Reading, Writing, and Realizing
But it's not so simple, because one could say the same of oxygen, or sunlight, or bacon. That is, we need oxygen to live, even while oxygen is toxic and eventually kills us due to oxidation. Metabolism is a kind of "controlled fire" that inevitably burns us up in the process. Thus, living is a kind of "slow motion dying." But it beats the alternative, which is not living at all.
So it seems that we must seek a proper balance between letter and spirit. Many people reject religion because of an early experience of too much letter, not enough spirit. But then they might get involved in some new age nonsense, which is all spirit and no letter. However, spirit itself, like any other energy, is neutral; if it isn't guided by a nonlocal structure of unchanging truth, it can just as easily lead down as up. You can find yourself on a slippery slope that leads all the way down to a slippery dope such as Deepak Chopra, who embodies the paradox of pure "slime without substance."
Put this way, organized religion itself is a "necessary evil," as it were. While necessary, we must not confuse it with that to which it points, or else we are simply engaging in idolatry by another name.
This reflects a more general principle in the cosmos. As HvB explains, our images of reality "must not be confused with the reality itself." They "must not be treated any differently from the letters in a book: you see them, you read them, and yet you are conscious, not of the written image, but of the sense that comes to expression in it." For any of you who have read the Polanyi books in the sidebar, you will appreciate the obvious parallels with his work, i.e., the "tacit knowledge" that evolves in the space between the exterior and interior worlds.
It's such a subtle balance that I find it difficult to describe. Like many complex skills, it's easier to demonstrate than elucidate. It reminds me of a story about Yogi Berra, who was trying to explain something to a young hitter, and finally in frustration grabbed the bat and said "ah hell, let me just show you."
Here is what makes it so subtle: "the signs in which being reveals itself must be simultaneously read and overlooked" (HvB; emphasis mine). Thus, we're talking about a subtle movement that leads us -- I would say pulls us -- through the word and toward the thing it embodies, a thing that we can never actually reach without killing it (and being killed).
I'm trying to keep this as "phenomenologically true" as possible, in other words, "experience near." This shouldn't be at all abstract, but quite concrete, even if this is a kind of concrete that can never dry. Rather, it's always being poured. But you could no more fill the transitional space with it than you could fill a hole at the beach with water.
That's a good analogy, because the space is obviously finite, and yet, infinite -- as space must be. But you wouldn't even know about space unless it had boundaries. In fact, the discovery of the boundary is the simultaneous discovery of space. Without the boundary, there is only nameless dread.
So images always "point beyond themselves to the mystery they harbor" (HvB). On the one hand, being moves in the direction of "inside out," while our understanding moves in the direction of "outside in," or re-collection. Again, movement. It can never be static, even though the static images are required for the movement -- just as we could not jump without a counterforce, i.e., gravity, holding us down to the earth.
Come to think of it, this is a fine way to think about the importance of being embodied. Among other inconveniences, without material bodies, we could not vertically "leap" into spirit. This is why it is said that angels cannot evolve, for they are like unchanging essences. It is also why we must spiritually keep busy now, for the night is coming when no man can work.
So, images "invite the spirit to a searching movement" (HvB). This is quintessentially true of religion, which, if it's not facilitating this movement, is just "wrong," no matter how right. < insert relevant scriptural passage from Nomo here >
Yesterday I came across a pithy passage in the Theo-Drama to the effect that -- now think about this -- from the perspective of man, Jesus serves as the "icon of God." But from the perspective of God, i.e., the Father, Jesus serves as the icon of Man.
Now, think about icons, i.e., sacred images: "they allow no simple rest in their significant content but stir up an unrest and levy a demand. It is not enough merely to acknowledge the mystery of which they are the external sign and to leave it undisturbed."
Rather -- and here is the key point -- "The truth is in motion, it presses upon the mind and calls the conscience to decision," which is an ontological scission, or cutting in two. Today we see the world being cut in two as never before. "I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword," etc., etc. < insert Will comment here >
This, I believe, is the kind of surgical decision -- for it can only be elective surgery -- Magnus was talking about yesterpost, when he commented that,
"The thing is, once in my much younger years, I was sitting in a Christian meeting half listening to some doctrine. Then God said to me: 'Choose now. You can get the truth, even if you cannot handle it. Or you can forget that which is too much for you, so you can have a good conscience." (This was many years before the Matrix, btw.) Of course I replied "Give me the truth!' because that's the kind of guy I am. The overconfident kind. 'I thought you would say that,' replied God. And since then I have been this worm, a stranger in Paradise, completely inadequate to what I see all around me, a small dirty porcupine scuttling around in your beautiful cathedral. But just you try to get me out of there."
The beautiful cathedral is built with words and images in the space between us and God. But cathedrals are built for movement, which is the purpose of their great weight and stature. They "cannot move," so that you can.
I'm a hick. I never been to Urip. But I have seen the pictures, and when you sit in one of those magnificent "houses of God," you can feel how they lift you up and out. < insert purdy pitcher here > The movement is neither one of "compression," nor of "dispersal," but of radiation. In this context, images
are a sign pointing to the sphere of spirit. They point by means of their evident changefulness and transience, for in this... they are like the single words of a sentence or the notes of a piece of music, which must successively fade away in order that the coherent totality of an intellectual harmony can emerge. --Balthasar
Can't climb into space without a structure; or as Petey says, "no gravity, no levity":