Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Great Easter Vigil (My Confirmation)

The Convert

After one moment when I bowed my head
And the whole world turned over and came upright,
And I came out where the old road shone white,
I walked the ways and heard what all men said,
Forests of tongues, like autumn leaves unshed,
Being not unlovable but strange and light;
Old riddles and new creeds, not in despite
But softly, as men smile about the dead.

The sages have a hundred maps to give
That trace their crawling cosmos like a tree,
They rattle reason out through many a sieve
That stores the sand and lets the gold go free:
And all these things are less than dust to me
Because my name is Lazarus and I live.

-GK Chesterton

Friday, April 2, 2010

Reflections on a Good Death

Today marks what Christians call “Good Friday.” The occasion is the death of the Christian God incarnate, the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Christians of different traditions all over the world hold solemn services commemorating the event that they believe reconciled humanity once and for all with God the Father. This is claimed to have been accomplished by an innocent victim upon one of the worst torture devices ever conceived of by human minds, the cross. It might seem to some (as it does to myself) to be perverse on some level to call such a day “good,” even if it means the salvation of a race otherwise destined to eternal separation from all that is good in itself. Even though I am a member of that particular race, if I truly love my Savior, to relish or perpetually reenact such a horrible day in history seems somehow amiss. Were my wife, brother, dear friend, or daughter (God forbid it) to be executed in such a torturous fashion, I would likely spend the rest of my life running away from any memory of it, assuming my sanity were left intact to a meaningful measure. But surely Christ could be included on this list of intimates, for those of us who experience his living presence in our daily lives, so how is it that we return to the crucifixion every single year? For my own tradition, it is the culmination of the liturgical calendar. It is called “good” by virtually all Christians the world over. Why do we return to such horror and grief on an annual basis?

These questions reminded me of a story. Philomythus once wrote the following verse to his dear friend Misomythus:

Blessed are the men of Noah's race that build their little arks, though frail and poorly filled, and steer through winds contrary towards a wraith, a rumour of a harbour guessed by faith.

      Misomythus had remarked that “myths were lies and therefore worthless, even if breathed through silver,” to which Philomythus (being a self-respecting lover of myths) responded with the poem Mythopoeia. Philomythus was JRR Tolkien, and Misomythus was CS Lewis. The conversation had taken place on Addison’s Walk at Magdalen College, the Oxford college where Lewis tutored for most of his academic career. Tolkein, Lewis, and Dyson had gone on a late Sunday-evening stroll on September 19/20 of 1931 and the old myth of the dying god had come up in conversation. Lewis was dismissing the myths as balderdash, even though he loved them himself, but Tolkien and Dyson wouldn’t let him off so easily.

            In a letter to Arthur Greeves dated 18 October 1931 (page 28 in Yours, Jack, the excellent letters-of-Lewis compilation assembled by the great Paul Ford), Lewis explains what transpired in his own words:

Now what Dyson and Tolkien showed me was this: That if I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn’t mind it at all: again, if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself… I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it: again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god (Balder, Adonis, Bacchus) similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even though I could not say in cold prose ‘what it meant.’

Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e., the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things.’ Therefore it is true, not in the sense of being a ‘description’ of God (that no finite mind could take in) but in the sense of being the way in which God chooses to (or can) appear to our faculties. The ‘doctrines’ we get out of the true myth are of course less true: they are translations into our concepts and ideas of that which God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Does this amount to a belief in Christianity? At any rate I am now certain (a) That this Christian story is to be approached, in a sense, as I approach the other myths. (b) That it is the most important and full of meaning. I am also nearly certain that it really happened.

     Tolkien and Dyson have put forward the question, What if the myth of the dying god were historically true at some point? What if the dying god showed up in the facts of the course of human events? In Surprised by Joy, Lewis comments on how he arrived at a belief in the historicity of the Christian account of Christ as the dying God:

I was by now too experienced in literary criticism to regard the Gospels as myths [Literary criticism was his profession, which apparently he was very good at, teaching at both Oxford and Cambridge before his death]. They had not the mythical taste. And yet the very matter which they set down in their artless, historical fashion— those narrow, unattractive Jews, too blind to the mythical wealth of the Pagan world around them— was precisely the matter of great myths. If ever a myth had become fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this. Myths were like it in on way. Histories were like it in another. But nothing was simply like it. And no person was like the Person it depicted; as real, as recognizable, through all that depth of time, as Plato’s Socrates or Boswell’s Johnson (ten times more so that Eckermann’s Goethe or Lockhart’s Scott), yet also numinous, lit by light from beyond the world, a god. But if a god— we are no longer polytheists— then not a god, but God. Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh; God, man. This is not “a religion,” nor a “philosophy.” It is the summing up and actuality of them all.

     The words above from Tolkien’s poem ring loudly here, like a silver bell portending some celebration. The “rumour” is the myth of the dying god, become fact in the death of Christ. My friend and God suffered a horrific death 2000 years ago, and it was necessary for any hope on my behalf. But the rumour is good. There is a harbour, a shelter. A shelter from what? Tolkien says “Blessed are the men of Noah's race that build their little arks, though frail and poorly filled, and steer through winds contrary towards a wraith, a rumour of a harbour guessed by faith.” What wraith do we sail towards? The wraith is death. All would sail away, but people “of Noah’s race” have faith. On Good Friday, the wraith was made a shadow. Death has lost its power. The Dying God has come to claim his own.

            Lewis captures the beauty of the Easter Triduum in a poem he wrote, which now adorns a plaque near the bridge that traverses the river next to Addison’s Walk:

What the Bird Said Early in the Year
 I heard in Addison’s Walk a bird sing clear:
 This year the summer will come true. This year. This year.
 Winds will not strip the blossom from the apple trees
 This year nor want of rain destroy the peas.
 This year time’s nature will no more defeat you,
 Nor all the promised moments in their passing cheat you.
 This time they will not lead you round back
 To Autumn, one year older by the well worn track.
 This year, this year, as all these flowers foretell,
 We shall escape the circle and undo the spell.
 Often deceived, yet open once again your heart,
 Quick, quick, quick, quick!— The gates are drawn apart.

The gates are drawn apart today by a good death. May you find Christ, this year!

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Trade, but for What?

The following is a guest post from Daniel Vera, PhD. Dr. Vera holds the PhD in mathematics from MIT and is a senior analyst at a private investment firm in Newport Beach. He moonlights as a CS Lewis scholar, and has focused extensively on the topic of ethics in finance in his private research. We are grateful to have him at the Existential Cosmopolite.

     As I was nearing the end of a laborious and tedious Friday, filled with the usual drudgery associated with any office job, I came across a curious article on Reuters.  My interests became piqued as I found, instead of the usual dry financial pieces I read for work, this article was attempting something more than an interpretation or forecast of current economic events.  

The article, auspiciously titled “Ethics angle missing in financial crisis debate”  (article may be read here: seemed to be aiming at something slightly philosophical, yet leaning away from purely academic and asking a fair pragmatic question.  What is “right and wrong” in the modern economy? The article appeared to
accept the universal aphorism that right and wrong does exist and that people want to be treated a certain way and would be in the right if they extended that to others in attitudes and actions. Simple enough.

Additionally, it should be no stretch to acknowledge a certain uniformity and common acceptance of what right and wrong constitute. Morality is objective.  The interested modern reader who may take issue with this is invited to explore the appendix of C.S. Lewis’ “The
Abolition of Man” where Mr. Lewis summarizes the “different” moral codes of various cultures of antiquity.  It is quite striking how similar, in fact nearly identical, these moral codes are. Indeed, as Mr. Lewis and others have pointed out, it would be quite hard to find a culture where thieves, cowards, and murderers were celebrated, and honest, brave, and compassionate individuals were condemned.

