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I responded to the late Michael Spencer, of Internet Monk fame, when he posted a couple of years ago about the lack of sacramentality in Evangelical worship:

But evangelicals are in sacramental chaos, and the results are quite obvious. Evangelicals are “re-sacramentalizing” in an uncritical and unbiblical way. The Planetshakers article was good evidence, but you can see and hear it everywhere. What are our evangelical sacraments? Where will evangelicals defend the idea that “God is dependably at work?”
We have sacramentalized technology.
We have sacramentalized the pastor and other leaders.
We have sacramentalized music. (i.e. the songs themselves and the experience of singing.)
We have sacramentalized leaders of musical worship.
We have sacramentalized events. (God is here!)
We have sacramentalized the various forms of the altar call.
We have sacramentalized the creation of an emotional reaction.
We’ve done all of this, amazingly, while de-emphasizing and theologically gutting baptism. We’ve done this while reducing the Lord’s Supper to a relatively meaningless, optional recollection. We’ve done this while removing any aspects of sacramentalism from our worship and even our architecture. (Public reading of scripture, hymns, tables/altars, baptisteries, pulpits.) And we’ve given over to whomever wants to speak up the power to say what God is saying, what God is doing, what God is using, what God thinks of whatever we’re doing, what the Spirit is up to and so on.
 

My response:

I hadn’t been Orthodox a year when all of a sudden it hit me why Evangelicals, my former self included, believed that Catholics and Orthodox **worshipped saints**, statues, icons and Mary. We treat them the way Evangelicals treat God. That is to say, we do religious acts in their presence, directed to them. No wonder. Since there is no [official] sacrifice in Evangelical worship, there is just “dylia” offered to God, religious acts done in His presence, directed to Him.

Any Cathodox would be aghast, and rightly so, at offering the Eucharist to anyone except the most Holy Trinity. Without the Eucharist properly understood… You have kind of a Jesusism, an ideology extracted from a text, subject to all of the vicissitudes and mutations of any ideology.

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When I was about ten or eleven years old, I stumbled onto a copy of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland.  The illustrations, though, were not the famous ones by John Tenniel.  They were, somehow, disturbing.   Alice was  not the prim Victorian poppet of the Tenniel illustations, or even of the Disney film.  This Alice looked like the kind of girl in my school or on the playground who was already making me think the wrong thoughts.  It wasn’t until nearly five decades later that I discovered that the illustrator of my singular Alice was also the writer of the Gormenghast trilogy, and that 2011 was the centennial of his birth.  Happy 100th birthday, Mervyn Peake.

Without any doubt, his illustrations of the Edgar Rice Burroughs books that I devoured during my boyhood were the creepiest.  I knew nothing about him except his name;  Mahlon Blaine, and I ferreted out every book by ERB that he illustrated.  Towards the end of his long  and productive life (1892-1969), he was commissioned by the small publisher Canaveral Press to illustrate several Burroughs’ works; in particular the Pellucidar series.  The pictures were dense, and sometimes macabre, and I know they disturbed my mother and other guardians of my juvenile sensibilities.  It is a good thing that I never investigated him more thoroughly.  He was a very productive artist, active from the 20s until just before his death.  Somewhat like an American Aubrey Beardsley, his art  reveled in the decadent, the erotic, and the occult.  He was a strange choice as an illustrator for what is basically boys’ literature, but I’m glad someone had the courage to ask Mahlon Blaine to illustrate these books.

In the early eighties, I found a copy of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a used book store for $75.  I tried to ascertain why the book had such a high price tag, and I was told by the girl who was accompanying me at the time that the reason for the price was for the illustrations, which were by Arthur Rackham.  She begged me to buy the book for her, but between the two of us, we had probably $15.  The illustrations were captivating.  I since discovered that Rackham was a very prolific illustrator, having illustrated Charles Dickens, John Bunyan, and Edgar Allen Poe, among others.

His fairies were so unworldly that I often wondered if, like Lovecraft’s Pickman, he didn’t paint them  from life.

Vaughn Bodé was a hippie’s hippie.  It seems like I was just getting to know him through his work in National Lampoon when he was snatched from us by his untimely death in 1975.  In a way, I guess he really couldn’t be called a fantasy illustrator.  He illustrated one paperback by R.A. Lafferty, a strange but compatible pairing.   Lafferty, for all his playful and ironic prose, was a devout Caholic, and as I said, Bodé was a hippie’s hippie.  Bodé also illustrated some science fiction magazine covers, but overall, he was more of an underground cartoonist.  His big-eyed, small-mouthed, pneumatic women preceded Japanese manga, and his style is seen everywhere on urban walls and underpasses.


