A Visit from the Buddha

I have been wary of Western Buddhism as a sort of neo-Deism: a religious faith, if it may be called that ("Buddhism is not a creed. It is a doubt."--G.K. Chesterton: Chesterton could also have said, "Buddhism is not a Creed. It is a Dao."), where in its native element the ethical heavy lifting is done primarily by what a Western scholar might call a system of virtues, and there are fewer inviolable rules, while the Western self-identified Buddhist picks up on the fewer inviolable rules but does not do heavy lifting by its Path of eight cardinal interlocking virtues.

Nonetheless, a visit to Buddhism can be helpful in another aspect. Buddhism is arguably a stronger grade of skepticism than is prominent in the West ("Buddhism is not a creed. It is a doubt."--G.K. Chesterton), but when the Buddha's followers asked him if there were gods, he said that there probably were, but the question was irrelevant, because any [good] deity would have already blessed us to the maximum extent possible.

My first response, on hearing that answer repeated decades ago, was, "Well, that rules out the Christian God very quickly." My thought there was that the great skeptic's answer did not entertain a correlation between being blessed by Deity and one's relationship with Deity. The Christian God, said in the Sermon on the Mount to make his sun shine on good men and evil men alike, has something beyond desire to bless us to the maximum extent possible, but for how well the blessing works for us, it matters whether we cooperate with the blessing or resist it. The Great Physician wants to give us the supreme Medicine, but it matters a great deal for us whether we take the Medicine as directed or throw the Medicine on the ground and spit on it. A Russian philosopher has been asked that perennial question, "Could God make a stone He could not move?" and answered, "Yes; that stone is man."

None the less, I have been having a struggle with something I should know better than, thirsting for worldly honors. Or, to be more precise, a mad thirst for more earthly honors when I have had enough honor that I should know that worldly honors do not satisfy or make lastingly happy. One thought that was in my conscience was, "What would St. John Chrysostom say?" And without thinking of exact words, I knew what kind of response he would give: a good dose of clear thinking that would paint black as black and white as white. I thought of gratitude for what I have been given--and a next life in which God offers honors such as eye has not seen and ear has not heard. I did not think of it at the time, but also relevant is a post I wrote when I tried and failed to locate a copy of St. John's "A Comparison Between the Monk and the King:" A Comparison Between the Mere Monk and the Highest Bishop. Or, as the Holy Cross Hermitage's ever-kind guestmaster condensed the entire topic, "Bishops want to be novices!" Wherefore, being a novice myself, I should recognize the privileged position I already hold, and be grateful for the crown assigned to my role as a novice, rather than hanker after the half-eggcupfull of external glory that is assigned to bishops but is withheld from novices. (I also did not think of being one of half a dozen at a monastery which has the artisan's attention of an esteemed bishop. Perhaps it is glorious to give communion, such as my Aboot gives, but the glory is dwarfed by the glory of receiving communion, a glory shared between Abbot and novice alike. (And by the way, my Abbot is a high rank of bishop, but he usually doesn't wear the crowns he is entitled to wear. He seems to leave wearing crowns to the novices.)

I fought against this mad thirst for a while and was losing despite my best efforts, perhaps a cue to the wise that what I was fighting was not some confused logic but a temptation and a sin to be repented of, and found a familiar enough foul stench in that my thoughts of being happy through external honors was not making me happy, but sad.

And when I had struggled enough, salvation came. It came not from recognizing the particular privilege of a novice, in learning the freedom that is in obedience to an Abbot, and of being entrusted a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light when more privileged roles bear a heavier cross. Salvation came, this time, in a visit from the Buddha, so to speak. And this even apart from what the Buddha had to say about desire.

I would not retract any of my earlier thoughts about "Well, that rules out the Christian God," but casts a particular light on the Providence of God, but this visit from the Buddha showed that there is something of the Providence in the idea that deity, if such exists, will already have blessed us to the maximum extent possible. C.S. Lewis said, "We want God to change our circumstances. God wants our circumstances to change us." And furthermore this combines in an odd way with the Christian God whose Grace can bring Heaven everywhere, but we can if we want veto enjoying Grace and instead experience it as Hell. The point of this visit from Buddhism is not really a point about the Grace available in my own particular circumstances, but about all circumstances in general, or rather a point about every particular circumstance. Until we have grown enough, and perhaps even then, the demons tempt us to ungratitude towards circumstances in which God has already blessed to the maximum effect possible, save our accepting and realizing His Providence as the Maximum Providence of God the Spiritual Father, of a God who cares for each of us more than an a mortal spiritual father takes care for his charges, of a God who however much our Plan A fails, and then Plan B, and Plan C, and so on down the alphabet, remains a God who is always dealing with us on Plan A. It can be easier to see this Providence years after the fact, to realize what painful circumstances gave you and what God saved you from by taking away what you wanted to pray for. And with effort, God can help us realize his Plan A for us where we are here and now. But the temptation is just that: a temptation, a hook of Hell designed to take away as much as possible our happiness in circumstances in which God has blessed us to the maximum extent possible save possibly our consent, and is building here on earth the foundation and substance of an eternal glory.

Dumber and Dumberer

And really, what had brought on this temptation, or rather immediately triggered it in my immaturity, was one of the magazines freely given our Abbot, a magazine offering trite coverage of an English Princess, who said, "Someday I will be Queen," "is 7 but thinks she is 17," and "speaks four languages," "is at the head of her class," and something about being a style icon. I would briefly comment on what I was coveting in her royal privilege:

"Someday I will be Queen!"

Before and also now, I consider bare membership among the faithful of the Orthodox Church to outclass primacy in the Church of England.

And I am trying to cooperate with God in reaching Heaven, in glory so great that we are advised not to think too much of our glorified state. And, further, I recall St. Rostislav: "I have heard of how Constantine, great among kings, appeared to a certain Elder and said, 'If I had known what glory the monks receive in heaven... I would have taken off my crown and royal purple, and replaced them with the monastic garb'."

One person at the Mars Society talked about asking people, "Who was the Queen of Spain in 1492?" The answer comes quick as a shot: "Isabella." Then the next question is posed, "Who was the Queen of France?" And to that I will add that armchair historian as I am, I do not know who was King of England in the days of C.S. Lewis.

Is 7 but thinks she's 17:

I'm also too big for my britches.

Speaks four languages:

I have read the Bible in seven languages, admittedly not at the age of seven, but at the age of three I was a solipsist philosopher.

Is at the head of her class:

One psychologist drew a sharp point of, "The average Harvard PhD has never met someone as talented as you," and I have been in the dubious honor of being so far ahead of what professors were used to that their social skills started to melt away.

Something about being a style icon.

I'm not sure that ever, in my entire life, have other people looked at what I was wearing to take cues for style. People have borrowed a T-shirt for me as an emblem of bad dressing.

But I somehow seem to end up going ahead of the Zeitgeist, whether or not I have the faintest desire to do so.

The overall predicament I was in reminds me when I was traveling through a hardware store coveting ordinary Swiss Army Knives while looking for an impossible-to-find wiresaw a friend wanted:

When I had a SwissChamp XLT on my belt:

Conclusion

God has already blessed us to the maximum extent possible apart from the question of whether we choose to relate to that blessing as a blessing or a curse. In one sense, God has already blessed us as Buddha said. But we are the stone God cannot bless if we interpret His Providence as a curse.

There was something profoundly stupid in my coveting earthly honors, and that something would have remained stupid even without the irony, like the pears passage of the Blessed Augustine, of owning pears better than anything he coveted enough to steal.

In Exotic Golden Ages and Harmony with Nature: Anatomy of a Passion, I wrote:

Adam reigned as an immortal king and lord over the whole world. He had a wife like nothing else in all Creation, paradise for a home, and harmony with nature such as we could not dream of. And, he was like a little boy with a whole room full of toys who is miserable because he wants another toy and his parents said "No." And lest we look down on Adam, we should remember that I am Adam, and you are Adam.

And the content of such temptations is stupid: stupidity and something that backfires if we entertain them even just a little... but there is something to be said for temptations in God's Plan A.

Everything that God allows in our lives is either a blessing from God or a temptation which He has allowed for our strengthening.

God allowed me a miserable few hours coveting privilege that I might be strengthened, and even if things would have been much easier if I had not entertained the desire, he allowed me the temptation for my strengthening and harvested my sin that I might strike at the sin all the louder.

A Note on Reading St. John Chrysostom

There's advice I've given to a few people, and I'd like to post it here.

The "Chrysostom" in "St. John Chrysostom" is Greek for "Golden-Mouth," and St. John indeed did have a golden mouth. St. John Chrysostom is a great preacher for a good dose of clear thinking about life's struggles, and I encourage readers to read The Complete Works of St. John Chrysostom (cross-linked to the Bible).

Only there is one clarification I would give.

St. John represents a prolific writer, with his writing filling half a dozen volumes in the standard collection.

Don't weary yourself by trying to read him cover to cover.

Instead, just wait until you are "hungry," spiritually, then read St John Chrysostom only until you are "full," and set the collection down. Digest the material, and then wait until you are "hungry" again to pick him up. And then read more, but again only until you are "full." And let the cycle repeat.

And one other note: biased translators chose the least attractive work he wrote, and put it in the beginning. I would suggest opening with another work altogether: A Treatise to Prove that No One Can Harm the Man who Does Not Injure Himself.

Enjoy!

(You may get a good many years out of reading St. John Chrysostom...)

Ignorance

I've been thinking after reading a tweet that quoted a French educational minister who had announced that French schoolchildren would be taught Latin and Greek starting in 5th and 6th grade. He was asked whether students would also be taught "PHP, JavaScript, Python." He was rather confused by the question, and the interlocutor asked, "Will they be taught to code?" and he answered, "No, they will not be taught to code."

The tweet treated the French leader as so obviously out of touch with reality that further comment was not even offered. But I'd like to talk a bit about my own education to say why there was a problem, not with the French leader, but the twit.

I have had about as much education in mathematics and STEM as there is to be had, though I did not end up with a PhD, and about as much education in academic theology as there is to be had, thought I did not end up with a PhD there either, and read Latin and Greek at a significant level, and for that matter spent a semester at the Sorbonne (I am the local francophone at my monastery). And I believe studying Latin and Greek is relevant, or at least reading classics in translation (I have read little beyond the Bible in Latin or Greek). And I believe a knowledge of the world's classics, such as one can find in the Norton Anthology of World Literature (beginnings to 1650, 1650 to present).

My six best works, or at least those that have most met with profound reader approval, are those in C.J.S. Hayward in Under 99 Pages:

And just for the record, I have not read Plato in Greek nor St. Boethius in Latin, and I am on the whole not a literary Weird Al Yankovic; it's just that my best works seem to go further when I am leaning on a past giant. Also, for what it's worth, I have worked in PHP, JavaScript, and Python, the last of which is my favorite (computer) language.

My first and less serious objection to the perspective in the tweet has to do with how I talked my way out of candidacy for a dream job. My interviewer said I would have my complete choice of languages and platform, and the core of the job and its description was to program a payment gateway that would take about a million people's membership fees. I tried, unsuccessfully, to explain one Information Technology manager's published opinion that ten years prior, IT work was "build, build, build", but then, even then, it was "Partner before buy; buy before build." And it wouldn't just be faster and cheaper to zero in on a good, vetted, mature open source project that could handle the collection of annual membership fees; it would have been hands down more secure. For me to give my interviewer what he thought he wanted would have been to put both of us in a situation where a routine programming error could jeopardize a million people's finances, and I would have had no other programmer in the organization to ask to review my code. A business analyst would not have boiled down "collect membership fees" to "write a program from scratch to collect membership fees;" a more obvious interpretation of the situation would have been to "identify and acquire a secure software solution appropriate to collecting membership fees." By that time, the wheel had already been reinvented many different ways, and so had the internal combustion engine. And I do not say that Python etc. skills are irrelevant; when I had trouble with WordPress I circumvented the issue by implementing a simple content management system in Python, and that has generated a site that I'm building. But the number of people who really need to know these languages is small and shrinking. I think Python is a particularly good choice for people interested in recreational and hobbyist programming, but I do not think it is beneficial across the board to expand primary education to cover the five R's of Reading, wRiting, aRithmetic, and Ruby on Rails.

But here is my more serious concern. My prior spiritual director, before this monastery, looked at what I talked about and had written and said that my primary contribution seemed to be talking about Orthodoxy and technology. And that is work where a deep and sensitive understanding of METS issues is essential, but the heavy lifting is all done on humanities's power. And in terms of the liberal arts ideal, and educating an informed public, Latin and Greek in middle school makes sense. It sounds like an informed opinion, and not only makes classics more available to the general public, but provide an environment where French intellectual giants will grow up with the languages of most of the heavy lifting in humanities in the history of Western culture. Proficiencies in classical languages will also age and mature well compared to computer languages in particular. Someone who learned to read classics in Latin and Greek twenty years ago will have much profitable reading available today; but someone who had learned C, C++ and Java ten years ago, and has not kept up with the risings and fallings of programming languages, will be considered a dinosaur today. Classics age better than fashion.

"Conversation is like texting for adults"

There is a sort of chauvinism I have encountered, not least in my advisor saying, "Do you make allowances for greater ignorance in the past?" to which I coolly answered, "I do not make allowances for greater ignorance in the past. Allowances for different ignorance in the past are more negotiable." I refrained from saying that I make allowances for greater ignorance in the present. But I get ahead of myself.

Today's youth are not even learning face-to-face social skills, and still we have a chauvinism that we assume the competencies of our predecessors without needing to acquire these competencies as our predecessors have. Thomas Kuhn's post-truth account of science, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, says that after a heavily political revolution has occurred, history is rewritten so as to provide an additive picture where the history of related developments adds increases of knowledge when the change is not additive, but ecological. I have studied, though I find it very hard to put into words, what was lost in the founding of Western science. (The best indication I can easily give is to look at what C.S. Lewis says about science/magic in the final third of The Abolition of Man, and dig deeper in Mary Midgley's Science as Salvation: A Modern Myth and Its Meaning, and perhaps my "Physics", which may or may not help.) But there is some real merit in what a friend wrote:

Learning with your whole body

I'm assuming that most of you have been to college. Even if you haven't, you've been learning for 12 years in an institution that has taught you that learning is done with the brain, that it comes from words written on screens or paper, and that the way you show what you've learned is to write intelligent words on screens or paper.

Here is the first thing I need you to understand: out here in the garden, you do not learn with your brain. You learn with your hands and with your eyes and with your whole body. Your brain is involved, sure. But don't let it take over. Don't separate "learning" and "working." Every moment you're in this teaching garden, and even a lot of the time you're working in other parts of the farm, if you pay attention you can be learning constantly.

School teaches us to think of learning as information. It's such a mistake! Yes, there is information that will help you learn to garden, and I'll teach you some of it—but if you don't learn it with your body, it won't be much use to you.

You're going to need educated eyes—you're going to need the ability to look at a plant and know if it's thriving, to look at a little seedling and be able to see in your mind how big it'll be so you can give it enough space, to look at a patch of weeds and have a sense of how much bigger it'll be next week if you don't kill it now. (The most advanced skill, which I'm still learning, is looking at a row of green beans and estimating—from how thick the blossoms & small beans on it are—how much it's going to produce over the next couple weeks.) You need educated hands—you need to be able to feel, when you're swinging a hoe, whether you're really biting into the roots of the weeds, and you need hands that know how to weed fast and effectively, and how to use a pitchfork, etc, etc. And you need instincts, too—when you've just transplanted a plant, you need to have the instinct to check on it till it's established, same as people have the instinct to check on a baby.

And you learn all that by experience. Writing it down won't help. Doing it while being aware of it is what helps. Be in the moment, don't be thinking of something else while you work. (Well, maybe when you're weeding strawberries!) Get your hands in the dirt and feel it, compare it with how it felt last week, watch and observe the plants as they grow—and watch the weeds as they die! Watch how much quicker they die on a sunny or a windy day, watch how they re-root themselves even from a lying-down position if it's too wet. At some point it all comes together and you start to develop a sort of instinctive understanding of the garden as a natural system. I've been doing this for five years now—I knew next to nothing about gardening before that—and I have a sense now of how all the pieces work together, not in theory but what's happening in real time in my own garden, and it's such a pleasure. It has been such a pleasure to go from someone who learned things only with her brain, to someone with hands and eyes that understand my garden.

I know some of what I'm saying you may already know, but I still think it's worth saying at the start here. I've just seen so often how hard it is to get rid of the idea that reality is in our heads or on paper and start focusing on the reality that's under our feet—to stop going on what you think is supposed to happen instead of looking at what really happens. I know it took me a lot longer than it should have. I still remember my breakthrough moment. I was using the push-cultivator—which I'll teach you how to use—and it was a new tool for us at that point so I didn't know its capabilites. The thing is that when the weeds get to a certain height, the push-cultivator doesn't kill them anymore—you have to use a hoe. But I would push the cultivator on down the row and it would kill a few weeds and knock down the rest and cover them with dirt so the row looked clean, and I never noticed that their roots were still in the soil, and in my head I would make a little check mark—well that row's done. The next week, we'd be looking through the garden to see what needed doing, and there would be a bunch of weeds in that row again, and I'd go, "Wow! They came back fast!" and cultivate again. I still remember the day the little lightbulb came on in my head and I realized I'd never killed those weeds at all. I felt so dumb. That was the day I learned to look at what I was doing. Not just at what I thought I was doing.

And that's a lot of what is involved in learning a skill—not just knowing "how" but involving your hands and eyes and brain all together in the process, so that you can feel how the motion is working and you can see whether it's working—and you remember to double-check the next day whether it worked!

Okay, I have one more story. This one taught me so much. We had a temporary volunteer in the garden for three days. He was this guy who, if you told him how to do something, would look annoyed as if you were patronizing him or something. Because, you know, everybody knows how to hoe, right? Well, I got embarrassed by him being offended and figured he was right, maybe it was rude to try and tell someone how to do such simple stuff. I was a beginner too, at the time. Erin told us to hoe a certain section, and we did it. And we did it backwards. We started at the back of the section and walked backwards to the front as we hoed, so that all the plants we hoed up ended up in a pile in the next bit we had to hoe, covering the weeds there. The result was that at the end of our work all you could see was a pile of dead plants, so it looked great, it looked done. And the next day when those dead plants had dried up and withered away, what you could see was a section that looked like someone had hit it a few times here and there with a hoe—at least half of the weeds were still alive and kicking. The next day Erin took me aside and showed me how to hoe for real: you move forward, and you hoe up every inch of the soil, whether you see a plant there or not. And I've never felt embarrassed to teach anyone to hoe since then. It's a skill.

It's a huge mistake to think of any part of farming as unskilled labor. A skilled worker can weed about five times as fast as a beginner—if not more. Farming is skilled, complicated, grounded work that involves your hands and your eyes and your brain and your whole body—and at some point you may find it starts to involve your heart. You're learning something this year that you can be proud of.

(Heather Munn)

In other conversation, she said that people seem to assume that low-prestige work doesn't require skill. And this is, if you will, one case of our chauvinism in assuming we have the knowledge of prior ages without any attempt to learn it, because we're making progress or whatever.

Before zeroing in on one case study, let me underscore one quote by General Omar Bradley that I will also quote below:

We have too many men of science; too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.

Man is stumbling blindly through a spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.

A Deliberate and Studied Ignorance

I would like to quote

Cover for Knights and Ladies, Women and Men

A first clue to something big, tucked into a choice of children's books

I was once part of a group dedicated to reading children's stories (primarily fantasy) aloud. At one point the group decided to read Patricia Wrede's Dealing with Dragons. I had a visceral reaction to the book as something warped, but when I tried to explain it to the group by saying that it was like the Un-man in Perelandra, I was met with severe resistance from two men in the group. Despite this, and after lengthy further discussions, I was able to persuade them that the analogy was at least the best I could manage in a tight time slot.

I was puzzled at some mysterious slippage that had intelligent Christians who appreciated good literature magnetized by works that were, well... warped. And that mysterious slippage seemed to keep cropping up at other times and circumstances.

Why the big deal? I will get to the Un-man's message in a moment, but for now let me say that little girls are sexist way too romantic. And this being sexist way too romantic motivates girls to want fairy tales, to want some knight in shining armor or some prince to sweep her off her feet. And seeing how this sexist deeply romantic desire cannot easily be ground out of them, feminists have written their own fairy tales, but...

To speak from my own experience, I never realized how straight traditional fairy tales were until I met feminist fairy tales. And by 'straight' I am not exactly meaning the opposite of queer (though that is close at hand), but the opposite of twisted and warped, like Do You Want to Date My Avatar? (I never knew how witchcraft could be considered unnatural vice until I read the witches' apologetic in Terry Pratchett's incredibly warped The Wee Free Men.) There is something warped in these tales that is not covered by saying that Dealing with Dragons has a heroine who delights only in what is forbidden, rejects marriage for the company of dragons, and ridicules every time its pariahs say something just isn't done. Seeing as how rooting out from the desire for fairy tales from little girls and little kids in general, authors have presented warped anti-fairy tales.

Ella Enchanted makes it plain: for a girl or woman to be under obedience is an unmixed curse. There is no place for "love, honor, and obey."

