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For if that which was done away was glorious, much more that which remaineth is glorious.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

A Body Full of Light

I have been trying to refresh my badly limited Greek on the train in the mornings, and starting as I did with the Gospel of Matthew I reached the Sermon on the Mount fairly soon. Partly because it popped out at me as I read, I thought of dissecting the Sermon as a philosophical text, with gratuitous anachronism. People are fond of seeing the Sermon on the Mount partly as an extended ethical instruction, with the Golden Rule as the key to its advice for life: ....all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. But the idea came to me, during my reading, that it has also both a metaphysical and an epistemological key also.

The metaphysical key is that one is a child of God; be ye therefore perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect. We are presented with our existence as likeness to God in the sense that we share the family likeness by being his children. This seems to be at the heart of the notion of the "kingdom of heaven" also: living out the rule of God, who (says Jesus) rules with a reckless generosity that looks almost naive were it not that it takes the most crucifying forms when one tries to live it out. But such is the existence of his children, the citizens of the kingdom. And this metaphysical key gives a particular perspective to all of Jesus' rigour in tightening up the law, e.g. insisting on not just avoiding murder, but also hate. Except your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees... What is demanded is that we behave like God the Lawgiver, who gives the Law because he is (excuse the expression) a certain kind of person. It isn't enough to behave like people keeping a law visited on them by someone else.

The epistemological key is perhaps Matt 6:22-24. The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!

This sits at the heart of an epistemology that runs the whole way through the Sermon: looking, feeling and knowing are not passive receptions of things that happen to us, or that are done to us. They are acts that define and transform us. But more than that, they are bodily acts, and qua acts involving the body they involve us completely. The "eye" in these verses is the action of seeing, and how we do our seeing either makes or destroys us, but note that the act creates not only a habit of the soul, but saves or damns the body. I am not so sure that one should be in a rush to allegorise the words if therefore thine eye be single and what follows, because it isn't at all clear to me how a body can be "full of light" through a merely physical act of seeing. Perhaps we are being presented with something more than a metaphor, and should not separate too easily the acts of the soul from its instruments. The motions of our heart determine the fate of our bodies; our bodies that are tied to either the clothes, the food and the gold that will soon go up in smoke, or to the "kingdom of God and his righteousness". If this latter - if we are "seeking first the kingdom" - our bodies will be "full of light". Is there a more striking description of the glorified body, the body pellucid to its Original, and of which it is an Image although yet gross and dark? One is reminded of the First day of Creation and the light that emanated before all else; and of the recapitulation of the Creation of light on the Eighth day, the beginning of the New Creation, when a Body Full of Light arose that was not suffered to see corruption.

A final piece of anachronistic interpretation: the Beatitudes at the beginning of the Sermon are a postmodern exercise in getting beyond all philosophical and ethical categories, and present an inescapable existential challenge. I really wonder if anyone can maintain their hypocrisy untroubled on reading through these again. One manages to convince oneself that one is Doing Alright, and then one reads Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Perhaps the people whose feelings run along with this statement instinctively are close to the kingdom; while for the rest of us the Beatitudes are a reminder of how awkward the Figure atop that grassy knoll yet remains.

More Things In Heaven And Earth

An experiment, or rather an observation, has been taking place in my home. My dog - Fingal, and Irish Wolfhound of four years and a half, seemed to be aware of imminent arrival home from work in the evenings. This expectation has been observed to be more pronounced when I approach the house on foot from the railway station than when I arrive by car, as I travel some days by one means, some days by the other.

The theory was put forward, and a common-sense theory it was, that this was simply a matter of timing. I arrive around 6:00 to 6:30 pm, and unsurprisingly Fingal is on the lookout from around 6:00 pm. Well and good: and in support of this theory, if I happen to be late, he goes on the lookout nevertheless, and eventually lies down near the front door.

Some recent events have made this theory less tenable. Over the last few weeks I have been using the train more frequently. When I come back on foot, he seems to begin to quiver and enter a heightened state of excitement with much more precise timing, around five minutes beforehand. Recently I came back early, without warning, at around 4:00 pm, so much earlier than usual, without the knowledge of anyone in the house, and the same thing happened. For five minutes before I arrived he was jumping around, and this puzzled my wife who hadn't expected me. Further, this has been reproduced once or twice since then when I have arrived at odd times.

How can a dog be aware of my footsteps half a mile away, beyond a wood, and behind a row of houses?

Wolfhounds, such as the legendary Bran and Seolan, were said to have faery blood; amongst other stories, they once knew not to attack a hind who was in fact a woman bewitched into a deer's shape. And hounds are the guardian animals of roads and crossroads in particular. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio...