Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Giving Thanks

Today in America we are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, and so I wanted to give a very brief insight from Fr. Jaki into this most mystical and most powerful of actions - the action of giving thanks. It must come as a surprise to some readers of this blogg, or of Fr. Jaki's books, to see how deeply human - that is, how truly universal - is Father's awareness of the Human Thing: he does not write simply as a scientist or as a philosopher (or the scholar of any other specific discipline) but as a Man - and so imbues his writing with touches of the Human Scholarship. It is a very Chestertonian style of writing. Take, for example, this excerpt in which Father refers to GKC as well as St. Augustine:
No philosophical sophistication, only robust common sense is needed if one is to be electrified by the plain realization that, as put by Chesterton with his customary incisiveness, "nothing can be more universal than the universe."

With such mental conditioning on hand, man will naturally feel, as he consciously takes his stand on that board, that he is set in an upward motion toward God, the only being beyond the universe of specific, that is, contingent beings. Man will then experience something very different from that leap in the dark which those try to perform agonizingly who never have really felt the universe, and at times not even plain ordinary things, under their feet. The move toward God, if it is to be a safe one, must not be a separation from the universe. The move rather consists in sensing the pulse of cosmic contingency, the relentless pointing of the universe beyond itself. A mental experience of this type animates St. Augustine’s celebrated passage:
I spoke to all the things that are about me, all that can be admitted by the door of the senses, and I said, ‘Since you are not my God, tell me about him. Tell me something of my God.’ Clear and loud they answered, ‘God is he who made us.’ I asked these questions simply by gazing at these things... I asked the whole mass of the universe about my God, and it replied, ‘I am not God. God is he who made me.
That this passage is from Book X of the Confessions is not accidental. Book X begins with Augustine’s asking his readers to thank God for his conversion described in Book IX. His conversion meant among other things the opening of his eyes to the mind’s fascination with glittering half-truths and specious fallacies. The cosmological argument will appear a delusion unless those fallacies and half-truths, which the modern world mass-produces about the universe, are seen for what they truly are. It is precisely because the modern intellectual atmosphere is polluted to suffocation with disastrous ideas about the universe that any vote cast on behalf of the cosmological argument may appear a sheer defiance of all accepted standards of intellectual respectability.
[SLJ God and the Cosmologists 213-4]

Also consider this, which provides me with the link to one of my favourite GKC poems, which I think must be the essence of every true follower of these Great Ones:
The Psalm begins with the declaration of God's full knowledge of all of man's actions including his very purpose, however hidden. It is wholly vain for man to think that he can ever escape the searching eyes of divine knowledge. It is present in the highest heavens no less than at the seas' furthest end and readily penetrates the darkness as if it were broad daylight.

Furthermore a very specific reason is given for all this in three stanzas in which God is not merely credited with full foreknowledge of man's free actions but also portrayed as being the very author of them. To deepen that already very deep perspective, the nature of that divine knowledge is tied to the very depths of that foremost divine act which is creation. Creation out of nothing is not explicitly mentioned, but in view of the obvious immateriality of free human acts, it lurks between the lines as reference is made to the womb as the place of each man's creation:
For it was you who created my being,
knit me together in my mother's womb.
I thank you for the wonder of my being,
for the wonders of all your creation.

Already you knew my soul,
my body held no secret from you
when I was being fashioned in secret
and moulded in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes saw all my actions,
they were all of them written in your book;
every one of my days was decreed
before one of them came into being.
No less extraordinary depths are intimated by the same Psalm's conclusion about a need for infinity if the Infinite himself is to be fathomed:
To me how mysterious your thoughts,
the sum of them not to be numbered!
If I count them, they are more than the sand;
to finish, I must be eternal, like you.

[SLJ The Purpose of It All 195-7]
Indeed - and now, Chesterton's poem:

I cannot count the pebbles in the brook.
Well bath He spoken: 'Swear not by thy head,
Thou knowest not the hairs,' though He, we read,
Writes that wild number in His own strange book.

I cannot count the sands or search the seas,
Death cometh, and I leave so much untrod.
Grant my immortal aureole, O my God,
And I will name the leaves upon the trees.

In heaven I shall stand on gold and glass,
Still brooding earth's arithmetic to spell;
Or see the fading of the fires of hell
Ere I have thanked my God for all the grass.
[GKC CW10:209]
You do not need to be American to be thankful today - or any day. Indeed, we should do as St. Paul told us, "Dedicate yourselves to thankfulness" [See Col 3:15]

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