caravaggio, plato, and seeing face to face

We were in Vienna’s art museum, and as soon as you walked into this Italian painters’ room, you could tell which three were his.  The first one was some commissioned scene of Mary handing out rosaries, and it was enormous. The people were beautiful. And as they reached up, their hands all congregated together beautifully and expressively, and their feet were dirty, and it was lovely.  The next, David and Goliath. He held the giant’s head (a self-portrait, again, by Caravaggio… the cad), but he didn’t look happy or victorious, like many of the other Davids. He was quiet, and pensive, and maybe a little sorry to have killed someone, or uncertain of his future.

The last was arguably the most beautiful.  Maybe beautiful isn’t quite right, since it was Christ being beaten and given the crown of thorns… but it moved me.  I started tearing up.  It was so bright and so vivid, and the shadows and the contrast were dramatic and striking, and the way Jesus just bowed his head, didn’t retaliate, and was just so filled with love

There was a girl with braided hair, curly and ribbon-bound, who had set up an easel and was just standing and painting. [I’d smelled her oil paints when I first walked in the room and felt, for a disorienting moment, that Caravaggio had just finished painting these works.]  And she was talented, too – it looked so much like the painting. But then again, it didn’t…

Although the forms were all the same, it lacked something.  The colors were dark and dingy compared to the brightness of the original, and there was an aliveness in Caravaggio’s work that the copy lacked.  It was so interesting.  In comparison, the copy wasn’t spectacular.  The longer you looked at it, though, the better it did look, and the more you saw its merit.  But that was shattered the second you turned your gaze back to Caravaggio’s, which shone with the mark of a master.  And I did that, and thought of the verse where we’re mere shadows, [1 Corinthians 13:12 – For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.] And of the very end of Narnia, when our world is proved to be a shadowy copy when compared with the next.

Perhaps you will get some idea of it if you think like this. You may have been in a room in which there was a window that looked out on a lovely bay of the sea or a green valley that wound away among the mountains. And in the wall of that room opposite to the glass there may have been a looking glass. And the sea in the mirror, or the valley in the mirror, were in one sense just the same as the real ones: yet at the same time they were somehow different — deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know. The difference between the old Narnia and the new Narnia was like that. The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked like it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there you will know what I mean.

Last week we finished reading Plato’s Republic in one of my classes.  Now, Plato’s a little crazy.  I don’t agree with him on a good chunk of those writings.  But the section where he talked about the four realms of being and the Cave made a lot of sense.  This theory was explained to me in ninth grade as “if you have a stapler, the idea of a stapler is more real than the stapler itself”, so of course I wrote it off as stupid.  But that’s not quite it.

In Plato’s Republic, he talks about the four forms of reality.  “Forms” comes from the Greek word “ἰδέα” (idea), but I’ll call them “things” or “Things”.  Here is a handy diagram that I made.

Basically, realms A and B are the visible realms – physical things.  A is a realm of shadows, reflections and impressions of real world objects.  B is the objects themselves.  And you can’t really know these things, because they’re ephemeral and pass away as this earth does.  You can’t know them in a lasting way because they are mutable.

C and D, though, are Things.  Just as A is the shadow of B in the real world, the visible world is a mere shadow of the invisible.  These are Things that can be known because they are Things that never change.  Everything in the visible world stems from a greater Thing in the invisible – all good things stem from Goodness, and all beautiful things from Beauty itself.  There is something greater – a higher authority – from which the things in the physical world derive their value.  If you know things, you can try to figure out the larger Thing from these qualities, but you might not be able to.  But.  If you know the Thing, you will be able to discern the things that come from it and the things that do not.

Most people, Plato says, are trapped in this realm of visible shadows, but some can escape the Cave, where people watch shadows on a screen and think it’s reality, into the real world.  Even though he wants to stay there, he must go back down into the Cave in order to bring his fellow humans to the truth.

You probably see where I’m going with this.  Plato was so, so close with this theory of a higher something.  He just didn’t make that last step: when we know God, our eyes are suddenly opened to the true vastness of reality.  God is Goodness and Beauty, and so we can see these shadowy beautiful things in this world and know from Whom they stem.  When we try to cobble together aspects of his nature without knowing Him, we fail to reach God.  But God, in His unending mercy, pulled us out of the Cave and into the reality of His magnificence.  When we know Him, in His immutability, we’re then able to discern the things that come from Him and the things that don’t.

“Once they’ve been up there and had a good look, we mustn’t let them get away with what they do at the moment,” Plato says.  “Staying there… and refusing to come back down again to the prisoners”.   We have, in part, seen the Real World, the Higher Realms, the Caravaggios.  And now we must bring the truth of it back down to this Shadowy Place and tell the prisoners to sin of reality.

God is the God of all things visible and invisible, and eventually, we’ll be able to move from this world of shadows into his truth, life, and presence for eternity.  Further up, farther in.

><>

Read this: “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:15-17

 

Advertisements

journalling

I am in favor of journalling.  As catharsis, as a thought-process, and as a recording of not only events, but the way that God moves through them and your feelings and perceptions in them.

I finished my most recent journal a few weeks ago, and it was an odd feeling.  Accomplished, yes.  I realized that almost all of it detailed my summer and its decisions.  Each successive volume that I complete seems to cover a shorter and shorter span of time.  That’s a good thing, I think, because it means I’m writing more and more about less trivial things.  Looking back on Volume 1, which spanned several years and simply kept a record of events, I’m glad I’m growing.

I thought I’d post the last few pages of this one.

