Dialogue on Romanticism & Christianity (w K. Rickert, Jr.)

Dialogue on Romanticism & Christianity (w K. Rickert, Jr.) February 27, 2018

C. S. Lewis developed a “theology of longing for heaven” which provides a fruitful avenue for further thought and reflection.

[Words of Keith Rickert. Jr. will be in blue]

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I am a thoroughgoing Romantic. I am using the word in a sense which means far more than giving your wife or girlfriend roses or going to a restaurant with soft-lit candles and strolling violin players (though those things are certainly aspects of Romanticism, and delightful ones at that).

The larger sense of the word refers to a huge movement in art, literature, music, poetry, photography, and other areas (even overlapping into religion), which (arguably) culminated in the 19th century. Catholic cultural historian Christopher Dawson, notes that the religious roots of Romanticism are actually quite deep:

[T]he religious element in Romanticism, whether Catholic or non-Catholic, goes much deeper than the superficial aesthetic appeal. It has its roots in the fundamental principles of the movement, which differed not merely aesthetically but also metaphysically and psychologically from those of both seventeenth-century Classicism and eighteenth-century Rationalism. ( “Religion and the Romantic Movement,” The Tablet, 1937)

G. K. Chesterton noted how romanticism was promulgated through fairy-tales:

Fairy-tales are as normal as milk or bread. Civilisation changes; but fairy-tales never change . . . its spirit is the spirit of folk-lore; and folk-lore is, in strict translation, the German for common-sense. Fiction and modern fantasy . . . can be described in one phrase. Their philosophy means ordinary things as seen by extraordinary people. The fairy-tale means extraordinary things seen by ordinary people. The fairy-tale is full of mental health . . . Fairy-tales are the oldest and gravest and most universal kind of human literature . . . the fairy-tales are much more of a picture of the permanent life of the great mass of mankind than most realistic fiction. (From “Education by Fairy Tales,” The Illustrated London News, 2 December 1905)

J. R. R. Tolkien hits the nail on the head, in his seminal essay, “On Fairy Stories”:

The consolation of fairy-stories, the joy of the happy ending: or more correctly of the good catastrophe, the sudden joyous ‘turn’ (for there is no true end to any fairy-tale): this joy, which is one of the things which fairy-stories can produce supremely well, is not essentially ‘escapist’, nor ‘fugitive’. In its fairy-tale – otherworld – setting, it is a sudden or miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence of dyscatastrophe, of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.It is the mark of a good fairy-story, of the higher or more complete kind, that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to child or man that hears it, when the ‘turn’ comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart, near to (or indeed accompanied by) tears, as keen as that given by any form of literary art, and having a peculiar quality . . .

In such stories when the sudden ‘turn’ comes we get a piercing glimpse of joy, and heart’s desire, that for a moment passes outside the frame, rends indeed the very web of story, and lets a gleam come through . . . in the ‘eucatastrophe’ we see in a brief vision that the answer may be greater – it may be a far-off gleam or echo of evangelium in the real world. The use of this word gives a hint of my epilogue . . . (From C.S. Lewis, editor, Essays Presented to Charles Williams, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1966; originally Oxford University Press, 1947)

C. S. Lewis, in fact, became convinced of Christianity after a period of atheism and minimal theism when he was talking with his good friend J. R. R. Tolkien, who explained to him that Christianity was a myth, but that it was a true myth. This realization came as a thunderbolt to Lewis, who was already deeply immersed in mythology, Romanticism, and the music of Richard Wagner (particularly the Ring). Lewis had become enchanted with Romanticism in large part due to Wagner and Norse mythology.

Lewis’s experience was very similar to my own. He loved mythology; he loved Wagner and nature (he was an avowed “Autumn fanatic” as I am, too); he had an extended atheistic period in his life (I toyed with the occult in my religiously-nominal childhood and teen years – though I was never an atheist). Lewis – my favorite writer, if that is not evident by now – combined love of mythology and fantasy and imagination with rigorous logical thought (as I seek very much to do in my own apologetics). I was a nature mystic searching for something more. I have written about this period of my life:

In my own vague, ethereal, only half-conscious Romanticism – before I was educated enough to be able to understand, let alone articulate, Christian doctrines and dogmas – I subconsciously sought out religious experiences or intimations which transported me into “religious,” “mystical,” “supernatural,” “fantastic” realms. Romantic orchestral music (above all, Wagner) served this “secondary” function for me. Nature was another such medium. I found everything there symbolicand parabolic. The forest wilderness, for example, represented the “other,” the unattainable, the transcendent, the fairy-tale environment.. . . I didn’t know how many other people possessed these feelings. Nor was I likely to inquire. I was happy to find out that my wife Judy felt much the same way (she loves Wagner, too), as did C. S. Lewis . . . Alas, at that time I had no inkling of the fact that what has been called the “mythopoeic imagination” is deeply, profoundly Christian and substantially identical with the “medieval worldview.”

. . . I was experiencing God and Christianity on an unconscious level, by means of nature, fantasy, myth, and music. Christianity is the fulfillment of all this longing. C. S. Lewis often makes the argument throughout his works that such intense, painfully powerful yearnings within us are grounded in the fact that we were made for heaven. The fleeting pangs of nostalgia, melancholy, vivid dreams, idealism, the Quest, paradise, (deja vu?), etc. which so infect us are thus explained as having an origin in ontological, spiritual, divinely-ordained reality.

C. S. Lewis developed a “theology of longing for heaven” which provides, I think, a fruitful avenue for further thought and reflection. Peter Kreeft has written much on this, and I would very much like to explore it further.

Romanticism is a subject that I long to discuss, while at the same time, I feel unable to discuss it. Perhaps this is because it defies being neatly conceptualized. I’ll just take the liberty of sharing my own experience and welcome any and all feedback.

I was a phlegmatic/melancholy raised in a Charismatic Fundamentalist Christian home which was practically devoid of books, the arts, or any appreciation for nature. As such, my imagination was never “baptized” or marinated in the truth, goodness, and beauty which can be found in stories and in the arts. When I approached adolescence, popular music (and the culture and subcultures surrounding it) rushed in to fill the void.

I thought, according to the Fundamentalist Protestant dualism I was raised under, that I was merely giving myself to the world and the flesh. What I now believe had happened, was that my imagination (as Lewis called it) was being “captured”. Oh, I was being fed lies, surely; but initially I was being drawn by something (joy, or at least the hope for it) in popular music, in a way that I never experienced in the Christianity handed down to me (which felt cramped and narrow in comparison; and I’m not talking in terms of morality).

As time went on, I became a good fundamentalist and learned to suppress that side of my personality with its deep stirrings and longings for that something inexplicable. By the religious concepts afforded me, I deemed it a diversion from authentic spirituality to indulge such things. It was “of the flesh”. It was me, not God.

Actually, it was a longing for God unrecognized, repressed, cut off and left to die. So, as I came into my twenties I began to seriously struggle and falter in my faith, which had lobotomized my heart. I began indulging my heart (maybe out of an innate need for mental/emotional health) – developing an attraction to nature (I’m an autumn fanatic too); and, as much as I’d like to say “Wagner,” it was reggae music which did it for me (specifically, stuff from the late 60s to early 70s produced by Studio One in Jamaica – the greatest music in the world :-) Who doesn’t feel that bittersweet longing in a good Bob Marley song??!!).

I considered these heartfelt experiences of beauty and goodness to be ontologically separate from the Christian faith – which I still believed to be true. Protestantism had bequeathed me a dualism which divorced truth from beauty and goodness; and perhaps because I’m a phlegmatic/melancholy, I eventually and unconsciously opted for beauty and goodness in lieu of what I supposed to be the truth. (I suppose that “true”, for me, had no existential meaning, while beauty and goodness did.) After a time, I found myself a virtual agnostic, having abandoned any real belief in Christianity.

I gave myself to the search for whatever that something was that I felt in nature and music. Although I didn’t consciously know that I was searching in this manner, this became, pretty much, “the end” after which I ordered my life. By the grace of God, during one particularly beautiful spring time (when I found myself home alone for three weeks), I came to see that I couldn’t call a profound experience I’d had in contact with music or nature objectively “good” or “beautiful” (which I terribly wanted to do), without conceding the reality of the Absolute which makes it so.

