It’s a strange time, isn’t it? The last few days it feels like the strains on this modern world have given way to full-blown cracks and that we have begun to tilt inexorably toward a future we are ill-prepared to face. Israel surges into Gaza, a plane falls from the Ukrainian sky. The last few days where I live, the weather has been clear, crisp, delightful in a way summers in the Southern U.S. rarely are. The natural world has been closer: a turtle directly on my path, a young mockingbird exploring the window at which I stood, a corner crow cocking its head at me as it regarded me through the window. They are speaking softly, meaningfully, without yet meaning anything. While tensions flare around the wreckage of the plane, while Israel commits itself to expanding its attack. There is worry and despair, but also exhilaration and hope.
I’ve been wondering about writing while all this goes on, but for the moment I have decided to work away as I have. It may not be much, but it is one of my disciplines and I do believe that discipline ripples outward. Though it cannot stay the tide, perhaps if there is enough discipline, it will at least hold back some of the flood. If not, well, then at least I am occupied with something other than anxiety.
After writing about Sophia and Gbadu, about the active forces sent out to save the world, I want to talk a bit about that to which their force is directed, the seemingly dead and passive body of the world. For all the talk of the Black Iron Prison, of the world at the brink of disorder, there is a sense that this is not the natural state of this world. When the forces of salvation operate upon it, they do not simply annihilate it; they redeem it. They return to it the state of life proper to it.
What is that state of life?
Let’s look at the figure that embodies it, Populus. It is dark, yes, but not passive. Populus is dark because it is too crowded, too polyvalent, to take any defined shape. Within it, shapes move in and through each other, like shadows on a wall or like black cows in a black night. There is a heat and a friction, and oftentimes within it there is a flashing of clarity, like a lightning bolt through a storm cloud. Raised to its fullest potency, it generates flashes of salvatory force from within itself.
It is on this point that we ought to be careful about the religions that offer us too much salvation, too much freedom. While they appeal, carried to excess they undermine the life of the world, operate counter to it in an effort to sustain personal durability over the submission to the cycle of earth. The bull killed by Mithras is the Mother’s child, the future of the Earth. In how many ways have we made the world into a trap by treating it as such and trying to escape?
The light that the divine force of redemption beams into our world is not intended for our escape. It is intended for our redemption, that we might find ourselves again in this world according to our nature and place, rather than according to our willful desire. Here we must learn to confront death more honestly, both in its organic immediacy, as well as in its more abstract forms. Death is not a monster to be overcome, a curse to be banished. It is the basis for our life and our submission to it is our final affirmation of existence.