Thursday, 21 June 2018

Those Whom The Gods Would Destroy They First Drive Mad

This phrase came to my mind recently as a perfect summing up of our present time. We have gone mad. There really can be no other description of what is going on today. In the Western world particularly but everywhere else is not far behind. We started off by denying God and now we are denying Nature. The deconstruction of sexual differences is just the latest step on this path of insanity. And everywhere we are rejecting the idea of some things being qualitatively better than others in the name of an all-purpose egalitarianism, of people, of cultures, of more or less everything. We no longer aspire to truth or real goodness or beauty or to a higher reality that gives meaning to this one.

I looked up the origin of this saying. I thought it came from the ancient Greek world and it seems it does but with various modifications along the way to the present. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about it.

"The phrase "Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad" is spoken by Prometheus in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem "The Masque of Pandora" (1875).

But the first version of this phrase appears in Antigone by Sophocles as "evil appears as good in the minds of those whom gods lead to destruction". Even this appears to be a borrowing from an earlier, lost play.

Subsequently the phrase was used in Latin, "Quem Iuppiter vult perdere, dementat prius" (Whom Jupiter would ruin, he first makes mad).

Another version ("Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad") is quoted as a "heathen proverb" in Daniel, a Model for Young Men (1854) by William Anderson Scott (1813–1885).

A Latin version is "Quos Deus vult perdere, prius dementat" (Life of Samuel Johnson 1791) in which the gods become God."

What struck me from this is how the first known version, that of Sophocles, describes precisely the contemporary inversion of true values. This is obviously a phenomenon that has happened before (though I would doubt on such a massive scale) and something well-known to the wise. But one of the signs of our present madness is that we have dismissed the wisdom of the past as ignorance. In fact, not only do we dismiss it, we no longer seriously study it. For many children today history is primarily the 20th century with, it seems, only a small amount of time devoted to the several millennia before that. It's as though we are being separated from our past in order to be remade according to the leftist ideology of recent times. If people no longer know the past they will think that it was just a time of ignorance and they will be unable to compare current attitudes with anything else. 

The phrase prompts the question, are the gods trying to destroy us and, if so, why? I actually think it puts things the wrong way round. When humanity starts to deny the gods then it becomes mad and that leads to destruction. So it's not that the gods want to destroy us but when we turn our backs on them we start to evict ourselves from reality and from then on it's a downward path. There is not some implacable fate driving us to destruction for obscure reasons of its own but it is all the result of decisions we have taken by ourselves.

Madness means losing touch with reality. This is what we are doing. We have replaced our natural contact with reality with twisted ideas of how reality should be according to our materialistic ideology. But when the very ground of truth is rejected then everything else falls out of place. And then, as it has been said, from the one who has not, even what he does have will be taken away from him. This is the path we have set ourselves on. It is why our madness will lead to our destruction unless we repent. The gods are not destroying us. We are destroying ourselves.

Monday, 18 June 2018

When Are We Going To Start Thinking Big About Brexit?

If Parliament - that bourgeois institution - neuters the People's Brexit, it will be the darkest day in our island-nation's story since the death of King Harold. The same administrative and bureaucratic elites that carried the day at Hastings will once again have licence to impose their will on a largely unwilling population. This is the antithesis of what the great defenders of our realm - from Arthur to Athelstan, and Charles I to Churchill - fought like cornered tigers to protect and preserve.

None of what I write, I hasten to add, should be read as an anti-European diatribe. Quite the reverse. This post is meant as a wake-up call. A shot across the bows. Not to let our imaginations become so narrow and constricted that we conflate European civilisation with the EU - that drab, technocratic institution which seeks to flatten down and hollow out the variety and depth of our continent's constituent parts. 

Charles de Gaulle, that great enemy of barbarism and tyranny, famously called for a 'Europe of Nations', a fellowship of countries united by a shared spiritual and cultural lineage but rejoicing at the same time in the colour, individuality, quirks and idiosyncrasies that those different nations bring. The European Union in 2018 - godless, high-handed, unimaginative and philosophically incoherent - stands at the antipodes of such a generous, richly inclusive vision.