I found myself having to chose between, on one hand, a meaningless goodness and beauty which would afford me an autonomous will, or, on the other hand, a real, meaningful goodness and beauty which would entail me surrendering my will to the One who made them so. Although I experienced inexplicable joy and bliss at the thought of yielding to God, I cannot deny that I experienced the temptation to “do it my way”, embrace an illusory goodness and beauty, and deceive myself that it wasn’t so. It came down to making myself my own end, or surrendering to God who alone IS, and is the source of all being. It was a choice between embracing un-reality in order to worship myself, or worshipping God in order to embrace reality. It was a profound conversion experience in which God, by His grace, drew me to Him and called me to repentance.

Shortly thereafter, upon reading Humphrey Carpenter’s biography of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams (and their friends) called The Inklings, I began to piece together a greater understanding of my inherited severance between head and heart. I began to see that when we recognize the goodness and beauty in the created order, we are recognizing and worshipping the Creator (if we don’t make these created things ends in themselves). The beauty and goodness we sense in these things directs us to God Who is the source of all goodness and beauty.

As a Protestant, I could only appreciate goodness and beauty in a utilitarian manner. Something was good or beautiful because, and only because, it was made by God and therefore it must be so, but to feel the goodness and beauty of those things themselves in my heart, that was idolatry. Likewise, all fiction was a retreat, an illicit diversion from reality. By God’s grace, one of the first books I read after my conversion experience was G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, which showed me that reality itself is a fairy tale, and that good fiction – especially fairy tales – awakens that initial wonder and shock we experience when we first come into contact with reality.

As Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy, “These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.” All this naturally fed into the notion of true myth found in the writings of Tolkien and Lewis (which can be a whole other topic in itself).

Some other notable books which shaped my thinking in this regard are: The Everlasting Man (G. K. Chesterton), Surprised By Joy (C. S. Lewis) A Severe Mercy(Sheldon Vanauken), and Heaven: the Heart’s Deepest Longing (Peter Kreeft). These books helped me recognize that in my quest for that inexplicable some-thing I experienced in nature and music, I was “adoring” something behind nature and music. I didn’t regard that beauty and goodness which I enjoyed in nature and music merely as a neat backdrop to MY life, but as the goal of my life, the supreme good after which I sought. I was ordering my life after it, making my life relative to it. If I awoke to a beautiful fall day (the kind where a gentle rain makes the earth darker, the grass greener, and the leaves more vividly colorful), I would try to plumb the experience of that beauty…for…there was something in there I was trying to get at. Now I know that this, of course, was God.

I take this Lewis quote from Surprised by Joy as an accurate description of my own experience:

If the Northernness seemed then a bigger thing than my religion, that may partly have been because my attitude toward it contained elements which my religion ought to have contained and did not. It was not itself a new religion, for it contained no trace of belief and imposed no duties. Yet . . . there was in it something very like adoration, some kind of quite disinterested self-abandonment to an object which securely claimed this by simply being the object it was . . . Sometimes I can almost think that I was sent back to the false gods there to acquire some capacity for worship against the day when the true God should recall me to Himself . . .

And for me, Romanticism has led directly to the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas; so I’ll leave off with this quote from the great Thomist, Walter Farrell, O.P., S.T.M.:

He [man] can begin life with wisdom lent by God, and have his heart flooded with gratitude for the loan; or he can prefer the false light of the illusion that tells him he is self-sufficient, and die before he begins to live . . . The world is a mirror flashing back different facets of divine beauty, and all that is, by that very existence, shouts aloud God’s name: He Who is. Of course there is no adequate picture of God to catch the eyes of men and hold them spellbound . . . Yet the little that we can see of the infinite perfection of God is an entrancing picture; to escape it, on must glue his eyes to something close, tangible, and blinding. The infatuated see little of anything, and even less of God. Ordinarily it takes time, effort, and a kind of violence to become so fatuous . . . Only an adult who has lost the clear vision of childhood begins to think of his acts, and of himself, as self-sufficient, entirely his own, springing from nowhere, in contradiction to history’s short record of the ages of activity. To most men, that a man can lift his hand to thwart an enemy’s blow or to encourage a friend has been a wonder that enticed the mind along a path of thinking that brought him to the God on whom all activity depends, Himself so divinely independent . . . God is good. When that statement calls to our minds the reckless generosity of His gifts, running the gamut of life’s beginning to eternity’s endlessness, we have actually missed the point of His goodness. The gifts tell us of His love, His mercy, His benign providence; but His goodness does not bring things to us so much as it takes our hearts away from us. The good God is that ravishingly attractive Being Who is resisted only when He is not seen; He is infinite enticement, rapturous beyond a man’s most extravagant desires, captivating lovableness to tear the heart out of a man. Confronted by divine goodness, the heart of man bursts into such a flame as to make a torch of his whole life. Fascinated by the invitation inherent in such goodness, a man finds no journey too long, no danger too great, no obstacle too wearying; here is strength, courage, daring for the weakest of men, for if this goodness be achieved nothing is lost, if this be lost everything is bitterly lost.

