In the first chapter I tried to distinguish spiritual language, founded on the principle that literal meaning in religion is metaphorical and mythical meaning, from natural language, which is founded on the principle that the literal is the descriptive. In the second I tried to distinguish spiritual and natural visions of the spatial world. The natural vision of space is founded on the subject-object split, and whatever is objectified in ordinary experience is 'there,' even if it is in the middle of our own backbones. At the centre of space is 'here,' but 'here' is never a point, it is always a circumference. We draw a circle around ourselves and say that 'here' is inside it. What is, in the common phrase, neither here nor there does not exist, at least in space.
As natural perception develops, the 'here' circle keeps enlarging: the very word nature, the sense of the objective as an order, shows how far we have gone in overcoming the subject-object split. In proportion as spiritual perception begins to enter the scene, we are released from the bondage of being 'subjected' to a looming and threatening objective world, whether natural or social. In the spiritual world everywhere is here, and both a centre and a circumference. The first book of philosophy that I read purely on my own and purely for pleasure was Whitehead's Science and the Modern World, and I can still remember the exhilaration I felt when I came to the passage: 'In a certain sense, everything is everywhere at all times. For every location involves an aspect of itself in every other location. Thus every spatio-temporal standpoint mirrors the world.' This was my initiation into what Christianity means by spiritual vision.
We saw that we have two stages to pass through, the natural and the social, before the spiritual vision of space is fully emancipated. I now want to distinguish the spiritual vision of time from the natural one, and here again we have a distinction between time in the physical world and time in the social or human world. the latter being what we call history. Philosophers have been extremely profound about time: I do not have enough philosophy to be profound, so I shall have to settle for simplicity, which in a technical subject always means being simplistic.
In our ordinary experience of time we have to grapple with three dimensions, all of them unreal: a past that is no longer, a future that is not yet, and a present that is never quite. We are dragged backwards along a continuum of experience, facing the past with the future behind us. The centre of time is 'now,' just as the centre of space is 'here,' but 'now,' like 'here,' is never a point. The first thing that the present moment does is vanish and reappear in the immediate past, where it connects with our expectation of its outcome in the future. Every present experience is therefore split between our knowledge of having had it and our future-directed fears or hopes about it. The word 'now' refers to the spread of time in between.
We know nothing of the future except by analogy with the past, and analogy tells us that we are mortal. It even seems probable that the basis for consciousness, Paul's soma psychikon, is the awareness that the uneasy pact between soul and body will dissolve sooner or later, whether the soul is confident that it will survive the separation or not. Meanwhile there is, coming from the bodily side, a will to survive of which the motor force is usually called desire. The continuum of desire consists largely of avoiding the consciousness of death, and acting on the assumption that we are not going to die at once. This means that our life in time is a conflict of desire and consciousness producing a state of more or less subdued anxiety, and all the higher religions begin by trying to do something about that anxiety. Buddhism tells us to extinguish desire and cut off the anxiety rooted in the past; the Gospels tell us to take no thought for the morrow and cut off the anxiety rooted in the future.
We may talk about a beginning and an end to time, but we cannot realize such things in our imaginations. Whether we speak of a creation by God which began time (that is, our experience of time) or of a big bang many billions of years ago, the human mind cannot help thinking that there must have been time 'before' that. St. Augustine was bothered by this question, which he raises several times, notably in a famous passage in the Confessions, where in effect he answers the question, 'What was God doing before creation?' by saying, 'Preparing a hell for those who ask such a question.' If we were to guess at the repressed elements in the saint's mind when he wrote this, they might well have run something like this: If you ask God what happened before time, you embarrass God, who probably doesn't know either, and as God hates to be embarrassed, you are risking a good deal by asking.
