There be dragons!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On Love and the Nuptial Number (an exchange with my father)

I came across this portentous exchange with my father from a few years ago.  Fortuitous as my mind is going through a dark period now.  I think the company of saints is just this - the arrival of a piece of memorabilia, a photo, a message, a memory, a prompting from who knows where attributable to someone whom we loved and lost.

The Mass is important; but not as the modernists see it, a community sing-along around the campfire. Trivializing the Mass! The journey cannot be seen in a modern church in the round. One is, it is implied, already there, in the company of heaven already, surrounded by the saints on earth (and in heaven?). Wherever one looks, there are only other sinners and they as much confined into the prison as you. The sacrifice going on before us is itself obscured by the music and the casualness of the celebrant, and then the whole room becomes one great Platonic Cave, full of shadows.

I experienced much the same repulsion at *a certain school's* method of teaching the Scriptures.  I heard from a parent recently that they are ardently promoting this "sitting around a campfire telling our story" approach to scripture; promoted mostly by *a certain teacher*.  Not that scripture is a salvific history proclaiming a unique understanding of who the God is through the panoply of a highly structured literary architecture and use of symbols, but rather it's just "stories around a campfire in the dark";  never going anywhere, never having a cohesive thesis, never seeing the dawn.  No thanks.

Now my problem and where I'm wobbliest is exactly where Socrates indicates he is wobbliest.  That nuptial number that he raises in book VIII has always struck me as the key to any humble man's comprehension of these things (that seems redundant; how could any man truly perceiving these things not be humble)  But what makes humility is that one "sees" the greatness of the architecture, its wholeness, harmony, radiance, but than look around you; how did things get where they are?  Inexplicable.  More to the point, there is a lacuna, a disjunct, something of a system interrupt that occurs at a crucial point (and as this is the first time I'm putting this into print, bear with me).  We understand that the words in the story actually refer to a greater truth beyond themselves.  We understand that the mathematics refers most directly and purely to the same truth.  We understand that the same truths are expressed in multifarious ways; music, art, literature, philosophy, mathematics, nature, et alia.  Where the disjuncture occurs is whether there is anything that really IS being represented.  Certainly the scriptures claim that there is an IS and that He IS, and we can comprehend what is being said, but how do we know that what we give creedance to isn't just an accruing of images by humans who do not want to believe otherwise; i.e. that we really are totally alone on this hunk of rock?  Even if all the systems of thought were complex, harmonious, radiant, whole, even if we could spend hours and days staring at them for their beauty, would we still be deluding ourselves into thinking that our thought was actually connected to anything real?  Or was it just the complex constructions of an overly developed primate brain?

I think that is the sticking point to which Socrates is alluding with the nuptial number.  If we seek "real" proof we won't get it.  Instead we will get stuck by an implacable and impossible "number" which will be the absurd and unattainable linchpin for the success of this great and glorious city we just constructed.  So what is the point?  Not to seek for such a linchpin?  To turn aside from finding that and look instead at the beauty of the principle which instills in us a "knowing" beyond our intellect?  But what if it's delusion?  What if we're fooling ourselves?  What if...  Then the only calming response to such fears is "Let me tell you a story.  I once knew a man named (Er, or Lazarus, or Jesu barJoseph, or Fred the technician, or Bilbo Baggins).  And with that soothing bedtime story we can more easily go to sleep.


Ah, my son. You have reached the desert point. The desert is the making or breaking of a man. 

Is there an I AM anywhere, or did we make him up? Human inventiveness.

But what if there is a...? Then what?

That point of doubt is there for any man who tries to see God.  My point has to do with the natural connections, the natural symbols, of the buildings and the liturgies of the Faith. One must believe, but more importantly, trust; that is the real meaning of Fides. Trust, Troth.  He said, Lo, I am with you always, I am. And either we trust through the dark or we go screaming around the halls. Which is the truth? which is the paliative, comfort blanket, dream, fiction? The empty halls where we scream, or the voice in our heads that says I AM?

"I don't believe, I know," said the old C. G. Jung in an interview.  It comes down to that, do we know, intimately and personally.  On that trust hangs all our creativity and life, or else we give up and live by our appetites.  A pious atheist is a non sequitur.  Moral and humane perhaps, but not awake or full of vision. The world is dead for the atheist. But we who know always have that temptation in front of us, the temptation of the Garden and the Apple perhaps, to be as Gods.

My point is that for  the believer, the church shape is the shape of a journey, that is not an arbitrary interpretation, walking up the main aisle to the altar is a journey, from there to here, or from here to there. And what the church gives us on the road up there is the images of the journey, those we meet or should meet. Once we have come to the high point of the journey, the altar and the meal of Him, we can then experience his own journey, the Stations, in reverse and widdershins order, the road down. Until that point we don't know what all that story means. And if we go beyond the altar, we enter the cave of the skull, the apse, and find our contemplation, our "dark contemplation" as St. John of the Cross called it, passivity, there.  I am only making natural connections, not allegories.

Reading scripture as campfire stories is ok, campfire stories are spooky and stick in the head. But to make sense of those campfire images needs correct interpretation, connection to the greater whole of the story's parallels and connections.  What Tolkien called "correspondence." And that is done in terms of a moral world, and the consequences of choices, then a symbolic world, the natural field of the story, (Allegory) then the inner world of the anagogy, the "movement up," that is our own personal and non-communicable experience of the story within our own minds, How we take it in, what it feels like, etc. that is what the medievals called Heaven. Our innerness. In that innerness we participate in the greater cosmos and the reality that is the Forms, the Neters. But we cant say what we are experiencing, it is not verbalizable. Only by conventional connections, Gold Streets, Palaces, Domes, Spires, etc., or whatever, The colleges of Oxford, or the streets of an imagined New York. Or maybe one's infant bedroom and the presence of mommy and daddy.  I sometimes see that old room again and me on the floor beneath my parents in their rocking chairs, playing with my blocks and listening to the radio and the dramatized stories that were so popular then, movies, novels, etc. Most possible not what a child ought to have heard. My parents talking to each other or to my sisters who came in and sat on the bed above me. Is heaven that? Certainly not golden streets and harps everywhere. And no wings.

Jung and the others influenced by Freud saw all this as a form of Projection, a wish fulfillment, but at the end, he also came to say, "I don't believe in God, I know."  

So the point of doubt is the point of the nuptial number indeed, a move to find some rational way to name what isn't rational. One's trust.

Must close. My arm is hurting tonight where the pic line is in. Thursday I get a port like Beth had. And CT scan tests to see where I have come after seven chemo treatments.

Much love to my little ones and to you and Beth. I am so glad you are my family. I have put the wonderful photos of the kids on the mantel with the week's candle and my prayers.

Love, Dad


  1. What a beautiful witness from your father. How I miss him- as you must. How did you come to find this? It is indeed very timely.

    1. Just tucked away somewhere in my electronic notes. I think I filed it wrongly and found it while looking for another file. That's my problem there... too many files.