Levitas and Gravitas, Fairies and Mystics: A Response to Christiana N. Peterson

David Russell Mosley

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

Dear Friends and Family,

Last week, Image Journal, posted to their blog an essay by Christiana N. Peterson. In the essay, Peterson talks about her daughter’s longing for fairies and its relation to the mystics longing for God. I posted the article to my personal Facebook page saying, “There is more that could be said, but this is a good beginning.” Today, I would like to say a little more.

Some of my friends responded to the article noting that the depiction of mystics was rather sanitized and romanticized. This is true. Peterson writes:

The mystics’ words make me think of wings again, of living in the trees of Middle Earth with the elves. Why, I wonder, would reading the mystics feel like reading Tolkien or searching for fairies in the dying light of summer?
I so want to encounter God in the way of the mystics. I want to know God is with me, right now in the moment, in tangible, visible ways. So I pour over their words and spiritual practices, wishing to have visions but knowing that God often comes to us in more mundane ways.

For Peterson, reading the mystics is like reading Tolkien, but I’m not sure if it’s like reading Tolkien in the right way. For Peterson, the connection is between the deeper realities glimpsed by the mystic and a land populated with things like elves, dwarves, and dragons. Yet when I read the mystics, I feel less like I’m reading Tolkien, in that sense anyway, and more like I’m reading Ezekiel or Dante or Tolkien in a very different sense. Let me explain.

The mystics, who really can’t be categorized together like this, are often giving us insight to one of two things if not both. Often they are giving us translated visions of the deeper reality, of the angels, thrones, and powers, the logoi that stand behind and uphold, through God, the things we experience everyday. Or else they give us an insight into ourselves. Peterson mentions Theresa’s interior castles, but it is precisely that these are castles that exist within us. I think of Augustine’s Confessions where he turns from searching for God in creation to searching for God within himself and as he plumbs the depths of his soul is raised to higher heights. Or again, I think of Dante who takes us through Hell (our own sinfulness), purges us in Purgatory, and gives us that first glimpse of the Beatific Vision and the ecstatic understanding that will be given to us on how God could be so joined to man in the person of Jesus Christ, by extension (or better participation) in us. Or again, I think of Denys and how the Celestial Hierarchy stands behind, upholds, and gives reality to the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy.

For me this reminds me of Tolkien not because of Middle-earth, per se, but what Middle-earth represents, namely the reality of Faërie. Tolkien writes in On Fairy-stories, “It was in fairy-stories that I first divined the potency of words, and the wonder of things, such as stone, and wood, and iron; tree and grass; house and fire; bread and wine.”⁠1 I’ve written before about this, and other, quotations from Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories, but I want to draw attention to this line again because of the examples Tolkien uses. It is perhaps not inappropriate to see in bread and wine the Eucharist. Here, in a way, we get at the heart of the mystics. For many mystics things we see in everyday life, or fantastical combinations of them (e.g., the griffon), stand for deeper, spiritual realities. They images that serve as symbols of a deeper reality. In the Eucharist (and other sacraments) it is not just pictures but physical objects themselves that serve as real symbols of deeper realities.

What is more, however, is that for Tolkien, Faërie itself is the Perilous Realm. A land in which, should we venture, we will not come out unchanged (as Aragorn says to Boromir before they enter Lothlorien). If, as a friend has suggested, Peterson’s view of mystics is sanitized, so too is her picture of Faërie. The angels, it would seem, are terrifying to behold, if we take seriously their injunctions to “Be not afraid” when they appear to mortals. Lewis uses this to an interesting effect in his Perelandra when the two guiding intelligences of the planets Mars and Venus ask Ransom, the human protagonist of the Cosmic Trilogy, to tell them which will form will be most suitable for introducing themselves to the King and Queen of Venus. Ransom is terrified as they appear to him in forms whose depictions are lifted almost word for word out of Scripture (notably Ezekiel).

Now, like Peterson, I will be raising my children to look for fairies, though perhaps not in broken potsherds, but in large mounds. I hope that this investment in their imagination will do for them what it did for me, open up the possibility that there are things we cannot see or cannot comprehend and categorize. That along with angels and the logoi (insofar as those two are separable) there may be lesser beings both like and unlike us who belong to this world in a way even we do not, and that we might be able to catch a glimpse of them if we correct our vision (which often takes holiness). Yet I hope my children will also learn to seek these things in the right spirit, the spirit that says these things are not safe, they are not tame, to borrow language from Lewis, but that at least some of them are good.

