Friday, June 22, 2018

Our Shadows, Our Selves

"Like my shadow, I am and I am not." ~Rumi 

    God shows us what moves in the darkness so we might flee into the light, called by all of our secret names! In Him there is no shadow of turning, no changing, no possibility of darkness. Would we not hide ourselves forever in His embrace after sensing what lives in the darkness? Within each of us, there is an unseeing eye of darkness that fails to be a lamp for our feet. This eye must be cleaned and opened. Its doubleness must be made single. Imagine now a magnificent stained glass window in a chapel, depicting the Holy Spirit descending as a dove. You stand motionless, caught in it, like a fly suspended in amber. The sun is shining directly through the stained glass, so all the colours of the rainbow pass through you as if you were insubstantial. This is your moment of egolessness, your moment of ecstatic union with God. Then, the pattern begins to shift. Something dark and formless begins to spread itself across the inside of the window, leeching away the pigments in the glass. This is an aspect of the primordial wyrm and his loathsome reptile body. A pencil-thin beam of light escapes from a crack in the hateful thing clinging to the window. This creates a faint aureole on the floor, and you step into this for want of warmth and light. As you move the aureole widens and brightens, becoming more sharply defined. The darkness and coldness here now is that of a tomb. The good air is gone, in its place the miasma of grave-rot. What was once a church is now a bedlam-house of unknowable dimensions, full of voices that whisper, mutter, laugh, and scream. The things which move in the deepest outerdark give the impression of immense size and insectile locomotion. Burrowers, eyeless things that hunt by sound and vibration. You dare not stray from that beam of light! To the extent that you were held fast by the sun and holy dove, you are now a thrall of this light. From the ragged wound in the old wyrm's body a mighty voice whispers, "Be Not Afraid!" Even now, the Sun of Righteousness is not mocked ... 

     We each have an internal world known and experienced only by us. It is the psycho-sphere, and most of it is submerged in unconscious darkness. Like an iceberg in the Arctic Ocean, the majority of its bulk remains hidden to others and to ourselves. Introspection is the journey by which one's knowledge of self can be magnified. C. G. Jung's contribution to modern psychoanalysis includes what he called the shadow-self. It is everything the conscious Ego does not want to be or cannot admit to being ... yet is. Weaknesses, foibles, unresolved neurotic energy, but also a demonic dynamism. The ego's living shadow is the restless manifestation of all dangerous desires, damning thoughts, crippling insecurities, and poisonous emotional processes. All of this solidifies to become the stranger in the mirror. The mask of Persona (the face we present to the world) is a contrivance worn so that we may have the social life we desire. The size of our shadow dictates what kind of mask we must wear, and how to give it a lifelike appearance. From it the Ego peers out at the external world as would a masked reveller during Mardi Gras. This, to ensure that we are never known for who we really are nor are others truly known by us. Peering through the eye-holes as we do, we may not notice how ignorant we are of ourselves. (This is the ignorance of ignorance!) Does the mask not conceal the wearer from himself, as well? What is the demeanor of a masked person and how does it differ from one who has knowledge of himself? The process of shining the light of love and compassionate awareness in these dark places is what Jung called Shadow Work. The Heart Warrior performs this work, Jung believed, and by our nature Christians are Heart Warriors.

Monday, February 19, 2018


    Liminality is a word that refers to the threshold between in-between times, places, states of being, states of mind, modes of perception, conditions of existence and emanations of the soul. Hypnagogic hallucinations are sensory phantoms lingering in the gate between the dream-state (Theta-wave) and ordinary Beta-wave wakefulness. Whatever their nature, they vanish when the person is fully awake. This is a liminal experience I've had several times. I hear a familiar voice call my name as I wake up, what sounds like my father's voice or my own. The hypnagogic state is like being submerged in water, and it really does feel like I'm swimming back to the surface of the waking world. There is a sense of awe coupled with an adrenal jolt of terror, of having poked through an invisible veil. It doesn't last more than a few seconds, with no lingering effects other than the memory of it happening. When being baptized with water and the Holy Spirit, how long is the person completely submerged? Just long enough to get soaked. But between submersion (death of the old) and resurfacing (birth of the new) there is an interstice in which the baptismal waters have not yet yielded new life nor have they produced the new creature. That is liminality. It's as chronologically insignificant as the evaporating dream-state, yet in the Kingdom of Heaven it resounds forever. 

