I Need Advent: From Ordinary to Extraordinary

David Russell Mosley

sapientia

Ordinary Time
28 November 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today is the last day of the year. I don’t blame you if you didn’t realize that New Year’s Eve was actually tonight. After all, it’s never the same one year to the next. For those who didn’t know, tomorrow is the first day of Advent, which is the first season of the Christian Calendar. Tomorrow begins a period of fasting and waiting. This year I feel in particular need for a fresh start, for Advent.

Advent swoops in like a mournful owl searching for its evening sustenance after the longest period of Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar. Ordinary Time, the season in which we are still in for today, is a time for us as Christians to remember that the Holy Trinity is active in every season of life, including the mundane, sometimes especially the mundane as the Nativity itself reminds us (for what is ultimately more commonplace than giving birth and being born). I’ve always struggled with this long period of Ordinary Time. My prayer routines tend to fade; I slip much more easily into those pet sins I carry round with me like an evil dragon perched upon my shoulder whispering the unspeakable to me. Now don’t misunderstand me, many good things have happened during this Ordinary Time: I passed my PhD Viva, got two book contracts, have watched my boys continue to grow, and more. But still, as I wrote to you yesterday, the virtues I have attempted to cultivate have shrivelled and been replaced by vices.

I need Advent. I need this period of fasting to help me gain the mastery over my body that God gives to those who cooperate with his grace. What’s more, I need the Nativity and all the other feasts that will greet us at the beginning of this new year. I need to be reminded of the extraordinary ways God has been present in our world so that I can be better prepared to look for him and work with him in the ordinary times. In truth, there are no ordinary times. Josef Pieper, a twentieth century Catholic theologian and philosopher, writes that, “in fact the liturgy only knows feast-days, even working days being feria.”⁠1 For Pieper, the Eucharist, which is the heart of all Christian celebrations, so transfigures time that in one sense it turns every day into a feast day, even the days on which we work or fast. I’ve lost sight of this over this most recent Ordinary Time. So this year, I need Advent more than ever. I need the extraordinary to remind me that in one sense there is no ordinary. The whole cosmos is graced, gifted its being by the Almighty. The fact that there is a day at all is extraordinary. The fact that there is a you, a me, that there are rocks and trees and animals is just as extraordinary as the fact that there are angels, for we all, from the highest order of angels to the lowest order of matter come from the same source, the One who is Three, the One who is Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Unity, and Being.

Pray for me, as I will pray for you, that together we may be reminded through these times of intentional fasting and feasting that begins with Advent, that the world is extraordinary precisely because it was an act of pure gratuity on the part of God. Pray that we may have our vision transfigured so was can see the world around us anew, so that we can see past the mist and shadows and catch glimpses of Reality. This is why this year I need Advent.

Sincerely,
David

anImage_1.tiff

1 Josef Pieper, Leisure The Basis of Culture, trans. by Alexander Dru (London: Faber and Faber, 1952), 80

Advertisements

Creativity as Deifying: An Extract from My Thesis Part I

David Russell Mosley

IMG_2850

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).

Essay Extract: ‘The Liturgy of the Week’

David Russell Mosley

Simon Ushakov's icon of the Mystical Supper.

Simon Ushakov’s icon of the Mystical Supper. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Second Sunday of Advent
8 December 2013
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Since today is Sunday, the Lord’s Day, I thought I would post a section from my essay ‘Reclamation of Time’ here that deals with how we ought to view the whole week in light of Sunday. Please read and let me know what you think.

The Liturgy of the Week

From the year, then, with its seasons and major festivals, we move to the week, the unabated cycle followed no matter what the season or what celebrations or solemnities are found within it. The week centres around one specific day, called both the Lord’s Day and the First and Eighth Day. Here I wish to look at those two designations and how they affect the Christian approach to the rest of the week. Of course, central to both concepts is the celebration of the Paschal Feast, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, Communion. Known by many names, and having many different theological interpretations, it is this celebration that is at the core of the liturgy of the week, both with understanding Sunday as the Lord’s Day and as the First and Eighth day.

The Lord’s Day

Sunday is the key to the liturgy of the week. It is the day of the Lord, the day on which Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ. While this can be celebrated, and often was celebrated––depending on how one reads Acts 2.46-47, ‘And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people’––everyday. Nevertheless, a week day could be a feast day or a fasting day, but Sunday can only be a feast day. It is a day of celebration, always. This is why in the West, Sundays are not included in the forty days of Lent. The Eucharist, then, along with the celebration of the resurrection, is what it at the core of Sunday as the Lord’s Day.

In one sense, the Eucharist transcends notions of feast days and fast days. As Schmemann writes, ‘No matter when the Liturgy is celebrated, on Sunday, a Feast Day, or on any day, in the day-time of at night, it is essentially independent of the day or hour; it is not determined by them. From this standpoint the time of its cele- bration is unimportant, since what is being accomplished in the service introduces and incorporates us into a reality which is no way subject to time.’1 Nevertheless, while the Eucharist can, and should, be celebrated on other days of the week and other kinds of days within the liturgy, it belongs to Sunday, or better, Sunday belongs to it. Again, Schmemann writes, ‘The celebration of the Eucharist is placed within the framework of the liturgy of time, so that being neither bound essentially to time nor determined by it, it is ‘correlative’ of time. This is seen even more clearly in the weekly cycle, where the Eucharist has its own day––the Lord’s Day or Sunday.’2 In one sense, it is the celebration of the Eucharist which gives the Day of the Lord its meaning within the week. It is the Lord’s Day for it is the day on which we always celebrate the Eucharist. On the other hand, however, Sunday as the Lord’s Day de- fines it as the appropriate day for the Eucharist since it is the day of the week on which the Lord rose from the dead. It seemingly must be both, for as noted above, the Eucharist is not bound to time, or even to Sundays, it can be celebrated at any time on any day, and yet it is precisely Sundays that are most appropriate because the connection to the resurrection.

The First and Eighth Day

For this reason, Sunday also can be called the First and Eighth Day. It is because of the Lord’s resurrection that we can look forward, to the return of Christ, which signifies that day outside the weekly cycle, that day which is eternal present. Sunday represents the day which Amos looks forward to ‘“when the ploughman shall overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows the seed; the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and all the hills shall flow with it” (Amos 9.13).’ Ploughing happens before planting, and certainly before harvesting, just treading grapes comes after, not before, the sowing of seed. Amos shows us a picture of eternal planting and harvest. This is a picture of what Sunday is as First and Eighth Day.

Sunday also serves us within time as the first day of week. Within time, it is Sunday that begins the weekly cycle. This means that every week begins with a cele- bration of the Eucharist, the resurrection of the Lord, and the awaiting of his return. It is interesting that as the Liturgy has developed over the years, every Sunday has either a name of its own, or a name in relation to a previous celebration. The Sundays in Advent are all named after Advent; Palm Sunday is its own day; even in the large expanse of Ordinary Time after Pentecost, every Sunday is either called Proper, or related to the previous celebration of Trinity Sunday (again its own day). Sundays do not have numbers within the month, rather, when they have numbers, it is numbers associated with a Season or specific Feast or Festival. To begin each week with a name, rather than a number (even if one only thinks of it only in terms of its more eternal perspective as the Lord’s Day) must affect how the rest of the week is then viewed. Even more, Sunday as the first day of the week, as compared to Monday, could have profound implications when the week begins not with work but with wor- ship. This, according to Josef Pieper, is the foundation for celebrations at all:

And similarly in divine worship a certain definite space is set aside from working hours and days, a limited time, specially marked off––and like the space allotted to the temple, is not used, is withdrawn from all merely utilitar- ian ends. Every seventh day is a period of time of that kind: that is what a feast is, and such is its only origin and justification.3

For Pieper, celebration, even leisure, have their source in divine worship, ‘The cele- bration of divine worship, then, is the deepest of the springs by which leisure is fed and continues to be vital––though it must be remembered that leisure embraces eve- rything which, without being merely useful, is an essential part of full human existence.’4 This leads him to the conclusion that a purely utilitarian life cannot have celebrations, cannot have feasts, cannot have leisure, for it lacks the foundation for this, worship. This is what Sunday both as the Lord’s Day and the First and Eighth Day, does for us, it grounds the weekly life cycle in worship, providing us with the opportunities for work and leisure.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley

1 Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology trans by Asheleigh Moorhouse (London: The Faith Press, 1966), 35.

2 Alexander Schmemann, Introduction to Liturgical Theology trans by Asheleigh Moorhouse (London: The Faith Press, 1966), 36.

3 Josef Pieper, Leisure The Basis of Culture, trans. by Alexander Dru (London: Faber and Faber, 1952), 73.

4 Josef Pieper, Leisure The Basis of Culture, trans. by Alexander Dru (London: Faber and Faber, 1952), 76.

page4image14416