The precious soul of this blessed isle is at stake. Let's not trade it in for a mess of pottage.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Mere Christians

If there were patrons of this blog, in the sense of guiding lights, they might well be C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien with an honourable mention, particularly in Bruce Charlton's case, of Owen Barfield. The stories of Lewis and Tolkien were an inspiration to us when growing up, as they have been to countless others in a world starved of spirituality and real imagination. In my case I know, and in the case of my co-conspirators here I suspect, they were a real lifeline to something beyond the mundane, and their power has not diminished with age or familiarity. My opinion of Lewis and Tolkien, expressed here, has not changed. In fact, the more time goes by, the more respect I have for them and their extraordinary achievements, all the greater for being made against the flow of contemporary thought.

Now, it is interesting to note that all three of these men were Christians but they were different sorts of Christians. Tolkien was Catholic, Lewis was Anglican and Barfield, while a follower of the anthroposophist Rudolph Steiner, was certainly orientated to the full reality of Christ. Funnily enough, this is reflected in the three of us in that (as far as I know since we haven't actually met) John Fitzgerald was born and raised Catholic, Bruce Charlton is a Christian who leans towards Mormon theology, and I was raised in the Church of England and now don't have any official affiliation but am definitely Christian in that I acknowledge Jesus Christ as supreme Lord and Saviour. Some may regard a Christian universalism of this sort as a weakness but I see it as a potential strength insofar as it can actually enable one to go more deeply into the vastness of spiritual truth. I have argued about this many times and don't want to go into it here. Suffice it to say that it is neither the much and justly derided pick and mix version of religion nor is it an 'anything goes' attitude. The fullest truth is in Christ but official Christianity does not contain everything of Christ. It is, of course, quite enough for salvation (if observed properly) but it does not exhaust the wholeness of truth. Moreover, there are solid grounds for thinking that the Christianity of the past, based predominantly on faith, is no longer adequate and that we now need to seek a more direct insight into the nature of things. This does not deny the past but moves it forward, and I will go into it a little more further on in the post.

Anyway, the point is that the three of us involved in this blog are all Christian but differ in externals, and probably in some beliefs as well, just like the Inklings mentioned above. Obviously I am not comparing us to them but it might be fair to say that we are standing on their shoulders and trying to follow in their footsteps if you'll forgive the rather clumsy mixed metaphors there. Quite frankly, the world is in such a sorry spiritual state at the moment that it is time for anyone who can to put his or her hands to the pumps. We write for those who see the disastrous spiritual condition of the modern world and often feel isolated or that there is nothing that can be done about it. We write to support such people and, at the same time, ourselves since it is a truism that getting stuff down on paper helps the writer himself to understand it better. That's true in my case certainly. The world can be a very lonely place for anyone who sees through its falseness and knows that what it calls good is often anything but. I think of people like that, among whom I number myself, as exiles, and exiles who are often not even sure if their dreams of home are real. One of the purposes of this blog is to affirm, categorically and without ambiguity, that these dreams are not fantasies or wishful thinking but solid and real intuitions of truth.

As I say, all three of us here value the Christianity of the past but at the same time believe that, as it stands, it is no longer enough for the future. Times change, consciousness evolves and we are not the same now as we were in the Middle Ages. The roots of our religion remain the same but there needs to be new growth from those roots. We are now called upon to realise some of the inner truths of religion directly and for ourselves. This is not a matter of redesigning the basic picture but of making it more real by adding depth and perspective, maybe even some extra dimensions that will bring it to greater life. The fundamental truths are the same but we should now be going more deeply into them. Imagine that truth can be represented by a tree. We start off with a crude drawing of a straight line, the trunk, and a few more lines sticking out above that, the branches. As time passes we can develop that and fill in more detail. The trunk becomes more recognisably a trunk with bark and so on; the branches grow and sprout leaves. We add colour, perspective and maybe some fruit and flowers. Eventually the picture becomes real. We start to climb.

