First Things First

How, you ask, are we to go about seeing God in all things? My answer would be by “looking along” them. As you know, this is my recurrent formula—borrowed, of course, from C. S. Lewis (“Meditation in a Toolshed” in God in the Dock)—for what the Christian mystical tradition, beginning with Dionysios the Areopagite, refers to as photisis or illuminatio, the second of the classic stages of our movement toward God.

First comes catharsis or purgatio, then photisis or illuminatio, and finally theosis or unio. In the second stage of the Way—that of enlightenment or illumination—one is able to discern God within things and things within God, for the “things” in question have become as it were transparent or diaphanous; they no longer monopolize our attention, blocking our perception of God, but rather transmit or prolong that attention, inviting us to pass through them and into their Maker.

As far as Orthodoxy is concerned, the second stage (and a fortiori the third) more or less takes care of itself—if, though only if, we have taken stage one seriously and submitted ourselves to a disciplined ascesis. In other words, “looking along” is not so much something a person works at as it is the fruit of a prior work on himself, a work in which he endeavors—through prayer, fasting, vigils, prostrations, etc.—to overcome his passions and attachments. For as long as we’re attached to a thing, seeing it merely as an occasion for (or obstruction to) our own personal satisfaction, we’ll never be able to see through it or “look along” it.

The “symbolical meditations” you speak of can certainly be useful auxiliaries. I’ve been reading a book called Beauty for Truth’s Sake. The author, Stratford Caldecott, does a good job of showing how a rigorous and systematic study of the liberal arts—especially the quadrivium—assisted medieval Christians in expanding or opening their vision to the presence of God in the world around them. But such study is insufficient in itself. Pondering the cosmogonical implications of the Pythagorean Tetractys or the Golden Rectangle and the theological resonances of the Music of the Spheres will do a man little good if he is not also making a daily, indeed hourly, effort to do battle with “thoughts”, subdue his appetites, and mortify his ego.

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