An Answer to the Call for the Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything

David Russell Mosley

flammarion-woodcut

Eastertide
Octave of the Ascension
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

A few days ago a new acquaintance (really a kindred spirit and therefore friend, though we’ve not yet met) of mine, Michael Martin, wrote an essay on the Angelico Press blog entitled, “The Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything.” For those unfamiliar with Martin, he is the Assistant Professor of English and Philosophy at Marygrove College and has written several works, the only one of which I have read thus far is The Submerged Reality: Ophiology and the Turn to a Poetic Metaphysics. Martin is like me, a believer in faërie, a poet (though a far better one as I understand it). I think we both can sign off on this line from an interview with theologian John Milbank, “I mean, I believe in all this fantastic stuff. I’m really bitterly opposed to this kind of disenchantment in the modern churches.” So I was overjoyed when Martin decided to put tires to pavement in a new way (he’s been living this stuff for some time now) when he wrote this essay.

Martin’s essay is a clarion call to those who are like minded in this endeavor which he calls the radical Catholic (and I would add catholic) reimagination of everything, or one might it even call it the C/catholic unveiling of sacramental ontology, for, ultimately, this is what Martin is driving at. At the beginning, Martin, a proponent of sophiology (something on which I hope to write more as I understand more), notes the call to Wisdom (Sophia) that appears at key moments in the Byzantine Liturgy. He then turns to another part of the liturgy, a hymn called  Megalynarion, “The Magnification of Mary.” You can read those for yourself in Martin’s essay. What I want to draw your attention to is this line from Martin:

“My investigation here is not about the liturgy, however, but about the ways in which phenomenology and sophiology discover the same phenomenon: the shining that illuminates the cosmos. This shining speaks in the languages of poetry, languages that take on a myriad of forms and are sometimes mistaken for science, sometimes for theology.”

Martin is calling us to a different way of seeing, but also a different way of doing, of being, simply put of living in reality. Martin understands that certain strains of theology do not allow for this kind of sight. He notes, via Hans Urs von Balthasar, that Neoscholasticism denuded itself of attention to the Glory of the Lord and that this proper attention was passed through certain poets, philosophers, and scientists while it was lost by the theologians. Even were one to disagree with this genealogy, one need only look at trends in theology today to see that this attention the Glory, to Sophia, to sacramental ontology has been ignored by many (though it is making something of return as theologians find themselves once again desiring to return to the sources).

In the end of his essay Martin issues a call to “poets, artists, scientists, adventurers, teachers, communitarians, distributists, scholars, and visionaries who hanker for something more living in Catholic culture.” He does not desire mere theory, men and women sitting in a room talking about how great it would be if. However, it should be obvious that Martin is not against the study of these issues in order to better inhabit these ideas and live this reality. Rather, Martin wants us to act as we talk. Theoretike and Practike must be united. Some may be Marthas and others Marys, but we need both and we need most of all those who are willing to live the hard life being both at once.

And so this is, in my own small way, my answer to Martin’s call. I am a poet, an author, a theologian, a gardener, a distributist, a husband, and a father (and more besides); I am all of those things bound up together and suspended as one made according to the Image. I am ready not simply to think about a sacramental ontology but to live it. This will be hard, already have I been confronting ways in which my habits did not accord with my beliefs and my knowledge, but I will answer this call. I must answer this call, I can feel it in the very blood that flows through me that this is right, that this is how reality really is. Confronting my son’s cancer was the first step for me in coming not simply to believe that these fantastic elements of the faith are true (I already believed), but to experience them. Yet I have let the shadows overcome me and make me believe that those moments are rare and that real life is lived without experience of the Glory. Well I say no more. I say that that way of living is ultimately damned (though we can be saved from it). Root and branch, twig and bough, I am in. Join me, as I join Martin and others and we radically (which remember means to return to one’s roots) and catholicly reimagine everything.

Sincerely,
David

Reciting My Own Poems

David Russell Mosley

 

Eric and I in the Garden

Eastertide
Feast of St. George
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

In this short video to you all I recite three poems I wrote about two years ago. I hope you enjoy.

Sincerely,
David

 

Reciting Poetry for Poetry Month: And a New YouTube Channel

David Russell Mosley

 

Eastertide
22 April 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

April is Poetry Month and I’ve nearly let the month slip by without commenting on it in anyway. So, I thought it would be a good idea if I recited some poetry. In truth, I was inspired by author Neil Gaiman’s recitation of Lewis Carrol’s “Jabberwocky,” and decided I’d like to have a go at some more poetry recitation. I also thought it was high time I created a YouTube channel for the website. I elaborate more on that in another letter. While I hope to post a few more readings before April ends, here are my readings of “Jabberwocky” and “I wandered lonely as a cloud.” I hope you enjoy.

