John Paul II.3: God is a Playwright
I don't want to deplane from the flight of John Paul just yet. I hate to read a book of this magnitude -- especially about a person of this depth -- and just move on to the next adventure.
Since he has already been beatified -- and there is every reason to believe he will eventually be recognized as a saint -- this is a life from which we can presumably learn something. To say that it was an "unusual" life is an understatement, especially in comparison to the contemporary ideal -- if there is one.
In the end, it comes down to a rather simple dichotomy: either he thought and acted in conformity to a Truth that transcends us, or he was essentially a lunatic who wasted his obvious talents in thrall to a host of primitive delusions and childish superstitions.
There's not much room to maneuver here. For the vertically challenged leftist, the latter is not a "cynical" belief. Rather, it follows directly from their first principles. What they never understand, of course, is that their first principles render anyone's life a pointless exercise in denial shrouded in hot air, but leftism will never be accused of intellectual depth or consistency.
One wonders: what is the attraction of a John Paul, an attraction that is so spontaneous and widespread? How could a life devoted to unreality resonate on such a deep and familiar level? Just last night I watched a wonderful documentary on Dave Brubeck (produced by Clint Eastwood), in which Brubeck discusses what happened to him after writing a piece of sacred music.
Brubeck suddenly and inexplicably -- one might say dramatically -- found himself being drawn into Catholicism for reasons he did not consciously understand. To the surprise of his family, he underwent formal conversion (although, as he says, he didn't actually convert "from" anything). He is now ninety years old, and conspicuously filled with a kind of "light" that radiates from his being. You'd have to watch it and draw your own conclusions.
Anyway, being that he was a product of modern Europe, the young Wojtyla found himself knee-deep in the same cultural soup as everyone else, between the rockheads of the secular left and the softhearts of a retro-romanticism that rushed in to fill the spiritual void. Both represented "revolutions," the one implying "a complete break with the past" -- including Christianity -- the other a revolutionary recovery of some sort of pre-cultural, edenic state of fusion with nature.
One can indeed see this same duality at work in the contemporary left: We Are the Future We Have Been Waiting For, which is to say, the resurrection of a mythical proglodyte past that never was and can never be.
What can only be, of course, is Truth, regardless of whether we recognize it. Again, Truth is synonymous with "reality," and reality is not diminished by one's failure to appreciate it.
One might also say that truth is among the first fruits of Being, so that our own being can only be (relatively) real if it is aligned with Being as such. Otherwise it is no exaggeration to say that we are not human beings, but rather, uniquely "human non-beings," for we are the only animal that can fail to be what it is -- that can deviate from its own being, truth and reality.
But the fact that we can so deviate obviously implies a reality from which to deviate, which undercuts the alert leftist at the knees and kicks him in the balderdash.
Now, if the secular leftist is correct, then history is obviously just a weird interlude in the eternal march of physics, but of no cosmic significance or meaning. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury but signifying tenure.
But for John Paul -- and for us -- history is of the deepest significance. This is for a number of reasons, but in John Paul's case it was because the Ultimate Real took the time and trouble to incarnate right here in the middle of it; indeed, it is what created history's "center," so to speak -- a point of metacosmic orientation. Thanks to the Incarnation, we all know "where we are" in time, which is to say, 2,011 revolutions around our central star, give or take.
Speaking of which, it occurred to me yesterday that we all carry within us -- either explicitly or usually implicitly -- a solar system around which we revolve. One cannot be human in the absence of a solar system that provides a central axis and direction.
Each of us -- believer and "nonbeliever" alike -- has a central sun which provides both the intellectual light and emotional heat that guides our way. However, the "un"believer has what we might paradoxically call a "dark star" at their center, with predictable results (either that, or they are their own dark center of cosmic narcissism).
In other words, they are either sucked in beyond the horizon of darkness, or they float away, adrift in a centerless void. Such a person becomes a Periphery in search of a Center they will never find (or a false center in search of peripheral people to mirror and prop him up) unless they consciously turn toward it and establish a relation. This turn can only take place in freedom, the latter of which is another word for "nothing" if it isn't oriented to truth.