4. Hearts In Atlantis (2001)   For a “fantastic” film, this adaptation of the Stephen King novella  “Low Men in Yellow Coats”, is unusually quotidian.  It is like Stand By Me without the body or like Children On Their Birthdays with a psychic neighbor.   Bobby Garfield lives with his widowed (?) mother and times are tight, even in the prosperous, confident early 60s.  His mother takes in a boarder, Ted Brautigan, played by Anthony Hopkins as yet another instantiation of the  Elder Gentleman With Impeccable Manners And A Secret (The Mask Of Zorro, Shadowlands, The Wolfman).

Bobby and Ted form a bond.  It turns out that Ted can see the future, read people’s minds, and move objects  around with his will.  These abilities rub off on Bobby, allowing him to impress a neighborhood girl.  Unfortunately, Ted is being pursued by the government (?), and Bobby’s mother betrays him.  When Bobby  has to choose between protecting Ted or the girl, he chooses the girl.  Ted is apprehended, Bobby regrets it,  and the movie ends.

There isn’t much more to the movie than that.  No beasties, no locusts coming out of a man’s mouth, no bloodbaths.  What there is is sentiment, not something often associated with Stephen King, but I maintain that Mr. King is one of the few writers writing today who has what CS Lewis would call a functioning chest.  There is  clear good and clear evil in the movie, and the line is drawn where an American of King’s (and my) generation should draw it; for the particular against the general, for the individual against the collective, for honesty and genuine affection against ambition and realpolitik.

Although the movie didn’t contain the references to King’s  Dark Tower myth that the novella did,  perceptive viewers would see how well it fits.  If you want to see Sir Anthony out of character, watch The World’s Fastest Indian.


5. Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji   –   This is a live action adaptation of one of the best anime series I have ever seen.  The anime series is set in the nineteen-nineties during the time of the great Recession in Japan, a time in which many young men found it difficult to gain traction in Japanese society.  The story arcs revolve around a young man in a tight financial situation who attempts to eliminate his debt by gambling, sometimes against overwhelming odds.  The anime series has a very retro feel to it, and the soundtrack is pure late eighties, early nineties Japanese punk; Blue Hearts, Cigarette Man, Street Beats, etc.  The movie moves the context into a dark, day-after-tomorrow, pre-apocalyptic Japan, pulls three or four of the more adrenaline-fueled story arcs from the anime series, then pumps up the volume.

It works.  There are emotions that the human face can register that no cartoon can render, and Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji  makes you feel every one of them.  In the end, the bad girl wins all the money, but Kaiji is allowed to keep his own soul, and the movie leaves you feeling that it was a risk well-taken.


We dream, let us say,  a sequence of persons, places and events whose casual linkages reside not in some ‘deep comprehension’ of those persons places or events, but instead are found in the empirical surfaces of the dream. [The dreamer] plainly understand[s], in the dream, how one event causes another. and how, possibly absurdly, two or more events are connected because the first is causing the next ones to occur; moreover, as the dream unfolds, [the dreamer] plainly sees how the whole chain of causation is leading to some conclusive event X; some denouement of the dream’s entire system of cause and effect.  Let us call this conclusive event X, and let us say that X occurred because of some previous event T which, in turn, was caused by S, whose cause was RE and so on; going from effect to cause, from latter to prior, from present to past, until we arrive at the dream’s starting point, usually some insignificant event A; and it is this event that is understood in the dream  as the first cause of the entire system.  But what about the tine external stimulus, the quick sharp noise, the brief ray of light?  To waking consciousness, this external stimulus is experienced as the cause of the whole causally interlocked system in which persons, places, and events arose in the dream.  Let us call this external cause Ω.

Now, what makes the dreamer awaken?  When we look at this question from the point of view of the waking consciousness, we might say that it is Ω (the noise or the light) that awakens us.  From within the dream, however, it is plainly the conclusive dream event X – the denouement – that, precisely because it ends the dream, awakens us.  Taken together, we see that Ω and X almost perfectly coincide in such a way that the dreamed content and the wakened cause are one and the same.  This coincidence is usually so exact that we never even wonder about the relation between X and Ω; Ω is obviously a “dream paraphrase” of some external stimulus invading our dream from without.

For example, I dream that a pistol has gone off, and in the room near me someone is actually shot, or someone has slammed a door.  So there is no doubt that the dream was accidental; of course the pistol shot in the dream is a spiritual echo of a shot in the outer world.  The two shots are, if you wish, the double perception – by the dreaming ear and by the sober ear – of the same physical process.  If in a dream I should see a multitude of fragrant flowers at the very moment that someone puts a bottle of perfume under my nose, it is wholly unnatural to think that the coincidence of the two fragrances (the flowers’ in the dream and the perfume’s in the waking world) is accidental.  Or I dream that someone is strangling me and wake in horror to find that a pillow has fallen over my face.