     Like amphibians, Christians are of two worlds. We are flesh and spirit, and we are also the unquiet boundary between the two. We are a liminality pondering its own existence, feeling its own hateful sting. The God-shaped hole we hear so much about was left in us by God Himself, if you can believe it. I think this hole is actually a ragged necrotized wound, a site of existential trauma incurred when Eden sank to grief and the serpent's fangs delivered their venom. In this this life we know to work out our salvation through fear and trembling, but is there a particular moment that signifies it? When Christian friends ask about the moment we  knew we were saved, what reply do we give? I knew about God long before I actually met Him. I suspect He was with me long before I understood who He was or that He had taken an interest in me. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Murder On the Orient Express Movie-review

     The 2017 Murder On The Orient Express film adaptation was a Kansas City Shuffle, both for the audience and for its central character, Hercule Poirot. Like A.C. Doyle's Sherlock Holmes character, Poirot is a private investigator who helps police solve particularly difficult criminal cases. The source material for the movie is a mystery novel of the same name by Agatha Christie published in 1934. The Kansas City Shuffle is the name of an old 20th century confidence game that depends on the mark suspecting that he is being conned, but not knowing exactly how or by whom. The Kansas City Shuffle is a con involving several operatives working together. They surrounding the mark in co-ordinated fashion to present him with a obviously fake con which, once the mark discovers it, will create a false sense of security and thus an end to his suspicion of being conned. This, in turn, allows the trap to snap shut just as the mark thinks he has outwitted the conmen. In the case of the novel, the reader looks over Poirot's shoulder and into his mind as his investigative method unfolds. There is one murder victim and twelve suspects. Aside from Poirot, no one is who they seem to be. They are all pretending to be random strangers on a train. In this case, Poirot comes up with a hypothetical reconstructed scenario that doesn't make sense. The fake con is an unsolvable murder that goes nowhere because of how the conspirators staged the crime scene with forensic evidence that was both contradictory and false. Poirot, being the Belgian equivalent to Sherlock Holmes, cracks the case anyway. His presence, with the possible exception of the Orient Express derailing due to extreme weather conditions, was the one variable that ended up unravelling the entire affair. Poirot's interference forced the conspirators to reshuffle their plan, but to no avail. The conspirators struggle to regain control of the con, but ultimately fail. Murphy's Law is compounded by the increasing complexity of anything with moving parts. More moving parts means more possible points of failure, like any machine. The pipe-cleaner, uniform-button, and handkerchief were supposedly placed in Ratchett's compartment for the police to find, and Poirot just happened to be on that particular train just then. Very inconvenient for the other passengers, but a plot necessity for this Agatha Christie tale. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Hour We First Believed

     The hour we first believed was the hour of our ruin. It was the hour we died. 
This death, though traumatic, was actually a transformation. It was the door to life. It was the cutting away of an old identity, leaving a tonsured space where a new, sanctified identity could exist. Because we were terrified of death during that dark night of the soul, we clung to new life being offered and to Him who offered it. A new life, and a newly regenerated self to experience it. We were escaping one form of bondage to be delivered into another! It was terrifying to have the earth tremble under our feet as this brutal realignment took replace, even if we were safe in the cleft of the rockBefore our first encounter with the living God, our own original nature was the easy yoke and the light burden. If dying and being reborn in Christ wasn't traumatic enough, there is the prospect of living in a world not as its child but as its apostate. And why? Because for us, it has become nothing but shadows and echoes of the true reality. The hour we first believed was our reintroduction to the world familiar to us, familiar, yet new. Traced afresh by the indwelling Spirit ...