So, I agree with Peterson, there is a connection fairies, or better Faërie, and Mystics. But this connection has to have the right tenor, the right level of both levitas and gravitas. We can at once find both joy and terror in the presence of God, so to in the Perilous Realm, and we need both in order to see them more clearly. A joyless God is not a God worth our worship and yet neither is one who does not inspire us to say, “Woe is me, I am a man of unclean lips.” What we do not need are safe fairies, nor a safe God. Safe reality is not worth our existence. We need stories and a reality that rightly reflect the deeper truths. Consider again the Eucharist. Here is the source, in so many ways, of all our joy. We are united to Christ as we eat his flesh and drink his blood. Yet consider precisely what we are doing, we are eating flesh and blood. We are re-visiting not only the night on which Jesus was betrayed, but his crucifixion, his body torn, his blood poured out. The source of all our joy is a moment of horrific torture unto death. This is something the mystics most certainly understood as their visions make clear (I think of St. Perpetua and her dream about the ladder covered in nails and spikes with a dragon at its base. Yet once she reaches the top, there is joy and peace). It is both levitas and gravitas, life and death, joy and danger, that unites our search for fairies and our search for God and the deeper truths of reality.

Sincerely,
David

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1 J. R. R. Tolkien, ‘Tree and Leaf,’ in The Tolkien Reader (New York: The Ballantine Publishing Company, 1966), 78.

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Porous and Buffered: Reading A Secular Age

David Russell Mosley

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Eastertide
31 March 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

So I’ve recently taken the plunge and started reading Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. For those unfamiliar with Taylor and/or this work, Taylor is a Canadian philosopher and is professor emeritus at McGill University. He has written numerous works on political philosophy, history of philosophy, intellectual history and more. A Secular Age is Taylor’s attempt at putting a narrative to the transition that happens between, essentially, pre- and post-Enlightenment thinking and living. Specifically, Taylor wants to answer, narratively, “why as it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?”⁠1 This book fits, to a certain extent, within the same realm as John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory or Catherine Pickstock’s After Writing, and other such intellectual histories that seek to describe how we arrived at our modern understandings of reality and society. Taylor’s book is massive and to help me engage more fully with it, I’ve decided to blog my way through it. I intend to take it a chapter at a time and so this first post will cover, to an extent, the Introduction and Chapter 1. However, I want to be clear, I am more giving my thoughts on this book as I work my way through it rather than reviewing or intentionally critiquing it. My plan is just to highlight what I found interesting or problematic about the book as I move through it, so take my opinions with a grain of salt. If you’ve read the book, feel free to correct me when I’m wrong. If you haven’t, feel free to take it up with me and comment as you read the sections on which I am commenting. Now, to the thing!

In the Introduction, Taylor is laying out what he intends to do in this book, specifically, to describe how we moved from a porous self in an enchanted cosmos to a buffered self in a secular age. I’ll tackle porous/enchanted and buffered in a moment, but first, I want to address Taylor’s understanding of secular. Taylor describes three different kinds of secularity but wants to focus on the third kind, “which [he] could perhaps encapsulate in this way: the change I want to define and trace is one which takes us from a society in which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others.”⁠2 This third sense of “secular” is in essence where religious belief becomes one option among others and no longer the guiding principle by which life is lived. Taylor, however, does make it clear that religion is tied to all three kinds of secularity, ” as that which is retreating in public space (1), or as a type of belief and practice which is or is not in regression (2), and as a certain kind of belief or commitment whose conditions in this age are being examined (3).”⁠3 This is interesting because Taylor is here arguing that secularity in general cannot cut its ties with religion, it cannot escape transcendence. It can only define itself in contradistinction from religion. Nevertheless, what Taylor wants to do is understand and narrate how we moved from what he will call the porous self to the buffered.

In Chapter 1, then, titled “The Bulwarks of Belief,” Taylor begins to define his terms, particularly porous/enchanted and buffered/disenchanted or secular. The enchanted world (which term Taylor takes up as the antonym to Weber’s disenchantment) is the world in which our pre-modern ancestors lived. For Taylor, “The enchanted world in this sense is the world of spirits, demons, and moral forces which our ancestors lived in.”⁠4 I’m really quite intrigued by Taylor’s use of enchantment and his understanding of the premodern self. For readers of these letters, you’ll know I have an intense interest in enchantment (which I often equate with sacramental and liturgical). It seems to me that Taylor means something similar, however, he is far less interested than I am, for instance, in developing a theology of enchantment or premodern understanding. This is largely because Taylor is offering a narrative and not explicitly arguing for one position over another (or at least not yet).

Taylor understands the person living in the enchanted cosmos as porous, that is open to these spirits, demons, and moral forces not as two minds (or more) that can work together or against one another, but as porous, capable of being internally affected by them. For the porous self, meaning is not primarily in the mind as they are for the buffered self. Taylor describes the buffered understanding of meaning this way,

“On the former view meanings are “in the mind” in the sense that things only the meaning they do in that they awaken a certain response in us, and this has to do with our nature as creatures who are thus capable of such responses, which means creatures with feelings, with desires, aversions, i.e. beings endowed with minds, in the broader sense.”⁠5

An object only has meaning insofar as I, as a being with intellect, imbue it with such. A tree is beautiful or menacing precisely because I feel it to be so, not because the tree itself has beauty or menace. But for our porous ancestors this was not the case. Meaning existed in things. Taylor describes this through the cult of the saints:

“But seeing things this way understates the strangeness of the enchanted world. Thus precisely in this cult of the saints, we can see how the forces here were not all agents, subjectivities, who could decide to confer a favour. But power also resided in things. For the curative actions of saints was often linked to centres where their relics resided; either some piece of their body (supposedly), or some object which had been connected with them in life, like (in the case of Christ) pieces of the true Cross, or the sweat-cloth which Saint Veronica had used to wipe his face, and which was on display on certain occasions in Rome. And we can add to this other objects which had been endowed with sacramental power, like the Host, or candles which had been blessed at Candlemas, and the like. These objects were loci of spiritual power; which is why they had to be treated with care, and if abused could wreak terrible damage.”⁠6

Taylor gets more precise and notes that these meaningful (in the true sense of that word) objects relate on a cosmic level, “So in the pre-modern world, meanings are not only in minds, but can reside in things, or in various kinds of extra-human but intra-cosmic subjects. We can bring out the contrast with today in to dimensions, by looking at two kinds of peers that these things/subjects posses.”⁠7 I am reminded here of John Milbank’s article “Fictioning Things” where writes that the objects in fairy-tales often function as the movers of the plot:

“Fairy-tale yields up a symmetrically opposite paradox: the circulation of objects in the basic plot is shadowed by the operations at a meta-narrative level of misty personages––senders and helpers, preternaturally “other” fairy figures and giants or else legendary human persons. Moreover, though the human heroes and heroines of the main plot are ciphers, who simply receive gifts as well as performing impossible tasks, etc. these ciphers, unlike the more strongly characterized gods or heroes, do in the end triumph, thanks to the mediations of the magical objects and a series of exchanges at the meta-narrative level with the “other” fairy realms.⁠”8

What Milbank describes, it seems to me, is the same kind of relationship between the saint and the relic as described by Taylor. These meaningful objects filled with power and thus cause an affect whether one intends them to or not (one might think of Uzzah and the ark, the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings, or other similar examples). Taylor describes the good objects as capable of good or ill depending on how one uses them, though he never describes whether or not an object imbued with evil power could be used for good if used inappropriately. What Taylor is missing here, so far as I can see, is an extra level of connectivity. The relic of a saint is imbued with power from the saint, but the saint herself is imbued with power from God. Thus the grace mediated through a physical object ultimately receives its power from God. So while meaning is not simply in the mind, that is in the human or even angelic mind, it is ultimately founded in the mind of God. Why Taylor does not, in this chapter at least, make this point, I cannot say.

Another key to the porous self and the “charged” objects is that the effects of the charged object often function on multiple levels. When describing the healing that is given by such an object, Taylor notes that this healing is often not limited to the physical:

“That is, the same force that healed you could also make a better, or more holy person; and that in one act, so to speak. For the two disabilities were often seen as not really distinct. This shows that in, for instance, the healing at and by shrines, relics, sacred objects, etc., we are dealing with something different from modern medicine, even where the analogy seems closest.”⁠9

Without being explicit, Taylor recalls two, almost contrary ideas. On the one hand, I, at least, am reminded of the healings effected by Jesus. Often is the physical healing accompanied by a forgiveness of sin. However, and here is where either Taylor himself, or, possibly, our premodern ancestors, could  (or did) go wrong, which is to suggest that there is a direct connection between the physical ailment and particular unholiness. Christ himself denounces this when asked by his disciples who sinned in the case of the man born blind. However, it is clear that there is a connection (from Genesis 3 onward) between our physical ailments (that we die) and our sinfulness.

