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


Katie Mahoney said...

Yay! Cami, Cami, Cami. Very thought provoking!
The unseen world is a very interesting subject for conversation, although few people talk about it. We live for an unseen world, the essence of faith. Like Abraham we seek another country. Lately Briana and I have been talking a lot about faith and things that we cannot see, and the chapter in Hebrews eleven and this verse in Romans 8: 24-25 For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that what we see not, then do we with patience wait for it. I really like your closing statement.

Briana Mahoney said...

Utterly breathtaking! You really outdid yourself this time, from the picture to the prose. Such truth expressed so beautifully. I am left speechless :)!

Captain Starch said...

To be honest, I'm having a hard time trying to decide how much I agree with some of the details of this post, because you are obviously using some of these words rather differently than I'm used to seeing them, and some of the phrasing seems ambiguous to me...

It's unfortunate that in our culture, so many of these words which were probably at one time more specific, now have so many double-meanings that they could mean almost anything.

For example, you refer to the power of the ancient "liturgy"... I actually had to look that one up. The definitions I'm seeing vary from meaning Communion (specifically), to meaning the "forms" of services done by a Church, and a few other definitions that fall between and work around those.

If you insert "Communion" into that context, the meaning fits and makes sense, but I guess I'm just not used to thinking of it in those terms, which is why I had to go look it up in the first place...

Inserting the "forms" of services done by a Church is closer to how I initially read that, and this presents a problem. When God called for his people to come together in worship, he didn't prescribe the "forms" of that worship to a substantial degree; those things were mostly added by men. People became so caught up in them, however, that while Jesus was on the earth he was frequently rebuking the religious leaders for being more interested in those traditions than in the actual word of God.

Now I certainly don't have issues with traditions, so long as they keep their place -- there are some that I'm often bothered by when we vary from them, even though I actually know better in some cases. Some traditions are worth keeping, but if they interfere with something more important...

Regardless of my unease in getting caught up in the language, I certainly agree with the gist of what is being said, and most definitely with that conclusion.

You've got me thinking on this one now...


Christy Mahoney said...


What a beautifully expressed post!

I wish that more churches these days would incorporate that worshipful, respectful and reverent service. I love the old Baroque cathedral sounding music. The words are mostly based on scripture. That kind of music just puts you in a worshipful state. It is sad that some churches don't look like a place of worship and could be easily turned into a business.
We were watching a DVD about the Book of Kells ( which is the four gospels written in the Medieval time period). All the details they did and all the time they spent on it showed that they thought of it as the most important book in the world. It is neat to see how long this book has lasted over all the centuries and the colors are still bright and not faded. The movie also showed a Cathedral in Switzerland that had the most old Bibles, and became a library where ancient monks brought their collections of books. This Abbey Library at St. Gall is one of the largest medieval libraries in the world. Two thousand one hundred of the books date from the 8th through the 15th century. The interior is also totally gorgeous! After we saw it, we decided that it would be our new number one place to visit. :)

Keep your posts coming!

Brandon said...

Wow! I am blown away at this post. Your choice of words and sentence structures work wonderfully here. I have imagined what it would be like to live in the past where words had much greater meanings and consequences than they do today. I shall have to read this a couple more times to fully absorb everything you had to say. Great work!

Camille Rose Wolaver said...

Captain Starch: The way I use the word liturgy is in the traditional way…meaning forms of worship and the way that the sacraments are celebrated. I do not agree with you that God didn't lay out a liturgy of worship or that Jesus spoke against liturgy… On the contrary, God gave the Israelites very particular ways to worship Him and to decorate their worship of Him (the Temple, the incense, the Holy of Holies, the bowing, the vestments, the authority structure, the sacrifices, etc.). Jesus did not speak against liturgy, He spoke against the corruption of heart behind the liturgy. The Pharisees and religious leaders had twisted the traditions for their own ends. Jesus came and condemned the corruption of their heart. He emphasized the status of the heart as being what is means the most. But He did not say that liturgy was a false concept, He said that liturgy without the Holy Spirit and without faith was empty and displeasing to Him. On the other hand, liturgy that is full of the Holy Spirit and true faith is a most lovely experience of Jesus' holiness, love, and power.

Captain Starch said...


Thank you for the clarification.

It's not a word I've seen used very frequently, and usually in a more negative/neutral context, so the definitions I was finding and my relatively rare encounters with it were throwing me off a bit.

I can agree with the others, this is certainly a well-written article -- just trying to get over a vocabulary deficiency on my own part...

Thank you!