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The Pleasure-Pain Syndrome

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Mystical Theology: A Broad Spectrum of Orthodox Prose

Lorem Ipsum

In web design, as in graphic-related design since the 1500’s, it is traditional to use a standard block of text called “lorem ipsum” when you’re trying to see how the page will look graphically and you don’t want to be distracted into reading the text itself. The standard block of “pseudo-text” reads:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

The text above, somewhat shortened and corrupted, comes from a quotation of “de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum”, section 1.10.32, by Cicero, written in 45 BC. The original text interests me not because it is at the root of the standard piece of dummy text, but for what it says (H. Rackham, 1914):

But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?

The copyright date is 45 BC, were such ancient works to be under copyright, but I’ll take this to be a straightforward statement of the obvious in our day. Let me repeat the last sentence: “But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?” There is a real flaw in this way of looking at things.

The Pleasure-Pain Syndrome

Certain selections of the Philokalia suggest an understanding that imply this statement to be based on a philosophical error. Physical pleasure and pain are tied together, and trying to experience pleasure with “no annoying consequences” is like trying to withdraw money from your bank account without making your bank balance any lower. It’s a get-rich-quick scheme that boils down to poor math skills. It is a sign of confusion to try to separate the sugar rush from the sugar crash.

There are certain points where we are warned of the pleasure-pain syndrome: the warnings children are given about street narcotics is not that they fail to deliver pleasure, but after delivering pleasure they deliver all the pain that comes with it. It’s kind of like Disney’sAladdin, where Aladdin goads Jafar into wishing, “I wish to be an all powerful genie!”, and then tells him, “You wanted to be a genie, you got it! And everything that goes with it!” Shackles appear on Jafar’s wrists, and he is sucked into a lamp’s “itty bitty living space”—if anything, a sunny and optimistic image to compare with “everything that goes with” addiction to street drugs.

The passages in the Philokalia adapting and elaborating St. Maximos Confessor’s teaching make highly emphatic claims about the pleasure-pain syndrome. They very emphatically state that Christ, who was born of a virgin, was conceived without any trace of physical pleasure (sexual or otherwise), and born without pain: a sufficient Redeemer, in other words, needed to be conceived and born outside of the pleasure-pain syndrome. He took the redemptive effects of sufferings he would not earn; other writers have stated that sinless Christ couldn’t have died of ripe old age, but in order to die would have to have a “borrowed” death imposed from outside as occurred in the Crucifixion. Mankind entered the pleasure-pain syndrome in a fall to pleasure and sensuality, and to be rescued from drowning, we need a Savior with one foot solidly planted on the dry land of the shore. This is the extent to which that work frames both our destruction and our salvation in terms of the pleasure-pain syndrome.

Speaking in terms of the pleasure-pain syndrome is not a central feature of Orthodox theology, but dispassion is beyond being a central point; it is crucial and receives center stage not just in the Philokalia but in other classics like The Ladder of Divine Ascent, which is read during Lent as a consistent feature of monastic discipline.

There is a direct and vital relationship between dispassion and the pleasure-pain syndrome: dispassion is a state of spiritual freedom where one is no longer shackled and governed by the pleasure-pain syndrome or any passion allied to it.

There are many ways one could frame things, and the pleasure-pain syndrome does not appear to be a central theme in the Philokalia overall, let alone an encompassing theme in Orthodox spirituality. But the insight is valid, and for that matter may not be distinctively Orthodox. One Orthodox friend explained to me why he had stopped watching movies: he noticed that an hour or two after a movie ended, he found himself in a depression. Jerry Mander may provide a theory as to why in his Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, a 1978 title that is still salient, and the book has no pretensions of speaking from a religious tradition. But he argues at length that when you gaze long into television, television gazes long into you: he makes some rather chilling suggestions about what effect television has on where people look for and experience pleasure (in a word, the argument is, “When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”). He suggests that when television provides a major source of pleasure, there are things that follow in its wake. It would not seem too difficult to transpose his basic insights in terms of having a cell phone that occupies your attention all the time. Treacherously addictive Internet porn may be a much worse kind of pleasure than most others one might discuss, but it is not the only one where a pleasure-pain syndrome is at play.

Even if the economy is dire, I am concerned we are in an age of pleasures of all kinds, and these are the pleasures of the pleasure-pain syndrome. The Philokalia discusses people who try to pursue pleasure and avoid pain, and perhaps times have not changed much… or perhaps we have put the problem on steroids. Think about the short, short list of pleasures that were around when the Philokalia was being written, warning of the pleasure-pain syndrome. Then compare that list to today. If it is a basic philosophical error to pursue pleasures and try to avoid invisibly attached pains, and if the observation is true when pleasure means simple foods, then we’ve really put things on steroids if pleasure is TV, movies, smartphones, internet, and so on. It’s not just “friendship with benefits” (or other kinds of more casual sex) that brings pleasure entangled with pain, and there are things about those passages in the Philokalia that seem like they had been written yesterday; the portrayal of human nature remains insightful today (1st century of various texts, 53):

[M]an finds by experience that every pleasure is inevitably succeeded by pain, and so directs his whole effort towards pleasure and does all he can to avoid pain. He struggles with all his might to attain pleasure and he fights against pain with immense zeal. By doing this he hopes to keep the two apart from each other—which is impossible… [H]e is, it appears, ignorant that pleasure can never exist without pain. For pain is intertwined with pleasure, even thought his seems to escape the notice of those who suffer it.

The microcosm of praise

Becoming attached to praises is another example of the pleasure-pain syndrome at work. Mark Twain reportedly said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment,” and he was emphasizing the point partly by exaggerating how long one can live on a compliment. If one does live off of compliments, there’s a problem: one gets hungry again. Praise is very powerful at the beginning, but after time men require stronger and stronger doses. And this may be why the Orthodox leaders I have known give very, very few compliments. They decisively treat other people with love and respect, but they rarely make a minor social compliment to help others feel better. Some of them are not very comfortable when others give them compliments to help them feel better. Some run from it like fire and poison.

One of the basic rules of the Orthodox life is that while monastics are called to abandon all property, the rest of us may own property but are required to own it with detachment. Monasticism aims at being impervious to pleasure and pain alike, but the Bible also provides a foundation for owning things, being married and pursuing ventures, while attempting the difficult work of detachment (I Corinthians 7:29-31, RSV):

I mean, brethren, the appointed time has grown very short; from now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the form of this world is passing away.

As regards human compliments, the lesson would seem to be this: Listen, but do not inhale. Do not let compliments become the nourishment you feed off of. Better by far not to receive compliments at all than to become dependent on them as your spiritual food. And you might be particularly cautious about those compliments that are peppered throughout conversation to make you feel better; they are even more treacherous.

Deep Magic

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the Emperor’s headsman, the White Witch, incredulously asks the Lion if he does not know the Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time: that a traitor must die and if the traitor does not die, Narnia will perish in fire and water. The Royal Lion in fact does know the Deep Magic. And he moves on.

But Aslan also knew something the White Witch didn’t. He knew from withini the Deeper Magic from before the Dawn of Time, that if an innocent victim were willingly slain in a traitor’s stead, even death would begin working backwards: and so the White Witch slew Alsan to her defeat.

There is Deep Magic with pleasure and pain: what you sow, so shall you reap. If you sow pleasure to the flesh, you will reap pain to the flesh. The Pleasure-Pain Syndrome is not the sort of thing you can escape by pleasure.

But there is Deeper Magic, and its supreme example is found in Philippians 2:5-11, RSV:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

St. John’s Paschal homily pours out the Deeper Magic even more plainly:

By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive.
He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh.
And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry:
Hell, said he, was embittered
When it encountered Thee in the lower regions.

It was embittered, for it was abolished.
It was embittered, for it was mocked.
It was embittered, for it was slain.
It was embittered, for it was overthrown.
It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains.
It took a body, and met God face to face.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.

O Death, where is thy sting?
O Hell, where is thy victory?

Christ is risen, and thou art overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave.
For Christ, being risen from the dead,
Is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be glory and dominion
Unto ages of ages.

Amen.

And what is going on here is no unique exception. What is going on here is the supreme instance of a universal law, the same as in the glorified “Hall of Fame” in Hebrews 11, RSV:

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old received divine approval. By faith we understand that the world was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was made out of things which do not appear.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he received approval as righteous, God bearing witness by accepting his gifts; he died, but through his faith he is still speaking. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death; and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was attested as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him. For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, took heed and constructed an ark for the saving of his household; by this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness which comes by faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. These all died in faith, not having received what was promised, but having seen it and greeted it from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your descendants be named.” He considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.

By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his burial. By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful; and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king; for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the first-born might not touch them. By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as if on dry land; but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned.

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given friendly welcome to the spies.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets — who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, received promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and scourging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, ill-treated — of whom the world was not worthy — wandering over deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

And all these, though well attested by their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had foreseen something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

The universal law, the Deeper Magic, plays out in Christ, in his saints, and ultimately the whole Church. Never mind that we do not do the feats of saints; we probably shouldn’t try, and it is a trick of the demons to tempt inexperienced monks to take on impossible virtues. If we suffer for Christ, however small the way, it genuinely matters.

A more excellent way

Is there any alternative to the pleasure-pain syndrome?

St. Paul, in the great hymn to love, writes (I Corinthians 13, RSV):

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

The part in bold seemed to me, at least at first glance, like it didn’t belong. But there is something in the passage that hinges on giving up childish ways. Faith, hope, and love are virtues of Heaven, the virtues of Heavenly life lived on earth. Giving up childish ways, in effect, is giving up the quest for earthly comfort. As C.S. Lewis observed, Heaven cannot give earthly comfort no matter how hard we seek it. Earth cannot give Heavenly comfort: you are shopping at an empty store to ask earth for Heavenly comfort. But earth cannot give earthly comfort either: you are still shopping at an empty store to ask earth for even earthly comfort, and in fact stepping into the pleasure-pain syndrome. The only comfort to be had is Heavenly comfort. The words in bold could be paraphrased, “When I was a child, I sought earthly comfort, inescapably embracing the pleasure-pain syndrome. When I became a man, I put the search for earthly comfort behind me—and sought and received heavenly comfort instead.” Those who sow to the flesh will reap pain from the flesh, but those who sow to the Spirit will reap joy from the Spirit. The words about “I put childish ways behind me” serve as a hinge between letting go of the pleasure-pain syndrome, and the virtues of the Life of Heaven begun here, now.

Let us return to the beginning of Cicero’s quotation behind “lorem ipsum:” “But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born…” Can we say that Cicero was right all along? Only if we really stretch his words’ meaning. Saints in pursuit of Heaven’s comfort and Heaven’s joy spurn mere material comfort and are purified through material pain. Arguably the text can be stretched to say that the saints reject pleasure in the pursuit of greater pleasure, and they accept pain likewise in the pursuit of greater pleasure. But something deeper than pleasure is going on, and Cicero’s passage quoted above is stretched to the point of not meaning very much if it is interpreted this way. While the ancients were very open to the idea of finding “Christians before Christ” among the pagans, it is a real stretch to interpret Cicero’s passage as describing a Son of Man who came not to be served but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many. Perhaps this Son of Man finds the deepest, fullest, richest pleasure there is: but Cicero will not take us there, and his argument is shortsighted with no power to free us from the pleasure-pain syndrome.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God and its heavenly comforts with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin and its pleasure-pain syndrome.

The Arena

Our Crown of Thorns

Humor Delivers Pain

Technonomicon: Technology, Nature, Ascesis

Theology of Play

CJSH.name/play

Most of Christianity that I’ve come into contact with has a well developed theology of work; sometimes called the Protestant Work Ethic, it is summarized in the verse, “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as if unto the Lord.” (Col. 3:23). A mature Christian is characterized by hard work, and I do not wish to detract from that, but there is a counterpart to theology of work: theology of play.

It would probably be easier to defend a point of doctrine involving great self sacrifice – that a Christian should be so loyal to Christ that the prospect of being tortured and killed for this devotion is regarded as an honor, that a Christian should be willing to serve in boring and humiliating ways, that a Christian should resist temptation that takes the form of an apparent opportunity for great pleasure – but I will still state and explain this point: a Christian should be joyful, and furthermore that this joy should express itself in play and celebration.

When Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit, the first word he uses is love. Love will certainly apply itself by hard work. He goes on to describe it as patience, faithfulness, self-control. Patience, faithfulness, and self-control all have important application to hard work. But the second word is joy. If the fruit of the Spirit will yield hard work, it will also yield expressions of joy.

C.S. Lewis said that the greatest thing that the Psalms did for him was express the joy that made David dance. Doctrinal development is one of the reasons that God gave us the Bible, but it is not the sole reason. I would not by any means suggest that omitting Paul’s epistles would improve the Bible, but there is a lot of the Bible that I read for the sheer joy and beauty as much as anything else. Psalm 148, one of my favorite, beautifully embellishes the word, “Halleluyah!” That alone is reason sufficient to merit its placement in the Bible. When the Psalms tell us that we should sing unto Yahweh, it is not telling us of a dreadful and terrible duty that we must endure because God says so. By contrast, it is encouraging an expression of joy. I try to show myself to the world primarily as a person of love, but I have also had a strong witness among the unbelievers as a person of joy; one of the stereotypes of a Christian that I have been glad to shatter is that of a repressed and repressive person. The stereotype says that a person who tries to live by the Bible’s moral standards will have a somber life devoid of joy; I thus try to let the deep and inner joy “I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me…” that the Holy Spirit has placed in my heart show itself to them. Satan likes to take and twist pleasure into enticement for his evils; that does not make pleasure an evil thing. Yahweh made pleasure – the idea that Satan could imagine such a thing on his own is risible (for Satan cannot create; he can only mock) – and pleasure is intended for Christians to partake.

