“Lord, make me half the man my dog thinks I am.”
This piece was published today by Via Lucis Photography: Photography of Religious Architecture. Click the blue link to view P.J. McKey’s lovely post.
Tomorrow is the Feast of Pentecost. At Vespers on Pentecost, the monks sang Veni Creator Spiritus in Latin (here translated into English), attributed to Rabanus Maurus (776-856 CE). Click HERE to hear the sounds of prayer.
Come, Holy Spirit, Creator blest,
and in our hearts take up Thy rest;
come with Thy grace and heav’nly aid,
to fill the hearts which Thou hast made.
O Finger of the hand divine,
the sevenfold gifts of grace are Thine
Thy light to every sense impart,
and shed Thy love in every heart,
Praise we the Father and the Son
and Holy Spirit with them One;
and may the Son on us bestow
the gifts that from the Spirit flow.
Rudolph Otto’s idea of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, the source of holy dread and attraction that sends shudders down the human spine, rises to the fore as North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong Un plays with the possibility of nuclear holocaust.
It’s one thing to play with toys. It’s something else when the toys are nuclear bombs and missiles.
In The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational, Rudolph Otto examines what he called the “numen,” the non-rational mystery that evokes feelings at once terrifying and sublime regarding our human condition.
“Otto on the Numinous” provides a concise introduction by an unidentified City University of New York English professor.
In The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational, Rudolph Otto identifies and explores the non-rational mystery behind religion and the religious experience (“non-rational” should not be confused with “irrational”); he called this mystery, which is the basic element in all religions, the numinous. He uses the related word “numen” to refer to deity or God.
Forced, necessarily, to use familiar words, like “dread” and “majesty,” Otto insists that he is using them in a special sense; to emphasize this fact, he sometimes uses Latin or Greek words for key concepts. This fact is crucial to understanding Otto. Our feeling of the numinous and responses to the numinous are not ordinary ones intensified; they are unique (I use this word in its original meaning of “one of a kind, the only one”) or sui generis (meaning “in a class by itself”). For example, fear does not become dread in response to the numinous; rather, we cease to feel ordinary fear and move into an entirely different feeling, a dread that is aroused by intimations of the numinous or the actual experience of the numinous.
The word “absolute” is used in its metaphysical sense of “existing without relation to any other being; self-existent; self-sufficing” (OED); its adjectival form, “absolutely,” is used with the same meaning.”
The fact that North Korea’s young leader Kim Jong Un is threatening the world with nuclear holocaust does what World War I did to many theologians who had presumed that history is on a course of inevitable progress.
It is not.
The power of death is enticing, a sin to which Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the bomb, later confessed. The human will to power becomes evil when real soldiers, real nuclear bombs, and real missiles, and real threats of destruction are mistaken for childhood toys or computer games where human folly can be erased by hitting a delete button.
We are all children inside, for both good and ill.
Looking at the young North Korean leader, psychiatrists might see an Oedipus complex, the son outdoing the father at the game of nuclear threat, the boy who played with matches and determined that if his father was afraid to light the fuse, he would step out from his father’s shadow onto the stage of world power in a way the world would never forget.
But deeper and more encompassing than any Freudian analysis is Rudolph Otto’s mysterium tremendum et fascinans.
The philosophical-theological debates about Modernism and Post-Modernism are interesting. They deserve our attention. But neither Modernism’s rationalism nor Post-Modernism’s deconstructionism is equipped to address the most basic reality which encompassing the human condition: the mysterium tremendum et fascinans and the horror of its daemonic distortion in the shrinking of it by the human will to power.
Whenever we take the ultimate trembling and fascination of the self into our own hands, the world is put at risk. In the world of the ancients and the pre-historical world of our evolutionary ancestors the consequences were limited to a neighbor’s skull broken with a club. In the advanced species that has progressed from those primitive origins, we have fallen in love with our own toys of destruction, the technical achievements and manufactured mysteries that are deadly surrogates for the mysterium tremendum et fascinans that sends shudders down the spine in terror and in joy before what is Real.