Sincerely,
David

 

“Jabberwocky”:

“I wandered lonely as a cloud”:

My Lenten Journey with Dante, Augustine, and Samwise

David Russell Mosley

botticelli-augustine

Lent
24 February 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

It’s been a while since I’ve written, I apologize. Early in January I got asked to teach an extra class for Johnson University, one developed by someone else, and I’ve been snowed in by homework ever since. I have finally caught up, however, and am now waiting for my students to turn in their final projects, a research paper on the Apostles’ Creed, this Sunday. While I probably should be working on my conference paper for the NEMAAR in April, or either of the two books I have coming out, I thought I would stop to write a little something about Lent.

A little over a month ago I wrote about trying to return to a life of pilgrimage. While Lent is an excellent time to engage in the journeying nature of the faith, I admit to having struggled with it a bit. My Lenten fasts have been going OK, but I have this sense that this Lent could be particularly transformative for me, if I only allow it. It was, therefore, rather providential that I came across “First Steps, Brancaster” by poet Malcolm Guite. Guite’s poem, while set in Winter, hit me on day when the weather was warm and I was sitting outside. Sadly, it has gotten colder again, it even snowed last night. Nevertheless, read this stanza:

This is the day to leave the dark behind you

Take the adventure, step beyond the hearth,

Shake off at last the shackles that confined you,

And find the courage for the forward path.

You yearned for freedom through the long night watches,

The day has come and you are free to choose,

Now is your time and season.

Companioned still by your familiar crutches,

And leaning on the props you hope to lose,

You step outside and widen your horizon.

This season, Lent, this day, is when I begin the first steps of my journey. I am moving forward, limping, but heading forward nevertheless. I have not only my crutches but my guides. This Lent I am reading several books that I think will help me as they are themselves stories of journeys, quests, and pilgrimages. As I wrote to you in my letter on pilgrimage, I am still reading Dante’s Divine Comedy. Just yesterday I left the ante-room of Purgatory with Virgil and the Pilgrim. Later today I will enter the garden of Eden with them working my way ever closer to the Beatific Vision, or at least whatever glimpses I can get of it this side of the parousia. I am also reading Augustine’s Confessions journeying with him into the depths of my soul, into the depths of my sin, so I can come out of the muck and mire of my sinfulness and reach up and be raised up to the Trinity. Lastly, I’m re-reading The Lord of the Rings, which I read every year. I am joining Frodo, Sam, and the others on a journey to see new beauties and face new horrors in the hope that when I return home, should I return home, I will not return the same.

I hope this Lent will be transformative for me, but even more, I hope it will be transformative for you.

Sincerely,

David

On 3 Kinds of Theopoetry: A Response to Callid Keefe-Perry and Anne Michelle Carpenter

David Russell Mosley

25434467

Epiphanytide
Candlemas
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Wipf & Stock Publishers, the people who will be publishing my novel, have recently started interviewing authors and putting the videos up online. They range from just a few minutes to half hour segments. In one of these interviews, the people at Wipf & Stock sit down Callid Keefe-Perry.

Callid is, in many ways, the man who has brought a certain strain of theopoetics back into the limelight. In this interview, he is being asked, in many ways, to explain what he means by theopoetics and what relationship it has to theology and the academy. For Friend Callid (he is a Quaker, after all), theopoetics is concerned with new way of “making” God. He qualifies this by saying that theopoetics is interested in how the things we make effect the way we think about God. At one point in the interview he says that theopoetics is concerned with the aesthetics, the form that theology or religious language, takes as much as, if not more so than with the content. Why is there a text and not a dance and what does that say about us and about God. The key, for Callid, so it would seem, is that our discussions about God not be limited to the traditional, but that we branch out, hear new voices. With the possible exception of saying that the form might be more important than the content, I am quite open to these aspects of this strain of theopoetics. Imagination, beauty, art, in a sense culture in general all have a place in our inquiries into the divine. The problem I have is that this kind of theopoetics is not simply about taking seriously the role of imagination and the arts in theology.