Life in time represents the revolt of the finite against the indefinite. Time never begins or ends; life always does. Our experience of the present moment, or now, where 'now' is the spread of time between a second or two of past and future, repeats in miniature the whole sequence of our lives. Life in its turn is founded on the alternating movements in time, the cyclical patterns that give us light and darkness, summer and winter, and any number of other cyclical rhythms not yet wholly understood. The relation of life and time to language follows similar patterns. For animals, what corresponds to speech seems to have its roots in the rituals that are punctuation marks in the flow of time, and crucial points in its cycles. Thus we have mating rituals, territorial rituals, rituals of hostility to an invader, or of solidarity within a group, usually connected with communication by sound, as in the songs of birds. The same associations of speech with erotic or hostile or socially binding rituals reappear in human life. But in human rituals we have a more complex factor.
In some societies rituals may be observed on a more or less unconscious basis. If asked why such rituals, which may be very elaborate and apparently significant, are performed, such a society may have little to say to a visiting anthropologist except 'we have always done this.' But it is more usual to have some explanation of ritual at hand and to recite it as an essential part of the ritual itself. Such an explanation regularly takes the form of a myth, or story (mythos), recounting some event in the past of which the ritual is a commemoration or repetition, in the same way that Christmas commemorates and repeats the birth of Christ, even though we do not know the day when Christ was born. A myth in its turn is part of a mythology, or interconnected group of myths, many of them growing out of the rituals of a society's liturgical year. And, of course, the myth springs out of life, not time: it performs the same revolutionary and arbitrary act of beginning and ending.
In the Athens of the fifth century BC, a momentous step in human consciousness occurred when the rituals associated with Dionysus developed into drama, and the great evolution of what we now call literature out of mythology took a decisive turn. The specific literary genre produced on that occasion was tragedy, and tragedy, as analyzed by Aristotle, exhibits the same shape, a parabola in which 'now' is spread between a past and a future that we have been looking at, though of course on a larger scale. Oedipus, for example, is a humane and conscientious king of Thebes, whose kingdom is ravaged by a drought. The gods are angry, and it is his responsibility to find out why. He consults and oracle, the prophet Tiresias, and is told that he himself killed his father long ago and is now living in incest with his mother. Oedipus had no knowledge of this, but ignorance of the law is no excuse. So he tears out his eyes in a revulsion of horror. The knowledge that Oedipus gets from Tiresias about his own earlier life constitutes for him the moment of what Aristotle calls anagnorisis, which may be translated as either 'discovery' or 'recognition,' depending on whether one remembers it or not. As a structural principle in tragedy, anagnorisis is a point of awareness near the end that links with the beginning, and shows us that what we have been following up to that point is not a simple continuum but something in the shape of a parabola, a story that begins, rises, turns, moves downward, and ends in catastrophe. This last word preserves the downward-turning metaphor.
This parabola shape occurs at every instant of our lives. Every experience is a recognition of having had it an instant earlier. It follows that the past is the sole source of knowledge, even though it extends up to the previous moment. The same parabola shape encompasses our entire lives. As we grow older, we find our childhood experiences becoming increasingly vivid, and the speech of old men is full of reminiscences of early life. One reason why such reminiscence is apt to be tedious is that these memories are mainly screen memories, memories not of what happened but of what they have reconstructed in their minds since. However, if they recalled what actually happened it might well be even more tedious.
The great achievement of Oedipus' life came when he encountered the sphinx and was asked the riddle, What animal crawls on four legs, then walks on two, then staggers about on three? The answer, of course, is man, who in the tragic perspective is thrown blindly into the world, rises from the ground to an erect posture, then sinks slowly back toward the ground again. Some years ago an anthropologist visiting one of the South Sea islands (Malekula) found an interesting myth there. When a man dies, he meets a ferocious monster who draws half of an elaborate pattern in the sand: if the departed spirit has not been taught the other half of the pattern, and cannot complete it, the monster devours him. Similarly, what the sphinx gave Oedipus was only half of the tragic riddle of man: it was Tiresias who enabled Oedipus to complete it. Completing the pattern did not save him; it destroyed him, but Oedipus was living in this world, where completed patterns are normally tragic. Since Freud's work a century ago, we have come to understand that everyone's life repeats the Oedipal situation, and, more generally, that our character and behaviour are based on patterns formed before we can remember forming them.
