Tetelestai for Good

David Russell Mosley

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Advent
12 December 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Well, I’m behind on sharing this news by a few days, but for those who don’t already know: I am completely done with my PhD! In many ways I still can’t believe. In other ways, this is an unbelievably underwhelming time for me. It’s difficult to get too excited since everything has happened while I’ve been physically removed from the University of Nottingham (where I did my PhD).

Last time I wrote you was right after I had passed my Viva. Since then, I had to resubmit my thesis with all the necessary corrections in October. I found out in mid-November that my corrections had been accepted. I was overjoyed at that news. There was a not-so-small part of me that worried I had not done enough, but evidently I had, for Rev. Dr. Alison Milbank (my internal examiner) emailed me a few days before the official word, telling me that she was happy to pass my thesis with the corrections I had made. Once I got the official word I had to get my thesis printed and bound and submitted to the appropriate people at the University. That was slightly difficult to manage from the States, but in the end it got done and I graduated, in absentia, on 8 December 2015, the feast of the Immaculate Conception.

As I said, I am overjoyed, but it has been a strange process. In a way, it has been a bit like becoming a husband or a father for me. That is, it is something that comes on gradually with new complexities at each stage. When does one become a father, after all? Is it when you find out your wife is pregnant? Is it when the baby is born? Or what about becoming a husband, after all, the process starts when you begin dating your spouse and changes once you become engaged, and changes again during the wedding ceremony, and changes once again on your wedding night. Becoming a doctor has been something like that. Was I a doctor when I passed my viva? Or when my corrections were accepted? Or when I graduated? And let’s not forget all the writing that went on before that, like dating before marriage, or having sex before conception. Becoming a doctor, of course, is not exactly the same as becoming a father or a husband, but the process, the gradualness of slowly passing stages that further your steps toward the end goal, that is the same.

Whatever the case, I am, unequivocally, and irrevocably, Dr. David Russell Mosley. I thank you all for your support, for your love, prayers, and interest during this process and while I wrote this blog, occasionally updating you on what I was doing toward getting my doctorate.

A final piece of news: As you already know, I am publishing a work of fiction with Wipf and Stock Publishers.
I am also pleased to announce, though this has been the case for some time, that I will also be publishing my thesis12304154_908706462544609_6750187958427026235_o, Being Deified: Poetry and Fantasy on the Path to God, with Fortress Press in their Emerging Scholars series.

In light of all this good news, I could still use your prayers. I am still applying for jobs, teaching theology at the undergraduate and/or graduate level(s), but have not landed one yet. Please pray that one of the jobs I have already applied for, or, if not one of those, then one I will apply for in the near future, will come through and that I will be employed at an academic institution for the 2016/2017 school year. This is, perhaps, ambitious as many of my colleagues from Nottingham and elsewhere who have finished before me are still looking for work. Nevertheless, I pray for it for myself and for them and I ask that you do the same. In the mean time, I will continue to apply for jobs, write letters to you all here, and attempt to move forward with some new research topics. Until next time I remain,

Sincerely yours,
Dr. David Russell Mosley

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Moving Countries, Cancer, Thesis Updates, and New Letters

David Russell Mosley

22 August 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Mapperley Park, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

First, let me say, sorry for the silence. I’ve posted a few times on our Caring Bridge site, but not much has been happening there either. Since my last letter (my vision of angels) here, we have said goodbye to Lauren’s mother; shipped all our belongings to America; moved in with a couple from our church (who are now on vacation); and generally just tried to stay afloat.

Edwyn is doing really well. We still don’t know what the second round of chemotherapy has done for him, but we’ll hopefully find out soon.

Because of the events of the last few months, not only have I not blogged, but I haven’t done any work on my thesis (other than importing all into Scrivener). My thesis was originally meant to be submitted by the end of next month. Thankfully, given that I’ve spent two months without working on it, I have a six month extension. This means I have until the end of March to submit it. On that front, I am and will be looking for people who might interest in reading my thesis. My eyes are far too accustomed to it to see some of the mistakes (or most of them). Therefore, if you’re interested in copyediting, reading it to comment on the content/argument, or for the fun of it, let me know (elflandletters@gmail.com).

In the midst of cancer and moving out of our house in Beeston, we are now preparing to move back to the United States by the end of the month. I am incredibly sad about moving. I can’t wait to see our friends and family, and have them meet our boys. Still, I love living here and really don’t want to stop. I’ll do a post in the near future about moving.

Which leads me to the final point of this letter: upcoming topics.

Matt Moser over at Christ and University has done a post on The Setting of Learning where he discusses the importance of place in education. I want to extend some of those ideas to worship as well.

I also want to write some letters on things I’ll miss about England. Once we get back, I’ll probably do some about the transition, and things I like about living in the USA.

I’ve recently finished a re-read of Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy, and so I will be writing a few letters about that.

I’m sure more will occasion themselves as life is lived and we move. Also, I can probably guarantee that I won’t get to all of the above either. Still, I’ll do my best.

Thanks for putting up with my ramblings. I’ll write again soon.

Yours,
David

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

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

Creativity as Deifying: On Fairy Stories, Part II

David Russell Mosley

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

Dear Friends and Family,
Here is the lengthier part 2 of yesterday’s thesis extract. This section is, in essence, a commentary on J. R. R. Tolkien’s essay ‘On Fairy-Stories’. Let me know what you think.

On Fairy Stories

‘Fantasy remains a human right: we make in our measure and in our derivative mode, because we are made: and not only made, but made in the image and likeness of a Maker.’1 One could easily replace fantasy with poetry, make with create or poetise, made with created or a poem, and Maker with Creator or Poet. What Tolkien says about Fantasy and fairy-tales is equally true of poetry. As Tolkien writes, ‘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.’2 In On Fairy Stories, Tolkien is laying out what he thinks fairy-tales are and what they are meant to do. Tolkien, as noted above, tells us that the purpose is to elicit desire. This desire is simultaneously a desire for what is past, namely a nostalgia for Eden. Equally, however, the desire is for what is to come, namely the new Heavens and new Earth, or deification, though Tolkien is not so explicit.

Nevertheless, Tolkien’s own work here bears out that fairy-tales are for more than the awakening of this desire, we might even call it a natural desire for the supernatural, but that it also serves as a kind of corrective lens. In chapter 2 I argued that the Fall incurs and includes an obfuscation of our sight, that humans can no longer see correctly. This is something Faerie can help us overcome. He writes:

Recovery (which includes return and renewal of health) is a re- gaining––regaining of a clear view. I do not say “seeing things as they are” and involve myself with the philosophers, though I might venture to say “see- ing things as we are (or were) meant to see them”––as things apart from our- selves. We need, in any case, to clean our windows; so that the things seen clearly may be freed from the drab blur of triteness of familiarity––from possessiveness.3

In Faerie we can see things for what they really are or could be or at least for how we are meant to see them. In any event, the fairy-tale helps us see more clearly. However, Tolkien also makes it clear that fairy-tales are not the only way to do this. ‘Of course, fairy-stories are not the only means of recovering, or, prophylactic against loss. Humility is enough.’4 Nevertheless, fairy-tales mixed with humility will help serve as a corrective lens so that the world may be glimpsed in a the light we were meant to see it. This passage from Tolkien is particularly provocative on this point:

Faërie includes many things besides elves and fays, and besides dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons: it holds the seas, the sun, the moon, the sky; and the earth, and all things that are in it: tree and bird, water and stone, wine and bread, and ourselves, mortal men, when we are enchanted.5

Tolkien begins by showing us the things we expect to see in Faerie, or Elfland as Chesterton called it in Orthodoxy: fantastical beasts, mythological creatures, wicked and benign. Then, however, Tolkien shifts to things we see in the mortal world, the first four perhaps have a commonplace in our modern imaginings of Faerie (see Disney’s preference for his heroines to be accompanied by birds and other woodland creatures). Then, Tolkien makes a very deliberate shift that helps knit this chapter together, bread and wine, which is meant to incite images of the Eucharist. Indeed, even the inclusion of water, which may at first had us thinking of Bombur’s en- chanted sleep after falling in the river of Mirkwood, but after seeing bread and wine listed, baptism ought now to be in our minds, perhaps even the stone can evoke images of medieval fonts. Even humanity, when enchanted is encompassed by Faerie.

