Monday, March 21, 2016

Listening Past the Grooveyard

For some reason, I've been reading a lot of Balthasar lately. However, he is so windy and turgid that it just ended up adding to my ongoing bewilderment.

True, there are always scattered passages that speak directly to me, but these are punctuated by lengthy stretches in which he seems to be talking to himself. Thinking out loud. I want to say, "Okay, now review those last ten pages and condense it down to a sentence or two."

I remember Voegelin having the same problem. I suppose it's a Germanic thing. Schuon, who is the model of concision, spoke both German and French, but wrote all of his books in the latter, because he didn't think it possible to express them in German. If I recall correctly, he regarded French as the perfect vehicle for philosophical and metaphysical precision, whereas German was too... something. Maybe Twain was right: "Surely there is not another language that is so slipshod and systemless, and so slippery and elusive to the grasp."

We're talking about five books, beginning with The Christian and Anxiety. Turns out it's not really about anxiety, but angst: according to the translator, "Although neither 'anxiety' nor 'anguish,' 'insecurity' nor 'fear' by itself fully captures the range of connotations of the German word, 'anxiety' and 'anguish' have generally been employed for direct translation of angst."

So, we need a term that combines anxiety, anguish, insecurity, fear, and angst. How about impending doom? Nameless dread? Lost in the cosmic bewilderness?

I shall now flip through the book and recall any highlighted passages that spoke to the Bob.

"Anxiety finds its ultimate meaning in the fact that the Word of God has taken it upon himself" (Yves Tourenne, from the foreword). So, Jesus doesn't just take on physical affliction but psychological affliction as well. The Word doesn't only become flesh; or flesh implies both soma and psyche. You could say that the Divine Slack became angst so that human angst might become slackful.

In any event, "God could not become man in any other way than by coming to know human fear and taking it upon himself" (HvB). But "human fear has been completely and definitively conquered by the Cross. Anxiety is one of the authorities, powers, and dominions over which the Lord triumphed on the Cross, and which he carried off captive and placed in chains" (ibid.).

So we got that going for us.

Next I read a book called Christian Meditation. The following makes perfect nonsense: "directions for meditating always begin by requiring us to create inner stillness and emptiness as a means of making room for what is to be received." In the form of pneumaticons, it means that we practice (o) and (---) in order to facilitate the descent of (↓).

When we "meditate on God," it is much more a case of God meditating on -- or in -- us: "We seem to be far from God, but he is near us. We need not work our way up to him.... God's plenitude is available without passing through antechambers. The way 'up to heaven' does not entail a long journey or descent 'down into the depths.'"

In short, God has already done the heavy lifting. Or rather, our ascending is just the back end of his descending, in one continuous spiraling movement.

A word from the Word is "like the point of a triangle on the ground that opens out upward into the infinite. His word is only the opportunity offered for ascending into this opening."

It reminds me of a diamond stylus in a record groove, which can generate as much as 35,000 pounds per square inch of pressure. In so doing, it -- so to speak -- throws out passages of timeless musical beauty. In the same way, via "borings vertically into the depths," the "vistas of God's word unfold to the meditating Christian..."

Next I read a book called Prayer, which covers a lot of the same ground as the above. Prayer is simply "a conversation between God and the soul..." It is a dialogue, for "there is no such thing as solitary speech," but rather, always an implicit Thou.

Thus, it seems that our listening is much more important than our speaking: "The essential thing is for us to hear God's word and discover from it how to respond to him.... God's word is the rope ladder thrown down to us so that we can climb up into the rescuing vessel."

This I like: "Man is the creature with a mystery in his heart that is bigger than himself." As such, no matter how much we know about ourselves, the unKnown -- or that known only by God -- is always greater.

This is one of the things that turned me from psychology to theology, metaphysics, and mysticism, in that the area described by psychology is so modest (and yet the field is so immodest in its claims).

The reason why the unknown always dwarfs the known is that our personal subject is ultimately rooted in the divine Subject. As we've said before, "He is, therefore I am" (or better, I AM, therefore we are). There is no other explanation. God "is in the 'I,' but he is also above it; since, as the absolute 'I,' he transcends it, he is in the human 'I' as its deepest ground, 'more inward to me than I am to myself.'"

And "scripture is not some systematic wisdom; it is an account of God's meeting with men" -- again, like the stylus in the groove. In contemplating it "we learn how to listen properly, and this listening is the original wellspring of all Christian life and prayer."

11 Comments:

Blogger julie said...

However, he is so windy and turgid that it just ended up adding to my ongoing bewilderment.

I thought it was just me. Trying to get through Cosmic Liturgy, it seems I made a lot more sense of it the first time (judging by an assortment of highlights). Right now, though, it's a real slog. I had chalked it up to the fact that I now have two kids and an entirely different lifestyle and sleep patterns, but maybe it really is just that difficult. I didn't get much farther the first time around than I am now...

3/21/2016 09:28:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

So, Jesus doesn't just take on physical affliction but psychological affliction as well. The Word doesn't only become flesh; or flesh implies both soma and psyche. You could say that the Divine Slack became angst so that human angst might become slackful.

As illustrated beautifully in iconography, here (via Father Stephen's).

3/21/2016 09:49:00 AM  
Blogger Allena-C said...

This I like: "Man is the creature with a mystery in his heart that is bigger than himself." As such, no matter how much we know about ourselves, the unKnown -- or that known only by God -- is always greater."

This is worth repeating. :)

3/21/2016 10:10:00 AM  
Blogger ted said...

Spring is here, and glad to see so are you!

3/21/2016 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Allena-C said...

The title of today's post is an excellent choice, Bob.

3/21/2016 01:29:00 PM  
Blogger EbonyRaptor said...

Happy to read your thoughts again Bob.

I like this as well - "Man is the creature with a mystery in his heart that is bigger than himself." As such, no matter how much we know about ourselves, the unKnown -- or that known only by God -- is always greater.

I must ponder that ... get back to you in a few days :)

3/21/2016 08:42:00 PM  
Blogger John Lien said...

Hi Bob, glad to see your post. Been chipping away at Cosmic Liturgy. Two pages a day after putting it down for a couple of months. I'm at about Page 250 and I'm still waiting for the good parts. I think it is beyond my intellectual capacity. Anyhow, I'll finish it but it's like eating kale.

3/21/2016 10:02:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

John, too funny. That about sums it up for me, too.

3/22/2016 05:37:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, the highlights are just too few and far between. Seems that all of his books are like that.

As an antidote, I recommend the Josef Pieper Anthology.

3/22/2016 07:24:00 AM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

And "scripture is not some systematic wisdom; it is an account of God's meeting with men" -- again, like the stylus in the groove. In contemplating it "we learn how to listen properly, and this listening is the original wellspring of all Christian life and prayer."


On offer, over at my place . . . the external horn listening machine.
http://veareflejos.tumblr.com/post/141392804405

3/22/2016 08:17:00 AM  
Blogger Van Harvey said...

Gagdad said "As an antidote, I recommend the Josef Pieper Anthology."

A handy antidote, appetizer and meal, all rolled into One.

3/25/2016 08:10:00 AM  

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