Or take the famous dream outlined in the psychology texts.  In this one the dreamer experiences the French Revolution, participating in the very beginnings of the Revolution and – for over a year inside the dream – goes through a long, complicated series of adventures; persecution, pursuit, terror, the execution of the King, and so on.  Finally, the dreamer is arrested with the Girondists, , thrown into prison, then condemned  by the Revolutionary council to die.  The wagon rolls through the streets to the guillotine; and he is taken from the wagon and his head is firmly placed on the headrest, and then the guillotine blade falls heavily onto his neck; and he awakens in horror.

It is the final event (X) that interests us: the touch of the blade on his neck.  Can anyone doubt this: that the whole dream sequence from the first stirrings of the Revolution to the conclusive fall of the blade, is one seamless whole,  Doesn’t the entire chain direct itself precisely to that conclusive event (touch of cold steel) that we term X?  To doubt this total interlocked coherence is to deny the very dream itself- and improbable supposition.

And yet the dreamer found, in the moment of his terrified awakening, that the metal bedstead of his bed had somehow broken and had struck him heavily upon his bare neck.  We cannot doubt the whole coherence of his dream from the first stirrings of the Revolution (A) to the the falling of the guillotine blade (X).  Equally, we cannot doubt that the sensation of the blade (X) and the touch of the metal (Ω) are the very same event; but perceived by different orders of consciousness; dreamed and wakened.

Thus, while X is a refelction of Ω in the imagery of the dream, it is clearly not some deus ex machina with no connection to the dream’s internal logic of events, some alien intruder that senselessly terminates the stream of inner imagery.  No, X is a true resolution.  It genuinely concludes the dream. None of this would be extraordinary if the touch of the bedstead (Ω) had awakened the sleeper and if in the instant of his awakening had been enfolded by the symbolic image of the touch , and if this symbolic image had subsequently unfolded into a dream of sufficient length.  But no, it is the external cause Ω which is the cause of the entire dream.  Thus, in daylight consciousness and according to the scheme of daylight causation, this event Ω, the bedstead falling on the dreamer’s neck should precede the first stirrings of the Revolution (A), but in the dreaming time, it happens inside out, and cause X appears not prior to all the consequences of A, and of all the entire sequence of consequences b,c,d..r.s.t) that follow thereupon, but following it, concluding the whole sequence determining it not as its efficient cause but as its final cause, its  τέλος.

Thus, time in dream runs, and acceleratedly runs, towards the actual and against the movement of time, when we think in the Kantian sense of time,  in the waking consciousness.  Dream time is turned inside out.  The very same event that is perceived from actual space as actual is seen from imaginary space as imaginary, i.e. as occurring before everything else in teleological time, as the goal or object of our purposefulness.  Contrarily, the goal seen from here appears, because of our to appreciate goals rightly, as something cherished but lacking the energy of the ideal, but seen from there,  from the other consciousness, the goal is comprehended as the living energy that shapes actuality as its creative form.


Some books grab you with the first sentence:

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

“‘Take my camel, dear,’ said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.”

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” 

Each of these lines at the beginnings of their respective books grabbed me by the shirt-collar and pulled me into the story.   If you dont recognize them, they come from J.R.R.  Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1938), C.S. Lewis’  The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952),  Rose Maculay’s The Towers Of Trebizond (1958), and Steven King’s The Gunslinger (1982).  It is interesting that only Lewis’ made it into American Book Review‘s 100 Best Opening Lines Of Novels .

I heard a lot about John Crowley’s masterpiece Little, Big before I located a copy for reading.  Written in the last year of the ante-penultimate reality, 1980, it had  fallen out of print until very recently.   I heard that Crowley was a  writer’s writer, that his prose was difficult and opaque,  and that Little, Big was a slow read.  All of this turned out to be true, but it was the opening paragraph that convinced me that the book was worth whatever amount of time required.

On a certain day in June, 19__, a young man was making his way on foot northward from the great City to a town or place called Edgewood, that he had been told of but had never visited.  His name was Smoky Barnable, and he was going to Edgewood to get married; the fact that he walked and didn’t ride was one of the conditions placed on his coming there at all.

Everything a careful reader needs to know about Little, Big is skillfully woven into that opening paragraph.  Crowley’s is a world that contains no hidden surprises, where everything is at it seems, but the ordinary rules don’t apply, and the insides of things are larger and much more significant than their outsides.  It is, although Crowley never comes right out and says it, the world in which we live and move and have our being.

The story that supports Little, Big is a love story, the story of a courtship, a wedding, and a marriage between Smoky Barnable, an anonymous Rorschach blot of a man, and the euphoniously named Daily Alice Drinkwater, the oldest daughter of a very eccentric New England family that may or may not have dealings with the Faerie folk.

