A post-modern story is told about Marco Polo in Italo Calvino’s superb set of fabulist tales, Invisible Cities. The great Kublai Khan listens to the Venetian’s tales of the many cities he has visited over the years.
At the end, the Great Khan reaches the inexorable, shocking conclusion that each of these many narratives is describing a single place.
The Great Khan leafs through his atlas, nearing despair, and he said,
‘It is all useless, if the last landing place can only be the infernal city, and it is there that, in ever-narrowing circles, the current is drawing us.’
And Marco Polo said: ‘The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together.
‘There are two ways to escape suffering it.
‘The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can longer see it.
‘The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.’
* * * * * * *
Calvino raises the terrible specter of the easy way of “accepting the inferno,” of becoming so acclimated to it that the utter wrongness -- the ugliness and darkness -- of the inferno cannot be seen.
Let us look at a sentence from another modern philosopher from the first half of the twentieth century, the relatively less-known Nicolai Hartmann, and perhaps we will see a similar theme:
"The tragedy of man is that of somebody who is starving and sitting at a richly laden table but does not reach out with his hand, because he cannot see what is right in front of him. For the real world has inexhaustible splendour, the real life is full of meaning and abundance, where we grasp it, it is full of miracles and glory."
That “inexhaustible splendour” is -- as we’ve been at pains to demonstrate in the first part of this talk -- the natural way of things. Humanity is naturally to be moved to desire by Beauty and to move onward and upward in knowledge all the way to the divine vision, the theoria, in the “paths of righteousness” -- if you will -- a journey that is marked and blazed by signposts of “miracles and glory.”
The inimitable Hans Urs von Balthasar, remarking upon that happier and more intelligent age when "philosophy was one with theology," would agree: "Man philo-sophizes in a transport of awe,” he says, “illumined by the light of eternal Being as it shines forth in the world."
That is the natural way of things -- one might go so far as to call it an “essential epistemology.” Obviously, in a fallen world, things are not that way, especially in the way of knowledge. As the late Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann writes:
When we see the world as an end in itself, everything in itself becomes a value and consequently loses all value, because only in God is found the meaning (value) of everything, and the world is meaningful only when it is the "sacrament" of God's presence. Things treated merely as things in themselves destroy themselves because only in God have they any life. The world of nature, cut off from the source of life, is a dying world. For one who thinks food in itself is the source of life, eating is communion with the dying world, it is communion with death. Food itself is dead, it is life that has died and it must be kept in refrigerators like a corpse.
Again, we are quickly reminded of Marco Polo’s “easy way” of acclimation and assimilation into the opaque world of inferno.
* * * * * * *
The Cross and Resurrection -- indeed, the entirety of the Incarnation -- has made the Inferno completely unnecessary. There is no inexorable doom of Hell anymore: no one is determined or pre-determined to enter that psychic possibility.
The Cross cancelled sin in time in a sacrifice of Peace. The Resurrection opened eternal Beauty into our experience, and thus, all of life is illuminated, all moments are made meaningful … even the insignificant intervals of time which comprise most of life, those “in-between” times that are non-historical and outside the notice of biographers and chronicles … those moments of perceived stillness when you see dust-motes wafting in the sharply-defined tri-dimensional beam of an afternoon sun through a southwest-facing window … or when you permit yourself to be dazzled by the white-gold dance of the noonday sun on a stream in the winter woods, on what T S Eliot calls, in Little Gidding, the “zero summer.”
* * * * * * *
There is an odd, elusive property of Beauty: which is that Beauty completely fills time and all its interstitial moments, and Beauty reveals the creatures that inhabit time -- whether these phenomena are small or large, important or disregarded, celebrated in history, or left unrecorded in the chronicles. Beauty comprises the distance that differentiates all things.
It is in the small quiet “zero summer” moments especially that Beauty especially comes to mind.
These moments, when your attention is turned into true perception and then taken, in ascent, by symbol and analogy into the eternal realms by the personal agency of the Logos, and ultimately to recognize the presence of the Trinity … these moments are the proof that Creation is really created in beauty, that the Cross has reversed the tide of Hell in existence by a singularity of peaceful self-donation, and that the Resurrection has inaugurated the eternity of Triune peace in this, our common life and history.