The commercials for Tangled leave some doubt about whether the heroine sings a Snow White-style "Some day my prince will come."

The Un-man's own tales

Perelandra has a protagonist who visits Venus or Perelandra, where an unfallen Eve is joined first by him and then by the antagonist, called the Un-man because he moves from prelest or spiritual illusion to calling demons or the Devil into himself and then letting his body be used as a demonic puppet.

How does the Un-man try to tempt this story's Eve?

[The Lady said:] "I will think more of this. I will get the King to make me older about it."

[The Un-man answered:] "How greatly I desire to meet this King of yours! But in the matter of Stories he may be no older than you himself."

"That saying of yours is like a tree with no fruit. The King is always older than I, and about all things."...

[The Lady said,] "What are [women on earth] like?"

[The Un-man answered,] "They are of great spirit. They always reach out their hands for the new and unexpected good, and see that it is good long before the men understand it. Their minds run ahead of what Maleldil has told them. They do not need to wait for Him to tell them what is good, but know it for themselves as He does..."

...The Lady seemed to be saying very little. [The Un-man]'s voice was speaking gently and continuously. It was not talking about the Fixed Land nor even about Maleldil. It appeared to be telling, with extreme beauty and pathos, a number of stories, and at first Ransom could not perceive any connecting link between them. They wre all about women, but women who had apparently lived at different periods of the world's history and in quiet differences. From the Lady's replies it appeared that the stories contained much that she did not understand; but oddly enough the Un-man did not mind. If the questions aroused by any one story proved at all difficult to answer, the speaker simply dropped that story and instantly began another. The heroines of the stories seemed all to have suffered a great deal—they had been oppressed by their fathers, cast off by husbands, deserted by lovers. Their children had risen up against them and society had driven them out. But the stories all ended, in a sense, hapily: sometimes with honours and praises to a heroine still living, more often by tardy acknowledgment and unavailing tears after her death. As the endless speech proceeded, the Lady's questions grew always fewer...

The expression on [the Lady's] face, revealed in the sudden light, was one that [Ransom] had not seen there before. Her eyes were not fixed on the narrator; as far as that went, her thoughts might have been a thousand miles away. Her lips were shut and a little pursed. Her eyebrows were slightly raised. He had not yet seen her look so like a woman of our own race; and yet her expression was one he had not very often met on earth—except, as he realized with a shock, on the stage. "Like a tragedy queen" was the disgusting comparison that arose in his mind. Of course it was a gross exaggeration. It was an insult for which he could not forgive himself. And yet... and yet... the tableau revealed by the lightning had photographed itself on his brain. Do what he would, he found it impossible not to think of that new look in her face. A very good tragedy queen, no doubt, very nobly played by an actress who was a good woman in real life...

A moment later [the Un-man] was explaining that men like Ransom in his own world—men of that intensely male and backward-looking type who always shrank away from the new good—had continuously laboured to keep women down to mere childbearing and to ignore the high destiny for which Maleldil had actually created her...

The external and, as it were, dramatic conception of the self was the enemy's true aim. He was making her mind a theatre in which that phantom self should hold the stage. He had already written the play.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Lady is complementarian to the point where one wonders if the label 'complementarian' is sufficient, and the demon or Devil using the Un-man's body is doing his treacherous worst to convert her to feminism. Hooper says he is trying to make her fall by transgressing one commandment, and that is true, but the entire substance of the attack to make her fall is by seducing her to feminism.

A strange silence in the criticism

Walter Hooper's C.S. Lewis: Companion and Guide treats this dialogue in detail but without the faintest passing reference to feminism, men and women, sex roles, or anything else in that nexus. It does, however, treat the next and final book in the trilogy, That Hideous Strength, and defend Lewis from "anti-feminism" in a character who was a woman trying to do a dissertation on Milton: Lewis, it is revealed, had originally intended her to be doing a dissertation on biochemistry, but found that he was not in a position to make that part of the story compelling, and so set a character whose interests more closely paralleled his own. So the issue of feminism was on his radar, possibly looming large. But, and this is a common thread with other examples, he exhibits a mysterious slippage. His account gets too many things right to be dismissed on the ground that he doesn't know how to read such literature, but it also leaves too much out, mysteriously, to conclude that he gave anything like such a scholar's disinterested best in explaining the text. (It is my own opinion that Hooper in fact does know how to read; he just mysteriously sets this ability aside when Lewis counters feminism.) And this slippage keeps happening in other places and context, always mysterious on the hypothesis that the errors are just errors of disinterested, honest scholarship.

Jerry Root, in his own treatment in C.S. Lewis and a Problem of Evil: An Investigation of a Pervasive Theme, treats subjectivism as spiritual poison and problem of evil Lewis attacks in his different works: Root argues it to be the prime unifying theme in Lewis). But with slight irony, Root seems to turn subjectivistic, or at least disturbing, precisely where his book touches gender roles and egalitarianism. In his comments on The Great Divorce's greatest saint-figure, a woman, Susan Smith, is slighted: among other remarks, he quotes someone as saying that women in C.S. Lewis's stories are "he neglects any intellectual virtue in his female characters," and this is particularly applied to Sarah Smith. When he defends Lewis, after a fashion, Root volunteers, "a book written in the 1940s will lack some accommodations to the culture of the twenty-first century." But this section is among the gooiest logic in Root's entire text, speaking with a quasi-psychoanalytic Freudian or Jungian outlook of "a kind of fertile mother-image and nature-goddess," that is without other parallel and certainly does not infect the discussion of Lewis's parents, who well enough loom large at points, but not in any psychoanalytic fashion. Root's entire treatment at this point has an "I can't put my finger on it, but—" resemblance to feminists disarming and neutralizing any claim that the Catholic veneration of the Virgin Mary could in any way, shape, or form contribute to the well-standing of women: one author, pointing out the difficulty of a woman today being both a virgin and a mother, used that as a pretext to entirely dismiss the idea that She could be a model for woman or a token of woman's good estate, thus throwing out the baby, the bathwater, and indeed the tub. The Mother of God is She who answered, Be it unto me according to thy word, an answer that may be echoed whether or not one is a virgin, a mother, or for that matter a woman.

The critique Root repeats, on reflection, may meet an Orthodox response of "Huh?", or more devastatingly, "Yes, but what's your point?", not because Lewis portrays a saint as "no model of intellectual virtue," but because Orthodox sainthood is not a matter of intellectual virtue. Among its rich collection of many saints there are very few models of intellectual virtue, admittedly mostly men, and usually having received their formation outside the Orthodox Church: St. John Chrysostom was called "Chrysostom" or "Golden-Mouth" because of his formation and mastery of pagan rhetoric. But intellectual virtue as a whole is not a central force in the saints, and Bertrand Russell's observation that in the Gospels not one word is put in praise of intelligence might be accepted, not as a weakness of the Gospel, but as a clarification of what is and is not central to Christian faith. And in terms of what is truly important, we would do well to recall the story of St. Zosima and St. Mary of Egypt. If Lewis's image of sainthood is a woman who is not an academic, this is not an embarrassment to explain away, but a finger on the pulse of what does and does not matter for sainthood.

Root mentions the Un-man briefly, and gives heavy attention to the man who would become the Un-man as he appears in the prior book in the trilogy, but does not reference or suggest a connection between the Un-man and feminism. Root became an egalitarian, and shifts in his book from speaking of "men" to saying "humankind". And this is far from one scholar's idiosyncracy; a look at the World Evangelical Alliance's online bookstore as I was involved with it showed this mysterious slippage not as something you find a little here, a little there, but as endemic and without any effective opposition.

Un-man's tales for Grown-Ups

During my time as webmaster to the World Evangelical Alliance, the one truly depressing part of my work was getting the bookstore online. Something like eighty to ninety percent of the work was titles like Women as Risk-Takers for God which were Un-man's tales for adults. I was depressed that the World Evangelical Alliance didn't seem to have anything else to say on its bookshelves: not only was there a dearth of complementarian "opposing views" works like Man and Woman in Christ, but there was a dearth of anything besides Un-man's tales. The same mysterious phenomenon was not limited to a ragtag group of friends, or individual scholars; it was dominant at the highest level in one of the most important parachurch organizations around, and not one that, like Christians for Biblical Equality, had a charter of egalitarian or feminist concerns and priorities.

Conclusion

G.K. Chesterton said, "Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed." That might hold for Chesterton's day, and classics like Grimm and MacDonald today, but today's fairy tales, or rather Un-man's tales, do not tell children the dragons can be killed. Children already know that deep down inside. They tell children dragons can be befriended and that dragons may make excellent company. For another title of the myriad represented by Dealing with Dragons, look at the tale of cross-cultural friendship one may look for in The Dragon and the George. When first published, Dealing with Dragons might have been provocative. Now Tangled is not. And reading Perelandra leaves one with an uncomfortable sense that C.S. Lewis apparently plagiarized, in the Un-man's tales, works written decades after his death.

This issue is substantial, and Lewis's sensitivity to it is almost prophetic: sensibilities may have changed, but only in the direction of our needing to hear the warning more. And it is one Christians seem to be blind to: complementarianism seems less wrong than petty, making a mountain out of a molehill. But the core issue is already a mountain, not a molehill.

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. Aim for something better than Un-man's Tales.

What is this mysterious slippage?

One of the two men who shut me down completely when I compared Dealing with Dragons with Un-man's tales, told me when I spoke with him a reason why my comparison was out of bounds: it provoked "a strong emotional reaction" to compare the book the group had chosen to Un-man's tales, and so I was making a problematic comparison. With his efforts to waft away and disable my reaction, I zeroed back in on the center: first, that the style of telling the tales was exactly the same between the Un-man and Patricia Wrede, and second, the content of the tales was exactly the same. But let me take a step further back.

That man was my best friend, and there was one time where he went away for a weekend and had a conversation with me the like of which I have not seen before or since. He gave extremely forceful and heavily loaded language indicating that "there is no... male nor female" mean as much as possible (he did not honestly admit that included was that "no male nor female" mean as much as possible what a feminist would want it to mean), and the question remains of what to do with passages that "appear to say" (always, and with another friend who found her way into the gender rainbow, heavy verbal stress on "appear" for any inconvenient passage) something contrary, and tried to neutralize the claim that the husband is the head of his wife by saying that in Greek the term "head" need not mean "boss" but can also mean "source," as in that "the head of a stream is where the stream came from (he never explained why the assertion that "head" means "source" diminished the authority of a husband).

I took a bit before responding, "That's loaded language!," followed by suggesting that he might repeat what he said with the language loaded in the opposite direction.