Celebration is something that can certainly come from things going well, but it is not a grave evil that is justified only by exceptional cause; it is a way of life. Some of celebration, some expressions of joy and thanksgiving, are in response to an event we are pleased at and thankful for, and rightly so, but celebration is not something to be reserved for rare occasions. I may be celebrating an event, but Christ is reason well sufficient for celebration; consequently, it is appropriate to celebrate, even when you can’t point to an exceptional event. There is a time to mourn, but a Christian does not need extenuating circumstances as reason to celebrate.

I am not going to attempt to provide an exhaustive list of expressions of joy, and most definitely do not wish to provide commands which must be successively fulfilled to the letter and verified in triplicate, but I think that a few suggested variants of “stop and smell the roses” are in order:

Call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while.

Read a children’s book.

When it’s warm, take off your shoes, close your eyes, and feel the grass under your feet.

Stop and remember five things you are glad for; thank God for them.

Drink a mug of hot cocoa. Slowly.

Go go a local art museum.

Hug a friend.

Climb a tree.

Close your eyes and imagine yourself somewhere else.

Sneak up behind a friend who is ticklish…

In addition to these that I’ve pulled off the top of my head, I’d like to look at three recurring, decidedly Biblical expressions of joy, and how many Christians have reacted to them.

  • Singing. The Christian understanding of music is summed up in the words, “Make a joyful noise unto Yahweh.” While it can also be solemn, music was created as a beautiful expression of joy. When Paul encourages the believers to sing to one another, he is not really appealing to a sense of duty, but rather encouraging a celebratory and joyful pleasure in this good gift of God. The jail warden was astounded to find that Paul was happily singing when he was imprisoned; this joy expressed itself in so powerful of a manner that it opened the warden’s ears so that he, too, would gain this welling up of life, flowing into joy. Most Christians sing (even if some of the music has room for improvement); this is good. believe that Yahweh is pleased when he listens. This is Biblical.
  • Dance. One of the expressions of celebration recorded in the Bible, as well as song, is dance.In Exodus, after Israel passed through the red sea and Egypt didn’t, Moses’s song is followed after a couple of verses with the words, “Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after with tambourines and with dancing.” In Samuel, it is asked, “Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands?'”, and recorded, “David danced before Yahweh with all his might.” The psalms jubilantly sing, “Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre.” and “Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe!” In Ecclesiastes, dancing is identified with joy: “…a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” Jeremiah issues words of comfort, saying, “Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel! Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of merrymakers.” In Lamentation he also identifies dancing with joy, saying, “The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning.”

    It is not without reason that dance is a part of the worship services of Messianic Jews. It is not without reason that a song that has come to us from Africa states, “If the Spirit of the Lord moves in my soul, like David the victor I dance.” The shaker hymn very beautifully states, “Dance, then, wherever you may be, for I am the Lord of the Dance, said he.” Throughout, the hymn describes the walk of faith as a dance. Dancing is a good thing, an act of joy, that has been given to us by Yahweh himself for our good.

    There are a few forms of dance that are essentially sex with clothes in the way, and should be avoided outside of a marital context. Because of the existence of these dances, some Christians have attacked dance as demonic; “Dance before Yahweh” necessitates an interpretation of “Dance alone before Yahweh.”

    This is silly. Celebration is meant to be enjoyed in community; its nature is not a selfish “I like this and I’m going to keep it all to myself,” but a generous, “This is so good that I have to share it with you as well.” This is the mark of a child fully enjoying a lollipop. When holidays and other times of celebration come, people want to be with friends and family, and it would be only a slight exaggeration to say that this is the whole reason that believers come together for worship services.

    Dance, also, should be enjoyed in community.

  • Proper use of wine.In Judges, the vine refuses an offer to be the king over all trees, saying, “Shall I stop producing my wine that cheers gods and mortals, and go to sway over the trees?” The Psalms likewise describe material blessings by saying, “You cause grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart.”, and Ecclesiastes, “Feasts are made for laughter; wine gladdens life…” The Song of Songs, in its description of the erotic, says, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine… How sweet is your love, my sister, my bride! how much better is your love than wine…”, comparisons that would mean little if wine were not understood to be a good thing. Isaiah accuses Israel of apostasy in the words, “Your silver has become dross, your wine is mixed with water.” He Israel to a vineyard created so its master may enjoy its wine; elsewhere appear the words, “On this mountain Yahweh Sabaoth will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” Jeremiah contains Psalmlike words of celebration: “They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of Yahweh, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.” Hosea, in sadness at apostasy, makes it clear that wine is a gift from above: “She did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished upon her silver and gold that they used for Baal.”

    Going from the Old Testament to the New, it is seen that Jesus was accused of being a drunkard; for his first miracle, he turned water to wine, thus permitting a celebration to continue.

    Now, it should be mentioned that alcohol is something that merits an appropriate respect and caution; consumed in excess, it is a deadly poison. It has been said that we should thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them. Our culture has largely cast aside the virtue of moderation and the belief that a sin could be sin because it takes a good thing to excess (gluttony is not mentioned as a sin very often, and a great many people would be healthier to lose some weight). Not everybody thought this way. The ancient Greeks accorded moderation a place as one of the four cardinal virtues, and Paul named temperance and self-control as the final of the virtues listed as the fruit of the Spirit. Liquor, like most good things, should be consumed in a temperate, controlled, and balanced manner. And, like most good things, it becomes a bane if it is taken out of proper context. It was not without reason that Solomon wrote that wine is a mocker and beer a brawler. This country has age related laws pertaining to alcohol, and they should not be violated Granted that those laws be obeyed, it would be wise to consider to the advice to Jesus ben Sirach, who in his writing said, “Do not try to prove your strength by wine drinking, for wine has destroyed many. As the furnace tests the work of the smith, so wine tests hearts when the insolent quarrel. Wine is very life to human beings if taken in moderation. What is life to one who is without wine? It has been created to make people happy. Wine drunk at the proper time and in moderation is rejoicing of heart and gladness of soul.” Elsewhere comparing wine to music, he regards wine as a good part of celebration.

There are many things that should be made manifest in the life of Christians; community, freedom, and celebration are important. Paul writes in Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”, in Colossians, “Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink…. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’?”, and in I Timothy, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will renounce the faith by paying attention to the teachings of demons, through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. They forbid marriage and demand abstinence from foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.”

So let us enjoy the gifts that God has bestowed.

(scripture quotations generally NRSV)

A Dream of Light

A Glimpse Through a Crystal

Money

Why This Waste?

The Patriarchy We Object to

CJSH.name/patriarchy

Yonder
Read it on Kindle for $3!

Tell me what kind of patriarchy you object to. As Orthodox, we probably object to that kind of patriarchy as well.

There was one chaplain at a university who, whenever a student would come in and say, “I don’t believe in God,” would answer, “Tell me what kind of God you don’t believe in. I probably don’t believe in that kind of God either.” And he really had something in common with them. He didn’t believe in a God who was a vindictive judge, or a God who was responsible for all the evil in this world, or a God who was arbitrary and damned people for never hearing of him. And the chaplain wasn’t just making a rhetorical exercise; he didn’t believe in many kinds of “God” any more than the students who were kind enough to come and tell him they didn’t believe in God. He really had something in common with them.

There was one book I was reading which was trying to recover women’s wisdom from patriarchy. I was amazed when I was reading it, as it talked about the holistic, united character of women’s knowing, and how women’s knowledge is relational, how women know by participating. What amazed me was how much it had in common with Orthodox description of knowledge, because the Orthodox understanding of knowledge is based off an essential unity and knows by relating, participating, drinking, rather than by analyzing and taking apart and knowing things by keeping track of a systematic map.

What Orthodoxy in the West would seek to recover from the West looks a lot like what feminism would like to recover from patriarchy. Part of what may confuse the issue is that feminism lumps together two very different forces as “patriarchy.” One of these forces is classical tradition, and the other is something funny that’s been going on for several hundred years in which certain men have defaced society by despising it and trying to make it manly.

The reason that women’s holistic, connected knowledge is countercultural is something we’ll miss if we only use the category of “patriarchy”. The educational system, for instance, makes very little use of this knowledge, not because patriarchy has always devalued women’s ways of knowing, but something very different. The reason that there’s something countercultural to women’s holistic, connected knowledge is that that is a basic human way of knowing, and men can be separated from it more easily than women, but it’s a distortion of manhood to marginalize that way of knowing. And there has been a massive effort, macho in the worst way, that despised how society used to work, assumed that something is traditional it must be the women’s despicable way of doing things, and taken one feature of masculine knowledge and used it to uproot the the places for other ways of knowing that are important to both men and women. There are two quite different forces lumped together in the category of “patriarchy.” One is the tradition proper, and the other is “masculism” (or at least I call it that), and what feminism sees as patriarchy is what’s left over of the tradition after masculism has defaced it by trying to make it “masculine,” on the assumption that if something was in the tradition, that was all you needed to know, in order to attack it as being unfit for men. “Masculism” is what happens when you cross immature masculinity with the effort to destroy whatever you need to make room for your version of Utopia. What is left of the tradition today, and what feminism knows as “patriarchy,” is a bit like what’s left of a house after it’s been burned down.

With apologies to G.K. Chesterton, the Orthodox and feminists only ask to get their heads into the Heavens. It is the masculists who try to fit the Heavens into their heads, and it is their heads that split. This basic difference between knowing as exaltation and expansion, participating in something and allowing one’s head to be raised in the Heavens, and domination and mastery that compresses the Heavens so they will fit in one’s head, is the difference between what “knowing” means to both feminists and Orthodox, and what it means to masculists.

The difference between Orthodoxy and feminism is this. Orthodoxy has to a very large measure preserved the tradition. When it objects to masculism, it is objecting to an intrusion that affects something it is keeping. It is a guard trying to protect a treasure. Where Orthodoxy is a guard trying to protect a treasure, feminism is a treasure hunter trying to find something that world has lost. It is a scout rather than a guard. (And yes, I’m pulling images from my masculine mind.) Feminism is shaped by masculism, and I’d like to clarify what I mean by this. I don’t mean in any sense that feminism wants to serve as a rubber stamp committee for masculism. The feminist struggle is largely a struggle to address the problems created by masculism. that’s pretty foundational. But people that rebel against something tend to keep a lot of that something’s assumptions, and feminism is a lot like masculism because in a culture as deeply affected by masculism as much of the West, masculism is the air people breathe. (People can’t stop breathing their air, whatever culture they’re in.) For one example of this, masculism assumed that anything in the tradition was womanish and therefore unfit for men, and feminism inherited a basic approach from masculism when it assumed that anything in tradition was patriarchal and therefore unfit for women. It’s a masculist rather than traditional way of approaching society. Orthodoxy has been affected by masculism to some degree, but it’s trying to preserve the Orthodox faith, where feminism has been shaped by masculism to a much greater degree and is trying to rebel against the air its members breathe. Feminism is a progressive series of attempts to reform masculism for women; if you look at its first form, it said, “Women should be treated better. They should be treated like men.” Later forms of feminism have seen that there are problems with that approach, but they have been reacting to a composite of masculism and earlier versions of feminism. Feminism has been a scout, rather than a guard.

I say that feminism has been a scout rather than a guard, not to criticize, but to suggest that Orthodoxy has been given something that feminism reaches for, but does not have in full. It is a bit like the difference between maintaining a car and trying to go through a junkyard with the wrecks of many magnificent things and reconstruct a working vehicle. In a junkyard, one sees the imprint of many things; one sees the twisted remains of quite a few items that would be good to have. And one can probably assemble things, get some measure of functionality, perhaps hobble together a working bicycle. And if one does not have a working car, there is something very impressive about doing one’s best to assemble something workable from the wreckage. It is perhaps not the best manners to criticize someone who has combined parts to make a genuinely working bicycle and say, “But you were not given a working car!”

But in Orthodoxy, there is a very different use of time. Orthodox do not simply spend time filling the gas tank (there are many necessities in faith like filling a gas tank) and maintaining the car (which we periodically break), necessary as those may be. Having a car is primarily about living life as it is lived when you can drive. It is about being able to travel and visit people. It is about having more jobs open to you. If a car isn’t working, dealing with the car means trying to do whatever you can to get it working. It means thinking about how to fix it. And feminism is trying to correct masculism. If a car is working, dealing with the car is about what it can let you do. It’s like how when you’re sick, your mind is on getting well and on your health. If you’re healthy, you don’t think about your health unless you choose to. You’re free to enjoy your health by focusing on non-health-related pursuits.

What does Orthodoxy have to contribute to feminism? To begin with, it’s not simply a project by men. Feminist tends to assume that whatever is in patriarchy is there because all-powerful men have imposed it on women, or to put things in unflattering terms women have contributed little of substance to patriarchal society. That may have truth as regards masculism, but Orthodoxy is the property of both men and women (and boys and girls), and it is a gross mischaracterization to only look at the people who hold positions of power.

Feminists have made bitter criticism of Prozac being used to mask the depression caused by many housewives’ loneliness and isolation. Housewives who do not work outside the home have much more than housework to deal with; they have loneliness and isolation from adult company. And perhaps, feminists may icily say, if a woman under those conditions is depressed, this does not necessarily mean Prozac is appropriate. Maybe, just maybe, the icy voice tells us, the solution is to change those conditions instead of misusing antidepressants to mask the quite natural depression those conditions create. Feminists are offended that women are confined to a place outside of society’s real life and doing housework in solitary confinement. One of the most offensive things you can say, if there is no irony or humor in your voice, is, “A woman’s place is in the house!” (and not add, “and in the Senate!”)

