The Christian Never Multi-Tasks

It is a not uncommon notion in our busy lives that we are told we need to “prioritize,” or “put our lives in order” so as to avoid the burn-out of our busy lives. We have many packed schedules, commitments of friends, family and work, and duties and responsibilities that burden us day and night. If we would only reflect on what matters most and rank all other things in order of importance, we would be able to get a grip and manage our lives. Just do a cursory search for “time management” techniques to find many such strategies.

Such advice, however, does nothing to minimize our busyness, it only attempts to manage it. We remain busy and divided in our lives, and consequently the burdens of our lives are not relieved, they are just hidden. Let there be just one thing to trip up our techniques and schedules and the thin veil will be pulled away.

This is because the problem is not that we have failed to properly manage our time, the problem is that we have divided ourselves.

The Christian need not “prioritize.” The Christian does not have “many commitments.” Says Kierkegaard,

[Christian love] is no busyness, least of all a worldly busyness, and worldliness and busyness are inseparable ideas. For what is it to be busy? One ordinarily thinks that the manner in which a man is occupied determines whether he should be called busy or not. But this is not so. It is only within a narrower aspect of the definition that the manner is the determining factor—and this only after the object is first defined. He who occupies himself only with the eternal, unceasingly every moment—if this were possible—is not busy. Consequently he who really occupies himself with the eternal is never busy. To be busy means, divided and scattered (depending upon the object which occupies one), to occupy oneself with all the manifold things in which it is practically impossible for a man to be whole, whole entirely or whole in any single part, something only a lunatic can successfully do. To be busy means, divided and scattered, to occupy oneself with what makes a man divided and scattered. But Christian love, which is the fullfilling of the law, is whole and collected in its every expression, and yet it is sheer action. (Kierkegaard, Works of Love)

kierkegaard2This is how Kierkegaard understands both Christ’s beatitude: “The pure in heart shall see God” (Matt. 5:8) and James command: “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4:8). To be “pure” in heart is to be unmixed in will and desire, as James contrasts it with the “double-minded.”

Only the pure in heart are able to see God and consequently keep near to him and preserve this purity through his keeping near to them; and the person who in truth wills only one thing can will only the good, and the person who wills only one thing when he wills the good can will only the good in truth. (Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing)

The Christian, therefore, has only one task: to will the good. All the Christian’s actions are related to loving God. As Kierkegaard defines Christian love: “For to love God is to love oneself in truth; to help another human being to love God is to love another man; to be helped by another human being to love God is to be loved.” (Kierkegaard, Works of Love) This guides every Christian action, it is the only thing the Christian has to do. The Christian does not have a busy schedule—the Christian has a single task: love.

Or, as Christ commanded: “Seek first the Kingdom of God.”

Happy Birthday to Søren Kierkegaard!

There is far too much of Kierkegaard worth quoting. So, here are just a few gems:

People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.

The highest and most beautiful things in life are not to be heard about, nor read about, nor seen but, if one will, are to be lived.

Boredom is the root of all evil – the despairing refusal to be oneself.

One sticks one’s finger into the soil to tell by the smell in what land one is: I stick my finger into existence—it smells of nothing. Where am I? Who am I? How came I here? What is this thing called the world? … How did I come into the world? Why was I not consulted, why was I not informed of the rules and regulations but was thrust into the ranks as if I had been bought by a peddling shanghaier of human beings? … How did I obtain an interest in this big enterprise they call reality? Why should I have an interest in it? Isn’t it a matter of choice? And if I am compelled to take part in it, where is the director? I have something to say about this. Is there no manager? To whom shall I make my complaint?

