Tuesday, October 7, 2014

every little thing

I am reading a book called Christ and Apollo by William F. Lynch. Matt asked me if I liked it and I said that I liked the ideas, but not necessarily the way they were expressed. I think it's because it's something called literary criticism, which I know next to nothing about, and I don't like things that I don't know anything about. (I am aware of this fault of mine, and when I see it, I say "My dogs are barking!" in reference to Socrates' description of the spirited part of the soul as a guardian dog, who barks at people that he doesn't know, and welcomes people that are familiar to him. Once you start looking for that dog, you see him all over town, including at your front door.) I find the writing basically boring, but the ideas are interesting.

Lynch identifies two tendencies in approaches to art (specifically literature) which he says have significance for the way we live our lives. One is towards the "Christic," the incarnational embrace of the definite, of particulars, of time, of our limited experience. The other approach is "Apollonian," in that it seeks the absolute, the infinite, the heavenly, and wishes to discard or "transcend" the limitations of human experience in order to achieve, in a word, divinity. Lynch, a Jesuit, of course does not reject the pursuit of "insight," as he calls it, but maintains that it is to be found in attention to and even adoration of the details of the material, temporal human experience.

It reminds me of one of my favorite bits from Dante. In Paradiso, St. John the Theologian questions Dante on the history of his love for God and his ascent to Paradise. Dante has been drawn upwards by his love for his girlfriend, Beatrice (who is in Paradise,) as well as his veneration of his patron poet, Virgil, but St. John presses him even further to confess where he first learned to love, and Dante answers:

I love the leaves wherewith enleaved
is all the garden
tended by that eternal Gardener.

Not only does each single leaf point to the whole of creation, but in some way each part contains the whole, so that Dante's love for each Created Thing is really a love for all Creation. I like that. It is an apt description of what I think constitutes Good Art, and it seems to me to be a healthy attitude towards life as well.

I was thinking about this when I was pushing Scott in his stroller. I thought about how good it is that Orthodoxy teaches us to love Creation through the many, many "blessings" that we do for all of its parts-- people, plants, food, bodies of water, homes, even man-made things like cars. A blessing affirms and even commands the goodness of things. I wondered if there was a blessing for strollers, because I am terrified of Scott rolling into the road. I tried to remember if I had ever seen an Orthodox blessing for animals that were not currently being eaten in roasted or cured form, because I was about to pass the Episcopalian church where I had seen signs for weeks advertising the Blessing of the Animals (which prompted me to make a wicked joke in my head about not being able to tell if Pride Week came in October this year, or if it was just the Blessing of the Animals at the Episcopalian Church.) And lo and behold, as I passed the church, I came upon a circle of people with dogs, listening to a priest read the bit from the Gospel about the sparrows of the air and the lilies of the field. Scott and I rolled up to listen and watch the priest bless each animal with holy water. I was a little bit skeptical and even prepared to make more somewhat mean jokes to myself as I approached, but I couldn't help smiling and feeling my heart melt a little bit when I heard the priest say:

"Butters, be blessed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
"Peanut, be blessed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

"Coco, be blessed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

I'm not sure it's strictly Orthodox, but I said "Amen."

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