So cruel is the knowledge of our waste

tomtI’m setting my sites on a steady pathway through Thomas Traherne’s Centuries. It seems that no one who reads Traherne comes away disappointed or unaffected. I hope not to be the sole exception. I did love this paragraph from Hilda Vaughan’s Introduction:

But so cruel can be the knowledge of our waste, our self-deprivation, that we wonder why mediaeval man felt a need to invent gloating devils and everlasting tortures. It is hell enough to guess what our contrition may be in the brief, interminable instant of death, should we see, like a trampled map spread below us, the fair, God-given life we spoiled. Traherne would save us from this by persuading us to look upon the beauty of our gift until we grow ashamed to spoil it. In our arid seasons, too, he refreshes our spirits, as our bodies are refreshed after long drought by the sound, sight, touch, and taste of clean, running water. Unlike most mystics, after he regained the vision of his infancy, he himself seems never to have suffered from droughts of the soul, but so to have trusted the Shepherd of his green pastures as not to have strayed beyond reach of the living waters. Yet it is pity, not impatience, which he feels when he finds that most men thirst because they will not drink.

I know the cruelty of such knowledge, but I’m not yet as confirmed as Traherne in so saving a vision of the beauty of our gift as to shake off the hellish regret and contrition of my waste and self-deprivation. I’m all ears, though, Traherene. Talk to me.



To walk abroad is, not with Eys,
But Thoughts, the Fields to see and prize;
Els may the silent Feet,
Like Logs of Wood,
Mov up and down, and see no Good,
Nor Joy nor Glory meet.

Ev’n Carts and Wheels their place do change,
But cannot see; tho very strange
The Glory that is by:
Dead Puppets may
Mov in the bright and glorious Day,
Yet not behold the Sky.

And are not Men than they more blind,
Who having Eys yet never find
The Bliss in which they mov:
Like Statues dead
They up and down are carried,
Yet neither see nor lov.

To walk is by a thought to go;
To mov in Spirit to and fro;
To mind the Good we see;
To taste the Sweet;
Observing all the things we meet.
How choice and rich they be.

(Original spelling!)


From Nothing—Part 5

mortalityIn Part 4 I suggested (with McFarland and Eikrem) that mortality (entropy/decay) per se is not an evil consequence of creation’s fall from a primordial perfection but that it constitutes the minimal basic necessary context in terms of which conscious embodied beings such as us must negotiate the choices necessary to becoming what God intended – one with God in love and partnership in the cosmos.

My friend John (comments section) writes that he recognizes that our finitude “might conceivably require…epistemic distances and ontic privations in order to be exercised and realized.” Precisely. But he asks “But what length of distance? And what depth of privation?” Good questions.

A few weeks ago I found myself in conversation with an Eastern Orthodox believer who, strangely, insisted that God’s purposes for us (i.e., our union with him in love and our partnership with him in the cosmos) include not only our mortality, but also our actual moral depravity, and that evil itself is required for creation to find its home in God. I got the feeling this gentleman was speaking from the edge of the edge. In any case, it’s fatally (pun intended) overstating the context in terms of which we must travel the pathway to our end in God, and it’s certainly not reflective of Orthodoxy’s general vision. John’s questions, though, got me to thinking again about the necessity of mortality.

Why think mortality (by which I mean entropy and decay, and thus death) is the necessary context in which human beings find their way to fulfillment in God? To risk offending readers with a needless repetition, let me repeat what I’ve said:

For the rather simple reason that there is (for us) no coming into the fullness of being which is not a coming into to the truth of being, and part of our truth is our absolute contingency, gratuity, and dependency upon God. This entails, of necessity, embracing the truth of the nothingness out of which God calls us into being. This is a truth we cannot comprehend apart from an experience of mortality. So, mortality is the possibility of our relating the truth of our finitude to the immortal God, and this is the truth we must come to terms with en route to fully participating in the grace of eternal life. So to the extent it is true that we are nothing in ourselves – mortality is a grace, however temporary a mode of being it was meant to be. Mortality becomes death “the enemy” (in the existential/theological sense of Heb 2.14) when we choose to misrelate despairingly to our finitude….

To John’s questions then: What length of [epistemic] distance must define the space in which we make our way Godward? And what depth of privation must define our existence for that existence to arrive to the fulness God intends? For me the answer is bound up with the nature of created finitude, on the one hand, and privation, on the other. Finitude is no privation, obviously. If finitude were a privation, then creation would come privated and evil from God, and we don’t want to say that. When we are all God created us to be, in the full light and enjoyment of God as our end, we shall remain finite. Privation is another matter. Privation is privation of the good. And if finitude is the nature of creation in its goodness, then our privation is misrelation precisely to the truth of our finitude.

What of the epistemic distance that qualifies our finitude? Well, it can’t be that believing falsehoods and lies is a good thing, or even a necessary thing for us. But the ignorance of finitude is no privation. The question is what kind of epistemic distance has to define the context in which we make responsible choices Godward? We have to know enough to choose rightly, not step into it accidentally. But if choice is to be the means of a responsible self-determination toward our end, then we can’t be so overwhelmed with the obvious truth of things that deliberation becomes rationally impossible. The epistemic distance has to be greater than 0 but less than 1.

The end of such distance, its purpose, is its own final closure achieved over time through the exercise of the will. We experience this tendency now as habituation, the solidification of the will. But we’re talking here about the necessary starting point, about what has to be in place for us to make the journey toward final union with God. We can’t start out at the end – obviously – but the beginning, though less than the end, also cannot be “privation” or evil. This is where we locate mortality as entropy and decay. Apart from the experience of mortality (entropy, decay, death) we would have no grounds upon which to perceive the truth of our own finitude and our movement to final union with God would be impossible, for that union is predicated precisely upon our choosing to relate rightly as created, as finite.

So – how much “epistemic distance”? Necessarily, enough to make truly responsible choice possible. That varies. But to what depth of “privation”? If by privation we mean privation of the good, then none at all necessarily. Finitude is the goodness of being created. Privation is the evil of refusing to acknowledge our finitude.

“There are no women on my theology bookshelf…”

I’m thinking about limiting my devotional and theological reading during 2019 to women.

maggi dawn

Last year on Twitter, someone wrote to me “there are no women on my theology bookshelf. Who should I read?”.

I followed up with a blog list, and was pleased to discover that without even looking up from my screen I could easily think of well over a hundred female theologians, ecclesiastical historians, biblical scholars, sociologists of religion, and others who figure on the theological landscape. More names appeared when I actually looked at my own bookshelf.

Replies flooded in through the comments, adding many more names of women authors – both academic and devotional, theoretical and practical, in every area of the theological landscape. Now the academic year is about to begin again, one or two people have mentioned the post again as a resource – so, incomplete though it is, here is the updated blog post with names added from the comments section.

10897776_469733266514841_7639664988515007378_nWhen people ask about “women…

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Freedom as creative liberty among loving options

A recent Tweet by Fr Aidan Kimel prompted my return to this previous post. Comparing God’s creation of the universe to Picasso’s statement “To know what you’re going to draw you have to begin drawing,” Fr Aidan writes: “I wonder if the same applies to God’s creation of the universe. No premeditation. No deliberation. Just the spontaneous let it be.”

I totally agree. David Hart, however, doesn’t like talk of “spontaneity” because he believes it an “irrational” mode of willing, something we cannot attribute to God. But I’ve disagreed. Spontaneity can indeed be a rational mode of acting where the scope of acting is bound within and expressive of the same unfailing love as its rationale. We have to say something like this applies to God’s determination to create if we say God creates freely and unnecessarily, for not creating is, presumably, as consistent with and expressive of who and what God is as creating.

An Open Orthodoxy


I want to try to express something I’m unable to make sense of in David Bentley Hart’s view of choice and freedom. I’ll start with very briefly stating his view of human “freedom” as the flourishing of created nature in its telos or end in God as the Good (with which I agree). Then I’ll summarize his qualified view of “libertarian” choice as the “possibility of freedom, not its realization” (with which I also agree). Thirdly, I’ll re-introduce (having done so previously) his response to my question regarding the nature of human choice once the will is perfected in the Good. This is where my difficulty gets introduced. Lastly, I’ll try to express what I think is an inconsistency or at least an unresolved issue (or perhaps my own stupidity) at the heart of his objection to a certain understanding of creative liberty as spontaneous.

First, what is true…

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To he or not to he, that is the question

Classical Theism

Ran across this illustration today. Notice the top left explanation:

God is referred to as He to metaphorically illustrate metaphysical ultimacy, since “She” would metaphorically signify motherhood, which would indicate the world as pantheistically emanating from God as a child “emanates” from the womb which is not Classical Theism.

I have friends on both sides of the gender language debate as it relates to pronouns for God. I’m not at all comfortable referring to God as “it” (or any combination of “he” and “she”) because of God’s personal nature. And I find the above defense of “he” (an capitalized to boot) convincing. On some days I find it ridiculous. On occasions I’ve used “she” to refer to God which can, I think, be done while avoid the pantheism referred to in the illustration. Maybe there’s a future post for this on the back burner.