Taylor’s description of the enchanted cosmos is one that is inherently social. “But living in the enchanted, porous world of our ancestors was inherently living socially. It was not just that the spiritual forces which impinged on me often emanated from people around me, e.g., the spell cast by my enemy, or the protection afforded by a candle which has been blessed in the parish church. Much more fundamental, these forces often impinged on us as a society, and were defended against by us as a society.”⁠10

The buffered self, it would seem, though Taylor has not made this argument explicit as of yet, is one that not only puts up boundaries between me and creation (whether spiritual or physical) but also between me and other selves. If the porous self is inherently social, the buffered self is inherently individual.

Taylor is clearly not, at present, arguing for a return to the porous or enchanted. I’m not sure he believes this possible. Problematic for me is that Taylor does not seem even to be interested to ask whether or not it is true. I understand that his purpose is to narrate, to describe, and he is doing that. So I cannot fault him for doing what he set out to do; I just wish he were doing something a little different, but that’s my problem, not his.

Well thanks for enduring this long post, if you have. If you’ve read this book, let me know if I’m wrong (or right) and what I might have missed.

Sincerely,
David

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1 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 25.

2 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 3.

3 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 15.

4 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 26.

5 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 31.

6 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 32.

7 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 33.

8 John Milbank,  ‘Fictioning Things: Gift and Narrative,’ Religion and Literature, 37:3 (Autumn 2005): 15.

9 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 39.

10 Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Belknap Press, 2007), 42.

An Inklings Walking Tour

David Russell Mosley

 

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Lent
10 March 2016
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

On Tuesday, 15 March 2016, at approximately 8pm EST, five members of the Inklings are going on a walking tour throughout the English countryside. This was a common enough occurrence when the Inklings were alive, but now the dearly departed will be live-tweeting the even (pun intended). Make sure you follow the following accounts on twitter:

C. S. Lewis: @PilgrimInNarnia
J. R. R. Tolkien: @TolkienElfland (written by yours truly)
Charles Williams: @OddestInkling
Owen Barfield: @BarfieldDiction
Hugo Dyson: @hugo_dyson

Also, be sure to follow the hashtag #inkwalk. This should be an awful lot of fun and will include many quotations or paraphrases from the workers of these authors. To get a sense of what this will be like, I recommend checking out the night Charles Williams was drunk-texting on a road trip with C.S. Lewis.

Sincerely,
David

On Food: Growing and Eating and Hobbits

David Russell Mosley

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

Dear Friends and Family,

Writing to you about food, and not about fasting, feels a bit odd during this Lenten season. However, it is always important to remember that Christianity is primarily a feasting religion which fasts to remind us that we depend on God, not food, for our existence. Nevertheless, today I have read two excellent articles on food that I thought I would share with you, with a little commentary.

The first article I read today came from The American Conservative, an excellent news and opinion source, in my personal opinion. Here author Gracy Olmstead writes an article entitled “Why Cooking Matters.” Olmstead is looking primarily at the work of author Michael Pollan––author of such works as The Omnivores Dilemma and Cooked––to see what importance cooking, even spending much of our time in the cultivation (or hunting) and preparation of the food we eat. For Pollan it is not only good but necessary that we begin to return to older methods of food cultivation and preparation. Failure to do so will result in loss of traditions which will in turn lead to loss of a proper connection to the land.

There are are critics of Pollan, however. Olmstead notes that of New York Times’s Neil Genzlinger who argues that Pollan’s views are too gentrified, unavailable to poor. Olmstead responds that the problem has less to do with this not being available to the poor for financial reasons “but, rather, because we’ve largely lost the skills associated with this work.” Now here I do think Olmstead and Pollan are overlooking the fact that much of this may not be available to those who have to work three full-time jobs just to make ends meet. Rather than the handwringing of Genzlinger, however, I would argue that this is reason enough to fight for political changes to make it easier for the poor among us to have access to good, healthy food and the means to cultivate and prepare it. This may also require re-education and new habits to be formed. We have been so habituated to the processed that for many the organic tastes bad. It took me a long time to love the flavor of organic vegetables or even grass fed beef. Nevertheless, I think these things worth our time.

The second article I read was an older article from The Distributist Review by Robert Hutchinson entitled, “How to Eat like a Hobbit.” Hutchinson begins by reminding us of the importance of food in Tolkien’s work. Hutchinson notes, that, “there is more eating than fighting in The Lord of the Rings.” And many are often either driven mad, or to laughter, by how often Bilbo is pining after bacon and his larder in The Hobbit. Hutchinson notes that unlike our industrialized farming of today, hobbits and the other free folk of Middle-earth benefit from what can only be called organic small farms (albeit there were no pesticides in the third age so to call the farms organic is certainly anachronistic on my part). Not everyone was a farmer, but what farmers there were were the primary source of food in the local economies. This Hutchinson sees as a good, and I agree.

