Saturday, January 31, 2009

On the Nature of Faërie

'Western culture as a whole has grown so rationalistic that it is difficult to even get your head around its influence.  If you look back at the time in which the Old Testament (and even the New) was written, the world was seen as a place of mythological forces where everything from disease to wealth and success was seen as a personal statement about one's relationship to God (or the gods).  We in Western Christianity have taken our faith out of its natural context of a spiritual and mystical universe into one of rational science.  The transition is uneasy to say the least.' - Benjamin Wolaver

'My first and last philosophy, that which I believe in with unbroken certainty, I learnt in the nursery.  I generally learnt it from a nurse; that is, from the solemn and star-appointed priestess at once of democracy and tradition.  The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales.  They seem to me to be the entirely reasonable things.  They are not fantasies; compared with them other things are fantastic.' - G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

'The more I think about Scripture, the more "implausible" our cosmic story seems.  Two magic trees, a flooded world, the Promised Land, ten ludicrous plagues, the fire on Sinai, the voice of God, the Holy of Holies, power-wielding prophets, the God Man, twelve apostles for twelve tribes, a global mission, a villainous "Man of Lawlessness", a final battle, a future resurrection.  If you think about it, it seems pretty outrageous…which is why it's so brilliant.' - Benjamin Wolaver

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Maritime Adventure: Day One

A feast of fresh, tropical fruit from a road-side farmer's market was the only thing that saved me from the stench of Miami.  Sky-scrapers towered on either side of me, glaring in the warmth of the sun; alley-ways stretched off of the road, their only decorations graffiti and litter; off in the distance lay the docks, reminding me of Chicago maffia and classics such as On the Waterfront and The Godfather with a tropical twist; and finally, meeting my eyes in the far distance, the sea made her appearance.  The star of light, the sun, shone on the blue waves, reflecting the azure heavens above in her fathomless deep.  The glittering mirror almost hurt my eyes.

We were hid from the sea by several turns, until our ragged vehicle pulled into the port.  Our luggage pulled out onto the curb, we closed our nostrils and tried to find some cleaner air inside our lungs to breathe.  The breeze was chilly, and I wrapped my shawl closer around me, even as I got the only pair of sunglasses I could find––a stretched, scratched pair––out of the back seat of the car to protect my eyes from the ferocious glare of the sun.  After waiting for what seemed like forever, our luggage was hauled off and we were left to gather up the gargantuan load of purses, instruments, harp stools, technical bags, carry-on suitcases, and so forth, to struggle the best we could up the sidewalk.  Entering the building, we gave thanks for our kind and helpful guides, who led us through the myriad of halls and infinite checking lines, giving us short-cuts through the crowd of people waiting to board the ship.  I was rather excited to show my brand-new, glossy passport, and to sign my name across the dotted line, and then, after waiting a bit more and reading War and Peace in the lobby just to show off, we walked through the air tunnel and onto the boat.  

The halls and rooms were styled after Las Vegas and the gaudy decor of the showman's life, with gilded furniture and maroon and purple and orange color schemes.  We caught a rather dubious lunch out on deck, where people were slowly gathering and the staff were trying their best to work-out a few hours' turn-around of passengers.  

After eating very lightly of sauteéd fried peppers, mushrooms, and caramelized onions, I followed my family down to the eighth floor, where our cabins were located.  Opening the door, I beheld a very small hall, an even smaller bathroom, and a cozy little sitting room with two twin beds and one bunk bed, covered in snowy linen.  I made my way through to the glass door, and, opening it, felt the wind of the ocean hit me in the face, carrying with it a salty tang of sea-water and the city stench of Miami.  I peered over at the brilliant blue depths of the water, and wondered at the very beauty of it.

We unloaded our suitcases, and I pretended I was a heroine in a book as I organized the jewelry boxes and makeup kits along the counter in the light of the tropical sun.  Once finished, we explored the boat a bit, investigated the library, the shops, the shuffle-board and put-put golfing ring up on deck, and then went to an early supper.

The food was wonderful, and the style of the meal first-class, with tasty and innovative options and perfect portions.  Yet even more wonderful was the fellowship of my family as we communed at table.  I do love my folks.  Scotch blood runs through my veins.

After a delectable dessert of melting chocolate cake and fresh fruit and exotic cheeses, we retired to our cabins.  I dressed in my nightgown, and, pulling my rose-printed robe around me, I stepped outsdie onto the private deck.  All was dark.  I felt the sway of the boat in route, as it sailed away from the lights of Miami into the thick darkness of the open sea.  I peered into the black water, the white foam lapping against the sides of the boat, and felt a chill quiver run down my spine.  The salty wind intoxicated me, refreshing the nerves of my mind, as I was overpowered with awe at the pure, mysterious, terrifying, lovely, brutal, magnificent water below me.  I felt drunken with the savage beauty of it, and wondered if I might lose control of my body and throw myself into the fathomless deep, to feel the water rush over my head and the great Mystery that had consumed nations and kings swallow me whole.

