Friday, April 01, 2016

Oh, Grow Up

Not sure if this post goes anywhere. I'm still courageously laboring under this man flu. Nevertheless, let's continue with Balthasar's little sketch of human psycho-spiritual development.

It seems to me that Freud's idea of the latency period -- between four or five and puberty -- still holds water, in that after the turbulence of baby- and toddlerhood, the psychic tensions are diminished for a while -- or at least should be. For me, that period of time was magical.

My son is in the middle of it -- he's 10 -- and it seems like heaven on earth: "Nature and spirit are together in harmony." You got your buddies, you got sports, you're independent enough that you can run off by yourself to the park... What's not to like?

Sure, he hates school, but we don't put any pressure on him about that. I figure I don't remember anything from the fifth grade, so why should he? (And yet he gets good grades -- not to mention somehow winning the Person of Faith award every year. That surpasses even Bertie Wooster winning the prize for Scripture Knowledge while at Malvern House.)


I think I see the shadow of a big But approaching in the distance. I don't like big Buts.

"Puberty brings a first questioning of this harmony. For the first time, the maturing person realizes his uniqueness as a person and thus experiences a loneliness hitherto unknown."

First of all, is this true? I never thought about it in exactly those terms, but it seems to be the case. I remember an intense longing, but I didn't really have any way to understand it. It was like, all of a sudden you are inhabited by a kind if psychic twin; it's not just you anymore, but this other being. We know ourselves "to be raised above the purely material," but what are we supposed to do about it?

So in that regard, the pattern is exactly like infancy, in which we are initially strangers to ourselves and only gradually individuate and find our center. In puberty it begins "with the discovery of [our] uniqueness, an as yet undefined dreamlike horizon of a meaningful whole that would correspond to [our] personhood..."

This certainly goes to Genesis, when Adam realizes he is alone and God furnishes a mate. That would have been nice.

But for us, "the first experiences of love" don't generally end well: "the thrilling side of the experience will at first cover up the contradiction that will, however, show all the more glaringly in the disillusionments that follow."

I remember that.

This is intriguing: "The disillusioned one feels himself betrayed not only by his partner but, on a deeper level, by his own nature."

In short, we confront the paradox that we want to "inscribe something permanent onto the surface of transitory material" (ibid.). This is obviously a spiritual longing, even the quintessence of it -- i.e., to infuse the finite with infinitude.

More generally, "Man wants to create something permanent, something above time, to make a definitive statement that would be the expression of his personal uniqueness."

Agreed. The problem is, on the one hand, if you confuse this with salvation; or, on the other, replace permanence with something less, e.g., fame or celebrity. I say, if you're not somehow dialoguing with eternity, you're just wrong. Nothing short of the timeless is really worth our time.

If Jesus is our archetypal man, perhaps we can learn a thing or two from his example: his mission "is not about detaching oneself from the transitory things in order to flee into some real or supposed eternity, but, conversely, about sowing the seed of eternity into the field of the world and letting the Kingdom of God spring up in this field."

(All quotes from Life Out of Death.)

Thursday, March 31, 2016

And the Weird Became Flesh

Just a short post, because I have a cold...

As you know, I regard the neurologically immature human infant as the hinge of pneumacosmic evolution. Without the invention of the helpless human baby, there would have been no way to exit mere animality. Rather, we would be immersed in the senses and engulfed in the world, just like the other beasts.

For the longest time, I encountered no other writer who placed infancy in this cosmic context. So imagine my surprise when I found that Balthasar and Ratzinger -- maybe the two greatest theologians of the 20th century -- did the same.

For example, in this beautiful passage from Life Out of Death, Balthasar writes of how

The little child opens wide eyes at the world. What he sees -- forms, colors, sounds... -- he does not comprehend. The phenomena are neither familiar nor strange to him because he cannot yet apply them to himself. His self is not yet disclosed to him; whatever consciousness he possesses lies halfway between subject and object.

Now this is the true miracle among all these miracles of the beginning [by which I think he means that any kind of radical genesis is a miracle]: that one day the mother's smile is recognized by the child as a sign of his acceptance in the world and that the center of his own self is disclosed to him as he returns the smile. And because a You has found him, all the He that also surrounds him can be included in the relationship of familiarity (emphases mine, ellipsis in original).

The language is simple but the truth(s) it conveys could hardly be more profound. For this how God makes a human, one at a time, both today and in the past.