That conversation, with a man whose character was gentleness, honesty, and truth, left me mystified: why is it that feminism is always advanced by slimy language? This might be a worst example in my life (at least apart from the text I analyzed in my diploma thesis, Craig Keener's Paul, Women, and Wives: Marriage and Woman's Ministry in the Letters of Paul), but it is far from an only example in my life, and since I started paying attention to the matter I have never noticed an attempt to advance feminism that was not slippery in rhetoric. The jarring blow helped me move from sitting on the fence between egalitarianism and complementarianism (and not considering the question important), to the belief that feminism is bankrupt enough that it cannot convincingly be advanced through clean methods of persuasion. My question was initially one of rhetoric alone, but my concern grew to encompass a movement that needs to use such language to recruit, and needed to use such language when feminism was widely held to be the moral high ground over complementarianism, and there was an incredible hegemony to the belief that if you want to advance the good of woman, you do so by promoting feminism. This was years and almost decades before I would quip, "He for She. Because feminism knows it is sinking."

My advisor on that dissertation, incidentally, has been a plenary speaker at a Christians for Biblical Equality ("well, I suppose one in three is not bad") conference. And he did not hinder me from a conservative thesis; Cambridge professors do not normally take out their differences on students. But he did try to recruit me. One example was, "And what about Biblical Egalitarians, who believe 'In Christ, there is no male nor female'?"

I responded by dismantling the missile: I first commented that in English language idiom, talking about the group who does such-and-such idiomatically means that the unshared, distinguishing feature of that group is such-and-such, and his assertion communicates that feminists and Biblical Egalitarians believe that "In Christ, there is no male nor female" and their opponents do not, where one conservative response might be, "The same God inspired passages feminists like and passages they don't like, and if your interpretation needs to neutralize one to make room for the other, your interpretation is broken." I do not ever recall a conservative rejection or attack on "In Christ there is no male nor female," because complementarians also believe, really and truly, that "In Christ there is no male nor female" is as much part of divine revelation as passages feminists attack.

Then I drew attention to a hidden payload: "In Christ there is no male nor female" was assumed to mean as much as possible what a feminist would want it to mean, an identical legal franchise extended to both male and female. If it is hard to see anything else, I would add a passing reference to St. Maximus the Confessor, who said that in hesychasm monks know what temptation is coming by what image they see: if a man's face who had wronged us appeared imagination, there was a temptation to anger coming, and if a woman's face appeared, a temptation to lust was coming, and in Christ there is no male nor female, meaning neither anger nor lust. Now I don't believe this is a complete interpretation; if it is truth, it has the truth of a layer, and there are other things on other levels that "In Christ there is no male nor female" should mean. But I reference St. Maximus the Confessor to give an example of what besides a feminist goal of equal legal-style franchise "In Christ there is no male nor female" could mean.

And this happened easily a couple of dozen times: he asked, regarding inclusive language in translation, if I thought Greek or English language conventions should be followed in Bible translations, and I said, "You're begging the question!" because he used "English language conventions" to automatically mean belabored inclusive language instead of naturally inclusive language, when the very point under consideration was whether a New Testament written in naturally inclusive language should be most faithfully translated by exchanging the naturally inclusive Greek for belabored inclusive English. At some point, after a great deal of this, he got discouraged and tried to recruit me less often.

I would suggest that feminism represents a deliberate and chosen ignorance that needs to reach out and dupe others. The verse in Genesis that declares the image of God also says what may more picturesquely be stated as, "Prong and tunnel He created them." And feminism is devoted to annihilating what in society that works out, just as its rhetoric is post-truth, the rhetoric of the assassin's guide to making foul rhetoric.

The most politically incorrect passage in Scripture: Romans 1

For the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and venerated and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Some people have said this reads as a description of today, and I used to agree with that.* I quote the passage because it is explicitly an assessment of a deliberate and chosen ignorance.

* What's the asterisk for? Simply put, we've managed to go farther. What used to be called LBG has now become "the alphabet people," because they keep adding letters in a brainstorm of sexualities (or numbers, as in 2-S). (As a techie, I think /L.*/ is appropriate for LGBTQ+, and which people are actively working on expanding to LGBTQP+.)

Furthermore, there was a moralist injunction regarding SecondLife, saying, "Fornicate using your OWN genitals!" The technological nexus we live in has had a breach with natural living. Our ancestors devised one kind of artificial environment to be in, namely indoors most of the time, and we've taken artificiality to a next level unimaginable in St. Paul's day. Committing sexual vice in person, which is all the Apostle imagined, suggests face-to-face social skills. "Chang[ing] the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things," has been superceded for changing the glory of God for monsters that don't exist except as created by man: Pokemon is "in" as I write. Pokemon trainers do things St. Paul never imagined. Again, let me quote General Omar Bradley about one single dimension of our chosen ignorance, and that before technology that must be taken for granted today:

We have too many men of science; too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount.

Man is stumbling blindly through a spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.

You can read my work Origins Questions if you like. I have raised concerns loud and long about The Seraphinians who have imported Protestant beliefs and practice into Orthodoxy by their young earth "Creation 'Science'". But there are serious humanist objections to the theory of evolution as well, and I have written about the theory of evolution from a humanist's eye.

Much as C.S. Lewis points out in The Abolition of Man that the popular impression that magic was the old medieval thing and science was the new thing that swept it away, when in fact there was very little magic in the Middle Ages and science was born around the high noon of magic, Darwinism arose in the same nexus as eugenics and respectable racism which treated it as a problem to show human compassion to other races. Though I don't think this is what St. Paul had in mind, we have traded in human life in the image of God to human life in the image of mere animals, and lost a sense of special obligation to other people. Some people admit of finally getting that the Creation account in Genesis 1 means that all of us are family, a very different picture from the idea that the races can and should be in ruthless and violent competition. Darwin and Galton were cousins, and the former created a theory of evolution very different from what scientists call "evolution" today, while Galton used his concept of IQ to push eugenics.

The ignorance we have today is a hydra. We have phones to turn our brains into tapioca, and in the case of The Damned Backswing, we are using Zoom to connect to people all over the world, people which we could only once in a blue moon meet with face to face. In recent history, Google scanned books and made them available, and has now confiscated access to priceless classics. Today Zoom makes things easy in terms of connecting with others, but that can be whisked away too. And at some point we will stop meeting our neighbors face-to-face, even worse than the present conditions that have led a religious leader to tell America "You can put a man on the moon but you do not meet your neighbors face-to-face." And the time will come when people stop meeting together.

Then the end will come.

Escape

Cover for Orthodox Theology and Technology: A Profoundly Gifted Autobiography

I want to write today something to do with happiness, something that is interwoven with my whole life story.

"You are too old, children," said Aslan, "and you must begin to come close to your own world now."

"It isn't Narnia, you know," added Lucy. "It's you. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?"

"Are—are you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.

"I am," said Aslan. "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."

These words, from the end of a book by C.S. Lewis in The Chronicles of Narnia were for me a big spiritual turnoff for as long as I can remember. (They went over my head when my father read The Chronicles of Narnia to my brother and me as little boys.)

When I read those words, they could not but grate because I wanted to continue to live vicariously in Narnia, not our world which seemed so drab and dull, and I was more interested in Aslan than a real Christ. And here I wish to touch on something.

The term "occult" has a few senses and meanings; it can mean supernatural power not given by God; or it can mean something that may or may not be supernatural but is very obscure and known to few. One classic study of occult memory techniques in Renaissance times is occult in both senses. By contrast, a familiarity with the story of the twelve paladins as heroic literature may or may not be occult in its supernatural dimension but is occult in the sense of being obscure. Today, Harry Potter and the X-Men may glorify an imaginary occult world but they are not occult in the sense of being obscure by the standards of pop culture: both of them are backed by tremendous marketing muscle to be a global financial powerhouse, and one need not try to delve into obscure matters to start becoming interested in either.

At that point I remember being puzzled by a counselor showing something almost like a patriotism towards one of the colleges in Harry Potter; in one sense it may seem harmless enough but I would expect a psychologist to know enough about happiness not to build a proper patriotism for something not literally available. I remember in reading "How to Be a Hacker" that talked about "hackers" (software experts who are usually not focused on breaking computer security) as being "neophiles", meaning people who, like the "Athenians and strangers" of the Bible in Acts 17:21, "...spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing." And though technologies change and develop and there is little end to which changes of some sort are available, one of the big things I read on reading propaganda for HTML5 is that the axe ground against its predecessor XHTML spoke of an appetite for change in excess of the admittedly significant technical changes HTML5 heralded. The amount of bad smell attributed to XHTML was reminiscent of New Age people grinding an axe against Newton, or perhaps today Einstein, as a primary authority figure. My involvement in physics, for instance, never really turned up figures grinding an axe against past paradigms by physicists. Newtonian physics may be considered to have been surpassed, but I was taught Newtonian physics before relativity, and engineers (and for that matter some physicists) routinely stick with Newtonian physics in a large number of cases where the discrepancy between Newtonian and relativistic physics (or quantum mechanics, or superstring theory) is dwarfed by much larger imprecision in other matters. And being a neophile is a downwind attribute of finding that things one already has are just boring and really not being happy with life as it is. I would expect a psychologist to know, not so much that enough involvement in literal occult activities is a recipe to lose your mind, but that placing what is rightly called patriotism in a mere fantasy setting is a recipe to find what one can literally have, to be quite dull in comparison. Perhaps a degree of curiosity towards new things is helpful in rapidly changing times, but boredom with tried and true technology is not an attribute of happiness, and patriotism for Hogwarts represents a problem in the first world that is not, as the idiom goes, a "first world problem." A true first world problem is something minor that is blown out of proportion. A spiritual condition that can let you be in circumstances coveted worldwide and not appreciate it is a matter of grave concern. In a world where many are hungry, many lack clothing or shelter, where many lack a safe place to stay, many people wish for a lot that comes easily in the USA, and is taken for granted when one pines for Harry Potter and Hogwarts. A true "first world problem" is something like having a cracked phone screen or having to use cheaper and rougher toilet paper, for the lack of graver and more pressing concerns. Being an American white middle class professional is something that is coveted around the world. (Being an American white middle class professional who thinks her lot is dull, and pines for a bit of spice in patriotism for Hogwarts, is a significant missed spiritual opportunity.)

I harp on escapism because even though I have resisted some of its manifestations, it is something I know well, and it is not innocent or harmless. I imitated the staring in one place that opened a portal to a magical world in The Last of the Really Great Whang-Doodles; in a French language novel by a friend, there was no question about whether escape was to be found, only of how it might be ferreted out. There is also in fiction the possibility of intense concentration or some other intense psychological state breaking through; though it is not exactly a delivery of escape by which the curse is broken at the end of Ella Enchanted, the ace card that trumps magic nothing else could ever break illustrates another portal by which escape is provided in literature. In my own experience, reading or dipping into games can be a way to imbibe tainted spiritual realities as well.