What Tolkien does here is show forth the notions of a sacramental universe as I described above. All things are or can be more than what they are because all things exist in Faerie. All that is needed is eyes to see them. This is one of the roles fantasy plays, that poetry plays. For Chesterton, this rendering strange is an essential aspect of fantasy. He writes, ‘The only words that ever satisfy me as describing Nature are the terms used in fairy books ‘charm’, ‘spell’, ‘enchantment’. They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched. The sun shines because it is bewitched.’6 Perhaps one of the first things fantasy can do for us (particularly when written from a Christian perspective) is to show us that the God of Christianity and the Creation of Christianity are not the ones of deism. Rather God is, as I have argued throughout, Poet, Creator, intimately connected with his Creation/Poem.

This alone perhaps shows the purpose of including a long discourse on the purpose of fantasy/poetry in a chapter on redemption in an essay on deification. There is, however, more. Following on what Milbank has said above, the writing of poetry and fantasy, and particularly the act of world-creating, at least according to Tolkien, is a gift and therefore graced and also an aspect of our deification. Alison Milbank provides a perhaps even more crucial link between the writing of fiction (specifically fantasy, but all fiction ultimately) and deification. She writes, ‘And it is in the ability to create––fiction is linked to the Latin verb facere, to make––that the artist comes closest to God. For us to recognize the world as God’s creation, we have to see it as a work of art; for us to recognize the creative power of the artist, we similarly have both to experience his or her fiction as a world but also be aware of its constructed nature.’7 First note that our word fiction is related to facare which provides the latter portion of the word deification. This is the same as noting that the latter half of the Greek theopoiesis, namely poiesis, is the source of our word for poetry. Even more so, however, Milbank, alongside Tolkien, notes that this act of creativity, this act of artistic creation renders the artist as an imitator of God. What is more it reminds us that just as we need to immerse ourselves in an artists creation without forgetting its constructed nature, so too should we not forget the created nature of the cosmos around us because it has a Creator.

George MacDonald writes in an essay on imagination, ‘man may, if he pleases, invent a little world of his own, with its own laws; for there is that in him which delights in calling up new forms–which is the closest, perhaps, he can come to creation.’8 Again, connecting this to Milbank’s notions of our own creativity as a participation in the divine creativity––and indeed noting our creativity as an aspect of humanity being made in the image and likeness of God––, allows us to see this closeness to acts of creation (that is creation ex nihilo) already implies the deificatory and deifying significance of fantasy writing, of world creation. However, as MacDonald, Chesterton, Tolkien, and the Milbanks all make clear, this is a participatory creation. However real it is, however much it can be termed an addition to the Poem, it is still participatory and a gift. MacDonald writes:

In the moral world it is different [from the physical]: there a man may clothe in new forms, and for this employ his imagination freely, but he must invent nothing. He may not, for any purpose, turn its laws upside down. He must not meddle with the relations of live souls. The laws of the spirit of man must hold, alike in this world and in any world he may invent.9

MacDonald while noting that human creators can rework our physical world, as he does when he has a bedroom transmute into a forest glad right on the edge of Faerie, believes that the moral world cannot be changed. We can imagine a world in which humans are kept in cages and apes perform studies on them, but we are not to imagine a world where morality can become amorality, where falsity is given the place of prominence of truth, or evil the place of goodness, or ugliness/disorder the place of beauty.