Christ is the living embodiment of truth. When he said "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" that is what he meant. He does not teach truth like any other spiritual teacher. He is truth. Therefore, opening oneself up to him as a person is all that is required to bring one to the fullness of eternal life. But we can only receive as much of him as our own spiritual unfoldment allows. We are vessels waiting to be filled. Once we remove the cork of ego we can be filled but only with as much spiritual light (spiritual wine is light not liquid) as we are able to take. That is why anyone at any level of spiritual development can turn to Christ and be fulfilled spiritually. Nevertheless, the more spiritually aware we are ourselves, the more we can gain. A saint and an ordinary person can both go to heaven but the saint will be able to get more out of it because he can respond to it at deeper levels. At the same time, the ordinary person will be completed in his way too, and maybe, I don't doubt, develop further so that he can eventually get to where the saint is now.

I am a Christian but I am not an exclusivist. I think that some people from other religions can be closer to Christ than nominal Christians, even many nominal Christians, if they live by the highest truths in their religions. They may be following Christ even if they don't know it for, after all, Christ is not just the historical person. He is also the spiritual reality that is stamped on our hearts and which we have to learn to respond to and then become like. Some people may not give this reality the name of Christ but, if they follow it faithfully, then they are serving him. 

This doesn't mean that all religions are equally efficacious. Some express Christ better than others and, of course, he is to be found revealed in Christianity while in other religions, if he is there, he is veiled. But the Incarnation spread a new spiritual force throughout the entire world, and this could be sensed and picked up by individuals or cultures not necessarily Christian and expressed in various ways. The outer form would not be Christian but the inner inspiration might be. Christ is universal. He is the only saviour but it is my belief that he can operate through religions that do not bear his name in addition to the ones that do. That being said, it should be obvious that he can operate best and most effectively where he is most acknowledged.

What saves us? Well, first of all, what are we being saved from? I think we are being saved from identification with matter. This means that we are being saved from identification with our own little selves. Sin is born of this identification. If we associate ourselves with our material being we are trapped in matter. Our material being is not just our body. It is also the self-centred mind and 'my' feelings that I regard as me. If they are happy, I am. If they're not then I am not. But this is all part of the self-enclosed personality. Salvation is liberation from this personality into the broader world of divine truth which is the God-centred world. Now, God is a Person. In fact, he is the Person, the Divine Archetype from which our personhood is derived. Recognition of this truth is salvation. It is release from the little self into the greater Self. That does not mean the little self is abandoned or destroyed. Rather it is transformed by its union with its Parent and it is transformed into something rather like that Parent.

What this means is that real salvation demands something more than simple belief though that is an essential beginning. It demands love. So, to answer my question of the previous paragraph, I would say that what saves us is love, love of God. This is not an emotional feeling but a deep recognition of God within one's heart. It is only this love that can take us out of ourselves, and that is what we must be saved from. You might argue that we are saved by faith not love. I don't disagree but in that case I would differentiate true faith from mere belief. Real faith in God necessarily means love of God. If you don't have this love of God then your faith is probably intellectual only. You need to work on it to deepen it but then that applies to all of us.

I don't think that those who are not saved in this way go to hell. Some particularly rebellious souls may find themselves in something corresponding to hell after their death in this world. This will be a reflection of their own state of consciousness. Hell is separation from God and, if that is what you want, no doubt that is what you will get. But most neither too good nor too bad people will probably find themselves in a world that is a continuation of this one, though non-physical in nature. They are not saved, that is to say, saved from matter, and they carry on in an environment that, again, is an externalisation of their own consciousness. God has given them what they want, or what they think they want, but they might also have the chance to want something more as Lewis depicts in his short novel The Great Divorce in which dwellers in hell are sometimes given the chance of a trip to higher worlds and the opportunity to change if they are willing. Who can know for sure but a God of love would presumably want to give his erring children, at least those who might still awaken, the chance to mend their ways and reorient their minds. Whether they do or not is up to them.

Before concluding let me return to the theme of this post. Mere Christians. I believe that Christianity needs to evolve. From being a communal religion with a central authority, it needs to move into something in which every man must learn to become his own authority though within the general framework of Christianity. When I say that I know alarm bells will instantly go off. People will point to heresies and illusions and false trails and deceptions and so on, and they will be right. These are all the very real risks of the approach I have just outlined. But, if we are to grow spiritually, we need to make the truths of the spiritual life our own, and this means following the inner path. That path will be individual for each one of us. It must be if it is to be ours. But that does not mean that it will be individualistic. It must be individual but it must also be grounded in truth. The former without the latter leads to the heresies of which we have seen many examples throughout history but especially in the 20th century. The individuality required is that of the soul, the inner spiritual self, not the outer personality, the material separate self. Therefore to be individual in this proper sense requires a genuine spiritual sensibility. But that sensibility has to be grounded in Christ. If it turns away from Christ it becomes severed from its roots and this is where the heresies and spiritual falsehoods come from. We can only discover our true self when we look for it in Christ.

The Christianity of the past was that of Peter. But there is a deeper Christianity, one which has always been there but was only followed by a few. Now the time has come when many more people must discover this more mystical Christianity which is that of the apostle John. The religion of authority and obedience is to be superseded by one of love, vision and intuitive insight but, and it's a big but, you cannot move on to this new religion unless and until you have fully absorbed the lessons of the old which are not dismissed but built on. If you try to construct the new without basing it on the foundation of the old your edifice will collapse as so many have over the last hundred years. They responded to the inspiration of the new light dawning on the horizon but they did so from the perspective of the unreconstructed lower self and sought to eat the fruits without tending the roots.  Those who reject tradition will have to relearn it before they can advance beyond it.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Where is Albion nowadays?

The Turning Point by William Arkle - the 'cover' painting for a new website

On the one hand I can't rid myself of the conviction that Albion - the ideal of England, and of the island of Britain - is a reality; because at times it is experienced as absolutely solid, palpable, 'obervable'; something I can rest-upon and build-from...

On the other hand, I am of the conviction that all institutions are corrupted and net-evil; and therefore Albion is not represented by any group, system, organisation, or anything of that kind. Allegiance cannot - or should not - be given to any actually-existing institution...

So where is it? What is the actual location? There are two answers: one only semi-true but easily understood; the other wholly-true but hard to express.

The semi-true idea is that Albion is found, from time to time, in some specific people, places and things.

The wholly-true idea is that Albion is a truth that cannot be found in the material world because - while real - it is an immaterial, a spiritual, reality.

What kind of thing might Albion be? A partial answer - en route - could be something like the idea that Albion is an archetype of the 'Collective Unconscious'; which should mean that it has an objective reality, accessible universally; being something that exists in a realm independent of individual minds (Not arbitrary, Not a product of wishful thinking)...

But... the idea of Collective Unconscious is actually insufficient and incoherent, because a Collective mind that is Un-conscious means that it cannot be known directly, but can only be known by inference and implicitly.

Yet, without direct knowing, we cannot really know. Because then everything is secondary, incomplete, subject to distortion, incommunicable with accuracy and confidence... If the Unconscious is primary, then life is just a kind of delusion; each person most-likely having a different delusion.

So, if Albion is really-real, as I feel is the case; then Albion is a part of the Collective Conscious; an immaterial/ spiritual realm that is objective and universal and also directly knowable by each person. In fact, that is exactly what reality actually-is; since the sensory perceptible realm is Not knowable, but changes and is different for each person.

Albion is real to those who know it directly - and consciously know that they know it. Not despite, but because it is in the immaterial Collective Conscious; Albion is as solid as reality itself.

