Privilege, painful privilege—extreme privilege

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One book on what parents willingly forget about adolescence talked about one junior high where there was a murmur among the teachers about what appeared to be some student’s extraordinarily beautiful mother. Then they found out the truth: she was not a student’s mother, but a sixth grade girl who had full-fledged and exquisite adult beauty.

And there was a problem here. Because she was so beautiful, the only place she could enter the social arena was at the top, and the girls already at the top of the social arena had no intent to step aside and make room for her.

She died a drug addict at 16.

This is really a quite different picture than a quote from C.S. Lewis I cite below. And I’ll comment that although I consider myself moderately attractive (and would be moreso if I spent less time eating and more time at the gym), I am quite grateful not to be a celebrity hounded by paparazzi. I’m glad I do not have such looks as Brad Pitt.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we read:

Then she came to a page which was such a blaze of pictures that one hardly notices the writing. Hardly—but she did notice the first words. They were, An infallible spell to make beautiful her that uttereth it beyond the lot of mortals. Lucy peered at the pictures with her face close to the page, and though they had seemed crowded and muddlesome before, she now foung she could see them quite clearly. The first was a picture of a girl standing at a reading-desk reading in a huge book. And the girl was dressed exactly like Lucy. In the next picture Lucy (for the girl in the picture was Lucy herself) was standing with her mouth open and a rather terrible expression on her face, chanting or reciting something. In the third picture the beauty beyond the lot of mortals had come to her. It was strange, considering how small the pictures had looked at first, that the Lucy in the picture now seemed quite as big as the real Lucy; and they looked into each other’s eyes and the real Lucy looked away after a few minutes because she was dazzled by the beauty of the other Lucy; though she could still see a sort of likeness to herself in that beautiful face. And now the pictures came crowding on her thick and fast. She saw herself throned on high at a great tournament in Calormen and all the Kings of the world fought because of her beauty. After that it turned from tournaments to real wars and all Narnia and Archenland, Telmar and Calormen, Galma and Terebinthis, were laid waste with the fury of the kings and dukes and great lords who fought for her favor. Then it changed and Lucy, still beautiful beyond the lot of mortals, was back in England. And Susan (who had always been the beauty of the family) came home from America. The Susan in the picture looked like the real Susan only plainer with a nasty expression. And Susan was jealous of the dazzling beauty of Lucy, but that didn’t matter a bit because no one cared anything about Susan now.

There is something of a spiritual seduction in this picture as Lucy is enthralled with the notion of kingdoms being laid waste because of her beauty. But, none the less, this is a romanticized image, not the same as dying of a drug overdose at the age of 16. Lewis becomes more literal about the privilege of being a king in The Horse and his Boy:

“And that’s truer than thy brother knows, Cor,” said King Lune. “For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desparate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.”

Lewis didn’t mention paparazzi, or what privilege cost Princess Diana.

Not that I have never had publicity:

My picture on the zipper

I may have had my likeness on the Zipper, but I am grateful not to have received any such attention consistently. I made front-page news in the local newspaper when I ranked 7th in the nation in one contest, but I have never had media attention that long exceeded its welcome. I have been called a “famous author” (though it is not entirely clear to me that this is true), but I have had an autograph requested once that I remember, and not gotten to the point that dealing with autograph requests is a test of my social graces and a chore. I am famous, maybe, but famous à la carte and up to a point, possibly famous enough to have some niceties, but not famous enough that it starts to really, really hurt, like fame does for the people classified as celebrities in tabloids: it seems that only the Dalai Lama (whom one would expect to possess a greater degree of spiritual strength) enters the vortex of tabloid celebrity status without getting sucked into narcotics, weddings that invite the gift of paper plates, or other destructive forces. My experiences with fame have been much lighter—even if I have walked into an area and met a response of, “That’s CJS Hayward!”—I cannot meaningfully say to people with real, industrial strength fame, “I know just how you feel.” I do not know just how they feel, end of discussion.

However, despite that I never had such physical beauty that people envied my face like many do Brad Pitt’s appearance, I have faced unpleasant consequences from people envious of something not too far from my face—not that far behind my face. My face need not inspire envy, but things are not the same for what I do with my brain. And dazzling brilliance inspires the same kind of envy as dazzlingly breathtaking looks: it just (perhaps) takes a little longer for envy’s gears to get rolling than (immediately visible) drop-dead gorgeous looks.

My favorite children’s book was, A Wind in the Door. Charles Wallace, in that book, is described as having an IQ so high it’s untestable by normal means. And such phenomena do exist, in the real world. Our concepts of IQ are rooted in tests originally designed to weed out the stupid, not detect high intelligence, and today if test designers realize that only a profoundly gifted child will answer a specific question correctly, that question will be removed from the test. The group of people having an IQ so high as to be untestable by normal means is a category that encompasses millions, and odds are you’ve met some such person at least once in your life.

(I am also interested in another character, the Teacher Blajeny, whom I will mention but not discuss here beyond providing this link.)

But Madeleine l’Engle, who may have been a heretic but whom I cannot omit from my story because of her being wrong on certain points (“Let he who is without error cast the first stone”), meant the immediate impact of what she said, a child, a six-year-old boy, whose bedtime reading is taken from refereed scientific journals, and who, to help him fit in better in society, reads Darwin. And he is being beat up at school: not because he is trying to be provocative, or for that matter because he is arrogant, but because he talks with people the way he did with family. The schoolteacher asks students what they’re interested in; one mentioned collecting eggs from a farm, another student said their bodies had “skinses” and muscles, and Charles Wallace said he was interested in mitochondria.

For those not up on “the mighty what?”, as his schoolmarm put it, mitochondria are organelles within most of our cells—a microscopic organ of cellular anatomy instead of large-scale organ of whole-body anatomy—and they come to have a place of profound importance in the makeup and even poetic conceits in the story. Madeleine l’Engle wrote in a later work that she had most of the characters in the story, the three Mr. Jenkinses and so on, but they were not moving forward as a story. Someone of her acquaintaince sent her a scientific article on mitochondria, and then things started to really get rolling and fell into place.

But that book was perhaps a fortunate book for me to have as a childhood favorite, errors and all, because Charles Wallace faced a kind of difficulty that has been foundational to my life. There are many more subtle traps than the danger of discussing scientific journal findings in gradeschool. One major challenge surrounds employment. There are some kinds of work that I have learned I am not a good fit for; and I try to avoid them. (One staple of job interview advice is that you aren’t just being interviewed by the company; you are interviewing the company. And you have interest in understanding the company as much as the company does for you.) But there’s another concern of, “What’s going to happen when your boss learns that you are smarter than him?” And one thing I have done in the past is to look through their website, HTML source and all, and write a report suggesting improvements. And that is done because of a double agenda. To a humble boss, this could be less pleasant than some other reports, but it also shows initiative, active research about the company, and a “value added” mentality, all of which are cardinally valuable in an employee. (One of the other staples of job interview preparation is researching and making it clear that you’ve done you’re homework—read the annual shareholder report of a publicly traded company—something usually available just by calling and asking the front desk, or quite possibly off the press section of their website.) To a boss with more narcissism, it is taken as an insult even if it is worded professionally and diplomatically, and the boss who hurls it across the table to a subordinate to address has tipped his hand. Usually my possible future boss’s immediate reaction answers my questions. The guess can be wrong, but the two basic things I try to figure out in an interview are whether the work will be a good fit for me, and how much the boss may need to be the smartest person I’m around when I’m outside the range of talent they have ever worked with.

The tale of The Wagon, the Blackbird, and the Saab tells of essentially every social arena, and the basic difficulties arise well before the end of the bell curve, in every area of privilege. The tale of The Wagon, the Blackbird, and the Saab is (among others) the tale of the millions of people who, strictly speaking, have an IQ high enough to be untestable by normal means, and my suspicion is that the phenomenon does not start with them either.

