Tag Archives: Philosophy

God in a cave

Merry Christmas everyone!  The following is from Gilbert Keith (G.K.) Chesterton in The Everlasting Man. I’m not sure I get the fullness of all its meaning, to be honest, but it moves me closer to the awe and magic of Christmas every time I read it. It’s thick but worth wrestling through…

Excerpt: The Place that shepherds found was not an academy or an abstract republic; it was not a place of myths … explained or explained away. It was a place of dreams come true.

Traditions in art and literature and popular fable have quite sufficiently attested, as has been said, this particular paradox of the divine being in the cradle. Perhaps they have not so clearly emphasised the significance of the divine being in the cave. Curiously enough, indeed, tradition has not very clearly emphasised the cave. It is a familiar fact that the Bethlehem scene has been represented in every possible setting of time and country of landscape and architecture; and it is a wholly happy and admirable fact that men have conceived it as quite different according to their different individual traditions and tastes. But while all have realised that it was a stable, not so many have realised that it was a cave. Some critics have even been so silly as to suppose that there was some contradiction between the stable and the cave; in which case they cannot know much about caves or stables in Palestine. As they see differences that are not there it is needless to add that they do not see differences that are there. When a well-known critic says, for instance, that Christ being born in a rocky cavern is like Mithras having sprung alive out of a rock, it sounds like a parody upon comparative religion. There is such a thing as the point of a story, even if it is a story in the sense of a lie. And the notion of a hero appearing, like Pallas from the brain of Zeus, mature and without a mother, is obviously the very opposite of the idea of a god being born like an ordinary baby and entirely dependent on a mother.

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Myth became fact

The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens – at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences … To be truly Christian we must both assent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (fact though it has become) with the same imaginative embrace which we accord to all myths. The one is hardly more necessary than the other … Those who do not know that this great myth became fact, when the Virgin conceived are, indeed to be pitied … We must not, in false spirituality, withhold our imaginative welcome. If God chooses to be mythopoeic … shall we refuse to be mythopathic? For this is the marriage of heaven and earth: Perfect Myth and Perfect Fact: claiming not only our love and our obedience, but also our wonder and delight, addressed to the savage, the child, and the poet in each one of us no less than to the moralist, the scholar, and the philosopher.

-C.S. Lewis, from his essay ‘Myth Became Fact’

Which reality, whose philosophy?

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
You have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
The Desiderata

I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the LORD.
Psalm 27:13-14

I had a tremendous sense of peace come over me on my way to work this morning. I thought about the claim in the Desiderata that “whether it is clear to you or not, the universe is unfolding as it should”. I looked up and saw the moon hanging in the clear blue sky and as I breathed in the morning air, it occurred to me that it is by the grace of God that I awoke this morning—it is He who set my path before me today.  I thought of the Psalmist’s confidence that he would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (from Psalm 27 which I try to read each morning).

I began to wonder why such peace today and such strife on other days. I think, as the Psalmist hints, it has to do with what we “see” going on around us—or perhaps more acuurately, how we see what’s going on around us.  The psalmist’s ultimate reality rested in seeing “the goodness of the Lord”. Today I happened to be focused on that reality.

But there are competing claims as to the nature of “reality”—each vieing to be the lens through which see the world. Many philosophies are or have been in vogue at one time or another. I find tremendous value in many of them, and I am conscientious of oversimplifying this brief discussion in a way that does not do them justice. That said, I believe there is an Ultimate Reality (more on this in Upside-down, Inside-outOn the significance of what we do: two perspective) against which all other philosophies fall short—in both explaining our experience of life and in prescribing how life is best lived. This Ultimate Reality is sometimes harder to sense, but that makes it no less concrete or real. In fact, I would argue it is much more real. Inasmuch as all other philosophies are partly right, they are right in that that they point to this Ultimate Reality.

Two quick thoughts on this.

1. Many of us have not considered whether there is something beyond the here and now. Therefore, we spend life focused on the tangible world. We try to succeed at work, find comfort in the love of families and friends and generally enjoy this world while we are on it. We find our significance and meaning in these things (discussed in The Problem of good in the world: Pt. IPt. IIPt. III). It is a reasonable worldview if the here and now is the only and the ultimate reality, but I would contend that in the end it’s a brutal worldview—performance-driven and leaving many questions unanswered. We most feel the dissonance created by this view when we can’t get something we desperately want, or lose something (or someone) we greatly loved.

I find that more and more I write these entries because I realize how much I yearn for many of you, my friends, to know—or at least consider whether—there is something beyond the here and now. The Ultimate Reality, I contend, is an understanding of ourselves and life in the context of our relationship to the God of creation. I believe this is the only way to fully understand the significance and meaning of our lives and the best framework for how to live them.
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