Aristotle explains that a tragic action is usually set off by an overweening or aggressive act on the part of the hero, which disturbs the balance of nature, angers the gods, or provokes retaliation from other men. The aggressive act is called hubris, and the restoring of order after such an aggression, which takes the form of a tragic catastrophe, is called nemesis. But long before Aristotle, the philosopher Anaximander had suggested that merely getting born is an aggressive act, a rebellion of life against time, and that death is the nemesis or restored balance that inevitably follows. Tragedy is thus a special application to life as a whole, though more striking, because the tragic hero is usually larger than life size, and his death proportionately more remarkable. Time itself seems to have no purpose except to continue indefinitely, and we are often told that it will eventually pull all life down into a heat-death in which no form of life will be able to come to birth at all. This law of entropy applies only to closed systems, and there is no certainty that the entire universe is a closed system or even that there is a universe, but the law sounds so pointlessly lugubrious that it instantly carries conviction to many people.
In the metaphorical diagrams that we always use in discussing such subjects, time inevitably has the shape of a horizontal line, the 'ever-rolling stream' that carries us along with its current. Life with its beginning and ending forms a series of parabolas, of rises and falls, along this line, following the cyclical rhythm that nature also exhibits. So far as our experience goes, the manifestations of life are always new: the eggs and rabbits of this Easter are not those of last Easter. For religions that accept the myth of reincarnation the same life may appear over and over: this doctrine does not seem to be functional in the biblical religions, though the Bible has parallel conceptions based on metaphorical identities. In Revelation 11:8, for example, Sodom, Egypt, and Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion are all 'spiritually' (metaphorically) the same place.
In any case, if time is metaphorically a horizontal line or something that moves that way, is there a vertical dimension to life that a conscious mind can grasp? Most religions, certainly the biblical ones, revolve around a God who is metaphorically 'up there,' associated with the sky or upper air. In Christianity, Christ comes down from an upper region (descendit de coelis, as the creed says) to the surface of this earth, then disappears below it, returns to the surface in the Resurrection, then, with the Ascension, goes back into the sky again. Thus the total Christian vision of God and his relation to human life takes the metaphorical shape of a gigantic cross.
Let us turn now from the natural context of life in time to the social and human context we call history. here we have, first of all, the unceasing flow of time to which society adapts in the form of what Edmund Burke calls the continuum of the dead, the living, and the unborn. It is this social continuum out of which we grow, and it is clear that an impulse toward social coherence and stability is as deeply rooted in the human consciousness as anything can be. I cannot think of any society in history that has disintegrated simply through lack of will to survive. Consequently I do not believe what I so often hear from the news media today, that Canada is about to blunder and bungle its way out of history into oblivion, leaving only a faint echo of ridicule behind it.
Burke felt that this continuum of society was the true basis of what is called the social contract, and that to discover what a society's contract is we should look at its present structure. Much earlier, Thomas Hobbes had come up with the myth of an original contract in the past, one which began history as we know it. According to this, human individuals, finding life unbearable in isolation, got together to surrender authority to a leader. Of course Hobbes's individuals could never have existed except as members of previous societies, but his version of the contract has its own mythical integrity. In a state of nature man faces what is still largely unknown, and whenever man is faced with the unknown he starts projecting his fears and anxieties into it. He projects, in this case, a whole cosmos of mysterious external authority, beginning with the gods and including the laws that are usually thought of as coming to a society from an external or objective will lost in the mists of time. The next step is to see a concrete manifestation of this external authority in his own society. At the beginning of recorded history societies are dominated by rulers with gods supporting them, a fusion of spiritual and temporal authority most complete in Egypt, where the Pharaoh was an incarnation of God. The West Semitic peoples preferred to think of earthly rulers as adopted (or 'begotten,' as in Psalm 2) sons of God, but both forms of authority were present and each reinforced the other.