But Orthodoxy looks at it differently, or at least Orthodox culture tends to work out differently. And, like many alien cultures, things have a very different meaning. The home has a different meaning. When people say “family” today, we think of a nuclear family. Then it was extended family, and thinking of an extended family without a nuclear family would have been as odd to people then as it would be odd today to take your favorite food and then be completely unable to eat anything else. Traditional society, real traditional society, did not ask women to work in isolation. Both men and women worked in adult company. And the home itself… In traditional society, the home was the primary place where economic activity occurred. In traditional society, the home was the primary place where charitable work occurred. In traditional society, the home took care of what we would now call insurance. In traditional society, the home was the primary place where education occured. Masculism has stripped away layer after layer of what the home was. In Orthodox culture, in truly Orthodox culture that has treasures that have been dismantled in the West, a woman’s place really is in the home, but it means something totally different from what a feminist cringes at in the words, “A woman’s place is in the house!”

America has largely failed to distinguish between what feminism says and women’s interests, so people think that if you are for women, you must agree with feminism. Saying “I oppose feminism because I am for women’s interests” seems not only false but a contradiction in terms, like saying “I’m expanding the text of this webpage so it will be more concise.” It’s not like more thoughtful Catholics today, who say, “I have thought, and I understand why many people distinguish or even oppose the teachings of the Catholic Church with God’s truth. But my considered judgment is that God reveals his truth through the living magisterium of the Catholic Church.” It’s more like what the Reformers faced, where people could not see what on earth you meant if you said that God’s truth and the Catholic Church’s teaching were not automatically the same thing.

In this culture, someone who is trying to be pro-woman will ordinarily reach for feminism as the proper vehicle, just as someone who wants to understand the natural world will reach for science as the proper vehicle for that desire; “understanding the human body” is invariably read as “learning scientific theories about the body’s work,” and not “take a massage/dance/martial arts class”, or “learn what religions and cultures have seen in the meaning of the human body.” A great many societies pursued a deep understanding of the human body without expressing that desire the way Western science pursues it. They taught people to come to a better knowledge of their bodies—and I mean “of,” not just “about”—the kind of relational, drinking knowledge that feminists and Orthodox value, and not just a list of abstract propositions from dissecting a cadaver (a practice which some cultures regard as “impious and disgusting”—C.S. Lewis). They taught people to develop, nurture, and discipline their bodies so that there was a right relationship between body and spirit. They taught people to see the body as belonging a world of meaning, symbol, and spiritual depth—cultures where “How does it work?” takes a back seat to a deeper question: “Why? What does it mean?” Orthodoxy at its best still does teach these things. But Western culture has absorbed the scientific spirit that most people genuinely cannot see what “understanding the body” could mean besides “learning scientific theories about the body.” And, in this context, it seems like a deceitful sleight of hand when someone says, “I want to help you understand the body” and then offers help in ways of moving one’s body.

But I want to talk about some things that are missed within this set of assumptions. Feminism can speak for women’s interests. It normally claims to. And women are ill-served by an arrangement when people assume that criticism of feminism is at the expense of women’s interests. We need to open a door that American culture does not open. We need to open the possibility of being willing to challenge feminism in order to further women’s interests. Not on all points, but if we never open that door, disturbing things can happen.

If you ask someone outside of feminism who “the enemy” is to feminists, the common misunderstanding is, “Nonfeminist men.” And that’s certainly part of the problem and not part of the solution, but the real vitriol feeds into jokes like “How many men does it take to open a beer?—She should have it open when she brings it to him.” The real vitriol is reserved for the contented housewife who wants to be married, have children, and make a home, and not have a professional career because of what she values in homemaking itself.

Feminism is against “patriarchy.” That means that much that is positive in the tradition is attacked along with masculism. That means that whatever the tradition provided for women is interpreted as harmful to women, even if it benefits women. Wendy Shalit makes an interesting argument in A Return to Modesty that sexual modesty is not something men have imposed on women against their nature for men’s benefit; it is first and foremost a womanly virtue that protects women. We now have a defaced version of traditional society, but to start by assuming that almost everything in the culture is a patriarchal imposition that benefits only men, sets the stage for throwing out a great many things that are important for women. It sets the stage, in fact, for completing the attack that masculism began. (The effect of throwing out things that strike you as patriarchal on a culture has much the same effect as killing off species in an ecosystem because you find them unpleasant. It is an interconnected, interdependent, and organic whole that all its members need. That’s not quite the right way of saying it, but this image has a grain of truth.) Masculism scorned the traditional place for men, and was masculine only in that it rebelled against perceivedly feminine virtue. Feminism does not include a large number of women’s voices in America and an even larger number worldwide—because feminism lumps them all together in “The Enemy.” At times feminism can look anti-woman.

So everything will be OK if we resist feminism? No. First, if the tradition is right—let us say, in the controversial point that associates women with the home—that doesn’t make much sense of today’s options that don’t really let women be women and don’t let men be men. What is the closest equivalent to women reigning in one of society’s most important institions? Is it to be a housewife with a lunchtime discussion group, which seems to work wonders for depression caused by loneliness? Is it for women to keep house and work part time? Is it to work full time, and find an appropriate division of labor with their husbands? I have trouble telling which of these is best, and it doesn’t help matters to choose an option just because it bothers feminists. I think that women (and, for that matter, men) have an impoverished set of options today. Unfortunately, some of the most practical questions are also the ones that are hardest to answer.

Second and more importantly, reacting against feminism, or much of anything else, is intrinsically dangerous. If feminism has problems, we would be well advised to remember that heresies often start when people react against other heresies and say that the truth is so important they should resist that heresy as much as they can. Reactions against heresy are often heresy.

Let me explain how not to respond to feminism’s picture of what men should be. You could say that feminism wants women to be more like men and men to be more like women, and that has a significant amount of truth. But if you dig in and say that men should be rugged and independent and say, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul!”, and women should be weak, passive creatures that are always in a swoon, there are several major problems.

The phrase “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul!” is something that nobody but God should say. Someone greater than us is the master of our fate, and someone greater than us is the master of our soul, and that is our glory. To be a man is to be under authority. Perhaps it irks feminists that the Bible tells wives to submit to their husbands as well as telling husbands to love their wives with the greatest and most costly love. (I’ve heard some first class citizens pointing out that the Bible requires something much heftier of husbands than mere submission—loving and loving their wives on the model of Christ going so far as to give up his life for the Church.) But the tradition absolutely does not say “Women are to be second-class citizens because they are under men’s authority and men are to be first-class citizens because they have the really good position of being free from authority.” To be a man is to be under authority, to be a woman is to be under authority, and to be human is to be under authority. To masculism this looks demeaning because immature masculinity resists being under authority or being in community or any other thing that men embrace when they grow up. But Orthodoxy is a call to grow up, and it is a call to men to be contributing members of a community and to be under authority. To tell men, “Be independent!” is to tell them, “Refuse to grow up!”

What about women? Shouldn’t they be passive and dependent? Let’s look at one of the Bible’s most complete treatments of what a woman should be like. I’ll give my own slightly free translation from the Greek version of Proverbs (31:10-31):

Who can find a valorous wife?
She is more precious than precious stones.
Her husband wholeheartedly trusts her, and will have no lack of treasures.
Her whole life works good for her husband.
She gathers wool and linen and weaves with her hands.
She has become like a trading ship from afar, and she gathers her living.
She rises at night, and gives food to her house, and assigns work to her maids.
She examines and buys a farm, and plants a vineyard with the fruit of her hands.
She girds her loins with strength and strengthens her arms for work.
She tastes how good it is to work, and her candle stays lit the whole night long.
She reaches her hands to collective work, and applies her hands to the spindle.
She opens her hands to the needy, and extends fruit to the poor.
Her husband does not worry about the men at home when he spends time abroad;
All her household has clothing.
She makes double weight clothing for her husband,
And linen and scarlet for herself.
Her husband is respected when he engages in important business at the City Hall.
When he is seated in council with the elders of the land.
She makes fine linens and sells belts to the Canaanites.
She opens her mouth with heedfulness and order, and is in control of her tongue.
She clothes herself in strength and honor, and rejoices in the future.
The ways of her household are secure, and she does not eat the bread of idleness.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, according to the deep law.
Her mercy for her children prepares them, and they grow rich, and her husband praises her.
Many daughters have obtained wealth, and many have worked vilantly, but you have surpassed them all.
Charm is false, and a woman’s [physical] beauty is shallow:
For a wise woman is blessed, and let her praise the fear of the Lord.
Give her the fruit of her labors, and let her husband be praised at the City Hall.

I have several things to say about this text. To open with, I’ll understand if you say this is an intimidating standard to be held up against, but if you say this affirms the ideal of women as passive and delicate, I’m going to have to ask what on earth you mean. Second, if you read the text closely, you can see hints of how important homes were to business and charity. Most business and charity were based in the home. Third, most translations use not quite the right word when they say, “Who can find a good wife?” The word used is not just “good”. It’s a word one could use of a powerful soldier. Fourth, at the risk of sounding snide, the words about not measuring womanhood by physical beauty beat body image feminism to the punch by about three thousand years. Fifth and finally, the text talks about this woman as a lot of things—as strong, as doing business, as farming, as manufacturing. But there’s one thing it does not say. It does not interpret “woman” in terms of “victim.”

There is something somewhat strange going on. If we ask what is the wealthiest nation on earth, it’s the U.S.A. If we ask what nation wields the most political clout on earth, it’s the U.S.A. And if we ask some slightly different questions, and ask what nation feminism has had the most success reforming the culture, the U.S. might not be at the very top, but it’s at least near the top. The same is true if we ask what nation women hold the most political clout in: the U.S. is either at the top or near the top. If we ask what nations women hold the most civil rights, and have most successfully entered traditionally male occupations, the U.S. is probably near the top. Now let us turn to still another kind of question: what are the women in the most powerful, and one of the most feminist-reformed, nations in the world, doing? If we’re talking about uneducated and lower-class women, the answer is simply living life as women. But if we look at educated, middle-class women, the answer tends to be simple but quite different: they are Fighting in the fray for the lowest rung on the ladder of victimization.

To be fair to feminists, I must hastily add that it’s a fray because it has a lot of participants besides feminists. The handicapped, gay, and racial minorities are also fighting, and it seems that everybody wants in. For that matter, a good many able-bodied, straight, white men also want in on the action; many middle-aged white applicants complain that affirmative action has biased the hiring process against them. To many of those who do not belong to an easily recognized victim’s group, the cry is, “When can I be a victim so I can get some rights?” It seems that fighting for the lowest rung on the ladder of victimization has become the American national sport.

It seems like I’m mentioning a lot of paradoxes about feminism. Let me mention something else that concerns me. The term “consciousness raising” sounds like something everybody should support—after all, what could be wrong with enhancing someone’s consciousness? But what does this term mean? To be somewhat blunt, “consciousness raising” means taking women who are often happy and well-adjusted members of society and making them hurt and miserable, not to mention alienated. Among feminists today, the more a woman identifies with the feminist movement, the more hurt and angry she is, the more she seems to be able to see past appearances and uncover a world that is unspeakable hostile to women. For that matter, historically the more feminism has developed and the more success feminism has had reforming society, the more women, or at least feminists, are sure the world is grinding an invisible, or if you prefer, highly visible, axe against women. Are there alternatives to this? What about feminists who say that going back isn’t an option? I’m not going to try to unravel whether there is an escape; I’m focusing on a different question, whether “consciousness raising” contributes to living in joy. If an animal’s leg is caught in a steel trap, the only game in town may be to gnaw off its own leg. The question of, “Is it necessary?” is one question, but I’m focusing on the question of, “Is it basically good?” For the animal, chewing off its own leg is not good, even if it’s the only game in town, and taking women who are happy and making them miserable is not good. You can argue that it is the only game in town, but if it’s a necessary evil, it is still an evil, and naming this process “consciousness raising” is a bit like taking a piece of unconstitutional legislation that rescinds our civil liberties and naming it the “USA Patriot Act.” It’s a really cool name hiding something that’s not so cool. The issue of whether there is anything better is one issue (I believe Orthodoxy is a better alternative), but there are two different issue going on here, and it is not clear that “consciousness raising” benefits women.

I’ve raised some unsettling points about feminism. And at this point I would like to suggest that Orthodoxy is what feminism is reaching for. What do I mean? There are a lot of points of contact between feminism’s indictment of what is wrong with patriarchy and Orthodoxy’s indictment of what is wrong in the West. (Both are also kook magnets, but we won’t go into that.) I mentioned one thing that feminism and Orthodoxy have in common; there are a great many more, and some of them are deep. But there are also differences. Orthodoxy doesn’t deliver women who are hurt and angry; Orthodoxy has a place for women to be women, and for women to enjoy life. Feminism tries to be pro-woman, but ends up giving its most vitriolic treatment to women who disagree with it: we do not have the sisterhood of all women, as feminism should be, but a limited sisterhood that only includes feminists. Orthodoxy has its own vitriol, but there is also a great tradition of not judging; even in our worship people are doing different things and nobody cares about what the next person is doing. We don’t believe salvation ends at our church doors, and in general we don’t tell God who can and cannot be saved. Feminism is a deep question, and Orthodoxy is a deep answer.

That is at least a simplistic picture; it’s complex, but I cannot help feeling I’ve done violence to my subject matter. It seems my treatment has combined the power and strength of a nimble housecat with the agility and grace of a mighty elephant. I would like to close with something related to what I said in the beginning, about knowing.

Christiane Northrup’s Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom talks about how women do not always feel the need to rush and get to the point, not because they are doing a bad job of getting that task out of the way (as necessary but unpleasant), but because to women things are interconnected, and the things a woman says before “the point” are things she sees as connected that add something to the point. This article has some of the qualities Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom finds in women, and I see things as interconnected. Beyond analysis, there is synthesis. If this article discusses many things that are connected to the point, that is not because I am trying to write like a woman would. It’s not something extra that I’ve decided to add; in fact it would be difficult for me to uproot this from how I communicate. And it’s not because I am trying to balance out my masculinity by being more feminine, or be androgynous, or because I’m trying to be woman-like out of a guilt factor. There are other reasons why, but I would suggest that it’s an example of Orthodox manhood at work. Not the only example, and certainly not the best, but my point is that there is an important sense in which Orthodoxy is what feminism is reaching for. But to immediately get to the point would give an impression that is strange and deceptive, and almost completely fail to convey what is meant by the claim. That is why I’ve been spending my time exploring a web of interconnections that help show what that claim means.

Orthodoxy is about helping us to be fully human, and that includes divinely inspired support for both men and women. It is other things as well, but part of why I became Orthodox was that I realized there were problems with being a man in Western Christianity. Orthodoxy is the most gender balanced Christian confession in terms of numbers, and I came to ask the rather abrasive question, “Does Orthodoxy draw more men than Evangelicalism because Orthodoxy understands sanctification as deification and Evangelicalism understands sanctification as a close personal relationship with another man?” I never got much of an answer to that question (besides “Yes”). And even though I’m looking for more in Orthodoxy than help being a man, one of the reasons I became Orthodox was that it is the best environment for being a man that I found. And I’m coming to realize that men are only half the picture in Orthodoxy.

Because everything is connected, if you hurt men, women get hurt, and if you hurt women, men get hurt… and if you think about what this means, it means that you cannot make an environment that is healthy for men but is destructive to women. Nor can you make an environment that is healthy for women but destructive to men. Orthodoxy’s being good for men is not something that is stolen from women. It is good for men because God instituted it as a gift to the whole human race, not only for men.

There are things that are deeply wrong with Western culture. Would you rather be working on an analysis of the problem, or learn to grow into its solution?

The Fulfillment of Feminism

A Pet Owner’s Rules

Unashamed

Where is the good of women? Feminism is called “The women’s movement.” But is it?

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Sunday 15 May, 2015, the beginning of the Nativity fast (N.S.). I posted, Christmas gift guide 2015: A tale of two watches….

Friday 28 August, 2015, the Dormition, I posted, QUICK! What Is Your Opinion About Chemistry?

Tuesday 30 June, 2015, following a momentous decision by the Supreme Court, I posted, St. John the Much-Suffering.

Sunday 20 June, 2015, Fathers’ Day. I posted, A Facebook Portrait for Orthodox Clergy.

Sunday 17 May, 2015, my birthday. I posted, In Celebration of Tribbles (and FurReal Pets).

Sunday 2 May, 2015, the Fourth Sunday of Pascha. I posted, Work-Mystic.

Tuesday 31 March, 2015, the Funeral of my grandmother Jo Myre Hayward. I posted, Profoundly Gifted Magazine: An Interview with Charles Wallace Murry of A Wind in the Door.

Tuesday 17 March, 2015, the Feast of the peace-loving reluctant warrior and prince, St. Daniel of Moscow. I posted, The Orthodox Martial Art Is Living the Sermon on the Mount.

Sunday 22 February, 2015, Forgiveness Sunday. I posted, Our thoughts determine our lives: Beyond The Secret and the Law of Attraction.

Saturday 12 July, 2014, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul. I posted, “Social Antibodies” Needed: A Request of Orthodox clergy.

An Author’s Musing Memoirs: Retrospective Reflections, Retracings, and Retractions

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Taking a second look at some of what I wrote

Dear Reader,

Years back, when I was a math grad student, I wrote a short essay entitled, Why Study Mathematics? The basic thought was connected with the general education math class I was taking, and it is not really an article for why to specialize in mathematics through intensive study, but why a more basic knowledge of math can be a valuable part of liberal arts education. Much like how I taught my class, I did not speak favorably of memorizing formulas—pejoratively called “mindless symbol manipulation” by mathematicians—but spoke of the beauty of the abstractions, the joy of puzzles and problem solving, and even spoke of mathematics as a form of weight lifting for the mind: if you can do math, I said, you can do almost anything. I was sincere in these words, and I believe my obscure little piece captures something that a lot of math students and faculty sensed even if they did not explain their assumption. Since then, there are some things I would say differently. Not exactly that I was incorrect in what I said, but I worked hard to climb a ladder that was leaning against the wrong building.

One famous author in software development, who wrote a big book about “software engineering”, had said, “What gets measured gets improved,” and began to express second thoughts about his gung-ho enthusiasm for measurement. He didn’t exactly take back his words of, “What gets measured gets improved,” but he said that the most important things to understand are rarely things that are easy or obvious to measure: the mantra “What gets measured gets improved,” is a mantra to ruthlessly optimize things that often are less important than you might think. His second thoughts went further: the words “software” and “engineering” have been joined at the hip, but however hard software developers have tried to claim to be engineers, what they do is very different from engineering: it’s an apples and oranges comparison.

I would pretty well stand by the statement that if you can deal with the abstraction in math, you can deal with the abstraction in anything: whether chemistry, analytic philosophy, engineering, or sales, there isn’t much out there that will call for more abstract thinking than you learn in math. But to pick sales, for instance, not many people fail in sales because they can’t handle the deep abstraction. Sales calls for social graces, the ability to handle rejection, and real persistence, and while you may really and truly learn persistence in math, I sincerely doubt that mathematical training is a sort of industrial strength preparation for social graces and dealing with rejection. And even in engineering, social graces matter more than you might think; it’s been said that being good at math gets you in the door, but social influence and effectiveness are what make a real superstar. I would still stand by a statement that if you can handle the abstraction in math, you can probably handle the abstraction in anything else. But I’m somewhat more wary of implying that if you have a mathematical mind, you just have an advantage for everything life may throw at you. That’s simply not true.

There are some things I have written that I would like to take back, at least in part, but even where my works are flawed I don’t believe mass deletions are the best response. I would rather write what might be called “Retractions and retracings” and leave them available with the original works. Why study Mathematics?, whatever its flaws, gives a real glimpse into the beauty that draws mathematicians to mathematics. I may be concerned with flaws here, but they are not the whole truth. However, there are some things I would like to comment on, some flaws to point out. In many cases, I don’t believe that what I said is mainly wrong, but I believe it is possible to raise one’s eyes higher.

HOW to HUG

Mathematics may be seen as a skill, but it can also be how a person is oriented: jokes may offer a caricature, but a caricature of something that’s there. One joke tells of a mathematician who finds something at a bookstore, is delighted to walk home with a thick volume entitled HOW to HUG, and then, at home, is dismayed to learn he purchased volume 11 of an encyclopædia. And I mention this as a then-mathematician who wrote A Treatise on Touch, which may be seen as interesting, may be seen as deep, and may have something in common with the mathematician purchasing a book so he could know how to hug.

Part of what I have been working on is how, very slowly, to become more human. This struggle is reflected in Yonder, which is at its most literal a struggle of philosophers to reach what is human. There is an outer story of disembodied minds set in a dark science fiction world, who are the philosophers, and there is a story within a story, an inner story, of the tragic beauty of human life. When I showed it to a science fiction guru, he suggested that I cut the philosophical dialogues down by quite a bit. The suggestion had a lot of sense, and quite possibility a traditional publisher would want to greatly abbreviate the sections that he suggested I curtail. But I did not follow his advice, and I don’t think this was just author stubbornness. When literature builds up to a success, usually the path to success is filled with struggles and littered with failures. This is true of good heroic literature, and for that matter a lot of terrible heroic literature as well. (Just watch a bad adventure movie sometime.) Yonder is a story that is replete with struggles and failures, only the failures of the disembodied minds have nothing to do with physical journeys or combat. They begin stuck in philosophy, mere philosophy, and their clumsy efforts to break out provide the failures, and therefore to greatly abridge the philosophical discussion would be to strip away the struggle and failure by which they reach success: a vision of the grandeur of being human. Like much good and bad literature, the broad sweep was inspired by The Divine Comedy, opening with a vision of Hell and building up to a view of our painful life as a taste of Heaven, and you don’t tell The Divine Comedy faithfully if you replace the Inferno with a brief summary stating that there are some gruesome images and a few politically incorrect ideas about sin. The dark science fiction world and its mere philosophy provides the vision of Hell that prepares the reader to see the humanness of Heaven and the Heaven of humanness. The inner story can be told by itself; it is for that matter told independently in A Wonderful Life. But there is something in Yonder, as it paints the stark, dark, disturbing silhouette of the radiant, luminous splendor and beauty of human life.

While I was a math undergrad, I read and was deeply influenced by the Tao Te Ching; something of its influence may be seen in The Way of the Way. That work has its flaws, and I may have drunk too deeply of Taoism, but there was a seed planted that I would later recognize in fuller forms in the Orthodox Way. I had in full my goals of studying and thinking, but I realized by the way that there was some value to be had in stillness. Later I would come to be taught that stillness is not an ornament to put on top of a tree; it is the soil from which the tree of life grows.

After I completed my studies in math, and having trouble connecting with the business world, I took stock, and decided that the most important knowledge of all was theology. I had earlier planned to follow the established route of being a mathematician until I was no longer any good for mathematics and then turning out second rate theology. My plans shifted and I wanted to put my goal up front and, I told my pastor, “I want to think about theology in community.” (If you are wincing at this, good.) So, in this spirit, I applied to several schools and began the study of academic theology. If you are an astute reader, I will forgive you if you ask, “But isn’t this still a mathematician looking for a book on how to hug?” The goal I had, to teach at a university or even better train Orthodox priests at a seminary, was a laudable enough goal, and perhaps God will bless me with that in the future. Perhaps he wants the same thing, but perhaps God first wants to free me from the chain of being too much like a mathematician wanting to learn how to hug by reading a book.

During my time studying theology at Cambridge, I was received into the Orthodox Church. I am grateful to God for both a spiritual father whose lenience offered a corrective to my legalistic tendencies, and for a godfather who was fond of reading Orthodox loose cannons and who helped me see a great many things that were invisible to me at the time. For instance, I asked him for help on some aspect of getting my worldview worked out correctly, and I was caught off guard when he explained, “You aren’t being invited to work out the Orthodox worldview. You’re being invited to worship in the right glory of Orthodoxy, and you are being invited to walk the Orthodox way.” In that sense Orthodoxy is not really a system of ideas to work out correctly that, say, a martial art: there may be good books connected to martial arts, but you learn a martial art by practicing it, and you learn Orthodoxy by practicing it. And in that response, my godfather helped me take one step further away from being a mathematician trying to find a book that will teach him how to hug. (He also gave me repeated corrections when I persisted in the project of trying to improve Orthodox practices by historical reconstruction. And eventually he got through to me on that point.)

Becoming Orthodox for me has been a matter of becoming really and truly human, or at least beginning to. There is a saying that has rumbled down through the ages in different forms: in the second century, St. Irenaeus wrote, “For it was for this end that the Word of God was made man, and He who was the Son of God became the Son of man, that man, having been taken into the Word, and receiving the adoption, might become the son of God.” I have not read this in much earlier sources, but I have read many later phrasings: “God and the Son of God became Man and the Son of Man that man and the sons of man might become gods and the sons of God.” “The divine became human that the human might become divine.” “The Son of God became a man that men might become the sons of God.” And one real variation on this has been quoted, “Christ did not just become man so that I might become divine. He also became man that I might become a man.

If Christ became man that I might become human, this is manifest in a million ways in the Orthodox Church. Let me give one way. When I was preparing to be received into the Orthodox Church, I asked my godfather some question about how to best straighten out my worldview. He told me that the Western project of worldview construction was not part of the Orthodox Way: I had been invited to walk the Orthodox Way but not work out the Orthodox worldview. If there is in fact an Orthodox worldview, it does not come from worldviewish endeavors: it arises out of the practices and life of the Orthodox Church, much in line with, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and his perfect righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Not just corrections, but being caught off-guard by effectively being told, “Here are some of many rules; there is no need for you to know all of them. They are important, and you need to strive for strict excellence, but you are not treating them in the right spirit if you hold them rigidly and legalistically. (Work out with your priest how you will best bend them.)” The Orthodox Church’s nature as essentially an oral tradition has helped cure me of silly things like meticulously studying ancient texts to put my mind to an antiquarian reconstruction and answer the question, “How should we live?” (The Orthodox Church is ancient, but it is not really infected with antiquarian reconstruction efforts.) The rhythm of the liturgy and its appointed seasons, the spiritual housecleaning involved with preparing for confession, the profoundly important community of the faithful: all of these are part of how it works out in the Orthodox Church that God became man not only so that I might become divine, but also so that I might become more truly man.

Part of this becoming human on my part also has to do with silence, or as Orthodox call it, hesychasm. Part of the disorder of life as we know it is that our minds are scattered about: worrying about this, remembering that pain, and in general not gathered into the heart. Mathematical training is a training in drawing the mind out of the heart and into abstract thinking. The word “abstract” itself comes from the Latin abstrahere, meaning to pull back (from concrete things), and if you train yourself in the habit of abstraction you pull yourself back from silence and from what is good about the Tao Te Ching.

In Silence: Organic food for the soul, I all but closed with the words, “Be in your mind a garden locked and a fountain sealed,” which speaks about having a mind that is gathered together and is in the fullest sense mind: which is not when abstract thinking is its bread and butter. Perhaps some of the saints’ wisdom is abstract, but it does not come from building an edifice of abstractions.

The terms intellect and mind mean something very different in Orthodox classics than they do in today’s English. The difference is as great as the difference between using web to mean a physical object woven out of spider’s silk and web to mean interconnected documents and media available over the internet. Today you might say, “The intellect is what an IQ test measures.” An Orthodox saint who had been asked might have said, “The intellect is where you meet God.” The mind is an altar, and its proper thought flows out of its being an altar: in Within the Steel Orb, a visitor from our world steps into a trap:

“And your computer science is pretty advanced, right? Much more advanced than ours?”