Our time is perilously close to mass suicide. Unless and until we get it straight that I/we are not the Center of the universe, the likes of Kim Jong Un – and his mirror opposite but like-minded opponents on this side of the Pacific – will hold us hostage to the evil that lurks in human goodness.
Progress isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The ancient shudder of the creature – the human cry for help in the face of chaos and the heart’s leap toward what is greater than the self or our social constructs – unmasks every illusion of grandeur in a world increasingly put at risk by little boys with toys.
P.S. Just as this piece was in final editing, Dennis Aubrey published “Mysterium Tremendum” on Via Lucis Photography.
Spoon for life.
- Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, March 6, 2013; Photo by Kay Stewart
The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.- NRA Press Conference, Dec. 21, 2012
“If I’d only had a gun….?” – Jesus of Nazareth, First Century CE.
While reflecting on Malachi’s strange metaphor of the refiner’s fire, Via Lucis’ post “Stillness Crieth Out” (re-posted here last week) re-focused the sermon. Here are the words from Malachi:
“Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way for me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? “For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap….” – Malachi 3:1-2.
Thank you, Dennis Aubrey and PJ McKay, for you splendid insights to to these grand Romanesque and Gothic sacred spaces that still bring the soul to stillness and wonder.
This lovely post from Via Lucis was almost deleted in the avalanche of campaign soliticitations in this morning’s in-box. Scroll down for the post. It lifted my spirits, prompting the following thank you:
Dennis and PJ, Your post gave me a lift this morning. Such grandeur. I am so weary of campaign television ads, phone calls, and internet solicitations that reduce the human spirit to its smallest proportions. I need the height, the soaring arches, the clean lines – and the reminder that sometimes even barbarity recognizes something else worth preserving. Beautiful shots and great commentary.
Their post took me to the psalms, and psalm paraphrases set to music. One is Christopher L. Webber’s “I will give thanks with my whole heart,” a paraphrase of Psalm 138 set to the music of Cantionale Germanicum (1628) arranged by J.S. Bach (c. 1708).
All kings on earth who hear Your words,
O Lord, will give you thanks and praise
And tell how great Your glory is,
And they will sing of all Your ways.
The Lord is high, yet scornes the proud,
Protects the lowly on their path;
Although I walk in trouble, Lord,
You keep me safe from my foe’s wrath.
Lord, Your right hand shall save my life
And make Your purpose for me sure;
Do not forsake what You have made;
Your love forever will endure.
- Third, fourth and fifth stanzas
Via Lucis often makes my day. Today was one of them. Click and enjoy.
Honda Dream CB 150 Hawk
The motorcycle was too small for me,
but was what I could buy with part-time work.
Not loud and rough like the big bikes Harley-
Davidson made, the slim Honda Dream Hawk
would start not with a kick, but with the push
of a button… Quiet, purring, and clean–
liked even by my mother–I would ride
130 miles to college, then
come home the next weekend to see my bride-
The bike was under-powered, meant
for in-town rides, so on the roads I’d draft
behind a semi-truck to reach a speed
of 65. The truckers hated that
I stuck so close behind out of their sight,
but I, oblivious, dreamed on my steed…
- Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, host of “Keepin’ the Faith” on Illinois Public Radio WILL at the University of Illinois.
Now he spends his time on the prairie looking for a draft of wind to fly his kite.
Three young Atlases kept the world from falling years ago.
Steve (left) became a corporate lawyer. Ron (center) went to Vietnam, returned to manage his family business, and became a high school physics teacher. The guy on the right still thinks he’s holding up the world!
We don’t remember where this shot was taken. Today, the day after posting “The Blue Bomb and the Fire Bombs” (Ron owned “the Blue Bomb”), the picture reminds me that somenhow the rock remained balanced there without our help. When the three Atlases shrugged, the world didn’t fall.
My spirit feels lighter.