The vertical dimension of a God above man was thus, from the beginning, bound up with the conception of authority and a hierarchical society. In Christian metaphor God has always been a king, a sovereign, a ruler, a lord; and earthly rulers, whether spiritual or temporal were only too ready to claim that they were the representatives of God on earth. In the course of time other conceptions proliferated: of a chain of being stretching from God at the top to chaos at the bottom, of a universe stretching from the presence of God beyond the stars to the centre of the earth, and various others. In the later eighteenth century, with the American, French, and Industrial revolutions, the assumption of the divine right of rulers and of an ascendant class to be perpetually on top of society began to be questioned. But questioning the visible aspect of external authority soon led to questioning its invisible aspect as well.
In the later nineteenth century, with the rise of Marxism and Nietzsche's proclamation of the death of God, the vertical dimension of the cosmos disappeared for many people, and only the horizontal, or historical, dimension remained. The metaphor of William james contrasting tough-minded and tender-minded people is very central to most of us: we all want to be tough-minded, capable of grappling with things as they are and not taking refuge in consoling but outworn formulas. And for many the religious dimension of existence was by definition a tender-minded attitude. But although it was common, and still is, to hear people say, 'I believe only in history,' it is not easy to see what there is in history by itself to believe in. The record of humanity from the beginning is so psychotic that it is difficult not to feel, with Joyce's Stephen Dedalus, that history is rather a nightmare from which we are trying to awake.
Marxists, for example, though always vigilant to pounce on anyone who suggests the reality of a vertical dimension of being as totally lacking in 'historicity,' are really looking for the redemption of man within history, the 'historical process' of Marxism being assumed to lead to the end of history as we have known it. Michel Foucault, in his book The Order of Things, studies the shift from 'classifying' systems of thought which arranged things along hierarchical and vertical patterns of authority, and which dominated culture down to the eighteenth century, to the 'causal' or historical systems that succeeded them in the nineteenth. He remarks, 'The great dream of an end to History is the utopia of causal systems of thought, just as the dream of the world's beginnings was the utopia of classifying systems of thought.' But the Marxist historical process appears to have betrayed the millions of people who have tried to live by it, and perhaps it is time to re-examine our visions of history and time.
Let us go back to our first principle. Just as when we pull a plant up by the roots the surrounding soil will cling to it, so when we examine our experience of the present moment we find it surrounded by the immediate past and future. The Bible sees the relation of God to time as an infinite extension of the same principle. The metaphors of creation and apocalypse, at the beginning and end of the Bible, mean that in the presence of God the past is still here and the future already here. The coming of Christ from a human perspective is split between a first coming in the past and a second coming in the future. The existence of the New Testament, by making this historical-prophetic event a verbal event, transfers not only the pastness of the first coming into our own present, but the futureness (there has to be such a word) of the second one. The vision of the future as already here is not a fatalistic vision: it means simply that we do not have to wait or die to experience it. We speak of the eternal presence of God as timeless, but once again the language fails us: we need some such word as 'timeful' to express what the King James Bible calls the fullness of time.
The movement of the biblical narrative from creation to apocalypse, though it takes place entirely within the present, is not a closed cyclical movement: it moves from a creation to a new creation. The new one is also the old one restored: it is new only to mankind, and represents not only a new but an enlarged human experience. Similarly in the Book of Job, God intervenes in the dialogue to describe to Job the past creation that Job never saw. But, once brought into Job's present experience, it becomes a new creation in which Job is no longer a mere spectator but a participant. The restoration of Job takes place in the immediate future, but it is already incorporated in the vision. Yet the future promise is an essential part of the vision, because, as Eliot says, only through time is time conquered.