We were separated at birth, for sure. Extremely similar experiences . . . The only major difference is that I wasn’t a fundamentalist; I was religiously nominal as a child. My “Romantic” experiences were also separated from Christianity, but for different reasons (I didn’t have any Christianity to speak of, whereas yours was stunted by an anti-material “docetic” dualism). In both cases, interestingly, Romanticism led us (like C.S. Lewis) to a fuller, healthier Christianity.

I even liked reggae, starting in the late 70s, though I can’t say it was tied into Romanticism for me (Van Morrison and mid-period Bob Dylan were my pop “equivalents” to Wagner). I can see how you would say that, though. I always think of sunny days with swaying palm trees and that lovely turquoise water of the Caribbean when I hear reggae music. I got to hear a couple live reggae bands at a free world music concert in Detroit we go to every year. It was a lot of fun — great music (though it gets a bit samey after a while). One band was my 10 year-old son’s favorite. Mine was one called the Blue Runners: an “alt-Cajun” band. Fabulous! I must buy one of their CD’s.

I find the Romanticism < —- > Christianity connection to be a fertile ground for development of a different sort of apologetic “argument” that I find fascinating and exciting.

If God could be mediated through His creation, then it is easy to see an almost intrinsic connection between this and sacramentalism: God conveys grace through nature – and also to see nature as a parable or reflection of heaven. The longing we feel when we gaze upon a spectacular mountain vista, for example, is similar to a spiritual longing for heaven. There is something much, much deeper there. It’s not only (or primarily) about a mass of rock, geology, senses, and optic science. God has put a meaning into those things, which leads men to Himself:

Psalm 19:1-4 (RSV) The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

I’ve for so long wanted to chat with you about this topic, you being one of only two people I am acquainted with who is interested in it.

Sad, isn’t it? My wife and I were talking about how it could be that relatively few people are interested in this topic? It’s been a great blessing to me that she understands it and is very much of the same mind (and heart, I should say). My kids, however, have not shown much inclination, thus far. :-) Maybe it is a sign of the times we live in and the current zeitgeist: Romanticism is crushed more and more by the dreariness and pessimism and increasing nihilism of our secular humanist-dominated culture. But people still respond to it in movies, don’t they (witness Lord of the Rings)? They may not even know what it is, or find it difficult to describe in words, but they have experienced its peculiar joys and ecstasies.

Re: reggae music. Yeah it can get “samey”. Bad reggae music is some of the worst music ever. (I think it’s all in having that laid-back sense of rhythm. When it’s played in front of the beat, it sounds stupid.)

:-) Saminess in music is a function of how simple the form is. That doesn’t mean that it is bad, only limited. Rockabilly is exactly the same way, and I absolutely love rockabilly. There are only so many great songs that can be gotten out of it, but man! how good they are! Even the blues has severe limitations that make much of it boring to me. But the best of it (Robert Johnson, Skip James, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Hendrix, early Allman Brothers, Van Morrison, etc.) is some of the best music ever made.

The music that hooked me was from a specific era which was the precursor to reggae. It is called rock steady and it was largely influenced by American soul music.

Yes, the Memphis / Stax sound is famous for the “laid-back” beat. It just sort of gets into a groove. I love it. Soul Man is my choice for the best rock single of all time. I was interested in “neo-ska” music (not sure if that is similar to rock steady) in the late 70s and have albums by groups like the Specials (I saw them at the free concert) and Madness. Also, the Clash did a lot of reggae stuff, and, of course, the Police (I loved them from the minute I heard Roxanne). That was an exciting musical time.

Studio One was the Motown of Jamaican rock steady music.

There you go (from a Motown-raised guy)!

