it. Thus it is fresh and "ever new." It cannot be predicted ahead of time, and it never comes out the same way twice. Therefore, it is also the sound of freedom. Only in America -- the land of liberty -- could jazz have developed. It is our greatest contribution to world art.
Yes, there are other forms of music that "improvise," but not with the complex vertical structure of jazz. Rather, that is more like horizontal improvisation, unconstrained by the vertical chordal structure of western music. Thus, as in Christianity, there is this balance in jazz between vertical and horizontal, so that it results in what we might call "ordered liberty." Order is a necessary condition for liberty, but is not sufficient in itself to create it.
Let's get back to the Trinity. We can approach this from many different angles, but I don't have time to do so in any systematic manner. Therefore, I'm just going to... improvise, baby.
HvB writes of how the work of creation "flows from the generation of the Logos in God," in which the persons are perpetually "transcending themselves" in a cycle of effulgence, receiving, and giving back. Each person only exists by virtue of giving itself away to the others, while still remaining itself. Furthermore, each "can only be itself insofar as it 'lets' the others 'be' in equal concreteness" and "insofar as it endlessly affirms and gives thanks for its own existence and all that shares existence."
In non-trinitarian theology there is a necessary loss of particularity (that means you), as it dissolves into being-as-such or "beyond being." There can be a "second," but only as a vertical emanation or declension from the one. This "second" can never be an equal of the first.
But within the Trinity, there are three "co-equal branches," so to speak. I am reminded of some eastern sage who said something to the effect that "where there is other (or a second), there is fear." However, the Christian says that where there is other, there is love. There is no possibility of real love in a monistic godhead. But within the Trinity, there is always Lover, Beloved, and the Love that flows between them. For the Trinity, it is always Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Valentine's Day. Or maybe it's like one of those expanding cartoon houses...
You could say that love is the "unity" within the Trinity, or that which unites the persons. In the absence of love, there is no unity, but rather, its denial. There is only a blob of oneness that excludes everything else.
For me, the best jazz combines a sense of "forward movement" within a kind of timeless center. Thus, it is simultaneously dynamic and static. I immediately thought of this when I came across this outstanding quote from Gregory of Nyssa. It is as if God says, "there is so much space in me that no one hurtling through this space will ever come to a stop. From a different angle, however, this headlong flight is rest."
Here we are getting to the heart of what I mentioned above about the "daily renewal" within the Christian adventure. Gregory continues: "Here, surely, is the zenith of paradox: rest and motion are identical... and the more a man becomes established in the good and becomes immovable, the more speedy his flight will be: rest itself becomes his pinion."
Similarly, Maximus the Confessor talks about the impossibility of arriving at God, because the motion toward him is the arrival. There is a "motionless eternal movement surrounding God," so that it is "rest that is eternally in motion and constant motion that is at rest."
Now, how does this apply to life down here, daddy-O? Well, we could say that the sage "is engaged in a contemplation that is constantly striving to see more... but no ambition is involved: it is forward movement that is not composed of steps." Thus, "no one has ever found God in such a manner that one would not need to keep on looking for him." "Man will always be seeking God, even when he has found him -- and particularly then." Ho!
Revelation reveals more mystery, and mystery discloses more revelation, in an endless cycle: again, God's word is the sound of surprise, and surprise is the essence of love: "if human love is enlivened by the element of surprise, something analogous to it cannot be excluded from divine love. It is as if the Son born of the Father 'surpasses the Father's wildest expectations.'"
Come to think of it, that is exactly how I feel. I couldn't possibly have invented my son, and yet, somehow he came from me. And now I am "coming from him," i.e., becoming someone I wouldn't have otherwise been without him, which is to say, myself.
God himself wishes to be surprised by God, by a fulfillment that overflows expectation.... Although God knows everything, he again and again allows himself to be surprised. --Adrienne von Speyr