But there is a difference of orders of magnitude. Let me paint two pictures of deeply snowy roads. There has been and is heavy snowfall; no salt trucks have been out to the road you are on; the roads are treacherous. But the difference is between this situation is that in one case it happens at least once every year, in Illinois, and the other is as happens once a decade or perhaps less in Georgia. Both are situations where you will get in an accident if you drive carelessly or drive as if you had perfect control of your car and the road. But in Illinois, most drivers have seen heavy snow before, and if you are driving slowly and more conservatively, keeping your distance from other drivers, and in general following what defensive driving prescribes for the conditions, you stand reasonable odds of getting to your destination without a scratch. But in Georgia, if you can’t stay off the road, even if you have practical defensive driving reflexes, the other drivers don’t. You are there negotiating a road with people who don’t have even rusty reflexes for driving on much of any snow at all. And defensive driving shouldn’t create you trouble, but it is also no insurance policy for getting to your destination without an accident. (And as a side note, I mean no slight to our neighbors in Georgia; they might well report that we in the North have muffed some things they do well, like having black and white people play together and work together from childhood; Illinois’s status is of course a much more serious shortfalling than having trouble handling rare weather conditions that hit your locale once in a decade or less.)

And the difference between the phenomenon portrayed in The Wagon, the Blackbird, and the Saab may be a bugbear to quite a lot of people, and it is more of a bugbear the further out you go, the difference being the difference between treacherously snowy roads in Illinois and treacherously snowy roads in Georgia. I am sure it is more of a bugbear for the smartest man I’ve met, who besides being considered to have the highest IQ in the ultra-high-IQ community, was (last I checked) working on a cosmology, his Cognitive Theoretic Model of the Universe (quite different from my own “physics”), while getting his income working as a bouncer at a bar. He may happen to be built like a tank, but I’m grateful that I’ve been able to get at least some money working with computers and stand less in harm’s way than a bouncer is.

The character of Merlin is a wizard, but all things reach their fulfillment in Christ—even Merlin in the longest homily in The Sign of the Grail.

Merlin is thought to be based on the fascinating Desert Fathers, and Merlin’s master was said to be St. Blaise, the heiromartyr of Sebaste, to whom wild beasts came to be blessed and healed of their ailments. And in this respect, St. Blaise is a remarkable figure, but a saint who has quite a lot of company. In the Arthurian legends, hermits play a major role and are often former nobles (Orthodox monastic saints include many nobles), but really all that is truly interesting in Merlin is as a shadow of Christ’s Desert Fathers, of Christ’s saints, and of Christ.

I should also parenthetically comment that my literary identification with Merlin as a character has little to do with being ascribed the role of “Unix wizard.” I grew up playing UltraRogue, spent my time exploring a Unix filesystem when Ultrarogue was not available, and eventually wrote my own Roguelike as a way of cutting my teeth programming. And what relevance being a Unix wizard may have is less through learning the science of computer science, software engineering, and the like, than having one Unix, namely DEC Ultrix, as my home town, forest, and maze to explore.

I have spent the past chunk of time trying to convince myself that an article comparing myself to Merlin is something to avoid. And there are quite obvious reasons: Merlin is not an Orthodox role model, and comparing oneself to someone great… I remember one fellow student at Fordham telling about how she had been in a class where the teacher mentioned a great poet and said, “And I think I can tell because we are both poets…”, and she read over the shoulder of one of her classmates writing in her notebook, “Compares self to [the great poet] on the dubious ground of their both being poets,” and doing her best to hide her smile and laughter. And the obvious Orthodox rebuttal to this work is to say that the Orthodox Church has an incredible treasure of saints, icons, and the saints’ lives, and these are the gold mine from which an Orthodox Christian is to take inspiration, models, and aspirations. And years back, when I was received into the Orthodox Church, I received a diplomatic warning of “I don’t think you’ve fallen into prelest, but you are in danger to,” on my comparing myself to Merlin. And there is more to be said—but this has the sense of more ways for the rational mind to dodge what is in the conscience. And this does have a sense of, “Here is what is in my heart to do, and here are all the reasons I am inventing with my head to dodge it.” And still I am trying to dodge it even as I write.

When I was a senior at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, one of the senior awards given was, “Most likely to be on [the computer and social hub] Imsasun in 2020,” and the senior was, Jonathan “Merlin” Hayward. I had taken that nickname because Merlin was the most attractive figure I knew in literature, more interesting than anyone else from King Arthur and his court, and while other characters would be held in my heart (Charles Wallace and Blajeny from A Wind in the Door), he was the most riveting fictional character I knew before I read A Wind in the Door. I did not enter the occult, but I did study illusionism, and he stood as a symbol of power.

And it was my senior year that someone asked me if I was the local Unix wizard, and when I hesitated, Scott Swanson said, “Yes.”

Now as I look back, I read the medievalist C.S. Lewis in That Hideous Strength:

What exactly he [Merlin] had done there [in Bragdon wood, where he was believed to be in suspended animation under a university campus] they did not know; but they had all, by various routes, come too far to either to consider his art mere legend and imposture, or to equate it with what the Renaissance called Magic. Dimble even maintained that a good critic, by his sensibility alone, could detect the difference between the traces which the two things had left on literature. “What common measure is there,” he would ask, “between ceremonial occultists like Faustus and Prospero and Archimago with their midnight studies, their forbidden books, their attendant fiends or elementals, and a figure like Merlin who seems to produce his results simply by being Merlin?” And Ransom agreed. He thought that Merlin’s art was the last survival of something older and different—something brought to Western Europe after the fall of Numinor and going back to an era in which the general relations of mind and matter on this planet had been other than those we know. It had probably differed from Renaissance Magic profoundly. It had possibly (though this was doubtful) been less guilty: it had certainly been more effective. For Paracelsus and Agrippa and the rest had achieved little or nothing: Bacon himself—no enemy to magic except on this account—reported that the magicians “attained not to greatness and certainty of works.” The whole Renaissance outburst of forbidden arts had, it seemed, been a method of losing one’s soul on singularly unfavorable terms. But the older Art had been a different proposition.

At my grandparents’ house, I saw a pillow, possibly made, that said, “Mirror, mirror, on the wall, I am my mother, after all.” And some time after reading it I realized that I am Merlin after all. I have built a castle in the air: the website at CJSHayward.com. I write: parenthetically speaking, Madeleine l’Engle was asked on a college exam how Chaucer chose a particular literary device, and she wrote in a white heat of fury that Chaucer did not choose a particular literary device at all; that was not how authors worked. And the things I write, and the way of writing, is not of rules, techniques, and methods, but an art and not science of coaxing the pieces I write into being, and of trying, struggling, to get myself out of the way to give them room to speak. To return to That Hideous Strength:

“But about Merlin. What it comes to, as far as I can make out, is this. There were still possibilities for a man of that age which aren’t for a man of ours. The Earth itself was much more like an animal in those days. And mental processes were more like physical actions.”…

“No. I had thought of that. Merlin is the reverse of Belbury. He’s at the opposite extreme. He is the last vestige of an old order in which matter and spirit were, from our point of view, confused. For him, every operation on Nature is a kind of personal contact, like coaxing a child or stroking one’s horse. After him came the modern man to whom Nature is something dead—a machine to be worked, and taken to bits if it won’t work the way he pleases… In a sense Merlin represents what we’ve got to get back to in some different way…”

