Searching for Our Human Face: Ricercare

by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.

(From my notebooks)

Suppose you are a soul standing before the gate of time. You look through the portal and discover two possibilities. In one, you are at ease, surrounded by wealth and respectability. No one questions your motives or spits in contempt at you. It is true, you are perhaps a little dull, but there are pastries, fine wines, perhaps a mistress to assuage momentary ennui. The other is an odd fellow, impoverished, unwell, misunderstood, who has this way of seeing light and color. It’s unsettling and poignant all at once, the way he paints a pair of peasant’s shoes. I call this the parable of Van Gogh and the successful Parisian lawyer. Today, one would hope that everyone would choose to have been Van Gogh and not the forgotten lawyer, yet few are willing to pay the price. Let someone else suffer for vision. What they would like is to live a comfortable life and to discover unique genius and creativity. Yet you cannot have both—but really, it is not a hard choice for them. A nice house, a large bank account, that is success after all.

The dead soul . . . is easily understood. . . . The psychologist whom he consults, comforts him by saying: “Well, your behavior is natural. You are afraid. You are sexually restless, etc., etc.” The client is glad to hear that anybody would act like him under the circumstances. This man is predictable. If you know his pressures and urges, you will always know what he will do next. He is, however, so repetitive that he is not expected or promised or heralded, because no new contribution can be hoped from him. (Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Fruit of Lips, p. 124)

I suggest that we do not really know who we are, so that the freedom “for-self” is not as lucid as it might appear. Enlightened self-interest becomes more dubious if the coherency and clarity of the self is rendered questionable.

If you do not understand where you are from, who you are called to be, what you are, you will not understand what He is trying to do . . .

Low-sunk life imagines itself weary of life, but it is death, not life, it is weary of. Never a cry went out after the opposite of life from any soul that knew what life is. Why does the poor, worn, out-worn suicide seek death? Is it not in reality to escape from death?—from the death of homelessness and hunger and cold; the death of failure, disappointment, and distraction; the death of the exhaustion of passion . . . He seeks the darkness because it seems a refuge from the death which possesses him. He is a creature possessed by death; what he calls his life is but a dream full of horrible phantasms.

‘More life!’ is the unconscious prayer of all creation, groaning and travailing for the redemption of its lord, the son who is not yet a son. Is not the dumb cry to be read in the faces of some of the animals, in the look of some of the flowers, and in many an aspect of what we call Nature?

All things are possible with God, but all things are not easy. It is easy for him to be, for there he has to do with his own perfect will: it is not easy for him to create – that is, after the grand fashion which alone will satisfy his glorious heart and will, the fashion in which he is now creating us. (George MacDonald, “Life,” Unspoken Sermons)

It’s completely beyond anything you could possibly achieve—utterly unexpected—and yet, somehow, connected to who you are, to the path you have trodden.

“Life . . . is activity, creative works, spontaneous blossoming and ripening from inside, out of one’s own depths. If we were able to find outside of ourselves a finished “meaning of life,” it would not satisfy us; it would not be the meaning of our life, the justification of our own being” (S. L. Frank, The Meaning of Life, p. 83).

“We experience more than we know, and we know more than we can think; and we think more than we can say; and language therefore lags behind the intuitions of immediate experience” (Gerald Janzen, At the Scent of Water).

It is beyond me. Impossible. I cannot do it. My nature cannot accomplish this.
But you, your person is more than your nature.
He will give me what I lack.

“… a strange and unconsoling path along a hidden and unglamorous way” (Emilie Griffin, Clinging, p. 54).

Not one of his acts could be understood as well by his contemporaries as it can by us who see all the implications. Implications become explicit through the lapse of time. And Jesus was the first man to prove this by not giving in to any one temptation to reap the harvest of the past as the tempter offered him to do. We all can skim the milk for the cream, in our time. We all can get big salaries if we take the jobs which are organized already and therefore paid. But man’s life as God’s poem, or society’s scapegoat, or the earnest of the spirit, as Paul called it, has no place in the budget of any going concern of society. Any man who is a child of God is a supernumerary. There is no place for him in the surveys, questionnaires, statistics, because he is as unlabeled as the child in the manger for whom the innkeeper had no room. (Rosenstock-Huessy, p. 123)

This is not what I intended. This fiasco of humiliation, loneliness, failure, fear, sorrow, and unrequited love. What wisdom is this?

I wrote all that thinking about my life, but years passed and when I came to it again and read it anew, I saw that it was a litany of the Cross.

God is the one who never despairs.

The Scripture is witness to an ontological change, to a new being. Christianity is not a religion; it is this change.

What is hard to remember—everyone you meet is unique, indispensable, part of the We Are. The enemy, the bad man, the ugly, the deformed, the stupid, all the vulgar, reprehensible fodder of foolish, disgusting souls, those who hate and oppose you as much as those you like, love, and find congenial—all are called to the feast, all are destined for Transfiguration.

The Resurrection of the Body—the whole Body becomes Smile.

