Do Not Try to Escape From the Material World

(I’ll try to “hold down the fort” for Todd while he is in Omaha. But, alas, there probably won’t be any more astronomy [or science fiction] until Thursday.)

This Sunday’s Credo column in the Times is written by Bishop Basil of Sergievo. The Crucifixion, he says, reminds us that, despite the Gnostic temptation of salvation as escape, “We are not here to allow ourselves to be lifted out of this world into a realm of the spirit, but to find ourselves in this world and to be saved within it.” The Bishop has written movingly elsewhere about the material world, saying, “The inanimate world and the world of plants and animals conforms – to use the language of Dionysius – to paradigms that express the will of God, divine paradigms we are unable to perceive directly, but whose mediated presence, in a world that is structured in depth, we can intuitively perceive.” The “ugliness that we see” is our own doing, so we must not leave this world, in which, he even says, “we can experience plants and animals as our sisters and brothers.” We ourselves must be changed.

Of course, Gnosticism might be easier, since it lets us remain cynical about the material world and our place in it. As Archbishop Rowan Williams has recently written about such texts as the Gospel of Judas, “Let’s ask ourselves why we’re sometimes more comfortable with such stories about conspiracies and stories about mystical gurus. Is it perhaps because when we turn to what the Bible actually says, Jesus challenges us pretty seriously?”

Here, then, is an excerpt from Bishop Basil’s column about the Crucifixion and how we must be saved, not by some sort of knowledge that tells us that “our place is elsewhere,” but in “the mess of our incarnate, enfleshed being”:

After 40 days of fasting and intensified prayer that are designed to allow us to see ourselves more clearly, to establish distance between ourselves and our ordinary lives, we are then plunged into the intensity and chaos of Holy Week.

We face human weakness and sin, criminality, betrayal, political and social tensions, a violent, occupying power, messianic hopes of national salvation, a burning expectation of the end of the world and of human history.

What we do not do is move gracefully from fasting and prayer to resurrection. Between us and resurrection stands the Cross.

Not because God wishes to punish us. Not because it is a good thing to suffer, and that the more we suffer the better our reward will be. Not because the greater the pain, the greater the gain. But because in order to move on to resurrection, something has to die in us. And this is our involvement in and complicity with the fallenness of this world, the very world that brought about the death of Christ.

Yes, human life in this world is not what God wanted it to be. But the reason for this is not some outside force, some second-class divinity who in his or her ignorance has got things wrong. The cause of the mess in which we find ourselves is to be found within ourselves.

And if the cause is in ourselves, no amount of externally derived, objective knowledge about the aeons and upper reaches of creation will save us. To be saved we must change, and this change must begin from within, and will inevitably involve our desire and our will.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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