And this point describes Orthodoxy. It describes Orthodoxy, and others much more than me; but insofar as I have demonstrated that “every operation on Nature is a kind of personal contact, like coaxing a child or stroking one’s horse,” this offers me no particular distinction in Orthodoxy. It’s like saying that I go to church or say my prayers: of course I do, but this makes me no giant in the community, just a regular member who participates in the community. It has happened, for instance, that I have been given the other end of a leash from a dog who was uncomfortable and afraid of men, and twenty or thirty minutes later I had snuggled with the dog and he was eagerly coming up to other men and smelling their hands. But this coaxing is not just for inanimate nature: it is for all of the creations on my website, creative open source software projects as well as theology and literature. And still this is nothing special about me; not everyone is a writer, but everyone has some area in which it is possible to do such things. The idea of “a machine to be worked, and taken to bits if doesn’t work the way he pleases,” is how Western modernity may view many things, but Orthodoxy holds a different way of relating, a way that is sensationalized and treated as Merlin’s monopoly by Lewis, but it is one aspect of a common Orthodox treasure, exotic in the West perhaps, but historically speaking a meat-and-potatoes set of ways of relating to oneself and nature, domineering when it needs to be (and much more to oneself than to my horse), but a basis for relating to the world that is other than the scientific way to unlearn.

The development of science, their influence today to the point that one can argue today that the problem with theology and science is not that theology is not sufficiently scientific, but that from science, theology in the academy has imbibed things that are toxic to it. Mary Midgley wrote,

It may be easier to see if we notice the way in which the pioneers of [scientific mechanist views] went about reshaping the concept of Nature. Very properly, they wanted to try the experiment of depersonalizing it. With that in view, the first step they surely needed to take was to stop using the feminine pronoun [that had previously seen use, and still sees use when we speak today of “Mother Nature”], or indeed any personal pronoun for ‘Nature’ altogether. But this was not done. We come to one more of the strange compensatory myths, dreams or dramas that are my theme. The literature of early modern science is a mine of highly-coloured passages that describe Nature, by no means as a neutral object, but as a seductive but troublesome female, to be unrelentingly pursued, sought out, fought against, chased into her inmost sanctuaries, prevented from escaping, persistently courted, wooed, harried, vexed, tormented, unveiled, unrobed, and ‘put to the question’ (i.e. interrogated under torture), forced to confess ‘all that lay in her most intimate recesses’, her ‘beautiful bosom’ must be laid bare, she must be held down and finally ‘penetrated’, ‘pierced’ and ‘vanquished’ (words which constantly recur).

This vile image is part of how Western science cut away what is retained in Orthodoxy, a relation to nature that is to some degree personal, even though creation that is ‘logikos’, exists on the level of knowledge, should not be confused with creations that exist, but not to that degree. When monks and nuns approach wild animals and the animals sometimes do their bidding, the animals are never taken to be human: but there is still a relation as to something more personal than cold matter (a word that etymologically signifies ‘mother’ but I digress). I am a bit nervous about some of the things associated with Fr. Seraphim (Rose), but one thing unimpeachable about him is that (as I have heard from a fellow-parishioner whom I respect) when he and another monk, knowing the services, performed the services in their wilderness abode, some deer came by, and when the parts of the service came when the humans at the service would stand or sit down, the deer who came by would stand or sit down. Setting aside all questions about Fr. Seraphim and the “Blessed Seraphim Rose” movement, this is no distinctive feature about Fr. Seraphim or his fellow-monk; it is something woven into the cloth of Orthodoxy and also found on Mount Athos. For Orthodox monastics animals start to behave like kin, and not just in ancient saints’ lives such as that of Fr. Zosima and St. Mary of Egypt. And the report above about deer is not something surprising to someone who knows the greatest Orthodox saints across the ages, but only monasticism here and now: monks and nuns here and now, who count themselves nothing (but whose prayers I would greatly appreciate), would find no great surprise, no shock or culture shock, at how the greatest monastic saints have been served by or otherwise connected with monastics living here and now. Maybe there is a difference between great monastic saints and monks living here and now: none the less, monks living here and now have shown an Adamic closeness to wild easts.