What MacDonald writes of as almost a kind of suggestion, Chesterton sees as the only true laws of our universe. For Chesterton there are immutable facts even in world-creation:

But as I put my head over the hedge of the elves and began to take notice of the natural world, I observed an extraordinary thing. I observed that learned men in spectacles were talking of the actual things that happened––dawn and death and so on––as if they were rational and inevitable. They talked as if the fact that trees bear fruit were just as necessary as the fact that two and one make three. But it is not. There is an enormous difference by the test of fairyland; which is the test of imagination. You cannot imagine two and one not making three. But you can easily imagine trees not growing fruit; you can imagine them growing golden candlesticks or tigers hanging on by their tales.10

Chesterton is here criticising the sciences which seek to suggest that the things they have observed and can predict with an amount of certainty are laws. The only laws, according to Chesterton, are those things we cannot imagine differently without unmaking them or redefining them. Two and one cannot not make three unless we change the meanings of two, one, and/or three. Similarly good cannot be evil without changing what the word good means. Alison Milbank writes that this view of the world is sourced in Chesterton’s consumption of fairy-tales, ‘Fairy-tales, however, are not natural but cultural productions and it is by means of these fictions that Chesterton comes to view the world itself as magical: utterly real and enchanted at one and the same time.’11 Thus, for Chesterton, the world is real, but it is also enchanted and this affects the way fantasy is written. While Chesterton, in the passage above, is not specifically writing about writing, that is, he is not directly speaking of the act and art of human creativity, it is implicit in what he writes. When we create worlds, whether in poetry, fantasy, science-fiction, etc., we may unhinge the ‘laws’ of nature:

break them open and make them stand on their heads. What we cannot do, however, is break the laws of mathematics or goodness/morality. It is not that the author is not allowed to do these things, but that they are not possible, or at least not possible consistently.

Milbank gives this its most theological voice when he writes:

Of course, in human beings other than Christ there is no absolute coincidence of the human will with the divine creative will; but nevertheless one can logically speak of a ‘participating’ in this creative will, where human action brings about something that is generally now, as in the case of a new sort of legal convention or a new sort of artistic idiom. But because the creative human being is ‘inspired’, and because she does not fully grasp or command the new thing she has brought about, there is no absolute creation here: the new thing invented is also ‘discovered’, given to the creator herself as a mysterious new potency.12

Milbank reminds us that humans cannot create in the same way as God. Not even divine creativity rests in us in the exact same way it does in the Godhead, despite the fact that (or perhaps precisely because) we are made in the image of God. Milbank couches our creativity in terms of gift and participation. It is our participation in divine creativity that allows us to create, yet that participation is a gift. What is more, the very things we create, insofar as they are good, are gifts from God. We receive them just as much as we create them. This is why, for MacDonald, ‘A genuine work of art must mean many things; the truer the art, the more things it will mean.’13

MacDonald takes this notion of true art having multiple meanings and applies it to the differences between creations of humans and God: ‘One difference between God’s work and man’s is, that, while God’s work cannot mean more than he meant, man’s work must mean more than he meant.’14 Here, MacDonald is not denying a multiplicity of meaning within the works of God, but that the number of meanings cannot exceed God’s intention. This is not the case with human creation. The numerous interpretations of works by human beings stand as testimony to this. Yet this multifariousness can be a good thing when applied to meaning in human works. In this way Tolkien’s work can be considered both an indictment on capitalism15 through his depictions of the Shire and yet also as providing commentary on the necessity of war but without the love of it particularly in the words of Faramir.

In the end, for Tolkien, the fairy-story serves an even larger purpose, which is the introduction into our minds of eucatastrophe and participation in the Evangelium. A fairy-tale is almost not a fairy tale, for Tolkien, if it lacks a happy ending.16 This is precisely what makes it different from tragedy. Rather than a sudden turn that causes all events to go awry (Hamlet’s mother drinking the wine meant to kill Hamlet, Laertes being stabbed by his own poisoned sword, etc.) there is a sudden turn of events that causes all to go right. Tolkien called this the eucatastrophe. For Tolkien, ‘The eucatastrophic tale is the true form of the fairy-tale, and its highest function.’17 This is so because the happy ending participates in an even greater story. ‘But in the “eucatastrophe” we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater––it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world.’18

