“…there is something wrong with how we look at [the] world. We have inherited amblyopia from Adam and Eve, and the eye that has become lazy is our spiritual one. We let our wandering eye rest not on creations true teleology, but only upon its usefulness to our own self-satisfaction. The world becomes worldly when we do not use our spiritual and sensible eyes together. That accounts for why Christian doctrine must walk the paradox of simultaneously affirming the good of nature, and rejecting the natural as the ultimate end of human existence. The world has not caused our idolatry, rather our idolatry has wronged the world. St. Paul says it groans in the travails of childbirth until man and woman take up their abandoned post of cosmic priest again (Romans 8), and Kavanagh says we can only finally do the world the way it was meant to be done if we are restored to this liturgical relationship with the world. Sometimes the overly spiritual Christian suggests that redemption consists of turning a blind eye to the world, but in fact redemption consists of having our proper activity returned to us in both domains–the profane as well as the sacred.”
From Coventry Kersey Dighton Patmore’s 1895 book The Rod, the Root, and the Flower:
Plato’s cave of shadows is the most profound and simple statement of the relation of the natural to the spiritual life ever made. Men stand with their backs to the Sun, and they take the shadows cast by it upon the walls of their cavern for realities. The shadows, even, of heavenly realities are so alluring as to provoke ardent desires, but they cannot satisfy us. They mock us with unattainable good, and our natural and legitimate passions and instincts, in the absence of their true and substantial satisfactions, break forth into frantic disorders. If we want fruition we must turn our back to the shadows, and gaze on their realities in God.
It may be added that, when we have done this, and are weary of the splendors and felicities of immediate reality, we may turn again, from time to time, to the shadows, which, having thus become intelligible, and being attributed by us to their true origin, are immeasurably more satisfying than they were before, and may be delighted in without blame. This is the ‘evening joy,’ the joy of contemplating God in His creatures, of which the theologians write; and this purified and intelligible joy in the shadows–which has now obtained a core of substance–is not only the hundredfold ‘promise of this life also,’ but it is, as the Church teaches, a large part of the joy of the blest….
“‘Detachment’ consists, not in casting aside all natural loves and goods, but in the possession of a love and a good so great that all others, though they may and do acquire increase through the presence of the greater love and good, which explains and justifies them, seem nothing in comparison.”
Was John Calvin a Nominalist or a Realist? Does this question even have meaning? What were the primary influences of this theology?
Last year (or was it earlier this year?) I published a three-part series addressing these questions and exploring the nominalist roots of John Calvin’s theology. Here are the links to my articles:
The sacramental imagination invites us to rethink one of the hottest topics within Christian apologetics right now: the meaning of “a Christian worldview.”
In 1963, Fr. Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983) addressed this topic of Christian worldview in a study guide written for the Quadrennial Conference of the National Student Christian Federation in Athens, Ohio in December 1963. The students in this group were preparing themselves for a discussion of Christian mission in the contemporary world. Schmemann, who was a liturgical scholar of Russian descent who immigrated to America in 1951, wanted to guide the students’ discussion through helping them to develop a correct understanding of a Christian “worldview.”
My previous post, “A Visit From G..K. Chesterton“, raised the issue of what is often referred to as “the sacramental imagination.” Along with other poets and novelists associated with the sacramental imagination (one thinks of authors like George Herbert, George MacDonald, Gerard Manley Hopkins, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien), Chesterton invited his readers to look at the world in a new way, to see the divine splendor that lies concealed in the stuff of ordinary life.
Chesterton believed that we can best approach this sacramental vision by becoming like little children. He pointed out that as we mature we often lose the sense of wonder towards the world that came to us naturally when young. Taking inspiration from St. Francis of Assisi, Chesterton believed that the spiritual life was an invitation to regain this elemental sense of wonder, to have our spiritual senses sharpened so that we can begin seeing the halo of sanctity in all natural things. “…the whole philosophy of St. Francis”, he reflected, “revolved around the idea of a new supernatural light on natural things, which meant the ultimate recovery not the ultimate refusal of natural things.”
From Ravi Zacharias’ book Recapture the Wonder:
Wonder is that possession of the mind that enchants the emotions while never surrendering reason. It is a grasp on reality that does not need constant high points in order to be maintained, nor is it made vulnerable by the low points of life’s struggle. It sees in the ordinary the extraordinary, and it finds in the extraordinary the reaffirmations for what it already knows. Wonder clasps the soul (the spiritual) and is felt in the body (the material). Wonder interprets life through the eyes of eternity while enjoying the moment, but never lets the momentary vision exhaust the eternal. Wonder makes life’s enchantment real and knows when and where enchantment must lie. Wonder knows how to read the shadows because it knows the nature of light. Wonder knows that while you cannot look at the light you cannot look at anything else without it. It is not exhausted by childhood but finds its key there. It is a journey like a walk through the woods, over the usual obstacles and around the common distractions, while the voice of direction leads, saying ‘This is the way, walk ye in it’ (Isaiah 30:21 KJV). It is not at all surprising that of the seventy usages of the word wonder in the Old testament, nearly half of them are by David, the sweet singer of Israel. Wonder and music go hand in hand. Wonder cannot help but sing. Even nature recognizes that.”
The late afternoon August sun shone mercilessly into my face as I made my way across the parking lot of the call center where I had been working as a janitor.
Generally, I liked the hot days in Coeur d’Alene Idaho, especially when I could go swimming in the lake with my daughter Susanna after work. But on that particular afternoon in early August, I had five hours of office work to look forward to, as part of a second Master’s degree I had begun to pursue. If I was lucky, I could get the work done in order to be in bed by 10:00, before beginning another long day as a janitor.
You’ve probably heard dozens of times about the need to have an “attitude of gratitude.” I have even talked about that on this blog. But I have come to believe that telling ourselves, “I need to have a grateful attitude” is about as helpful as telling ourselves to “have a dieting attitude” or to “have an exercise attitude.” As with dieting and exercise, so with gratitude: what counts is actually practicing it in a tangible way.
We often think that specific gratitude practices flow out of a prior attitude of gratitude. But usually it works the other way round. In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brené Brown tells how she used to assume that the people who were naturally joyful were the grateful people. But after devoting countless hours to interviewing hundreds of people about joy and gratitude, a surprising pattern began to emerge. Brown’s research began showing that a conscious choice to engage in gratitude activities is the cause of joy, not the other way round. “Without exception,” Brown writes, “every person I interviewed who described living a joyful life or who described themselves as joyful, actively practiced gratitude and attributed their joyfulness to their gratitude practice…. When it comes to gratitude, the word that jumped out at me throughout this research process is practice.”
Self-esteem, self-compassion, self-love, self-care. These are all hot topics in modern culture. As Christians it is sometimes easy to dismiss all these concepts as stemming from our systemic “focus on self” instead of thinking carefully about what these concepts actually mean and how they relate to Biblical teaching.
Before jumping into this topic, it should be noted that the fact that a concept has to do with the self does not automatically make it suspect. As we grow from spiritual sickness to spiritual wholeness, sometimes we need to focus on the self, just as a person who has a weight problem sometimes needs to focus on his weight, or a person with a broken leg needs to focus on his leg.
In my recent article “Listen to Your Feelings“, I discussed the often overlooked relationship between beauty and virtue:
…it is through an emotional attraction to beauty that we are motivated to make moral judgments and to order our lives according to transcendent realities. Through the sense of beauty we are moved out of indifference to become emotionally invested in pursuing one outcome rather than another. For example, when Eve succumbed to the temptation to disobey God (Gen. 3:6), it was because the beauty of the tree and its effects (“pleasant to the eyes… desirable to make one wise”) captured her imagination with greater force than the beauty of remaining faithful to the will of God. That example might lead us to disparage the role of beauty in moral decision-making, and yet the same principle also works in the other direction as the Holy Spirit sanctifies our feelings and imaginations. Through a sense of Christ’s beauty, we become emotionally invested in following Him. For example, when we observe character traits in Bible characters and saints that are worthy of emulation, when we identify certain things as honorable or shameful, when our praise of God is rooted in heart-felt admiration, or when we order our actions based on a longing for outcomes that lie outside the scope of the present life but which are attractive to our imagination—all these things partly arise from a sense of “the beauty of holiness.” (Ps. 96:9) A rightly-ordered sense of beauty is thus central to the moral imagination of the believer.