And what we personally happen to perceive (see, hear, touch, smell, taste), at this moment, in the flux of everyday experience; is irrelevant to that reality.

Note: The idea of a Collective Conscious, and the contrast with a Collective Unconscious, derives from Owen Barfield.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Inconsistency and Confusion

Today we live a very contradictory existence.  On the one hand, our beliefs are formed by materialism and our lives are largely lived as though that were true. This effectively requires that our sense of self be an illusion and any morals we might have arbitrary since one set cannot be better than another in any ultimate sense according to this doctrine. All morals are merely functional, for utilitarian purposes only, which means they rest on nothing substantial and the only requirement is to appear to obey them not to actually do so. 

But, on the other hand, we still live as if our self were real as well as those of others. The very idea of love, which we can't quite bring ourselves to renounce, insists that this be so. Surely we can't have it both ways?  Either materialism is true in which case we, as real individual selves with some actual substance, aren't true, or our individuality is real in which case there must be a non-material basis to life. And, if that is so, there has to be a God since something cannot come from nothing nor can things give rise to themselves or the lesser to the greater. Consequently our consciousness and sense of self must come from something that has these to give.

Moreover, we live as though free will were real but the philosophical basis of our culture, materialism, if true, would mean it was not. We would just be passive objects formed and impelled to action by mechanical or chemical but certainly external forces. Even the erudite philosophers who deny free will don't actually live as though they had none. Contradictions all over the place. No wonder we live in confused and chaotic times.

But there is a solution, and that is to rediscover the feeling of gratitude. Know that we have someone to be grateful to. We have closed our minds off to the reality of God, partly because of the relatively recent full discovery of our own selves and partly because technology has given us such control over our environment. So we are like adolescents who have found the keys to the drinks cabinet and embarked on a binge. At the moment we are flush with alcoholic stimulation but the hangover will surely follow. Perhaps that will teach us wisdom in future.

It is good that humanity has begun to live with the idea that it has some control over its destiny and does not just react passively to the world. That was intended as part of our spiritual development. But we have forgotten where we come from and that is not good. Our future course must be to seek to engage our minds with the mind of God and become aware of the greater consciousness that lies beyond that centred on our own little selves. We are true individuals but we are also sparks struck from the central fire. We can illuminate these sparks from renewed contact with that fire so they become brighter and brighter or we can grow ever more distant from it so that our little sparks eventually fade and are even perhaps extinguished. The problem is that as we initially separate ourselves from the fire our sparks appear to glow more brightly because of the surrounding darkness into which they have passed. That is just an illusion, the false nature of which will soon be revealed. And then we will find that we are alone. 

For consider this. If there is no God, you are totally alone. You can pretend that is not so, cover it up in various ways, but it is a fact. And if you reject God then one day you will have to face that fact full on. But God is merciful. Anyone can turn to him at any time, and if you do you will find that you are never alone. Of course, you can still be on your own if you wish. That is not what I mean. But alone in the sense of pure existential isolation, naked in a barren universe with the only release to be snuffed out completely, which is what materialism means. That you will never be. Of course, that is not in itself a reason to believe. If it were true it would have to be accepted, but we don't really accept it because we don't think through to the logical conclusions of our materialism for if we did it would lead to despair. That very despair would be the soul crying out in protest at the lie it has been induced to believe, at the violence done to its nature.

To reject God which is what most of humanity has done at the present time, certainly the ruling culture in the West, means death. Choose life.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

It may be rubbish, but By Jingo it's English rubbish!


A bit of light relief from 1962: this record is new to me today, but exactly the kind of 'rubbish' I most enjoy... 

(As my brother said: "Young men with a dry sense of humour larking about – you cannot beat it!")

