This year I have been doing a series of posts on the sacramental imagination. In one of these posts, ‘The “Christian Worldview” and the Sacramental Imagination,’ I explored Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s teaching on the sacramental character of our entire life. One of Fr. Alexander’s recurring themes, which I would like to develop in more detail in this post, is that our true beliefs about the world are manifest in how we eat and how we think about eating.
Before getting into the subject of food, however, it may be helpful to review some of the ground we have covered so far in this series. I have suggested that the sacramental imagination involves learning to perceive the world according to its real shape or essence. It is a way of picturing things that is faithful to the reality we experience living in a world where grace transforms nature. This goes back to Chesterton’s insight that there is a divine splendor that lies concealed in the stuff of ordinary life, and that even the mundane and commonplace participate in God’s grace.
That may sound somewhat mystical and over-spiritualized, so let’s make things very practical. How can the sacramental imagination change our perception of ordinary things like a sandwich, bedtime, mealtime, family relationships and suffering? To answer this question, let’s take each of these things one at a time, beginning with sandwiches. This will anticipate some of the more specific points I will make later in this post about eating.
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.”
Having grown up as a Christian, I would always have said I believed in the resurrection of the body. However, the doctrine of resurrection functioned as a kind of footnote in my thinking while my primary concern was focused on the immortality of the soul. Without giving it much thought, I simply assumed that the doctrine of resurrection was a shorthand way of referring to going to heaven when you die. Even though I had read the Gospel accounts of Christ’s resurrection many times, and even though I had read Paul’s lengthy discussion of bodily resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, I still unthinkingly assumed that the resurrection of believers would be non-physical.
My belief in a non-physical resurrection was part of a larger perspective which deemphasized the importance of the physical world. Some of my earliest writings had argued that during the Old Testament the Lord’s work had been focused on the material world but in the era of the New Covenant His work was purely spiritual (i.e., non-physical). What happened in the material world is unimportant to God; the best we can hope to do is prepare for the next. In the next life, the soul will be liberated from the body that now imprisons it.
During this season of Easter, as the Church celebrates the breaking forth of New Creation, I’ve had occasion to reflect on the relationship of God’s Kingdom to this world. In an interview with Uri Brito about my book Saints and Scoundrels, Uri asked me about Christ’s statement “My Kingdom is not of this world” and how this should inform our thinking about Christendom. Here’s a transcript of Uri’s question followed by my reply (to listen to the entire interview, click here):
Dr. Aristotle Papanikolaou
I don’t use this blog to attack other blog posts, but I feel compelled to make an exception in the case of an article written by Aristotle Papanikolaou.
Dr. Papanikolaou is the Archbishop Demetrios Chair in Orthodox Theology and Culture and Co-Director of the Orthodox Christian Studies Center at Fordham University, and the article in question was published on the Public Orthodoxy, under the title ‘Political Nestorianism and the Politics of Theosis.’ It was originally a talk delivered at the June 2015 Fordham/OTSA conference on the (then) upcoming “Great and Holy Council of the Orthodox Church.”
The sun was just going down as Maryām made her way through the narrow streets, trying to keep to back-alleys so no one noticed her. She had made this journey dozens of times before, always careful each time to do it slightly differently each time to avoid suspicion.
Her official name was Bushra, but after her secret baptism friends called her by the Christian name Maryām. She had converted from Islam to Christianity three years ago after her friend from work, Khadijah, gave her a Bible. This evening Maryām was headed to the house of Khadijah’s parents, who held secret prayer meetings every Tuesday.
As Erick Erickson and his wife face the reality of dying and leaving their children orphaned, he makes some moving observations about the ways in which Christ disrupts the present order of things. The following words are from his post “If I Die Before You Wake…“:
When Christ draws near, the systems of man and nature collapse. When faith grows strong, it conflicts more and more with politics and polite society. In Matthew 27, the very people who had cheered on Jesus as a king on Palm Sunday were suddenly yelling “crucify him.” He told them what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear and how quickly the crowd turn on him. The crowd always turns quickly.
Then before Pontius Pilate, Jesus is before the Roman legal system. That system is a system much of the Western world is still modeled on. But it collapsed as Christ drew near. The innocent man was handed over to death by a governor who knew he was innocent, but washed his hands of it. Even Pilate’s wife’s dreams collapsed into nightmare as Christ drew near and into mind.
Into the hands of the greatest, most disciplined military force the Christ was delivered only to see that discipline break down. They mocked him and tortured him. They ridiculed him. They divided up his clothes.
On the cross, the religious order broke down. The priests and rabbis mocked him. They showed no sympathy for a dying man. Then nature itself collapsed. The sun went dark. The ground tore apart. The graves came open and the dead walked out. The innocent man on the cross became the greatest sinner to have ever lived. The sins of the world, past, present, and future were piled on him so much so that the sun itself could not shine upon him and God himself turned his back. But Christ conquered death and set us free.
When Christ draws near, the systems we put in place collapse because they are the systems of sinners exposed by perfection. I want my children to know this. I want them to remember it. Because as they go through this fallen world there will be so much pressure on them, as there is on their parents, to conform to the world. And they must not be afraid to stand for the collapse of all things so that the one thing that truly matters stands tall.