Heaven and Earth: The Re-Enchantment of the Cosmos

Heaven and Earth: The Re-Enchantment of the Cosmos September 20, 2014

David Russell Mosley

Ordinary Time

20 September 2014

On the Edge of Elfland

Hudson, New Hampshire

Dear Friends and Family,

I want to take a brief brake from my letters on C. S. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy to bring to your attention two things I’ve seen today. The first is a video on the nature of heaven and earth I will share below. Please give it a watch (Hat Tip to Robin Parry at Theological Scribbles for posting this).

In this excellent little video we are reminded of two incredibly important things. The first is that at one time Heaven and Earth were united. At one time, perhaps, our world was not so unlike those depicted in either Malacandra or Perelandra. God and his angels, the whole order of being, was represented on Earth, were capable of being experienced by humanity in a more direct fashion. Then a split happens, Earth rejects heaven. The video then deftly points out that the temple will be come the primary locus on Heaven on Earth. However, what it fails to mention, probably due to lack of time, is that there seemed to be other pockets of Heaven on Earth, at least before the tabernacle and temple. Jacob in Bethel sees the ladder with the orders of angels ascending and descending; Moses finds himself by a bush that is burning but not consumed as is told that the ground beneath him is holy. In fact, the video fails to mention even in the divorce of Heaven and Earth, the divorce isn’t true, in a sense. The world cannot go on existing unless it participates in God. Nevertheless, the key here, is that the temple becomes the main sight where Heaven and Earth collide.

Then something new happens. A being from Heaven fully enmeshes himself in Earth. Not just any being, either but the Being, the source and font of all that we call being, the Son, the second person of the Trinity becomes a human without forsaking his divinity. Now, he himself is a pocket of heaven everywhere he goes and he begins to reclaim people and things for heaven. The people part is obvious, lost become found, blind regain sight, sinners are made saints. However, remember that Christ also transfigured water (both by turning it to wine and sanctifying it for baptism). Christ transfigures bread and wine into his body and blood in the Eucharist. Christ is, in a sense, revealing to us the true meaning and purpose of these worldly (and even manmade) objects. He makes them pockets of heaven.

But beyond even this, believers, and therefore the Church, become pockets of heaven, or thin places, if you like (often called a Celtic Christian idea, I can say that I spent roughly three years studying ancient Irish Christianity and never encountered the phrase thin places, but it is a useful metaphor). However, I want to suggest that there are still physical thin places; the most obvious of which are churches (that is the buildings). Traditionally, church buildings have been built theologically. Shape and design are given a theological meaning. Even more so, the medieval churches are filled with images (primarily images called icons in the Christian East), statues, and carvings to evoke Heaven. Angels surround the altar (what many Protestants call the communion table), depictions of the life and death of Christ and the saints are set in place, not merely to inspire or remind us of the stories.  They are there to draw our minds into Heaven which is present in that space, unlike how it may be present in others. Why? Because as the video noted concerning the death of Christ, the efficacy of that death (and the nature of that life) is repeated in the sacraments. Preeminent of these is the Eucharist where we share in the body and blood of Christ, however conceived by celebrants and participants. This makes churches holy ground, thin places where Heaven and Earth collide.

This brings me to a blog post I read this morning. Robb Beck at “Sublunary Sublime” reminds us that the re-enchantment project in Christianity can become something of a purely intellectual notion at best and mere cliché at worst if we are not careful. He reminds us at the end of the short post, ‘Re-enchanting the universe is not some abstract idea, nor is it a simple intellectual task. It is a summons to face the enemy head on. As Fr. Steward Headlam once remarked, “it seems to me to be the duty of every minister of Christ to do all he possible can to stir up a divine discontent in the hearts and minds of the people with the evils which surround them.”’ This is, I believe, the natural conclusion of what I have outlined above. If the Earth is “enemy occupied territory” as C. S. Lewis calls it, then the Church and the churches are bastions of Heaven which send out Heavenlings to reclaim, to re-enchant a world gone dormant, a world lulled to sleep by the lying lullaby of the Enemy. And it is fitting that this all begins at the altar, at the recapitulation, the non-identical repetition of the Cross.

This is what it means to pray Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on Earth as it is Heaven. This too, I would argue, is the significance of praying for our daily bread. That this bread represents true sustenance cannot be denied for what is more sustaining than the Bread of Life?

Sincerely yours,

David Russell Mosley

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  • Matthew Livermore

    Reblogged this on Philosophy of Religion and commented:
    Re-enchanting space

  • I have just read and very much enjoyed your, “Heaven and Earth: The Re-Enchantment of the Cosmos”. What you say here about Earth being once un-fallen and being in a single Cosmos together with Heaven, is interesting, but I will comment on this later in responding to your series on Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy. I like the idea of there still being “pockets of Heaven” on Earth, despite Earth’s fall and these being here even before the coming of Christ but especially after His coming.

    I was particularly impressed by what you have to say about such “thin places”, where Heaven seems to break through into Earth; especially in consecrated places: Churches and other sacred spaces as well I would think, places like Iona and Lindisfarne. Also you mention the presence and use of images: in Western churches, stained glass windows, paintings and statues, and in the East, Icons which they regard as not just representing but in some sense being what they represent, but most especially when we join together in worship at the Eucharist as it is celebrated for us by the Lord, present in his gathered Body, you and me and everyone else, gathered around His Priest at the altar.

    I remember reading years ago, I think in Nicholas Zernov’s, Eastern Christendom, that the Orthodox believe that every time the Divine Liturgy is celebrated a bit of the fallen Cosmos is changed and taken up into God so that eventually the totality of everything that is will be redeemed (sorry I can’t give a reference for this as I have long lost my copy).

    • Hi again David

      Looking again at your post, “Heaven and Earth: The Re-Enchantment of the Cosmos”, it really struck me because certainly our world has been decisively dis-enchanted, over the last half century. There has been a drastic shift in our received World View: the Weltanschauung we now inhabit, such that the categories under which we used to describe the world are no longer allowed any place.

      Somewhere, I think, Lewis said that the cleverest thing the Devil and his minions have done is to disappear. They appear to have succeeded in that and also in making the angels of light disappear. There certainly is a need for a re-enchantment of the cosmos.

      • Chris,

        I couldn’t agree more. So many Christians I know have very little place for angels in their understanding of the world. It is a flattened and immanent world in which we live (or so we are led to believe). A revolution is necessary, preferably one without any casualties other than wrong modes of thought.

    • Chris,

      Thanks! Especially for that last reference. I’ll have to find a copy of the book because that idea sounds incredibly intriguing. The more I study, the more committed I am to the transformational, even the transfigurational power of the liturgy whose heart is the Eucharist.

      • Hi David, I sent you a day or so ago a Christmas greeting and a review I have written on the Eucharistic Memorial, by Frere Max Thurian who was prior of the Taize Community. This was for me an eye opener when I first read it many years ago and as I have just been rereading it now. Amazon, through Whom I obtained second hand copies, asked me to do a review which is now up on their web site and on my blog:

        chrisnb.wordpress.com

        I am not sure that your email address I sent my greeting to is correct anymore

        Chris