Callid is candid that at a certain point even he himself, along with others, have seen theopoetics as going against theology. Theopoetics turns away from “reason” (logos) and toward making (poiesis). At the start of the interview, as Callid is giving us the history of theopoetics, he briefly mentions that the new wave of theopoetics is connected with process theology, the notion that in some way God is changeable (not perhaps in his goodness or eternality) by temporal events, namely us. The connection to process theology is problematic in and of itself for me. That aside, however, (actually I do think these things related, but this is a letter, not a journal article) my major issue with the current wave of theopoetics is that it is almost a-traditional, that is it seems to act as if it has no tradition, or a limited one––going back to Whitehead. In an essay in the boo Theopoetic Folds, Callid notes that a speech by Stanley Hopper “is the first piece of scholarship to make direct use of the term theopoiesis” (Faber and Fackenthal, 149). This is problematic because of course theopoiesis is not an English word, but a Greek one that means deification (the two words actually share etymology in the sense that both are made up of the parts God and to make). The current form of this theopoetics seems either to ignore or be unaware that it has a link back to second century (if not earlier) understandings of the goal or telos of the human person in light of who God is as Creator, our being created in the imago dei, and what the Incarnation means for this. It is, of course, possible that I have not read enough from these theopoetic thinkers and I am happy to be proven wrong.

Moving on, there is another kind of theopoetics with which I have much more sympathy. That is the theopoetics of Anne Michelle Carpenter which she expounds in her excellent book on Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theopoetics. Anne starkly disassociates herself from the kind of theopoetics being done by those like Friend Callid (Carpenter, 3). She does so on the basis of the “agnostic overtures of the “theo-poetic” movement,” (Ibid.). Carpenters approach is, in many ways, similar to that of this other theopoetic movement. By that, I mean that her interest is to categorize, particularly Balthasar’s aesthetics, as a theo-poetic, a theological poetics. In this sense, unlike that of Callid, or at least others within the theopoetics movement, theopoetics is neither antithetical to theology nor is it a corrective that moves alongside theology. It is inherently part of theology, especially any theology that has a place of importance for the poetic, for the creative.

Finally, there is the way I use theopoetics. Since my thesis was written after the new wave of theopoetics but before Anne’s book was published, I decided not to give it its original title Being Deified: Poetry and Theo-poetry. Actually, to be honest, I thought I was doing something quite original creating theo-poetry (and theo-poet, theo-poem, etc.) out of theopoiesis. Sadly, I was quite wrong. In any event, I use this word directly as related to theopoiesis or deification. Playing off a line from Vladimir Lossky (and not A.N. Whitehead), I wanted to describe God as Poet (rather than Creator). God poetised creation, or the poem, out of his trinitarian gratuity. But God is not just Poet, he is Theo-Poet, deifier. Therefore we are not only his poem (creation) but his theo-poems (the deified), or at least we will be. From this play with language I moved forward to discuss the importance of human creativity for our deification. I focused on fantasy and poetry as genre but noted and still note that this extends to all kinds of human creativity (David Jones is someone I turn to here). The point I try to make is that our poiesis, our making/creating, is wrapped up in our participation in the one who is Creator, even Poet, by nature, not by participation.

There is much with which I can agree in the first two uses of theopoetics. Callid and company’s commitment to human creativity, to the body in many ways, in light of certain strains of theology which have sidelined these aspects is one with which I can certainly agree. It is the turn to process, the turn to theopoetics as a project that is simply a response to recent trends in recent strains of theology with which I disagree. With Anne I am in almost full agreement with the exception that her use of theopoetics does not include theopoiesis, deification. I do not claim that my own view is by any means complete or without flaw. There is much I have learned from both of them (and from others). Nevertheless, I think we cannot come to a full understanding of what theopoetics is or can be if we fail to recognize the importance of deification, the end for which we are made, as we engage in it. I am, however, quite glad to be in such good company that wants to discuss the importance of poetry and creativity in theology. Regardless of our disagreements, this is a good time to do theology that has an emphasis on the Beautiful as well as the Good and the True.

Sincerely,
David

Returning to a Life of Pilgrimage

David Russell Mosley

michelino_danteandhispoem

Epiphanytide
Sts. Timothy and Titus
26 January 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Midway along the journey of our life
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
For I had wandered off the straight path.
-Dante, The Inferno, 1-3.

While I cannot claim to be quite midway through my life (or so I hope, though Dante proved to be wrong about this himself), I have recently begun my annual re-read of Dante’s Divine Comedy. I’m doing it a littler earlier than usual for two reasons: First, I’ve just been dying to re-read it, and this year I bought myself individual volumes for each part. Second, Pope Francis has recommended Dante’s poem as beneficial reading for the Year of Mercy. While I’m not a Roman Catholic, I’m certainly not one to ignore the advice of those far holier than I. As I read it, perhaps even more closely this year due to its multi-voluminous nature, I’m struck rather forcibly by the notion of pilgrimage.

