Fear and Adoration
May 15, 2020
This talk is about the element of fear that is realised in us by items by which we are impressed astonished:
…..items like beauty:
I recall Muhammed Ali speaking about his first e ncourter with the woman who was to become his wife, and saying perspicaciously that: “Meeting a beautiful woman scares a man”
….like beauty of the inner person expressed in a deed of theirs:
The disciple Peter what we’d call ‘gobsmacked’ and afraid because of The Miraculous Draft of Fishes says to The Lord: “‘Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man’”
….like the imapct of a powerful realisation:
The Psalmist declares simply: “I am fearfuly and wonderfuly made”
Henry King’s famous first line: “I saw Eternity the other night”
...like the Divine
As of course The Old Testament and sometimes The New talks often of ‘the fear of God’.
This talk of The Fear of God is translated wholly away in many places in some newer versions than the King James Bible. But at Proverbs 9:10 it is found unmolested in the famous “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” even in the latest most used English Bible versions.
Isaiah speaks of his terror at the opening of his Chapter 6 saying:
"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
And Moses quakes with fear on Mt Sinai when in the presence of The Lord
Clerics, especially Anglicans, as a softener tend to dilute the term ‘fear’ into ‘awe’ or ‘respect’ so as for it to be more acceptable to their flocks – this has been my experience.
But I’d like to claim here that ‘fear’ and ‘The Lord’ are locked connected and very real; just as to Peter the weight of his sense of unworthiness bore down upon him so heavily that his response, and it was a just and proper response, to the miracle, and to the Person who made it happen, was very strong real fear, born of his being thrown completely out of his day-to-day experience, and by his recognising that here before him stood The Definitive Someone who ‘holds the words to Eternal Life’
I’d like to try now to link up all these instances of types of legitimate fear - of things beautiful, or vast, or Divine etc, - since by my own reckoning they all stem from one source: The Divine Presence in our midst, and in perpetuity, everywhere around us.
By my thesis: Were we to see rightly things as they are, we should be in a coninuous state of astonished wonder-filled fear and prostration, so much so that we would find extreme difficultly in trying to continue to function, and so live out our day to day mundanities.
As a blessing and a curse then God has covered us in his pity with the fig leaves of a contemptuous over-familiarity concerning the wonders of existence, so as to keep us safe from a stock still stultiification at the high grandeur etc of this splendour, and so able to enjoy His other gifts which come with our living-out the lives he gifts us.
Just as our atmosphere is so arranged that it gives us adequate shelter from the sun’s solar radiation, which otherwise would kill us all and everything that lives and moves and has its being here on earth; just as some of us are born having a caul over our heads, as if a protection supplied by nature to a babe; just as we make and endure and enjoy our cradle of society – its parties, sensations, exotic pleasures, its ever-new ever-changing joys and follies, we also use all these as distractions from the main business of our life as propounded (had from God?) by Socrates:
The purpose of life is to study philosophy [God’s word] and so learn how to die well
But the enforced rollback of many such distractions forus by the powers-that-be and their responses to the pandemic, has curbed our valiance for dalliances somewhat – and many of us, to our blessing and curse again, have been thrown back on silence. The silence of no cars, but also the silence of contemplation, of taking stock, of resassessing ourselves, our lives, our conduct, our purposes if any
Douglas Adams in his famous radio show/movie/book/audio recording/what-have-you – it has been so very well received and still is even today – spoke of earth, the planet, as being– an insignificant planet suituated out of the way in a distant corner of the galaxy. And of course this is another of God’s mercies, that we should be tucked out of the way from the centres of things; homely, safe and secure to get on and do his requirements.
People, atheists like Dawkins and others, use earth’s ‘insignificance’ as an argument for their ends – as if it mattered when set against the fact of The Cosmos? I ask myself where, what might be the centre of The Cosmos – any centre of it? One place is as good, as important, as is the next - the way I see it
Sometimes, in our special moods, we might catch, or rather be caught by, a flash of golden sunlight glancing off say a brass doorknob in our room, or else by the woodeness of the door itself, by its being fascinatingly intriuguing, and so we are utterly captivated by the astonishment of the question hidden unconscious behind our eyess – ‘what is this substance ‘wood’. ‘metal’?’
Just one of those times special times when the utter strangeness of familiar things hits you like a lamp having been turned on – the third degree of intensity.
You might consider the elements – carbon, calcium, iron – how distinct they are one from another – how distinctive, definitive each is in its own right – how in the first and last instance ineffabale these amazing materials are – and what on earth they might be?
The early days of the human world saw earth, air, fire, and water as the substance of its elements. And fire was The Divine Element – or rather the element by which the Divine is prefigured. It was Prometheus the Titan of the Greek myths who brought fire, stole it, from gods, to mankind, and whose reward was an eternal punishment chained to a rock and his insides eaten out daily by an eagle.