My own attempted interest in Arthurian legends (in The Sign of the Grail, I omitted entirely one part of the rhythm of Arthurians where two knights hacked each other to death's door and were both well a few weeks later (contrast history where a sword duel was usually eventually fatal to both duelists), is relatively unique in that I don't see the fountainhead as being Sir Thomas Mallory's Le Morte d'Arthur, but studied the medieval flourishing that escaped Celtic folklore into mainstream European popularity in the 12th century "Brut", and was finally transformed into a 1000 page synopsis by Mallory as the end of a flourish. (And I tried hard to convince myself that reading an arbitrarily long sample of Arthurian legend is fascinating. Most of the time I was fighting uphill to convince myself that what I was reading was interesting, when I knew it was deadly dull.)

These Arthurian legends, told and retold and formed and reformed from about the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries, concern a time frame of allegedly the sixth century. The times in which the stories were told were separated from the time they occurred in by about as many centuries as the reteller's timeframe is distant to us historically, before history and period awareness were really discovered in Western culture.

For just a slice of what changed between the sixth century and the centuries of these retellings, such things as knights who fought on horseback and jousts simply were not available in sixth century England. Historically knights were mounted shock troops who fought from on horseback, and that depends on the stirrup, a technology not available in sixth century England. Without stirrups, horses can be useful but they can only take you to a battle scene faster where you can fight on foot. A knight riding on horseback in a battle, or in a joust, simply was not available in the sixth century any more in the sixth century any more than people in the twelfth through fifteenth centuries would have been able to coordinate their combat by using modern radios, walkie-talkies, and cellphones in a world where news really couldn't travel faster than people.

They are the medieval equivalent of our fantasy TV shows having Robin Hood's merry band go through a haunted house, and have Maid Marian confronted with a magical apparition the other side of a mirror and saying, "I am having... a biochemical... reaction!" or otherwise show scriptwriters who know how fantasy storytelling works today, but do not share Lewis's and Tolkinn's writing of medieval fantasy out of a profound knowledge of medieval literature and history. And in the days when these Arthurian legends were rampant, it really is not academic peskiness to suggest that chivalry was the real religion of the nobles, or to observe that Western Europeans traveling to the Byzantine empire participated in the dangerous sport of jousting that was practiced one place and the other sometime around the thirteenth century. "People now don't really love," to quote a repeated didactic comment about courtly love by a troubador, are the kind of signal that tells the historian that the milieu of medieval mania for Arthurian legend embodies courtly love as never before.

(And something of the same sensitivity gives me hope when Orthodox say that too little of the greatness of ancient monasticism is alive now, because it may signal a flourishing quite independent of our needing to re-create the conditions of the Egyptian deserts met by the followers of St. Anthony the Great. The Philokalia is very widely read among the faithful today, and that in and of itself is exciting.)


My mother showed consternation in relating a report that children surveyed would "rather be rich and unhappy than be poor and happy," but the consternation played out in circumstances in my life. Many people today would rather be escapist and ungrateful and unhappy with the here and now than be happy and grateful with the here and now.

I had the privilege of studying at the University of Cambridge in England, and in a very real sense that was an escape into a golden other world for me. A real Narnia to me, if you will. And it did not make me happy; I very much preferred being in Europe when the opportunity was open even if I was unhappy there. It was not until after I had returned to the U.S. that I learned how to be happy in the here and now. Years after that I traveled to Mount Athos, and I was expecting to feel better, but I was just happy, if the word "just" is appropriately used in such a case. The voyage was one of tremendous blessing to me, but I did not feel better for a transition to the Holy Mountain's medieval settings.

When I was at Cambridge I was received into the Orthodox Church, and I bristled when I read Vladyka KALLISTOS's comment in The Orthodox Church that Orthodoxy "is not something Oriental or exotic," because that is precisely what I wanted Orthodoxy to be for me. I also bristled when the priest who received me said, "Orthodoxy is slog!" Now, years and a decade later, I find that Orthodoxy transforms slog.

My "escape from escape" essentially unfolded as follows. When I had been leaning enough on, for instance, subtle mind tricks, one priest commented to me that monks in the desert were perennially warned about escape, with pastoral advice of praying through the temptation until it was gone. And I finally came to a point where I bleakly let go of escape, when all of my desire on one level was to escape the bleak here and now, and in an instant my eyes were opened and I no longer found the here and now to be bleak. Nowadays, the temptation comes back from time to time and I need to keep on intensely praying through the temptation the Fathers called "the demon of noonday," but even if the activity of prayer is initially bleaker, I know where victory comes from. When I pray through the temptation, sooner or later it leaves, and I find that the here and now bears some of the marks of Paradise.

"The road less traveled" is today the embrace of the here and now instead of trying to find happiness via escapism, and leaving the broad highway of escapism for the narrow and straight road less traveled, by all means, makes all the difference.

Sneak Peak Review: MBR, "Happiness in an Age of Crisis: Ancient Wisdom from the Eastern Orthodox Church"

Buy Happiness in an Age of Crisis on Amazon.

I am posting this in honor of my godson Paisios's baptism: a sneak peak of Happiness in an Age of Crisis: Ancient Wisdom from the Eastern Orthodox Church, set to be published February in Donovan's Literary Review and March in the Midwest Book Review.

Happiness in an Age of Crisis

CJS Hayward

CJS Hayward Publications

979-8502272698

$19.99 Hardcover/$12.99 Paper/$2.99 Kindle

Website: www.CJSHayward.com/books 

Ordering: https://www.amazon.com/

Happiness in an Age of Crisis: Ancient Wisdom from the Eastern Orthodox Church joins others in the Orthodox 'Best Works' series to provide theology readers with keys to better living in modern times. It is particularly accessible and applicable to the rigors of these COVID years.

Happiness in an Age of Crisis opens with a series of life admonitions, old and new, that conclude that "Our social program is the Trinity. The Orthodox martial art is living the Sermon on the Mount." Then it reviews some core principles of Scripture, drawing important connections between Orthodox thinkers and the interpretations of God's word that lead to better living choices.

CJS Hayward's enlightening inspections address everything from worry ("...Do not worry for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Do you think you can add one single hour to your life by worrying? You might as well try to worry your way into being a foot taller!") to finding joy during hard times (this quote is from the Classic Orthodox Bible). Happiness in an Age of Crisis, as his other books, reflects Hayward's trademark lucid and profound depth.

Insights from the lives and choices of St. Philaret and others, examples from the Sermon on the Mount and other spiritual guidelines, and Christian reflections that encourage self-help and understanding all lend to insights and uplifting reflections that spiritual thinkers need to reflect upon.

Among the potentially large readership likely to find Happiness in an Age of Crisis an attraction, there are three major audiences for this work. First (and primary) is Eastern Orthodox in particular; the second is Christians as a whole, and third is non-Christian spirituality readers interested in what the Eastern Orthodox Church has to offer, including many types of the “not religious but spiritual” camps. It's intended to be lucid to inquirers and people interested in Eastern Orthodoxy and those wishing to better understand it, but all the more from someone who understands the tradition deeply and well.

Suitable for theology discussion groups as well as individual contemplation, Happiness in an Age of Crisis applies many principles of Christian thinking to modern controversies in a manner readily accessible to lay readers as well as scholarly audiences involved in Bible or Orthodox study.

Its words of wisdom and insight on how to handle crisis and find happiness in every circumstance of life offers important contemporary reflections that should be a part of any thinking Christian reader's collection. Its deep knowledge of a topic many people are very interested in makes it accessible to both a specific spiritual and a wider audience of lay readers across spiritual disciplines.

Own it now!

You Can Choose to Be Happy in the Here and Now

Buy Happiness in an Age of Crisis on Amazon.

There was one LinkedIn conversation that was bigger than what I realized. One man asked a question of how to handle the fact that he was not in a position to advance professionally and had no meaningful freedom.

I suggested something like,

Let's look at a position where you have as little freedom as possible, and ask if there can be any meaningful freedom. You can probably think of some pretty gruesome examples; I would like to look at Nazi concentration camps and ask, "Is there any way to have real freedom in a Nazi concentration camp?"

One person who answered "Yes"to that question was Victor Frankl, Jewish psychiatrist and Nazi concentration camp survivor who wrote Man's Search for Meaning."

If you are not in a position to advance professionally and don't see yourself as having any real freedom, you are in an excellent position to profit from Man's Search for Meaning."

(I've got to read the book directly and not just be going off of other people's summaries!)

That hit a nerve, although my correspondent was in every sense gracious. I was unwittingly corresponding with the Jewish son of a Jewish survivor of Hitler's concentration camps, and seared by the stories. There was nothing academic to him in the example I chose. He was very gentle about his response, and he was appreciative at my suggestion that if he was in the position he said he was in, he had a great deal of meaningful freedom, and perhaps at my pointer to Man's Search for Meaning.

The core point attributed to Frankl is that we do not automatically go from stimulus to response; we go from stimulus to free choice to response, even if we are unaware of our birthright. Such an insight is also at the core of the Philokalia of the Niptic Fathers, with "nipsis" referring to an inner spiritual watchfulness. It is something like the core of what classical Buddhism has to offer as well. My dear Abbot condensed it to one line. He has said and underscored, "Never react. Never resent. Keep inner stillness."

Enjoying the here and now is a choice. Our surroundings may seem like something to escape, but that is a spiritual trap, the core response in the Philokalia being to just keep on praying until the "demon of noonday" has passed. It is a crushing experience, but over time we can learn to crush it.

Most of our surroundings are beautiful, but we can become immune to the beauty of a wooden floor, an off-white wall. But we can choose to be awake to this beauty to which we have fallen asleep. We can choose to be grateful, and by the way positive psychology is squarely on target that we should be grateful for. Mindfulness also helps; it used to be considered "paying attention" and part of politeness to the boomers, and we are seeking mindfulness from the East because we have rejected it in the West. But gratitude and mindfulness are both choices, as is enjoying beauty. A Russian proverb answers the questions by saying, "When is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do?" with, "There is only one important time, and that time is now. The most important one is always the one you are with. And the most important thing is to do good for the One Who is standing at your side." Today this is recognized as profound mindfulness. It is still also manners at their best, and something that goes beyond manners.

There is also what St. John Chrysostom referred to as "healing an eye". Lust, classic Fathers say, has the characteristic of a lion who looks at a deer and sees only meat. And, perhaps I might add, meat that is rarely enough and does not engender any form of permanent satisfaction. It has been called the disenchantment of the entire universe. But a man looking at a woman has a choice to see an integral and beautiful whole: a spirit adorned with a body and a body adorned with clothing. C.S. Lewis, telling an imagined story with the saints in paradise in The Great Divorce, said,

Long after that I saw people coming to meet us. Because they were bright I saw them when they were still very distant, and at first I did not know they were people at all. Mile after mile they grew nearer. The earth shook under their tread as their strong feet sank into the wet turf. A tiny haze and a sweet smell went up where they had crushed the grass and scattered the dew. Some were naked, some robed. But the naked ones did not seem less adorned, and the robes did not disguise in those who wore them the massive grandeur of muscle and the radiant smoothness of flesh.