* * * * * * *
The Cross is located in time, and the Resurrection in eternity: both events are inseparably united, along with the entirety of the Incarnation, as both crucially meaningful in historic fact and transcendent truth.
Humanity and Creation can never be the same again. Before this single, defining moment at the center of history, Beauty was often veiled and prophesied in scattered intimations. Now, after the Incarnation, we have seen the true form of humanity, the apex and summation of Beauty:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (for the life was manifested, and we have see it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) …” (1 John 1.1-2 KJV).
This Beauty is always expressed to the nous, the heart of the soul: this is the fundamental expression of the Holy Spirit -- Who, after all, is “everywhere present and fills all things.” And St Gregory of Nyssa wants us to remember that when we pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done” in the Lord’s Prayer, that “Kingdom” we pray for is the Holy Spirit Himself.
When we consider the Spirit’s constant expression of beauty to the nous, it becomes clear that the nous is not just the attentional apparatus; it is at the same time an interpretative apparatus. All phenomena are interpreted -- there is no completely “objective,” or “non-interpreted” phenomenon. In the perception of life, attention and interpretation cannot be separated: they are unified in the nous.
The question here is not whether life is interpreted by the nous or the mind -- because it must always be so and cannot be otherwise. The question is really whether life is interpreted according to the Logos -- the word of God Who is Truth Himself -- or according to the rubrics of hell (which are not very nice at all)
This question is pertinent, to say the least, because Beauty -- in this context -- becomes much more than a leisurely pastime that should be dispensed with by grownup, serious people … rather, the opposite is true: Beauty becomes a moral, categorical imperative.
The reason why I am so emphatic here is because we are not just talking about deciding whether something is pretty or precious, or whether a work of art “suits your aesthetic taste.” Beauty, here, as the expression of God, involves not only the recognition of Christ, but also the reflection of Him, the broadcast of His Uncreated Light in beauty to the darksome world.
“You are the Light of the world,” He said, “and that Light cannot be hid.”
St Maximos the Confessor wrote that in the course of salvation, the human person is sanctified by God’s deifying grace, and becomes central to the gradual reconciliation of all Creation with the Creator.
When Beauty is recognized as Christocentric, then Beauty -- as the supreme Divine Rhetoric to the deepest and truest human desire -- becomes the actual condition of the process of theosis, of real salvation and spirituality, even -- as it is courageously described in the East -- “deification.”
* * * * * * *
It would be a mistake to put beauty in opposition to either spirituality or social ethics. Sometimes, “beauty” is seen as a waste of time and effort, when it is the more important business of caring for the needy that is the highest priority.
But It turns out that it is precisely for beauty that we care for the poor and show personal regard for humanity, and care for our world -- because we discern the glory of the Lord -- His beauty -- in Creation, and that beauty awakens our desire.
Often, in the context of spirituality, we read or hear that the things of Creation, no matter how beautiful they are, need to be renounced or passed by.
After all, did not Christ Himself say startling things like “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple”? (Luke 14.26 KJV)
In like manner, St John Climacus, discussing the second step of the Ladder called “Detachment,” writes this: “The man who really loves the Lord, who has made a real effort to find the coming Kingdom, who has really begun to be troubled by his sins, who is really mindful of eternal torment and judgment, who really lives in fear of his own departure, will not love, care or worry about money, or possessions, or parents, or worldly glory, or friends, or brothers, or anything at all on earth.”
But note carefully here that Abba John is discussing detachment, and not abandonment. There is an important contrast of meaning between these two terms that has a lot to do with Beauty.
“Abandonment” is clearly condemned by Christ Himself, as He commands care and regard, and the extension of His Peace, to all humanity -- especially to one’s neighbor. And, perhaps, this divine and infinite regard should be extended, analogously, to all creatures. St Paul applies this demand in his “household ethic”: “But if any provide not for his own, and especially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.”