What I mean is this: Traditionally, the main character in the Divine Comedy is called the Pilgrim. This is to separate Dante the Pilgrim from Dante the author since he is a character in a story, similar to how there is Lewis the author and Lewis the character in Out of the Silent Planet. So we call the character the Pilgrim. But we do this also because he stands for us as a kind of Everyman. It is not only his pilgrimage from Hell to Heaven, but ours as we journey with him (Bilbo works in a similar way in The Hobbit, as do hobbits in general in The Lord of the Rings). In this sense, that the Pilgrim is a representative for me, can I say that I am the Pilgrim. This is not because there is anything special about me but precisely because I am interchangeable with any other. I am, in my own way, just as much an Everyman, just as Dante is also an individual. In a way, I replace the pilgrim. I am the one journeying through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. I am on a pilgrimage, not to Rome or the shrine of a particular saint (though I hope to make this kind of journey someday) but to God himself. The Pilgrim and I go on this journey together, our identities sometimes being blurred.

Augustine will often talk about our journey in life as one that is intended to end in our Patria, our Fatherland. The allusions to Philippians 3 are obvious, but Augustine also means that our journey in life is to the Father, the Beatific Vision. A misunderstanding of this view has, unfortunately, led some to the conclusion that this world itself does not matter. Of course this is precisely not true for our journey to the Patria is not a spacial one. We do not move from Earth to Heaven. Rather Earth itself, in fact the whole cosmos, is moved to both Hell and Heaven. It is this pre-resurrection life that is not our homeland, not our Patria, not creation itself. This is key, I think, to living the Good Life. We must recognize that it is not material existence in a material creation that we are journeying away from. Instead, it is sin, evil, death itself; these are the things we hope to leave behind as we journey to God. Even as we journey on, we bring the rest of creation with us, lifting it up as priests to God, but also offering thanks on its behalf.

So I am trying to return to a life of pilgrimage. I am trying to remember that this life is a preparation for the life to come when Christ returns and makes all things new. This should mean that everything I do in this life be done as if by a pilgrim. I ought not to tie myself to sin and death, to the corruptible, but to set my sights on things eternal. Only in this way can I have creation, including my own, as I ought. Only in this way can I be in right relationship with the world around me. I must remember first that I pilgrim journeying to the Patria, in the process of being deified. Christ has paved the way and journeys on with us; the Spirit guides us, corrects us, points us back to Christ and his saints; and the Father is our journey’s end. Join me, won’t you, in this pilgrim life?

Sincerely,
David

On the Passing of Alan Rickman and the Adaptation of Books to Film

David Russell Mosley

 

alan-rickman-as-the-sheriff-of-nottingham

Epiphanytide
14 January 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

As many of you have already heard or read, Alan Rickman, an excellent actor, has died. Rickman has always been one of my favorite actors. My first introduction to him was in the simultaneously wonderful and terrible “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” While Kevin Costner’s Robin Hood leaves much to be desired (including hair), Rickman’s Sheriff was a revelation. The line, “I’ll cut your heart out with a spoon!” will never leave me, for better or for worse. In addition to being the evil sheriff, Rickman will remain for the epitome of Colonel Brandon, the once jilted lover who has now fallen for the emotional and opinionated Marianne Dashwood. His gravitas in that role made me believe that he not only loved the young girl, but himself suffered heartache from a lost love. For many, however, especially of those younger than me, Rickman will forever be remembered for, in some ways a similar role, his adaptation of Professor Severus Snape. Rickman, of course, has played many roles over his career, but I focus on these for two reasons. First, they are those most well-known to me. They come from some of my favorite films. Second, they are characters whose origins are in books.

Christopher Tolkien, youngest son and second youngest child of J. R. R. Tolkien, is famous for his opinion that Peter Jackson’s adaptations of his father’s work have no value. They have evacuated any sense of beauty or theology that underpinned them. Or so Christopher Tolkien believes. He, however, misses something and this returns me to Rickman’s career as an actor who played literary characters. Any adaptation of a book, however good or bad, tends to do one very good thing: it inspires the viewers who have never read the book to do so. This isn’t always the case, but I believe it often is. Many have turned from Jackson’s films to Tolkien’s books for the first time, precisely because they saw the films. In Rickman’s case, this was how I came to read Sense and Sensibility. I watched Ang Lee’s adaptation and loved it and so turned to the book. Similarly was I turned to various Robin Hood stories thanks in large part to “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” Many have likely begun to read the excellent Harry Potter series because of the film adaptations (some of which are quite good and others of which are really not). Rickman, often playing the villain, therefore serves as a conduit from film to book for many. I for one can no longer read the lines of Colonel Brandon or Severus Snape without doing so in Rickman’s voice. He has helped shape my imagination concerning those characters.

Rickman was an excellent actor and he will be missed. However, we still have his body of work and I hope and believe that those portions of it which are adaptations of books will continue to help shape the imaginations of new readers and help them discover new books that might not have read had they not seen the film first.

I leave you with this spectacular video of Rickman making an epic cup of tea:

Sincerely,
David