Tuesday, October 26

Making Wine

“To raise a glass, however, is to raise a question. One honest look at any real thing—one minute’s contemplation of any process on earth—leads straight to the conundrum of the relationship of God to the world. The solution is hardly obvious. For something could not be at all without God, creation seems to do rather well without him. Only miracles are simple; nature is a mystery. Autumn by autumn, He makes wine upon a thousand hills, but He does it without tipping His hand. Glucose, fructose, and Saccharomyces ellipsoideus apparently manage very nicely on their own. So much so that the resolving of the conflict between the sacred and the secular (or, better said, the repairing of the damage done by divorcing them) has been billed as the major problem of modern theology. Permit me, therefore, glass in hand and cooking Sherry within easy reach, the world’s most interrupted discourse on the subject. In vino veritas.

Take the largest part of that truth first. God makes wine. For all its difficulties, there is no way around the doctrine of creation. But notice the tense: He makes; not made. He did not create once upon a time, only to find himself saddled now with the unavoidable and embarrassing result of that first rash decision. That is only to welsh on the idea of an unnecessary world, to make creation a self-perpetuating pool game which is contingent only at the start—which needs only the first push on the cue ball to keep it going forever. It will not do: The world is more unnecessary than that. It is unnecessary now; it cries in this moment for a cause to hold it in being. It was St. Thomas, I think, who pointed out long ago that if God wanted to get rid of the universe, He would not have to do anything; He would have to stop doing something. Wine is—the fruit of the vine stands in act, outside of nothing—because it is His very present pleasure to have it so. The creative act is contemporary, intimate, and immediate to each part, parcel and period of the world.

Do you see what that means? In a general way we concede that God made the world out of joy: He didn’t need it; He just thought it was a good thing. But if you confine His activity in creation to the beginning only, you lose most of the joy in the subsequent shuffle of history. Sure, it was good back then, you say, but since then, we’ve been eating leftovers. How much better a world it becomes when you see Him creating at all times and at every time; when you see that the preserving of the old in being is just as much creation as bringing the new out of nothing. Each thing, at every moment, becomes the delight of His hand, the apple of His eye. The bloom of yeast lies upon the grapeskins year after year because He likes it; C6H12O6=2C2H5OH+2CO2* is a dependable process because, every September, He says, That was nice; do it again.

Let us pause and drink to that.”

Excerpted from “The Supper of the Lamb” by Robert Farrar Capon

*sorry, I don’t know how to do the notation for chemicals on my computer…

Sunday, October 10

Funeral Service

One of the things I wanted to make sure that I did before deciding to become Orthodox Christian is to read the prayers for the dead and the Funeral Service. After all, it's not in every church that you know ahead of time what they will say about you when you are gone... :-)

I found a few phrases to be breathtakingly beautiful, and I thought I would share:

From a series of prayers for the dead:

“O God of spirits and of all flesh, who has trampled down Death, and made powerless the Devil, and given life to thy world: Do Thou, the same Lord, give rest to the soul of Thy departed servant (name), in a place of brightness, a place of verdure*, a place of repose, whence all sickness, sorrow and sighing have fled away…”

From the actual Funeral Service:

“I am an image of Thy glory ineffable**, though I bear the brands of transgressions: Show thy compassions upon Thy creature, O Master, and purify me by thy loving-kindness; and grant unto me the home-country of my heart’s desire, making me again a citizen of Paradise.”

“Let us go forth, and gaze into the tombs: man is naked bones, food for the worms, and stench; and we shall learn what are riches, and comeliness, and beauty, and strength.”

* 1: the greenness of growing vegetation; also : such vegetation itself
   2: a condition of health and vigor

** indescribable

Pleasure and Memory

"A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hmān, as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing. The séroni could say it better than I say it now. Not better than I could say it in a poem. What you call remembering is the last part of the pleasure, as the crah is the last part of a poem. When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then–that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it."

~Hyoi in "Out of the Silent Planet" by C. S. Lewis

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