Abba John himself writes his own “household ethic” in the twenty-first paragraph of the first step, called “Renunciation of the World”:
Some people living carelessly in the world have asked me: ‘We are married and are beset with social cares, and how can we lead the solitary life?’ I replied to them: ‘Do all the good you can; do not speak evil of anyone; do not steal from anyone; do not lie to anyone; do not be arrogant towards anyone; do not hate any one; be sure you go to church; be compassionate to the needy; do not offend anyone; do not wreck another man’s domestic happiness; and be content with your married state. If you behave in this way you will not be far from the Kingdom of Heaven.’
* * * * * * *
Thus, “detachment” cannot be defined in any sense as “abandonment” or any kind of “disregard” or withdrawal of care.
“Detachment” is not so much separation as it is a “disentanglement” from passionate attachment. It is the recognition of the true logoi of a creature, and its utter contingency upon the Creator. In other words, this is an aesthetic “re-contextualization” … more importantly, it is also a movement of the consciousness, in which the object is no longer viewed as an idol, but instead is viewed in the illumination of the Divine, uncreated light.
In other words, Beauty calls for detachment, but prohibits abandonment. It stands as a witness any kind of gnostic rejection of the created world.
To discard Creation is to end up disregarding the Creator.
* * * * * * *
I think Hans Urs von Balthasar is helpful here. He associates this idolatry of the darkened nous with what he calls “aesthetic theology.”
This sort of degenerate “theology” attempts to find meaning and beauty in human experience in itself, by reflection on objects in isolation severed from any connection to transcendent meaning.
Von Balthasar urges the replacement of “aesthetic theology” with its opposite: “theological aesthetics,” which is all about the recognition of trinitarian and christological Beauty as the very theme and condition of theosis.
I would like to read a similar passage from another author, who sets this idea of “theological aesthetics” in the context of intelligence and imagination. Here is William Lynch, in his helpful little book, Christ and Apollo:
… the truth is, of course, that Christian belief is in its essence belief in a person who, having “created” time, could not possibly be hostile to it; who had directed it from the beginning by way of His providence and His having substantially and inwardly shaped it (so that He is the master of both history and psychiatry), who finally entered it and grew into it with such subtlety and power that He is not the enemy of it but the model for the imagination and the intelligence. He is the enemy only of the romantic imagination (i.e., aesthetic theology) and the pure (i.e., abstract) intelligence as ways of life.
* * * * * * *
What is especially germane to our subject at hand is the undeniable fact that the restored interpretation of Beauty, according to the Logos, is to be reflected and extended constantly, to every creature.
We are called by God, in His delight and total freedom, through His revelatory Beauty. We recognize that beauty, and our responding desire moves, with His help, to reflect that beauty.
We recognize the beauty of Christ, we then reflect His beauty. When we perceive divine beauty, we must become a beautifier of our world.
- every man, woman and child is recognized as friend and neighbor, as an icon of Christ Himself
- every other creature is recognized as a sparrow which is the recipient of Divine gaze, or as a lily of the field, which is arrayed greater than the splendor of Solomon
- and even putatively inanimate objects, like the fields and the mountains, the oceans, and what we gaze upon in the night sky and the even more glorious objects observed in physics -- all of these are not recognized at all unless they are understood as articulating and participating in the beautiful glory of the Trinity
Obviously, the ethic that is rendered by such an interpretation-of-Beauty is going to differ from the interpretation, or hermeneutic, that is predicated upon a narrative of violence and chaos, whether such a narrative is outright materialistic, or more forthrightly demonic. In such a framework, an object will be valued only in an instrumental, practical sense, and will never be “let go” or surrendered in a gift-exchange. There will always be an ulterior motive, or an “edge.” One party at least must always profit, depending upon the system of commodification at hand.
There is no profit or even “ego-defense” in the Christian life of Beauty. There is only gift-giving because of infinite Grace. There is only transcendent reference in each and every particularity.
* * * * * * *
The well-known Parable of the Sheep and the Goats shows that the distinctly CHRISTIAN ethic cannot be divorced at all from theology. This Parable, along with others -- especially the Good Samaritan -- retain that reflexive sense of Beauty -- in that this single term comprises both recognition and reflection.
In this integrated sense, the transcendental term Beauty appears in both knowledge and action, in moments of crisis and enthusiasm but only in intervals of the plain and mundane.
And most importantly, Beauty becomes a critical term for one’s individual growth in theosis, but also for the entire community. In Beauty, Orthodox spirituality is both personal and communal. To say that Orthodox Spirituality is a business of passive isolation for the sake of individual development is to miss the meaning of both “orthodoxy” and “spirituality.”
Not only is there an ethical imperative in Beauty -- an imperative that scandalously opposes the aristocratic aesthetic of Nietzsche (and more than a few others) -- but more importantly to us, Beauty imposes an aesthetic upon our ministry to others, including -- especially -- to the poor.
It does us no good to divide up the Gospel into distinct, separated categories, like “ethics,” “ministry,” “spirituality” and “aesthetics.” To do so is to distort meaning and probably to think of beauty as a waste of time -- like asking “Why was this precious ointment not sold for the benefit of the poor”?
To draw these categories makes us fail to recognize Beauty in its fullest, most comprehensive presence.
The virtue of showing kindness to the poor and small, the powerless and the marginal is predicated upon the mysterious recognition of the Beauty of Christ Himself, and His real presence in the neighborhood of the Created World that He is calling back to communion with the Father.
* * * * * * *
This enormously powerful Parable that we receive as the exposition of the character of the Last Judgment is actually the climactic summation of an entire tradition of symbolic, Christological recognition, starting all the way back in Genesis and working throughout the entirety of the Old Testament, and finally coming into sharp focus in the New Testament
First we have the very immature Adam and Eve, who failed to recognize that God is a God of Gift-giving, Beauty and Peace, Who wanted to bestow upon humanity the gifts of deification and knowledge through growth into His Likeness. In a wretched irony, these very gifts that were intended to be bestowed later on, at the point of maturation, actually became, in a perverse manner, the very things that the deceiver tempted them with -- if they would only denounce their utter dependence, and strike out on their own autonomous path of self-deification, and utter soul-darkening alienation.
Thus, the “darkening of the nous” in the Fall of Humanity was first of all, according to St Gregory the Theologian, a theological apostasy. It was a failure to recognize the Divine Beauty expressed by the Logos in Creation.
The recognition of true Beauty awakens natural desire, an authentic human response in the soul and the body, and the human being responds, in this true eros, by reflecting Beauty in his or her experience, their particular Garden of Eden, their world.
But so tragically contrary to this destiny of meaningful human life, recognition was darkened, and the created beauty of objects was cut off from their divine reference. Created, natural desire that is rises and converges upon transcendence was replaced, perversely, with attraction and passionate entanglement. And humanity was left, thus, to wander in existence as we know it today.
Consequently, the possibility of recognition and, in turn, reflection, was removed from the simple “face-to-face” perception, and was obscured “in a glass darkly.”
The crucial question remains, then: how is recognition possible in this age? in this fractured time and space?
* * * * * * *
Sometime later after the catastrophic events of the third chapter of Genesis we come to the poignant Joseph “Cycle.” I say “cycle,” because there is a recursion in this narrative, a “nested” story located in the , we hear a recursive story of not only Joseph, but also -- nested within it -- the rather story of Judah and Tamar … and these stories are linked by the haunting repetition of the Hebrew word “haker-na” -- or “do you recognize this?”
Some time after Joseph was sold out by his brothers into slavery, the story’s focus fell upon Judah -- who was the one who said “What profit is it if we merely slay our brother and conceal his blood?”
This squalid episode narrates a lustful Judah who fell in with a woman he he took to be a pagan temple prostitute. He failed to recognize the real identity of this woman who was actually Tamar, his widowed daughter-in-law. When he could not not pay his bill immediately, he gave her his signet ring as a pledge.
Three months later, in the tents of Judah, it became obvious that Tamar was pregnant, and Judah and his clan made ready to execute her in the fire.
However, Tamar pulled out the signet ring of Judah for him and the entire camp to see … and she asked Judah, in this most operatic of moments, “Do you recognize this?”
This term -- do you recognize?, or “haker-na” -- is wildly and frightfully meaningful, because it was the same word that was used a chapter earlier, when Judah and his brothers took Joseph’s beautiful coat of many colors and had stained and obscured it with the blood of a goat.
They then showed the blood-stained vestment to Jacob, the patriarch of the twelve brothers, and Jacob was asked, “Do you recognize this?”
Thus, this very word that connotes perception and consciousness, first uttered in perverse irony by Judah, how comes back to damn him in the hard, cold words of the unjustly-used Tamar.
* * * * * * *
But the story cycle doesn’t stop there. For Judah, this was the lowest point, the nadir, of the descent. In the following “ascension” phase of this poignant chiasmus narrative structure -- a rising phase that almost always is longer in duration than the fall -- the theme of “recognition” reappears once again, at the very climax of redemption.
Let us skip ahead to the forty-second chapter. Things have changed: fortunes have reversed. Famine and ruin now plague the tents of Jacob and all his sons in Canaan. Meanwhile, Joseph has risen from slavery and prison to the zenith of viceroy of Egypt.
In a highly sophisticated drama, the sons of Jacob who betrayed their brother had to suffer trumped-up charges involving secretly-returned money ... a curious demand to see all the brothers, especially the youngest, Benjamin … and the wrongful and substitutionary imprisonment of the now-righteous Symeon.
All this narrative, which often tries the patience of modern readers, is a haunting symmetry that correspond, in this phase of ascent, to the very events that marked the descent into dereliction.
Every moment of self-exile is redeemed by a larger moment of divine kenosis, and glorification.
* * * * * * *
Finally, at the climactic scene of the Joseph cycle, the hidden Christ-figure, Joseph the glorified, whose brilliance actually obscured his true identify from his anxious, passionate brethren, invited his captors to a rich, kingly banquet.
Still hidden from his brother’s familiar consciousness, Joseph asked after the health of his father … and when he looked upon the face of his brother Benjamin for the first time, he broke down in secret tears.
And for some reason, Joseph engineers a frightening “play-within-a-play” -- actually, another recursion, another nested episode -- almost like the little drama engineered by Hamlet to express a sign to the larger, meta-drama. And in thisepisode, Joseph hides his own chalice, a priceless silver grail, in the grain bag of Benjamin. After the brothers had gone just a short distance on their return journey home, they were overtaken by Joseph’s men, and accused of theft … threatening that whoever stole the missing chalice would be executed.
All the other bags were opened, and then came Benjamin’s … and when the silver cup tumbled out of the bag, the brothers, for once, responded with real, true grief, rending their garments in sorrow.
Here is the moment of redemption. By now, Judah and all his brothers had come to their senses. In one of the most moving speeches of Scripture, Judah tells the Egyptian prince that if he could not bring Benjamin back to Jacob, the old patriarch would die of grief -- especially since he had already lost Benjamin’s older brother.
And then, here is the great exchange, the great ego-sacrifice of peace offered by Judah: “Now therefore,” he said to that very lost brother, still hidden from his understanding, “Let me your servant, I pray you, remain instead of the lad as a slave to my lord; and let the lad go back with his brothers.”
* * * * * * *
Then the story continues, in even deeper poignance: “Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him; and he cried, ‘Make every one go out from me’ … And he wept aloud … and called his brothers to draw near. And he said, ‘I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
* * * * * * *
Let us consider the mysterious, haunting fact that Joseph was not the sole author of his own words here. Cleary -- a priori and certainly not ex post facto, not in some de-mythologizing “after-the-fact” interpretation -- Joseph and his words are the type of an Antitype that gleams throughout this and all narratives. His brothers represent us and all humanity, who finally recognize the One Who -- more even than Joseph -- was sent to “preserve life.”
