What is St. Francis of Assisi Best Known For?

Image Courtesy

What is St. Francis of Assisi best known for? In Franco Zeffirelli’s Brother Sun and Sister Moon, all of Francesco’s friends believe that Francesco is out of his mind. One by one, they go to the ruins of San Damiano, where Francesco single-handedly restores an old church, to reason with him and bring him back to his senses. However, after looking into his eyes, they join him — one by one.

It’s all about someone’s eyes. Subconsciously, we always look for the eyes that radiate divine electricity. That’s why we are mesmerized by children at play. We are mesmerized by birds, fish, mountains, rivers, and clouds. They all exude the light that we are drawn to and want to participate in.

All the greatest world movements start from catching that Divine electricity in someone’s eyes. The person creates a magnetic field that draws us in. They are like a magnet that creates an electric current in all conductors. You feel it stirring in you, and you want to pass it on.

All major movements were born out of that spark. As long as this initial spark is there, the movement exists and is alive. When that spark goes, the movement dies and gets institutionalized. The institution is what remains after the electricity is gone. It is the only way to keep the form where there’s no substance.

The scene in the Pope’s palace in Brother Sun and Sister Moon is telling. Pope Innocent III played by Alec Guinness sits on his high throne encircled by cardinals. When St. Francis walks in with his disciples, they look like a bunch of bums. They are dirty and dressed in rags. But something shines in their eyes.

As St. Francis talks about his vision, the camera zooms in on Pope’s eyes. With every sentence out of St. Francis’s mouth, his eyes grow bigger and bigger. You can tell that he is drawn in. The cardinals want to drive the vagabonds out, but the Pope rises from his seat and walks down the steps. And then, the most unexpected thing happens — he kneels before St. Francis and kisses his dirty feet.

There’s silence in the hall. No one knows what’s happening. Franco Zeffirelli’s camera zooms in on Alec Guinness’s eyes. You can tell that the Pope wants to join them. You can see it in his eyes. They sparkle. The cardinals see it too. They start panicking and pull him away from St. Francis. They put the tiara back on his head so he won’t be carried away.

After a moment of “insanity,” the Pope is reminded of his duties. The sparkle goes out of his eyes. He allows the cardinals to put all his papal regalia back on him. His eyes grow dim. He is the Pope again. The moment of insanity is gone. But you can see the immense sadness behind his eyes. He succumbs to his duties of being the head of the institution while his heart wants to be moved by the Divine electricity.

St. Francis stretches his hands toward him but is pulled further back by the cardinals. The church starts singing “Gloria in Excelsis Dei.” As St. Francis and his disciples leave, he turns around and looks back twice. He is searching for the Pope’s eyes. You can tell they are kindred spirits. But the camera never shows the Pope’s eyes. He is back in his role. The role that doesn’t allow for electricity.

The Dream of Dalai Lama About the 21st Century

I heard a dream of Dalai Lama on YouTube the other day where he said he had been dreaming that in THIS CENTURY, the world would become one big happy family.

I thought, “Oh… Sounds like wishful thinking. Based on how this century began, I really doubt that the continuation will be any different. Humanity is too sick – just like most people it consists of, including me.”

But then he added something interesting. He said we would only need one thing for it to happen – a realization of the oneness of all humanity.

I scratched my head: “He’s on to something here.”

And then he said that this one realization would be enough to uproot the very cause of all war and conflict.

I found myself thinking: “Yes, of course.”

The problem is that I don’t see myself in anything except me. Then I thought, “Hm… often, I don’t even see myself in me either.”

Then, I thought, “How interesting – when I don’t see myself in others, I don’t see myself in me. And when I see myself in others, I see myself in me.” Serendipitously, a phrase by Jesus popped up in my mind that I had read recently,

“Most certainly I tell you, because you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.”

When I look at the other person, what do I see? How I treat them is secondary; how I see them is primary. Do I see God in them? If so, God is in me. If not, God is not in me.

In other words, if I didn’t recognize Jesus in another person, I don’t know him, and he doesn’t know me. I miss out on Heaven, and I am in hell. Conversely, if I do recognize Jesus in the other person, I know him, and he knows me. I am in Heaven.

Recognizing God in the other is the ultimate litmus test for whether God is in me. The hell we are seeing around us is a sure sign that God is not in us. If he is not in the other one, he is not in me.