“We know things that the trajectory of computer science in your world will never reach because it is not pointed in the right direction.” Oinos tapped the wall and arcs of pale blue light spun out.

“Then you should be well beyond the point of making artificial intelligence.”

“Why on a million, million worlds should we ever be able to do that? Or even think that is something we could accomplish?”

“Well, if I can be obvious, the brain is a computer, and the mind is its software.”

“Is it?”

“What else could the mind be?”

“What else could the mind be? What about an altar at which to worship? A workshop? A bridge between Heaven and earth, a meeting place where eternity meets time? A treasury in which to gather riches? A spark of divine fire? A line in a strong grid? A river, ever flowing, ever full? A tree reaching to Heaven while its roots grasp the earth? A mountain made immovable for the greatest storm? A home in which to live and a ship by which to sail? A constellation of stars? A temple that sanctifies the earth? A force to draw things in? A captain directing a starship or a voyager who can travel without? A diamond forged over aeons from of old? A perpetual motion machine that is simply impossible but functions anyway? A faithful manuscript by which an ancient book passes on? A showcase of holy icons? A mirror, clear or clouded? A wind which can never be pinned down? A haunting moment? A home with which to welcome others, and a mouth with which to kiss? A strand of a web? An acrobat balancing for his whole life long on a slender crystalline prism between two chasms? A protecting veil and a concealing mist? An eye to glimpse the uncreated Light as the world moves on its way? A rift yawning into the depths of the earth? A kairometer, both primeval and young? A—”

“All right, all right! I get the idea, and that’s some pretty lovely poetry. (What’s a kairometer?) These are all very beautiful metaphors for the mind, but I am interested in what the mind is literally.”

“Then it might interest you to hear that your world’s computer is also a metaphor for the mind. A good and poetic metaphor, perhaps, but a metaphor, and one that is better to balance with other complementary metaphors. It is the habit of some in your world to understand the human mind through the metaphor of the latest technology for you to be infatuated with. Today, the mind is a computer, or something like that. Before you had the computer, ‘You’re just wired that way’ because the brain or the mind or whatever is a wired-up telephone exchange, the telephone exchange being your previous object of technological infatuation, before the computer. Admittedly, ‘the mind is a computer’ is an attractive metaphor. But there is some fundamental confusion in taking that metaphor literally and assuming that, since the mind is a computer, all you have to do is make some more progress with technology and research and you can give a computer an intelligent mind.”

That litany of metaphors summarizes much of my second master’s thesis. Which is not really the point; but my point here is that on an Orthodox understanding, intellect is not something you measure by an IQ test and a mind is not the spitting image of a computer. The mind, rightly understood, finds its home in prayer and simple silence. The intellect is where one meets God, and its knowing flows out of its contact with God and with spiritual reality. And, in the metaphors of the Song of Songs, the mind as it is meant to be is “a garden locked, a fountain sealed”, not spilled out promiscuously into worry, or grudges, or plans for the future that never satisfy. And this gathering together of the mind, this prayer of the mind in the heart, is one that was not proposed to me by my mathematical training.

Now I should mention that I have a lot to be grateful for as far as math goes. There are a lot of people who gave of themselves in my training; there are a lot of people who gave of themselves in the various math contests I was involved in. And, not to put too fine a point of it, I have a computer job now which is a blessing from God and in which I build on a strong mathematical foundation. It would be silly for me to say, “I am not grateful for this” as God has provided me many blessings through math. But I need to place things like “I have a lot of math awards” alongside what a monk said to a maid and to me: she was fortunate in the job she had, as manual labor that allowed her mind to pray as she was working in inner stillness, while I as a computer person was less fortunate because my job basically required me to be doing things with my mind that don’t invite mental stillness. My job may be a profound blessing and something not to take for granted. But he was pointing out that the best jobs for spiritual growth may not be the ones higher on the pecking order.

A streak of escapism

There is a streak of escapism in much of my work. If you read Within the Steel Orb, I believe you will find insight expressed with wonder, and I would not take back any of that. But the wisdom, which is wisdom from here and now, is expressed as the alien wisdom of an alien world that panders to a certain escapism. Wisdom and wonder can be expressed without escapism; Hymn to the Creator of Heaven and Earth and Doxology both express wisdom and wonder in a way that does not need to escape from a disdained here and now. But there is a thread of escapism in much of my work, even as I have sought to reject it.

During or shortly after I was in high school, I wrote a note in an online forum arguing that Terminator 2 had shot itself in the foot. The movie had a scene with two little boys angrily playing with toy guns and the voiceover complained about how tragic this was, and at the end the message was made even more explicit: “If a machine, a terminator, can learn the value of human life, maybe we can too.” But the movie was an action-adventure movie, meaning a movie whose attraction was built on glorified violence with guns blazing. In terms of a movie that would speak out against violence, contrast it with a movie idea I had, for a movie that would rush along at an action-adventure clip for the first few minutes and then slow down like a European art film; from Lesser Icons: Reflections on Faith, Icons, and Art:

What I did do was to outline a film idea for a film that would start out indistinguishably from an action-adventure movie. It would have one of the hero’s friends held captive by some cardboard-cutout villains. There is a big operation to sneak in and deftly rescue him, and when that fails, all Hell breaks loose and there is a terrific action-adventure style firefight. There is a dramatic buildup to the hero getting in the helicopter, and as they are leaving, one of the villain’s henchmen comes running with a shotgun. Before he can aim, the hero blasts away his knee with a hollow-nosed .45.

The camera surprisingly does not follow the helicopter in its rush to glory, but instead focuses on the henchman for five or ten excruciating minutes as he curses and writhes in agony. Then the film slows down to explore what that one single gunshot means to the henchman for the remaining forty years of his life, as he nursed a spiritual wound of lust for vengeance that was infinitely more tragic than his devastating physical wound.

By contrast, it may be clearer what might be called shooting yourself in the foot in the Terminator 2 syndrome, and as far as escapism goes, I have a couple of pieces that shoot themselves in the foot with something like a Terminator 2 syndrome. In The Voyage, the miserable young Jason is an escapist and, when he meets an old man, asks the old man’s help in an escape he doesn’t believe is possible. The old man deftly opens Jason’s eyes to the beauty of this world, the beauty of the here and now, that are simply invisible to him. I stand by everything I wrote in that regard. But the closing line, when thanks to the old man Jason triumphs over escapism, is, “And Jason entered another world.” Which is to say that the story shot itself in the foot, like Terminator 2.

There may be a paradoxical link between escapism and self-absorption. Self-absorption is like being locked in your room and sensing that it is constricting, and so you wish that you could be teleported up to a spaceship and explore the final frontier, or maybe wish for a portal to open up that would take you to the Middle Ages or some fantasy world. And maybe you can get a bit of solace by decorating your room like someplace else and imagining that your room is that other place, and maybe you can pretend and do mind games, but they don’t really satisfy. What you miss is what you really need: to unlock the door, walk out, visit a friend, go shopping, and do some volunteering. It may not be what you could arrange if you were controlling everything, but that’s almost exactly the point. It may not what you want, but it is what you need, and it satisfies in a way that a quest to become a knight, at least in your imagination, cannot. And my own concerns to escape self-absorption and escapism play out in my writing: The Spectacles is more successful than The Voyage in telling of an escape from the Hell of self-absorption and escapism; I’ve been told it’s my best short story. But it still has the imprint of self-absorption even as it tells of someone finding way out of self-absorbed escapism. And something of that imprint affects my writing: there are some good things about my fiction, but I have been told that my characters are too similar and are only superficially different. I do not think I will ever receive the kind of compliment given to Charles Dickens, that he envisions a complete universe of different characters. People may say that my satire like Hayward’s Unabridged Dictionary shows a brilliant wit and is bitingly funny, but you can be pretty full of yourself and still write good satire. By contrast, it takes humble empathy to make a universe of characters worthy of Dickens.

A door slammed shut:

God’s severe mercy

I earned a master’s in theology, and entered into a doctoral program. I thought for a long while about how to say something appropriate about that program, and I think the best I can do is this:

I’ve been through chemotherapy, and that was an experience: overall, it was not as bad as I feared, and I enjoyed life when I was going through chemotherapy. I still cherish The Spectacles, the first piece written after a long dry spell because I was drained by illness. I’m not sure it is a nice thing to have powerful cytotoxins injected into your body, and the rough spots included the worst hour of (purely physical) pain in my life, but on the whole, a lot of progress has been made in making chemotherapy not as bad as it used to be, and I had good people to care for me.

And then there are experiences that, to put it politely, put chemotherapy into perspective. My entering this doctoral program and trying to please the people there was one of those experiences into perspective: during that time, I contacted a dean and wrote, “I found chemotherapy easier than dealing with [a professor I believed was harassing me],” and received no response beyond a secretary’s brush-off. After this ordeal, my grades were just below the cutoff to continue, and that school is not in any way going to give me nice letters of reference to let me finish up somewhere else. I suppose I could answer spam emails and get a diploma mill Ph.D., but I don’t see how I am in a position to get the Ph.D. that I wanted badly enough to endure these ordeals.

And if I ask where God was in all this, the answer is probably, “I was with you, teaching you all the time.” When I was in middle school, I ranked 7th in the nation in the 1989 MathCounts competition, and I found it obvious then that this was because God wanted me to be a mathematician. For that matter, I didn’t go through the usual undergraduate panic about “What will I major in?” Now I find it obvious that God had something else in mind, something greater: discipleship, or sonship, which may pass through being a mathematician, or may not. Not straying too far from this, I wanted a Ph.D., and I thought that this would be the best way to honor him with my abilities. Again I was thinking too narrowly; I was still too much of the mathematician looking for a book to teach him how to hug; again the answer seemed to be, “That’s not the issue. Aim higher and be my servant.” As it turns out, I have four years’ graduate work in theology; that has some use in my writings, and even if it didn’t, the issue is not whether I am a good enough achiever, but whether I am faithful.

During this time I read quite a lot of medieval versions of the legends of King Arthur. There were a couple of things that drew me to them, both of them rather sad. The first was pride, both pride at thinking I was going to be an Arthurian author, and pride at sometimes reading medieval legends in the original.

But the second reason I kept reading them was that compared to what I was covering in theology class, reading the legends almost seemed like I was actually studying theology. (At least by comparison.) Whether a course in theological foundations that assumed, “We need to work from the common ground that is shared by all the world’s religious traditions, and that universal common ground is Western analytic philosophy,” or reading that theologians are scientists and they are every bit as much scientists as people in the so-called “hard sciences” like physics, or a course in “philosophy and contemporary theology” that was largely about queer matters and such topics as ambiguous genitalia, the whole experience was like “Monty Python teaches Christian theology.” And it would be a funny, if tasteless joke, but it was really something much more tragic than a Monty Python riff on theology. And in all this the Arthurian legends, which are really quite pale if they are held next to the grandeur of Christian theology, none the less seemed to give respite for me to study.

In the light of all this, there are three basic things that I wrote. The first is the Arthurian book I wanted to write out of all the medieval books I was reading:

The second thing is a group of pieces that were written largely as rebuttals to things I ran into there. (The university was a “Catholic” university, so they were generous to us Orthodox and treated us like liberal Catholics.) I’ve had enough contact with Catholics outside that university; those pieces are not written just in response to being at a “Catholic” university.

I believe there is some merit in these pieces, but not that much: if they say something that needs to be said, they are limited to winning an argument. Theology can win an argument and some of the best theology is meant to win an argument, but the purpose of real theological writing is to draw people into the presence of God. These pieces may say something valuable, but they do not really do the job of theology: beckon the reader to worship before the throne of God.

But that leaves the third group of pieces written in the wake of that un-theological theology program, and that is precisely pieces which are written to draw the reader to bask in the glory of God. The ones I would pick as best are:

So where does this leave me now?

I think I’ve made real progress but I still have a lot in common with that mathematian who bought a book so he could learn how to hug. Be that as it may, I have a lot to be thankful for.

I had my heart set on completing my program, but in 2005 I started a Ph.D. program that was estimated to take eight years to complete. And since then, the economy tanked. And in this, a gracious and merciful God didn’t give me what I wanted, but what I needed. Actually, more than that. In the aftermath of the program, I took some anthropology and linguistics coursework which on the one hand confirmed that I was already good at learning languages (the woman who scored the MLAT for me said, “I’ve scored this test for thirty years and I’ve never seen a score this high,”) and on the other hand, paradoxically provided good remedial understanding of things I just didn’t get about my own culture. And there’s something I’d like to point out about that. God provided academic coursework to teach me some things that most people just pick up as they grow, and perhaps studying academic theology was what God provided to help me get on to something that is at once more basic, greater, and more human: entering the Orthodox Church, and entering real, human theology.

But back to after the anthropology courses. Then the economy took a turn for the worse, and I found a good job. Then the economy got worse than that, and my job ended, and I had my fast job hunt yet and found an even better than that. There’s no way I’m entitled to this; it is God’s gracious providence at work. These are blessings covered in the divine fingerprints.

I still have failings to face: rather spectacular failings which I’d rather not detail. And it God’s grace that I am still learning of my clumsiness and my sin, and realize I really need to face ways I don’t measure up. But that is really not the issue.

Does God work with flawed people?

Who else does he have to work with?

He has glorious, majestic, awesome, terrifying holy angels. But there is another glory when God works in and through flawed people.

Even the sort of mathematician who would read a book on how to hug (or maybe write one). The worst of our flaws is like an ember thrown into the ocean of God’s transforming power.

And the same God wills to work in you, whatever your flaws may be.