To see the world in the Christian way . . . requires the eye of charity and a faith in Easter . . . as I was writing the book [The Doors of the Sea]. I found myself thinking again and again of a photograph I had seen in the Baltimore Sun. The story concerned Akhdam, the lowest social caste in Yemen, supposedly descended from Ethiopians left behind when the ancient Ethiopian empire was driven out of Arabia in the sixth century, who live in the most unimaginable squalor. In the background of the photo was a scattering of huts constructed from crates and shreds of canvas, and on all sides barren earth; but in the foreground was a little girl, extremely pretty, dressed in tatters, but with her arms outspread, a look of delight upon her face, dancing. To me that was a heartbreaking picture, of course, but it was also an image of something amazing and glorious: the sheer ecstasy of innocence, the happiness of a child who can dance amid despair and desolation because her joy came with her into the world and prompts her to dance as if she were in the midst of paradise. (David Bentley Hart, In the Aftermath, p. 123)

A juxtaposition of photographs in Christopher Alexander’s The Nature of Order: The Phenomenon of Lifea road amidst trees versus a road cut like a scar through hills; an ordinary pickup truck versus a kitschy car painted to look like clouds, a Bangkok slum house versus an experimental postmodern house. In each case, the former palpably possesses more life.

She became for me the perfect image of the deep indwelling truth of creation, the divine Wisdom of Sophia who resides in the very heart of the world, the stainless image of God, the unfallen. I’m waxing quite Eastern here, I know, But that, I would say, is the nature of God’s presence in the fallen world: his image, his bride, the deep joy and longing of creation, called from nothingness to be joined to him. That child’s dance is nothing less than the eternal dance of divine Wisdom before God’s throne, the dance of David and the angels and saints before his glory; it is the true face of creation, which God came to restore and which he will not suffer to see corruption. (Hart, p. 123).

Sophia is humankind (which contains within itself all the lower orders of creation) as God eternally chooses it to be his body, the place of his indwelling, and in his eternity this humanity is perfect and sinless, while in our world it is something toward which all finite reality strives, as its eschatological horizon. (More Hart from the foreward to Solovyov’s Justification of the Good, p. xl)

The creature in God must not be thought of as confined to a static state for “within the divine fruitfulness there is a kind of eternal “ever-more,” “everything that lives in heaven seems to be growing” but this takes place “beyond time and space” in the mode of being of eternal Love. And since God’s freedom and love require something like “super-times” and “super-space” so that his love can expand infinitely, we too shall experience, beyond our transitory nature, a kind of “elasticity” of duration in which there will be a coincidence of the “eternal here” and the “eternal now.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, Theo-Drama, V:400-401)

Why Balthasar’s notion of super-time matters. Triune God reveals what it truly means to be a Person. If there is discovery, event, novelty in love in God’s eternal life, then to this we are invited. Not simply an infinite completeness, an absorbing God.

No bad infinity, the vain repetition of Don Juan, “fallen sexuality,” but a complete union with room for good infinity, discovery, encounter, the lover’s blush. The Androgyn without encounter is less good than this . . .

Does God yearn for God? Is the heart palpitation of erotic attraction a good or as some would have it, a sign of fallen sex? Discovery, wonder, good suspense—surely that is good. This is what Balthasar is unwilling to cede to fallen time—it should exist in an ever better form in a dynamic eternity.

Thus if what creation discloses of esse is that it somehow can exist outside of itself, what the ontological revision that is the hypostatic union discloses is that esse is in itself this ecstatic going outside itself. For divine esse is now shown to be such that a new thing can inhere in it, to be such that it can become entirely the suppositum of a creature outside itself. This last negative safeguarding of divine aseity might seem to deny that divine esse is also divine event, but in fact it achieves the opposite. It denies that divine esse can become event, but it affirms that it is event, since an event can entirely come to belong to it without adding anything new. The point must be that God already was, eminently, the new event. (John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock, Truth in Aquinas, p. 85)

For modern people, mystery is a deficit of knowledge. Why is Sherlock Holmes a cocaine addict? Real life is tedious to the point of excruciating, soul-killing boredom. Crime makes possible uncertainty, questions, a game of wit and display of excellence. Such an imagination requires evil for life to be interesting. For the modern mystery, drama is an action dependent upon incompleteness. If everything is full and complete, everything is dull. But Triune Life is a dramatic fullness; the incarnation is not an addition, a novel reality made possible by surmising God’s aseity to be an imperfection. The Hypostatic union is the revelation of the eternal event that is the life of God. Temporal happening glimpses, but does not appreciate that every increase of knowledge is an increase in mystery.

Love would make its abode in hell in order to be with the beloved. The serene idea that before the overwhelming goodness of God, one’s connection with the unique beloved would pale into insignificance to the point of nullity is a blasphemy against God and a betrayal of love—as if God is a destroyer, like an earthly warrior who finds the limit of his victory in killing his foe. As if God is not a creator, as if the beloved is not a name of God.

