The Royal Tenenbaums or Luke 24
“Perhaps the world progresses not by maturing, but by being in a permanent state of adolescence, of thrilled discovery.”
― Julian Barnes, Levels of Life
Another song I wrote for Love in Stereo. It’s not perfect—it’s mixed crappily and I probably get WAY flat—but today’s the day after Earth Day, dangit! xoxoxoxos!
1 Corinthians 12:12-13
12 For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.
13 For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.
In the ancient world, if you created something masterful or transcendent, you weren’t a genius; you had a genius. So you’re sitting at your table, and let’s say you’re rich enough to spend your free time doodling, and this muse, just hanging out in the air, decides to drop by and see what’s up. So it peers over your shoulder at your doodles, and it decides, just because it can, to bestow upon you its power. Your doodles grow masterful, the pride of the ages. But that’s not YOUR doing, it’s the genius’.
This story illustrates how, in medieval and ancient societies, man was decidedly not the measure of all things. In those days, “meaning [was] found in the object/agent”—say the relic, spirit, or angel—and it was there “independently of [you]. [That muse] would be there even if we didn’t exist.” Moreover, that object/agent “communicate[d] its meaning to [you] by imposing it on [you]…by bringing [you] into its field of force.”
Whereas pre-modern man saw humanity as porous, affected by objects and spirits within the world, we are buffered. Another way to understand this differentiation is to think of relics. Relics, in the medieval world, held POWER. “Their curative power emanated both from them, and also from the good will of the saint they belonged to.” When you sidled up next to an enchanted relic, there were no barriers, no choosing “not to let this effect you.” For modern man, though, “the possibility exists of taking a distance from, disengaging from everything outside of my mind.” We now live in a disenchanted world.
Now, we can “buffer,” or protect, ourselves. “I am not going to let that get to me,” we say. “I have a choice in the matter.” Which would be an unthinkable statement in the ancient world. Because there was really no such thing as “disengagement.”
Now, this is a terrifying, because there are not only good forces that can seep into you, to make you unexpectedly happy or pumped up, but bad ones, too. Think of the childhood nightmares you couldn’t prevent. Think of childhood. You’re open, as a child, both to the extreme joys of life, but also to gross horrors.
But despite this prospect of unpreventable horror that you can’t disengage from, I can’t think of this ancient world without a sense of loss. Maybe this is unfounded nostalgia, though I don’t quite think so. Because, as terrifying as this worldview (which they wouldn’t have even called a worldview, because they’d say “what’s a worldview?”) could be, the world WAS enchanted. A supernatural tinge was intrinsic.
There’s an even larger sense of loss in this transformation from enchanted world to disenchanted because it leads people to view themselves not as constant receivers, as being constant recipients of gifts, but as completely autonomous self-generators. Individualism increases, and people begin to see themselves more as kings of their own worlds, relying on their own power. Or will-to-power.
On the societal level: great. But on the spiritual level, maybe not so much.
So, what’s the point of all this?
For one, I think that as moderns, we might be tempted to believe that the Lord’s Supper’s meaning is contingent upon our own individual projections.
Think, for example, of the person who raises his or her eyebrow to the mentally disabled person who wishes to take communion. “Can this person take the cup in a worthy manner?” they ask. But underlying that is the assumption that to take it, we must understand it, and that the understanding of it gives it its meaning. But NONE of us questions the point of sitting down to eat with our family. It’s not something you intellectualize; you do it because they’re your family and you love them. Would this mentally disabled person be shunned at his or her own dinner table?
During the Lord’s Supper, we lose our identity as individualistic self-generators. Barriers collapse we and become one part of a larger, global body. Here at the table, we see the overarching reality, understanding that “our individual desires [are not] the locus of authority and self-definition.”
Here, we becomes receivers in the most basic of ways.
Because you don’t resist Christ—disengage from him—when you’re eating his body and drinking his blood.
Paul says, “We have been all made to drink of one spirit.” I love that phrase: “Drink of one spirit.” It connotes communion.
With food and drink, it’s ludicrous to say, “This is not going to affect me.” Food, even in small amounts, affects you and shapes you whether you want it to or not. You can say about a mood or about a person, “I’m not going to let this get to me.” But once you’ve made the decision to come to the table—to eat—you surrender. During the Lord’s Supper, you become aware of another world, an enchanted, porous world, where, even though you’re a sinner, Christ died for you. Here, God’s grace is freely given. Receive Christ, and receive it.
Galatians 3:26-27: For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
1 Corinthians 6:17 But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.
David Brooks tells the following story of Douglas Hofstadter:
Hofstadter was married to a woman named Carol, and they had a wonderful relationship. When their kids were five and two, Carol had a stroke and a brain tumor and died suddenly. In 2007 Hofstadter wrote a book called I am a Strange Loop. In the course of that book he describes a moment just months after Carol has died. He comes across her picture on the mantle in the bedroom. And here’s what he writes.
“One day, as I gazed at the photograph of Carol taken a couple of months before her death, I looked at her face, and I looked so deeply that I felt that I was behind her eyes, and all at once, I found myself saying, as tears flowed, “That’s me! That’s me!”
“And those simple words brought back many thoughts that I had had before, about the fusion of our souls into one higher-level entity, about the fact that at the core of both our souls lay our identical hopes and dreams for our children, about the notion that those hopes were not separate or distinct hopes but were just one hope, one clear thing that defined us both, that welded us into a unit, the kind of unit I had but dimly imagined before being married and having children. I realized that though Carol had died, that core piece of her had not died at all, but that it had lived on very determinedly…”
The consistent presence of people you love has a way of working its way into your blood stream—of affecting our unconscious. Through ritual, presence, and love, they infiltrate. So the once-married man can look at a picture of his recently deceased wife and say, because it’s true, “You’re me. You’re me.” So the friend who believes it will be simple to break up with his girlfriend of 5 years—to move on, to try out that girl that keeps stopping by his cubicle—suddenly finds that, as soon as the girl he laughed with and hoped with for 5 years starts dating someone else, he can’t sleep. He wants her back…feels like he’s lost a limb. He didn’t know what she meant to him until now. So friendships and marriages that stand the test of time result in beautiful relationships. You wake up one day and say, “I truly love this person.” Or in my case, you wake up one morning and start calling your cat these weird pet names like “Poopsy Bear” or “Babycakes.” Because of, well, love. Real presence, aligned with love, rewires our minds and spirits.
We are blessed to be in the consistent, real presence of Christ at the Lord’s Supper. Jesus is here, and not just as a symbol. He is in control, in a wonderful, mysterious way. We don’t have to focus or think him into being—to impose our reality into this sacrament. He’s here. We only have to welcome him.
And being in his presence will shape us. Desire can sideswipe us, yes, but desire is also born through ritual. It’s born when we, along with the saints, share identical hopes and goals with Christ, shaping us into his image. Our marriage to Christ as the church is strengthened through the act of memorial; but it’s also strengthened because more than just his memory being here, his real presence is here.
And so he works his way into our bloodstream. Literally. Not transubstantiation literally, but…We shouldn’t deny the simultaneously incarnational and supernatural aspects of the bread and wine.
Jeremy Lin’s Twitter bio simply states, “To know Him is to want to know Him more.” Here, in this mystery, we can know him. And the more we know him, the more we want him. To partake of him. To align our desires with his desires and to have him align our desires with his desires. Until hopefully, through one baptism, a continued presence, and our ongoing sanctification, Christ is made manifest through us. We hope that, through our continued presence with Christ, he might look at us and say, “That’s me. That’s me.”
Meet Matthew Bogue. He’s a God scout and my friend. He is not a Christian.
You’ll want to see the way he answers the question: Who Was Jesus?
The kingdom of music is not the kingdom of this world; it will accept those whom breeding and intellect and culture have alike rejected.”
― E.M. Forster, A Room with a View
Nature and truth. Money and markets. Men and marriage. Faith and reason. They’ve all ended. Power ended in March, but that makes sense because leadership ended last year. History ended more than two decades ago, while the future ended just two years ago.
On the plus side, illness has ended, along with poverty, racism, war — even homework.
If you thought these things were still around, just pick up “The End of Sex,” by Donna Freitas, published last week, or Moises Naim’s “The End of Power,” which came out last month. Try David Wolman’s “The End of Money” or David Agus’s “The End of Illness.” Those came out in 2012, the same year that Hanna Rosin affirmed “The End of Men” and John Horgan imagined “The End of War.”
One could dismiss this proliferation of “The End” as a plea for attention by publishers, magazine editors, authors, bloggers, TED talkers and the rest of the ideas industry — a marketing device signaling little more than the end of imagination.
But it is more than that. “The end of” is also the perfect headline for our age. It fits a moment that fetishizes disruption over stability. It grabs an audience enamored of what is next, not what is here. It suits a public debate in which extreme positions are requisite starting points.