     The complexity, if there is any complexity, seems to arise when we try to apply the Natural Law to the edifice of the world economy. Somehow, people sense that in recent years, somewhere in the entire process of efficiently allocating resources and capital, some have
cheated, and thus, the rest of us have somehow been cheated. Whether or not this is the case and why the situation is as it is escapes a concise summary.  What does immediately raise questions is the last half of the article.  A Citizen’s Ethics Network has been launched in London to raise awareness of the need for clear ethics in finance and addressing the wide concerns that morality and ethics have largely been diluted (or outright ignored) in modern finance.

      “Contributors to a pamphlet outlining the Network's arguments saw the decline of religion leaving a moral vacuum in many western societies. ‘A terror of old-fashioned moralize [sic] has driven all talk of morality out of the public sphere,’ philosopher Alan de Botton wrote.  The
market-driven consumer society, with its focus on satisfying and even creating individual desires, has also broken down the community ties and trust that helped people in the past to also consider the common good, others wrote.”

      The organizers of the Network had various religious leaders contribute to the discourse but wished to emphasize that they did not “want to bring back religion nor return to any supposed other ‘golden age’. One of the founders, Adam Lent went further, stating that "The problem
is that nothing new has replaced them [religion or other “outdated" secular protocols used to provide a moral compass, such as trade unions and politics].” Lent said. "The time is ripe to start developing new perspectives."  Herein lies the beginning of several questions.

      Mr. Lent and company have insightfully identified the “decline in religion” as a contributor to a decline in morality and ethics in finance.  Since religion has so often been the most powerful voice about morality, a decline in religion would presumably see a concurrent decline in morality.  Political organizations, such as trade unions, are as temporal as politics itself, but the underlying
foundation of morality remains throughout various systematic changes in history. Thus it seems we have religious thought providing a basis of morality and the decline in religion causing a decline in morality. Mr. Lent has identified the problem. I am confused by the next step he takes as he goes on to say “the problem is nothing new has replaced them [religion or politics based on a moral foundation from religion]” and we should “develop new perspectives.” How can we use a system and identify the problem as being a lack of something that system provides
only to request that we scrap that system and come up with something new?  How would the new system provide what the old one did?  If I concede that a new system can be developed that serves as a conduit for the Natural Law, how can I distinguish that system from religion, or a politic based on some vague impotent form of religion?  Have I not somehow wandered away from the core issue?  Regardless of one’s spiritual beliefs, there is a sense that something is not fair with our current economic set up.  

The problem is not solved by another set up; socialism (or any other economic structure) cannot “solve” moral problems in capitalism anymore than it can solve moral problems in socialism. The problem has been identified. In industrialized countries, we have been clever enough to allocate capital so efficiently, that we are now little gods, able to summon nearly anything to satiate nearly any appetite and slake nearly any thirst. As our own gods, we no longer need the gods (or God) of our fathers, and yet, it seems we still attempt to use the morality preached by their messengers to identify a problem with what we have created. How then can we reconcile these two things?  How do we impose the Natural Law on another, or agree to live in fairness, if we have replaced what brought us the Natural Law in the first place with Starbucks, Amazon, and Apple, and collateralized debt obligations?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Breast-plate of St. Patrick

The year is 433. The shoreline slowly materializes off the ship’s bow, emerging from a grey, cloudy shroud of fog. Verdant green bedecks craggy rocks where the Vantry River empties itself into the sea. Already a group of druids stands on the land to meet them with swords. St. Patrick and his companions are turned away, sent elsewhere to find entry into Ireland, a wild land of sorcery and violence, a land Patrick had escaped from a few years earlier. At sixteen he had been kidnapped by Irish marauders and sold into slavery for six years. During that time he worked as a shepherd, learning to speak the Celtic tongue and learning to talk to God throughout each treacherous day. Now he was returning voluntarily, charged by Pope St. Celestine I with carrying the message of Christ's redemptive power to the Irish people. Many dangers would ensue, culminating in a wizard's duel that, according to the details recorded in church history, would make Harry Potter seem relatively pallid. St. Patrick's victory through Christ over the demonic magic of Arch-Druid Lochru and his fellows resulted in the allowance of Christianity's message being proclaimed, and that message seems to have proved more compelling than that of the pagan druid's. What followed, according to tradition, was the composition by St. Patrick of one of my all-time favorite prayers, The Breast-plate of St. Patrick:

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the
Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession
of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.