Much love,
Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward

About the author

Doxology

The Spectacles

The Wagon, the Blackbird, and the Saab

Actually, to Me, It Is a Very Good Day

CJSH.name/good-day

Let me begin by sharing my favorite For Better or for Worse strip. On a night that is dark, wet, and probably quite cold, John Patterson steps into a cab and says, “What a miserable day!” The cabby surprises him by saying, “Actually, to Me, It Is a Very Good Day.”

John is surprised, but the cabby explains. “You see,” he says, “I am from Sudan. I have seen my friends shot and killed. I have a wife whom I have not seen in two years, and a son whom I have never seen. But every day I save a little, and I am that much closer to bringing them here.” At the end of the trip, John rather pensively pays and tips the cabby.

Then he steps in the door—it is still dark, wet, and probably rather cold—and his wife says, “What a miserable day!”

John simply puts his arms around her and their little girl, and said, “Actually, to Me, It Is a Very Good Day.”

This is a good vignette to be mindful of, and if economic times are rougher now than when these words first appeared, it does not diminish their truth in the least. To me, it is a very good day.

To me, it is a very good day.

And let me explain what I mean.

One of my goals in life has been to be a scholar, and I’ve tried hard to earn credentials to teach in theology. Given the difficulties Ph.D. holders have getting a job, it seemed to me to be rather silly to apply for a job without getting the standard “union card:” a Ph.D.

I became a graduate student in theology while overcoming cancer, and earned a master’s in theology under Cambridge’s philosophy of religion seminar. And, after some time to recover, I entered a Ph.D. program. And…

I’ve spent a lot of time looking for a way to explain what happened in the Ph.D. program. Eventually, I began to suspect that I might be having such difficulty finding an appropriate way to explain those events because they are not the kind of thing that can be explained appropriately.

So let me say the following.

  • I’m a pretty bright guy. Ranked 7th in a nationwide math contest. Did an independent study of calculus in middle school. Studied over a dozen languages. And so on.
  • I honestly found more than one thing at the university to be worse than suffering chemo. (And chemotherapy included the worst hour of merely physical pain in my life.)
  • The university is not budging in their position that, as my GPA in all that happened was 3.386/4.0 and a 3.5 was required, I have washed out of their Ph.D. program.

And I’m not sure, after an experience like that, that I’m really in the best position to apply to another program: references are important, and it would show a profound naïveté to tell a professor, “I know you retaliated for my gestures of friendship, but you’ll still be kind and give me a good letter of reference, right?” I am not in the best position to apply to another Ph.D. program. And I wish to very clearly say, today is a very good day to me.

The goals I was pursuing are a privilege and not a right. For that matter, the job I have now is not something to be taken for granted. I have a job that is meeting all my basic expenses. Most jobs you have at least one pest to deal with. Not this one; there is not a single person at my job that I would rather not deal with. They’re all decent people.

If I had my way and got my Ph.D., there are other things that probably would not have happened, including my books being published. And I am quite glad for that. And even in theology, I may never be involved with theology on the terms I envisioned, but that is not nearly so final as it sounds, and I would like to be clear about that.

A Christian in the West may or may not find it strange to place theology in the category of “academic disciplines.” In Orthodoxy the placement is strange indeed, because theology, even in its treatment of texts, is much more a spiritual discipline of prayer than a technical discipline of analysis. And in that sense, the door to theology is as open to me as it ever was: it is a door that I can enter through repentance, and is as open to me now as much as any time.

To me, it is a very good day.

And perhaps I may well leave behind something value, but perhaps God did not intend it to be scholarship. Perhaps I was just meant to write.

And on that note, I would like to share some snippets, some highlights, from my books.

The books include several shorter works building up to a long piece; The Sign of the Grail tells the story of a young man whose world begins to deepen when he discovers, in his college dorm room, a book of Arthurian legends:

After eating part of his meal, George opened Brocéliande, flipping from place to place until an illustration caught his eye. He read:

Merlin walked about in the clearing on the Isle of Avalon. To his right was the castle, and to his left was the forest. Amidst the birdsong a brook babbled, and a faint fragrance of frankincense flowed.

Sir Galahad walked out of the castle portal, and he bore a basket of bread.

Then Galahad asked Merlin about his secrets and ways, of what he could do and his lore, of his calling forth from the wood what a man anchored in the castle could never call forth. And Galahad enquired, and Merlin answered, and Galahad enquired of Merlin if Merlin knew words that were more words than our words and more mystically real than the British tongue, and then the High Latin tongue, and then the tongue of Old Atlantis. And then Galahad asked after anything beyond Atlantis, and Merlin’s inexhaustible fount ran dry.

Then Sir Galahad asked Merlin of his wood, of the stones and herbs, and the trees and birds, and the adder and the dragon, the gryphon and the lion, and the unicorn whom only a virgin may touch. And Merlin spake to him him of the pelican, piercing her bosom that her young may feed, and the wonders, virtues, and interpretation of each creature, until Galahad asked of the dragon’s head for which Uther had been called Uther Pendragon, and every Pendragon after him bore the title of King and Pendragon. Merlin wot the virtue of the dragon’s body, but of the dragon’s head he wot nothing, and Sir Galahad spake that it was better that Merlin wist not.

Then Sir Galahad did ask Merlin after things of which he knew him nothing, of what was the weight of fire, and of what is the end of natural philosophy without magic art, and what is a man if he enters not in the castle, and “Whom doth the Grail serve?”, and of how many layers the Grail hath. And Merlin did avow that of these he wist not none.

Then Merlin asked, “How is it that you are wise to ask after these all?”

Then Galahad spake of a soft voice in Merlin his ear and anon Merlin ran into the wood, bearing bread from the castle.

George was tired, and he wished he could read more. But he absently closed the book, threw away what was left of his hamburgers and fries, and crawled into bed. It seemed but a moment that he was dreaming.

George found himself on the enchanted Isle of Avalon, and it seemed that the Grail Castle was not far off.

George was in the castle, and explored room after room, entranced. Then he opened a heavy wooden door and found himself facing the museum exhibit, and he knew he was seeing the same 5th-6th century sword from the Celtic lands, only it looked exactly like a wall hanger sword he had seen online, a replica of a 13th century Provençale longsword that was mass produced, bore no artisan’s fingerprints, and would split if it struck a bale of hay. He tried to make it look like the real surface, ever so real, that he had seen, but machined steel never changed.

Then George looked at the plaque, and every letter, every word, every sentence was something he could read but the whole thing made no sense. Then the plaque grew larger and larger, until the words and even letters grew undecipherable, and he heard what he knew were a dragon’s footprints and smelled the stench of acrid smoke. George went through room and passage until the noises grew louder, and chanced to glance at a pool and see his reflection.

He could never remember what his body looked like, but his head was unmistakably the head of a dragon.

And the story of this nightmare is part of the story of how he begins questing for the Holy Grail and ultimately wakes up in life.

A short story builds up in The Christmas Tales:

The crown of Earth is the temple,
and the crown of the temple is Heaven.

Stephan ran to get away from his pesky sister—if nothing else he could at least outrun her!

Where to go?

One place seemed best, and his legs carried him to the chapel—or, better to say, the temple. The chapel was a building which seemed larger from the inside than the outside, and (though this is less remarkable than it sounds) it is shaped like an octagon on the outside and a cross on the inside.

Stephan slowed down to a walk. This place, so vast and open and full of light on the inside—a mystically hearted architect who read The Timeless Way of Building might have said that it breathed—and Stephan did not think of why he felt so much at home, but if he did he would have thought of the congregation worshipping with the skies and the seas, the rocks and the trees, and choir after choir of angels, and perhaps he would have thought of this place not only as a crown to earth but a room of Heaven.

What he was thinking of was the Icon that adorns the Icon stand, and for that matter adorns the whole temple. It had not only the Icons, but the relics of (from left to right) Saint Gregory of Nyssa, Saint John Chrysostom, and Saint Basil the Great. His mother had told Stephan that they were very old, and Stephan looked at her and said, “Older than email? Now that is old!” She closed her eyes, and when she opened them she smiled. “Older than email,” she said, “and electric lights, and cars, and a great many of the kinds of things in our house, and our country, and…” her voice trailed off. He said, “Was it as old as King Arthur?” She said, “It is older than even the tale of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.”

This story, incidentally, is set in a real place. I have been there.

One of the medium-sized works in A Cord of Seven Strands is a narrative as of a dream:

You pull your arms to your side and glide through the water. On your left is a fountain of bubbles, upside down, beneath a waterfall; the bubbles shoot down and then cascade out and to the surface. To your right swims a school of colorful fish, red and blue with thin black stripes. The water is cool, and you can feel the currents gently pushing and pulling on your body. Ahead of you, seaweed above and long, bright green leaves below wave back and forth, flowing and bending. You pull your arms, again, with a powerful stroke which shoots you forward under the seaweed; your back feels cool in the shade. You kick, and you feel the warmth of the sun again, soaking in and through your skin and muscles. Bands of light dance on the sand beneath you, as the light is bent and turned by the waves.

There is a time of rest and stillness; all is at a deep and serene peace. The slow motion of the waves, the dancing lights below and above, the supple bending of the plants, all form part of a stillness. It is soothing, like the soft, smooth notes of a lullaby.

Your eyes slowly close, and you feel even more the warm sunlight, and the gentle caresses of the sea. And, in your rest, you become more aware of a silent presence. You were not unaware of it before, but you are more aware of it now. It is there:

Being.

Love.

Life.

Healing.

Calm.

Rest.

Reality.

Like a tree with water slowly flowing in, through roots hidden deep within the earth, and filling it from the inside out, you abide in the presence. It is a moment spent, not in time, but in eternity.

Firestorm 2034 tells the story of a brilliant medieval traveler transported to some twenty or thirty years in our future. It’s a little like a story told more compactly and more like a dream:

It was late in the day, and my feet were hurting.

I had spent the past three hours on the winding path up the foothills, and you will excuse me if I was not paying attention to the beauty around me.

I saw it, and then wondered how I had not seen it—an alabaster palace rising out of the dark rock around it, hidden in a niche as foothill became mountain. After I saw it, I realized—I could not tell if the plants around me were wild or garden, but there was a grassy spot around it. Some of my fatigue eased as I looked into a pond and saw koi and goldfish swimming.

I looked around and saw the Gothic buildings, the trees, the stone path and walkways. I was beginning to relax, when I heard a voice say, “Good evening,” and looked, and realized there was a man on the bench in front of me.

He was wearing a grey-green monk’s robe, and cleaning a gun. He looked at me for a moment, tucked the gun into a shack, and welcomed me in.

Outside, the sun was setting. At the time, I thought of the last rays of the dying sun—but it was not that, so much as day giving birth to night. We passed inside to a hallway, with wooden chairs and a round wooden table. It seemed brightly enough lit, if by torchlight.

My guide disappeared into a hallway, and returned with two silver chalices, and set one before me. He raised his chalice, and took a sip.

The wine was a dry white wine—refreshing and cold as ice. It must have gone to my head faster than I expected; I gave a long list of complaints, about how inaccessible this place was, and how hard the road. He listened silently, and I burst out, “Can you get the master of this place to come to me? I need to see him personally.”

The servant softly replied, “He knows you are coming, and he will see you before you leave. In the mean time, may I show you around his corner of the world?”

I felt anger flaring within me; I am a busy man, and do not like to waste my time with subordinates. If it was only one of his underlings who would be available, I would have sent a subordinate myself. As I thought this, I was surprised to hear myself say, “Please.”

We set down the chalices, and started walking through a maze of passageways. He took a small oil lamp, one that seemed to burn brightly, and we passed through a few doors before stepping into a massive room.

The room blazed with intense brilliance; I covered my eyes, and wondered how they made a flame to burn so bright. Then I realized that the chandaliers were lit with incandescent light. The shelves had illuminated manuscripts next to books with plastic covers—computer science next to bestiaries. My guide went over by one place, tapped with his finger—and I realized that he was at a computer.

Perhaps reading the look on my face, my guide told me, “The master uses computers as much as you do. Do you need to check your e-mail?”

I asked, “Why are there torches in the room you left me in, and electric light here?”

He said, “Is a person not permitted to use both? The master, as you call him, believes that technology is like alcohol—good within proper limits—and not something you have to use as much as you can. There are electric lights here because their brilliance makes reading easier on the eyes. Other rooms have torches, or nothing at all, because a flame has a different meaning, one that we prefer. Never mind; I can get you a flashlight if you like. Oh, and you can take off your watch now. It won’t work here.”

“It won’t work? Look, it keeps track of time to the second, and it is working as we speak!”

The man studied my watch, though I think he was humoring me, and said, “It will give a number as well here as anywhere else. But that number means very little here, and you would do just as well to put it in your pocket.”

I looked at my watch, and kept it on. He asked, “What time is it?”

I looked, and said, “19:58.”

“Is that all?”

I told him the seconds, and then the date and year, and added, “But it doesn’t feel like the 21st century here.” I was beginning to feel a little nervous.

He said, “What century do you think it is here?”

I said, “Like a medieval time that someone’s taken a scissors to. You have a garden with perfect gothic architecture, and you in a monk’s robe, holding an expensive-looking rifle. And a computer in a library that doesn’t even try to organize books by subject or time.”

I looked around on the wall, and noticed a hunting trophy. Or at least that’s what I took it for at first. There was a large sheild-shaped piece of wood, such as would come with a beautiful stag—but no animal’s head. Instead, there were hundreds upon hundreds of bullet holes in the wood—enough that the wood should have shattered. I walked over, and read the glass plate: “This magnificent deer shot 1-4-98 in Wisconsin with an AK-47. God bless the NRA.”

I laughed a minute, and said, “What is this doing in here?”

The servant said, “What is anything doing here? Does it surprise you?”

I said, “From what I have heard, the master of this place is very serious about life.”

