Tag Archives: being

My non-philosophy that is reality.

Karl Jaspers

Why would a Christian like me want to read a whole book about existentialism? At least a few of my readers are confused about that. I may in the future share more of my gleanings from this book as it helps me understand this modern age that we live in, but now let me just clarify that it is the enlightening presentation by William Barret that I find beautiful, not the anxiety and “spiritual homelessness” of the Europeans whom he includes in the lonely camp of existentialists.

In contrast to their interesting but ultimately unsatisfying way of thinking, Father Stephen Freeman writes about our existence in a non-existentialist way. If I hold to a philosophy, it is this non-philosophy, which is reality, my life in God:

“The modern movement of secular thought has been to move existence into an independent and self-defining realm, relegating God and religion to a specialized interest of those who find themselves religiously minded. This is the death of religion – or rather a religion of death. For as soon as our existence is moved away from God and grounded in something else, God Himself has been abandoned. It is not possible for God to be a lesser concern. Either He is the very ground of our existence or He is no God.”

“As Met. John Zizioulas has famously stated, ‘Being is communion.’ In such a context we are able to move towards authentic existence – a mode of being that is not self-centered nor self-defined, but that is centered in the Other and defined by communion. Sin is removed from its confines of legalism and mere ethics and placed at the very center and character of existence itself. Sin is a movement towards non-being. In contrast, to know God is to love and its greatest test is the love of enemies. As St. Silouan taught: ‘We only know God to the extent that we love our enemies.’”

“Christ is, as He said: the Way, the Truth and the Life. His death and resurrection are the movement of God’s love to rescue humanity from a self-imposed exile from true and authentic existence which is found only in communion with God… It presses the question upon us all: ‘What is the truth of my existence?'”

 

Not the Star Trek kind of evil.

In his essay, “Does Goodness Require the Possibility of Evil?”, Father Stephen Freeman compares the Christian understanding of evil, choices, and being with that of Carl Jung, Star Trek, and Depth Psychology. He says that our modern way of elevating choice above all else leads us in the wrong direction:

“Before looking at the nature of good and evil, it is worth seeing the problem involved when choice is inserted into the conversation. What happens in that approach is that we are no longer speaking about the nature of good and evil, indeed, both are relativized in importance. Everything quickly revolves back to the nature of choosing, and makes the actions of our will the center of the good. Thus, there is no true good or evil, only good choices and evil choices. It is a narcissistic ontology – a system of thought in which we ourselves become the center of attention.”

The writer reminds us that only God is good, and that the goodness that we know in our lives is a gift from Him. So where is evil in all this? And how to sort out the choices that we have made? How many of our ignorant or hasty choices turned out for “evil”? Fr. Stephen recalls the example of Joseph in the Old Testament, who was the victim of his brothers’ evil choices.

“We cannot see the consequences of our actions (beyond the most immediate circumstances) nor can we control the myriad of other events that will interact with any choice we might make. We are simply insufficient of ourselves to create good through our choices.”

Getting from our narcissism and confused choices to receiving goodness has to do with movement:

“The course of our existence is a movement. That movement is impelled towards the good through our desire for God (sometimes manifest simply as a longing for beauty, truth, and goodness).”

To get a fuller picture than I can convey in these little clips, read the whole article: here.

I just noticed that Father Stephen discussed “Goodness, Truth and Beauty” with Jonathan Pageau a couple of years ago: here.

This is the Wisdom of Man.

“I have stood near the cave of St. Jerome in Bethlehem, and seen the recently excavated graves of the Holy Innocents. There are a mass of infant burials, clearly made in haste, with evidence of violence, all dating to the first century. It is not a Biblical myth but a crime scene as gruesome as any that we could imagine. This is the Wisdom of Man.

“The Wisdom of Man measures strength and power by the ability to administer brute force. Whether a sword or nuclear weapon – power is defined by physics. Were the power that confronted us measured in the same manner, victory could be as simple as a mathematical equation. But the power of God, the Wisdom of God, that confronted King Herod and all the so-called “rulers” of this world, belonged to a realm that is wholly other.”

-Father Stephen Freeman, in this article: “The Wisdom of Man and the Foolishness of God”

Troparion:

As acceptable victims and freshly plucked flowers,
As divine first-fruits and newborn lambs,
You were offered to Christ who was born as a child, Holy Innocents.
You mocked Herod’s wickedness;
Now we beseech you:
“Unceasingly pray for our souls.”

 

He thought there was time.

THE NEW SONG

For some time I thought there was time
and that there would always be time
for what I had a mind to do
and what I could imagine
going back to and finding it
as I had found it the first time
but by this time I do not know
what I thought when I thought back then

there is no time yet it grows less
there is the sound of rain at night
arriving unknown in the leaves
once without before or after
then I hear the thrush waking
at daybreak singing the new song

–W.S. Merwin

In Ephesians 5 we are told to redeem the time: See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.”

That admonition comes to mind as I read this poem  in the New Yorker. It’s by W.S. Merwin, whom I mentioned previously here and here in regard to his book The Folding Cliffs, which captivated me and gave me for the first time an interest in visiting Hawaii.

Willow flowers fading, and leaves emerging.

To me it speaks of how we can only make up for lost time by being attentive to the gifts that are coming to us right now, attentive to the presence of God. He is giving Himself in the present moment, and He has given us the lenten season to help us tune into that Reality, to come back to it and to Him.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

The paragraphs above are from the first time I posted this poem on my blog. As I read Merwin’s meditation now, I find another layer of meaning, which explains the joyful last line. It’s in the words, “there is no time yet it grows less.”

We probably all feel that there is less time in the sense of opportunity to accomplish more things before it “runs out.” But chronologically we don’t get to “no time” until we are long past being able to compose verse about it. Merwin must be referring to the moments of “no time” in the sense of timelessness, such as when he listens to the rain, or hears the thrush, and experiences that fullness of heart that comes with the awareness of the gift of being. “Here I am, alive, and it’s raining!”

It’s still a good poem for Lent. This is when we try to make some space in our busy schedules for that time out of time, and listening for the new song.

(Re-post from 2012)