Again, Ezekiel's vision of dry bones (37) was probably, in its original context, a vision of the restoration of Israel from captivity, a future event to Ezekiel. Christianity regards it as a prophecy of the resurrection begun by the resurrection of Christ, again a future event. But there is another dimension even to the Christian view, the dimension that the Book of Revelation (14:6) calls the everlasting gospel. For Paul, the Messiah was the concealed hero of the Old Testament as well as the revealed hero of the New. The prophecy includes the future but is not fixated on the future. What Ezekiel was really seeing, then, was actual resurrection, a vertical movement from a dying present into the living presence of the spiritual body. And although Jesus often speaks of his spiritual kingdom in metaphors of the future, he makes it quite clear, in the parable of the talents and elsewhere, that it is not a good idea to throw away our lives on the assumption that an 'after' life will be a better or easier one.
History is the social memory of human experience, and in writing about it we look for beginnings and ends, even though these beginnings and ends are at least partly a technical verbal device. We also impose narrative patterns, like Gibbon's 'decline and fall' for the Roman Empire or Motley's 'rise' for the Dutch Republic, to give shape to our understanding. There is thus a combination of continuity and repetition in history-writing, and the repeated or sequential themes are a mixture of fact and organizing fiction, or myth. From Vergil to Nietzsche there have been occasional visions of history as totally cyclical, an unending movement of time in which the same events recur indefinitely. There seems to be better evidence, however, that time is irreversible, and general cyclical views of history are not convincing. That there are cyclical elements in history, that is, recurring patterns that exist in events themselves and are not simply fictions in the mind of the historian, seems inescapable.
A very frequent primitive view of history is that it consists of a series of re-enactments in time of certain archetypal myths that happened before human life as we know it began. In some societies this dominance of repetition over history is so powerful that in a sense nothing ever happens. In the Egyptian Old Kingdom a Pharaoh may set up a stele recording his defeat of his enemies, with the enemies, even their leaders, carefully named. It seems like a genuine historical record - until scholars discover that it has been copied verbatim from another monument two centuries older. What is important is not that the Pharaoh won, but that he continues to say that he won, in a ritual pseudo-history where no defeat ever can occur. This obliterating of history is much the same as the incessant rewriting of history in totalitarian states, which turns history into a continuous record of the infallibility of the ruling party.
Sometimes this sense of repetition develops a movement to create a new kind of history by reincarnating a myth out of the past. The patron saint of all such efforts is Don Quixote, who tried to force the society around him to conform to a lost age of chivalry. We note in passing that no previous age thus invoked ever existed: quixotic versions of history are secular parodies of the Christian view of the Fall, and, as Proust says, the only paradises are those we have lost. The Nazi movement in Germany purported to be a re-creation of a mythical heroic Germany, though it soon became clear that what the Nazis were interested in re-creating were infantile sadistic fantasies. The reason is obvious: infantile fantasy is all that really presents itself to the quixotic mind. Even the garden of Eden, as we saw, was really a place of immortal childhood.
Karl Marx had something similar in view when he spoke of events occurring first as tragedy and secondly as farce. He was thinking, among other things, of the French Second Empire, where Napoleon III became emperor simply because his name was Napoleon. It is true that the end of the Third Reich was not worthy of the name of tragedy, and was more accurately a hideous farce, though a farce that only the devil would find amusing. Other attempts to live in a myth abstracted from history, such as the nineteenth-century Utopian communities in America and the Quebec separatism inspired by the motto je me souviens, are closer to the skewed pathos of Quixote himself.