We are not ready for such things now and C.S. Lewis offered only an imagination. Or, if you prefer Wendy Shalit's A Return to Modesty, we can be "naked and bored." But there is great deal of benefit in seeing an integrated whole, a spirit adorned with a body and a body adorned with clothing.

More broadly though, our healed eyes can sense beauty, and in rough circumstances, bleeding and in an ER, I know one who was able to see the beauty of a hospital curtain and wait in satisfaction.

It is not easy. But counselors tell those fighting various addictions, "You have more power than you think." Nipsis or spiritual watchfulness extinguishes sparks before they become a fire. If your house is on fire you can call the fire department, and they may salvage surprisingly much. If your chair is on fire a fire extinguisher may see that a fire that started on a chair, stays only with that chair. But the best option is to stomp out the first spark before it has set the rug on fire. Or if I may take the bull by the hand to mix metaphors, don't go near the bait; just ignore it and let it pass by.

Never react. Never resent. Keep inner stillness.

Happiness in the here and now is a choice, and we have more power than most of us think. When there is a little spark, dash it against the rock. But the metaphor is strained because the best solution is not to engage it and not give it the fuel of your attention.

Happiness is also a by-product of what positive psychology calls "the meaningful life," and there are other things to being healthy in your heart of hearts and having a good condition. A healthy (such as Paleo) diet / exercise / sleep can also make a big difference. But the biggest difference is always in our heart of hearts. Part of that is that we can savor the here and now and be aware of its beauty.

You can choose to be happy in the here and now.

Grassroots Effort Redefines the Term “Vaccines” to Include Placebos

Anytown, USA (DP). Placebos have a long and well-documented history of bringing hope and healing, enough so that drug companies making serious medical trials work hard to neutralize the effects that would otherwise contaminate their research findings, possibly by a fair margin.

A passionate homemaker explains.

In Lewis Caroll’s children’s books, we find a clearly articulated principle that words can do more work as long as they’re adequately compensated. ‘Vaccine’ has been cleverly redefined so that it now includes not only inoculation from a weakened or dead bacterial culture, but also an experimental genetic therapy whose long term effects are not only unknown but scarcely even guessed at. And a placebo is the kind of thing that will work almost for free.

A philosopher of science comments further.

When DDT came out, it stopped an epidemic in its tracks, and equally stopped the lingering menace of malaria that was killing more US soldiers in Vietnam than anything else. After these coups, a pesticide that is highly effective at killing insects and is still not known to cause any serious or direct harm to humans was unimpeachable as something which you could not seriously criticize in any public setting.

Peter Kreeft commented that the prophet sees through a glass, darkly, but the archivist sees through a microscope, sharply. In retrospect there was some serious “philosophical noise,” a faint societal and philosophical static, that we should have heeded but didn’t. Just a few lone naturalists noticed that the frogs in the creeks weren’t singing, and then they noticed fish kill, too, but great DDT was not the sort of thing one could fault for a problem. You could not speak ill of DDT!

Here and now we have philosophical noise at the scale of an out-of-control rock concert. It is, as chivalric literature would say, “passing strange” that FEMA so much wants to cook the books that they’re actually offering a $9,000 bribe if a death certificate says a COVID death. It is also passing illiberal that Americans who need a heart transplant are taken off the wait list entirely if they refuse to be fully injected. Or that diabetics who decline injections once presented as optional are being deprived of treatment that will prevent purely preventable amputation of their feet. Or employers mandatory vaccine requirement for remote employees who never have and never intend to set foot on an employer’s campus. Or…

COVID injections: The greatest breakthrough in human health since DDT!

A passerby interjected.

Vaccines are safe, or at least that’s what it said on one propaganda sheet meant to quell public hysteria. But why then, not long after being even partially vaccinated, did I have blood clotting that would be fatal if untreated, and why did I have to be put on “the Cadillac of blood thinners” which meant that a bad cut could cause me to bleed to death and left the ER asking of my bleeding what had happened when a four by four inch gauze pad was soaked in less than an hour, with my blood dripping on the floor?

“So,” said a grassroots community organizer,

We’re beyond rock concert levels of noise. It’s a “WTF?” in 15 foot high blinking neon. But there’s something else at play. If a word can be redefined after it was taking traction that experimental and untested COVID gene therapy injections simply were not meaningfully vaccines, they decided to redefine “vaccine” to include experimental gene therapy and make “vaccine” and “vax” the word of the year.

The precedent has been set, and now we are redefining “vaccine” at a grass level to the time-tested remedy of a saline placebo: an injection along with the doctor saying “Here is an injection based on a time-tested and powerful principle. Congratulations! You are now fully vaccinated!”

An armchair historian mused:

2022, also callable as 2020 Part Deux, looks like quite a year. We’ve come a long way since The Medieval Experience: Foundations of Western Cultural Singularity developed cubism, for instance, within a generation. Now we seem to be in a Kali-yuga, and things which would have been astonishing in a generation are happening within a year, on top of a financial crisis that escapes by the year. We’ve left the comparably merry “decade from Hell” in the dust… Islamic ascendency, BLM, new installments of demographics that have to be in a politically correct picture, gay marriage, transgender in the limelight, friends forbidden physical affection such as hugs to try and fight COVID, injections, needing booster shots and being told “not to have a false sense of security” just because you’re fully vaccinated—we’ve left cubism in the dust. And in six months to a year, maybe less, people may be able to date my words closely by key new features of the future landscape cannot now even hint at. (Is the Antichrist out yet? Or are we just working on a Matrixy realization that we are “already in the Metaverse?”)

Today is kind of like you’re a little kid and you’ve been engaged in playing outside in the snow and your parents make you come in, and it stings and you don’t want to come in however much you want. You don’t realize how frozen and numb you are until you are shocked by the pain.

And all this without a discussion of whether Romans 1 applies today.

A skeptic in the crowd asked, “Do you think a simple change in words will help?” And a monastic aspirant answered:

The people in power certainly expect as much, and it bothered them that they were losing a debate about whether COVID injections really were in fact vaccines at all. But come, let us dig deeper.

Make peace with yourself, and ten thousand around will be saved.
Save yourself and Heaven and Earth will make peace with you.

Someone I know wrote The Consolation of Theology does include A Hymn to Arrogance, and it is well worth reading.

And perhaps there are greater concerns than who assigns the definition of “vaccine.”

Follow Me on oKyrios!

I am at a monastery now, and one hieromonk early on explained that the monastery was trying to act on the problems that I tried to document in The Seraphinians: "Blessed Seraphim Rose" and His Axe-Wielding Western Converts. He explained to me how Protestants were coming with questions that were perfectly respectful, appropriate, mature and so on. Perhaps the deliberate example he gave was an outsider's question, but not a bad question for a respectful outsider to be asking. And they are getting harassed and blasted to smithereens by axe-wielding Western converts.

And what the monastery is trying to do is provide a more wholesome alternative: a social network among other things, but a social network, run by Orthodox Christians, specifically not designed to be addictive, nor to sell advertising, but to serve the genuine interests of its members. The email account they provide is specifically intended to protect your privacy, as is the site as a whole. There is a $5 a month charge to cover costs, so we can serve it without ads.

The network is called oKyrios, Greek for "the Lord," and you can support me by creating an account at at https://lavra.okyrios.org?aff=CJSHayward. After you have created an account, you can log in at okyrios.org.

If you have not already joined, I invite you to do so.

A word to the wise

I am the author of The Luddite's Guide to Technology: Beyond the Black Mirror, and I hold Jean-Claude Larchet's The New Media Epidemic: The Undermining of Society, Family, and Our Own Soul in high regard, and some people who know me might be surprised I am recommending a social net.

I would, however, like to recommend using some of the lessons learned from Facebook. Like, for instance, the people who enjoy Facebook most are those who dip in and out quickly, not people who languish in depression, from others' happy posts, for hours. If you're going to use the social aspects of oKyrios, do so in limited moderation.

Besides social aspects, oKyrios has for instance a radio stations, a schooling system and recordings of bishops and other leaders offering really good lectures. About the lectures, which eclipse my own offerings, I would say this: Listen to one lecture and then stop for the day. Let it sink in; let it mingle with silence. This is not because I have any real concern about the lectures being anything but excellent, but one lecture sinking in is a good thing. An intravenous drip of noise is not a good thing, and that's true even if the intravenous drip of noise is an intravenous drip of some of the best Orthodox lectures you'll find anywhere on the web.

If you are not familiar with Humane Tech, at very least read their "Take Control" page, and apply its lessons to getting the best out of oKyrios. Consider setting a 15 minute timer and only stay on oKyrios for those 15 minutes.

You can get much better results from online services by making and following deliberate decisions, than if you just do whatever is easiest.

oKyrios is a wonderful resource, and all the better if you use it well!

Will There be a Place for Me?

Buy Happiness in an Age of Crisis on Amazon.

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I say unto you, Do not worry for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Do you think you can add one single hour to your life by worrying? You might as well try to worry your way into being a foot taller!

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

The Sermon on the Mount (COB)

The year was 2006 and I was studying at Fordham. A doctor made a mistake that let me be stressed to the point of uninterrupted waking nausea for weeks.

Part of my attendance at Cambridge, and then Fordham, was to get a PhD, the unofficial union card to teaching at university level, and the issue was not whether I would have the superhuman honorific of "Dr. Hayward." Or rather that was a secondary issue that did not help, but my fear was of something much worse: "Will there be a place for me?"

Before all of that, another physician had prescribed medications that made for a year of idleness, lying on my bed, staring at my light bulb, and thinking "This is worse than watching television." When the idleness ended, I found that my interests in the humanities came back quickly, computer work came back more slowly and perhaps not quite as well, but my discipline, mathematics, never came back. I had reconnected with math after four months away from math once before, and that was when I was significantly younger.

My study of academic theology was meant as retooling; since the door to mathematics was closed, information technology work had been a square peg in a round hole, and I looked for what next. I inquired about interdisciplinary PhD, and was told to pick a single academic discipline as his department had tremendous difficulties placing "American Studies" PhD's whose skills were divided between American history and literature: history departments wanted to hire a proper history PhD, and literature departments wanted to hire a proper literature PhD. And advised to pick one discipline, I picked the one that mattered to me most: theology.

And when things were turning ugly around Fordham, the question "Will there be a place for me?" was a question of what Providence I would be given. I've made a couple of forays at trying to teach theology without a PhD and without an Orthodox seminary degree, but no one has nibbled, and that may be just as well. But that left me with the square peg, round hole, and strong personalities who consider it disrespectful for a subordinate to be smarter than them. And I was going ahead, flailing.

Part of what I had worried before Fordham was how I would handle the daily grind, but for me a day's worth of daily grind is doable one day at a time. And after my parents explained that they were not going to keep the house indefinitely for me, I was able to retire on disability, and when Section 8 housing would have required injections I am not morally comfortable with, a door had been open and I have been a welcome guest at the little gem of St. Demetrios Skete.

There has always been a place for me. I don't know if I will die in a FEMA camp, but Paradise is wherever the saints are, and I am with (s)aints now. There has always been a place for me, and I believe God always will provide for me if I am faithful. I would recall the Akathist hymn "Glory to God for All Things:"

Glory to God for All Things

ODE 1

Everlasting King, Your will for our salvation is full of power. Your right arm controls the whole course of human life. We give You thanks for all Your mercies, seen and unseen: For eternal life, for the heavenly joys of the Kingdom which is to be. Grant mercy to us who sing Your praises, both now and in the time to come. Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

IKOS 1

I was born a weak, defenseless child, but Your angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now, Your love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity. From birth until now the generous gifts of Your Providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give You thanks, with all who have come to know You, who call upon Your Name:

Glory to You for calling me into being.
Glory to You, showing me the beauty of the universe.
Glory to You, spreading out before me heaven and earth, like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom.
Glory to You for Your eternity in this fleeting world.
Glory to You for Your mercies, seen and unseen.
Glory to You, through every sigh of my sorrow.
Glory to You for every step of my life’s journey,for every moment of glory.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 2

O Lord, how lovely it is to be Your guest. Breeze full of scents — mountains reaching to the skies — waters like a boundless mirror, reflecting the sun’s golden rays and the scudding clouds. All nature murmurs mysteriously, breathing depths of Your tenderness. Birds and beasts of the forest bear the imprint of Your love. Blessed are you, mother earth, in your fleeting loveliness, which wakens our yearning for happiness that will last forever in the land where, amid beauty that grows not old, rings out the cry: Alleluia!

IKOS 2

You have brought me into life as if into an enchanted paradise. We have seen the sky like a chalice of deepest blue, where in the azure heights the birds are singing. We have listened to the soothing murmur of the forest and the melodious music of the streams. We have tasted fruit of fine flavor and the sweet-scented honey. We can live very well on your earth. It is a pleasure to be your guest.

Glory to You for the feast-day of life.
Glory to You for the perfume of lilies and roses.
Glory to You for each different taste of berry and fruit.
Glory to You for the sparkling silver of early morning dew.
Glory to You for the joy of dawn’s awakening.
Glory to You for the new life each day brings.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 3

It is the Holy Spirit Who makes us find joy in each flower–the exquisite scent, the delicate color — the beauty of the Most High in the tiniest of things. Glory and honor to the Spirit, the Giver of Life, Who covers the fields with their carpet of flowers, crowns the harvest with gold, and gives to us the joy of gazing at it with our eyes. O be joyful and sing to Him: Alleluia!

IKOS 3

How glorious You are in the springtime, when every creature awakens to new life and joyfully sings Your praises with a thousand tongues! You are the source of life, the destroyer of death. By the light of the moon, nightingales sing, and the valleys and hills lie like wedding-garments, white as snow. All the earth is Your promised bride awaiting her spotless Husband. If the grass of the field is like this, how gloriously shall we be transfigured in the Second Coming, after the Resurrection! How splendid our bodies, how spotless our souls!

Glory to You for the warmth and tenderness of the world of nature.
Glory to You for the numberless creatures around us.
Glory to you for the depths of Your wisdom–the whole world a living sign of it.
Glory to You: On my knees, I kiss the traces of Your unseen hand.
Glory to You, enlightening us with the clarity of eternal life.
Glory to You for the hope of the unutterable, imperishable beauty of immortality.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 4

How filled with sweetness are those whose thoughts dwell on You: how life-giving Your holy Word. To speak with You is more soothing than anointing with oil, sweeter than the honeycomb. To pray to You lifts the spirit, refreshes the soul. Where You are not, there is only emptiness; hearts are smitten with sadness; nature, and life itself, becomes sorrowful. Where You are, the soul is filled with abundance, and its song resounds like a torrent of life: Alleluia!

IKOS 4

When the sun is setting, when quietness falls, like the peace of eternal sleep, and the silence of the spent day reigns, then in the splendor of its declining rays, filtering through the clouds, I see Your dwelling-place. Fiery and purple, gold and blue, they speak prophet-like of the ineffable beauty of Your presence, and call to us in their majesty. We turn to the Father:

Glory to You at the hushed hour of nightfall.
Glory to You, covering the earth with peace.
Glory to You for the last ray of the sun as it sets.
Glory to You for sleep’s repose that restores us.
Glory to You for Your goodness, even in time of darkness, when all the world is hidden from our eyes.
Glory to You for the prayers offered by a trembling soul.
Glory to You for the pledge of our reawakening on the glorious last day, that day which has no evening.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 5

The dark storm-clouds of life bring no terror to those in whose hearts Your fire is burning brightly. Outside is the darkness of the whirlwind, the terror and howling of the storm, but in the heart, in the presence of Christ, there is light and peace, silence. The heart sings: Alleluia!

IKOS 5

I see Your heavens resplendent with stars. How glorious You are, radiant with light! Eternity watches me by the rays of the distant stars. I am small, insignificant, but the Lord is at my side: Your right arm guides me wherever I go.

Glory to You, ceaselessly watching over me.
Glory to You for the encounters You arrange for me.
Glory to You for the love of parents, for the faithfulness of friends.
Glory to You for the humbleness of animals which serve me.
Glory to You for the unforgettable moments of life.
Glory to You for the heart’s innocent joy.
Glory to You for the joy of living, moving, and being able to return Your love.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 6

How great and how close You are in the powerful track of the storm! How mighty Your right arm in the blinding flash of the lightning! How awesome Your majesty! The voice of the Lord fills the fields, It speaks in the rustling of the trees. The voice of the Lord is in the thunder and the downpour. The voice of the Lord is heard above the waters. Praise be to You in the roar of mountains ablaze. You shake the earth like a garment; You pile up to the sky the waves of the sea. Praise be to You, bringing low the pride of man. You bring from his heart a cry of penitence: Alleluia!

IKOS 6

When the lightning flash has lit up the camp dining hall, how feeble seems the light from the lamp. Thus do You, like the lightning, unexpectedly light up my heart with flashes of intense joy. After Your blinding light, how drab, how colorless, how illusory all else seems.

Glory to You, the highest peak of men’s dreaming.
Glory to You for our unquenchable thirst for communion with God.
Glory to You, making us dissatisfied with earthly things.
Glory to You, turning on us Your healing rays.
Glory to You, subduing the power of the spirits of darkness and dooming to death every evil.
Glory to You for the signs of Your presence, for the joy of hearing Your voice and living in Your love.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 7

In the wondrous blending of sounds, it is Your call we hear. In the harmony of many voices, in the sublime beauty of music, in the glory of the works of great composers, You lead us to the threshold of paradise to come, and to the choirs of angels. All true beauty has the power to draw the soul towards You and make it sing in ecstasy: Alleluia!

IKOS 7

The breath of Your Holy Spirit inspires artists, poets, scientists. The power of Your supreme knowledge makes them prophets and interpreters of Your laws, who reveal the depths of Your creative wisdom. Their works speak unwittingly of You. How great are You in Your creation! How great are You in man!

Glory to You, showing Your unsurpassable power in the laws of the universe.
Glory to You, for all nature is filled with Your laws.
Glory to You for what You have revealed to us in Your mercy.
Glory to You for what you have hidden from us in Your wisdom.
Glory to You for the inventiveness of the human mind.
Glory to You for the dignity of man’s labor.
Glory to You for the tongues of fire that bring inspiration.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 8

How near You are in the day of sickness. You Yourself visit the sick. You Yourself bend over the sufferer’s bed; his heart speaks to You. In the throes of sorrow and suffering, You bring peace; You bring unexpected consolation. You are the Comforter. You are the Love which watches over and heals us. To You we sing the song: Alleluia!

IKOS 8

When in my childhood I called upon You consciously for the first time, You heard my prayer; You filled my heart with the blessing of peace. At that moment I knew Your goodness, knew how blessed are those who turn to You. I started to call upon You, night and day, and even now, I call upon Your Name:

Glory to You, satisfying my desires with good things.
Glory to You, watching over me day and night.
Glory to You, curing affliction and emptiness with the healing flow of time.
Glory to You; no loss is irreparable in You, giver of eternal life to all.
Glory to You, making immortal all that is lofty and good.
Glory to You, promising us the longed-for meeting with our loved ones who have died.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 9

Why is it that on a feast-day the whole of nature mysteriously smiles? Why is it that then a heavenly gladness fills our hearts, a gladness far beyond that of earth, and the very air in church and in the altar becomes luminous? It is the breath of Your gracious love; it is the reflection of the glory of Mount Tabor. Then do heaven and earth sing Your praise: Alleluia!

IKOS 9

When You called me to serve my brothers and filed my soul with humility, one of Your deep-piercing rays shone into my heart; it became luminous, full of light, like iron glowing in the furnace. I have seen Your face, face of mystery and of unapproachable glory.

Glory to You, transfiguring our lives with deeds of love.
Glory to You, making wonderfully sweet the keeping of Your commandments.
Glory to You, making Yourself known where man shows mercy on his neighbor.
Glory to You, sending us failure and misfortune, that we may understand the sorrows of others.
Glory to You, rewarding us so well for the good we do.
Glory to You, welcoming the impulse of our heart’s love.
Glory to You, raising to the heights of heaven every act of love in earth and sky.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 10

No one can put together what has crumbled into dust, but You can restore a conscience turned to ashes; You can restore to its former beauty a soul lost and without hope. With You, there is nothing that cannot be redeemed. You are Love; You are Creator and Redeemer. We praise You, singing: Alleluia!

IKOS 10

Remember, my God, the fall of Lucifer, full of pride; keep me safe with the power of Your grace. Save me from falling away from You; save me from doubt. Incline my heart to call upon You, present in everything.

Glory to You for every happening, every condition Your Providence has put me in.
Glory to You for what you speak to me in my heart.
Glory to You for what you reveal to me, asleep or awake.
Glory to You for scattering our vain imaginations.
Glory to You for raising us from the slough of our passions through suffering.
Glory to You for curing our pride of heart by humiliation.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 11

Across the cold chains of the centuries, I feel the warmth of Your breath; I feel Your blood pulsing in my veins. Part of time has already gone, but now You are the present. I stand by Your cross; I was the cause of it. I cast myself down in the dust before it. Here is the triumph of love, the victory of salvation. Here the centuries themselves cannot remain silent, singing Your praises: Alleluia!

IKOS 11

Blessed are they that will share in the King’s banquet; but already on earth You give me a foretaste of this blessedness. How many times with Your own hand have You held out to me Your Body and Your Blood, and I, though a miserable sinner, have received this Sacrament, and have tasted Your love, so ineffable, so heavenly!

Glory to You for the unquenchable fire of Your grace.
Glory to You, building Your Church, a haven of peace in a tortured world.
Glory to You for the life-giving water of baptism in which we find new birth.
Glory to You, restoring to the penitent purity white as the lily.
Glory to You for the Cup of Salvation and the Bread of eternal joy.
Glory to You for exalting us to the highest heaven.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 12

How oft have I seen the reflection of Your glory in the faces of the dead. How resplendent they were, with beauty and heavenly joy; how ethereal, how translucent their faces; how triumphant over suffering and death, their felicity and peace. Even in the silence they were calling upon You. In the hour of my death, enlighten my soul, too, that it may cry out to You: Alleluia!

IKOS 12

What sort of praise can I give You? I have never heard the song of the cherubim, a joy reserved for the spirits above. But I know the praises that nature sings to You. In winter, I have beheld how silently in the moonlight the whole earth offers You prayer, clad in its white mantle of snow, sparkling like diamonds. I have seen how the rising sun rejoices in You, how the song of the birds is a chorus of praise to You. I have heard the mysterious murmurings of the forests about You, and the winds singing Your praise as they stir the waters. I have understood how the choirs of stars proclaim Your glory as they move forever in the depths of infinite space. What is my poor worship? All nature obeys You, I do not. Yet while I live, I see Your love, I long to thank You, pray to You, and call upon Your Name:

Glory to You, giving us light.
Glory to You, loving us with love so deep, divine, and infinite.
Glory to You, blessing us with light, and with the host of angels and saints.
Glory to You, Father All-Holy, promising us a share in Your Kingdom.
Glory to You, Holy Spirit, Life-giving Sun of the world to come.
Glory to You for all things, holy and most merciful Trinity.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 13 (Repeated three times.)

Life-giving and merciful Trinity, receive my thanksgiving for all Your goodness. Make us worthy of Your blessings, so that, when we have brought to fruit the talents You have entrusted to us, we may enter into the joy of our Lord, forever exulting in the shout of victory: Alleluia!

IKOS 1

I was born a weak, defenseless child, but Your angel spread his wings over my cradle to defend me. From birth until now, Your love has illumined my path, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity. From birth until now the generous gifts of Your Providence have been marvelously showered upon me. I give You thanks, with all who have come to know You, who call upon Your Name:

Glory to You for calling me into being.
Glory to You, showing me the beauty of the universe.
Glory to You, spreading out before me heaven and earth, like the pages in a book of eternal wisdom.
Glory to You for Your eternity in this fleeting world.
Glory to You for Your mercies, seen and unseen.
Glory to You, through every sigh of my sorrow.
Glory to You for every step of my life’s journey,for every moment of glory.
Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

ODE 1

Everlasting King, Your will for our salvation is full of power. Your right arm controls the whole course of human life. We give You thanks for all Your mercies, seen and unseen: For eternal life, for the heavenly joys of the Kingdom which is to be. Grant mercy to us who sing Your praises, both now and in the time to come. Glory to You, O God, from age to age.

This song was composed by a high-ranking Orthodox bishop, a few days before death, in a concentration camp.

The song and the beauty in Fr. Arseny: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father is paradise, wherever the saints are—even in a concentration camp. And the two most beautiful passages in The Soul's Longing: An Orthodox Christian Perspective on Biblical Interpretation are from concentration camps.

I do not predict that either of us will die in concentration camps, but God's bard said, "If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there." And my delightful monastery has blessings that I hadn't even had before going on; one of the fringe benefits is a sweet cat, who is very outgoing, and astonishingly enough doesn't irritate my allergies. The men at the monastery are like the St. Anne's company in C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (though, perhaps, without saving the rest of the world, and perhaps without Merlin).

And on a note of "I do not know what tomorrow will bring, but I know Who brings tomorrow," I believe that I have a chance, and have really always had the chance, to complete my life in triumph (or be subtilized by the returning Christ). I have in the mean time every grace that I need, and really quite a few niceties I do not need but are something to be grateful for.

Some people, learning that I have not been worrying, seem to think that I am fundamentally better at having my ducks in a row. I deny the charge. What I have learned, besides that trying to solve a life's problems on a day's research is a ticket to overpowering despair, is how to make peace with a life that will never be under control, or at least not my control. It is a wonderful world that way.

"Will there be a place for me?" is a serious question, but I've had places for me come out of the blue. If we trust God, he has every ability to make a place for us. And trust is possible, and more than that is trust, when we trust what we cannot see.

As St. John Chrysostom said as his very last words, "Glory to God for All Things!"

"Why?" (A Look at Matthieu Pageau, "The Language of Creation: Cosmic Symbolism in Genesis")

Great Expectations

“I am a star at rest, my daughter,” answered Ramandu. “When I set for the last time, decrepit and old beyond all that you can reckon, I was carried to this island. I am not so old now as I was then. Every morning a bird brings me a fire-berry from the valleys in the Sun, and each fire-berry takes away a little of my age. And when I have become as young as the child that was born yesterday, then I shall take my rising again (for we are at earth’s eastern rim) and once more tread the great dance.”

“In our world,” said Eustace, “a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.”

“Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.

C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, as quoted in "Physics"

The reader is now thinking about evolution. He is wondering whether Genesis 1 is right, and evolution is simply wrong, or whether evolution is right, and Genesis 1 is a myth that may be inspiring enough but does not actually tell how the world was created.

All of this is because of a culture phenomenally influenced by scientism and science. The theory of evolution is an attempt to map out, in terms appropriate to scientific dialogue, just what organisms occurred, when, and what mechanism led there to be new kinds of organisms that did not exist before. Therefore, nearly all Evangelicals assumed, Genesis 1 must be the Christian substitute for evolution. Its purpose must also be to map out what occurred when, to provide the same sort of mechanism. In short, if Genesis 1 is true, then it must be trying to answer the same question as evolution, only answering it differently.

Darwinian evolution is not a true answer to the question, “Why is there life as we know it?” Evolution is on philosophical grounds not a true answer to that question, because it is not an answer to that question at all. Even if it is true, evolution is only an answer to the question, “How is there life as we know it?” If someone asks, “Why is there this life that we see?” and someone answers, “Evolution,” it is like someone saying, “Why is the kitchen light on?” and someone else answering, “Because the switch is in the on position, thereby closing the electrical circuit and allowing current to flow through the bulb, which grows hot and produces light.”

Where the reader only sees one question, an ancient reader saw at least two other questions that are invisible to the present reader. As well as the question of “How?” that evolution addresses, there is the question of “Why?” and “What function does it serve?” These two questions are very important, and are not even considered when people are only trying to work out the antagonism between creationism and evolutionism.

The Commentary, on Genesis 1

I was enthusiastically introduced to Matthieu Pageau, The Language of Creation: Cosmic Symbolism in Genesis, and enthusiastically looking forward to posting a review saying, "I speak of answering the question, "Why?" as is neglected in science, but in occasional hints and riddles. This is a full and direct treatment of the matter."

The snake in the ointment

I viewed a podcast with the author, and on rational grounds this looks interesting. The best books to me are ones that challenge me enough to cause culture shock, and this did cause culture shock, and was as different and concerned with the question, "Why?" as I respected.

About two thirds of the way through the book, though, I put my finger on something I'd been ignoring to be able to see other things: reading the book was not prayerful. When my abbot loaned me a manuscript he asked feedback for, the most vital feedback I could give him was that when I began it reading was deliberative information processing, but well before the end reading was prayer, and good theology leads you into the presence of God. As a relatively minor symptom, the comments on divination were all secular in character, and though forbidding divination was mentioned at least once, it was never discussed as an evil sin and a shameful error that opens a gateway to demonic possession. The concepts of 'space' and 'time', put in quotes in the text itself to indicate a usage very different from any mainstream usage, brought the kind of interesting culture shock produced by good science fiction and fantasy, a bit like The Dark Tower that C.S. Lewis wisely refrained from publishing. Also somewhat unusual for an author presented as Orthodox is a claim to "carves Eastern Orthodox and other traditional images." And the book freely refers to later parts of the Old Testament, but never the New Testament or the Church as realities shadowed in the Old Law.

A more serious problem is that the book tastes to me too much like Jung, and was recommended to me by a good friend in the process of leaving Jung behind. Carl Jung has been called the greatest threat to the Church since Julian the Apostate, and some people have said that at the beginning of every failed clerical career known to the speaker came finding insights in Jung. I do not object to a portrait of archetypes as such; I trade in archetypes myself and would never want to leave them behind. But whether this is a fruitful engagement... it is a hint and a riddle to point out that the book briefly mentions alchemy as something you'd never guess by studying today's chemistry. It doesn't mention alchemy as offering a shortcut by technique for inner transformation that all of the major world religions are inclined to answer, "Sorry, kid. You need elbow grease." Even if conservative Protestants may be very eager to clarify that they believe you are sanctified by faith alone and not by elbow grease, they are also usually quite clear in a belief that if you have a living and a healthy faith and relevant opportunity, you had better be producing elbow grease. (Possibly Taoism is an exception? The Buddha left an interlocking eightfold path of ways to produce elbow grease.) But Pageau's book never talks about alchemy as a cheap shortcut, and if you are going to declare that alchemy is different from anything you'd guess from looking at chemistry, you would do awfully well to say its techniques for producing spiritual transformation are shallow and flat next to any proper religious tradition.

There was one conversation I had with a famous egalitarian when I mentioned enthusiastically about John Eldredge's Wild at Heart, and he pointed out how the book was Jungian. And that was the hook when I swallowed a bait of quasi-traditional teaching about men and women at a time when live proponents of the position were few and far between.

I don't want to repeat that error here, and I speak no words of ill-will if my friends fell for something I fell for hook, line, and sinker. But the book pulls off a reconceptualization big enough to provoke culture shock, and a many-layered understanding of symbol, but for all that it I found very little, if anything, that constituted a specifically patristic way of opening up the Old Testament to unhide the New, and while the book mentions details like alchemy and Tarot, I searched and failed to find mention of "Jesus," "Christ," "Church," and so on.

I deem this book a failure, but I would really like to read another book that would succeed where it had failed.