The curse and the blessing again. The fire of apprehension, of self-conscious intellect, of awareness of will and volition; Promethean fire indeed, but bearing also the weights of conscience, the foreknowledge of death, the antagonsims of being thwarted, the will to power. Even Satan in Milton’s epic proclaims:
“For who would lose this intellectual being?” arguing that life is better at any cost than annihilation
Fire then as living energy, as vivacity, the symbol and figure for vibrancy of life; fire represents that energising enlivening thrill of awareness one feels, and which rules one, when we feel, often for just a millisecond, in contact with ‘a momentous moment’ within life, when the world impacts us and our senses incomprehensibly and indelibly as being ‘something else’.
My dear dead friend Richard, after a night out, awoke the next morning on our sofa, and a window was open beside him. He started up and triumphantly shouted: ‘Listen to those f***ing birds!”
Like Richard sometimes we get lifted out of ourselves, elevated, obtaining access to a level of privilege not often allowed us – when we are not looking for explanations, but are merely absolutely absorbed - absorbently ‘there’ - or from our point of view at the time ‘here in the now’.
Sometimes a glint sparkles unawares a sudden instant – a half caught glimpse of a beautiful wonder – aesthetically staggering – life affirming – and needs no further justification – is accepted gratefuly by us as having been ‘a moment’
Remember the woodenness of the wood which makes the material of the door, and the curious, curiously fascinating, metallic nature of the shiny brass handle. Then there’s the movement of water, in a bath or in the sea, as a whole it carries that mesmerising one-object sway, using its own special lines of vector.
It possesses, and this is somehow knowable by experience and instinct only, what goes for movement-in-a-bloc; and so we are able to be ‘decieved’ by videos and paintings of water. But go beyond this superficial understanding, there is also a deep inherent ‘in touch’ assent inside us, and even though water remains not so much alien, it is nonethless ever enigmatic, always gloriously engaging – and is why people watch the tides.
All material substance in fact has it’s own discrete phenomenological specialness.
Where does all this talkof mine go – whereabouts are we heading?
“This is the day that the Lord has made
Let us rejoice and be glad in it”
And what would it be to be aware all the time with such an awareness? – hardly bearable – unable - like Isaiah - to face it
Recall in the Gospels hown when confronted by The Fact of Jesus; not by his human form or by his mannerisms; but by The Person revealled in His speech and deeds, attitudes and actions, anger and warnings; the whole gamut – we see the guards sent to take him and arrest him in The Garden of Gethsemane falling down, literaly falling to the ground, at His words, ‘I am he’, given in answer to their searching for him.
The power of The Person of Jesus in the three simple words overwhelms them. Not by magic tricks done by a conjuror in the sky, but by them being confronted, just as was Peter by a clear and present beauty, glory, grace, and truth - all these forming a Power of Presence - confronted by the irresistible Divinity of The Lord Incarnate.
Those who were sent to ‘catch him in his words’ so that a charge could be formulated against him; they come back to The Sanhedrin empty handed – but no, not empty handed - they come back having discovered something of mightly value and conviction saying:– ‘no man ever spoke as this man’.
Then there was the time of His trial in which Pilate ‘marvelled and was afraid’ – afraid because Jesus presented his Person to Pilate and Pilate recognised in that Person that here indeed in a curious way he could not fathom was that very same and actual King of the Jews, which Jesus had been labelled by his accusers.
Again other men had been sent to question Him,and had been answered by Him, and answered not by threats and menaces, nor by abuse, nor in anger, but in truth, in unassailable truth, so that the Gospels say thereafter: ‘no man dared ask him any more questions’
The astonishing presence of the Divine in all things, hidden for many of us behind a merciful cloak of secure familiarity; and the astonishing Power and Presence, the literal fear aroused in many by the Personal Presence of Jesus; the Power of God in the Old Testament to strike terror into even his prophets by his manifestations before them – all these are of a bunch – they are all glimpses, like flashes of an old camera, into a higher place of being. I’d say into a place which acts and serves to uphold us and all things around us in our comfortable homely mundane world
The Creator of The Creation shows his majesty in it – and the same dumbfoundedness is our unsheltered proper and unrehearsed response – to God’s presence as well as to His Works.
The analytic philosophers say that our apprehension of colour, say of red, philosophically cannot be analysed any further – red is entirely a form of a pure sense datum – it is what it is. Period. Likewise the world, all The Cosmos – at the level of being, of existence – nothing more explanatory can be said of it than: it is what it is.
In its many minute and magnificent parts, and as a whole, it remains unfathomable, inscruitable, and because of this it is very scary, because such a majesty shows therein. It is ‘fearfuly and wonderfully made’.