The Kingdom of Heaven
These are definitely surreal times, unreal times. I mean that literally and sincerely: these are days completely disconnected from the Real. If you think I am speaking directly to current events, though, you would be wrong. Current events, as I read them, are precisely the result of our disconnection from the Real.
As a biodynamic farmer, I am fortunate that at this season of the year I don’t have the time to get entrapped by social media and its discontents. I simply have too much to do—crops to plant, animals to care for, honeybees to monitor, pastures and woodlots to manage, a cool room to build, fences to move, a hedge to build, not mention attending to the needs of my wife, my aged mother, and my children. This doesn’t mean that current events don’t weigh heavily upon my soul. They do.
Like many clamoring for change, I have long been discontent with things as they are. I even wrote a book about it, Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. Central to my project is not the overthrow of civilization, but its transfiguration (hence the title). I also hold that such a transfiguration resides solely in learning how to see.
As I said, current events have been weighing heavily on my soul (as they have with so many of us). Even when I’m in the garden. At this time of the year, my farming rhythm is to rise at dawn and pull weeds for two or three hours before attending to the animals and taking care of my mother. Often while I’m weeding, snatches of song or random phrases repeat themselves in my mind. Often the lines come from songs which are not necessarily on my playlist—like the times I have been haunted by ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” or by any Taylor Swift song!... O tempora! O mores!—sometimes they’re lines from scripture or poetry (“Let mans Soule be a Spheare….”). But Saturday, the phrase that kept arising was “The Kingdom of Heaven.” And this one, contrary to the usual way this works out, I was saying out loud, “the kingdom of heaven...the kingdom of heaven.” This is no surprise, of course, since Sophiology as I conceive of it is an attentiveness to the splendor that shines through all things and reveals the inherent goodness of Creation. This is, as I have long argued, what we should be training people to see through education (but don’t) and in religion (but don’t, really), in our economics (we really don’t), not to mention art (when we’re lucky) and science (rarely).
As it happens, while I was weeding Saturday, I received an email from my publisher at Angelico Press. He was sending me the proof copy of an edition Angelico is doing of Thomas Traherne’s Centuries, for which I wrote an introduction (the book should appear very soon). He wanted me to proof my work (written last December) where I found affirmation not only of my repeated phrase but a reminder of why I’m doing this in the first place:
Traherne’s work can in some regards be read as an exegesis on Matthew 6:22: “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.”
But beholding will prove ineffective unless one possesses the requisite inner disposition to have it bear fruit. And for Traherne, that requisite inner disposition can only be found in becoming childlike. Indeed, Traherne takes Christ’s admonition in Matthew 18:3 as delivered: “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Traherne articulates what he takes to be the primal human condition in his most anthologized poem, “Wonder”:
How like an Angel came I down!
How Bright are all Things here!
When first among his Works I did appear
O how their GLORY me did Crown!
The World resembled his Eternitie,
In which my Soul did Walk;
And evry Thing that I did see,
Did with me talk. (lines 1–8)
That we are not accustomed to maintain such a childlike disposition, Traherne attributes to not knowing how to see, which is primarily the result of a skewed set of values and the failure of an educational system that encourages and fosters illegitimate ways of seeing:
“The first Light which shined in my Infancy in its primitive and innocent clarity was totally eclipsed: insomuch that I was fain to learn all again. If you ask me how it was all eclipsed? Truly by the customs and manners of men, which like contrary winds blew it out: by an innumerable company of other objects, rude, vulgar, and worthless things, that like so many loads of earth and dung did overwhelm and bury it: by the impetuous torrent of wrong desires in all others whom I saw or knew that carried matters and concernments that covered and drowned it: finally by the evil influence of a bad education that did not foster and cherish it.” (Centuries, 3.7)
Not much has changed since then in the wasteland of this our kingdom.
We are, all of us, trapped in an unreal world emblamatized above all things by the internet and distilled to potency in social media. We cannot trust what we see, yet let our adrenaline drive our emotions to rage and hatred. Whatever is to come, without learning to see again we will be doomed to the eternal return of violence, hatred, and retribution. As is only too apparent, “from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force” (Matt 11:12). But the Kingdom of Heaven is also at hand, attainable. Even now.
Michael’s latest books are an edition of The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz and Transfiguration: Notes toward a Radical Catholic Reimagination of Everything. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org See also The Center for Sophiological Studies' available courses.