Shivering, I crept back into the warm light of my cabin, crawled inside the bedclothes, and thanked God for the very safety I found in He who had created the savage secret of the sea.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thoughts on the Euangelios

The incarnation shocked humanity.  Never before in the history of religion had divinity shrunk to infancy.  The magic of the event terrified the world.  The God of the universe who created woman, impregnated a common peasant girl and grew from embryo to infant in the womb that He had molded with His own hands.  The girl who carried Yahweh in her belly, who was scoffed and mocked by the world of the time and treated as a sinner and outcast, journeyed to Jerusalem with her faithful husband, and, being refused even by the country inn, was forced to birth the Son of God underground.  'In the riddle of Bethlehem it was heaven that was under the earth,' Chesterton states.  The Voice of Elohim became the most vulnerable creature in our world––a new-born baby, crying in the arms of a fourteen- or fifteen-year-old girl, whose tiny arms couldn't reach up to touch the noses of the cattle that He had spoken into existence.  Yahweh came to earth, and suddenly the family that God had instituted in the beginning was turned upside down, for the mother and father became the children of their Son, and their son was their Father and Creator.  And they called His name Jesus.

Jesus' life was hounded from the beginning.  After being anointed by the Magi, confirmed by Anna and Simeon, praised by the angels, and worshipped by the shepherds, Joseph, following the command of God, the father of his adopted child, escaped to Egypt with the precious mother and baby to escape Herod's wrath.  The age-old war of the demons against children asserted itself once more in a mad effort to kill the Child, but was thwarted by a simple carpenter's faithfulness to God.  

Jesus grew up, and threw off the stagnant and sinful customs of the time.  Though He was the most intelligent and promising students in the educational system, and wanted as a disciple by the leading rabbis of the day, He rejected the complacency and legalism of the priests and stayed at home to learn the trade of a simple carpenter until His time came.  And then the Son of God asserted Himself.  

He gathered the outcasts to Himself.  He insulted the leading figures of the day.  He ransacked the false religion pervading the Temple.  He forgave the sins of people who faithed in His Father.  He called Himself the ancestor of Abraham.  He healed the sick.  He outsmarted the scribes.  He was faithful to His Father.  He loved purely.  He gave freely.  He professed to be the Son of God.  He spoke words of truth that were shocking to the darkness of that time, and yet conquered the barbarian sinfulness of the time, and have forever resurrected throughout history, and are still living and speaking today.  For they are words of universal and timeless truth.  The world will try to take some of Him and leave the rest, but He was the Man who encompassed all Truth, all Holiness, all Power, all Righteousness, all Faithfulness, all Love.  

There have been many philosophers in the history of this world, but the smarter they were the more they knew that they were not a god.  Yet Jesus spoke words of intelligence and verity, and He proclaimed Himself to be God.  He was a Man directly distinct from the sophists and philosophers of His time, a Man who had nothing to do with the wild and distorted mythologies and hero-worship of the time.  And yet He complemented both sides.  He was a philosopher, He was a hero, His life was a Story, but a true one.  He vanquished the lies of the World, and rose up as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

His creed spread like wildfire throughout the world, and the only people groups that would have none of Him were the Middle-Eastern Muslims and the Hindus and Buddhists of Asia.  And these are the two countries that are living examples of stagnancy.  The West has blossomed, grown, died, and resurrected as the Flower of Christendom, but Asia and the Middle-East are too old to die.

In fact, the modern example of the ancient war between mythology and philosophy are the creeds of Asia.  Their worship is why Asia is infirm, stale, and oppressed, whereas the West is equally as historical, but has experienced the resurrection of life that is following Christ.  For Christianity is the only religion that is the key which fits the questions of this world.  It is Life, and it is like life.  It embraces life when Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Fatalism, Optimism, Mythology, and Atheism all refuse to be intellectually honest and choose to strive to negate certain aspects of life in order to hold on to their mistaken ideals.  Christianity bridges all these religions because it is a story and it is a true story.  It is the freedom that comes from the free-will which is the essence of a story, the truth which is the longing of our intellects, and the divine supremacy of God which satisfies the yearning in our soul to know our Creator.

Islam, too, is a stagnant religion.  Islam and Christianity are similar in the fact that they are the only monotheistic religions stemming from Abraham, but in very little else.  For where Islam worships a solitary and therefore self-centered and uncharitable god, without even the ability to love because he is lonely, Christianity worships the Triune God.  He is the God that is the embodiment of the Family.  He is the essence of power, and yet is wholly selfless because the Son, the Father, and the Holy Ghost are forever loving each other and the world in Sacred Communion.

For just as the mythology and philosophy in Asia is too tolerant to die, and the selfishness and hate of Islam is too bitter to die, Christianity is continually experiencing rebirth.  Over and over again, the Faith has been so diluted as to die, but it has always risen again in new power at the pivotal moment.  We worship the God who rose from the grave, and who has given us the power which raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

On Faërie and the Everlasting Man

A Faery Song

Buttercups in the sunshine look like little cups of gold

Perhaps the Faeries come to drink the raindrops that they hold.

