mardi, avril 11, 2006

Healing Our Fractures

Scattered on the faded wall to wall carpet around my desk are the galleys of a book I am reviewing. Since we review books anonymously (perhaps so we will be protected from angry authors or agents) I cannot tell you more about the book than that it touches on matters theological and historical.In delineating the highways and byways of Christian history, the writer lingers lovingly in the medieval period. Underneath his scholarly air of objectivity, he seems to admire its respect for order and authority. Popes were Popes (even when there was more than one), kings stuck to ruling the country and didn't mess around too much with the church (unless you were Henry II and Thomas a Becket), and serfs knew their place. Much of the art of the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries is crafted on the belief that there was order to the world, because it was made by an orderly Creator. Disciplined by faith in the divine purpose of the "love that moves the sun and other stars," as Dante put it in the Paradiso, painters and architects and sculptors could create in wood and stone and marble a witness to belief in a universe that was subject to reason.

There's a lot I don't envy about daily life in medieval Europe-the plagues, the wars, the lack of good sanitation. But as I was renewing my friendship with the medieval church after years of ignoring it (I majored in Medieval and Renaissance Studies) I felt a creeping sense of wistfulness. Wouldn't it be wonderful to have the sense that everything in the universe had a reason and a purpose? Wouldn't it be fabulous to see the hand of God in everything around you and to plumb the levels of meanings revealed by a flower, or a tree, a spouse or a constellation?

We "know" so much more than they do. We know, of course, that the earth does indeed rotate around the sun. We know that we are a minute but blessed tribe in a galaxy that nestles among other galaxies. We have spanned the world with our technology.

In doing so, we have lost that sense of organic unity, of the timelessness of a world under God's care and sustaining Providence. We are afflicted by the sense that everything cries out for our immediate and urgent attention. Many medieval men and women didn't know how to read. Many of them probably didn't even understand the Latin words of the mass. Yet rich or poor, knight or dairymaid, they were surrounded by symbols of divine order to remind them that the past, the present and the future were one in God's eye and equally precious.

We cannot go back to that sense of integrity, of hierarchy, of inner logic. Yet we haven't abandoned the desire to find it, either. As we push the boundaries of space, as we dissect the atom, we are still seeking traces of a world in which God has written his purpose clearly for all to perceive-whether they know their place or not.

Aucun commentaire: