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

David Russell Mosley

flammarion-woodcut

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

Dear Friends and Family,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,
David

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The Sacramental Imagination of Narnia

David Russell Mosley

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Ordinary Time
05 11 2014
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

Today I want to continue our discussion of the formation of Sacramental Imagination in children. The world I want to look at today is C. S. Lewis’s Narnia. I thought about how I wanted to do this, and there may come a day soon where I’ll look at each book in turn, but today I want to focus on Narnia as a whole, dipping in and out of the various books as I see fit.

Narnia is world I didn’t come to right away. Unlike The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia were never read to me as a child. I still remember having them recommended to me by a classmate as we sat, not paying attention, during choir when I was in about the fourth or fifth grade. I can’t remember what my first reading of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was like, but I remember sitting at my desk in my bedroom, pouring over The Silver Chair with my desk lamp on. I loved Puddleglum. I’m not sure why. I’m not of a sour disposition myself, but I loved him all the same.

One of the key things Narnia taught as a child was a love for animals, not in a zoological way, but as friends. Every squirrel I met, every bird, cat, dog, toad, snake, whatever, was my friend, someone to whom I could talk and be understood. In fact, I used to believe I had a special way with animals. Even at university, when there was a mouse in my dorm room, I could have sworn I had nearly talked it into coming to me so I could rescue it from the mouse traps all over the place. Sadly, it didn’t listen to me. What Narnia taught me about animals extended the rest of creation (granted Tolkien was also helpful here, but I’m not discussing The Lord of the Rings). Every tree, every field, every flower became special, even while I longed for my own doorway into Narnia.

Narnia did more than simply give me an appreciation for creation, though that is an excellent starting place if one is going to have a high view of baptism, the Eucharist, or chrismation (all Sacraments involving physical objects often used for other daily purposes as well). It also began to form my imagination about the universe as a whole. One of my favourite scenes in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is when the company of the Dawn Treader land on Ramandu’s island and meet the retired Star and his daughter. Eustace, who’s total transformation hasn’t been fully effected yet, blurts out when he’s told what Ramandu and Coriakin are, “In our world…a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.” Ramandu repsonds, “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.” There is a hint, that stars in our world might be similar to stars in Narnia, especially since we’re not told what Ramandu is made of, only what he looks like (one could, of course, delve deeper since Caspian later weds and sires an offspring with Ramandu’s daughter, therefore she, nor her father, can be made of huge balls of flaming gas, but that is not the point Lewis or I are trying to make). Not only does Narnia teach us to view the Earth differently, but the whole cosmos. Stars might be persons, animals might be able to talk, and the death of a creature who is also God by nature might be able to undo all the evil, slowly, of fallen world. If this is possible, then why might not bread become a body, wine, blood, or oil a seal from God.

There is, of course, much more one could point to: the liquid light at the edge of the world, the way this world connects to the next, etc. At heart, however, what Narnia does, what all good fantasy does, is show us that things may be more than they appear and this because there is one who created them and they show forth their creator and participate in him. In short, that the cosmos is enchanted.

Sincerely yours,
David

Being a (Non-Roman) Catholic Evangelical: Getting High (Church, that is)

David Russell Mosley

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18 January 2014
On the Edge of Elfland
Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Dear Friends and Family,

A few days ago over at The American Conservative, Gracy Olmstead wrote an article entitled, ‘Why Millennials Long for Liturgy: Is the High Church the Christianity of the future?’ In the article, Olmstead cites several Protestant converts to various kinds of more Tradition (read Liturgical) branches of Christianity. This is a major trend I have seen myself in many of those with whom I attended university and even within myself. Olmstead posits that  Millennials, the generation that spans from roughly 1977~1982-c.2000, are in search of deeper and more mystical faiths, often than those in which they were brought up (the article notes a former Reformed Baptist, and two Presbyterians who switched from a typically Low-Church Evangelicalism to various High-Churches). I myself know of several Presbyterians, some Nazarenes, and many within my own tradition (the Restoration Movement) who have gone high Methodist, Anglican Church of North America or Episcopalian, Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic.

Perhaps it is the hidden hipster within me, but I hate doing things that are trendy, or be seen to be trendy. In fact, in a recent Facebook thread a joke was made (by me, of course) that trendy is the last word most people would use to describe me. That being said, I wonder what it is that drives people like myself to seek more High-Church expressions of faith. I don’t think its possible for me, at least, to say what the general motivations are toward High-Church expressions of the Faith, but I can at least try to describe why I feel this way.

For me, it was the study of Christian history that began to move me down this path. My own tradition has often stressed that the Church should look as much like it did in the book of Acts, particularly chapter 2, as it can.  There are, I believe, many problems with this, but I don’t want to get into that. What learning about the history of Christianity, taught me, however, is that this picture we had of the apostolic church was for one, not as cut and dry as we tended to teach. Also, even if it was, things changed rapidly within a hundred years. You see, Protestantism can tend to focus on either the individual tradition of a given group (Baptist history, Presbyterian, Restoration Movement, etc.) or can focus too much on the brief pictures we’re given in the book of Acts which is meant to teach some bigger things than how to organise our churches. Doing a Master’s degree in Church History taught me that there is an awful lot between Acts chapter 2 and today and not all of it is bad.

In fact, as I learned about the history of Christianity, I realised that we technically share a vast majority of the same history with our Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters. Working with rough dates and generalisations, it could be said that all of Christianity (or the majority anyway) shares all of its history from the Life of Christ until 1053 (the typical date given for the schism between East and West). Western Christianity then continues until, roughly, the sixteenth century and the Reformation. What this means, I realised, is that there are 1600 years where we share ancestry and history with Roman Catholics and about 960 years that we also share with the Eastern Orthodox. This taught me that we need to take the practices and theology of those periods much more seriously than we tend to. We cannot simply write off ancient and medieval theologians because they are Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox and not Protestants. There were no Protestants!

This plus my own work, mostly private, in recent years in the theology behind much that is contained within Liturgy (the Church Calendar, the Divine Hours,) and high sacramentality (Eucharist and Baptism as sacraments and the world as sacramental) has left me desirous of more than I have often received in Low-Church Evangelicalism.  Even now, I attend an Anglican church here in Nottingham, but, particularly the service we attend, it still tends toward a more Low-Church expression, desiring to be more Spirit led, which I believe means allowing for spontaneity (not a bad thing, in my opinion, though rather limiting since that attitude can tend toward saying the Spirit doesn’t move, or move as freely, within structure).

The issue for Low-Churches, however, is not one of simply having a stylistically more liturgical service. That could perhaps help with retention of young people, but it doesn’t get to the root of the desire, at least not for me. This isn’t, for me, merely a preference for a traditional style of worship. It isn’t as though I unequivocally prefer hymns or chants to praise choruses and contemporary Christian worship music (I actually like some of the latter); nor is merely a desire for more communal prayers; lectionary based preaching; or more attention to the Eucharist. It is the theology behind so many of these things. I read the Scriptures and the great theologians of the Ancient and Medieval worlds and I see a worldview that sees the World as constantly upheld by and participating in the God, a world where Angels can appear to young women, where bread and wine can be body and blood, where miracles can happen. In essence, I see a different world than the one the Enlightenment and science divorced from theology and philosophy has taught us to see. I see a world where time can be used to tell the story of the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, everyday, every week, every year. I’m not sure, however, that most standard Protestant theologies can give us this, tied as they often are to Modernism. Nevertheless, I don’t give up hope. I hope, pray, write, and teach about these things in the hopes that change can be affected, not simply in what we do, but in what we believe. If something doesn’t happen, however, I firmly believe we will see more young Christians and young converts, attaching themselves to traditions which already have these elements of liturgy and sacramentology, because let’s face it, that is much easier than changing our traditions themselves.

Sincerely yours,
David Russell Mosley