If anybody’s interest is piqued, Heartbeat, an American label, has re-released a ton of classic Studio One stuff. (“Collector’s Edition” is a good album)

I would like to learn more about this. I’m in one of those periods where I am bored with the current music and so am looking around for older or less-known stuff.

I think another reason why I was attracted to reggae music, and reggae music of that era was because it’s easy to idealize another era and another place; there was, then, all the more “other-ness” to feed my Romanticism.

That’s at the heart of Romanticism; yes. Always thinking some other place and time is better or “ideal” than the one we are in . . . I think that impulse lies behind the notion of the Quest, which is so prevalent in medieval Romance. Medievalists such as myself are more-or-less in that mode constantly. You can’t be “in” the longed-for “enchanted place” so the best you can do is try to “capture” it in movies or music or literature or Renaissance festivals and what-not. But even many of those today are superficial: they can’t enter into the mindset and worldview of the medievals because it was so thoroughly Catholic and foreign to modern thought.

The place I was transported to when I listened to reggae music was a creation, I think, of a memory of Eden and a longing for Heaven. To boot, as reggae music came under the influence of Rastafarianism, it became filled with a lot of Old Testament, apocalyptic imagery.

Yes, I noticed that at the time.

Did you say free annual world music concert?

Yes. It is so much fun. It has some rock, too: I have seen Ray Charles and Bo Diddley there; all kinds of stuff: Los Lobos (one of my favorite groups today), Latin, African, American Indian, Algerian, Cajun, Japanese, Angelique Kidjo . . . My favorite was an Indian drummer: Trilok Gurtu. He was absolutely astonishing. I was in this little tent listening to this extraordinary music: just blown away by it.

We are big world music fans in the Rickert house. We used to have a free annual reggae festival in KC. Then it got real expensive. Then it got real bad. Then it went away.

Well, you gotta come to Detroit for the really good stuff. :-) For the 300th anniversary of Detroit, Stevie Wonder played a free outdoor concert downtown. But as luck would have it, it was about 100 degrees that day and my wife was pregnant. :-(

I never had a fascination with the occult like you and Lewis, but the one other guy I know who’s into romantic theology (and is a huge Lewis-head) did have a strong attraction to the occult. I think I was spared this, because, unlike you all, I had the sort of Christian upbringing which had me afraid of so much as listening to a Led Zeppelin record, lest I should become possessed by the Devil.

Yes, it would tend to have that effect. I think I was drawn to it (like Lewis) because I had an innate sense of the supernatural which wasn’t being channeled in healthy Christian ways, and was missing in the skeletal Christianity I received in my childhood.

 

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The modern ecology movement could be (in part) a politicized version of nature mysticism, indeed. It’s a variation (I say, corruption) of the old conservation movement of John Muir, but with an anti-technology, anti-capitalistic spin to it. More either/or thinking . . . My position has always been: have all the modern technology, but leave the wilds unspoiled and untouched as much as possible. You can see that a lot of these folks are virtually worshiping nature when a snail darter is more important for them to preserve than the human life of a preborn child. The devil brings about the strangest, weirdest things in ethics and worldiews. The god of liberal environmentalists is scarcity: animals about to be extinct, therefore, are more valuable than human beings, because there are lots of people. That is as far from the Christian view of man as can be imagined.

People recognize something divine in the earth and think that paradise could be realized if we would just recover a closer contact with the earth.

I think this is instinctive knowledge. Whoever doesn’t experience it has become, I believe, stunted in some way, for whatever reason.

Sometimes I wonder if this isn’t also a memory of Eden. After all, we were made for Eden; and surely we recognize remnants of her in the earth.

I believe so. We came from that paradise and we are destined for an even greater, more unimaginable paradise after death. If these things weren’t real, then we wouldn’t have such a longing for them, just as hunger or a sexual drive proves the existence of food and sex.

During my journey toward Christianity, for a time, I became fascinated and infatuated (much like modern earth movement folks) with simpler societies which lived closer to the earth.

The “noble savage” of Rousseau . . . I’ve always been fascinated with Native American culture, probably for much of the same reason.

Recently, I was trying to explain this to my Father (in an effort to justify my former dreadlocked bohemian appearance.):

“In that juncture in my spiritual and intellectual journey (which was, at once, completed and born-again under the authority of the Catholic Church), I was very sympathetic, if not entirely one, with what I later learned to be what Chesterton called that ‘healthy paganism’ which existed prior to the dawn of Christendom and was marked chiefly by its feeling that there is something mystical in nature.”