Hutchinson then transitions his article from hobbits to our own situation. He notes that even when we see numerous brands on the grocery store shelves many, if not all, of them come from the same farms, are packaged in the same factories, and are distributed by the same distributors. “[B]y some estimates,” Hutchinson writes, “just four companies now produce 90% of the food consumed in the United States: Cargill, Tyson Foods, General Mills and Kraft.” This is not a good, says Hutchinson. This leads to bad growing practices, to a desire for uniformity which causes sellers and growers to use artificial means to keep their food “looking nice” when they hit grocery store shelves. Hutchinson, however, is not content simply to detail the woes, but offers real solutions we can take as individuals, families, and local communities. I will reproduce those in full here:

“1. Go organic. Whenever possible, begin buying organic food, especially when it comes to meat and dairy products. Organic products are more expensive so every family and individual has to adjust their purchases for their own economic situation. Many people believe that, for health reasons, switching to organic, free-range meats and dairy is more important than organic vegetables because of the use of growth hormones and antibiotics in meat and dairy.

2. Buy local only. Almost every town and city in North America and Europe hosts farmer’s markets where the few remaining family and small farms come to sell locally grown produce. There are now also hundreds of websites where you can quickly and easily identify stores in your area that sell locally grown produce.

3. Eat in season. This is the hardest step of all to take. That’s because globalization means that consumers in prosperous nations have gotten used to eating whatever they want, whenever they want it, regardless of the season. But again, convenience comes at a high cost: the fruits you buy in January are picked unripe and artificially ripened with ethylene gas or calcium carbide (yum, yum!). Buying foods in season, however, has the effect of encouraging a far more diverse diet than would otherwise be the case: apricots in April, cherries in May, blueberries and raspberries in June.

4. Start your own garden. One reason to start your own garden is because it sensitizes you to what you’re missing by eating only mass-produced industrial food. Anyone who has ever tasted a homegrown heirloom tomato grown on the vine has trouble going back to the tasteless, “pre-ripened,” dyed-red globules sold in most supermarkets. Even if you only have a few green pepper plants sprouting on your balcony in your high-rise apartment, it is a vivid reminder of the Shire and why you should go out of your way to find “Hobbit-grown” foods whenever you can.

5. Join the Urban Chicken movement. Thousands of families in urban and suburban settings have set up small chicken coops in their back yards, sometimes disguised as children’s playhouses. The fun of growing chickens is heightened by getting dozens of “farm fresh,” organically produced, nutritious eggs.

6. Eat less meat. Hobbits are not vegetarians and neither are most human beings. Yet their favourite foods are grown in the wild, particularly mushrooms. Many people are finding that a return to the so-called “paleolithic diet,” the diet of our hunter-gather ancestors, can result in surprising health benefits and even weight loss. This is a diet made up primarily of fruits and vegetables with occasional lean meat dishes.

7. Lobby for labeling. The industrial food lobby, aided by most national governments, has fought tooth and nail against food labelling requirements. The Big Food lobby has been especially fierce in its opposition to labels for Genetically Modified (GM) foods since so many consumer food products today now contain genetically altered plants, such as corn. It is also opposed to mandatory labelling for products that contain growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides and so on. That’s because the food industry does not want consumers “voting with their pocketbooks” and choosing organic foods that do not contain these chemical additives.”

While not every individual or family will be able to do all of these at once, I do want to encourage you to do what you can. I said at the beginning that writing about food during Lent felt odd. However, there is at least one upside to writing about this at the tail end of February. For many of us these suggestions will be easier to follow as Spring inches nearer. My wife and I are already planning out our allotment for this season, so we can grow at least some of the food we eat. We are also fortunate to live in an area with many small or at least non-industrialized farms nearby so that as the season begins we can buy fresh, local, and often organic produce, we can even pick our own and jam and can. What is important, however, is that these things are good to do. They are good because they are often healthier options; they are often more economically and environmentally viable options. More importantly, however, they are more Christian options. We are called to be stewards of Creation. What is more, we act as priests for the rest of physical creation at least (I think also for angelic, but that’s another subject for another day). It is our job to offer back our gratitude and our very selves to God as priests offering sacrifices. For this reason we must find more just ways to cultivate and consume our food. The two articles above, if we read them and take them to heart, can help us do precisely that. Cheers.

Sincerely,
David

My Lenten Journey with Dante, Augustine, and Samwise

David Russell Mosley

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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

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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