Saturday, August 27, 2016
The end is everything. That is why the mean is so important. The end is everything because it is not at all the end. The world wants us to believe that the end is merely the end, that it is nothing - or nothingness. So the mean - this life - also becomes meaningless.
One can see this world belief in the notion that the meaning of art is to be found in the search or the journey; that it is all about the journey. While I accept this view (after all, you actually have to take the journey, and it won't be started on if you're a plaster saint, or a corpse with rigor mortis), I accept it with more to it. Not only does "it's all about the journey" alone make for bad art; it makes for bad living, eventually. And the world is inundated with prodigious, masterful, brilliant art that is bad. You thought I was talking about clumsily made paintings? Ha!
The best thing that the pagans could do was to have the heroic downfall - the heroic virtues going out in flames as it were; only with Christianity does the miraculous completion inform the beginning of good acts; and fulfillment even in this vale of tears appear: not a going out in flames, but the long lingering fragrance and blossoming after death, such that the saints become even impatient for death, which yet waters their long-suffering in the present. In my end is my beginning.
Only with Christianity does death no longer cast a shadow over the meaning and purpose of this life. The completion of the end informs the beginning so much that saints spring out of sinners. The first fruits tell us this: what is good in the convert/baptized is not to point backward to when he was far worse and say, "I was way worse then; see, though I'm bad, I would be far worse right now were it not for being Christian". For what is good in the convert/baptized only has its merit insofar as that good is going to be made complete. This means a constant infiltration of the good renewed in our present state.
I am friends with an artist who is now in her 80s. Her name is well known in a large local sense. She has been painting for around 40 years - it being her sole source of income (now in addition to retirement), beginning around the time of the death of her daughter. She started "late" as they say, but that had no bearing on either her start or development.
She knew famine in her childhood; she knew the camps for German children in Nazi Germany. There are things she tells you; and there are things she does not tell you.
One of the things she told me that figures key into her art is her German formation/background. To paraphrase and sum her somewhat: you do what you say you are going to do (whether you say it aloud or not), and you bring it to completion. Bringing it to completion is not work; it is not merely a task of completing what was started. It is the point and the inspiration; it is everything. And when you speak of the painting after it's done, never speak of it as though it was you who did it.
This sort of thing is music to my ears. The completion she speaks of is not merely in a technical sense of "finish"; it's about wholeness being brought to bear upon the viewer, and the painter is the first viewer. At the end of the painting is its beginning. One cannot get away from the fact that one is painting pigment on a flat, two-dimensional surface, which means you are intrinsically making an "abstraction". One is revealing with each successive layer - revealing more deeply the underlying conception. A painting is thought into being more than it is painted into being. The completion is birth, not death. Birth, even when the outcome is not everything that one envisioned (which is always). A painting is an analogue of the new creation that is the redemption and sanctification of a soul. Completion is everything. In my end is my beginning. Completion is not "finish". It is transfiguration.
You know how people like to joke about how they think Jesus was Italian because...or they think Jesus was Irish because...? Well, I think Jesus was German because...
He refuses to let us be in a state of "incompletion" - or to put it another way, to remain in the same state. He refuses to let us be a sketch - or to be sketchy.
In Jesus's time His disciples seemed to seek a salvation-activation button as much as people today. Christ amputates this straight away with the unpredicated verb "strive". Strive to enter through the narrow gate. We don't just dine with Jesus. Jesus is the door through which we must pass. There is no turning back from that.
We must strive to bring our end into the present, in all circumstances - especially the ordinary and everyday. I think there is a rampant disease among Christians that prevents this bringing of our end into our present, and the problem may sound paradoxical. It's the disease of spiritualizing everything.
To spiritualize everything is to put out a whole lot of branch and leaf, but bear no fruit. In the very instance that one wants to think that Jesus is making the kingdom of heaven impossible to attain - or worse, only for the elect - you realize something. What's hard for us to grasp is that the kingdom is there for the taking. It is up for grabs. It is so nearby, so within you, that you miss it. But in taking it, you cannot take yourself. Salvation is so ready at hand it's astonishing, but you must take it; you must take it "by force".
The husband and wife must consummate their marriage. The husband must engage in the marital act with his wife, or else he does not "know her", and likewise, she her husband. And thus a family cannot be started, be begun, be begotten. In my end is my beginning.
The people who say to Jesus, "But we dined with you..." to which He responds, "I do not know you" - I can't help thinking of how we spiritualize everything, instead of simply believing, and believing simply, and entering by the narrow way and taking the kingdom that is up for grabs, right here in the world; letting Jesus be present in our ordinary tasks, taking upon ourselves His yoke - He who took upon himself the yoke of the cross.