“No object is shut up within itself in such a way that the participating, co-operating gaze cannot open it up, enabling it to blossom. To reiterate what I said, rehearsing the judgment of the Seventh Ecumenical Council, the idol is nothing, it is a fantasy, there is no idol” (Graham Ward, “The Beauty of God,” in Theological Perspectives on God and Beauty, p. 65).

Hell as fragmentation, isolation, the notion that in hell, one can encounter psychic detritus—the person lost in self-chosen exile and abyss—yes, lostness is possible, we know it each day, we know it in our own hearts—yet if it is beyond the remedy of Christ, then love must admit ultimate defeat and the flourishing of the person is radically truncated, for each beloved is incommensurable, irreplaceable . . .

These next three I stole from Ben Myers:

“The slaves of Time are the slaves of a slave; only the slave of the Lord is free” — Judah Halevi.

“I say this truth to the fool: though you rush about; the sky surrounds you on all sides. Try to get out, if you can” — Samuel Hanagrid.

“Out of his infinite longing for human beings, he has become by nature the very thing for which he longed.” — Maximus the Confessor.

Yes, yes, the ark—but the Spirit brooded over the waters, concocting some crazy plan to heal and resurrect the drowned.

(Go to “Ascension of Human Flesh“)

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8 Responses to Searching for Our Human Face: Ricercare

  1. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I particularly love the Janzen quotation, which I have quoted on multiple occasions over the years. Michael Polanyi said something very similar: “We believe more than we can prove, and know more than we can say.” And Whitehead: “We experience more than we can analyze. For we experience the universe, and we analyze in our consciousness a minute selection of its details.” One of my seminary professors back in the late 70s used to quote one of these—probably Polanyi.

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    • brian says:

      Father,

      Polanyi’s concept of tacit knowledge is very helpful.
      The Janzen quote is perhaps at odds with other elements in these particular reflections. There’s a line of thought that sees human being as radically suffused with language, so much so that human experience is linguistic through and through. That’s a complicated argument — and I do see what they are getting at — but I propose that apophatic theology is a recognition that ultimate reality tends to escape our attempts to speak. This acknowledgement, however, provokes its own tensions. The apophatic can be emphasized so much that the Triune God is reduced to the economic trinity and a divine may be posited that renders trinity and personhood penultimate to a speechless, impersonal absolute. No Christian could affirm that — and the Church has guarded against certain mystical excesses that tend to lose sight of the fundamental Fatherhood of the Absolute. Christian poetics is really the attempt to negotiate this mystery. While the Logos founds creation and poetics responds to an infinite richness with praise and exploratory words, there is an “orphic” dimension that exceeds our rhetorical control precisely because we are touching upon a reality that cherishes us and calls to us from a Beyond we sense but do not capture in our words.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Are the two views mutually exclusive?

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        • brian says:

          Well, that depends upon how one defines one’s terms. I would make a kind of scholastic distinction that shows contradiction to be merely apparent. The question is whether human reality, because it is inherently social and lived within an interpretive matrix, is therefore always circumscribed by the linguistic. Can we have a thought or advert to something that does not make itself known, appear, as a communicable word? Enigmas are unknowns we cannot attach a word to. The person is called and develops from a being that is open to the word, yet pre-linguistic in its biological beginning. Metaphysics, however, reaches beyond such developmental issues to an origin that transcends merely temporal or genetic considerations. That Source is itself a richness that invites both Silent adoration and singing. I think one is usually best served with a both/and, rather than an either/or approach to reality. I’ve also repeatedly preferred a theologic of paradox to a kind of linear rationality that can only see contradictions.

          So, not really.

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          • brian says:

            Ah, I’m at work, Father, and can’t address such a big issue properly — maybe ever, but not in passing, for sure. Trying for a bit more clarity: Hamann has some interesting reflections on language. The gift of speech is both a human thing and something that transcends the human. Hence, there is always something mysterious and elusive about our attempts to discern the origin of language. Reality is inherently meaningful and thus it is articulate, borne by language; and it also exceeds conceptual capture and is full of dramatic creativity that cannot be anticipated. Somehow, what we intend by both language and silence is mutually coincident, a paradox analogous to Triune divinity.

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  2. tgbelt says:

    I’m still trying to think through this post. Don’t know why it’s caught me off balance. Maybe my head is elsewhere.

    But this (Graham Ward)–“No object is shut up within itself in such a way that the participating, co-operating gaze cannot open it up, enabling it to blossom”–is precisely what I’ve been trying, poorly, to argue (in more philosophical terms). Good to hear someone else saying it! Maybe I’m not crazy after all.

    Tom

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Sorry, Tom, but your statement “Maybe I’m not crazy after all” is a non sequitur. 😉

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      • tgbelt says:

        You’re probably right! It’s just that for years of trying to explain what’s at the heart of that Graham quote, the response I get still is a confused look in peoples’ eyes and a single, slightly raised eyebrow. 😀

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