The daisies with their golden hearts fringed all about with white,

Are little plates for Faerie fold to sup from every night.

Soft moss a downy pillow makes, and green leaves spread a tent,

Where Faerie fold may rest and sleep until their night is spent.

The bluebird sings a lullaby, the firefly gives a light,

The twinkling stars are candles bright, Sleep, Faeries all, Good Night.

Elizabeth T. Dillingham

On reading the Tolkien essay, 'On Fairy-Stories', I gleaned many interesting facts about the history, etymology, and ideals of fantasy.  I'd like to share them with you, so here are my notes.

To begin, the whole lore of fairy-stories is misnomered, as the very term 'fairies' originated from a mistranslation that should have been 'of Faërie'.  The people of Faërie are really called elves and fays.  These personages were also joined by dwarfs, witches, trolls, giants, or dragons, and then mortal men who had been offered the Silver Bough of enchantment.

As fairies are strange to the lore of Faërie, so are the little Thumbelinas generally depicted in modern Disney movies.  Elves, historically, were tall and angelic-like creatures––much in the style of the Lord of the Rings and King Arthur's Court––until England and France, with their obsession of refinement, effeminance, humor, and shallowness, turned them into the absurd, annoying, little people with impish faces and leering expressions. 

As the very term 'fairy' is mis-used, so is the term 'fairy-tale'.  What most people call a fairy tale usually isn't a fairy tale at all.  They are generally either traveller's tales of awe-full and often satirical happenings and adventures, or they are merely stories of the dream-world.  Tolkien says, 'If a waking writer tells you that his tale is only a thing imagined in his sleep, he cheats deliberately the primal desire at the heart of Faërie: the realization, independent of the conceiving mind, of imagined wonder.'  Of course, they can still be good stories, like Alice in Wonderland, but they are not of Faërie.

And, just as the terms of Faërie are wronged, so are the lore of Faërie degraded in the eyes of our society because of the encroaching shallowness that has pervaded the arts of the imagination in history.  Ever since the rise of Calvinism and Puritanism, adults have become too cynical to enjoy Faërie.  As the adults rejected the beautiful reminiscing of Eden found in Faërie. the only remembering of it was found in ignorant Irish nursery maids telling it to children.  Yet children love to copy their elders, and followed in their parents' footsteps, until the tradition of the tales of Faërie had been degraded until the only relic left were silly, shallow movie and story characters that would earn the contempt of anyone.  For this reason, Tolkien hated when stories were dramatized or made into movies and plays because it trumped the personal imagination of the reader.  He believed that imagining things was one of the most important parts of experiencing a book.

We have forgotten that elements of the truths of Faërie can be found in the Old Testament.  Anyone can read the King James Bible and see many references to unicorns, dragons, griffins, and other animals that were believed in until the people of the last three hundred years decided they were smarter than antiquity.  One reads of blessings, curses, miracles and powerful words, magic trees, spiritual laws, universal truths and the strength and glory of the God of Love.

Every sort of culture going back to the very earliest historical records had their own mythologies and beliefs about Faërie.  It rose to its highest peak with the mythology of the Romans, and then went on a demise as people began to scoff creativity and embraced the ideals of the philosophers of the time.  This belief system, however, failed them as well, since their sophistries merely went in circles and when taken to their conclusions negated life itself.  In the end, they all turned to atheism.  Atheism was the last shock––the last shot of adrenaline for their wearied minds.

Then Jesus was born, and in his enigmatic, wonderful, and heroic life He melded the two together.  He was the second Adam, and He proclaimed the truth that sets us free.  It was not the truths of fatalism, that explains everything good and beautiful in life away, or the giddy fantasy of mythology, which negates the more serious issues of life, but He showed how both the material and the spiritual are one.  He blazed a path that had never been blazed before––His words were shocking to His listeners, and yet everlasting––His life was a Story, a Word, a Logos, that brought a sword to sunder the demon-worship of the time.  He died and rose again, and arose to the Father, and His legacy has never died out.  Where mythology, stoicism, and sophism are all too old to die, as in the ideologies of Asia, Christianity has been a constant resurrection of the fire that purges away the chaff from the wheat.  It has revealed, and is forever revealing, the real Truth of Elohim, the God-Head, which is the Trinity of three distinct Beings in love and unity with each other.  It is the Family that, though blinding in its very splendor, shines its truth-bearing light on the world, and fills our hearts with the soul of son-ship.  We too, may become children in the Family.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Fairest Isle

Fairest isle, all isles excelling,

Seat of pleasure and of love

Venus here will choose her dwelling,

And forsake her Cyprian grove.

Cupid from his fav'rite nation

Care and envy will remove;

Jealousy, that poisons passion,

And despair, that dies for love.

Gentle murmurs, sweet complaining,

Sighs that blow the fire of love

Soft repulses, kind disdaining,

Shall be all the pains you prove.

Ev'ry swain shall pay his duty,

Grateful ev'ry nymph shall prove;

And as these excel in beauty,

Those shall be renown'd for love.

-John Dryden