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

The Resurrection Business - Michael Martin's 'Jesus the Imagination'

Michael Martin is a remarkable man, and Jesus the Imagination - subtitled 'a journal of spiritual revolution' - is a remarkable publication. Martin is a poet, professor, and musician, who lives on a small organic farm in Michigan with his wife and nine children. It was on this farm, on the Feast of St. Mary Magdalene in 2016, that Jesus the Imagination was conceived, 'in temperatures,' as he tells us in his introduction, 'sweltering to ninety-seven degrees. That evening we chanted Divine Liturgy in the barn, broke bread, and swam beneath the stars in the darkness of the pond. Some of the participants of that conference are represented in these pages, some were present in spirit, and some were somehow awakened to the impulse by methods quite beyond my knowing. Our intention was then, and is now, not altogether modest: the regeneration of Christian art and culture.'

Born into a working-class milieu in Detroit, Martin is a Byzantine Rite Catholic who taught at a Waldorf Steiner school for eighteen years. This breadth and depth of spiritual interest and experience comes across clearly in the contributions to Jesus the Imagination (Volume One), published by Angelico Press in July 2017. The journal is a beautifully designed paperback of 103 pages, containing poems, essays and drawings, all pulling together towards Martin's vision of artistic and cultural renewal. As he writes: 

'Sri Aurobindo, the Indian philosopher and poet, was adamant about the prophetic role of the arts. Writing in the second decade of the twentieth-century, he argued that "all art worth the name must go beyond the visible, must show us something that is hidden, and in its total effect not reproduce but create." William Blake, preceding Aurobindo by more than two hundred years, articulated a position even more pointed: "Let every Christian as much is in him lies engage himself openly and publicly before all the World in some Mental pursuit for the Building up of Jerusalem." Is there any other way to be a Christian? I think not.'

'Art has the potential to create a new Gospel every day,' Martin continues. 'Not a different one, but a new one ...' It is the Incarnation, Martin believes, which makes this creativity possible. The centrality of the Incarnation and what this means regarding how we relate to the Earth and to each other is powerfully conveyed in a number of essays. Yurodivy, a meditation on the Russian concept of the Holy Fool by Therese Schroeder-Sheker, stands out in this respect, as does Scott F. Martin's The Benthic and the Celestial, a reflection on the great sea of life surrounding us, which our limited human vision fails to perceive, from the microcosmic to the angelic. Perhaps the most notable contribution here is Little Green Men Against Muddy Red Creatures by Sebastian Montiel and Aaron Riches. The authors compare Pope Francis's encyclical, Laudato Si - an example of a God-centred ecology, with men and women as stewards of God's creation - with Antoine de Saint-Exupery's fable, Le Petit Prince, which offers a superficially attractive, yet ultimately a less grounded and much colder vision of our relationship with the environment.

Jesus the Imagination, as these essays illustrate, is a profoundly anti-gnostic publication. For Martin and his fellow-contributors, the world is intrinsically good and the God who made it is good. It is not designed to torment and imprison us. Neither was it fashioned by a corrupt and spiteful demiurge. Nor were we thrown into it without rhyme or reason, condemned to scrabble around for scraps of subjective meaning in a universe which has no objective meaning. No. The fault lies in ourselves, not the world. We have let our spiritual vision become occluded. We fail to recognise and act upon the signs of God's presence in his creation. Jesus the Imagination is an attempt to cleanse and renew these 'doors of perception', restoring the connection between the human and the Divine, and repairing the links (damaged by ourselves, not God) which keep us, as the Book of Common Prayer says, 'in the knowledge and the love of God, and of his son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.'

The journal, consequently, has a strong emphasis on the natural world, but this comes together with a celebration of our intellectual and creative faculties, and an appreciation of how crucial they are in our 'mental fight' against the 'dark Satanic mills' of our time. Some of the best essays in Jesus the Imagination explore this theme (e.g. Michael Sauter's, Ultimate Reality and the Matter of John Cowper Powys, and A Spring Ending for The Winter's Tale by Father Jonathan Tobias) but none better, in my view, than Word Hunger by Elias Crim, which nails with pinpoint clarity the nature of the spiritual malaise assailing us today:

'... the danger we face turns out not to be Orwellian, that is, a world of book burning and externally imposed repression, perhaps leading to the gulag. It is instead Huxleyan, a soma-imbibing dreamscape in which there is no reason to ban a book because no-one wants to read one. Instead of Orwell's censorship, Huxley saw us drowning in information leading to passivity and mere egoism. Not a captive culture so much as a trvial culture, built upon an almost infinite appetite for distraction.'

Crim's remedy is what he calls 'deep reading', a slow, prayerful encounter with the sacred texts of Christianity in their original languages. He gives the example of Simone Weil, whose 'fierce love of Ancient Greek finally brought her to the Our Father in that language, after which she made it her life prayer, becoming for her a vehicle of regular mystical experience ... Sacred language surely has an incarnational dimension which insists we at certain times avoid ersatz bread (translations) in order to dine on 'panis angelicus' ... '

Here we see another characteristic of Jesus the Imagination. It is rooted in tradition, but doesn't lionise the past or try to recapture the glories of a former age. Quite the reverse. It boldly looks  forward, as Martin declares in his introduction: 'The regeneration of Christian art and culture ... is always already happening; it calls us into the future and cautions us against retreating into the past. For backwards is the way of the fearful. St. Peter almost drowned following that approach. The Lord bids us walk with him on the sea.'

This comes over especially clearly in the journal's centrepiece, a previously unpublished interview with Owen Barfield by James R. Whetmore, tellingly titled, On the Edge of the Unthinkable. The great French metaphysician, René Guénon (1886-1951) and the Traditionalist school of writers he inspired are much discussed in this conversation. Barfield's courteous but firm rebuttal of their narrative of cyclical decline and renewal is both energising and inspiring. While acknowledging the spiritual darkness of our epoch, Barfield restores agency to the individual, who, in Guénon's schemata, has no role to play in the drama of our times except sit on his or her hands and wait for the Iron Age to end and the new Golden Age to begin. Charles Upton, in his poem Messiah (also featured in Jesus the Imagination), asks all the relevant questions here. The contribution we can make in the Great Battle between good and evil might not always be clear or obvious, but each of us is a child of God with a unique, probably surprising, never unimportant destiny to fulfill. As Upton enquires:

Who are we
Who were born at the end?
Are we the best, or the worst of men?
Latter-day saints,
Or demons in human form?
What bitter, medicinal juice
Was destined to be twisted out of us
That we came here to breathe, and walk
In this time
And at this place?

We are stewards. Stewards of our souls and stewards of the land with big jobs to do. That's my response to Upton's questions, and I feel that's the answer Jesus the Imagination makes too. Whetmore's interview reminds us that despite current difficulties, there is still everything to play for spiritually. Our age, in fact, might be less about apocalypse and more to do with arrested development, a spiritual and mental stage akin to adolescence which God is asking us to transcend. In pre-modern times men and women felt close to God in an intuitive, often unconscious, and usually highly collective fashion. We have lost that bond today but we are called to regain it, not by 'following an antique drum' as T.S. Eliot says in Little Gidding but by actively choosing the Good - which we now have the capability to do - and becoming fully conscious partners with the Divine in a way that our less individualised ancestors never could. We have to find a way of letting this individualised consciousness lead us closer to God rather than further away.

The great problem today, however, is that an excess of individual liberty - with 'choice' seen as the sole and supreme good - is corroding the political and social foundations of the West. We are ruled by an increasingly illiberal form of liberalism which lacks coherence (politicians and commentators, for instance, championing LGBT rights and an increased Islamic presence) and seems bent on undermining any sense of objective standards and values. It is not surprising, in such a climate, that many Christians are advocating a complete withdrawal from the secular world and the creation of alternative, 'underground' networks of co-religionists as the only way traditional faith-based communities can weather the storm and build for a more sympathetic future.

Rod Dreher's famous book, The Benedict Option (2017), is the best-known example of this. While Michael Martin has sympathy for Dreher's position, Jesus the Imagination chooses a different path, which Martin calls the Sophia Option. 'My contention,' he writes on his blog is that if we begin with joy and love for the Risen One and train ourselves to recognise his Wisdom (Sophia) in Creation we will be carrying the seeds of spiritual and cultural regeneration within us and spreading them throughout the world ... We need to be in the resurrection business.'

'The Sophia Option,' Martin goes on, 'is a response to the most fundamental of questions: what is the best way to live? It is not a flight from the world. Nor is it something so radically new as to be incomprehensible. Rather, the Sophia Option seeks to take the essence of the tradition, the essence of Christendom, and practice it as a lived reality mindful of our vocation to renew the world, a world in constant need of renewal.'

'We need to be in the resurrection business.' That, for me, is the key sentence. It's no good hunkering down, going 'off grid' and hoping that the illiberal liberal state will somehow ignore us. It's pointless planting seeds for better times ahead if all we can offer in tough times is a defensive posture and a surrender of the public square to the enemy. It's always better, surely to goodness, to go to the place of attack and live out our faith with such verve and panache that our faces shine and people cry out in astonishment, 'I never knew that that's what being a Christian was all about.' The 'living water' Christ offers the Samaritan woman in the Fourth Gospel is offered to ourselves too. It contains everything we need and want - from the wildest ecstasy to the profoundest peace, and more besides - the healing of harms and the fulfilment of our deepest, most secret desire - that all-consuming passion for Reality and Truth, which is hard to articulate, leads us down blind alleys at times, expresses itself oddly at others, and which the mind forgets but the heart remembers and stores up in itself, waiting for One to come to speak the Word of power, break the dam and bring the whole lot flooding out. Only then do we become Real. Only then does the living water flow; in ourselves and in our communities. The Waste Land is healed and life begins anew. This is the resurrection business, and this is what Jesus the Imagination brings to the table.

'Come,' says the woman of Samaria. 'See a man, which told me all things that ever I did.' She might have added, 'and all the joys, sorrows, hopes, fears, thoughts and dreams that ever I had.' If people could come to understand - not just intellectually, but in their bones - that this is the heart of Christianity - this level of intimacy, empathy and encounter - then the false paths to fulfilment offered by the world would lose their allure and we could begin to talk seriously at last about the possibility of a Christian renaissance.

Getting from here to there isn't easy though. It calls for daring, audacity, and a radical shake up in how we convey the Christian story, finding the balance between remaining rooted in tradition and taking to heart Christ's statement of intent in Revelation - 'Behold, I make all things new.'

This is the tightrope that Jesus the Imagination walks, and it does it with panache, style, and no little success. It's publication is a massive step in the right direction. It is not without its faults, of course. Some of the poetry lacks a bit of edge, while one or two of the essays read like they have been translated from a foreign language, and not very well either. But these are trifling caveats when set against the largeness of vision and the passion, flair, and sheer spiritual vitality that bristles between its covers.

The only questions that remain are for the readers of this blog. Jesus the Imagination is universal in its themes but naturally tends to speak with a North American voice. What then would a British-based equivalent look and feel like? What would be its raison d'être? How might it get its point across? What could we expect to find on its contents page? Does anyone see value in such a venture and feel ready to risk taking it on? Our thanks are very much due to Michael Martin then, for showing us what can and indeed must be done at this hour.


Jesus the Imagination Volume One can be purchased at the Angelico Press site here.
Volume Two has recently been published and can be purchased at the same site here. Its theme is 'the being of marriage', and features an interview with legendary Liverpool music collective, The Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus. As a sample of their work, check out what they do with R.S. Thomas's poem, The Bright Field, in this beautiful clip.
Jesus the Imagination also has a Facebook group which can be found here.