PHAEDRUS: I come from Lysias the son of Cephalus, and I am going to take a walk outside the wall, for I have been sitting with him the whole morning; and our common friend Acumenus tells me that it is much more refreshing to walk in the open air than to be shut up in a cloister.*
We left a garden with Eve and Adam and are going to a city with King Jesus. The city is where we must live.
Yet the country is good for us, this side of the City Four Square, a City with crystalline water and nature everywhere. Most cities, this side of the Final City, are not so kind to our souls. We lack green, water, and quiet in most human built cities. There is too much noise, fakery, and constant adverts for the authenticity we need just now.
We are, or at least I am, inclined to let noise drown out the still, small voice of God asking us to say yes to love. The wild of the world, or at least the beach, the park, the tree, Bragdon Wood at the College, let us stop, think about it, and hear God. Every year when my children were young, my godfather sent us to the beach and there I was able to calm down so I could carry on and all of us found rest. Why there? There was peace in nature, less civilization with her contents, the waves carried no sound of our brokenness and sin.
If you live in Sodom, then the wilderness is rest.
Nature is not there, the place we are going, but is also not messed up. Nature is here, a place to rest on our way to there.
Humans should cultivate, but in our broken state we can also pollute. Our attempts at the ideal fail. Nature unspoiled is, then, a place of possibility.Plato’s Phaedrus, a dialogue about love, is set in the countryside. The setting is rare, because Socrates, Plato’s mentor, was a man of the city. He was most often to be found in the marketplace at the heart of the city of Athens. Phaedrus, a young man in love with love, is roaming through the country thinking, meditating, listening to nature.
He is not static, hiding in his room, full of sad. Instead, Phaedrus is walking. He has heard what he thinks is a beautiful speech on love, one that could change how he lived.
Phaedrus is not zoning out, not going to a party to avoid difficult challenges to his way of life, but meditating on big ideas he has heard in the city in the country. There he can consider new possibilities. Socrates meets him there and together they find wisdom under a tree to the sound of the cicadas.
The city is good, nature is still needed. We are not yet to the ideal City and so must retreat to the place of possibilities: the natural world. At the very least, we can and should find a garden to meditate and find rest for our souls.
*Plato, Phaedrus. (Nichols translation.)