Archive for December, 2014

The Essence of Christmas

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

What would I say is “the essence of Christmas”? I believe I’d demur, and rather than trying to come up with something profound of my own—a foolish quest!—I’d quote instead one of my all-time favorite poems, “The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe”, by Gerard Manley Hopkins:

WILD air, world-mothering air,
Nestling me everywhere,
That each eyelash or hair
Girdles; goes home betwixt
The fleeciest, frailest-flixed
Snowflake; that’s fairly mixed
With, riddles, and is rife
In every least thing’s life;
This needful, never spent,
And nursing element;
My more than meat and drink,
My meal at every wink;
This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

I say that we are wound
With mercy round and round
As if with air: the same
Is Mary, more by name.
She, wild web, wondrous robe,
Mantles the guilty globe,
Since God has let dispense
Her prayers his providence:
Nay, more than almoner,
The sweet alms’ self is her
And men are meant to share
Her life as life does air.

If I have understood,
She holds high motherhood
Towards all our ghostly good
And plays in grace her part
About man’s beating heart,
Laying, like air’s fine flood,
The deathdance in his blood;
Yet no part but what will
Be Christ our Saviour still.
Of her flesh he took flesh:
He does take fresh and fresh,
Though much the mystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now
And makes, O marvellous!
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him, morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlems, and he born
There, evening, noon, and morn—
Bethlem or Nazareth,
Men here may draw like breath
More Christ and baffle death;
Who, born so, comes to be
New self and nobler me
In each one and each one
More makes, when all is done,
Both God’s and Mary’s Son.

Domestic Policy

Monday, December 8th, 2014

How best to conduct foreign policy while being loyal to Christ, the incarnate Logos? That’s an excellent question, the answer to which, I confess, is way beyond me.

Here’s what I can say, however: If you’re looking for a manual on the best way of organizing and running a country, Plato gets almost everything right in his Republic. But as you may remember, even he talks very little about foreign policy, except to say that you’ll need an army and that the guardians of the state, from whom the philosopher-kings are to be chosen, should all be highly trained soldiers. Needless to say, these guardians, having escaped from the Cave, are all fully in tune with the Logos. Be this Logos incarnate or not, they’re clearly among those whom St Justin the Philosopher called “Christians, fearless and unperturbed” (First Apology, 46).

Of course, Plato also says—or more precisely, Glaucon says to Socrates toward the end of the dialogue—that the state they’ve so carefully constructed will almost certainly never exist on this planet. Socrates readily agrees, insisting however that it’s enough if it exists in the heavens for the wise man to contemplate and inwardly emulate. Having first read The Republic as a 19-year old political science major, I did two things: gave up on political science and decided to focus all my energies on inward spiritual work.

It’s not that I’m unconcerned about society or indifferent to other people’s struggles, or opposed to assisting those in need whose paths cross our own. Quite the contrary. I just don’t think there’s much to be done in the way of outwardly “changing the world” that won’t simply result in pushing Evil A to one side so that Evil B can spring up somewhere else. As for terrorism and wars and other forms of global violence—the sorts of things a contemporary foreign policy seems obliged to consider—it seems to me we’d need a deep knowledge of “the powers of the air”, be they planets or demons, in order to be of any lasting benefit to our fellow men, for that’s obviously where all the big troubles start.

So what I do instead is to concentrate on my own domestic policy, a much more modest but also (or so I believe) much more realistic and practical undertaking. I try each day to take a step or two back from my reactions and passions and projections, and in this way to move just a tiny bit closer to hesychia, trusting that St Seraphim was right when he said: “Acquire inner peace, and thousands around you will find their salvation.” And when people ask me about my politics, I just tell them I’m a radical—a “radical traditionalist”, that is, as per this post (which perhaps you’ve noted before).