The Gospel is, for Tolkien, the greatest fairy-tale, and is the source for all fairy-tales, even those that come before it. He writes in words similar to those I have used in the previous chapters, ‘But the story has entered History and the primary world; the desires and aspirations of sub-creation has been raised to the fulfillment of Creation. The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy.’19 The Poet enters the Poem, but it is more than this. The entrance of the Poet into the Poem hallows (deifies, theo-poetises) the work going on within the Poem by us. For Tolkien:

But in God’s Kingdom the presence of the greatest does not depress the small. Redeemed Man is still man. Story, fantasy, still go on, and should go on. The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, to hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed. So great is the bounty with which he has been treated that he may now, perhaps, fairly dare to guess that in Fantasy he may actually assist in the effoliation and multiple enrichment of creation.20

Our creative faculties, that aspect of our being made in the image of God, are redeemed and pulled up to the level of creation. In writing fantasy and poetry we imitate and participate in God as Creator, as Poet. What’s more, we participate in God as storyteller through salvation history, particularly through the story of the Incarnation which serves as the source for our storytelling.

All of this discussion of human creativity in fantasy and poetry, however, needs now to also be connected more directly to deification. Having looked at the foundations and purposes to which poetry and fantasy are put, I want to turn now to two stories about creation to show, in part, how they relate to deification, how they relate to the whole Poem and the process of Poem becoming Theo-Poem.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

1 J. R. R. Tolkien, ‘Tree and Leaf,’ in The Tolkien Reader (New York: The Ballantine Publishing Company, 1966), 75.

2 Ibid., 63.

3 Ibid., 77.

4 Ibid., 77.

5 Ibid., 38.

6 G. K. Chesterton, ‘Orthodoxy,’ in Everyman Chesterton (London: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), 302.

7 Alison Milbank, Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians: The Fantasy of the Real (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2009), 64-5.

8 George MacDonald, ‘The Fantastic Imagination,’ in The Complete Fairy Tales, ed. by U. C. Knoepflmacher (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), 5-6.

9 Ibid., 6.

10 G. K. Chesterton, ‘Orthodoxy,’ 121.

12 John Milbank, Beyond Secular Order: The Representation of Being and the Representation of the People (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2013), 196.

13 George MacDonald, ‘The Fantastic Imagination,’ 7.

14 Ibid., 9.

15 See the chapter entitled ‘Fairy Economics: Gift Exchange’ in Alison Milbank, Chesterton and Tolkien as Theologians: The Fantasy of the Real (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2009), 117-141.

16 J. R. R. Tolkien, ‘Tree and Leaf,’ 85.

17 Ibid.

18 Ibid., 88.

19 Ibid., 88-9.

20 Ibid., 89.

Creativity as Deifying: An Extract from My Thesis Part I

David Russell Mosley

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

Dear Friends and Family,

Inspired by this post from Artur Rosman, ‘John Paul II, the Artist in You, and Coleridge’, I thought I would share a portion of my thesis on a related topic. This extract comes from my fourth chapter which focuses on the Christian life in light of the Ascension and the Indwelling and how deification continues and grows in us during this time. The portion I want to share is a bit long, so I’ll be sharing it in parts. Please, let me know what you think.

Sub-Creation

I want now to turn my attention to human creativity and the role it plays in the life of redemption and deification. John Milbank has suggested in Beyond Secular Order, that the human creatures is a fictioning creature, that is, a creature who shapes and re-shapes the nature around them, ‘Likewise, they are as animals fictioning creatures, or in other terms cultural and historical creatures, whose very nature is artificially to question and reshape (though not thereby to destroy) this nature.’1 This is based, for Milbank first in the Incarnation’s ability to re-shape history, ‘If the Incarnation permitted a reshaping of the world, then it was to be expected that time would bring forth beneficial innovations, including technological ones, in which the Holy Spirit was at work through human hands.’2 Note how Milbank argues that if the Incarnation has reshaped the world then as a result of this reshaping (a reorientation of humanity in a general sense towards its end) the Spirit, who is given in one sense to all humanity and in another to Christians in a particular way, will be active in bringing about additions to creation, or new parts to the Poem. This is all even further based in the notion that culture and creativity are themselves gifts and deifying participations in the divine creativity:

The ‘cultural supplement’ to which our purely animal natural reason is already, through our ‘trans-naturality’, obscurely drawn by the lure of the supernatural implanted within us, simply is, as revealed in the light of the Incarnation, the supplement of grace, the beginning of the work of deification which is always (as Sergei Bulgakov saw, through his eastern appropriation of western experience) the work of a further participation in divine creativity.3

Thus, for Milbank, culture is a gift and our participation in culture is an aspect of our deification. For this reason, the rest of this chapter will look specifically at the work of George MacDonald, G. K. Chesterton, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis for modern examples of what Tolkien would come to call sub-creation, as a kind of sub- poetical contribution to the Poem which in turn contributes to our becoming Theo- poems.

Participation in the Poem

Humans, then, are to play a role as poets, participating in the Poet and in a real, but qualified sense, adding to the Poem. As Metropolitan Kallistos Ware has written, ‘Our highest vocation as human persons is to reproduce on earth, so far as this is possible for us, the movement of mutual love that passes eternally between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.’4 What God is, which is what we participate in and are in the image of, we are to recreate, re-poetise here on earth. George MacDonald, writing on the importance of imagination, writes, ‘man may, if he pleases, invent a little world of his own, with its own laws; for there is that in him which delights in calling up new forms–which is the closest, perhaps, he can come to creation.’5 These worlds which we can create, however, must hold to the moral law (one of the only laws in Elfland, as Chesterton told us above). To do otherwise is to inherently create inconsistent world. Again, MacDonald writes, ‘In the moral world it is different [from the physical]: there a man may clothe in new forms, and for this employ his imagination freely, but he must invent nothing. He may not, for any purpose, turn its laws upside down. He must not meddle with the relations of live souls. The laws of the spirit of man must hold, alike in this world and in any world he may invent.’6 For MacDonald the moral world can be recast in new clothes, but it cannot change its substance.

If we can, as I have already suggested, in some ways equate poetry and fantasy, or at least poetry and Faerie, which all have to do with creation, then this human activity is immanently important to theology and philosophy. Josef Pieper, writes:

poetry and philosophy are more closely related to one another than any of the sciences to philosophy: both, equally, are aimed, as one might say, at wonder (and wonder does not occur in the workaday world)––and this by virtue of the power of transcending the everyday world, a power common to poetry and philosophy.7

Note that Pieper equates poetry with a world beyond the workaday. His own point here is that a utilitarian world misunderstands the point of both philosophy and poetry. These are searches for wonder. Tolkien, writing about Fairy-stories, says, ‘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.’8 This desire which is awakened is akin to the wonder that Pieper writes about, or even the joy that haunted Lewis in his pre-Christian days.9 Therefore it is necessary here to discuss fantasy and its implications in our deification.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

1 John Milbank, Beyond Secular Order: The Representation of Being and the Representation of the People (Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, 2013), 220.

2 Ibid., 218.

3 Ibid., 213.

4 Kallistos Ware,  ‘The Holy Trinity: Model for Personhood-in-relation,’ in The Trinity and an Entan- gled World: Relationality in Physical Science and Theology, ed. John Polkinghorne (Cam- bridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 113.

5 George MacDonald, ‘The Fantastic Imagination,’ in The Complete Fairy Tales, ed. by U. C. Knoepflmacher (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), 5-6.

6 Ibid., 6.

7 Josef Pieper, Leisure The Basis of Culture, trans. by Alexander Dru (London: Faber and Faber, 1952), 95.

8 J. R. R. Tolkien, ‘Tree and Leaf,’ in The Tolkien Reader (New York: The Ballantine Publishing Company, 1966), 63.

9 See C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy (Orlando: Harcourt Inc., 1955).