Thursday, October 30, 2014

No Vacancy!

Well, yesterday wasn't a total loss. The subject of the seminar was the role of chronic inflammation in every imaginable illness, from heart disease to cancer to diabetes to depression and Alzheimer's. All the biggies -- including aging -- are more or less inflammatory autoimmune responses gone wild. The solution?

Don't get stressed (which triggers the inflammatory response), get lots of stage 4 sleep (which is when your brain manufactures the happy chemicals), and consume a lot of ginger, fish oil and other healthy fats, turmeric, green tea, cocoa, alpha lipoic acid, probiotics, and other medicines of immortality. Also walk 10,000 steps a day and do yoga -- or at least avoid sitting for lengthy periods. And definitely cut back on the carbs.

Back to our subject, which is the life of Jesus, starting with the Infancy Narratives. This is not the sort of subject I could ever tackle on my own, so I will be relying upon vertical inspiration to occasionally hijack the bus as we drive along. If that fails to occur, you'll be the second to know, because it will be just you and I without a third: static and not dynamic.

In these matters, two is company while three's a cloud: "The sacred cloud -- the shekinah -- is the visible sign of God's presence" (Benedict). This is the very same cloud that "overshadows" Mary, a subject to which we will return.

But to the extent that we exclude this mysterious Third, you might say there is No Vacancy, which is precisely the first problem faced by the baby Jesus: the world has no space for him. Luke informs us that there was "no room for them in the inn," for which reason Mary is reduced to giving birth in a manger, of all things, which is "a trough or open box in a stable designed to hold feed or fodder for livestock." It seems that his very first experience in this world involved pearls before swine and other beasts.

Benedict relates this to John's description of how "his own people received him not." You could say that the manger incident is just a preview of more unfortunate things to come, and more generally, that the light shines in a kind of invincibly ignorant darkness. Ultimately, the author of the world is strangely unrecognized by his own world: the creation rejects its own creator for something or someone better. But isn't this just Eden all over again?

"Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head." Here again this is very odd, and has no resemblance to those Myths of Old to which middlebrow skeptics try to relate it.

For example, Egyptian pharaohs and Roman emperors were said to be offspring of divinities, but as Benedict points out, this was for transparently political reasons. i.e., "giving theological legitimacy to the cult of the ruler." This is born of the same atavistic impulse that once elevated Obama to a "lightbringer" or "evolutionary agent of change." Such pious legends cannot survive contact with reality.

Forgive me if I jump around, spirit blowing where it will and all that. But I keep coming back to the radical idea of the author of creation becoming a character in his own play. In so doing, he is definitely not -- in my opinion -- reading from a script that has already been written. Rather -- and this is the whole point -- he is submitting to his own creation.

Predestineers will of course disagree with me, and that is fine. But I was quite arrested by a passing comment on page 36, to the effect that "God seeks to enter the world anew. He knocks at Mary's door. He needs human freedom" (emphasis mine). Yes, God needs human freedom in order to pull this off. What a strange and radical -- and liberating -- idea! For it is as if the two freedoms must meet in freedom in order to co-create something radically unprecedented.

"The only way he can redeem man, who was created free, is by means of a free 'yes' to his will." And here is the sentence that really caught my eye; although some will disagree, it follows logically: "In creating freedom, he made himself in a certain sense dependent upon man. His power is tied to the unenforceable 'yes' of a human being."

Will Mary give her consent? Is there or is there not a vacant womb? Either this is a kind of "risk" on God's part (it certainly is from our perspective), or Mary's decision and later role lose all merit. God is taking a big gamble (I guess he plays dice after all) -- like a guy who asks his girlfriend to marry him in front of 50,000 people at Yankee Stadium. Sure, they always say yes, but still, you never know until you ask.

But Mary responds, Let it be to me according to your word, which represents "the moment of free, humble yet magnanimous obedience in which the loftiest choice of human freedom is made." It assures that the narrative to come is truly woven of human and divine freedom. "It makes," writes Balthasar, "the foreign land into a home in both directions: heaven on earth and, therefore, earth in heaven." In its absence, one could say that the world remains a foreign land with no proper space for us: life consists of alienation inside a cramped prison.

This reflects "the secret of the supernatural fruitfulness of the soul: that it is aroused entirely by the seed of God, and yet cannot do without the assent of the natural powers of the mind." This "willing cooperation" is "the sine qua non of its growth" (Balthasar) -- meaning that it is a necessary but not sufficient condition, the latter belonging to the God in whom all things are said to be possible.

