Monday, September 26, 2011

The Unseen Presence

The world we used to live in was very different.  Words bore great weight.  Blessings and curses, invocations and incantations all possessed powerful and terrifying consequences.  Actions carried great unseen meaning.  The things we did with our bodies held startling and forceful spiritual purport.  The trees and stars, animals and ætherial beings, the natural powers that God breathed into the earth in the wind, the fire, the water, the air, all carried dæmonic significance.  The Sacraments of the Church were the awful and terrific and utterly beautiful Means to Christ, and were treated with the reverence and awe they were worthy of.  The Church was full of Liturgy.  The clothes, the scents, the architecture, the words said, the songs sung, the Sacraments partaken of, all were mysterious and magical means through which we experienced the Most Holy One.  The culture of the Christian world was rich and full of significance, full of feasts, fasts, festivals, celebration and mourning, remembrances, customs.  One's life was measured out in the holy-days that echoed the powerful symbolism and culture that Yahweh Himself commanded His Chosen people to live by in the earliest days.

Yet we now live in the wake of the ideas that the Enlightenment, the Victorian Era, and the Post-Modern Age has preached.  The gnostic world-view has won.  Individualism is our god.  Our culture is the culture of the secular world.  Our holy-days are not holy-days but holidays that are swallowed up by secular traditions and corruptions of the early rituals.  The government dictates how we live, how we structure our homes and families, not the Bible or the earliest truths of the Creation.  Our actions and our words have very little significance except for the immediate ramifications we see in the here and now, and therefore the majority of our churches no longer believe in the holiness of the Sacraments, the power of the ancient liturgy, or the power of the Means to God inherent in Holy Communion.

The world has taught us its own view of the ancient days, defamiliarizing the old to such an extent that what was once powerful in words and deeds and spirit and body are treated with flippancy and complete misunderstanding.  And yet the Bible foregrounds the Truth of these ancient customs in a most startling and blatant way.  Yahweh, in the chronicles of the Pentateuch, held great significance in the material.  He appeared to the patriarchs, the judges, and the prophets in bodily form multiple times.  He ordained the holy and magical works of childbirth and marriage and burial.  His Temple was full of holy relics, of wonders.  Holy bread and holy fire, the prayers of the people present in the burning of incense, blood sacrifice that render the people clean, the God-given authority symbolized in the vestments of the priests, and His real and awful presence in the Mercy-Seat of the Holy of Holies.º  Yahweh breathed into the vessels of His Temple the power of His Name.  Thus all who touch the Ark of the Covenant die.  Thus Zechariah beholds a vision of seven lamps on a golden lampstand that are the Eyes of Yahweh, which 'range over the whole world' and two olive trees which are the 'two anointed ones in attendance on the Lord of the whole world.'  

His prophets, too, were given the Means to Himself.  Yahweh placed great power in the staffs of Moses and Elijah†  He commanded His prophets to speak events into existence.  Their words were powerful in the strongholds they built in the Unseen Realm, echoing the fact that He Himself built the worlds through His Words.  He commanded the prophets to not only speak, but to act out what was being worked out in the Unseen Realm.  The most powerful representation of this is, perhaps, the life of Hosea, whom Yahweh commanded to marry a hoar and bear children by her, as a physical declaration of the spiritual state of His relationship with Israel.  He commanded Hosea to name His sons  'Not-My-People' and his daughter 'Unloved' in order to show forth the strongholds of Israel's betrayal in the Unseen Realm.*

This amalgamation of the Unseen Realm and the Seen is not only a manifestation of the Old Covenant.  It is also present in the New Covenant that Jesus gave to us.  We see this truth in His own life, and in the miracles that He performed.  His Power was manifested in His words and commands and deeds, but also in His own Person.  Thus He healed the blind man's eyes with a poultice made of His spittle.  Thus the woman suffering of hemorrhage was healed by merely touching His robe.  He commanded His disciples to be baptized that they may physically be buried with Him and rise a new creation in Him.  He gave His disciples His own Body and Blood to eat, in order that His Presence would truly and literally live inside of them.  He bodily died, He bodily descended into Hell and took the keys from Satan, He bodily raised from the dead, He bodily flew into the Heavens, He bodily sits at the right hand of the Father.  He commanded us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling, to obey Him so that, through His grace, we might live a life truly saved from sin and the fruits of sin.  

We see only as through a looking glass darkly, and yet we are given the promise in the Revelation to St John that we will live in a world in which the Unseen and the Seen become one, where the opening of scrolls ushers in new eras of the Earth and riders on horses bring forth judgment, where Yahweh builds a city in which we will experience His glorious Light.  Let us remember that the world around us is not weightless and empty of meaning, but the very Creation of the Imagination of the God who bears and breathes into His creation the weight of His glory.

†See 'The Staff of Adonai'
*To see other examples of this mystery read Isaiah 6, Jeremiah 13, Jeremiah 16, Jeremiah 24, Ezekiel 3, Ezekiel 4, Ezekiel 12, Zechariah 3, Zechariah 4