There is a corresponding fixation on the future. In Christianity this usually takes the form of a fearful expectation of a second coming or simply a postponing of spiritual life, of the 'some day we'll understand' type, the assumption that death automatically brings enlightenment. Secular parodies of this take the form of beliefs in revolution or progress, and in their demonic form employ the tactic of sacrificing the present to the future. Such visions can be quite as horrible in their results as in their fascist counterparts. It seemed logical in Stalin's Russia that if hundreds of thousands of kulaks were murdered or sent to concentration camps far away, Russia might have a more efficient system of collectivized agriculture within the next century. But such means adopted for theoretically reasonable ends never serve such ends: they merely replace them, and the original ends disappear. All that the murdering and persecuting of kulaks accomplished, in short, was the murdering and persecuting of kulaks. The operation was not simply evil, it was unutterably futile, for in far less than a century the Soviet Union realized that it needed kulaks again. There is no reason to feel complacent about Stalin's Russia, however: many Canadians defend the destruction of their country by such phrases as 'you can't stop progress,' unaware that 'progress' in such contexts is an idol on the same level as the legendary Hindu Juggernaut or the Old Testament Moloch.
Hitler and Stalin between them are sufficient commentary on an attitude to time and history that becomes obsessed by its relation either to the past or to the future. We saw also that there is an element of repetition in time, in life, and in history. Let us look at this element of repetition in human experience. There are two kinds of repetition: one is inorganic, a matter of merely doing the same thing over and over; the other is habit or practice repetition that leads to the acquiring of a skill, like practising a sport or a musical instrument. Inorganic repetition is precisely what the word superstition means: binding oneself to a continuing process that is mere compulsiveness, often accompanied by a vague fear that something terrible will happen if we stop. The acquiring of skill transforms mere repetition into something that develops and progresses. If we ask what it develops into or progresses toward, we may provisionally say something like an enlargement of freedom: we practice the piano to set ourselves free to play it. In any case, this kind of directed repetition is constantly turning into larger and more complex forms of itself: it seems even to be reduplicating the process of life, where embyro turns into infant and infant into adult.
Acquiring a skill in human life is possible, so far as we can see, only for the individual. But the social basis of individual life may provide, in its institutions, a continuity, a sense of stable and relatively predictable movement in time, on which the individual can build his directed repetition. The Church, with its sacramental system and its constant proclaiming of its gospel, exhibits a continuity of this type: so does law, with its dialectic of precedents, and so does education, so far as education presents the repeating elements of knowledge from the alphabet and multiplication table onward. It may seem strange to speak of living a religious life in terms of acquiring a skill by practice, but there is a parallel: the New Testament writers constantly use such phrases as 'without ceasing' when exhorting us to continue the practice of prayer or charity.
When the Preacher said that there was nothing new under the sun, he was speaking of knowledge, which exists only in the past, and where nothing is unique. The passing of experience into knowledge is closely related to the tragic vision of life. It is part of a reality in which at every instant the still possible turns into the fixed and unalterable past. We feel partly released from this tragic vision when we are acquiring skills, getting an education, or advancing in a religious life: there we are exploiting our memory of the past to give direction along the present. Consequently the Preacher also said, 'To every thing there is a season.' Here he was speaking of experience, where everything is unique and everything is diversified. What he means by wisdom is a double movement: it starts with present experience disappearing into past knowledge, but then reverses itself and becomes past knowledge permeating and irradiating present experience. What sounds at first like pessimistic melancholy turns into something very different as he goes on and begins to say things like 'Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart.' Wisdom for him is a force moving against the normal flow of time, going from the 'vanity' or emptiness of the past into the fullness of the present, and the process is a constant liberation of energy.
Thus the tragic aspect of time in which every moment brings us toward death, and in which we know only what has been, and neve what is or is going to be, is counteracted by the directed and progressive attack on time that underlies all genuine achievement in everything that matters, in religion, in education, in culture most obviously. This building up of habit through incessant practice creates a new vertical dimension in experience, though it grows from the bottom upward and through the individual, however much the individual may depend on a social consensus in church or university. This vertical dimension is once again a hierarchy and a structure of authority, but these words no longer relate to temporal authority or to the supporting social structure. No human being or human institution is fit to be trusted with any temporal authority that is not subject to cancellation by some other authority. Spiritual authority, which is alone real, inheres in such things as the classic in literature, the repeatable experiment in science, or the example of the dedicated spiritual life; it is an authority that expands and does not limit the dignity of those who accept it. All personal authority in the spiritual world is self-liquidating: it is the authority of the teachers who want their students to become their scholarly equals, of the preachers who, like Moses (Numbers 11:29), wish that all God's people were prophets.