Sounding very much like Eckhart, Balthasar goes on to say that "Whoever takes God's word into his soul becomes its mother and can, through grace, help bring it forth. But he can do this only because he is at the same time drawn into the eternal birth of the Son in the Father, in which, through grace, he becomes the brother or sister of the Word."

Thus, we are all coauthoring our own infancy narrative. Assuming we have a vacancy.

This mystery of the Incarnation has two aspects: the Word, on the one hand, and its human receptacle, on the other: Christ and Virgin Mother. To be able to realize in itself this mystery, the soul must be like the Virgin... --Schuon

28 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

the shekinah

Interesting. Having gone literally years without encountering that term, this is the second time I've come across it in two days. Yesterday, I'm pretty sure someone used it in the context of a prayer, with no explanation or explication. I wasn't even sure if I heard her correctly, but there was no way to find out, and now I'm even fuzzy on precisely when and why it came up (yesterday was a very long day).

Anyhoo, it's ringing the gong...

10/30/2014 09:17:00 AM  
Blogger Paul Griffin said...

If you hear a *pop*, it's just my head, unable to handle the inrush of thoughts...

I don't really have time to develop any of them but the biggest/first one that hit me is how His birthplace is a foreshadowing of communion, and I don't think I have ever connected that. "Manger" is just one of those saturated words that your brain doesn't pay attention to after a while.

10/30/2014 09:22:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"His birthplace is a foreshadowing of communion.."

Excellent, Paul.

10/30/2014 10:47:00 AM  
Blogger John Lien said...

He needs human freedom" (emphasis mine). Yes, God needs human freedom in order to pull this off.

Yeah, yeah,

"Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done"

That's your daily invitation to God to git 'er done.

10/30/2014 10:48:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10/30/2014 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger Olden Ears said...

"Assuming we have a vacancy." Like julie, I hear the gong. I'm currently reading about Self as receptacle or container. Placing that thought next to the manger and lack of vacancy in the Infancy Narratives is illuminating.

10/30/2014 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"But Mary responds, Let it be to me according to your word, which represents "the moment of free, humble yet magnanimous obedience in which the loftiest choice of human freedom is made."

Which is reflected later by the Son of God responding: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

10/30/2014 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Just to clarify, those "Yeah, yeah"s were emphatic and not sarcastic.

I felt the need to express my joy as a recipient of trickle down thinkanomics.

10/30/2014 11:02:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

" Any predestinista will of course disagree with me, and that is fine. But I was quite arrested by a passing comment on page 36, to the effect that "God seeks to enter the world anew. He knocks at Mary's door. He needs human freedom" (emphasis mine). Yes, God needs human freedom in order to pull this off. What a strange and radical -- and liberating -- idea! For it is as if the two freedoms must meet in freedom in order to co-create something radically unprecedented"

The two freedoms Must meet in freedom, well put, 'zactly so.

10/30/2014 11:07:00 AM  
Blogger Paul Griffin said...

For it is as if the two freedoms must meet in freedom in order to co-create something radically unprecedented

Not unlike marriage in that regard, or at least what marriage is meant to be. We bind ourselves to one another with one of the strongest covenants we know, and we do so continually. Of course, the world sees only the binding, only the loss of horizontal freedom (especially once a child appears), never the spiraling, upward freedom that can only be achieved when we are willing to lay ourselves down for someone else for the rest of our life.

I never cared much for the song "Desperado" until I heard Johnny Cash's cover of it (I could say that about a lot of songs, actually), and hearing him sing this line always gets me a bit:

Freedom, yeah freedom, well that's just people talkin'
Your prison is walkin'
through this world all alone.

10/30/2014 11:23:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

The Shekinah shows up at Solomon's temple dedication when it is so "heavy" the priests can't minister. Pentecostals used to talk about it a lot.


God needs human freedom in order to pull this off.

As strange as it seems, in my early morning reading today, the verse that grabbed me was Philemon (What?) verse 14:
[B]ut I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own free will.

10/30/2014 02:06:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

"In these matters, two is company while three's a cloud: "The sacred cloud -- the shekinah -- is the visible sign of God's presence" (Benedict). This is the very same cloud that "overshadows" Mary, a subject to which we will return."

Three's A Cloud is the best comedy out there.

10/30/2014 06:15:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

And in there.

10/30/2014 06:15:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

And up there up to here.

10/30/2014 06:16:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

So, freelly cooperating with God through a relationship actually increases freedom which is born of freedom.