When there’s no sense of connection between me and the other person, I have lost God… and myself. But how do I recognize myself in the other? It happens when I start looking beyond appearances. If I start with an assumption that there’s more to a person than meets the eye, I will start getting glimpses of the Divine in them.

C.S. Lewis said in The Weight of Glory,

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

There is divinity behind every appearance. Sometimes, it is distorted, but it’s there. If I see it, I have redeemed the appearance. I have glimpsed through. I have seen the divine spark.

Meister Eckhart says there’s only one way to attain this divine soul spark in yourself and in the other:

“Therefore, I say, if a man turns away from self and from created things, then – to the extent that you do this – you will attain oneness and blessedness in your soul’s spark, which time and place never touched.”

There’s no ethics before seeing this divine spark. All ethics flow out of it – ethics spring from esthetics. The moment we let go of self and all created things, we sink into the stillness and darkness that is brighter than light.

According to Meister Eckhart, we attain the divine spark not through any effort or “addition” on our part but rather through the process of gradual subtraction.

“Everything is meant to be lost so that the soul may stand in unhampered nothingness.”

To attain true knowledge and commune with the One, we need to recover our inner silence – the language of the primordial Void in which the worlds were made. Then, in this unhampered nothingness, we will start hearing the Music of the One incarnated in the many. 

The fragmented world will disappear, and all things will become one, just as it says, “God will be all in all.”

“All that a man has here externally in multiplicity is intrinsically One. Here all blades of grass, wood, and stone, all things are One. This is the deepest depth.” Meister Eckhart

Until I let go of self, I can’t see the divine spark in the other. Holding on to self blocks my spiritual vision. But if I let it go, I exclaim like Bilbo Baggins after he had dropped the One Ring,

“I have thought of a nice ending for it [my book]: and he lived happily ever after to the end of his days.”

The Connection Between Groundhog Day and the Fall of Numenor

Image Courtesy

I have done a somewhat sloppy job explaining myself in the previous article on the fall of Numenor and “the encircling of Arda.”  As many of you have pointed out, I have not demonstrated why the ring-shaped Arda (after it was made round) spiritually corresponds to grasping for immortality by the Numenoreans.

As I pondered about it, a new mythological connection emerged in my mind, which, I believe, will make the connection more succinct. In the famous movie Groundhog Day, Phil, the protagonist, finds himself stuck in one day, February 2, repeatedly.

Here’s an interesting summary of the movie I found on IMDb:

A weather man is reluctantly sent to cover a story about a weather forecasting “rat” (as he calls it). This is his fourth year on the story, and he makes no effort to hide his frustration. On awaking the ‘following’ day, he discovers that it’s Groundhog Day again, and again, and again. First he uses this to his advantage, then comes the realisation that he is doomed to spend the rest of eternity in the same place, seeing the same people do the same thing every day.—Rob Hartill   

What caught my attention here is the reference to a “rat” and the “doom.” For a good part of the movie, Phil’s quest is to take advantage of his “immortality,” but he soon realizes that he is feeling like “butter spread over too much bread.” (Bilbo Baggin’s feelings after possessing the Ring for a long time).

Phil finds himself stuck in the rat race of life, repeating never-ending circles. As this circling continues, he slowly realizes that his newly acquired “immortality” does not deliver. So, he’s grasping for more and more “advantages,” believing that he might finally achieve happiness in the rat race he’s caught in.

But the more he grasps, the less it works. By the end of the movie, he realizes that he must let go of Self to survive his “doom.” He lets go – relinquishes control and drops the Ring of Power, so to say. He starts living for others because nothing else satisfies him. He’s not striving to break out of his prison anymore. And he doesn’t feel doomed anymore.

To his surprise, one day the endless circling ends. The vicious cycle is broken. Using Tolkien’s words, by accepting the doom (or gift) of Men, he has freed himself from the circles of the world. And this is exactly what the great mariners of men discovered after the fall of Numenor and the encircling of Arda.

What caused the downfall of Numenor?

Numenor craved immortality to such a degree that they tried to take it by force. This resulted in a curse – the drowning of Numenor and the encircling of Arda. Spiritually, this curse corresponds to the craving of their hearts. The wanted immortality at all costs but found themselves stuck in an endless circle of death.  