The hierarchy I spoke of begins with the bottom layer of the human psyche, or what is called the unconscious, a chaos of energy quieted and ordered by the repetition of practice. A pianist may come through practice to play thousands of notes in a few moments without consciously attending to each one. But there is of course a consciousness attending all the same, the faculty I have linked to criticism, which does not stop simply with self-criticism, but goes on to a conscious awareness of the historical context of what one is doing. The functionaries of churches and schools and courts, when they become entrenched bureaucracies, may at any time retreat into superstition, simply handing on what has been handed to them. Criticism is one of the forces that can strike a new energy out of a dormant one: it approaches the past in a way that relates it to contemporary life and concerns. Works or literature, music and the other arts do not, apparently, improve or progess with time, but the understanding of their meaning, their importance, and their function in history can and to some extend does improve. In Christianity, while we do not think of revelation itself as progressing, the human response to it clearly can progress. In the sciences criticism is even more deeply rooted. In science every new discovery attaches itself to the total body of what is already known, so that with every major advance the whole of knowledge is created anew.
When one is a beginner, this attempt at reversing the flow of time by progressive achievement is attracted toward a future goal, the goal of mastery of the skill. But at a certain point the future is already here, the sense of endless plugging and slugging is less oppressive, and the goal is now an enlarged sense of the present moment. One has glimpses of the immense foreshortening of time that can take place in the world of the spirit; we may speak of 'inspiration,' a word that can harly mean anything except the coming or breaking through of the spirit from a world beyond time. One may, as I have done myself, spend the better part of seventy-eight years writing out the implications of insights that have taken up considerably less than an hour of all those years. Here the shadow that falls between the present moment and the knowledge that one has lived through the present moment has disappeared, and experience and the awareness of experience have become, for an instant at least, the same thing. When this happens in a Christian context, we may say that the human spirit has found its identity with the spirit of God, and ought to know now, even from the split second of insight it has had, what is meant by resurrection and deliverance from death and hell.
For about two decades in this century a vogue for Oriental techniques of meditation, Indian yoga, Chinese Tao, Japanese Zen, swept over North America. The genuine teachers of these techniques stressed the arduous practice that was essential to them, and pointed out the futility of trying to avoid the work involved by taking lysergic acid and the like. The goal was enlightenment, the uniting of experience and consciousness just mentioned. There was some gullibility and groupie mentality in these cults, especially among those who were ready to believe anything that was Oriental and nothing that was Western. For them such words as samadhi and satori, as they had not read the New Testament, did not connect with such conceptions as 'born of the spirit,' 'fullness of time,' or the sudden critical widening of the present moment expressed by the word kairos. But some analogies may have come through by osmosis.
For example, the Oriental scriptures tell us that very advanced stages of enlightenment bring miraculous powers of various kinds, including healing, but that these powers should never be regarded as more than incidental by-products, and may even distract one from the real goal of liberation. If so, the miraculous element in the Gospels, which describe a life lived on a plane of intensity that none of us have much conception of, should cause no surprise, and there are clear indications that the gospel writers were more impressed by Jesus' miracles than Jesus himself was. Jesus performs his miracles with reluctance, almost with irritation; he imposes secrecy on those he cures; he tells his disciples that they can do as well as that themselves. But the Oriental analogues may begin to give us some faint notion of what Heilsgeschichte or sacred history really talks about.