I arise today through the strength of Christ with His Baptism,
through the strength of His Crucifixion with His Burial
through the strength of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
through the strength of His descent for the Judgment of Doom.

I arise today through the strength of the love of Cherubim
in obedience of Angels, in the service of the Archangels,
in hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
in prayers of Patriarchs, in predictions of Prophets,
in preachings of Apostles, in faiths of Confessors,
in innocence of Holy Virgins, in deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through the strength of Heaven:
light of Sun, brilliance of Moon, splendour of Fire,
speed of Lightning, swiftness of Wind, depth of Sea,
stability of Earth, firmness of Rock.

I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me, God's shield to protect me,
God's host to secure me:
against snares of devils, against temptations of vices,
against inclinations of nature, against everyone who
shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.

I summon today all these powers between me (and these evils):
against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose
my body and my soul,
against incantations of false prophets,
against black laws of heathenry,
against false laws of heretics, against craft of idolatry,
against spells of women [any witch] and smiths and wizards,
against every knowledge that endangers man's body and soul.
Christ to protect me today
against poison, against burning, against drowning,
against wounding, so that there may come abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right,
Christ on my left, Christ in breadth, Christ in length,
Christ in height, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the
Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the
Oneness of the Creator of creation.
Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of Christ. May Thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ora et Labora

Several years have passed since the Second Great War. A Viennese woman, an artist, visits Dr. Frankl. Her life is unraveling before her eyes. She suffers from an enduring “lack of contact with life.”* She has come to experience her life as a fraud. On her therapy intake form she writes, “My painting (the only activity I really am interested in) scares me stiff- like any other deep experience! As soon as I want something very much, it goes wrong. Whatever I love I destroy— every time. I no longer dare love anything. The next time this destruction takes place I’ll really hang myself.”

A discussion of personal freedom ensues. Dr. Frankl explains that it is typical for people in the woman’s condition to believe they are doomed to old results, that they lack the freedom to change because of their condition. He explains that in his experience with thousands of patients at the Rothschild Suicide Pavilion and elsewhere, this neurotic fatalism is a false belief. She is both free from and free to— free from the past and its influences, and free to “find her special, personal meaning of life in all its uniqueness.” After some discussion the woman becomes open to these insights, and therapy begins.

Dr. Frankl asks the woman about her artistic principles. She explains that she has little choice but to paint, that it is an obsession for her, one that she actually has come to fear. To this fear of her obsession the woman produces an additional complaint: “I often dream finished pictures which satisfy me in my dream but which I never am able to reproduce when I am awake.” She finds she is even unable to reconstruct certain color compositions from her dreams during waking hours. To her chagrin, she is estranged in her conscious life from her unconscious self. This severed relationship troubles her at the deepest levels. She is aware that she is unable to achieve her full self as she subsists in this alienated state.

The therapist begins his work. A modified form of systematic relaxing exercises called autogenic training (Developed by J.H. Schultz. See excellent website on the method here: allows the woman enough space from her cycle of anxiety to begin having breakthroughs. The exercises bring her to a state where she begins to see again, a state characterized by “A feeling of great clarity. One is less conscious of oneself- but all objects are much more distinct. A feeling of freshness, as though a veil had been removed from my eyes. This is quite new. Now I am lying on the couch. Armchair, paper, basket, the shadow of the desk— everything is sharp… I am drawing…”

The woman begins remembering her dreams. The artistic compulsion flows through her automatically, a seamless admixture of her critical appraisal and conscious painting and unconscious ensuing. Days of progress turn to weeks of improvement. A relapse occurs here and there, despair returning, but the woman continues on the path. She repeats her relaxing exercises in the face of difficulty, and repeatedly encounters a space of reprieve. Weeks become months and the progress remains. And the content of her intentions? “That everything be released— that my most personal color and form experiences become conscious— and that I be able to put them on canvas.” In this way the therapy has restored her ability to work.

But the therapy is not complete. Frankl explains:

“Now that her ability to work had been restored, a second problem— so far latent in the patient— came to the surface. From this point on, logotherapy had to go beyond the stage it had reached so far; while up to this point the therapy had been something like a midwife to the artist, it now had to become the midwife to the patient’s spirit. For it now became the task of logotherapy to clarify, or perhaps to assist, our patient’s struggle with the religious problems which had developed quite spontaneously during this period. One might formulate the situation of the psychotherapy at this moment as follows: Of the well-known Benedictine motto, ora et labora, the second part had been realized, but what remained to be done was to realize the first.”

The tragedy of World War II had been a ravaging lion, swallowing up lives greedily from so many European homes. The woman’s own loss of her husband in the war had driven her to ask God for her own death in a church at that time. Since that time her faith in God has been interrupted by trauma. This begins to reveal itself in the course of therapy. A number of dreams composed of vivid imagery ensue: a dead soldier, a horse-drawn carriage departing, a wedge interrupting the appearance of a yearned-after form. Profound, deep pain infuses her report that the strange form is one “which I desperately want to be whole, but which keeps breaking into pieces.” She states that it is the death of her husband that has disturbed the wholeness of her life.

Guilt also lurks. The woman reports that in her teens she abandoned the Catholic Church at the teaching that the flesh is sinful. She converted to Protestantism as an expletive act towards authority, with the result that she ceased her prayer life. Her relationship with God has waned over the years. Additionally, she feels unworthy of the memory of her husband by her conduct since his passing, and she confesses that she has been unable to love anyone since that time, despite her need for relationship. Pain and guilt swirl around in her subconscious, blocking her conscious contact with God.

A breakthrough experiment is proposed by Dr. Frankl. The woman reports: “Tonight I will dream why I feel hostile toward Christianity— what it was that scared me away. And then I will wake up immediately and write it down.” The woman dreams thusly: She is in Waldegg (her childhood home) waiting for a train to Vienna. She wishes to visit a psychotherapist friend in town. She is told he lives near the church. She believes she will find the church, but the city appears differently from her prior experience of it. She gets lost and begins to doubt, but a little girl appears and says, “To the church? You have gone in the wrong direction. You must go back.” Her past guilt manifests in physical thirst, followed by clean water delivered in a dirty pitcher. She turns to follow the child’s direction, but poplar trees have collapsed blocking the way (symbolizing therapeutic challenges and relapses). The road opens up again, and in the distance a beautiful milky-white Cathedral stands before her. She awakens.

The woman had gone to Normandy once to visit Église St-Etienne in Caen. She had arrived at night in heavy fog and never was able to actually see the church. Frankl explains: “The appearance of the never-seen but admired cathedral in her dream signified the transformation which occurred in the patient during her analysis: a transformation of her religious experience from a God hidden by fog and darkness to a revealed God.”

The woman begins experiencing God. She dreams of an icy black abyss behind her, yet she is full of love and joy and a sense of being protected as God’s light warms her face. She dreams of being dirty after a long, difficult journey, and of rest and cleansing. At first her experiences of God are disquieting, but she gains acceptance. She writes, “It’s like a painful attack. I feel I’ll die, right then and there, but it doesn’t frighten me; on the contrary, it would be beautiful. Extremely strong, unspeakably beautiful experiences… Long hours of a state of Light, like being absorbed by God… united with God. Being at-one with all things and with God. Everything I see, I am; everything I touch, I am… On the same wavelength with all lines and colors… Contact with things… Through me all earthly existence flows toward God; I am now a piece of conducting wire.”

She struggles a bit more with these mystical experiences, until finally, acceptance. She summarizes the change: “This is my first springtime in God. Up to now I was deaf and blind. Now all things are illuminated by God… It is as if another sense had been added to the five: experiencing God, like hearing or seeing. There is no name for it. It was the therapy that led me to God. There is no longer an abyss, this being-in-God carries me and I cannot fall. Life again is wonderful, rich, and full of possibilities. When related to God, everything is bearable and filled with meaning. I think I know what I have to do: bring my daily life in order for the love of God.”

Questions for Reflection:
·         Herbert Spencer wrote: “There is principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance— that principle is contempt prior to investigation.” When considering the existence of God, the possibility or validity of mystical experiences, etc., have I been guilty of "contempt prior to investigation"?

·         What traumas in my own past have disturbed my ability to work creatively, to experience God, and to move forward from the icy abyss of loss? Do I have an adequate community around me to help me deal with these traumas?

·         What road am I currently on in life? Have a chosen a path that will help me become the full self that lies dormant within me? If not, what concrete actions can I enact to change my direction? To whom can I turn for help?

·         Am I helping others around me on their journeys, or am I simply self-concerned, vying for my own piece of the pie? Is there greater potential meaning in the world around me than I usually recognize on a daily basis?

* All quotes and story from the article “Psychotherapy, Art, and Religion,” in Frankl, V. E., Psychotherapy and Existentialism: Selected Papers on Logotherapy. 165-181. (Simon & Schuster: New York, 1967).

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Centrifugal vs Centripetal Living

In Surprised by Joy, CS Lewis writes about the authentic life that Lonergan refers to below as "real self-transcendence," which is where one goes beyond oneself to find greater meaning in life. Lewis contrasts Centrifugal Living with Centripetal Living, which I summarized in a paper I presented at Oxbridge 2008, entitled Your Neighbor’s Wife or Your Soul’s Husband: Sigmund Freud and CS Lewis on Heaven:

Freud views mental processes and social interactions solely in terms of efficient causes (see Aristotle's Physics II.3: αρχη την κινεσθεον). Instinct (A) occurs within given individual (B) in the context of environment (C), and the outcome is behavior or perception (D). One would be justified in conceptualizing psychic events as the outcome of formula: ƒ(A+B+C)=D. To speak of meaning or higher natural teleology in this conception is an absurdity, since the terms occur in time and have no external referent. There is not a why, only a how. Atom A nudges Atom B, full stop...

The first kind of lifestyle is called Centrifugal Living. Centrifugal Living is born naturally out of the materialist’s manner of thinking. Since events are linking only by efficient causes, there is an atomization of experience. Just like the matter upon which our illusory consciousness is founded, true structures of meaning do not exist. There is only fact, not truth. There is only room in the universe for pleasurable D; anything else is a mirage on the moon. Centrifugal Living is characterized psychologically by adult dismissal of qualities inherently natural to children (e.g., desire for healthy fantasy, play, vulnerability, spontaneity, simplicity, etc.) and qualitatively by a dismissive attitude towards one’s ancestors (e.g., ‘our wretched, ignorant and downtrodden ancestors’ Freud in The Future of an Illusion). One who lives by this view might catch oneself thinking, “science has freed us up from all that old silly stuff; we humans have finally grown up.” Due to its obsession with pleasurable D, it is decidedly subjective in essence. One rarely gets beyond oneself, beyond one's immediate needs and desires.

