Searching for Our Human Face: The Flourishing of Apokatastasis

by Brian C. Moore, Ph.D.

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There is a delicate balance in the life of faith; I think it’s fine to slip into doubt. There’s something desperate and willful in many of those who don’t—though I have personally rarely experienced grave doubt. I am more prone to anger with God—and with the pious—and the intellectual unbeliever. I am a great one for anger, and misery, and wrestling in the dark. When Robert Faggen asked the Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz, if he thought God’s answer to Job from the whirlwind was adequate, Milosz replied, “It is not adequate. It is not adequate.” That sort of thing offends a certain piety, but I am all with Milosz. Milosz, who was a champion of trying to see the other with integrity and who with mischievous honor admitted his contradictions, which is to say, he was a rare honest man. He also didn’t try to prematurely eradicate them. Moralism is often impatient with such. It too easily thinks it comprehends the Good. Like the wheat and the tares, it requires a divine surgeon to properly judge and heal. Milosz was also a poet of reverence, which is not an attitude of ecclesial rectitude, but a way of loving and respecting reality. (Most of the poems I have quoted come from his compelling anthology, A Book of Luminous Things.)

fourriversnewjerusalemcropped.pngIt is my personal conviction (so of course, this is merely a theologou­menon one may discard in favor of the majority opinion of Holy Mother Church) that the Gospel is meant to assert a total victory, in which each and all, down to the least blade of grass, is loved into being and carried upon the Cross, destined in the Spirit to be made new. There is a saying of Gabriel Marcel from one of his plays. It’s stuck in my memory for decades: “To love a being . . . is to say you, you in particular, will never die.’ . . . To consent to the death of a being is in a sense to give him up to death.” I do not think God consents. I do not believe the victory of Christ is confined to the limits of earthly heroism. Freedom in its perfect flourishing is indistinguishable from apokastastasis. “When you have reached the end of the road of justice, then you will cleave to freedom in all things” (Isaac the Syrian.) Yet we are not past faith. I could, of course, be quite wrong, though I would then conclude that the Gospel was untrue. I wish that we, as a people, would listen more, believe intelligently—which means living with ambiguity and mystery and generous hope. I wish that we would imagine more, tell better jokes, and not give over the lust for life to the devil. It would be an immeasurable step forward if we began to understand the symbiosis between perfected freedom and universal compassion. This is not something that one can meaningfully assert or achieve by assent to a proposition. It will come, if it does, in the real encounters one is given, and in the voices one may be gifted to hear. And it will not be easy, but it will also not be hard.

The train moves through the Guadarrama
one night on the way to Madrid.
The moon and the fog create
high up a rainbow.
Oh April moon, so calm,
driving up the white clouds!

The mother holds her boy
sleeping on her lap.
The boy sleeps, and nevertheless
sees the green fields outside,
and trees lit up by the sun,
and the golden butterflies.

The mother, her forehead dark
Between a day gone and a day to come,
sees a fire nearly out
and an oven with spiders.

There’s a traveler mad with grief,
no doubt seeing odd things;
he talks to himself, and when he looks
wipes us out with his look.

I remember fields under snow,
and pine trees of other mountains.

And you, Lord, through whom we all
have eyes, and who sees souls,
tell us if we all one
day will see your face.

— Antonio Machado, “Rainbow at Night”

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3 Responses to Searching for Our Human Face: The Flourishing of Apokatastasis

  1. robertowenkelly says:

    Beautiful. I’m just getting to know Milosz through the anthology you mentioned. Sometimes, I prefer his introductory comments over the poetry. He seems like a deep soul. Has Milosz written prose you’d recommend?
    Thanks, Owen

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    • brian says:

      There’s a nice book of essays entitled To Begin Where I Am. I also recommend a collection of interviews entitled Czeslaw Milosz: Conversations. Unattainable Earth is a small work of thoughts, poetry, and translation. I am fond of it.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Robert Fortuin says:

    Thank you Brian for you steadfastness. Count me in as one who shares your theologou­menon.

    Liked by 1 person

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