Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Gleanings: Facebook Musings

If I don't remember to post these things here, they are liable to fall down the Zuckerberg Memory Hole.


It seems to me, at this particular moment, that social media is both perfect and tragic for our cultural and spiritual moment. We are Kafka's cockroach, alienated from any forms of life, even from the self, and certainly from God (a more bitter tragedy is that so many who vaunt themselves as close to God are the most estranged). The connection that social media offers, whether the ability to connect with family on Facebook or with a multitude of bros on Tinder, is alluring and often helpful. We long to be united, to be in communion with one another, the world at large, and the divine. So we post funny memes, relate tragic news, opine on all manner of subjects, yet...yet we go away still burdened with the loneliness, anxiety, and self-interestedness that we started with. Social media, and if we are honest most real social interactions (from friendships to marriages), do this.

Could it be that these longings cannot be satisfied, that we cannot find healing, because they are infinite? You cannot tell someone you love them once and expect it to stick forever, right? Rather it is a lifetime, as close to an infinity as we get, that proves the singular statement. But what a burden we who need love bear, then, when others need that same, infinite love! And so we settle, no matter how damaging it may truly be, for a measure of loneliness, of posturing and aggrandizement, of anxiety, since we find out very quickly in life that we cannot possibly meet the demands of love.

It is, then, the overcoming of this ugly ditch between us and infinite Love that is the true work of human existence, individual and corporate. The Source, the inexhaustible Well, has been primordially lost, and remains unattainable to mankind in their bondage. If the Well, though, were to open Itself up to us, giving freely, would we reject it? Would we, like the denizens of Plato's cave, reject the call of those freed for the comfort of our discomfort?


Forgiveness does not preclude or cancel out justice. St Paul's argument in the book of Romans, in some measure, is the revelation of the "righteousness" or "justice" (same word in Greek) that is revealed in the crucifixion of the Messiah, where our forgiveness is found. To forgive, in the deepest sense of the term, is to release (aphiami): we have been held in bondage by the one the Scriptures call the evil one, the devil, the serpent, the dragon, or the satan (yes, there is always a definite article). The Cross releases us, forgive us, from our sins by which we were held in slavery to death and unrighteousness. Since the serpent had no legitimate claim on us (he gained power by deceit and fraud), God's justice is our forgiveness.

Of course, this goes further and deeper. But this is why my last post was "forgive everyone for everything." Let's not hold each other in bondage, but release others as we have been released, just as we pray in the prayer given to us by our Lord: "forgive us our debts/trespasses, as we forgive our debtors/those who trespass against us." Forgiveness is the Kingdom come into our midst now; it is also the great promise of the Kingdom come in its fullness.


The tragedy of Beauty in our world, one which was totally avoidable, is that we don't see it except in small snatches of time. Mere moments when what we long for, what we truly and ontologically need, is an ever deepening experience and union with the Beautiful, what I previously termed 'epektasis', following the Nyssan.

The worse tragedy, though, is that we normalize the banal, as if beauty was an intrusion, analogous to how Deists understood miracles. Short and abnormal; fleeting, ephemeral, hevel hevlim as Qohelet says. We expect what we've mistakenly termed 'reality' and are shocked when beauty bursts through.

But, and relish that disjunction for a moment, if the cosmos really is made by the Word, a multitude of logoi that lead to, and share in, the Logos, then beauty is the norm. Our normal, whether we are discussing aesthetics or psychology or ethics or engineering, is Christ. But not Christ separate from the cosmos' experience of Him. There is no Christ behind the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected One. While He was born, lived, suffered, died, and was raised in our historical plane, He was also 'the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world.' How this is so is a proper mystery: we cannot know it rationally, but we can know it cardically. I've made up that word; the classical word is noetic, but we too often confuse the nous with the intellect, when rather it should be understood as the heart, the kardia, the faculty of union with God, the Inner Temple of the Spirit, which needs so much purification to be a proper abode.

It is with the heart that we truly see Beauty. But our hearts are blind, darkened by sin, and focused on pain and pleasure and the world in its pejorative sense. The cleansing and healing of the heart, so that Christ might dwell within, is the substance of salvation. This presents us with another mystery: this purification is the work of Christ, but also requires our own effort, yet it is all by grace; no man (or woman for that matter) could revivify the heart without the Holy Spirit of God. The Spirit makes it His abode, yet we -- even those with faith in Christ, or worse, especially those -- defile that Tabernacle with what does not satisfy: the Holy One dwells in holiness. This is the 'narrow gate' of the Lord.


If God is beauty, not just the most beautiful thing (as if He was a thing to be objectified), but beauty Himself, wouldn't all human life be properly oriented towards desiring, knowing, and uniting with that Beauty? Not to be lost or swallowed up, but rather to become beautiful, to become an icon, streaming myrrh and light, radiant light!

When we read that God has fashioned (made is such a droll word) us -- humans, all humans, no exceptions -- in His image and after His likeness, we glimpse our own ontic state: we are, primordially and essentially, His beauty in the world -- not His essence, but His activity, His energy, separate from Him by being created, but forever joined to Him, and invited into deeper epektatic and ecstatic union.

So why is it, and this is the question of man's fall into sin -- into that brutalist nothingness of which we spoke before -- that we seek to erase the image in others, at the same time defacing it in ourselves? The world will never truly need a philosophical atheism when it has the practice of continually killing God through this virulent iconoclasm (it is only a short step from destroying wood and paint to eradicating human lives).

And so we stand at the crux of a conundrum: we are made for Beauty, yet we murder it at all times and places. The conundrum is resolved -- not in a rational way, but only in the actual entering of mystical experience -- in the Cross. Here God (you will see why reason cannot grasp this now) willingly, willingly!, submits Himself to be brutalized, to be effaced, distorted, perverted, erased, to end the tyranny of the Great Ugliness. Since death, which is nothing in itself, cannot possibly stand in the presence of life, the conundrum become a paradox: this ugliest of moments, in which is concentrated all the evil, and sin, and corruption of the world and her history, reveals the incomprehensible Beauty behind and shot through all things. The Cross is apokalypsis, the unveiling of what is true, and good, and beautiful. To face the Cross, in its strange and unnerving ugliness and beauty, is to finally see the other: it was Christ all along.

Salvation is finding Christ is us, by partaking of this apocalypse, dying and raising.


We will extinguish all the beauty in the world, for comfort, for ease, for some tremulous grasp on security; worse, yet, we will hunt and hound the beautiful down to be merely right. Beauty is an expansive, encompassing thing, it (He?) yearns for inclusion and embrace; the Great Ugliness is nothing that can be perceived with the eyes or other senses, for it has no independent existence. It is hard here to grasp, for how can we reasonably talk about that which does not exist (yet is no fiction: it threatens the whole world). The Ugly, far from being analyzed in the halls of academe or the corridors of museums, is the sometimes slow, other times stark and irretrievable, reversion into the nothingness from which we have come. Existence desires existence, but emptiness is never full.

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