Unlearning science

One sees in social disciplines the claim, “___________ are scientists, and they are every bit as much scientists as people in the so-called ‘hard sciences’ like physics.” The sciences are prestige disciplines, enough so that people in psychology and sociology claim a bit of prestige by showing their embarrassing physics envy, and especially as regards the science-as-worldview approach, sciences represent a step away from Orthodoxy. A large step, big enough that people have a hard time asking, “How else could it be?” Now sciences offer a best guess as to how exactly certain processes happen, and I do not have what a physicist would see as an improvement on current theories in physics. None the less I outline a general bent of natural philosophy that is an answer to the question, “How else could it be?” and in particular “What besides science could it mean to understand the natural world?” This work of philosophy, meaning natural philosophy as the older understanding science once came from, is outlined in “Physics”. There are scare quotes because “Physics” is not physics in the modern sense of the term; it is if anything physics in a sense as old as Aristotle that lies forgotten in the modern world. But the book lies open to us.

Strengths not forged by Orthodoxy

The stories of Merlin have him entering the human race with powers beyond those of the human race; in Orthodoxy, there is a phenomenon of converts coming in with strengths that Orthodoxy itself rarely forged. I got a warning about prelest for thinking of myself as some singular figure in this way, which I am not, but Orthodoxy does not much forge writers, nor aptitude to work with technology. How Shall We Live This Instant? suggests that changing technologies work much more like something liberals can easily deal with than what conservatives can deal with, and suggests that a conservative who can deal with the corcuscating flow of technologies is a “virtual liberal”: there is no loss of credentials as a proper conservative, but a technologically astute conservative can function in a way that comes much more naturally to liberals.

I was quite wrong to think of myself as a singularity in this regard; across the ages, well-functioning Orthodoxy does not produce some strengths. I’m told that all of the saints who bore impressive education were educated outside the Orthodox Church. St. John Chrysostom, for instance, was trained in pagan rhetoric and used his training as a heirarch in the Church; he did not receive an Orthodox rhetorical training and might not have been able to receive such training. And there are other examples among the saints, and among the rest of us. I was sinning to think of myself as a singularity who came in with certain abilities, but I did come in with certain abilities the Orthodox Church does not create itself. Usually when I succumb to pride, it is pride about something that is ultimately a piece of Hell. This time I was proud of something that has a place, although a lesser place than I had thought.

Prophecy

Merlin, in the medieval versions of Arthurian legends, is not called a “magician” or a “wizard;” he is called a “prophet.” The first book that popularized Arthurian legend outside Celtic circles, the 12th century Brut, includes a spectacular set of apocalyptic prophecies that were taken to be legitimate prophecies for centuries after they were written; the Brut, a sort of 12th century “da Vinci Code lite”, is categorized by the Wikipedia as pseudohistory but although doubts were raised about the truth of its stories almost while the ink was wet, it was centuries before almost everyone recognized that it was not history. But as pseudohistory it was not presented as fiction, nor received as fiction, and as a “da Vinci Code lite,” it represented history as people would like it to be. For while a modern text may demonstrate its disconnect from being a proper work of history, no scholar I’ve read has challenged its credentials in storytelling.

I was starting to say that I have, as far as Merlin the prophet goes, any such train of miracles, but then I thought back. It has hardly been my prayer alone, but my prayer with others has brought about healing above a best medical prognosis, and not just once. And it was by faith that I attended Cambridge University when everything was going against me. Student loans, after half of a year’s worth of effort, fell into place one business day before I left to study. And God’s fingerprints have been all around.

Furthermore, prophecy is more than prediction. It is the testimony of Jesus. I asked my Antiochian priest’s blessing to preach a homily, or rather he saw that I was chomping at the bit, and before I preached a stronger version of Do We Have Rights?, he said that spiritual gifts had not ceased, and what I was going to say was, in the strict sense of the term, prophecy. (My homily was responded to by clapping, and the priest, who did not slight me in the least, explained that you do not respond to a homily by clapping.) Now I am under the ROCOR jurisdiction, and in ROCOR even deacons do not preach homilies; it was a special grace to me that I as a layman was permitted to preach as a homily. And the core and goal of CJS Hayward is prophecy: not necessarily that it be heeded and accoladed as prophecy, but that even if it bears few special labels or accreditation, its beating heart is prophecy. And its words about virtue and vice have a stronger claim to prophecy than sensational predictions about the future. Even if some if its words apply to the future, its essential claim to prophecy is to be the testimony of Jesus.

So where does this leave me now? Show me a child’s childhood heroes, and I will show you the man’s heart. Orthodoxy has something much better in the lives of the Saints and other such readings, and I have shown my poverty that I have not got my bearings there. My status even as “Unix wizard” is a little bit tenuous as a claim to be Merlin: I relate to computers and my creations in programming, which are electronic machines and not organic life, as one coaxing a child or stroking a horse. “Unix wizard” may not be a singularity, but I am not a singularity in any obvious sense except that every man is a singularity. (After each, God breaks the mould, even for twins.)

Merlin is said to know “philosophy,” meaning “natural philosophy” or study of the natural world. Part of my critical reception of science (you may call it apostasy if you wish) is to look at what may be natural philosophy without being science. The “Physics” referenced above may be seen as an example of natural philosophy that is not science nor scientific. I have wished to spend more time out of doors, rather than be a “dweller in tents” like Jacob. But the colors on my website of ivy and stone are not a mistake. This website offers, if you will, prophecies in Merlin’s vein. They include:

But these are not the apocalyptic “prophecies of Merlin,” claimed prophecies taken as genuine by some medievals, prophecies like those found in II Esdras, with blood dripping from trees. (Any apocalypse is implied.)

Blaise Pascal said,

All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.

And yet after such a great number of years, no one without faith has reached the point to which all continually look. All complain, princes and subjects, noblemen and commoners, old and young, strong and weak, learned and ignorant, healthy and sick, of all countries, all time, all ages, and all conditions.

A trial so long, so continuous, and so uniform should certainly convince us of our inability to reach the good by our own efforts…. What is it then that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remains to him only; the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable Object, that is to say, only by God Himself.

And if I am comfortable talking to myself in relation to Merlin, perhaps it is because The figure of Merlin, if deepened enough, becomes Christ, by whom every Orthodox is measured. Perhaps I have long struggled to overcome escapism and the passion that is behind all related temptation, but I serve a God who seeks not the eradication of passions, but their transfiguration, and a position of power can be given its place in Orthodoxy.

And I will close the door here before things really get interesting: when I am offered the saints’ lives, who eclipse all the literary characters I loved as a child and who are steady forces for God to re-orient my outlook. In the lives of the saints, I find the beauty that I loved in good fairy tales—or rather, good fairy tales reflect a little bit of the beauty that the saint’s lives are shot through with. The saints’ lives are alike baby food for beginners and strong meat for spiritual athletes.

Someone said, in reference to statements like, “I cannot overemphasize the importance of clear and proper grammar,” that they are quite false: one can overemphasize the importance of grammar by saying that improper or sloppy grammar is a leading cause of cancer, or that exposure to improper grammar substantially increases risk of crack addiction in 16 to 19 year old males. And in that sense it is possible to overemphasize the value of the saints’ lives, and in fact some have unintentionally done so by saying that at some point in time in Russia, peasants learned about Christ and his life, not from the Gospel, but from the saints’ lives. And that is a false exaggeration of how important the saints’ lives are, but provided the Gospel is front and center, there is much that is valuable and important in the saints’ lives.

So this is where I’ve been. I invite you to join me as I move on from here.

Sincerely,
Christos Jonathan Seth “Charles Wallace” “Merlin” “Blajeny” Hayward

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