My guide said, “Of course he is. And he cherishes laughter.”

I looked around a bit, but could not understand why the other things were there—only be puzzled at how anyone could arrange a computer and other oddments to make a room that felt unmistably medieval. Or was it? “What time is it here? To you?”

My guide said, “Every time and no time. We do not measure time by numbers here; to the extent that time is ‘measured’, we ‘measure’ by what fills it—something qualitative and not quantiative. Your culture measures a place’s niche in history by how many physical years have passed before it; we understand that well enough, but we reckon time, not by its place in the march of seconds, but by the content of its character. You may think of this place as medieval if you want; others view it as ancient, and not a small part is postmodern—more than the computer is contemporary.”

I looked at my watch. Only five minutes had passed. I felt frustration and puzzlement, and wondered how long this could go on.

“When can we move on from here?”

“When you are ready. You aren’t ready yet.”

I looked at my watch. Not even ten seconds had passed. The second hand seemed to be moving very slowly.

I felt something moving in the back of my mind, but I tried to push it back. The second hand continued on its lazy journey, and then—I took off my watch and put it in my pocket.

My guide stood up and said, “Walk this way, please.”

He led me to a doorway, opening a door, and warning me not to step over the threshold. I looked, and saw why—there was a drop of about a foot, into a pool of water. The walls were blue, and there was sand at the far end. Two children—a little boy and a little girl—were making sand castles.

He led me through the mazelike passages to rooms I cannot describe. One room had mechanical devices in all stages of assembly and disassembly. Another was bare and clean. The kitchen had pepperoni and peppers hanging, and was filled with an orange glow that was more than torchlight. There was a deserted classroom filled with flickering blue light, and then we walked into a theatre.

The chamber was small, and this theatre had more than the usual slanted floor. The best way I could describe it is to say that it was a wall, at times vertical, with handholds and outcroppings. There were three women and two men on the stage, but not standing—or sitting, for that matter. They were climbing, shifting about as they talked.

I could not understand their language, but there was something about it that fascinated me. I was surprised to find myself listening to it. I was even more surprised to realize that, if I could not understand the words, I could no less grasp the story. It was a story of friendship, and there is something important in that words melted into song, and climbing into dance.

I watched to the end. The actors and actresses did not disappear backstage, but simply climbed down into the audience, and began talking with people. I could not tell if the conversation was part of the act, or if they were just seeing friends. I wondered if it really made any difference—and then realized, with a flash, that I had caught a glimpse into how this place worked.

When I wanted to go, the servant led me to a room filled with pipes. He cranked a wheel, and I heard gears turning, and began to see the jet black keys of an organ. He played a musical fragment; it sounded incomplete.

He said, “Play.”

I closed my eyes and said, “I don’t know how to play any instrument.”

He repeated the fragment and said, “That doesn’t matter. Play.”

There followed a game of question and answer—he would improvise a snatch of music, and I would follow. I would say that it was beautiful, but I couldn’t really put it that way. It would be better to say that his music was mediocre, and mine didn’t quite reach that standard.

We walked out into a cloister. I gasped. There was a sheltered pathway around a grassy court and a pool stirred by fish. It was illumined by moon and star, and the brilliance was dazzling.

We walked around, and I looked. In my mind’s eye I could see white marble statues of saints praying—I wasn’t sure, but I made up my mind to suggest that to the master. After a time we stopped walking on the grass, and entered another door.

Not too far into the hallway, he turned, set the oil lamp into a small alcove, and began to rise up the wall. Shortly before disappearing into the blackness above, he said, “Climb.”

I learn a little, I think. I did not protest; I put my hands and feet on the wall, and felt nothing. I leaned against it, and felt something give way—something yielding to give a handhold. Then I started climbing. I fell a couple of times, but reached the shadows where he disappeared. He took me by the hand and began to lead me along a path.

I could feel a wall on either side, and then nothing, save his hand and my feet. Where was I? I said, “I can’t see!”

A woman’s voice said, “No one can see here. Eyes aren’t needed.” I felt an arm around my waist, and a gentle squeeze.

I felt that warmth, and said, “I came to this place because I wanted to see the master of this house, and I wanted to see him personally. Now—I am ready to leave without seeing him. I have seen enough, and I no longer want to trouble him.”

I felt my guide’s hand on my shoulder, and heard his voice as he said, “You have seen me personally, and you are not troubling me. You are here at my invitation. You will always be welcome here.”

When I first entered the house, I would have been stunned. Now, it seemed the last puzzle piece in something I had been gathering since I started hiking.

The conversation was deep, and I cannot tell you what was said. I don’t mean that I forgot it—I remember it clearly enough. I don’t really mean that it would be a breach of confidence—it might be that as well. What I mean is that there was something special in that room, and it would not make much sense to you even if I could explain it. If I were to say that we talked in a room without light, where you had to feel around to move about—it would be literally true, but beside the point. When I remember the room, I do not think about what wasn’t there, but what was there. I was glad I took off my watch—but I cannot say why. The best thing I can say is that if you can figure out how a person could be aware of a succession of moments, and at the same time have time sense that is not entirely linear—or at very least not just linear—you have a glimpse of what I found in that room.

We talked long, and it was late into the next day when I got up from a perfectly ordinary guestroom, packed, and left. I put on my watch, returned to my business, and started working on the backlog of invoices and meetings that accumulated in my absence. I’m still pretty busy, but I have never left that room.

Hayward’s Unabridged Dictionary is a thin volume for a dictionary, but then it works a little unlike the more standard dictionary one uses to look things up:

Form, n. A piece of paper used by administrations to deter people from using their services. It is the opinion of this lexicographer that the following form could be of the utmost assistance in helping bureaucracies more effectively serve those under their care.

 

Form to Request Information in the Form of a Form

 

Section 1: Personal Information

Name: ___________________________ Sex: [ ]M [ ]F Date of Birth: __/__/__
Social Security Number: ___-__-____
Driver’s License Number: ____-____-____
VISA/MasterCard Number: ____-____-____-____
Mailing Address, Business:
Street:_____________________________ City:________________ State:__ ZIP Code:_____
Mailing Address, Home:
Street:_____________________________ City:________________ State:__ ZIP Code:_____
Telephone, Work: (___)___-____, Ext. ____
Telephone, Home: (___)___-____
Telephone, Car: (___)___-____
Beeper: (___)___-____ Chicago High School: [ ]Y [ ]N
E-mail Address: ____________________________________________________ (if address is in domain aol.com or webtv.net, please explain on a separate sheet of paper)
Height: _’, __” Weight: ___# Hair: ______ Eyes: _____ Blood type: __ IQ: __
Political Affiliation: [ ]Federalist [ ]Republican [ ]Democrat [ ]Libertarian [ ]Monarchist [ ]Socialist [ ]Marxist [ ]Communist [ ]Nazi [ ]Fascist [ ]Anarchist [ ]Other (Please specify:_____________)
Citizenship: [ ]United States, including Canada and other territories [ ]Mexico [ ]California [ ]Other (Please specify:_____________________)
Race: [ ]Caucasian/Pigmentally Challenged [ ]African [ ]Asian [ ]Hispanic/Latino [ ]Amerindian [ ]Heinz-57 [ ]Other (Please specify: __________________) [ ]An athletic event where people run around an oval again and again and again.

Page 1 * End of Section 1 of 3

Section 2: Form Description

Length of Form, in Characters: _____
Number of Questions or Required Data: ____
Expected Time to Complete: __ Hours, __ Minutes, __ Seconds.
Expected Mental Effort Required to Complete: __________________________ (if form would insult the intelligence of a senile hamster, please explain on a separate sheet of paper)
Expected number of questions judged to be annoying, unnecessary, and/or personally offensive: __
Expected time wasted on questions judged to be annoying, unnecessary, and/or personally offensive: __ Hours, __ Minutes, __ Seconds.
Expected blood pressure increase while filling out form: __ mmHg systolic, __ mmHg diastolic.

If further contemplation has led you to believe that some of the questions asked are not strictly necessary to provide the service that you offer upon completion of said form, please enclose revised prototype here.

Page 2 * End of Section 2 of 3

Section 3: Essay Questions

Please explain, in 500 words or less, your philosophy concerning the use of forms.

Please explain, in 200 words or less, why you designed this form as you did.

Please explain, in 300 words or less, why you believe that this form is necessary. If you are in a service oriented sector and desire to require the form of people you serve, please explain why you believe that requiring people to fill out forms constitutes a service to them.

When this form is completed, please return to the address provided. The Committee for Selecting Forms will carefully examine your case and delegate responsibility to an appropriate subcommittee.

Please allow approximately six to eight weeks for the appointed subcommittee to lose your file in a paper shuffle.

Page 3 * End of Section 3 of 3

But many of the definitions are shorter: “Christmas, n. An annual holiday celebrating the coming of the chief Deity of Western civilization: Mammon.”

Yonder is a shorter work, like the others can be mischievous and iconoclastic, and opens with a fictitious news article heralding the discovery of an inclusive language manuscript for a good chunk of the Greek New Testament. The culminating work is a Socratic dialogue, set in a science fiction thoughtscape that paints a terrifying silhouette and asks a terrifying question, “What if we really didn’t have the things about a world of men and women and all the things that we chafe at?” Along the way to that work comes a moment of rest:

The day his daughter Abigail was born was the best day of Abraham’s life. Like father, like daughter, they said in the village, and especially of them. He was an accomplished musician, and she breathed music.

He taught her a music that was simple, pure, powerful. It had only one voice; it needed only one voice. It moved slowly, unhurriedly, and had a force that was spellbinding. Abraham taught Abigail many songs, and as she grew, she began to make songs of her own. Abigail knew nothing of polyphony, nor of hurried technical complexity; her songs needed nothing of them. Her songs came from an unhurried time out of time, gentle as lapping waves, and mighty as an ocean.

One day a visitor came, a young man in a white suit. He said, “Before your father comes, I would like you to see what you have been missing.” He took out a music player, and began to play.

Abby at first covered her ears; she was in turn stunned, shocked, and intrigued. The music had many voices, weaving in and out of each other quickly, intricately. She heard wheels within wheels within wheels within wheels of complexity. She began to try, began to think in polyphony — and the man said, “I will come to you later. It is time for your music with your father.”

Every time in her life, sitting down at a keyboard with her father was the highlight of her day. Every day but this day. This day, she could only think about how simple and plain the music was, how lacking in complexity. Abraham stopped his song and looked at his daughter. “Who have you been listening to, Abigail?”

Something had been gnawing at Abby’s heart; the music seemed bleak, grey. It was as if she had beheld the world in fair moonlight, and then a blast of eerie light assaulted her eyes — and now she could see nothing. She felt embarrassed by her music, ashamed to have dared to approach her father with anything so terribly unsophisticated. Crying, she gathered up her skirts and ran as if there were no tomorrow.

Tomorrow came, and the day after; it was a miserable day, after sleeping in a gutter. Abigail began to beg, and it was over a year before another beggar let her play on his keyboard. Abby learned to play in many voices; she was so successful that she forgot that she was missing something. She occupied herself so fully with intricate music that in another year she was asked to give concerts and performances. Her music was rich and full, and her heart was poor and empty.

Years passed, and Abigail gave the performance of her career. It was before a sold-out audience, and it was written about in the papers. She walked out after the performance and the reception, with moonlight falling over soft grass and fireflies dancing, and something happened.

Abby heard the wind blowing in the trees.

In the wind, Abigail heard music, and in the wind and the music Abigail heard all the things she had lost in her childhood. It was as if she had looked in an image and asked, “What is that wretched thing?” — and realized she was looking into a mirror. No, it was not quite that; it was as if in an instant her whole world was turned upside down, and her musical complexity she could not bear. She heard all over again the words, “Who have you been listening to?” — only, this time, she did not think them the words of a jealous monster, but words of concern, words of “Who has struck a blow against you?” She saw that she was blind and heard that she was deaf: that the hearing of complexity had not simply been an opening of her ears, but a wounding, a smiting, after which she could not know the concentrated presence a child had known, no matter how complex — or how simple — the music became. The sword cut deeper when she tried to sing songs from her childhood, at first could remember none, then could remember one — and it sounded empty — and she knew that the song was not empty. It was her. She lay down and wailed.

Suddenly, she realized she was not alone. An old man was watching her. Abigail looked around in fright; there was nowhere to run to hide. “What do you want?” she said.

“There is music even in your wail.”

“I loathe music.”

There was a time of silence, a time that drew uncomfortably long, and Abigail asked, “What is your name?”

The man said, “Look into my eyes. You know my name.”

Abigail stood, poised like a man balancing on the edge of a sword, a chasm to either side. She did not — Abigail shrieked with joy. “Daddy!

“It has been a long time since we’ve sat down at music, sweet daughter.”

“You don’t want to hear my music. I was ashamed of what we used to play, and I am now ashamed of it all.”

“Oh, child! Yes, I do. I will never be ashamed of you. Will you come and walk with me? I have a keyboard.”

As Abby’s fingers began to dance, she first felt as if she were being weighed in the balance and found wanting. The self-consciousness she had finally managed to banish in her playing was now there — ugly, repulsive — and then she was through it. She made a horrible mistake, and then another, and then laughed, and Abraham laughed with her. Abby began to play and then sing, serious, inconsequential, silly, and delightful in the presence of her father. It was as if shackles fell from her wrists, her tongue loosed — she thought for a moment that she was like a little girl again, playing at her father’s side, and then knew that it was better. What could she compare it to? She couldn’t. She was at a simplicity beyond complexity, and her father called forth from her music that she could never have done without her trouble. The music seemed like dance, like laughter; it was under and around and through her, connecting her with her father, a moment out of time.

After they had both sung and laughed and cried, Abraham said, “Abby, will you come home with me? My house has never been the same without you.”

