When you write, even more so then when you think, big ideas appear one way one day and then completely different the next, especially big ideas which have been bouncing around, dispersing, coagulating, being forgotten, and suddenly, naggingly remembered over the course of two weeks. So this post is my attempt to snatch all the disparate elements of my thinking together in one place. All this rambling is keeping me from catching my thoughts making sense by surprise, so I should get down to business.
To the matter, as it were.
The matter is belief: false and true. The literature in which I have encountered and spun this theme around are the following (in order of time): 33 Days of Morning Glory (on Marian Consecration), The Faerie Queene, (by Spenser), a paper I wrote and which resurfaced this week about why (how) people can believe in what are after all, stories, a wending conversation about Tolkien (sort of), and England, England by Julian Barnes.
-It began (the question of Belief) in a rote way, a not overly spiritualized, "doing a good thing for Lent" way.
At adoration, it must have been on Monday, I read Day 3 (I think) of 33 Days. It said that as part of Marian consecration you renew your baptismal vows, renouncing Satan. But then it read: how the day of your baptism was the most significant day of your life because in it you became a child of God. Just like that! And I say to you, as I said to myself, 'Either they are being very careless with superlatives, or else this seems quite impossible. How could the most significant day of my life have already happened, and me not known it, and what is far more, known about it as a fact later in life, but never really given it more than a catechism-lesson-encouraged thought?". But there it was as a fact, down in that yellow floppy booklet.
Now the kicker is, of course, I didn't, and don't have to believe it. It is at worst, a completely ridiculous, at best, reluctantly tolerated, idea to accept. I suppose the point is, it was an extraordinary thing to think at all. That everything was different because of something you had no cognitive grasp of, and what's more, you believed it. I moved on. To thinking about belief and the Eucharist, not a great way to simplify the matter. Because, it is the same as that sentence in the Consecration book, the way I was thinking about it: It was a wafer in front of me in a monstrance at Adoration, and with belief, it was God, and again, everything changed. If you just stared without belief, well, it was neither life-changing or particularly meaningless, it is just there, a thing in another thing on another thing. All well and good. But if you do believe, then walking into the fourth floor of a brownstone and sitting in front of a monstrance is the most profoundly meaningful thing you will do all day, perhaps all week and you never know, perhaps in life. Even if you don't know at the time. It is like putting on glasses which make you see upside-down, except 1) surprisingly less drastic, considering you are dealing with the presence of God, and 2) relatedly, as I compared the two perspectives, and now, what is most strange is that there appeared no gradation, nothing in-between what is up and what is down. Which leads me to my second event, because depending on what you believe, you will surely say that one is obviously correct.
-Spenser said so loud and clear. He said the spiritual reality is up (Yes, up is now a value judgement) and the physical reality is down. The poem was an allegory: St. George and Una, St. George fighting the devil. And it was a beautiful allegory, in its way, at least to me. By having a truer reality as spiritual figures, the physical world became a shape-shifting, seeming, unpredictable imagination which was hopeless, an appeal toward possessing interior wisdom, and hugely free and imaginative all at once. So anyway, I thought how strange it would be to see life allegorized like that, and knew it was unsustainable because it would be living life suspended in a dualism, and wondered if that was religious thought. Just an odd somehow literary analysis of reality, an extended metaphor. I could see it, too, how one could think that and how sometimes it is, but also what a dangerously romantic, charming way of thinking it is. And so on to the third...
-This was the paper I wrote about stories, specifically the Bible, and why people can believe in them. I honestly don't remember much what I said in it but I bring it up mainly because of the conversation it led to. I sent it to a student journal here a t BU, and in response, was asked by a very smart person whether I had ever heard of JRR Tolkien's notions of secondary belief and secondary worlds. I said no, and dropped by to chat about it. The basic idea, as far as I can grasp it and put it down at all clearly, is that one believes in a primary reality as just that, reality, but secondary belief, means belief in a fictional, or unreal world or setting which one could enter into either 1) mistaking the secondary world for the primary one and believing in it as reality, or 2) in a self-aware fashion, as immersion with the "willing suspension of disbelief", as a way of gaining knowledge or pleasure, I suppose. Anyhow, the person I talked to posited that belief in stories, insofar as that belief goes, is secondary belief. Now on the surface,in a purely literary sense, all well and good, but when extended to viewing religious belief as belief in a secondary world, I began to move cautiously. Actually, in slow motion. Because, you see, secondary world implies a fictional world, an imagined world, and here is the issue: a not-actually-seen world. Because even if someone lived on the movie set for The Lord of the Rings, the world of the Lord of the Rings is not actually seen. The objects the person (wannabeHobbit) lives with are derived from that imaginary world, and it is to a certain extent real, not to be reductionist, but it is not Reality. And yet, I sensed a thin line in the thinking a wormhole like a crack in the Wall in Doctor Who. Because, you see faith is the belief and hope in things unseen. That's practically, maybe it is, faith's definition. It is when a secondary world and a primary world are equally real. But not like Spenser, which brings me to Julian Barnes.
- It is precisely because I felt faith was SO not like Spenser, but could not say how that I was rather relieved with Julian Barnes. Because he ( Barnes) made the point that the children could see that Ray Stout dressed up as Queen Victoria was Ray Stout, "yet they believed in both Queen Victoria and Ray Stout at the same time". And at the same instant in time, I would believe. Just like how you can only view history in the moment in which you live, a fact which was incredibly played with in this to-me-excellent novel. And I thought that is just what I meant about faith. The present moment with a "short, eternal moment that was absurd, improbable, unbelievable, true". And 'with' as in God 'with' us, both moments like two people, present to each other. And as Martha Cochrane thought in relation to history, even if the moment, the event in your history, that day of your Baptism, was in Reality nothing or nothing in all that you know as Reality, it enriched "all subsequent life", and the "little seriousness of life" lay in celebrating that moment. That moment of creation, whether of a nation's spirit or of a child of God, but also, both to the believer and non-believer, that moment, maybe more importantly, of uncreation. Because after all belief in material reality is the only possible Reality. We lift out of this primary belief in our imaginations, but only in faith is there that vehement forging of the impossible inextricably into the possible which is then, in that moment, the truth. And, right now, I lament words, because now, in this order, these words: faith (because of almost everything about it), forging (because it emplies a forger and effort, neither of which I can speak to in this context), inextricably (because there is no word for what I Mean to convey by this one), both impossible and possible, and finally, Truth (because truth and meaning are so related and yet somehow different so how do you have a word which means truth) do not convey my thought. Now reread the sentence before the word disclaimer one, skip the word-disclaimer, and read the sentence after the next word. Good. I speak of those moments of uncreation as moments of faith, because whether the nation's birth is a myth or the child of God is never an identity, the moment succeeds in being outside of time, and is therefore not seen. But that reality outside of time, of Reality, which never happened, is somehow and oftentimes very quietly somehow, truth.
How disgustingly unclear.