the object of our affection

by Andrea Elizabeth

7. When the Christian poets, like St. John of Damascus, say,

Truly all things are vanity
Life is but a shadow and a dream…

They, by no means, think like a Buddhist nihilist. With their visionary spirit they contemplate the real and endless life of heaven, compared with our transitory sojourn on earth which is indeed like a passing shadow and a night’s dream. They call vanity all worldly knowledge, wealth and pleasure, by which carnal men try to attain truth and happiness.

9. [I did not skip 8] But this world cannot be an illusion, since its Creator is a true God. How could that which is false flow from the source of all truth, since it cannot be found in the source? The world may seem to be an illusion to him who seeks to find in this world what this world has not, and is not. Could one find the moon in the water just because it appeared to be there? (The Universe as Symbols and Signs, p. 20)

This (along with the comments) addresses my concerns from yesterday. I’m starting to see how its a matter of prioritizing the uncreated over the created. And this isn’t a taking turns kind of thing, but is more incarnational and simultaneous. We have to constantly be looking for God in created things, like the moon in the water. Seeking darkness in prayer is for the spiritually advanced as I believe it leaves our souls vulnerable to deceptive forces. The tangible Church, icons, and readable prayers safeguard us from these negative forces. They also show us the best use of created things. It seems that when St. Nikolai is talking about created things as symbols, he’s talking about nature rather than eventually immortal humans.

The next chapter, “Minerals as Symbols”, provides another example,

1. Stone symbolizes, first of all, Christ Himself. The prophets declared this even before the evangelists. The fourth kingdom, which King Nebuchadnezzar saw in a dream, as composed of iron and clay, was the Roman Empire. The stone, cut out without hands, broke that Empire as well as the other three into pieces, and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:35) This stone is the symbol of Christ, the founder of the new Kingdom of kingdoms, which shall stand forever. So beheld that great visionary, Daniel. (p.21)

And he goes on to describe in more detail the “Messiah, a stone of stumbling”, the Chief Cornerstone, the stone as Peter’s faith, gold as the symbol of truth, frankincense the symbol of obedience, and myrrh as the symbol of love. These remind me of the Jewish way of teaching rather than the abstract Greek way. However, the concepts represented by nature are more abstract. We have to make a decision it seems. What do I want, gold or truth? We have to hold the gold lightly to grasp the truth.

If I may interject a little Quixote (up to page 124), our knight errant is constantly seeing people and things as more glorified and lofty than they “really” are. I like his faith.