"MOST PROBABLY WE ARE IN EDEN STILL"
Father Robert Wild
At the beginning of a talk several years ago, I wrote on the blackboard, in huge letters, GOD BECAME MAN SO THAT MAN MIGHT BECOME GOD. I then asked the audience where that saying came from. Several hands shot up, and a chorus of voices declared, "the New Age!" Only a tiny part of me exulted over the success of my stratagem. I was maliciously hoping to get that very response. We are breathing New Age thought in our cultural atmosphere, and most young people today have been affected, in one way or another, by it.
The deeper and better part of me was quite sad. First of all, because this saying from our tradition - I proceeded to quote Irenaeus, Basil, Augustine, Aquinas, and, most recently, John Paul II - was unknown to them; secondly, because they thought that so extravagant a description of the union effected by the Incarnate Word could not possibly be orthodox teaching.
I have read a fair amount of new age literature. It runs the gamut from silliness to outright dangerous stuff. Like the Greeks milling around the areopagus, new-agers have many gods. But they are hungry; they are searching; my heart aches for them. I read their literature in order to understand where they're coming from, and so that I may be a better guide through the intellectual and spiritual soup from anyone who asks. New-agers are seeking the greatness of what St. Peter calls the "sharing in the divine nature". They are just seeking in the wrong places.
There is much blindness and confusion. They believe they are "parts of God". They equate themselves with God. They are dissolving into the "All", and tuning in on the vibrations of the Universe.
Why are they "lost in the cosmos"? Ignorance for sure. "Ignorance" simply means "not knowing". And why don't they know? Possibly complete ignorance of the Christian tradition. Possibly the scanty tradition they know has not adequately transmitted the greatness of "theosis", the divinization of the Christian by the Holy Spirit.
But the Holy Spirit is at work in many of them. They sense and long for this unimaginable sharing in the Trinitarian life which only faith in Jesus can give them, and of which only the Christian tradition can give a true understanding. They are gasping for the dignity of being more than 98 cents worth of chemicals. In their spiritual suffocation they are gasping for the straws of an ersatz transcendence.
Over against their defective understanding, we are called to defend the true greatness of the human person as proclaimed by the Christian tradition. The new age "blending into the All" seems very beautiful and is intoxicating, but the depth of the Christian tradition has much better ideas. The Christian understanding of the dignity and destiny of the human person can only be unappealing to our times because we have not defended and described it in all its true exaltedness.
When vintage Chestertonians hear the word "defend", they will, of course, think immediately of G.K.C's The Defendant, and especially of the magnificent Introduction:
Religion has had to provide that longest and strangest telescope - the telescope through which we could see the star upon which we dwelt. For the mind and eyes of the average man and this world is as lost as Eden and as sunken as Atlantis. There runs a strange law through the length of human history -that men are continually tending to undervalue their environment, to undervalue their happiness, to undervalue themselves. the great sin of mankind, the sin typified by the fall of Adam, is the tendency, not towards pride, but towards this weird and horrible humility. This is the great fall, the fall by which the fish forgets the sea, the ox forgets the meadow, the clerk forgets the city, everyman forgets his environment, and, in the fullest and most literal sense, forgets himself. Most probably we are in Eden still. It is only our eyes that have changed.
That last line always sends a shock of joy to my spirit! We cannot see our own beauty, our own greatness. Our sins, our ignorance, our unbelief, our disorientation from God, blind us. The new-agers are groping in the darkness for the greatness of the human person, for Eden, but have come up with a mere oceanic feeling of absorption. They are proclaiming that the "I" is flowing in and out of the "All" - is the All.
In a question and answer period after one of his lectures, a man said: "Mr. Chesterton, you should not say you know something unles you have scientific proof". GK: "Do you know you exist?" Man: "I should say I have an intuition I exist". GK: "So much the worse for you". And if the new-agers were to say to GK: "I have an intuition that I am not a distinct person", he would most certainly say: "So much the worse for you".
There was a time when G.K. himself was swimming dangerously close to the pantheistic waters. "It might be said that Anglo-Catholicism was simply my own incompleted conversion to Catholicism. But it was from a position originally much more detached and indefinite that I have been converted, an atmosphere if not agnostic at least pantheistic or unitarian". (The Catholic Church and Conversion)
One trembles with fear to imagine G.K's great mind unconverted, and instead of describing the distinctiveness and particularity of every atom of creation, expounding and poeticizing on the All into which we are all absorbed!
No, each person is each person, a living centre of thought and will. There is not One Great Person loving Self. One Giant Flame did not come at Pentecost and absorb everyone into the Great Cosmic Fire. The Flame separated, and small flames rested on each, because the Holy Fire is related personally to each small flame.
And this Flame penetrates, like fire does molten iron, but it does not absorb, does not obliterate, does not melt persons down into one Flow. The iron is still iron, and the fire, fire. The fire penetrates and transforms.
So too, even though we "share in the divine nature", in a magnificent way my personality remains intact. It is still I who think, I who love, I who will. This is a much more exciting adventure and romance than being absorbed and dissolved out of existence! (How could you have a romance with your own Being!) And only Christ can give me the eyes to see that I am a living and willing centre in a personal relationship to God. And greater joy still: only Christ can give us the power to once again walk in the cool of Eden and commune with the Father.
. . . o o o . . .