10/30/2014 07:08:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

It is interesting and reveling indeed that God submitted to Mary/Man before Mary submitted to God.

10/30/2014 07:10:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

In a sense (or every sense) the sacrifice of Jesus was not only the ultimate Love but also the Seed of the ultimate Freedom.

10/30/2014 07:14:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

Not to go all mystic, but I experienced one time, during communion at a large-ish Episcopal Church (that Paul will remember as St. Peters,) a vision. I saw something as a shekinah or fog, lower itself upon the congregation. I looked at each communicant around the semi-circular railing and saw in each of them Christ. I got it. I saw the lively stones of the Church, I saw the living Cloud in which we were all living and moving and having our being.

I'm not given to such open-eyed visions, let the reader judge for themselves, but it was ...real.

10/30/2014 07:16:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Thanks, Joan - what a lovely vision.

Perhaps apropos, over at Father Stephen's there's an interesting post about prayer as incense. I quite like the idea; as a kid, one of the things I found strange about Protestant churches was that they didn't smell like church.

Anyway, right after I read Father Stephen's post, in my FB feed someone had an offering from the Episcopal church about prayer as incense, as well.

Just another coincidence, Im sure.

10/30/2014 07:36:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Speaking of which, Eric Metaxes has a new book on the nature Miracles. I heard him interviewed on the radio, and it sounds pretty interesting.

10/30/2014 07:41:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@julie: Theosophist C.W. Leadbeater wrote a huge metaphysical study of the Roman Catholic Mass called The Science of the Sacraments, based on his clairvoyant visions of the ritual. He later helped form the Liberal Catholic Church, which combined Theosophical mysticism with ultra-traditional Catholic liturgy and esoteric Christian spirituality.

10/30/2014 09:02:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Thanks. Some interesting ideas in there, though I think Mr. Leadbetter may have been teetering on the edge of hubris in a couple of places. I like his description of the architecture of the Eucharist, and his breakdown of the two Masses.

However, when he says that he doubts any man does evil for evil's sake, except under rare circumstances, I can only think he must not have been paying much attention. Though to be fair, he did not live to see many of the atrocities of the 20th century...

10/31/2014 07:11:00 AM  
Blogger Rogelio Bueno said...

Excellent insight on this Gagdad.
Forget where I read it but; "Submission to a greater power is absolutely not what the Bible teaches about our submission to God or to Christ. God does not rule by power but by authority. God is powerful but it is contrary to His nature to force His will on anyone.

We do not submit to God because we fear Him but because we recognize His authority and we come to a place of understanding that He deserves our submission and worship. We surrender, not because He has conquered our flesh but because He has conquered our heart."

10/31/2014 07:39:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

That sounds very much like what Unknown Friend says in Meditations on the Tarot: God's power comes from his authority, not vice versa. Like the opposite of the left.

10/31/2014 07:44:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

It's not just that the Truth will set you free, it's that only the Truth can set you free.

That is true power.

The moment you force yourself upon an other, it's you that has been enslaved and cut off from it.

10/31/2014 07:54:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

From Julie's link: "For the writer of Psalm 141, the offering of incense to the Lord is spiritual reality. It is an obedience to the command of God and a fulfillment of His divine will. It is “prayer” that is suspect – so much so that he must ask that his prayer be accepted in the same manner as incense."

Is this not another way of saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will"? Your effort properly is to try and conform your prayers to what is real and true, let your prayers be like incense through the air, not to bend what is real and true to your will.

And bending, substituting your will, for what is real and true, is the hallmark of modernity, re-crystallized with Descartes' Cogito. Father Stephen nails it with this:

"What our thoughts betray is a deep disconnect between the material world and the world of our thoughts. Ideas, with all of their abstract qualities, are seen as the stuff of reality, while material things are somehow superficial and devoid of content. What matters for us is not matter itself – but the ideas that we associate with it. Thus nothing has any inherent meaning – only imputed meaning. Things are only valuable and important because we think they are."

10/31/2014 08:16:00 AM  
Blogger annk said...

Thank you, Gagdad Bob, for mentioning the new book by Mr. Metaxes. I will start reading it as soon as I post this comment.

And thank you, Mr Godwin, for your book and blog, which have affected me profoundly. The only hard copies of books that I have kept for when it hits the fan and we are left to fend for ourselves are the King James Bible, your book, and the Jeeves and Wooster works by Mr. Wodehouse.

11/01/2014 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It's one thing to be mentioned in the same breath as the Bible, but Wodehouse is going too far.

11/01/2014 10:42:00 AM  

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