Here, at the point of recognition, Divine Beauty shines, even in a context of chaos and meaninglessness. Here, Beauty calls humanity, and the original response of desire rises, and humanity rises to follow.
* * * * * * *
Much has been written and said about Biblical and theological typology: but I would like to focus, specifically, on the connecting threat that ties type and anti-type together.
I suggest to you that this organic link between the figure and its prefigurement, between the anticipation and the fulfillment -- that linkage ever since the Cross must go by way of the Cross.
Such a Cruciform recognition of Divine Beauty that descends to the depths in rescue and recognition, and ascends to peace and glorification, follows a deep structure called “helical chiasmus,” or “concentric parallelism.” It is a structure that does not get much notice, but one that Fr John Breck detects all through the Bible and really all of poetry.
He writes, thus, toward the end of his book The Shape of Biblical Language, a text that really ought to get a lot more attention in exegetical and hermeneutical circles:
"The persistence of chiasmus throughout history ... suggests that the phenomenon is more than just another literary form ... the movement peculiar to chiasmus suggests that in some sense concentric parallelism is 'naturally' imprinted on the fabric of the human mind, on the order of a 'deep-structure' such as narrative or myth ... Chiasmus is a universal form, both learned and intuited. If it has indeed persisted throughout the centuries, even when its most characteristic features have gone unrecognized, is it not because of its unique ability to communicate a message powerfully and concisely by drawing the reader/hearer into its very center of meaning?"
* * * * * * *
The simple reason why true Christological Beauty can be apprehended as the meaning of life in time only through chiasmus is because chiasmus follows the trajectory of the Cross and Resurrection. There is ego-sacrifice, then there there is glory … and let us remember here the main emphasis of true theological aesthetics: “Beauty,” as David Hart writes, “qualifies theology’s understanding of divine glory: it shows that glory to be not only holy, powerful, immense, and righteous, but also good and desirable, a gift graciously shared.”
* * * * * * *
Nowhere is that Beauty seen more clear, more Christological, more explicit in its Divine rhetoric, than in the chiasmic narration of the Gospel itself.
Centuries before the Joseph cycle, a scandalous story is told of Abraham, who was commanded to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice on Mt Moriah. This story itself has puzzled philosophers, and probably led astray non-aesthetic thinkers like Kierkegaard. It has scandalized modern sensibilities, seeming to add weight to the academic certainty that the Old Testament is an anthology of crypto-pagan folktales.
But deeply embedded in the narrative, its characters and its spiritual topography is a secret code. And that is this: this narrative does not and cannot stand on its own. Its answer -- its meaning -- lies somewhere else. It is an anticipation.
It is not an answer: the story itself is a question.
And it is not Abraham or humanity posing the question.
It is the “other” Actor -- it is God Himself.
* * * * * * *
And this is the Question God asks Abraham, and all humanity:
“Do you recognized this? Can you see Beauty?”
* * * * * * *
Sometime later, we see in the Joseph Cycle -- which is itself a nested story within the grand epic inaugurated by Abraham -- the beginning of an answer to that Divine Question, posed rhetorically on Moriah.
We see additional answers, fuller accounts, more shimmering prefigurements in the Psalms of David. The wonderful poet and Psalm-chanter, the late Donald Sheehan, wrote in the introduction to his translation of the Septuagint Psalms that
“… the chiastic pattern of each psalm is an icon of God’s relation to us; and each movement of descent and ascent perfectly reflects our own ceaseless turnings away from and toward Him … God will take each heartfelt cry as an invitation for Him to enter our dance and transform our solo terrors into blessedness. This dance is one that grows always in beauty and graced, as, with David, we allow His mind to become our own.”
* * * * * * *
Finally, we arrive at the crisis moment of the Cross. There, where the world expects the usual pre-determined script -- or doom -- of ugliness, meaningless, violence and a relapse back into primordial chaos … there, the Holy Trinity overturns the doom and establishes the Cross as the Antitype not only of Moses’ Staff, but the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
There, at the Cross, in the most poignant manner, made possible by this chiasmus of the Gospel, the question asked on Moriah comes doubling back in infinite resonance:
“Do you recognize Me? Do you see Beauty?”