You have surely noticed among schoolboys, that the one that is regarded by all as the boldest is the one who has no fear of his father, who dares to say to the others, “Do you think I am afraid of him?” On the other hand, if they sense that one of their number is actually and literally afraid of his father, they will readily ridicule him a little. Alas, in men’s fear-ridden rushing together into a crowd (for why indeed does a man rush into a crowd except because he is afraid!) there, too, it is a mark of boldness not to be afraid, not even of God. And if someone notes that there is an individual outside the crowd who is really and truly afraid — not of the crowd, but of God, he is sure to be the target of some ridicule. The ridicule is usually glossed over somewhat and it is said: a man should love God. Yes, to be sure, God knows that man’s highest consolation is that God is love and that man is permitted to love Him. But let us not become too forward, and foolishly, yes, blasphemously, dismiss the tradition of our fathers, established by God Himself: that really and truly a man should fear God. This fear is known to the man who is himself conscious of being an individual, and thereby is conscious of his eternal responsibility before God.

~Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855)

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Unendurable Attributes of Movies

I’ve stopped going to movies. It is hard to say which is more unendurable, the sentimental blasphemy of Knothead movies like The Sound of Music or sitting in a theater with strangers watching other strangers engage in sexual intercourse and sodomy on the giant 3-D Pan-a-Vision screen.

~Walker Percy, Love in the Ruins, pg. 19.

Walker Percy

Is There Beauty in Sodom?

ANNA AKHMATOVA

Lot’s Wife

The just man followed then his angel
Where he strode on the black highway, hulking and bright;
But a wild grief in his wife’s bosom cried,
Look back, it is not too late for a last sight

Of the red towers of your native Sodom, the square
Where once you sang, the gardens you shall mourn,
And the tall house with empty windows where
You loved your husband and your babes were born.

She turned, and looking on the bitter view
Her eyes were welded shut by mortal pain;
Into transparent salt her body grew,
And her quick feet were rooted in the plain.

Who would waste tears upon her? Is she not
The least of our losses, this unhappy wife?
Yet in my heart she will not be forgot
Who, for a single glance, gave up her life.

~Richard Wilbur, from his Collected Poems: 1943-2004.

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Is there beauty in Sodom? Believe me, that for the immense mass of mankind beauty is found in Sodom. Did you know that secret? The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible.

~Ivan Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky.

Sex, Flesh, and Love

Do I have your attention? Consider this passage that I just ran across:

You see nothing apart from a woman’s body. It was not like that in our day. The more passionately I was in love, the less physical she became for me. Today you see legs, and ankles, and things like that, you undress the woman you love, for me, though…the object of my love was always clad in bronze. Far from undressing those we love, we strove, like the good son of Noah, to cover up their nakedness. But you wouldn’t understand any of that.

Leo Tolstoy, “After the Ball”

Seek A Holy Leisure

As to these three modes of life, the contemplative, the active, and the contemplative-active, a man can live the life of faith in any of these three and get to heaven. What is not indifferent is that he love truth and do what charity demands. No man must be so committed to contemplation as, in his contemplation, to give no thought to his neighbor’s needs, nor so absorbed in action as to dispense with the contemplation of God.

The attraction of leisure ought not to be empty-headed inactivity, but in the quest or discovery of truth, both for his own progress and for the purpose of sharing ungrudgingly with others. …

No man is forbidden to pursue knowledge of the truth, for that is the purpose of legitimate leisure…Thus, it is the love of study that seeks a holy leisure; and only the compulsion of charity that shoulders necessary activity. If no such burden is placed on one’s shoulders, time should be passed in study and contemplation. But, once the burden is on the back, it should be carried, since charity so demands. Even so, however, no one should give up entirely his delight in learning, for the sweetness he once knew may be lost and the burden he bears overwhelm him.

~St. Augustine, The City of God, Book XIX, Ch. 19.

st-augustineMessina

 

Book IV of Vergil’s Aeneid: A Lesson Concerning “Co-Habitation”

Dido and AeneasBook 4 of Vergil’s Aeneid presents one of the most famous (and tragic) love stories in the history of literature. Dido, queen of Carthage falls madly in love with the story’s hero, Aeneas. As the two give themselves over to each other, Aeneas is called back to his duty to found the Roman people. In fit of rage and despair, Dido throws herself on Aeneas’ sword and commits suicide rather than live without him. Famously, St. Augustine recorded in his Confessions that, as a boy reading The Aeneid, he had wept over the death of Dido. This later caused him to reflect on his own lack of self-knowledge: “What is more pitiable than a wretch without pity for himself who weeps over the death of Dido dying for love of Aeneas, but not weeping over himself dying for his lack of love for you, my God…” (Augustine Confessions 1.13). Yet I would argue that we should not weep for Dido. That, while Dido’s story is sad, she is not suffering at the hands of the gods or fates; that she is not treated unfairly, but rather, she is a victim of her own lack of self-control and wisdom.