I’m sitting on my bed, per usual.  My desk is cluttered, and I haven’t used it.  I have three Czech Mucha posters above my desk, and it’s no secret that Hamlet is my favorite.  My super classy bookcase. Posters: El Greco, Rene Magritte, Sherlock, Vertigo.

I’ve finally opened the window, and a cool breeze is drifting in.  I can hear it softly moving the trees.  It’s carrying fall, and the seasons will change and change again until I am grown and dead and gone, and then they will continue to change.

I’ve been trying to name the breeze in the leaves.  It’s not quite an ocean. The best I can do is to call it breathing, living.

I’m reminded of the moment when Aslan approaches the statues in the White Witch’s castle, breathes softly on them, and brings them back to life.  Yes.  It’s carrying magic.

Deeper magic.

And God’s been breathing softly on my heart, and I know He’ll continue to do so as I turn and grumble and strive and harden.

It’s apt that this journal, filled with so much anguish and confusion and so many places, faces, worries, and miracles should end on such a note as this.  It isn’t what I expected. I was going to write about my doubts in writing, my feelings of inferiority in fiction, and my fear.

No.  Instead, I speak of peace, of changes, and of growth.  I speak of the God who breathes life into my own heart as surely as He moves the trees with an unseen power.

I worry, and I strive.

But there is One who takes my worries and shoulders my strivings, bearing them to death and beyond.  There is One who forgives and gives me life and stills my frantic soul.

So.

I will write.  I will write and write and look forward and backward.  I will live and not just exist, I will follow my God wherever He leads and trust in Him.

I will not write for others, afraid of their judgement.

I will write for myself a small bit, and for my readers, if they exist, and I will write for my God.

May the God of peace and life-giving breezes melt your frozen soul.  May the God who has the power to move mountains and dig rivers, who deserves all awe and glory yet loves us still, and who has the power to move our broken hearts in an immensely personal way, be with you always.  In the name of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ,

Amen.

On to Volume 5.

><>

neolithic monuments, the avengers, and God

On our very first day in Ireland, when our nascent jet lag was quickly worsening, we visited Knowth, a section of Neolithic monuments found in Brú na Bóinne.  They’re some of the oldest structures in Europe.  Neat, right?  And internally, the structure of the tombs looks just like this:

Knowth – symbol at center

There’s a cross in the very center of the tomb, which was very possibly a religious meeting place for the ancient Celts.  Accident?

I think it’s like those proteins in your body, Laminin, that hold you together on a molecular level – they’re cross-shaped, too.  The very structures that keep your body connected and functional reflect the very thing that keeps us connected and functional.

And I don’t think that these burial grounds are a coincidence either, because I don’t believe in coincidences.

There are repetitions in life, things that cycle over, and why should we pay attention to them if they aren’t meaningful?  This symbol might have been just another way that God prepared the hearts of the Celts to receive Him, like in the case of St. Brigid. (Brigid is one of Ireland’s three patron saints and also the name of a triune Celtic goddess.  The saint used this connection to help explain God to the people of Ireland.)

He’s left his marks all over this world, and he’s actively moving within it.  And I forget! How could I?  But the last time I prayed was last night, asking God to help me get some sleep.  Like there’s nothing more important to talk to God about.  He, and all of Christianity… It’s so important, so powerful, and so deep, like ancient magic, as Aslan would say.  And we undermine it.  Thinking of the violence in Ireland between Protestants and Catholics is heartbreaking, because both claim to be Christians, but they’re killing each other over religion!  Of course it mostly has to do with the English/ Irish hostility, but it’s always summed up as Protestants vs. Catholics.  And God is bigger than that.  He’s bigger than squabbles, rituals, cathedrals, and we humans who try to get to heaven on our own.  And thank goodness, because who would be willing to serve a small god?

I’ve seen the Avengers twice now, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Yes, they were awesome, and it was fun to see the dynamics of the new team, but they also brought up a lot of interesting questions about power, kingship, and who is fit to rule – especially with Thor and Loki.  I was acutely reminded of the brothers, Edmund and Edgar, in Shakespeare’s Lear.  One of the very first things Loki says (after killing a few people) is that he’s come with glorious tidings, to free the people from freedom.  And that sounds awful.

Later on, in Germany, he proclaims that “it’s the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation”. And although this is coming from the mouth of a crazy, villainous, mass-murdering Norse god, he’s absolutely right.  It’s true.  We will always serve something, no matter what – ourselves, our jobs, other people, our obsessions.  We are never free.  That’s terrifying.  But here’s where Loki twists it.  He wants to be the one to rule, and that isn’t right either.  That is what serving a small god looks like.

In response to Loki’s adamant declaration of power, an old German man refuses to kneel, saying that we weren’t meant to be ruled by men like Loki.  And that’s precisely right.  Yes, we were made to serve, but not just anyone.  We were made to serve a perfect, living God who loves us more than we can imagine or reciprocate.  God doesn’t look like Loki, or even Thor, even though the “god of thunder” points out that a good leader understands he is not above his people.  Thor was right about ruling, in this case: a ruler can’t think himself better than his subjects, because people should be treated equally, and power in man’s hands quickly becomes corrupt if not wielded with humility.

But God is no tyrant, and He is better.  He is what’s best for us.  It’s not prideful, because it’s true.  It’s beautiful, how he rules.  And it makes sense why we can’t be Him, and why we are hard wired in our very cores to serve.  We yearn for God, and not just to serve as a slave, but to love and be loved as a child.

><>

Read this: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17

King Lear, or any of the history plays… or tragedies, for that matter…

See this:  Avengers!