I mention these cults because the seem to me to be an aspect, even if a minor one, of a general weariness with history, with being bullied and badgered by all the pan-historical fantasies of the nineteenth century, of Hegel and Marx and Newman and Comte, who keep insisting that by history alone can we be saved, or rather by putting some kind of construct on history that will give it a specious direction or meaning. Even the arts may sometimes give an impression of wearing out their historical possibilities. The most profoundly original artist still forms part of a larger process of cultural aging: the music of Beethoven could only have come later than Haydn and Mozart and earlier than Wagner and Berlioz. And while we are not likely to tire of Beethoven, the cutural tradition he belongs to may reach a point of exhaustion where it becomes oppressive to carry it on without a major change.
I sometimes feel that we may be in such a period of doldrums now, with so many artists in all fields circling around over-explored conventions of literary irony or pictorial abstraction or architectural conventions that have produced the loveless and unloved erections contemplated by Prince Charles. However grateful we may be for the many writers and painters and builders we have who are so much better than that, I sense a longing for some kind of immense creative renovation, which, I should imagine, would have to be the product of a large-scale social movement. Earlier in the century a proposal for such an awakening would automatically have been responded to with the word 'revolution,' a donkey's carrot still held before the student rebels of the sixties. Revolutions, however, are culturally sterile: they weaken the traditions of the past but put nothing in their place except second-rate versions of the same thing. I think the real longing is not for a mass movement sweeping up individual concerns, but for an individualized movement reaching out to social concerns. Primary concerns, that is: food, shelter, the greening of the earth, and their spiritual aspects of freedom and equal rights.
The provision in the Mosaic code for a jubilee year showed a profound insight into the psychology of human beings living in time. I said earlier that cyclical visions of history lack convincingness, but that cyclical elements in history clearly do exist. One of these is the one so heavily featured in the Bible, the cycle of bondage and release, the cyclical oppression and restoration of Israel. We celebrate the resurrection every Easter, but Easter by itself does not suggest ressurection; it suggests only the renewing of the cycle of time, the euphoria with which we greet the end of winter and the coming of spring. There is a similar euphoria in society when a tyranny comes crashing down and proclamations of freedom and equality are voiced on all sides. We heard this euphoria a few years ago in Haiti and in the Philippines; we are hearing it now in Eastern Europe. But we cannot trust it permanence; far less can we trust the effect produced by it on us. There are people trying to get rid of an unworkable economy with its unworking bureaucracy and there are neo-Nazi skinheads; there are crowds demonstrating for freedom and crowds demonstrating against minorities; there are revivals of free discussion and revivals of anti-Semitism. One hopes for a society that can remember on Tuesday what it thought it wanted so desperately on Monday, but on the human plane even the pressure of primary concerns, food and shelter and freedom to move and talk, cannot always be relied on to preserve such a memory. As Coleridge said, 'I could weep for the criminal patience of humanity!' Perhaps the most effective help may come from the mammon of unrighteousness: from greed and self-interest and xenophobia and the conflicts they bring with them, when harnessed against their will to better causes.
I have not spoken of the providence of God, because it seems to me that the providence of God operates only in its own sphere, not in the sphere of human folly and frivolousness. I think immense changes could be brought about by a Christianity that was no longer a ghost with the chains of a foul historical record of cruelty clanking behind it, that was no longer crippled by notions of heresy, infallibility, or exclusiveness of a kind that should be totally renounced and not rationalized to the slightest degree. Such a Christianity might represent the age of the Spirit that the thirteenth-century Franciscan Joachim of Floris saw as superceding the Old Testament age of the Father and the New Testament age of the Logos. Such a Christianity would be neither an inglorious rearguard action nor a revolutionary movement creating suffering and death instead of life more abundantly. It would be a Christianity of a Father who is not a metaphor of male supremacy but the intelligible source of our being; of a Son who is not a teacher of platitudes but a Word who has overcome the world; and of a Spirit who speaks with all the tongues of men and angels and still speaks with charity. The Spirit of creation who brought life out of chaos brought death out of it too, for death is all that makes sense of life in time. The Spirit that broods on the chaos of our psyches brings to birth a body that is in time and history but not enclosed by them, and is in death only because it is in the midst of life as well.