Friday, July 14, 2017

The Postmodern Veritas

      "Jesus said, “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one can go to the Father except by Me."
     -John 14:6 (NIV)

     "Never give your hearts to this world or to any of the things in it. A man cannot love the Father and love the world at the same time. For the whole world-system, based as it is on men’s primitive desires, their greedy ambitions and the glamour of all that they think splendid, is not derived from the Father at all, but from the world itself. The world and all its passionate desires will one day disappear. But the man who is following God’s will is part of the permanent and cannot die."
     -1 John 2:15-17 (PHILIPS)

     Behold! I teach you the Postmodern Veritas! She is an obscene mockery of the classical Pax Romana Veritas, whose children are naturally beautiful and winsome. Po'mo'Veri and her bastard children of error are forever busy obscuring Truth yet cannot kill it. They are desperate to obfuscate Beauty yet they cannot steal it. They sneer at Goodness, yet they cannot destroy it. Post-Modern Veritas is clearly not the transcendental virtue we used to know. This impostor denies that there ever was a thing so lovely or so bright. This impostor deconstructs rational thought, pulls it apart and reassembles the pieces in grotesque whorls of Anti-Logos. And since perception and reality are joined in a virtual embrace, the impostor deconstructs reality.  Again and again comes the mocking question, "Quid est veritas?" ("What is truth?") As the contempt for anything resembling a unifying master-narrative grows, postmodernites are retreating further and further into their individual solipsistic bubbles. It is as much a war on transcendent Truth as it is one over whose solipsism can overpower the others. The ultimate "safe space" is an inverted mind, doomed to endlessly devour itself without ever taking the sustenance it needs. A proud, selfish, and vindictive spirit makes the "safe spaces" too small to share with others in the end. 

     In his Meditations on First Philosophy, Rene Descartes threw down the gauntlet to the reader with this: "If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things." Does he mean that literally? Okay, just assume everything you know is lie. EverythingFor the sake of argument, let's say you are a disembodied brain in a vat wired up to a dream-machine that continuously feeds you false ideas and sensory impressions about your own existence. In essence, you are in a dream from which you cannot wake. You dream on the cusp of lucidity, in the twilight between sleep and wakefulness. The evil daemon has given you a near-perfect simulation of whatever your life circumstances were prior to your existence as a stolen brain. You, like Descartes himself in his First Meditations, have at your disposal all the necessary tool-sets of logic, physics, mathematics and philosophy which with to analyze your world. The "near-perfection" of the dream is a result of you, like Descartes in his famous monologue, experiencing a sort of generalized existential dread  the cause of which eludes you. It has no name, no form. But it's there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad!  If anything can be doubted, what can be known? The only possible certainty, Descartes said, is the knowledge of self (Cogito Ergo Sum) and the fact of your own perceptions. Even if that means you might be the only real person in existence.

     The last known literary work posthumously attributed to Samuel Longhorne Clemens (better known to the world as Mark Twain) It is called No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger.  I include it here to illustrate what I mean by solipsism, radical Cartesian doubt, confusion, and existential dread. Link to the very spooky e-book here here but only if you can handle it! There is a strange tale of editorial fraud surrounding this work in real life, which ratchets up the creep-factor even more. What follows is a fragment from the final chapter of the authoritative 1969 version. The title character is giving a long parting speech to Theodor, the narrator: 

     “...You are not you--you have no body, no blood, no bones, you are but a thought. I myself have no existence; I am but a dream--your dream, a creature of your imagination. In a moment you will have realized this, then you will banish me from your visions and I shall dissolve into the nothingness out of which you made me

     In a little while you will be alone in shoreless space, to wander its limitless solitudes without friend or comrade forever—for you will remain a thought, the only existent thought, and by your nature inextinguishable, indestructible. But I, your poor servant, have revealed you to yourself and set you free. Dream other dreams, and better!

     Strange! that you should not have suspected years ago—centuries, ages, eons, ago!—for you have existed, companionless, through all the eternities.

     Strange, indeed, that you should not have suspected that your universe and its contents were only dreams, visions, fiction! Strange, because they are so frankly and hysterically insane—like all dreams: a God who could make good children as easily as bad, yet preferred to make bad ones; who could have made every one of them happy, yet never made a single happy one; who made them prize their bitter life, yet stingily cut it short; who gave his angels eternal happiness unearned, yet required his other children to earn it; who gave his angels painless lives, yet cursed his other children with biting miseries and maladies of mind and body; who mouths justice and invented hell—mouths mercy and invented hell—mouths Golden Rules, and forgiveness multiplied by seventy times seven, and invented hell; who mouths morals to other people and has none himself; who frowns upon crimes, yet commits them all; who created man without invitation, then tries to shuffle the responsibility for man's acts upon man, instead of honorably placing it where it belongs, upon himself; and finally, with altogether divine obtuseness, invites a poor, abused slave to worship him!

     You perceive, now, that these things are all impossible except in a dream. You perceive that they are pure and puerile insanities, the silly creations of an imagination that is not conscious of its freaks—in a word, that they are a dream, and you the maker of it. The dream-marks are all present; you should have recognized them earlier.

     "It is true, that which I have revealed to you; there is no God, no universe, no human race, no earthly life, no heaven, no hell. It is all a dream—a grotesque and foolish dream. Nothing exists but you. And you are but a thought—a vagrant thought, a useless thought, a homeless thought, wandering forlorn among the empty eternities!...” 

     He vanished, and left me appalled; for I knew, and realized, that all he had said was true. 

     The Postmodern Veritas is the Mysterious Stranger, loosed from the pretense of fiction to wander through dry places. The philosophy of the Void is nothing to toy with, though the minds of many an edgelord and ubermenschen end up there eventually. I don't recommend nihilism myself even though it's supposed to be the ultimate intellectual rigor. As St. Paul said to the Church at Phillippi, so I say to you-- "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Truth, as a transcendent property of being, points the way to a transcendent absolute Life, which Jesus is. Beauty, Goodness, and Truth live and breathe as one. They herald the Way, sing the Gospel, and embrace the Life. Beauty exists not for it's own sake but rather as an invitation to contemplate goodness. Individual adoption into the body of Christ might be best accomplished when Beauty is the first stage, Goodness the second, and Truth the last. The only way automatic progress can be guaranteed is for Progress itself to become a Postmodern ambiguity ... which it has! If the eternal and the transcendent are dissembled, what happens to the epistemic foundations of Truth? It will march on, but will we? Keep along the narrow path our feet can find only because we are sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. We are obliged to doubt all things in turn if we are to find Truth, that one strong and mighty tower in which every mundane reality has its foundation.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Does the Invisible Man Cast a Shadow on the World?

"Character is what you are in the dark."
-attrib. to American evangelist Dwight L. Moody

"Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation.
 Your character is what you really are while your reputation is merely
 what others think you are."
-Dale Carnegie (1888-1955)

     The Ring of Gyges was the inspiration for the One Ring of Power in J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings mythos. It isn't like the One Ring of Power, cut from Sauron's own finger by Isildur during Middle Earth's War of the Last Alliance (S.A. 3429 -- S.A. 3441). Gyges was the name of the shepherd who found the ring after an earthquake exposed a strange bronze horse in the Greek countryside of Lydia, the horse being hollow and the ring inside it, on the finger of a long-dead giant, the bronze horse serving as his tomb. Gyges discovered he could "invisiblate" and "de-invisiblate" at will just by turning the ring clockwise or counter-clockwise while wearing it. According to the myth, Gyges abandoned his sheepfold and instead seduced the Queen of Lydia, killed the King with her help and then installed himself as the new Lydian monarch. Only when one is invisible can his naked self walk free and cast shadows on the world with his villainy. Or is it the birth of the hero who could never act when the world is watching? 

     In Chapter II of Plato's The Republic, the Ring of Gyges is introduced as a compelling thought-experiment by Glaucon, brother of Socrates. (Although there are many more chapters that follow, I will be focusing on Chapter II of Republic and the Ring of Gyges for my own purposes here.) Glaucon posed the following question to the gathering of philosopher-kings: Is it better for a man to be good or to simply have a good reputation? They had been discussing morality, convened at the house of Polemarchus. Morality: its inherent worth, its utilitarian value, and whether it was the former or the latter that made morality universally desirable.       Could a fellow slip the Ring of Gyges onto his finger and do whatever he wanted without detection or reprisal? If so, his good name would be preserved despite whatever mischief he did while invisible. His deeds, whether dark or noble, would reveal his influence. They would either add light to the world or plunge it that much further into shadow. Animal sacrifices to the gods, as well as softly murmured prayers, could supposedly bribe them into overlooking the misdeeds of the man wearing such a ring. It might have been possible to escape justice on earth as well as in the Greek afterlife for whoever availed himself of the ring's unique property. And why not? The ancient gods of Olympus were fickle anyway. 

     Glaucon proposes two invisibility-bestowing rings for two different men, one of whom is a good man with an unearned bad reputation and the other a bad man perversely respected and admired by everyone around him. I'll call them Matt and Sebastian, respectively. Which of the two would act unjustly? Remember, these rings do not exert any influence on the wearer beyond invisibility! Matt might choose to perform heroic actions he could not otherwise hope to attempt without invisibility (violating people's privacy, trespassing, etc.) Matt knows that if anyone sees him on the street, they'll assume he's up to no good. Whatever he accomplishes, no matter how praiseworthy, will suffer in the public eye on account of his ill reputation. Would Matt give up on being a good person altogether? Maybe. Sebastian, meanwhile, could freely indulge his depravity as bad men will when they know they are untouchable. A movie called Hollow Man came out in the summer of 2000, featuring Kevin Bacon as an invisible bad guy stalking and murdering his co-stars just because he could. His character was called Sebastian Caine, and at one one point he delivers this pithy line of dialogue to one of his co-workers:

"You know what, Matt? It's amazing what you can do...
 when you don't have to look at yourself in the mirror any more."


     Are we waiting to be seen by others so that our lives can finally begin? Or is the Ring of Gyges itself our only chance to be free?  Those of us who choose to walk in the light are glad for that by which we see and are seen. Children of the light seek not the cover of shadow to obscure evil deeds, even if from out of the darkness comes a whisper of seduction and a hint of glory. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Burning of Illusions

     To be made perfect in the Lord is to burn in the Refiner's Fire. Because we wish to be holy as He is holy, our impurities are forcibly extracted yet never without our consent. We choose to go into the fire to have our imperfections burned away. The attachments we form to this world during our life's journey become part of us, something like ennervated flesh, a body of death desperate to thrive despite its nature. It goes without saying that the members of such a body cannot endure the fire of purification. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away from you (Matthew 5:29-30). It's better for you to lose one part of your body through temporary suffering than for your whole body to be thrown into hell to suffer eternally. All souls must taste death at least once, and for many the second death will cut off any hope of ascent on Jacob's Ladder. (Jesus Christ is the Jacob's Ladder between heaven and earth upon whom angels ascend and descend, as stated by Jesus himself in John 1:47-51.) The body of death, this human flesh, will devour the spirit if it can and will become its coffin unless the creature takes firm hold of the Ladder and begins to ascend. 

     The German Dominican monk Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1328) was controversial and indeed heretical in his time. Some of his ideas were a little strange. To him, hell was a remedial process instead of an eternal destination (Matt. 25:46, 2 Thess. 1-9, Jude 1-7, Matt. 25:41, and many more.) Eckhart's hell matches the scriptural idea of the Refiner's Fire or what Catholics understand as Purgatory, from which all souls will eventually emerge white as snow and fit to enter the Presence of God. Eckhart produced many good teachings in his lifetime, one of which I will paraphrase here: In one of his dialogues, Eckhart evokes an image of himself holding a glowing hot coal. Does the coal burn him? Does it hurt him? No! To say such a thing would be to belittle and misrepresent the coal! So what is it that burns in hell? The religious authorities of Eckhart's day would have said:  self-will, willful sin, the ego-driven will to disobey God no matter what. But again, Meister Eckhart differed with his orthodox contemporaries. What the coal really represents is Truth, the very Person of God Himself who alone is Truth. Since the hand that holds the coal is not at all like the coal, cannot do what the coal can do, nor has what the coal has as its instrinsic nature, it is untrue. It is unreal. It is a self-willed illusion, desperate to survive despite its nature. If the entire body of death becomes a smoking cinder on account of the coal, it can be converted into a luminous body of transfiguration. All molten dross, all irrelevancies, will have vanished without a trace. This new body will never be hurt by fire again.

Our Shadows, Our Selves

"Like my shadow, I am and I am not." ~Rumi       God shows us what moves in the darkness so we might flee int...