The Gospel of Mark drives home this earth-shaking moment of human recognition. It was at the Cross, in Mark, and no other moment, when the human words were first uttered: “Truly this Man was the Son of God” -- and those words were uttered by a Gentile, a Roman soldier.
Thus, the ugliness of the Cross -- which was was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, deformed by the darkened nous and broken consciousness -- was transformed into an eternal symbol of beauty and peace.
* * * * * * *
And the chiasmus does not end here, for there is one more level to ascend.
Let us go back to the Fall, one more time. After the deception by the Serpent, Adam and Eve hid themselves “among the trees of the garden.”
And God came, ready for His evening stroll in the garden, His fellowship and communion with the chiefest of His Creation.
“But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?”
* * * * * * *
Enter time and space, and experience as we know, and let us fly through time until its denouement and its supra-rational conclusion in universal transfiguration, at the Last Day.
There, at the End and Beginning of all things, when all is revealed after so much “seeing through the glass darkly,” when we see “face to face,” there in the complete unveiling, we see “the Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price.’”
* * * * * * *
The old, all-too-familiar alienation that began in the fall, in the failure of recognition, is now healed in perfect reconciliation, with restored mutual recognition and co-inherent reflection of beauty, and mutual self-donation.
Finally, God is revealed fully in His highest Name of Love, in Beauty.
And finally, humanity takes its essential role as “the one who desires the water of life,” and humanity is finally revealed in its highest Name, in the Light, and that is the beautiful Bride of Christ.
* * * * * * *
We are not there yet, but we see through the glasses of “cruciform analogy,” a path of righteousness that must go through the kenotic valley of chiasmus.
We still have the culture of inferno to deal with.
But everything belongs to the Risen Christ, and so the Beauty of the Logos is to be recognized everywhere, and reflected.
We recognize Beauty, and we reflect in “beautification.” Now, like Marco Polo advises, it is time to “seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”
We who have seen Beauty, who have heard it and touched it, smelled it in the incense of prayer ascending and even tasted it in Communion – we who have apprehended Beauty can only beautify this world.
* * * * * * *
So let us go then, you and I, into the inferno, and seek out Beauty and “give it space.”
I have seen His beauty in an adolescent psychiatric ward, when a suicidal teenager needs, and receives, the demonstration of love from her mom and dad.
I have seen His beauty when my wife and I watch our daughters grow, and that beauty grow when I hold my granddaughter in my arms.
I have seen His beauty in miraculous flashes of His particular, concrete glories … when an eight-year-old little girl with Down’s Syndrome receives the Eucharist from me in Liturgy, and she turns up to the icon of Christos Pantocrator and smiles, and says simply, “Thank You Jesus” … or when, a few miles away, I go to my friend’s church at St George’s in Taylor, Pennsylvania, and I venerate an icon that simply gushes sometimes a cup of myrrh in a single day, whose aroma is ineffably gathered, as my late bishop used to say, “from the rose fields of paradise.”
Dr Al Rossi, just a few weeks ago on Ancient Faith Radio about his visit to this miraculous icon, said that in venerating this mysterious icon of Divine Beauty, we become miraculous, myrrh-gushing, beautiful icons ourselves.
He is, of course, absolutely right.
We recognize Beauty, then we reflect its light. We cannot separate reflection from its necessary recognition.
In this reflexive meaning of Beauty, I hope to traverse that chiasmus valley of analogy, and rise with you to the greater light of His glory. I hope, with you, to re-contextualize my story within His story, and to find my true Desirez by surrendering myself in His beautiful Friendship and Peace.
For I have seen His beauty in an unbroken consciousness, in a unity of vision that is always surprising … and in the cold afternoon sun, against the backdrop of a February snow, I see them once again, the cardinals feeding in my dogwood branches, intimating that my red roses will bloom again, and proving among a million proofs that God is surely infinite, that He is highest Name is Love, and that He speaks in Beauty and Peace.
This was the second half of the presentation recently given at the Climacus Conference this past March.