The Sarabite: Towards an Aesthetic Christianity

There is a continuous attraction, beginning with God, going to the world, and ending at last with God, an attraction which returns to the same place where it began as though in a kind of circle. -Marsilio Ficino

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Epilogue: In Pursuit of the Human

On Pierre Hadot, Anglicanism, and La Oreja de Van Gogh

For those of you not keeping score in my "Ten Books That Have Most Influenced My Life" posts, here they are again:

1. St. Louis de Monfort's True Devotion to Mary

2. Jean-Paul Sartre's Being and Nothingness

3. Karl Marx's The German Ideology

4. Leon Trotsky's The History of the Russian Revolution

5. Marcel Lefebvre's They Have Uncrowned Him

6. St. Gregory of Nyssa's From Glory to Glory (an anthology of his writings)

7. The Apophthegmata Patrum

8. St. Therese's Story of a Soul

9. Christos Yannaras' The Freedom of Morality

10. Marie-Dominique Chenu's Aquinas and His Role in Theology

How's that for a list? Now you know why this blog is all over the map in so many ways.

In one of my last unpleasant conversations with my ex-abbot, I told him after working a fourteen hour day at the bakery that all I wanted to do was to be a human being. I realized then that from a very early age I had been fleeing from my own humanity. I suppose if I ever wrote an autobiographical sketch of this twelve year portion of life, I would have to title it: "The Boy Who Wanted to Be an Angel". I wanted to escape from the travails of this vale of tears; from the fluxuation of joys and sorrows that come with being an incarnate spirit. So there I was, with a long beard and long hair, in a riassa and with another name, and I was on the verge of having a nervous breakdown. I had only put myself through all of that because I thought I could become "impassible". That is not possible in this life. I had totally missed the point of the preaching of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And that is when I started this blog.

In reading the scholar Pierre Hadot, I began to realize that even at its inception, philosophy was never about "finding the answer". It was about finding hapiness, about being able to face life honestly and pursue bliss in this life (if possible) and in the next (much more likely). Life is what is important, not the ideology that frames it. Christianity is about life and the transmission of the life of God to the world. So it doesn't matter if I save my soul as a lowly librarian in a small town or a great staretz living in the desert. The result would be the same, and maybe the former is much more of an honest approach than the latter in our day and age.

Anglicanism was something that I encountered out of pure coincidence. Accepting the legitimacy of this Christian way was for me merely accepting what was in front of me and not trying to find the church floating in the sky like a dreamt Gothic cathedral. I have long ceased trying to make my religion into an agenda. The approach of this blog has always been irenic: I spend about as much time on Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism as I do on Anglicanism. Obviously, my bias is with the latter since the last of these is more open, but to say that I swear by all things sacred that I will be an Anglican to the death would be less than honest on my part. I will always have, however, the same attitude towards Christianity that I have now being within the Anglican tradition. To quote a nineteenth century Ukrainian bishop, the walls we construct between the churches do not reach up to Heaven, no matter how much we think they do.

A lot of this, however, has been an issue of letting myself do "normal things". Obviously, here is not the appropriate place to reveal the details of my personal life (besides, I can assure you that they are not that exciting). Even getting used to buying things again has been odd for me. Sometimes I still think that I have the same approach to life as when I was a monk. This, however, must change little by little. There are certain things that for so long I did not let myself appreciate. Having so radically "turned my back on the world", there were many things I thought were "unholy" or "decadent" that I now find perfectly alright. One of these is just listening to popular music, like the cheesy Spanish pop-band La Oreja de Van Gogh (Van Gogh's Ear) and appreciating it for what it is: fun and not serious. Life is not as horrible and sad as I have tried to make it. So many times in my life, instead of having romanticist dreams of living an "authentic life", I should have just lived life. That being said, for some reason I still have no regrets.

I suppose one of the false assumptions I was working under was that once we know we are going to die, there is no use living this life to the fullest. It is very true that an unexamined life is not worth living, as the Platonic tradition says. It is also very true that all things are transitory and that we will not be able to take anything with us. To think, however, that somehow we will learn fully and organically that life is full of only passing glory without actually living it is delusional at best. It is only through going through everyday joy and suffering, fun and travail, love and loss, that we can really know what the Cross is and how we must always look at ourselves as pilgrims going back to our Father's house. There is no theoretical trick that can do this for us. There is never any time in our lives that we "get it". Perhaps the only time we come close is on our death bed.

Nevertheless, this exercise of reflecting on these books has not been in vain. True, the greatest lesson that I have learned in these books is that the solution is not found in books. I did pick up from them, however, wisdom for the journey. Books are indeed wonderful things, if taken in moderation.


At 8:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! The only books on your list I'd even heard of before are Nyssa and Yannaris's. And, I have only read some of Nyssa -- who I think is the the true genius of the Cappodacians.


At 6:22 PM, Blogger anonymous said...

I cry...Tis beautiful to become human...


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