John Paul's central sun is, of course, the incarnated Godman, or the ultimate universal manifested in the concrete particular. That this "happened" (or happens, to be precise) proves, among other things, that we inhabit the type of cosmos in which such a marvelous thing can happen. For if it couldn't happen, then neither could we.
In other worlds, we would be entirely closed off to the divine realm from which flow being, love, truth, beauty, and integral oneness -- all the Good Stuff this cosmos has to offer.
Among the young Wojtyla's influences was a poet who remarked that "A man is born on this planet to give testimony to truth" (all quotes are from Witness to Hope unless otherwise noted). Indeed, to even say born "to" implies a purpose to one's life, a direction toward which it is shot.
Again, either our life has a meaning and purpose or it doesn't. You cannot deny them up front only to sneak them in later. Have the courage of your absence of convictions, chickens! But there can be no courage in such poultrygeists either, for courage is nothing if not rooted in wisdom and justice.
From early on, Wojtyla was a man of words -- a man who appreciated the unique power of the Word to enter and change us from within. "He was seized by the power of words, not just to communicate an idea [i.e., light], but to elicit an emotion [i.e., warmth], which was both entirely subjective and entirely objective, or true."
This is a meta-idea worth pondering, for it recognizes that no absolutely "objective" account of reality -- if indeed such a thing were possible -- can be complete. For one thing, it leaves out the Subject who realizes it, and what is he, a potted plant? (Also any such attempt at completion is felled by Gödel's mighty axe.)
But nor can an entirely subjective, or idealist, account be complete. Rather, the only complete metaphysic must account for both subjective and objective reality; or, one might say, an intelligence and intelligibility that are thoroughly entangled. They are distinct but not separable. Indeed to sunder them is a kind of original cognitive sin that necessarily exiles one from the paradise of Truth and Intellect (i.e., knower and known at a higher level).
This sort of reminds us of the last page of our book before the whole durn thing dissolves into perfect nonsense and holy babble:
"In the end, we are no longer a scattered, fragmentary multiplicity in futile pursuit of an ever-receding unity, but a Unity that comprehends and transcends the multiplicity of the cosmos. The universe, human history, and consciousness itself all achieve their fulfillment when any being passes into this Unity."
The question is, did John Paul pass into -- or even by -- this Unity? For again, if he did, then his is a life worth emulating -- not in every detail, of course, since we all have different gifts and are who we are -- but in the broad outlines.
Even as a lad, Wojtyla recognized the cosmic significance of language, and was struck by the "intimacy" afforded by words, "between the one who spoke and the one who listened."
In a way, this goes to man's ontological status as "priest" or pontifex of the cosmos, the living link between time and eternity, Creator and creation, the medicine of Truth above and its side effects herebelow. One of his literary mentors taught that properly communicated -- and received -- words could "open up, through the materials of this world, the realm of transcendent truth" and universal moral values.
And if the world of the stage "could unveil the deeper dimensions of the truth of things, might there be a dramatic structure to every human life? To the whole of reality?"
In the past we have written of how we are drawn to music because it discloses vital information about the nature of reality. If John Paul is correct, the same could be said of man's universal appreciation of, and need for, drama.
Here is how Cardinal Ratzinger describes the plot line and theme of this cosmic Broadway -- actually, narroway -- production:
"Man can be and should be a synthesis, comprising every floor in the whole building of creation," ending -- and beginning -- in the living God, for "it is in this that the whole thrill of the human adventure resides." You know, dramatic tension.
On the one hand, the drama "has a fixed shape -- it is always the same -- and yet it is inexhaustible and is ever new. It always leads us farther on. We are not just chained to a past in which there is nothing more to be discovered; rather, it is a whole country of discoveries, in which each of us can also find himself anew" (ibid.).
In any event, God obviously studied math, but his major is in drama.
Modern history is the dialogue between two men: one who believes in God, another who believes he is a god. --Don Colacho