From the beginning of Book 4, Vergil describes Dido as a woman enslaved to her passions. Though we see no indication of this while Aeneas is recounting his journey from Troy to Carthage, once he’s finished, Dido is completely beside herself with love for Aeneas. “Now the queen’s lifeblood fed her grievous love wound / An unseen flame gnawed at her hour on hour” (Vergil The Aeneid Bk. 4.1-2). The two dominant metaphors Vergil uses to describe Dido are fire and sickness: She is “stricken Dido” (4.8), her passions “blaze” (4.54), she suffers from “madness” (4.65), a “flame devoured her tender marrow” (4.66-67), “Dido burned” (4.68), and love-sickness “gripped the queen” (4.90). This is hardly a list attributes to admire!

Given this “love-sick” condition, it is not surprising that Dido is consumed in thought and deed for Aeneas. She “fixates” on Aeneas (4.78). She creates excuses, sometimes with the help of Juno, for the two of them to be together (4.129-165). She plays with Iulus, Aeneas’ son, because he is “so like his father” (4.83). While doing all this, she completely abandons her duties to Carthage:

The towers she started do not rise. The young men
No longer drill or build defending ramparts
Or ports. The work stalls, halfway done—the menace
Of high walls, and the cranes as tall as heaven. (4.85-89)

So, Dido has completely lost herself in her passion for Aeneas. She has “let her folly outrun her good name” (4.90-91). These are not the attributes of someone we should emulate or admire, and Vergil rightly calls it folly.

Perhaps out of pity for Dido, Juno arranges for Dido and Aeneas to be together. During one of their outings, Juno uses a storm to bring Dido and Aeneas together in a cave, and there the two give themselves over to passion. Though there is some ambiguity as to whether Juno thinks she has bound the two in marriage, it is clear from the text that no marriage ever took place, and the two of them knew this:

From this day came catastrophe and death.
No thought of public scandal or of hiding
Her passion troubled Dido any longer.
She called it marriage, to conceal her shame. (4.169-172)

Dido knows quite well that this sexual relationship with Aeneas is “shameful,” so she must pretend it is a marriage, and it is this double-dealing that will lead to her ruin. While in this relationship, the lovers show no better common sense than before it. They flaunt their love before the city and live openly in their shame. Jove looks down on “the lovers who’d forgotten all decorum” (4.221) and decides it is time for Aeneas to leave Carthage. Aeneas can leave Dido without contradicting his duty precisely because there was no marriage covenant between he and Dido. Had Dido first bound herself in marriage (as she ought) to Aeneas before their carnal relationship began, all of her misery could have been avoided, but passion led her instead of wisdom.

Furthermore, once Dido discovers Aeneas’ plan to leave, she reveals herself to be one who does not love Aeneas so much as one who wants to possess Aeneas. That is, she is not interested in what is best for Aeneas, but rather she wants to consume Aeneas. When Aeneas refuses to stay, Dido immediately lashes out at him, turns on him, and views him as an object of hate rather than love. This is precisely because he is keeping her from getting what she wants. There is no thought for Aeneas himself. Her irrational passions rear up again and she “raved all through” (4.300), “madness and grief filled her defeated heart” (4.474), and “her love ran wild” (4.531). She even admits, “hot madness drives me” (4.376). When Aeneas tries to explain himself to her, she calls him names (a sure sign that one has been defeated with reason or argument): “monster” (4.309), “traitor” (4.365), “sharp-rocked Caucasus gave birth to you” (4.366-67), “Hyrcanian tigers nursed you” (4.367), “my proud enemy” (4.424), “criminal” (4.498). Such flattery would hardly induce Aeneas to remain. Dido again presents herself as a concupiscent, irrational woman.

