Click here for fractal pictures of the Music of the Ainur
Listened to: I also listened to Bruckner’s 4th symphony this weekend, without knowing Rosie had.
Yesterday someone prayed in church something about God’s presence or work “in the spiritual realm and in the physical realm.” That struck me so sharply—a smack, a slap, an epiphany—I almost jumped up shouting in the middle of worship. That is another inheritance from Hellenism! Isn’t it? Two problems with a Platonic philosophy are the dead-sign theory of language and the static nature of the afterlife. Tolkien, I believe, rescued writing from the first problem: with his invention of Elvish, he realised that language presupposes a mythology and a history. As he wrote those, he infused the spiritual “realties” of his imaginary world into his imaginary language, thus showing the integral nature of word and belief. C. S. Lewis rescued Christianity from the other problem, that of an eternal stasis in the realm of pure forms, with his idea of a heaven so much more than earthly reality, with “further up and further in,” with the solidity of “the valley of the shadow of life,” and with the expanding rings of worlds-within-worlds.
OK, but this is another problem, and one specifically aimed at the artist. It seems that Christianity has inherited the idea that the spiritual world and the physical world are just that: two different, separate kingdoms. God rules both, and perhaps they exist side-by-side, maybe they even correspond (each item here being a poor copy of another item there, in a one-to-one relationship), but they are separate. I think I have believed that.
But that CANNOT be true since the incarnation!! It was probably never true, but once God united His entire [spiritual] self to a human [material] existence, the two worlds collided in a disastrous way—disastrous in that now they are one. Everything that happens here happens there, and vice-versa. This is the mystery of prayer: God is doing something, and His people are praying about it. Which came first? Which caused the other? Neither: they are the same action. How could I have thought of them as disjunct realities? I breathe: God has caused me to take that breath. I pray: God has given me the heart to move towards Himself. I take the Lord’s Supper: a spiritual presence occurs, not just a symbol of what happened in the past or what might happen in the future. There is a reality there, a conjunction of heaven and earth.
This is what Charles Williams sees so well. He does not subdivide realities into two categories. That’s why his books appear “totally weird.” He is not surprised if divine lightning flashes forth, piercing an evil man as with a thousand red-hot needles and casting him out through walls into the street. Why not? The man committed a spiritual indecency; with spiritual fire will he be destroyed. Hell can act on earth, for it is present in every wrong choice. Heaven can, also, for it is present in each godly decision (since those come from the Transcendent One in the first place). Williams does not hesitate to suggest that divine power might dwell in a cup, a stone, a ring, or a woman, since those objects/persons are simultaneously existent in the two realms. Or the two realms intersect in it/her. Or there are no two realms, but spirit and matter acting in conjunction.
Why should this surprise me? I am a material creature, animated by a soul; or a soul indwelling a body; or a spirit expressing itself through matter; or a soul-body union. I believe that a person cannot exist without both. The figures posed in “Body Worlds” are not people—only their shells, their earth-suits. A soul without a body is as dead as a body without a soul. That is why resurrection is necessary. After I die, I will not be a person until the Resurrected Lord unites me with a new body. And then I will be able to SEE (and feel, taste, hear, smell…and who knows what else!) the glories of a world into which the division is not longer apparent.
So great art is matter arranged in a particular way by a person who has infused his/her soul into that work. It is made of material stuff (paint, wood, paper, canvas, marble, notes, rhythms, words….) and immaterial stuff (observations, perspectives, opinions, ideas, truths….)
Perhaps Blake is right, that here in our bodies we are caught in “the abyss of the five senses.” Maybe “man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
Or, as Oothoon says in “Visions of the Daughters of Albion”:
They told me that the night & day were all that I could see;
They told me that I had five senses to inclose me up.
And they inclos’d my infinite brain into a narrow circle….
If so, think what an amazing world it will be when those five senses open into a hundred, a thousand, a million, or an infinite number of possible kinds of sensory perception! Or each sense becomes one with all the others, and we see music, hear colors, touch odors, eat noises, drink hues, wear feelings, paint music, dance rainbows, knit scents, ride waves of the color spectrum, feast on symphonies, listen to textures, inhale the whole vast material universe into the lungs of our soul, and exhale epics of eternal experience!!
Great art, then, reveals that unity between two worlds. It shows something more than we can see with our eyes. We listen to Wagner to try to catch the Music of the Ainur that the sea hints (Silmarillion). We look at Turner’s paintings to try to understand the nature of light. We take photographs to try to express something beyond what the landscape itself shows in its “real” context.
Maybe? What do you think? Do I have a logical inconsistency here, that on the one hand I am saying the two worlds are one world, and on the other hand they are two and artist try to reveal one in the other? Or am I trying to say that ineffable things all artists try to say, namely: Look! There it is! Eternity, spirit, myth, heaven, imagination, human soul, the Transcendent, the something-more—I have caught it, and am showing it to you! Look, please look!