The whole family lives in a house with a unique architecture which has been under both construction and analysis since its foundations were laid four generations previously.   This house, Edgewood, which serves as a focal point for a certain district whose boundaries are kept fuzzy throughout the book, may or may not be a portal to the Fairie realms, where things get larger and more significant the further “in” you go.

There are both agnostics and believers among the large and unruly Mouse/Drinkwater clan into which this affable young man marries, and Smoky Barnable is unable to resolve a single crucial point; was he given to his wife in compliance with a pact with the Faeries, or is all of this just a complicated game his adopted family insists on playing?   Alas, Smoky is no closer to a resolution by the end of the book than he is at the beginning.

For this is the most allusive book I have ever read.  It implies everything, and says nothing clearly.  Indeed, I don’t think it can be said to have a plot at all.  Smoky marries, investigates his wife’s background, sires children upon her, and maybe her sister, but probably not.  There are metamorphases, fairy godmothers, changelings, and other romances and heartbreaks.  Appearances are made by Titania and Oberon, and the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa who rules over a spiritually exhausted, twilit America at the end of her tether, but whose political legitimacy is shown to proceed, albeit distantly, from the grandeur that was Rome.

All of this takes 800 pages to unwind, and the prose is like eating summer strawberries with cream, under a spreading maple tree, with the buzz of bees in your ears.

I think that if Little, Big is about anything at all, it is about something called, for lack of a better phrase, horizontal transcendence.  The fairies here are not supernatural beings.  In fact, they are so much a part of the natura naturans that nearly everybody overlooks them entirely.   As Owen Barfield puts it;  “The obvious is the hardest thing of all to point out to anyone who has genuinely lost sight of it.”   Yet, the fairy influence pervades the environment, directing human generation and movement.  Everything in Smoky Barnable’s life is as it is supposed  to be, yet the disposer is not the Transcendent God of Jewish or Christian theology, but rather a college of elementals whose attitude towards us is neither benign nor malicious, but uninterested, quite as that of a sentient rock or thunderstorm would be.

Reading Little, Big made me nostalgic for the Road Not Taken.  Published in 1980, it is still redolent of hashish and patchouli.  It has the feel of the last wave of New England Transcendentalism meandering through the sloughs of late 19th century Spiritualism into the shallow bay of the Hippie movement, finally breaking against the rocky shore of a triumphalistic, proudly know-nothing conservativism.  Parts of the book are prophetic, such as this passage describing the Republic at endgame;

For the City, even more than the nation, lived on Change; rapid, ruthless, always for the better.  Change was the lifeblood of the City, the animator of all dreams there. the power that coursed in the veins of the men of the Club, the fire that boiled up wealth and bustle and satisfaction.  The City that Auberon came to, though, had slowed.  The quick eddies of fashion had grown sluggish; the great waves of enterprise had become a still lagoon.  The permanent depression that the Club struggled against but was unable to reverse began in this grinding-to-a-halt, this unwonted, cumbersome loginess of the greatest City, and spread outward from it in slow ripples of weary exhaustion to benumb the Republic.

In contrast to the entropic City, although not in clear opposition to it, is the House and its inhabitants.  Moving to the quickening rhythms of another world that is just now awakening, those who dwell, or who have ever dwelt, in Edgewood find themselves drawn Further In and Higher Up.  All the separated Drinkwaters, Mouses, Flowers, Woodses, Brambles, and Meadowses; human, animal, or fay as chance may have overtaken them, are drawn into a mysterious center, a re-enactment of Smoky’s and Daily Alice’s nuptials, where numerous transformations and coronations take place.

So there is eucatastrophe, albeit a sideways one.  The way out of the World is not beyond it or above it, but into it.  In one way, I can see the Oprah-ization of transcendence here.  No God above, no Devil beneath, just the water sprites, the trees, and Brother North Wind beckoning us to be what we were always meant to be.  Yet on the other hand, I am hesitant to assign this book to the Deepak Chopra discount bin.  It is too good, too descriptive of the path we are meant to follow.  The World has an inside.  We are the inside.  Actually, Christ is the Inside, Who is Everywhere and Filleth All Things in a way that the Augustinian demiurge never could.  The narrative of the Bible is the icons hanging on the wall.  And as we unite with Him, we penetrate further in.   We find that although at first it appears smaller, things really are larger and more significant, and like Adam, we can name them.

We become the Fay.

Note: 10/3/2012  – I want to explain my “shoe-horning” of the founder of Christianity into a literary work where He doesn’t appear to belong.  I’ll have to do so in a later post, hopefully after a re-read of this most excellent book, but it appears to me that Little, Big‘s “horizontal transcendence” could be a useful tool to move official Christianity in a direction that I, at least, want it to move in.  

Note: 2/27/2013 – If you are coming here from Facebook, could you please leave a link to page you are coming from?  I don’t have a FB account.

CURRENTLY READING

The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams