The Poetry of Easter: Creation’s Hope

David Russell Mosley

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Easter 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Advent and Christmas tend to put me in the mood for fairy-stories and fantasies. After all, it is a time of magic, of enchantment, for the God has entered Creation. Easter, however, puts me in mind for poetry. Right now, for instance, I’m attempting to read The Divine Comedy liturgically. The poem begins on the day before Good Friday and ends, apparently, on the Wednesday after Easter. Now, I haven’t reached Paradise yet, but I want to share a passage from there with you.

Dante writes:

“All things, among themselves,
possess an order; and this order is
the form that makes the universe like God.
Here do the higher beings see the imprint
of the Eternal Worth, which is the end
to which the pattern I have mentioned tends.
Within that order, every nature has
its bent, according to a different station,
nearer or less near to its origin” (I.103-110)

All of Creation, made by God, is tending toward him. Every inch of Creation has a trace of God within it. In this sense, we can call Creation sacramental because it points toward its origin. It is even, says Dante, tending toward that origin, just as we are. That is, just as we are intended for union with God in the life to come, intended for deification, so too is Creation intended to unite with God, according to its station, according to its place in the Cosmos. This is why, as I wrote over at Theology Think for Palm Sunday, Easter brings hope to Creation and not simply humanity. Let’s remember that as we celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord today.

I deal with this subject in a few places in my thesis, key to my understanding of Creation’s role in the life to come is Maximus the Confessor who writes:

With us and through us he encompasses the whole creation through its intermediaries and the extremities through its own parts. He binds about himself each with the other, tightly and indissolubly, paradise and the inhabited world, heaven and earth, things sensible and things intelligible, since he possesses like us sense and soul and mind, by which, as parts, he assimilates himself by each of the extremities to what is universally akin to each in the previously mentioned manner. Thus he divinely recapitulates the universe in himself, showing that the whole creation exists as one, like another human being, completed by the gathering together of its parts one with another in itself, and inclined towards itself by the whole of its existence, in accordance with the one, simple undifferentiated and indifferent idea of production from nothing, in accordance with which the whole of creation admits of one and the same undiscriminated logos, as having not been before it is (Amb. 41 1312A-B).

Maximus is arguing several things here, but the key is twofold. First, it is essential to note that Maximus sees humanity as playing a role in God encompassing all creation into himself. God does this, ‘with us and through us’ (Amb. 41 1312A). Humanity, as I argued in the first chapter, has a priestly role to play for the rest of Creation and this is due, in large part, to humanity’s microcosmic nature, that in humanity is there a convergence of all created beings, ‘things sensible and things intellectual’ (Amb. 41 1312A). God encompasses all this in himself in the Incarnation. In this way, using the microcosmic nature of humanity, God unites all created beings to himself.

The second key is that all of creation is included in this. Maximus does not delineate between mineral, vegetable, and animal, some being included, others not. All beings are related to one another and to God, as Maximus writes:

For in their true logos all beings have at least something in common with one another. Amongst the beings after God, which have their being from God through generation, there are no exceptions, neither the greatly honoured and transcendent beings [angels] which have a universal relationship to the One absolutely beyond any relation, nor is the least honoured among beings destitute and bereft since it has by nature a generic relationship to the most honoured beings (Amb. 41 1312B-C).

Here, Maximus goes further than Aquinas, who only seems to see a role in the eschaton for mineral creation, humanity, and the angels. For Maximus, this cannot be, for all created beings are related to one another, even the lowest is related to the highest, by virtue of being a created being. What it more, all beings are held together by God through Jesus Christ.

What this means is that God in Christ and through us is raising up all Creation to himself. We must remember our brothers and sisters outside the human race in the rest of Creation. Remember Christ’s words, ‘”I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”’

Let me leave you with, compared to Dante’s (and many others) some rather base verses of my own:

The flowers all grow towards an end;
Trees and rivers clap for joy.
The mountains on their knees bend;
The birds make a joyful noise.
For water from the holy side
Spilled out, and red blood
Poured onto Creation’s hide.
At last we understood,
Redemption is not for us alone.
If we were silent,
Every rock, and every stone,
Every bird and beast and violet,
Would with one breath
Proclaim the death
Of Jesus Christ, Our Lord.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

It Is Finished: A Thesis Draft Done on Good Friday

David Russell Mosley

 

Good Friday 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I have several other posts up my sleeves for the next few days (assuming I can make myself write them), but today I wanted to give you a very simple update. I have, after nearly three years, finished a draft of my thesis!

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There is still much to do: fixing footnotes, adding extra sources, polishing the bibliography, fixing transitions, and making sure the whole thing fits together, writing the preface. However, all of that pales in comparison to the work of actually writing the whole thing! It is an enormous weight off of my shoulders as I now await the soon arrival of my two sons. I can think of no better way to prepare for Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday, than by finishing a major task. Without meaning to seem crass, I too can shout, tentatively, tetelestai; it is finished, for now. Or perhaps as Niggle might say, it’s finished, but not finished with.

As Easter is coming, and I cannot guarantee that my revelry in having finished a draft of thesis will leave me time for the letters I hoped to write between now and then, let me leave you with the excellent ending to Dante’s Paradiso, which also serves as the conclusion of my final chapter:

In the deep bright
essence of that exalted Light, three circles
appeared to me; they had three different colors,
but all of them were of the same dimension;
one circle seemed reflected by the second,
as rainbow is by rainbow, and the third
seemed fire breathed equally by those two circles.
How incomplete is speech, how weak, when set
against my thought! And this, to what I saw
is such––to call it little is too much.
Eternal Light, You only dwell within
Yourself, and only You know You; Self-knowing,
Self-known, You love and smile upon Yourself!
That circle––which, begotten so, appeared
in You as light reflected––when my eyes
had watched it with attention for some time,
within itself and colored like itself,
to me seemed painted with our effigy,
so that my sight was set on it completely.
As the geometer intently seeks
to square the circle, but he cannot reach,
through thought on thought, the principle he needs,
so I searched that strange sight: I wished to see
the way in which our human effigy
suited the circle and found place in it––
and my own wings were far too weak for that.
But then my mind was struck by light that flashed
and, with this light, received what it had asked.
Here force failed my high fantasy; but my
desire and will were moved already––like
a wheel revolving uniformly––by
the Love that moves the sun and the other stars (Paradiso XXXIII.114-145).

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

A New Place to Find Me: Writing for Theology Think

David Russell Mosley

Holy Week
15 April 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Have you ever thought, ‘There just simply aren’t enough places where I can read some of David’s writing’? Probably not. However, Daniel Haynes over at Theology Think has invited me to write for them. So, along with occasionally finding something of mine over at Christ & University, you may now find me at Theology Think as well. Don’t worry, though. I’ll still be writing letters to all of you here.

Here’s a little sample from my most recent post at Theology Think:

Christ is seated on his donkey, the crowds are throwing down garments (not palms in Luke’s version) and are shouting, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” (v. 38). The Pharisees rebuke Christ asking him to keep his disciples quiet. Our Lord responds, however, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (v. 40). The very rocks and stones beneath their feet would proclaim Christ for who he is. Even the world in which we live is aware of who Christ is and what role he has come to play in the cosmos.

 

Do make sure you check out the other posts on Theology Think as well.

Sincerely,
David

Hand-written Notes: How I do Research (A Post for Matt Moser)

David Russell Mosley

 

My Desk at Home

My Old Desk Set Up at Home

Lent
9 April 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Matt Moser, who blogs over at Christ & University, has asked that I write a letter on how I use my research journal. I thought I would oblige.

Truth be told, I stole this idea (of using a research journal) from a colleague here at Nottingham, though we use them slightly differently. Initially, my reasons for using a hand-written research journal were romantic as well as quasi-neo-luddite. Essentially, I worry sometimes about the effects the impermanence of the digital might have on us individually and corporately, but that is a letter for another day.

Here’s a rather narcissistic 16 minute long video I did on the subject. NB, I know longer use quite that many journals/notebooks:

Still, for nearly three years now, I’ve been taking primarily hand-written notes for my now nearly complete doctoral thesis, so at the very least this has worked for me. So here’s what I do:

The Notebook

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Since living here in the UK and having a Ryman’s nearby, I have favoured the Ryman’s A5 Ruled Notebook with 384 pages. I dedicate the first fifteen pages or so for a preface. From there I number the pages 1-approx. 369 and start using it.

The Pen

Frankly, I tend to use whatever I have on hand, but always ink, never pencil. The reason for this is again one of permanence. Pencil is too quick to fade, or be erased, ink lasts. For the most part I favour a fountain pen my mother-in-law gave me for Christmas. Otherwise, I prefer fine-point pens, typically black.

The Use

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With the pen and notebook in hand, the only thing left to do is write in it. I’ve a few different methods for note-taking, but what I have found works best is underlining in books I own and using tabs or post=its in one I don’t. As I’m reading, I’ll underline or mark what I want to write down. Then, once I’m done with the book (or as I’m reading it, depending on my mood), I sit down to evaluate what I’ve underlined/marked and write down the important stuff in the notebook. Sometimes, if what I want from the book is too long to write down in one sitting, I’ll just note what is on the page in a few words.

Here’s how a note-taking session tends to work for me. Wherever I’ve left off previously, I write down the date, so I know when I interacted with the text. Then, if I’m starting a new book, I write out a full bibliographic entry for the text with an asterisk to the lefthand side, noting that I’ve started a new entry. Starting with the first page on which I’ve underlined/marked something worth noting, I start writing out the quotations/notes. If it’s modern book, I write down the page number first followed by the quotation. If it’s an ancient text or the Bible, I write the abbreviation for the text followed by book and paragraph number or chapter and verse. Then I just keep writing until I’ve got down everything I want.

As I add new books, I try to make sure to write down the title and the page number on which I’ve started the book in my journal in the Table of Contents, though I’m not very good at keeping up with.

The key for all of this, however, is that I then type up the notes in a word document where the pages of the word document match up to the pages of the journal (for cross-referencing and spell-checking purposes). This might seem laborious, but it does three things I find really helpful. First, it solidifies the information in my head. Reading the text, then rereading it to write it out by hand only to reread it again in order to type it out, helps me keep a better handle on what I’ve got when it comes time to write. Second, when I finally get around to indexing my journals, having a digital copy will really come in handy. However, perhaps the most useful part of typing it out is it makes my notes much easier to use when I write. Rather than following the exact same referencing system as my journal, I use the digital copy to get a head start on footnotes. Rather than beginning each quotation or note with the page number, I end it with a properly formatted footnote. This way, when I go to put my notes in an outline or in the text I’m writing, I can simply copy and paste and hey presto! I have footnotes that only either need to be shortened or changed to ibid. (assuming I don’t have to change styles completely, but even then it’s typically not too hard).

Alongside eventually making indices, I also hope to put together a continuous digital copy. Rather than splitting pages based on the hardcopy, splitting them wherever the text would naturally split based on what’s written.

Anyway, this is how I do it. How do you take notes for your research (if you’re lucky or unlucky enough––depending on perception––to have to do research?

 

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

Fairy Tale Pedagogy, Part 1

An absolutely fantastic post from Christ and University.

Christ & University

Princess Irene follows her great-great grandmother's magic thread Princess Irene follows her great-great grandmother’s magic thread

Early this semester, three young women in my English 101 course asked me to come to their table during one of our weekly writing workshops.  “This doesn’t have anything to do with dependent clauses,” said one, a little bashfully, “but we were all talking, and we just think that you must be Belle from Beauty and the Beast!” I accepted their compliment with what I hope was professional grace, but secretly I was thrilled. For many women of my generation, Belle was one of the first pop culture figures to show that a love of reading, combined with love for one’s foolish family and monstrous neighbor, could make a little girl into a hero.
I spent the rest of the day wondering if fairy tales could help me learn to be a better teacher and scholar. After all, fairy tales inspired my…

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Bored by Joy: Fairy Tales as Appetisers for Beatitude: A Response to Matthew Moser

David Russell Mosley

Lent 5 April 2014 On the Edge of Elfland Beeston, Nottinghamshire Dear Friends and Family, Over at Christ and University, Matt Moser has written another post about teaching Dante to which I feel inclined to respond. Moser notes and laments that as he and his students (along with Dante) entered Paradise in the Commedia, the students found it boring. As Moser himself notes, this is somewhat to be expected. Even in the best translation, this is still a translation of sixteenth century Italian epic poem. Even the Paradiso is filled with political and contemporary (to Dante) commentary. This, however, was not the centre of their boredom, rather the happiness was. Moser goes on to relate his own acquisition of an appetite for joy which was kindled by a reading of The Lord of the Rings.

He remembers how he had to foster an appetite for joy just as he had to foster an appetite for classical music. Moser again asks the question of how do we do this for those we teach, how do we help them foster an appetite for joy? In my previous response to Moser’s challenges on teaching Dante, I suggested that living in such a way that shows our belief in a cosmos (unity, order, harmony, created). Today, I wonder if another possible answer, or first step is the reading of fairy-tales. Spending too much time talking about fairy-tales can make a person seem rather childish. But what was it Lewis said, when I became a man I ceased to think like a child, including the fear of being thought childish, or something to that effect. I want to suggest that perhaps beginning with fairy-tales and working towards heavier works like Dante might better train a student’s appetite for joy.

G. K. Chesterton writes in his book, Orthodoxy:

‘The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. They seem to me entirely reasonable things. They are not fantasies: compared with them other things are fantastic. Compared with them religion and rationalism are both abnormal though religion is abnormally right and rationalism abnormally wrong. Fairyland is nothing but the sunny country of common sense’ (299).

For Chesterton, Fairy Tales taught him about this world, the fostered in him that desire for joy. For Lewis and Tolkien it was fairy tales coupled with the myths of the North, of the Scandinavian countries, the tales of Sigurd and Fafnir.These stories awakened a desire in these authors. This is the purpose of fairy-tales according to Tolkien: ‘Fairy-stories were plainly not primarily concerned with possibility, but with desirability. If they awakened desire, satisfying it while often whetting it unbearably, they succeeded’ (‘Tree and Leaf’, 63). This desire, Lewis would call Joy in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy. This would all suggest that to help our students or our children (or anyone for that matter) to gain a desire for joy, an appetite for beatitude, we should start them on the milk of fairy-tales before moving them onto the meat of works like the Commedia or even The Lord of the Rings Unlike Moser and many I know, I’ve spent my whole life reading stories like this. Tolkien was a part of my life from around the time I was born until now. Lewis I discovered in elementary school. I had resurgence of Tolkien when the films came out so long ago now and have never stopped reading The Silmarillion, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings 2 or 3 times a year. Even now, I have begun reading The Hobbit, having already read ‘St George of Merrie England’ and Smith of Wooton Major to my unborn sons, hoping to infuse their lives with the sound of my voice and the majesty of Tolkien’s work. I don’t know how this will affect my children, but I know the effect it has had on me. Therefore I propose a return to fairy-tales. If in Tolkien’s day they had been relegated to the nursery, it seems as though in ours they have been relegated to the attic or the bin. Let’s fish them out, dust them off, and read them once again to prepare our desires for the greater works like that of Dante, and even more so for the Beatific Vision to come.   Sincerely yours, David Russell Mosley