Actually, there was much natural virtue in these societies. The barbarians whom the Romans fought usually had higher moral standards than even many of the Roman “Christians”. The ancient Celts were like this, too, in many respects. I think this had a lot to do with their being more connected to nature and hence to God in some sense.

“As such, I did not feel at home in our modern society which seemingly everyday invented new ways to divorce itself further from nature. I do not speak here of a conscious philosophy but of an unconscious mood or atmosphere of the mind, after which my conscious philosophy was but the gropings of one straining to think out what is felt in the heart. For instance, when I looked up at the big blue spring sky, filled with an endless army of lingering white clouds, my heart was rent with an impalpable, yet inexplicably painful beauty. Then when my eyes drifted downwards and on to the things of suburbia, my heart was confronted with what felt like, not only a discrepancy, but (to borrow a phrase from Chesterton) a vulgar anti-climax. It is said that it is heaven that judges earth; and I felt in the deepest stirrings of my heart, the quiet and constant rebuke of the heavens upon that Babylonian paradise of modern man otherwise known as suburbia.”

Well-stated. It’s interesting to note, however, that Romanticism sometimes has the same “disjointed” effect on other minds. C. S. Lewis wrote in his Diary in July 1923 (as an atheist):

He talked about the Ring [i.e., Wagner’s masterpiece] and said how, with all its huge attraction, it left you discontented and ragged – not satisfied and tuned up as by Beethoven. We agreed that this was because the Ring was pure nature, the alogical, without the human and rational control of Beethoven. I am almost sure this is what he was trying to say, though of course he expressed it quite differently. (p. 259)

“It was like those ‘circle the one that doesn’t fit’ exercises which we give to our children. Compared with the native beauty of land and sky and sea, things like asphalt, strip-malls, and Wall Street seemed not only to not fit, but to mark a vulgar insensitivity on the part of our modern society to all that colossal and dizzying beauty which surrounded us and seemed, to me at least, to be trying to tell us something not only of aesthetic character, but of metaphysical truth. Modern man, building his modern world against the backdrop of nature, felt to me like what one might feel about the crass and thoughtless markings of a graffiti artist in the Sistine Chapel. It seemed a blasphemous disregard for all that is real and beautiful out of an arrogant and stupid preference for the pernicious.”

Largely true, yes, but note that the Sistine Chapel is not nature, either. Architecture and cities can be done in ways that reflect, rather than reject nature. The use of a lot of wood and beautiful architecture and design and lots of plants and flowers and gardens mixed in, etc. can complement nature. So, e.g., a cathedral or a good-looking castle looks great against a blue sky or mountain backdrop. This becomes a matter of architectural theory. I like things like Gothic, colonial American, Tudor, and German rustic (or a good ole log cabin). They appeal to me and seem rather Romantic, rather than hostile to nature or otherwise revolting to the aesthetic sense.

“Naturally, then, in reaction to the modern world, my thoughts turned to those older, simpler societies – such as those of the Native Americans – which seemed to be centered around a pious and mystical reference for the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty which is thrust upon us through nature. When my imagination turned towards these simpler cultures (idealistically, no doubt), I did not witness that dissonance between them and the native beauty of the earth. Again, they seemed to deliberately form their culture in harmony with that beauty; because they knew, as I did, that there was something real and telling in that beauty which demanded reverence.”

This is true (and I love this way of thinking), but people like you and I need to be careful not to develop an “anti-technological” bent because of this. To live in nature or be close to it is usually to love it. But to be apart from it for other worthy reasons need not be a conflict. In fact, it can make us appreciate nature more once we get back to it, in the way that we appreciate persons more after being away from them, or romantic love (and like the idea of the Quest itself). To be in it all the time creates a tendency to take it for granted, too. Not necessarily, but oftentimes.

“And thus I set myself against this modern world. I wanted to abandon this cheap capitalistic paradise which thwarted the happiness of man, and head for the hills to live in harmony with that mystical beauty of nature.”

This is partly what I meant. I can be a severe critic of capitalism-as-practiced, believe me (particularly corporate and multi-national capitalism), but I believe that there can be a life-affirming, person-affirming (even nature-affirming) capitalism. I think all these things have a fine balance to them.

During a time when I was trying on a materialistic worldview, I could not suppress an ever increasing wonder at the miracle and majesty of the earth – just in my own backyard! The more I tried to look at it through materialistic eyes, the more miraculous it seemed.

The greatest scientific minds often feel similarly. Hence, Albert Einstein could not bring himself to adopt the fashionable materialism. He knew too much to do so. So he wrote, in 1936:

Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe – a spirit vastly superior to that of man . . . In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort . . .

The Romantic longings are signpost towards God. When we (artificially) make them ends in themselves, they are evacuated of all meaning; they are not then about anything. I agree that “Christianity provides meaning, content, purpose, and ethics to our innate Romantic longings”, because it is the “home” of these longings.

Precisely. They’re not only the home but the origin. They are there because God put them there, and they lead back to him by their very nature. Such feelings have no place in a materialistic universe (as Einstein shows).

I remember a certain gnawing despair when I began to feel deep down that my longings were mere subjective experience. What I so enjoy now about having my longings completed in Christianity is that I know that they are about something. They are about something real, not just illusory subjective fantasy. (And I don’t have to work at making them ends in themselves, frantically seeking their consummation on this side of time.)

This reminds me of the hedonist paradox: you keep having to have more and more exciting experiences in order to maintain your pursuit of pleasure. We get bored – by nature – of the same things. But the new things give us less pleasure over time too. I think this is how pornography often catches hold: it is the hedonist dead-end applied to sex. It is only when we ground all of this in God and Christianity that we can fully enjoy it. If we give God all the glory and worship, He will give us peace and joy in return (not always happiness, which is different and more fleeting and subjective).

Every feeling of happiness, joy, ecstasy, longing, etc. is a blessed hint of something real – which we will enjoy eternally in the Beatific Vision.

I agree. I think about this a lot.

(Aquinas says that the Beatific Vision will make us so happy that we will not be able to willingly turn away from it.)

Fascinating. I picture it in my lame way (hopefully this isn’t too crude) as a sort of super-hot-tub sort of experience. It will just feel SO good, with this warm light flooding and overpowering us, and a tangible love, that it will be like all our best human experiences all wrapped up in one instant, where we will bask in it and get lost in it (or, more accurately, in Him).

The way I view heaven in general is as a super-heightened sense of joy and ecstasy such as we experience on earth only in fleeting momenets which are ultimately bittersweet. There it will be constant. All of our best qualities will be strengthened to the max and we will experience the joy of truly, finally being who we were created to be, without all the handicaps and contradictions of sin, selfishness, pride, lust, jealousy, or whatever else bogs us down.

If we love to hike in the mountains here, there will be mountains there and vistas that will be a billion times better. Same for romance, painting, music, intellectual conversation, games – anything at all. I think this is true because what we experience on earth points to a greater reality, as you say. And if God loves us and wants to bless us, and has all power, it follows that heaven will be beyond our wildest dreams, yet at the same time, will have a distinct ring of familiarity to it, because we always knew we were made for it, and the greatest moments in life were of the same nature.

If God could be mediated through His creation, then it is easy to see an almost intrinsic connection between this and sacramentalism: God conveys grace through nature.

Exactly. As He did through the Incarnation. God said His creation was good. All goodness comes from God. God speaks and conveys His grace through the created order. The Gospels show Jesus doing this all the time. The Jesus of dualistic Protestantism is not the Jesus of the Gospels.

May all Christians who do not yet comprehend this, be led to this realization by the Holy Spirit and through nature and life itself.

It is very strange to write about these things: one always feels that words are utterly inadequate. And this sort of thinking does not exactly involve chains of reasoning or classical logic. One either grasps it or they don’t. Maybe, perhaps, putting awkward words to it can help others to identify and classify feeelings and longings they have had but were previously unable to make any sense of.

I enjoyed this! Thanks for the input. We can certainly keep talking about Romanticism. Perhaps we can narrow it down to more particular subject matter and give a “Romanticist” analysis. Being more particular may also help us both in trying to express the feelings and thoughts. And I sure hope others will join in, too. This could potentially be a very special thread and running theme of this blog.

 

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(originally from 2-15-04)

Photo credit: Twilight in the Wilderness (1860), by Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]

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