Counter to all this, an argument might be made that Dido is treated rather unfairly by Aeneas. After all, Dido did not have this relationship by herself. Aeneas was right there the whole time, and gave every indication that he was as much in love with Dido as she was with him. Vergil even says that Aeneas was “deeply lovesick” (4.396) over Dido. So, she had every indication that Aeneas would remain with her forever. When he decides to leave Carthage, it is a betrayal of their love, a betrayal that will end in Dido’s suicide. It is not that Dido cannot have what she wants and so kills herself, but rather that she has been betrayed by her great love and despairs.

However, the text simply does not bears this out. As was pointed out, there was no marriage between Aeneas and Dido, and therefore, Aeneas has no duty or obligation to stay with her. Vergil describes Aeneas as the “right-thinking hero” (4.393) who honors duty above personal interest. In fact, The Aeneid might be seen as a series of personal sacrifices on the part of Aeneas for the sake of duty. While Dido attempts to guilt Aeneas into staying by making reference to a marriage, Aeneas reminds her: “I never made a pact of marriage with you” (4.393). If he had, then Aeneas would be torn by duty to marriage and duty to his ancestors. But as no such pact was made, he does not have to face this dilemma. Dido herself finally admits that there was no marriage, and therefore she has no means by which to demand Aeneas stay: “I could not live a blameless life, unmarried, like a wild thing, and be spared this agony” (4.550-551).

So, we have no cause to weep for Dido. She is a victim of herself and nothing more. She is a woman ruled by her passions, who comes to ruin because she cannot have what she wants. At most, we might pity her for her condition as a love-sick woman, but not because of the end of an ill-conceived love-affair. Furthermore, there is a lesson here against “co-habitation,” people living together without the pact of marriage. When a person enters into an immoral relationship with another, they cannot complain of being “cheated” out of it. Without the covenant of marriage, there is no duty that keeps one person bound to the other. So, there can be no violation of duty if one person simply decides to leave. In fact, it is an act of duty to leave.

Santa v. God

Many people understand God the same way they understand Santa. He is a jolly old man who wants nothing more than to make me happy; he is all-knowing and all-seeing, yet he only intervenes to bestow blessings on those who please him. If I am good enough, he will give me presents, he will love me. If I am bad, he will simply ignore me. That’s the most we expect of God. If we’re good enough He will love us—if we’re not, He’ll overlook our sin and let us go in peace.

Such a view is childish and simplistic at best, degenerated and reductionist at worst. It denigrates our Humanity, the nature of evil, and God’s Love. Sin is not merely the violation of some law, like driving 60mph in a 55mph zone, it is the corruption of our Humanity. It is an undoing of what we are—what we were created to be. It is an affront to the Creator.

On this view, evil is really not so evil. It is a childish prank, something we can laugh at or gloss over as youthful indiscretion. It is not the perversion of the Good. It is not the raising up of the self over and above the Creator. It is not the destruction of anything that isn’t finally ME. When understood properly, it can be seen just how evil demands justice. Demands for things that are twisted be straightened, things that are polluted be filtered, things that are stained be washed. Sin cannot merely be forgiven, it must be purged.

On this view, God will only love us if we are good enough. But with the corruption we bring upon ourselves, the vileness of our existence in the face of perfection—I can never do enough to be “good enough”. It is natural for us to think this way, for when someone is good to us, our affection grows for that person. This only shows the shallowness of our goodness. We tend to love people who are good to us and think God must be like us. So, if I’m good enough, God will love me (or worse yet—because I am blessed financially, in relationships, or in health this shows that God loves me and approves of me). How then, could I ever do enough good to appease the Being that I have sought to undo with my every act, word and thought? It is only once we come to the realization that our deeds are worthless in earning God’s love that we are ready to understand ourselves and God. C.S. Lewis wrote that, “God will not love us because we are good, but rather God will make us good because He loves us”.

God is not a Santa Claus in the sky. It is high time we stop thinking of Him as such. Maybe we should stop equating the visitation of a jolly old man who practices a strict works-salvation with the birth of the One who came to be the work for us that we may be saved.