“Thus it was that great mariners among them would still search the empty seas, hoping to come upon the Isle of Meneltarma (Valinor), and there to see a vision of things that were. But they found it not. And those that sailed far came only to the new lands, and found them like to the old lands, and subject to death. And those that sailed furthest set but a girdle about the Earth and returned weary at last to the place of their beginning; and they said: ‘All roads are now bent.’ Thus in after days, what by the voyages of ships, what by lore and star-craft, the kings of Men knew that the world was indeed made round.”

This roundness mirrors the shape of the Ring of Power. When you seek immortality through some external means (the Ring as the ultimate technology), you are trapped in an endless circle. You perpetuate what you want to escape – weariness and death. You feel weary – like butter spread over too much bread. You are in a Groundhog Day.

Continue reading “The Connection Between Groundhog Day and the Fall of Numenor”

What is The Curse of Pandora’s Box or Why Sometimes It is Better not to Look

Image Courtesy

What is the curse of Pandora’s box?

Speaking of the laws of fairyland in Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton explains that in all fairy tales “the vision always hangs upon a veto. All the dizzy and colossal things conceded depend upon one small thing withheld. All the wild and whirling things that are let loose depend upon one thing that is forbidden.”

In all fairy tales known to mankind, an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.

But why? Why should something be withheld?

Chesterton writes,

If Cinderella says, “How is it that I must leave the ball at twelve?” her godmother might answer, “How is it that you are going there till twelve?”

It is magic. In fairy tales, the condition is just as incomprehensible as the fairyland itself. The fairy godmother is working magic before your very eyes, which is just as incomprehensible as the condition she lays down. Just like Mary Poppins, she doesn’t explain anything. She is magical enough to silence all our questions.

And yet we want to look. We want to know. What we feel is Pandora’s itch as she gazed upon that strange gift of Zeus – the “magical” box she was forbidden to open. Pandora received her name from Hermes himself – her name means “all-gifted.” She received from the gods every possible gift, but Zeus gave her the strangest gift of all.

He gave her curiosity and a box that she wasn’t allowed to open. What an irony!

When I read this myth to my son, his eyes grew large,

“What?” he cringed. “Isn’t it cruel?”

“Hm… I guess it may seem so at first,” I answered after a pause. “But think about it. To trust means to accept not knowing. If you must know, you cannot trust. And if you can’t trust, you cannot be happy.”

“Ah…” he nodded and went about his business, leaving me alone as I sat there pondering Pandora’s dilemma.  

You have been granted every gift in the world, and yet you are told to accept one small condition. You must not look into the box.

Why?

No explanation is given. The only feasible “explanation” is to trust that it’s better. But Pandora’s desire for knowledge gets the better of her. “What if there’s something there that will make me happier?” she muses.

The moment she opened the box, all the miseries and evils imaginable were unleashed into the world including sickness and death. She tries to push them back inside but can’t. It’s irreversible.     

Exhausted, she looks inside the empty box and sees a simple ray of light – a comforting gift from Zeus. When she looks away from her troubles and onto the ray of light, she feels hope and relief.

Pandora’s dilemma is a human dilemma. By trying to get knowledge at all costs, we let loose unthinkable evils into the world. Not everything should be done that can be done. Sometimes it’s best not to look under the lid. Some things, if let out, can’t be undone.

Knowledge is good. Our craving for knowledge is bad. When we can’t trust and accept a “no,” we are ignorant because we cannot attain true knowledge, which is a relationship.

When Adam and Eve were told not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, it wasn’t because God was holding out on them. He was inviting them to a deeper knowledge – the knowledge that comes from “not knowing.” The knowledge of unknowing is always based on trust!

To unknow means you accept the idea that you are not god. We cannot know everything. We cannot predict everything. When we leave the role of God to God, we become divine.

There’s no true knowledge without accepting one little “no.” Knowledge only works when there’s room for trust – not knowing. There must be this happy tension between knowing and not knowing for knowledge to work.

Without this essential paradox, knowledge becomes a curse. So, what is the curse of Pandora’s box?

What is the main point of The Question Concerning Technology?

Martin Heidegger’s essay “The Question Concerning Technology” might be a case in point. According to Heidegger, we don’t seem to notice when we cross the line between using technology for our purposes and when technology starts using us. To make his point, he described what happened to water mills along the Rhine River.

Before the 20th century, there were many individual water mills along the Rhine. They were all “built into” the river. In the 20th century, a huge power plant was built at that spot, interlocking the river entirely. The river is now built into the power plant, not the other way around!

This is a fine illustration of what is happening with technology in our time – a slow and gradual change from “using a tool” to “being used by the tool.” Just as the Rhine is now built into technology and serves it, we are building our lives around the “instrument-defined reality.”

A tool must be a tool. It should help us get things done, but it cannot take up the entire space of our lives. When technology becomes the overarching reality, we build everything into it.

When technology has become the overarching principle of life, it’s no longer a tool but an artificial reality. The rhetoric “but it helps us get things done faster and more efficiently” no longer applies. This rhetoric works only in the case of a tool that we use for a while and then put down to do something else. With modern technology, we rarely do “something else.”

In J.R.R. Tolkien, the One Ring is the ultimate technology. It promises us the world but always takes away what it promises to give.

What is the name of Annatar?

The One Ring was wrought by Sauron himself who was called Annatar, “the gift giver.” It is said that since Sauron was behind the “technology” used in creating the magical rings, he had full control over them. The one who creates technology holds the power.

The Elves were deceived by him – they thought the technology Sauron offered was “neutral,” and they could use it for a good purpose. Eventually, they realized that Sauron knew their minds every time they put them on.

He was the Master of all the rings – even those he didn’t forge – because his technology was used in making them. Some elves took off the rings realizing that otherwise they would be forfeiting their freedom.

There’s only one way not to be controlled by the ring – take it off. Using Martin Heidegger’s analogy, a tool must remain a tool. When it takes up the whole space of our lives, it’s no longer a tool. It has a different name. It’s an idol.  

The Secret Meaning of the Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Image Courtesy

The meaning of this movie is just as hidden as the life of Walter Mitty. When Sean, the photographer, takes his eyes off his heavy-duty camera somewhere in the Himalayas and stares at the snow leopard in the distance, Walter asks him quietly,

“When are you going to take it?”

Sean, still awe-struck, answers,

“Sometimes I don’t. If I like a moment, for me, personally, I don’t like to have the distraction of the camera. I just want to stay in it.”

The famous photographer, whose passion drives him to chase after the most stunning natural phenomena around the world, does not take the opportunity to take a picture of one of the most furtive animals in the world – the “ghost cat.”

Something is more important for him. Everything else is a distraction. Art itself is a distraction. He doesn’t want to miss it. He knows how such moments feel. There’s a definite “suchness” to such moments.

Sean knows he’s in it for the suchness – everything else seems secondary. It’s in this undefinable suchness that has given his art meaning. But what is this “suchness”? It defies definitions. It’s a bridge between this time-space reality and the Spirit.

When you get a glimpse of this other realm, you forget the earth. As Silouan the Athonite (Russian: Силуан Афонский) said,

“Because of the sweetness of God’s love, we forget the earth and sing…”  

The past is gone, the future is not real. Nothing else matters. So, Sean gets up with a smile and joins the rest of the group playing soccer near the camp at a distance. But before leaving he turns to Walter and calls him the “ghost-cat.”

In Sean’s experience, Walter is someone who had always given him the same experience of “suchness” before. By looking at his work in Life Magazine, Sean felt the same communion between heaven and earth. Walter didn’t know that. He lived in his own dreamworld where he wanted to become someone.

He was someone. For Sean, he was more than someone. Walter didn’t know his true name yet – the ghost-cat. Until you know your true name, you don’t know who you are. You live in a dreamworld. You dream of becoming. Yet, your true secret name lives in you, ready to be revealed at an opportune time.

This is the name written by God on a white stone, and no one knows it except the one who receives it.

I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it. Revelation 2:17.        

Our true name is as long as our journey. It is our journey manifested in a sound.

When Frodo first set out of the Shire, he didn’t know who he was. All he knew was that he was a hobbit, and hobbits don’t meddle in the affairs of the Big Folk and Wizards.

Well, he did meddle in them. He was chosen to be the one who would destroy the Ring. No one else in the entire Middle-Earth could do it.

“Elrond raised his eyes and looked at him, and Frodo felt his heart pierced by the sudden keenness of the glance. ‘If I understand aright all that I have heard,’ he said, ‘I think that this task is appointed for you, Frodo; and that if you do not find a way, no one will.”

Frodo’s journey was the gradual unfolding of his secret name – as the only one in the entire Middle-Earth who could carry the Ring all the way to Mordor. No one else was up to the task.

He was the only one, and he did it by sacrificing his own flesh. His new name, Frodo of the Nine Fingers, was put in a song by a minstrel of Gondor,

A minstrel of Gondor stood forth… and behold! he said: ‘Lo! lords and knights and men of valour… now listen to my lay. For I will sing to you of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom.’

Receiving your true name is the ultimate initiation into the mystery of “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” It is a transcendental wake-up call when you realize that the Divine, who was somewhere out there, has moved inside.

The Magic Mirror and the Wall

Once upon a time, there lived a boy by the name of Tony who was always bored.

“Mom, I am bored. Can you tell me what to do?” he would often ask his mom.

“Why don’t you read or draw?” his mom suggested.

“Oh no, I don’t want to do that,” Tony would reply through a yawn.

“Maybe you want to help me sweep the driveway?”

“Nope, no fun either.”

“Do you want to go out and play?”

“Nope, none of my friends are out.”

Whatever his mother suggested, Tony wasn’t interested.

“What do you want to do then?” asked his mother one day.

“Can I look into the mirror?” he asked hesitantly.

“No,” said his mother firmly. “You should never ever look into that mirror.”

“Why not? You allow me to look into it sometimes – to brush my hair.” 

But his mom remained unyielding.

“What is it about that mirror?” Tony wondered silently.

So, one day, when his mom was busy in the kitchen, cooking tons of food for his birthday party, he decided to peep in. The mirror stood in the corner of his parents’ bedroom, covered with a white cloth. Tony sneaked into the bedroom, pulled off one corner of the cloth, and started looking. 

For a while, he saw nothing except his own face, but then it seemed to him that his features grew sturdier, more fearless, more manly.

“Wow,” he thought. “Do I really look so brave? I am a hero!”

He pulled off the rest of the cloth and peered in. The room behind him slowly transformed into a large hall with hunting trophies hanging on the walls. And then he saw himself as a brave huntsman dressed in a shining leather suit with a long bow over his shoulder.

“Is it me? I AM a hero!”

Tony squealed in delight and covered his mouth with his hand not to let his mom know he was there. But then he heard someone’s approaching steps. Picking up the cloth from the floor, he quickly threw it back on the mirror and rushed out of the room.

“Don’t forget to pick up your toys before your guests come,” his dad said as he entered the room. “Have you forgotten it’s your birthday?”

But the boy didn’t seem to hear. In fact, he had almost forgotten that it was his birthday and that his friends would come over.

All he could think of was: “If only I could take another look into that mirror. It would be the best birthday gift ever!”

“What’s going on with you?” asked his dad, looking at him intently.

“Nothing,” blurted Tony in a somewhat dreamy voice.

“Tony,” said his dad and looked him straight in the eye. “Have you been looking into the mirror?”

“No,” said Tony quickly and turned away.

Dad shook his head and kept looking at him intently. Tony bent down and started picking his toys.

The next moment, Mom called Dad from the kitchen and asked him to go and buy a dozen eggs while she was elbow-deep in dough. So, as soon as his dad was out, Tony sneaked into the bedroom and pulled off the cloth.

Continue reading “The Magic Mirror and the Wall”

How Dostoyevsky Came to Believe that Beauty Will Save the World

Photo Courtesy

How did Dostoevsky come to believe that beauty will save the world? He served his four-year sentence in a labor camp in Omsk where I was born. The barracks where the prisoners were kept are still there to this day and now form the “historical part of the city” with Dostoyevsky’s monument at the entrance.

Four years of hard labor in Siberia in the middle of the 19th century were tantalizing. And yet, in this furnace, Dostoyevsky’s main philosophical ideas were forged, which he later fleshed out in Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.

Scholars agree that during this time, a radical shift happened in his thinking from looking for external solutions to the world’s problems to discovering beauty as the only solution to evil.

The pinnacle of his “beauty-will-save-the-world” narrative is his poem The Great Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov.

The 90-year-old cardinal arrests Jesus and makes a strong case for why the system of the world based on worshiping external authority is the only solution for those weak and unruly human beings to live happily. He scoffs at Jesus for believing in humans too much. They don’t want freedom. They want bread and someone to bow down to.

We – the system of the world – provided them with all that. Don’t you dare ruin it! It’s the only way to keep evil in check. Jesus doesn’t respond. He is silent. After the old man finishes his tirade, Jesus stands up and kisses him gently. The old man doesn’t execute him as he promised. He lets him go. Why?

Because he met with the ultimate beauty. Jesus’s kiss awakened him to a sudden realization that haunted his dreams for many years. Suddenly, he knew in his heart that all his arguments were a bunch of baloney.

There’s beauty in the world that makes a man forget all about bread and security. It is the beauty of seeing someone readily becoming a willing sacrifice for you. The Grand Inquisitor understands that Jesus is ready to die again as many times as necessary so people can be free. So, he lets him go, unable to resist the inner call of Beauty.  

Dostoyevsky’s famous phrase “Beauty will save the world” sums up his whole philosophy and strangely resonates with the insights of other great thinkers of the 19th and 20th centuries. One of them was Victor Hugo, who, according to Dostoyevsky, was his source of inspiration.

Continue reading “How Dostoyevsky Came to Believe that Beauty Will Save the World”

G.K. Chesterton on the Fallacy of Success: The Curse of the Midas Touch

Image courtesy

What is the curse of the Midas touch?

“There is no such thing as Success. Or, if you like to put it so, there is nothing that is not successful. That a thing is successful merely means that it is; a millionaire is successful in being a millionaire and a donkey in being a donkey.” G.K. Chesterton (On the Fallacy of Success).

What is success? We all seem to have some idea of what it is. And if we don’t, there are thousands of people out there who will teach you. There are thousands of online courses, tens of thousands of YouTube gurus, and millions of books out there that promise to lead you to success in 5 simple steps.  

People with the “Midas touch” are universally praised and revered. They can use every opportunity to make money. They are able to turn everything they touch into gold. And yet, as G.K. Chesterton says, the Greeks have enshrined the “instinct that makes people rich” in the most telling myth about King Midas.

Midas, the affluent ruler of Phrygia, lived in a lavish palace with his beautiful daughter and was leading a life of extravagance. Despite his immense wealth, Midas was fixated on the pursuit of gold, believing it to be the ultimate source of happiness.

His avarice was such that he spent his days counting his golden coins, and occasionally he would even “bathe” in golden coins.

One day, a satyr by the name of Silenus was passing through Midas’s famous rose garden. He was so tired after days of feasting with his patron Bacchus that he lay down on the ground in total exhaustion to take a nap. Midas found him there, invited him in, and took care of him.

After several days, he took him back to Bacchus, the god of wine and pleasure. Bacchus was so glad to see Silenus that he promised to fulfill any one wish of Midas. After some consideration, Midas blurted: “I want to turn everything I touch into gold.” Bacchus advised him to think twice before making such a wish, but Midas didn’t listen.

The next day, Midas started touching everything in his castle. First, a small table turned into gold. Then, he touched a chair, a carpet, the floor – everything! Midas was ecstatic. Finally, his dream came true. He could have anything he wanted. He kept running around and touching everything he saw.

Finally, he sank down on his golden chair exhausted. He reached out for some grapes, but the moment he started chewing, he nearly broke his teeth – the grape became golden in his hand. He leaned over to enjoy the smell of a rose on his table, but as soon as he touched it, it turned into gold between his fingers and lost its fragrance.

Slowly, Midas started to realize what had happened to him. He touched a slice of bread, and it turned into gold. He touched a glass of water, and it turned into gold. Suddenly, fear gripped his soul. “What have I done!” he muttered and lay down on his couch. The pillow under his cheek turned into gold as well.

Continue reading “G.K. Chesterton on the Fallacy of Success: The Curse of the Midas Touch”

Rene Girard on How to End Violence in the World

Is it possible to end violence in the world?

In our day and age, violence is legitimized and sacralized – as it’s always been. Nations rise and declare war on each other on the grounds that seem perfectly justifiable.

Since times immemorial, people have believed in sacred violence because there seems to be no other way to set things right when you have been wronged. If a member of another tribe kills someone you love, it is impossible to replace this person by finding an equivalent. There is no equivalent.