Lewis was never satisfied with the disparate data produced by centrifugal thoughts (e.g., “We mortals, seen as the sciences see us and as we commonly see one another, are mere ‘appearances" Surprised by Joy, 221b).  Not until he became convinced that, “Joy was not a deception,” (Ibid., 222). but “rather the moments of clearest consciousness we had,” did Lewis step into what may be called Centripetal Living. Centripetal Living flows naturally from minds that recognize final causes (See Aristotle’s Physics II.3: τελον). You may remember that efficient causes ask how questions to discover the cause of an event. Final causes ask why questions. Why was the philosophy paper written? The how involves a neurotic personality type who is obsessed with the first four letters of the alphabet, a laptop computer with a historically suspicious lighted emblem of fruit upon its backing, and obscene amounts of overpriced burnt-bean infused hot water rations semiotically signified by the characters “c-o-f-f-e-e.” The why answer to the question of the cause for the paper entails a belief held by the aforementioned neurotic that questions of utmost importance are routinely assumed by moderns to have already been settled a certain way, when they certainly have not been, and that Viktor Frankl was correct when he said one of the best things a person caring for another person can do is to “startle him out of his metaphysical thoughtlessness.”

The Centrifugal Life is taken by facts, the Centripetal Life by meaning. Instead of swirling the world up anew to match the demands of individual moments, the centripetal pilgrim travels through each moment in this world with an eye toward Heaven, towards an external referent that is absolute. We can keep our equation from earlier, but the significance of term B, and ultimately the meaning of terms A and C following this change, must be altered dramatically. For the centripetal pilgrim, term B is no longer merely a cacophony of instincts and drives, but rather something with “a root in the Absolute" (Surprised by Joy, 221), that naked Other towards whom Joy points. We have been invited to become sign readers, to interpret meaning and significance in our circumstances and in our neighbors, and this meaning and significance stretches far beyond raping them or murdering them to obtain pleasure, as Freud suggests in his The Future of an Illusion. Lewis counters Freud’s conception of social life in this world from his centripetal perspective:

      "The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare" (The Weight of Glory 105b).

This passage from the Weight of Glory is perhaps one of the most frequently quoted from Lewis’ canon, and the reason is self-evident to any reader sympathetic to Lewis’ overarching project. It captures the gravity of even the most mundane social interaction. The way I treat those around me is a small, incremental contribution to that person’s eternal destiny. If I act like a person is beneath me, too low to greet or to make eye contact with, I may confirm that person’s low view of him or herself, or of the world around him or her. Conversely, if I take the time to affirm a fellow’s value through even a minor act of charity (such as a smile or an easy lane-change), I give that person the gift of my seeing him or her through God’s eyes. I have no control over that person’s own assent to God’s plan for the universe, but I am required by Christ to love others as I love myself. I am required to give the gift of significance to others, even if they cannot receive it or if I don’t feel like giving it.

To interpret my neighbor in this manner is decidedly centripetal in nature. It requires understanding beyond what lies immediately before me in my neighbor, to be open to the potential that God has gifted that person with in his or her own future. It requires me to act contrary to my emotions about a situation in those cases where the reason I don’t want to reach out is simply because a person inconveniences or annoys me. It forces me to remember my own flaws when I become judgmental towards my neighbor; otherwise I am frozen by my self-righteousness. As the head of my own family, I have to question every selfish inclination in relationship to the consequences of my choice for my wife and daughter. I choose what I do with my vocational aspirations in part by what I believe I will contribute to the world after I am gone. This all requires understanding beyond what is immediately before me in the world, and I do this by my orientation to meaning, to understanding the significance and interrelatedness of beings in my life.

Reading Lewis’ work helps me tremendously on this centripetal journey. I read the Great Dance at the end of Perelandra, and a new understanding of what the universe might be arises in my mind. I read an essay like Transposition, and I suddenly understand how the sacraments effect the thing signified in this world, how scripture genuinely communicates divine truth. I see myself in Shasta in The Horse and His Boy, and I am deeply moved by God’s faithfulness in my own life, even when it seemed like all hope should have been abandoned. The real grit comes for me in the daily living out of the charge to love my neighbor. As I encounter ever-greater pathways to higher meaning in Lewis’ works, I understand and relate evermore to the center of Centripetal Living, the Author of All Creatures, the nexus of right-living and full self-hood. I am emboldened in my ability to love others, even as I become more open to God’s love. So, here’s to swirling inwards!