Mere Darwinism can't explain it, because a merely genetically complete Homo sapiens can never breach the walls of humanness in the absence of the Loving M(o)ther. So obviously, loving mothers and helpless babies had to co-arise; and given the time and energy it takes to care for a helpless infant, the father had to be there too.

Thus we have the image of concentric circles, with the baby at the center, surrounded by the mother, and with the father's protective arms encircling them. And of course, it couldn't have been accomplished without culture either, so you can add another circle. And there is no culture without cult, but that's getting a little far afield for our present purposes. Let's get back to the quote.

At first, the baby doesn't comprehend the world into which he has been thrown -- not just the exterior world, but the interior world which registers it. It is very much as if the world is all periphery and no center. Things just happen, with no continuity or point of reference. You might say that we "suffer" the world-sensations in a purely passive way. It's non-stop catastrophic novelty (which I think goes to grown-ups who retain an element of neophobia).

"Whatever consciousness he possesses lies halfway between subject and object." He's not yet a self, nor is there a stable or fully formed recognition of the other, so it's a strange world indeed. You would probably have to take LSD to simulate the experience of such radical novelty. No wonder babies cry!

I remember back in the day, reading a book on just this subject, i.e., taking LSD in order to regress to infancy and try to resolve one's issues. In the midst of a trip, people would draw their infanitle experiences. I wonder if I can find them online? Of course.

Ah. Here is birth:

Here's someone who seems to have had a bummer of a prenatal ride:

Anyway, the trippiest part of it all is how there is no I without a You. It's full of delightful orthoparadox, because the other You is really her own I, so becoming human is really an intimate mater of seeing things I to I. In the absence of that experience, we will remain at the periphery of ourselves, -- and of the world -- constantly persecuted by malevolent, unmetabolized experience.

In a certain way, human development -- i.e., individuation -- is always an ongrowing centration; not in the sense of being self-centered, because if things proceed the way they are supposed to, then the deepening of the self leads to a deepening of everything else, including one's ability to compassionately identify with others. The grandiose and brittle self-centeredness of an Obama would represent the pneumagraphic negative of what is supposed to happen in development.

Now, all of this has the most urgent religious connotations, because this whole situation reveals something essential about how God rolls. Yes, we are the image-and-likeness of God. But God is not a static thing!

Rather -- just for starters -- in God, the Father ceaselessly begets the Son, or gives birth to the Word. Thus, it ultimately explains how "finding God" and "being found by God" are the same thing (like finding mother and discovering oneself in the bargain).

In any event, the extremely weird situation revolving around the premature, neurologically incomplete and helpless baby turns out to be the only way I can think of to create a being in the image and likeness of an ec-centric Creator who is always lovingly giving away his own center.

The Cosmic Baby, blissfully floating before the fleeting flickering universe, stork naked in brahma daynight, worshiping in oneder in a weecosmic womb with a pew...:

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Vertical Church of the Live Grenade

Speaking of wounded Gods, I was thinking the other day of how mankind's blows to Jesus are like the last word in... jewjitsu, in that they ultimately miss him and instead redound upon the assailant. Ouch!

Actually, Balthasar says something similar in Heart of the World... which I can't find at the moment, but I see that there's a chapter called A Wound has Blossomed, so maybe this is just a roundabout way of getting there.

Ah. I see that it has a kind of double meaning. We wound Jesus out of the most wounded parts of our depraved selves, and somehow this backfires... in a good way: "Men wounded your Heart; water and blood flowed out. Men drank and became healthy; they washed themselves and became pure."

This goes even -- or perhaps especially -- for the man who murdered love. Which is all of us.

"Just as the first creation arose ever anew out of sheer nothingness, so, too, this second world... will have its sole origin in this wound, which is never to close again."

It's as if the church -- which is to say, the body of Christ -- is One Giant Wound.

In the margin, I wrote a note to myself: "He is the live grenade and the one who dives on it."

I just picked up Prayer, and there is this: the "'opening' to heaven which he is, is like a gaping rent going right through humanity, and the rent is the Church."

Which is sort of what I was driving at on page 252, where it says that the rend is now redeemable on your mirromortal garment.

If it makes no sense, don't worry, it's still perfect nonsense, for "it is as if God is not particularly interested in our attaining any kind of systematic grasp of his revelation."

Indeed, if we could completely comprehend it, it would be closer to Islam or Buddhism than to the Live Grenade (Islam explodes only dead ones).

By the way, God only supplies the grenade. We still have to pull the ring.

Referring back to what Balthasar says about God not being interested in a s. grasp of his r., another book of his helped motivate me to get back to blogging.

Recall that I was a tad frustrated over being unable to assemble it all into a Grand Synthesis, but think of the example of Jesus. Not only was there no Grand Synthesis, he didn't leave a single written word. Rather, he had the absolute faith to leave it to the Holy Spirit to take care of that. He doesn't even bother to try to be his own theologian.

"As for us, we try, for as long as we can, to finish our finite works ourselves; Jesus does not need to interpret the infinite work that he has begun and also completed and offer it in bite-sized pieces to the world; he can leave this to the divine Spirit for a perpetual interpretation. This is the ultimate Christian serenity" (emphasis mine).

"The only time Jesus wrote, he wrote on drifting dust.... Christ himself did not want, nor was he able, to manage the entirety of his work and suffering on earth with all its immanent meaning, but rather, handed it over to into the invisible hands of the Father."

So now I serenely type away and let God sort it out. To the extent that I have a mission -- even if just for myself -- submission must be prior to transmission. It's as if we can't give ourselves slack, but rather, can only surrender to it. And some disassembly is required, which is where the live grenade comes in.

Go ahead. Pull the ring. The wound only lasts forever.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

"The Wounded God"

popped into my head this morning. Let's try to find out what why.

In the essay by Schuon cited yesterday, he defines Homo sapiens as the "being endowed with deiformity." As such, we are (at least in potential) a "total being" where all others are partial. We are capable of the imitation of Christ, as the old gag goes.

This being the case, the norms for humanness aren't given in the same way as for pigs, dogs, cows, and the rest of the animal kingdom. Their standards are "built in" and arrived at automatically.

As we've said before, no pig fails to become one (indeed, metaphysical evolutionists are helpless to explain why those damn fruit flies stubbornly continue to be fruit flies no matter how many thousands of generations in the laboratory). I suppose you could say that their telos is nonlocal but horizontal.

But man's archetype is nonlocal and vertical: it is for us to conform "to celestial norms," in a movement which in turn defines the "motion towards God" (ibid.).

As we've expressed it before, man is an eros shot directly into the heart of Celestial Central. In any event, "One cannot have homo sapiens without homo religiosus; there is no man without God" (ibid.).

Man qua man is in dialectic with the Divine Object, O (and with "human animality" below, if he chooses that route 666). And within this dialectic "the oneness of the object demands the totality of the subject" (ibid.), i.e., intellect, heart, and will.

Now, what this has to do with the Wound, I have no idea. Yet.

Let's stipulate that man is in dialectic with God. Nevertheless, man and God -- obviously -- are not equivalent terms. Rather, there is a senior partner who generates the whole isness. Thus we confront the orthoparadox that man "can only be himself through God" but "can never be God" (Balthasar). D'oh!

One reason why this is an orthoparadox is that we are called upon to (literally) do the impossible, precisely. I say "literally," for if we actually succeeded in "becoming God," this would be a kind of ultimate failure, since it would be delusional hubris. Nevertheless, we must try.

It very much reminds me of philosophy. The philo-sopher is a seeker of truth and lover of wisdom. The relationship is one of lover and beloved. The moment the relationship becomes one of possession, it's no longer philosophy. Usually it becomes some form of idolatry, whether, scientistic, religious, or religulous atheism.

So, theo-sophy would be a good name for the innerprize if it weren't tainted by other associations.

"No, I am not God; Yes, I need God as my beginning and my end" (Balthasar). But how are we supposed to imitate something or someone who is completely transcendent, immaterial, and unknowable?

"There was only one way out of this impasse, namely, that infinite, eternal Being should utter its own self in the form of a relative being" (ibid.).

So, man's "imitation of God" is predicated upon God's "imitation of man," so to speak.

Could this be where the wound gets in?

Yes, and in a variety of ways. For example, "anyone who encounters Christ is impelled either to worship him or to pick up stones with which to stone him" (ibid.). One way or another, somebody's gonna get hurt.

Indeed, at the ultimate extreme, "Christ's suffering, his God-forsakenness, his death and descent into hell is the revelation of a divine mystery, the language which God has chosen in order to render himself and his love intelligible to us" (ibid.).

Excuse me, but this is not the God I was expecting.

To be continued...

Monday, March 28, 2016

If You Don't Have a Question You Can't Have an Answer, and If You Don't Have a Wound You Can't be Healed

So, man is a perpetual question mark (?) before God.

What is he then in the absence of God? A question, yes, but a literally unanswerable one.

Then again, even posing -- or being -- the question implies something important, in that no other animal questions its existence. All other animals are "complete." They are answers without a question, while man is a question without answer.

There's a riddle for you: why would the most thoroughly complete animal be the most radically incomplete? The one must somehow imply the other in a roundabout way.

Perhaps the most compact way of saying it is that man is free; depending upon whether or not God exists, then freedom equates to the Good or Bad Infinity -- or, in existentialist terms, "being or nothingness." Each term is infinite, although it's the difference between a mountain peak and a swamp.

Schuon writes that "the purpose of our freedom is to enable us to choose what we are in the depths of our heart."

It seems that there is no way to reduce this orthoparadoxical formulation to something more cutandry. We have a seed or spark at our center, "which, far from confining us, dilates us by offering us an inward space without limits and without shadows; and this center is in the last analysis the only one there is" (ibid.).

Ah. This would be the famous circle whose center is everywhere and circumference nowhere. In other words, God is the principle of centrality as such; without this principle, reality would be completely diffuse and disconnected, with no internal coherence.

Another way of saying it is that interior coherence is subjectivity as such. And all of this is related to the trinitarian structure of reality. It implies that man is, in a manner of speaking, God right here or over there. Both -- you and I -- are subjects of cosmic centrality, i.e., "in the image and likeness of Grand Central."

In a helpful (if we're lucky) essay called Overview of Anthropology, Schuon writes that human nature is distinguished from animal nature by virtue of being "made of centrality and totality, and hence objectivity..." Now he's thrown two more cosmic categories into the mix (totality and objectivity), but each must imply the other.

Centrality and totality are really two names for God -- or at least our (potential) conformity to him: they are "the capacity to conceive the Absolute" (i.e., God is every-where and every-thing).

And objectivity is "the capacity to step outside oneself," and therefore transcendence (although its opposite as well, i.e., sinking beneath oneself, not to mention various lateral iterations, i.e., false selves).

Without transcendence objectivity would be impossible, and without objectivity there is no intelligence deserving of the name.

Note that this objectivity takes three forms: there is 1) "objectivity of intelligence: the capacity to see things as they are in themselves..." 2) "objectivity of will, hence free will..."; and 3) "objectivity of sentiment," i.e., "the capacity for charity, disinterested love, compassion" (ibid.). Animals do not build hospitals.

As we know, man is composed of intellect, will, and sentiment; or truth, freedom, and virtue (or love). Animals are intelligent, but cannot be objective with it. It is doubtful that the most brainy animal can stand outside or above itself and regard itself as an object among objects.

And while animals obviously have will, it is not free; like animals, human beings can't help willing, but we can stand above (transcend) various options given by will and choose accordingly.

Finally, animals can love, after a fascion, but they have no way of knowing whether the loved object is worthy of it (e.g., Hitler's dog no doubt loved him).

I was just reading in MotT about how our various senses are like wounds. For example, thanks to a couple of holes in our heads, we are "pierced" by the light which allows us to see.

Now I'm thinking that the intellect, will, and sentiments alluded to above are equally wounds; and now that I think about it, they would have to be ontologically prior to our sensory wounds, i.e., sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing.

Let's start with the easiest: I mean, everyone knows that love is a wound, right? This is prefigured mythologically in the image of Cupid and his arrows.

And freedom is a wound, in the sense that it is "wide open." The existential anxiety produced by freedom is a consequence of the subjective experience of infinite choice; it's like having no skin, only on a transpersonal level (in the absence of God, our freedom is an unbound nightmare, a free fall into infinite space).

Finally, intelligence is definitely a wound, in the sense that, in order to know anything, we must first be open to the world. Think of the animal mind: it is not wounded in the same way ours is. They have the sensory wounds, but are untroubled by the higher injuries.

Much of this converges upon Jesus' most famous sermon -- you know, the one on the mount. In nearly every case, he talks about the necessity of the wound: blessed are the the poor in spirit, the meek, the persecuted, those who mourn, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, etc. Blessed are these gaping wounds, because without them we can't be healed.