How do you then compensate for the loss? How do you appease the wrath? What do you do with the pain? What sacrifice is sufficient to restore peace in your soul?

The usual reasoning goes like this: I must make the offending party pay with something they hold dear. They must sacrifice someone they love. It can’t be just anyone. It should be someone pure and perfect, a holy sacrifice. A king, a maid, or a child. There is a strong mythology developed around the sacred victim because it seems to be the only workable solution.

“The victim becomes sacred and the process of sacralization remains a fundamental structure of all archaic religion.” Rene Girard

When the sacrifice is made (usually by violence), peace is restored. Wrath seems to be appeased. Or is it? In any case, it seems to work for a time – at least, it dulls the pain well enough.

What is the theory of Rene Girard?

Rene Girard, a French historian, literary critic, and philosopher, said that people have only two ways of dealing with violence in this world. One is to look for a scapegoat. The other one is to become a scapegoat – willingly.

The first way is pagan. All pagan religions sooner or later come up with the idea of a scapegoat – someone who will bear the guilt of all.

The second one was epitomized by Christ – an innocent scapegoat who willingly takes upon himself the guilt of all the transgressions.

Rene Girard says,

“Christianity must be the religion of the end of sacrifice, because it says that there is only one victim, who is God.”

Pain always pushes us to look for a scapegoat. Until our pain is healed, we will need a sacrifice to appease our own anger. We will lash out. We will demand a sacrifice. We are hurting, so we need to hurt. We can’t just leave it like this. So, we will ALWAYS find a scapegoat – someone who will pay the price.

The trouble with this approach is that it DOES NOT heal the pain that caused the violence in the first place – it only dulls it for a while. By lashing out against our chosen scapegoat, we feel a temporary relief from our pain but the root of it remains. We will be relieved for a while until something else or someone else triggers our pain again.

Continue reading “Rene Girard on How to End Violence in the World”

How Powerful Are the Ents?

The Gentle Power of Growing that Splits Rocks.

How powerful are the Ents?

“My business is with Isengard tonight, with rock and stone.” Treebeard.

What can be more vulnerable than a gentle sprout springing from under the ground? You can easily step on it and trample it underfoot. You can knock it off with a stick or break it with your fingers. And yet, in Tolkien’s lore, the power of growing things prevails over the power of the Machine.

In The Lord of the Rings, The One Ring is the epitome of the ultimate Machine, a technology used to control other wills. In Tolkien’s philosophy, the Machine is an external technique or device designed to subdue reality to my will.

By the last [the Machine] I intend all use of external plans or devices (apparatus) instead of development of the inherent inner powers or talents — or even the use of these talents with the corrupted motive of dominating: bulldozing the real world, or coercing other wills. The Machine is our more obvious modern form though more closely related to Magic than is usually recognized. . . The Enemy in successive forms is always ‘naturally’ concerned with sheer Domination, and so the Lord of magic and machines.

Saruman didn’t believe in the power of growing. He didn’t care for growing things. He believed in the Machine. He believed in forcing. Forcing is the opposite of growing. Growing is allowing things to be as they are. Forcing is imposing your will upon another. As Treebeard says of Saruman,

He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for living things, except as far as they serve him for the moment.” 

Ironically, Isengard was defeated by “the things that grow” – the Ents and Huorns (trees) who were roused enough to unleash their hidden power. But where does this power come from?

There are two types of magic in The Lord of the Rings. One is black magic called the Machine, and the other one is Art. The Machine is using external means to bulldoze reality into my mold. Art is the magic that grows out of who I am. Hobbits and elves love “all things that grow” because they are attuned to the “deeper magic.”

For all hobbits share a love for things that grow.

Saruman wasn’t attuned to the “deeper magic,” the magic of growing – the magic that grows slowly and is rooted in the soil.

Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. I found it is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.  Gandalf

What does Aslan say about the “deeper magic”?

C.S. Lewis mentions this “deeper magic” in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when Aslan says of the White Witch:

The Witch knew the Deep Magic…but there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.

In Magician’s Nephew, we see this deeper magic unfold in the way Narnia springs into existence from the primeval darkness — as an echo of The Song. The deeper magic of Aslan’s Song makes all things grow. All living things literally spring out of the ground, from the soil of the earth.

Continue reading “How Powerful Are the Ents?”