There are some other passages that I would like to quote, but I’ll stop with one more, from The Steel Orb, which ends with a paired science fiction short work and a fantasy novella. Both of those works share in this paean’s joy:

With what words
shall I hymn the Lord of Heaven and Earth,
the Creator of all things visible and invisible?
Shall I indeed meditate
on the beauty of his Creation?

As I pray to Thee, Lord,
what words shall I use,
and how shall I render Thee praise?

Shall I thank thee for the living tapestry,
oak and maple and ivy and grass,
that I see before me
as I go to return to Thee at Church?

Shall I thank Thee for Zappy,
and for her long life—
eighteen years old and still catching mice?
Shall I thank thee for her tiger stripes,
the color of pepper?
Shall I thank thee for her kindness,
and the warmth of her purr?

Shall I thank Thee for a starry sapphire orb
hung with a million million diamonds, where
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims the work of his hands.
Day to day utters speech,
and night to night proclaims knowledge.
There are no speeches or words,
in which their voices are not heard.
Their voice is gone out into all the earth,
and their words to the end of the earth.
In the sun he has set his tabernacle;
and he comes forth as a bridegroom out of his chamber: he will exult as a giant to run his course.”?

Shall I thank Thee for the river of time,
now flowing quickly,
now flowing slowly,
now narrow,
now deep,
now flowing straight and clear,
now swirling in eddies that dance?

Shall I thank Thee for the hymns and songs,
the chant at Church, when we praise Thee in the head of Creation, the vanguard of Creation that has come from Thee in Thy splendor and to Thee returns in reverence?

Shall I thank thee for the Chalice:
an image,
an icon,
a shadow of,
a participation in,
a re-embodiment of,
the Holy Grail?

Shall I forget how the Holy Grail itself
is but the shadow,
the impact,
the golden surface reflecting the light,
secondary reflection to the primeval light,
the wrapping paper that disintegrates next to the Gift it holds:
that which is
mystically and really
the body and the blood of Christ:
the family of saints
for me to be united to,
and the divine Life?

Shall I meditate
on how I am fed
by the divine generosity
and the divine gift
of the divine energies?

Shall I thank Thee for a stew I am making,
or for a body nourished by food?

Shall I indeed muse that there is
nothing else I could be nourished by,
for spaghetti and bread and beer
are from a whole cosmos
illuminated by the divine light,
a candle next to the sun,
a beeswax candle,
where the sun’s energy filters through plants
and the work of bees
and the work of men
to deliver light and energy from the sun,
and as candle to sun,
so too is the bread of earth
to the Bread that came from Heaven,
the work of plants and men,
the firstfruits of Earth
returned to Heaven,
that they may become
the firstfruits of Heaven
returned to earth?

Shall I muse on the royal “we,”
where the kings and queens
said not of themselves”I”, but “we”
while Christians are called to say “we”
and learn that the “I” is to be transformed,
made luminous,
scintillating,
when we move beyond “Me, me, me,”
to learn to say, “we”?

And the royal priesthood is one in which we are called to be
a royal priesthood,
a chosen people,
more than conquerors,
a Church of God’s eclecticism,
made divine,
a family of little Christs,
sons to God and brothers to Christ,
the ornament of the visible Creation,
of rocks and trees and stars and seas,
and the spiritual Creation as well:
seraphim, cherubim, thrones
dominions, principalities, authorities,
powers, archangels, angels,
rank on rank of angels,
singing before the presence of God,
and without whom no one can plumb the depths
of the world that can be seen and touched.

For to which of the angels did God say,
“You make my Creation complete,” or
“My whole Creation, visible and invisible,
is encapsulated in you,
summed up in your human race?”

To which of the angels
did the divine Word say,
“I am become what you are
that you may become what I am?”

To which of the angels did the Light say,
“Thou art my Son; today I have adopted Thee,”
and then turn to say,
“You are my sons; today I have adopted you;
because I AM WHO I AM,
you are who you are.”?

So I am called to learn to say, “we”,
and when we learn to say we,
that “we” means,
a royal priesthood,
a chosen people,
more than conquerors,
a Church of God’s eclecticism,
a family of little Christs,
made divine,
the ornament of Creation, visible and invisible,
called to lead the whole Creation
loved into being by God,
to be in love
that to God they may return.

And when we worship thus,
it cannot be only us, for
apples and alligators,
boulders and bears,
creeks and crystals,
dolphins and dragonflies,
eggplants and emeralds,
fog and furballs,
galaxies and grapes,
horses and habaneros,
ice and icicles,
jacinth and jade,
kangaroos and knots,
lightning and light,
meadows and mist,
nebulas and neutrons,
oaks and octupi,
porcupines and petunias,
quails and quarks,
rocks and rivers,
skies and seas,
toads and trees,
ukeleles and umber umbrellas,
wine and weirs,
xylophones and X-rays,
yuccas and yaks,
zebras and zebrawood,
are all called to join us before Thy throne
in the Divine Liturgy:

Praise ye the Lord.
Praise ye the Lord from the heavens:
praise him in the heights.
Praise ye him, all his angels:
praise ye him, all his hosts.
Praise ye him, sun and moon:
praise him, all ye stars of light.
Praise him, ye heavens of heavens,
and ye waters that be above the heavens.
Let them praise the name of the Lord:
for he commanded, and they were created.
He hath also stablished them for ever and ever:
he hath made a decree which shall not pass.
Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps:
Fire, and hail; snow, and vapours;
stormy wind fulfilling his word:
Mountains, and all hills;
fruitful trees, and all cedars:
Beasts, and all cattle;
creeping things, and flying fowl:
Kings of the earth, and all people;
princes, and all judges of the earth:
Both young men, and maidens;
old men, and children:
Let them praise the name of the Lord:
for his name alone is excellent;
his glory is above the earth and heaven.
He also exalteth the horn of his people,
the praise of all his saints;
even of the children of Israel,
a people near unto him.
Praise ye the Lord.

And my blessings are not just that, unlike the cab driver, I have not seen my friends shot and killed. Nor is it just that I have a job in a time when having a job shouldn’t be taken for granted—working with kind co-workers, and a good boss, to boot. I’ve received my first major book review—and, I hope, not the last:

Down through the centuries, the Legend of King Arthur has been used as an icon for so many literary works in the western world. “The Sign of the Grail” is a collection of memorable literary works by C.J.S. Hayward centering around the Holy Grail and what it means to orthodox religion, as well as those who follow those teachings. Tackling diverse subjects such as iconography and an earthly paradise, he pulls no punches when dealing with many of the topics laid out through the legends. “The Sign of the Grail” is a unique, scholarly, and thorough examination of the Grail mythos, granting it a top reccommendation for academia and the non-specialist general reader with an interest in these subjects. Also very highly recommended for personal, academic, and community library collections are C.J.S. Hayward’s other deftly written and original literary works, essays, and commentaries compilations and anthologies: “Yonder” (9780615202174, $40.00); “Firestorm 2034” (9780615202167, $40.00), “A Cord of Seven Strands” (9780615202174, $40.00), “The Steel Orb” (9780615193618, $40.00), “The Christmas Tales” (9780615193632, $40.00), and “Hayward’s Unabridged Dictionary” (9780615193625, $40.00).

John Burroughs
Reviewer
[The Midwest Book Review]

Actually, to Me, It Is a Very Good Day.

Books by Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward

An author’s musing memoirs about his work: retrospective reflections, retracings, and retractions

A Dream of Light

The Sign of the Grail

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions (and Their Answers)

CJSH.name/faq

Frequently asked questions (and their answers)

Could I reprint or redistribute something from this site?
Could you tell me a bit about yourself?
Do you mind if I email you?
How can I navigate this site?
How is this site organized?
There’s a lot of stuff here. Where should I start?
What is the purpose of this website?
What should I do if I find an error?
Why don’t you use HTML5 Boilerplate
Why isn’t my question answered here?

  1. Could I reprint or redistribute something from this site?

    Please contact me and ask. In the past I’ve given fairly generous permission to reprint or redistribute my items, but please do ask.

    One note: For some authors, “May I quote, translate, or reprint such-and-such that you wrote?” is always answered, “Speak to my lawyer.” Which, in practice, seems to always mean, “No.”

    If you request permission to reproduce something you see here, I will never answer, “Speak to my lawyer.” I will try to answer you myself, and I am in a position to give you permission if it seems appropriate to me.

    Special exception: If you want to use the picture from Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthane? for a church bulletin, you have my permission to do so. (If you are good at manipulating images, I suggest using a shrunken version of the high-resolution version want a slightly higher-resolution.)

    Please also note that high quality reproductions are now available, and possibly the original.

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  2. Could you tell me a bit about yourself?

    I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian, have degrees in math and theology, have a lot of interests, and have had some pretty interesting experiences (including riding an elephant in Malaysia). I invite you to read the author biography, but most of all to browsewhat there is to read.

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  3. Do you mind if I email you?

    I love to hear from visitors! Please contact me.

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  4. How can I navigate this site?

    There are several ways you can find things in this website. You can choose whatever seems easiest.

    • Search. At the top and bottom of each left hand menu are a search box.
    • Left-hand menu. At the left of each page, between the search boxes, is a menu listing what the sections of this website and the contents of each section. (See the next question if you’re curious about this site’s sections.)
    • Browse descriptions. Clicking on the name of a section in the left hand menu will take you to a browseable index which describes what is in the section. Some are broken into subsections. If you find one thing you like, you might like others nearby.
    • Site map. There is a site map for the site, arranged both alphabetically and by subject.
    • “You might also like…” links. At the end of most of my creations is a set of links to other things you might like. Please explore them.

    Those aren’t the only ways to navigate the site. I try to give you more than one option in finding things. Use whatever seems easiest or most interesting.

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  5. How is this site organized?

    This page is broken into four major sections, not counting the sitemap. The sections are:

    • About, which has the things that would traditionally go into an “About” section: a contact page, the privacy policy, etc.
    • Et Cetera is really an “other creations” collection. It houses artwork, humor, games, open source software, and almost anything else that doesn’t belong in one of the other sections. (It’s by far the most diverse collection, although the writing section is itself very diverse and represents a number of genres.
    • Library, which has almost all of the literature.

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  6. There’s a lot of stuff here. Where should I start?

    The home page might be able to help you. Each time you reload it, the “Today’s starting point“, section will highlight a page that changes every minute. The home page can help you find a specific page in this collection.

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  7. What is the purpose of this website?

    This website was created to share the various things I’ve created. This includes a wide range of things I’ve written, art, games, and computer software. (All of these are meant to have a special sparkle.)

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  8. What should I do if I find an error?

    Please tell me! I’d like to fix the error both for you and for other visitors.

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  9. Why don’t you use HTML5 Boilerplate here?

    I believe in using technology because it advances a human goal and not just because it’s newer. Once upon a time, I knew that XHTML was the wave of the future and I converted my site to XHTML. Now HTML5 Boilerplate is the obvious wave of the future. I like using it, but I’ve learned a lesson: someday we may give HTML5 Boilerplate the same condescending smile by which we now patronize a webpage that validates as XHTML 1.0 Strict.

    If I see a reason to recode this site in HTML5 Boilerplate, a more substantial reason than “HTML5 Boilerplate is in fashion,” I will do so. I have experience with Boilerplate and it is a remarkable achievement, just not one needed to help this site achieve its goals. Right now the website’s human goals are served well by the existing markup, and things like “Make fewer HTTP requests” optimize my pages better with XHTML markup than HTML5 Boilerplate.

    I do, as with my search box, use HTML5 / HTML5 Boilerplate features as needed and as desired. (As HTML5 advocates have said, browsers care surprisingly little about DOCTYPEs.)

    This site is designed to degrade gracefully, and it doesn’t look bad in Internet Explorer 6.

    I have used pure HTML5 Boilerplate for other projects.

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  10. Why isn’t my question answered here?

    If you have a question that isn’t answered here, please contact me with your question. I’d like to answer it, and other people may have the same question—so you’d be helping me build a better FAQ.

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Contact Jonathan Hayward about Jonathan’s Corner.

About the author

Actually, to Me, It Is a Very Good Day

Books by Christos Jonathan Seth Hayward

An author’s musing memoirs about his work: retrospective reflections, retracings, and retractions

Copyright

CJSH.name/copyright

For the duration of this copyright statement, ‘the work’ are taken to mean all portions of all files distributed from this website (CJSHayward.com), that are not previously covered by other copyright status. The work is copyright 1992-2017, by C.J.S. Hayward. All rights are reserved; rights to the work are granted as follows:

  1. Permission is granted to view the work online, and to copy as needed for that.
  2. Permission is granted for “fair use” quotations, as defined by “fair use” laws.
  3. Permission is granted to quote from the work in promoting and linking to CJSHayward.com.
  4. Permission is granted to distribute only verbatim copies of the documents, only without charging money above distribution expenses, and only with attribution to C.J.S. Hayward.
  5. All other permissions require the explicit and prior written consent of C.J.S. Hayward.
  6. Where there is ambiguity as to the meaning of this copyright statement, the most restrictive legally permissible interpretation is binding unless otherwise stated expressly and in writing by the author.
  7. No person other than C.J.S. Hayward may receive remuneration above distribution expenses for distribution of the work.
  8. This license shall always be legally interpreted and judged under the laws of the State of Illinois, in the United States of America.
  9. If one or more portions of this license is found to be unenforceable, not legally binding, or otherwise inapplicable, this license and all portions thereof shall remain binding and in full effect to the maximum effect permitted by law.
  10. In the event of the author (C.J.S. Hayward)’s death or tonsure into Orthodox monasticism by the little schema, all of the work that the author can place into the public domain is placed into the public domain.

Contact C.J.S. Hayward