A Whole Universe Redeemed and Issuing from the Heart of Christ

David Bentley Hart, in his marvelous though very dense book, The Doors of the Sea, reminds us of the radical character of the purposes and actions of God and His people consistent with a Mysterious – Incarnational/sacramental – view of the Christian toward the universe in both its visible and invisible dimensions. This conviction regarding the essential union of the spiritual and the physical is basic to a proper comprehension of how to properly relate to God, persons, events (especially the tragic), things, and time itself. I commend the whole book to you. Let me quote just a little. He writes:

Catholic Christianity – East and West – did not abandon antiquity’s vision of a world alive in every part, charged with vital intellect; it say the motive force at the heart of creation not as an unreasoning engine of material causality,  but as an ecstasy of spiritual intelligence and desire. The entire cosmos, it was possible to believe, was drawn every onward by the yearning of all things for the goodness of God. It was possible to believe, indeed, that the principle of all physical and spiritual motion was, in Dante’s phrase, “the love that moves the sun and other stars.” What had never yet arisen in imagination was “nature” in the modern sense: a closed causal continuum, conceived (by theists) as the intricate artifice of a God whose transcendence is a kind of absence, or (by atheists) as a purely fortuitous event concerning which the absence of any God is the only “transcendent” truth… The Christian vision of God … and of how God is reflected within his creation, is of a different order [than that of the theist or the deist or any other version of “natural theology” that sees the way the universe operates or functions currently as being a reflection of God’s original intention]. For while the Christian is enjoined to see the glory of God in all this is, it is not a glory conformed to the dimensions or logic of “nature” as we understand it; in fact, it renders the very category of “nature” mysterious, alters it, elevates it – judges and redeems it… Christian metaphysical tradition, in both the Orthodox East and Catholic West, asserts that God is not only good but goodness itself, not only true or beautiful but infinite truth and beauty: that all the transcendental perfections are one in him who is the source and end of all things, the infinite wellspring of all being… And it is this love and goodness of God that the Christian is bidden to find in the entirety of the created order… The Christian eye sees (or should see) a deeper truth in the world than mere “nature,” and it is a truth that gives rise not to optimism but to joy.

“You (we?) would do well,” I hear Hart saying to me, “in the final analysis, to listen to the voice of the great cloud of witnesses in this regard, and heed their exhortation.” We need to begin or continue, with an intense intentionality, to yield ourselves, within the precincts of the Church to any and all disillusionment (to borrow Bonhoeffer’s word from Life Together) and transformation of our assumptions/ convictions regarding the Good News of God the Father in Christ Jesus, by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Here are a couple of quotes that might add weight to Hart’s words…

“The Journey of the Mind Into God” – Chapter 1.14
By St. Bonaventure

Therefore he who is not brightened by such splendors of created things is blind; he who does not awake at such clamors is deaf; he who does not praise God on account of all these effects is mute; he who does not turn towards the First Principle on account of such indications is stupid. – Open therefore your eyes, employ your spiritual ears, loose your lips and rouse your heart, to see, hear, praise, love and worship, magnfiy and honor your God in all creatures, lest perhaps the whole circle of the earth rise together against you. For on this account the circle of the earth will fight against the insensate and against the sensate there will be the matter of glory, who according to the Prophet can say: Thou has loved me, Lord, in what you are to do and in the works of Thy hands shall I exult. How magnified are Thy works, Lord! you have made all things in wisdom, the earth is filled with Thy possesion.

“Centuries of Meditations” – The First Century
By Thomas Traherne

27) You never enjoy the world aright, till you see how a sand exhibiteth the wisdom and power of God: And prize in everything the service which they do you, by manifesting His glory and goodness to your Soul, far more than the visible beauty on their surface, or the material services they can do your body. Wine by its moisture quencheth my thirst, whether I consider it or no: but to see it flowing from His love who gave it unto man, quencheth the thirst even of the Holy Angels. To consider it, is to drink it spiritually. To rejoice in its diffusion is to be of a public mind. And to take pleasure in all the benefits it doth to all is Heavenly, for so they do in Heaven. To do so, is to be divine and good, and to imitate our Infinite and Eternal Father.

28) Your enjoyment of the world is never right, till every morning you awake in Heaven; see yourself in your Father’s Palace; and look upon the skies, the earth, and the air as Celestial Joys: having such a reverend esteem of all, as if you were among the Angels. The bride of a monarch, in her husband’s chamber, hath too such causes of delight as you.

29) You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world

30) Till your spirit filleth the whole world, and the stars are your jewels; till you are as familiar with the ways of God in all Ages as with your walk and table: till you are intimately acquainted with that shady nothing out of which the world was made: till you love men so as to desire their happiness, with a thirst equal to the zeal of your own: till you delight in God for being good to all: you never enjoy the world. Till you more feel it than your private estate, and are more present in the hemisphere, considering the glories and the beauties there, than in your own house: Till you remember how lately you were made, and how wonderful it was when you came into it: and more rejoice in the palace of your glory, than if it had been made but to-day morning.

31) Yet further, you never enjoy the world aright; till you so love the beauty of enjoying it, that you are covetous and earnest to persuade others to enjoy it. And so perfectly hate the abominable corruption of men in despising it, that you had rather suffer the flames of Hell than willingly be guilty of their error. There is so much blindness and ingratitude and damned folly in it. The world is a mirror of infinite beauty, yet no man sees it. It is a Temple of Majesty, yet no man regards it. It is a region of Light and Peace, did not men disquiet it. It is the Paradise of God. It is more to man since he is fallen than it was before. It is the place of Angels and the Gate of Heaven. When Jacob waked out of his dream, he said “God is here, and I wist it not. How dreadful is this place! This is none other than the House of God, and the Gate of Heaven.”

“God’s Grandeur
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Out of what frame of reference and with what preconceived notions in mind do we pray, hope, and yearn when we say, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” ? !

Fr. Thomas