Shallot Acrobats and The Joy of Creation

“The Christian apprehension of creation requires and involves the principle that creation is benefit. It shows us God’s good pleasure as the root, the foundation and the end of divine creation.”

-Karl Barth, CD III.1 p.331

“God’s gracious action in creation belongs from the first to that delight, pleasure, and regard that the Trinity enjoys from eternity, as an outward and unnecessary expression of that love; and thus creation must be received before all else as a gift and as beauty.”

-David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, p. 249

Being a father of two young children you come across things you would not otherwise discover if you didn’t have kids. In particular we came across a wonderful cartoon called “Sarah and Duck”. It is a British cartoon in which a 7 year old girl lives life with her pet duck named “Duck”. They do very quirky and fun things in each episode, all filled with the joy of existence. What I enjoy most about the show is how everything in creation (bugs, the moon, clouds, rainbows etc) all are charged with a personal existence, and joy is an essential part in which Sarah and Duck participate in. It sees the ordinary as something deeply joyful and magical; from shallots desiring to be acrobats, to bugs playing in a bluegrass band for a bug party, or Venus rearranging the stars; all of creation is important and interesting.  Creation here is not something accidental, but purposeful, good and meant to be explored and enjoyed. Here is a little clip of the show. I highly recommend it.

In a way the show reflects something very true about creation and the way we should see it and experience it. To see creation the way God sees it we must become like children; to enter the kingdom Christ says we must become like little children. (Matthew 18:3) Moreover, David Bentley Hart in his book ‘The Beauty of the Infinite’ gives us some reflection on creation and delight:

“The delightfulness of created things expresses the delightfulness of God’s infinite distance. For Christian thought, delight is the premise of any sound epistemology: it is delight that constitutes creation, and so only delight can comprehend it, see it aright, understand its grammar. Only in loving creations beauty — only in seeing that creation truly is beauty — does one apprehend what creation is.” (p. 254)

Growing Old

“It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

G.K. Chesterton, in a post I shared earlier, says that God “has the eternal appetite of infancy” and we have sinned and grown old. I came across these words of Chesterton’s months ago, and I can’t seem to get them out of my head for even one day. Possibly because it reveals so much in myself about my condition and how I spend my days running from the truth of who I have become. I have sinned and grown old. The days are spent looking at screens, and going to bed looking at screens. Even though a lot of my time looking at screens tends to be for school and writing, even now as I write this post, it is still shaping my idea of what delight is. Or it is eroding whatever delight I have left in me for the ordinary things around me. More than this I feel the aching of longing for Christ to return and restore the beauty and peace creation began with. I no longer take much true delight in the gift and beauty which creation is.

Recently I finished reading the second novel in C.S. Lewis’s space trilogy “Perelandra”. Lewis has a way of penetrating through and cause you to live in wonder with his writing even if it is for just a moment. This theme of growing old comes up when Ransom (the protagonist) meets the Green Lady (Eve). The Green Lady represents what humanity was before the fall. Ransom is sent to Perelandra (Venus) by Maleldil to keep Green Lady and the King from falling the way of the people on Thulcandra (Earth). When Ransom encounters the Green Lady he struck by her radiant beauty and innocence. He struggles to find the words like “evil” in her language, because she does not know of sin and evil. In their conversations the Lady says that their conversations make her grow older. A phrase she uses is “come, let us grow older” in reference to conversation and knowledge. As the story moves on, sure enough evil finds its way to Perelandra in the form of Ransoms nemesis Weston. “It”, as Ransom refers to Weston’s body, attempts to get the Green Lady to lived on the fixed land because Maleldil has forbidden it. In the end, spoilers, the Lady and the King do not go the way of Adam and Eve, and are crowned at a year long ceremony. The King makes an observation about growing old properly and growing old like Adam and Eve. Maleldil caused them to grow older in a way that was not corrupting.

We however have grown old in the corrupted way. What we need is the Word to take up residence in our hearts and make us young again. Through growing in knowledge of Christ (2 Pet 1:3, 2:20, 3:18) we will escape corruption and be fashioned in His image. In this way we may begin to see creation as a gratuitous gift overflowing from the eternal Triune love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Rhythm

Bonhoeffer in his wonderful book ‘Creation and Fall Temptation: Two Biblical Studies‘ in which he comments his way through the first three chapters of Genesis dealing with creation. When Bonhoeffer comments on verses 4-5 in which God separated the light from the darkness, he writes that for us the ‘creatureliness and miraculousness of the day has completely disappeared. We have deprived the day of its power. We no longer allow ourselves to be determined by the day. We count and compute it, we do not allow the day to give to us… for technology is a campaign against the day.’ (Creation Fall, p. 28) For Bonhoeffer the six days of creation do not mean days in a computable sense, “it thinks of it in terms of the power of the day which first makes the physical day what it really is, the natural dialectic of creation”. (ibid, p. 29) What Bonhoeffer means by this what the day in its rhythm points to:

“In the morning the unformed becomes form and then by evening sinks back into formlessness. The bright polarity of light dissolves into unity with the darkness. Living sound grows silent in the stillness of the night. An expectant awakening in light follows sleep… The rhythm- repose and movement in one -which gives and takes and gives again and takes again, which thus eternally points towards God’s giving and taking, to God’s freedom on the other side of repose and movement- that rhythm is the day.” (p. 29)

Shallot Acrobats and Communion

What does this all have to do with a children’s cartoon? Well, everything. To delight in creation the way a child does is the way we begin to see it the way God intended for us. We live in the aftermath of the fall, in the brokenness and mire. The good news is that God became man, and in becoming man broke into our existence to reconcile all things to Himself, and to consume the world with His presence like the burning bush. Let us pursue delighting in what God has made, and what He is currently in process of reconciling and restoring. Let us be like the little children. Shallot acrobats point us to the eternal pleasure, delighting and communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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‘The Revenant’, Suffering and the Ethics of Beauty

“…he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” -2 Peter 1:4

“Who and what is the God who is to be known at the point upon which Holy Scripture concentrates our attention and thoughts?” -Karl Barth, Dogmatics in Outline

“…the good is an eternal reality, a transcendental truth that is ultimately identical with the very essence of God. God is not some gentleman or lady out there in the great beyond who happens to have a superlatively good character, but is the very ontological substance of goodness. The good is nothing less than God himself, in his aspect as the original source and ultimate end of all desire: that transcendent reality in which all things exist and in which the will has its highest fulfillment.” -David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God, p. 253-254

It’s always interesting when two separate interests collide and speak to one another. I’ve been slowly and deliberately making my way through David Bentley Hart’s ‘The Beauty of the Infinite’, and I have recently viewed the movie ‘The Revenant’ and was struck a heavy load unto my heart and mind after viewing it. Reading Hart’s work informed a lot of how I interpreted the movie, mostly from a philosophical and theological position and not so much a historical or sociological interpretation. This isn’t really going to be a review of the movie either, just a discussion on various themes that came to my mind as I watched.

The ‘Beauty of the Infinite’ is a densely breathtaking essay on “theological aesthetics.” Hart’s concern and objective for the essay (in his words) is:

“…a defense of the suasive loveliness of Christian rhetoric, as the coincidence without contradiction of beauty and peace, can be undertaken according to the opposition between two narratives of infinity: one that conceives of the infinite in terms of a primordial and inevitable violence, and one that regards the infinite as originally and everlastingly beautiful.” (p.5)

What struck me about ‘The Revenant’ was the overwhelming commitment to the idea of the infinite, or being, is to its core just inevitable violence. Along with the gratuitous beauty that surrounds the overwhelming suffering in these scenes. This is where the post-modern metaphysical critique comes into play, and most specifically the work of Frederich Nietzsche. Especially in his idea of “the will to power”, in which Nietzsche attempts to show that every absolute statement is a power grab of sorts, a type of control from one person over another. It’s more complex than how I just stated it, as Nietzsche himself proclaimed:

“Here we must be aware of superficiality and get to the bottom of the matter, resisting all sentimental weakness: life is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of what is alien and weaker; suppression, hardness, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and at least, at its mildest exploitation… life simply is will to power.” (Beyond Good & Evil, 203)

This is a theme throughout the entire film, the will to power. It is a brutal and grueling sight to behold as Glass (DiCaprio) seeks to have vengeance against a man in Fitzgerald (Hardy) for the wrong he has done to him. Coming back around to the problem at hand, the ethics of beauty and the will to power are pervasive themes and struck a deep nerve with me as I watched the film. Hart puts it eloquently:

“There is, moreover, an undeniable ethical offense in beauty; not only in its history as a preoccupation of privilege, the special concern of economically and socially enfranchised elite, but in the very gratuity with which it offers itself…its anodyne sweetness often seeming to make the most intolerable circumstances bearable: a village ravaged by pestilence may life in the shadow of a magnificent mountains ridge…Cambodian killing fields were often lushly flowered…” (p. 16)

This is utterly undeniable in the case of The Revenant. Not even just this film, but of life in general. If we take Nietzsche’s ontological claim seriously, it is striking and hauntingly prophetic. What leaped at me was my seeming flippant attitude towards these ideas; how much I was struck by the suffering not only historically of various groups of people, but of the suffering of creation and how much death and brokenness is to be found. This had not sat well with me, and I could do nothing but ask that inevitable question: “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:4) and “How long, O Lord will you hide your face?” (Ps 13:1)

This is where Hart seeks to offer an alternative ontology of being, one that is not inevitable violence but one of beauty and peace. This is the uniqueness of the Christian rhetoric, and the triune God is from which all being subsists and finds its origin. His being is eternally beauty and peace. Hart’s thought is heavily indebted to Gregory of Nyssa, and towards the end of the book gives a thought about the conclusion to be drawn from Gregory’s thought about Christian eschatology (to quote at length):

“A conclusion can be drawn from Gregory’s thought is that Christian eschatology…must inevitably subvert every kind of presumptuous discourse that would strive to put an end to the deferrals of difference. The eschatological -which remains a word of hope, a paschal evangel that denies death its tragic splendor- functions as a promise that the verdict of God is on the side of the particular, the name and face of the one lost, that his justice is not a transcendental reconciliation between chaos and order,violence and rest, but a reconciliation of the infinitely many sequences of difference. Which is to say that the promise that justice will never forget the other, that the other will always be blessed with an infinite regard and charged with infinite worth: not because the other belongs to an abyss of the ethical, but because the other belongs to the infinite beauty of the surface; because, as this eschatology insists, the entire weight of the infinite in which all things share, this infinite and infinitely various music, rests upon each instance, requires every voice.” (p. 411)

We as Christians do not own ourselves or our being but “belong from everlasting to Christ” (p. 411), and are freed from death by His work (life, death & resurrection), and are in wait until His return. Until then, we must, as Hart puts it so beautifully:

“…until that unending end that we await, though, our words may speak of him, invoke him on others, beckon others to him peacefully…” (p. 411)

As we beckon others and speak the Word, we must do it in the cadence of the infinite, as Hart puts it:

“…eternally beauty and peace…” (p. 411)

Lent and the Overwhelming Mystery of Existence and Being: The Experience of God

quia fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in te (because thou hast made us toward thyself and our heart is restless until it rests in thee)”

-St. Augustine

For lent I decided to abandon time spending on social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Tumblr) in hopes of directing my time and energy into far more important areas of my life. Three weeks in, I’m considering abandoning the majority of them for good. I do not mean in a legalistic/moral superiority to those who do participate in them, but I found my life becoming far to unintentionally lived and much of the joy of life being sucked into the vacuum of the abyss of needless internet arguments and click bait. I was being habituated to a life of endless consumption, without anything gained at all. Which could be a critique of American culture as a whole, but I surely do not intend to cover any of that currently.

In my time spent elsewhere, mostly reading and time spent with my wife and children, have truly been fruitful and illuminating. I’ve recently been immersing myself in the work of David Bentley Hart (theologian/philosopher) and cannot express how wonderful and truly fruitful his work has been to read. His vocabulary is beyond what I thought someone could have for a vocabulary, so in that his work can be quite challenging intellectually. Most recently I have made my way through the majority of his recent work ‘The Experience of God; Being, Consciousness and Bliss‘. Hart’s contention for this book is to show the absolute ignorance of the new atheist’s (Dawkins, Dennett etc.) when they attempt to refute God’s existence. He does this by sketching out the metaphysical understanding of God worked out by the major theistic traditions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam and even forms of Hinduism). In doing this historical outlining, he shows the language and understanding of the recent atheist movement to be utterly deficient and ignorant of what they even attempt to speak of. In Hart’s words: “It is certainly the demiurge about whom Stenger and Dawkins write; neither has actually ever written a word about God. And the same is true of all the other new atheists as far as I can tell.” (p. 36).

He gives an admission that is both at the same time humorous and illuminating:

“For the sake of harmony, I for one am more than willing to acknowledge that the God described by the new atheists definitely does not exist; but, to be perfectly honest, that is an altogether painless concession to make.” (p. 23)

For some this statement might seem quite confusing. However once we actually understand how God has been conceived in the great theistic traditions, this statement is perfectly succinct and needed. More than anything, this book has pointed me towards the absolute wonder and beauty of the mystery not only of being and existence, but of God Himself. Not to mention the sheer strangeness of existence as Hart so eloquently puts it:

“If, moreover, one takes the time to reflect upon this contingency (the contingency of everything that exists) carefully enough, one will come to realize that it is an ontological, not merely an aetiological, mystery; the question of existence is not one concerning the physical origins of things, or of how one physical state may have been produced by a prior physical state, or of physical persistence across time, or of the physical constituents of the universe, but one of simple logical or conceptual possibility: How is it that any reality so obviously fortuitous— so lacking in any mark of inherent necessity or explanatory self-sufficiency— can exist at all?” (p. 90) (italics mine)

Since culture is so engrossed in the materialist picture of the world, we have lost the sense of wonder and awe that we exist at all.

This season of lent, for me, has been one about the rediscovery of mystery. The reorientation towards how completely inconceivable it is that I, or anything, exists at all. As the Psalmist puts it:

“What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:4)

We Christians view Christ as the Word of God:

“In Jesus Christ the living, free, inexhaustibly rich God has been revealed as sovereign, holy love. To know God in this revelation is to acknowledge the infinite and incomprehensible depth of the mystery called God.” (Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology, p. 3)

The mystery still remains and grows ever deeper the more we pursue it. Lent is a time for reflection, putting to death the desires of the flesh through the Spirit, and a reminder of the fulfillment that is yet to come for us who are exiles in waiting. Let us reflect these words from DBH: “God is the infinite “ocean of being” while creatures are finite vessels containing existence only in limited measure.” (p. 133)  God is the ground of all being. He is not just some mechanistic demigod that the deists picture, but pure actuality and pure existence. Let us reflect of the mystery of the Gospel, and how we should praise God for His unconditional love for us in Jesus Christ.