Dr. Eggs Benedict and the Ivory Tower of His Benedict Option

Rough thought of the day, so let me put it in the mouth of Dr. Eggs Benedict, author of “What Do About Culture Wars?” In his chapter about post-secular asceticism (Can Postmillenial Christians Redeem Monastic Vocations, 2? (read: DOOMED PROJECT)), he suggests:

“Is good theology and philosophy possible and attainable for those with non-formal training in a world of affluence that has made our free-time exclusively that part of our lives which is for our entertainment and the good of those who love the steady, affluent stream of cheezburgerz + easy access to Thai food delivery services (read: CAPITALISTS), making money on our addictions to comfort + painless pleasure (testimony: meat is now made with FLOUR (i.e. “we’re all gonna die” – Sufjan Stevens)), avoiding theoretical thought like it done be a delivered sign and seal of what is not ours (all is vapor, saieth the Preacher—get you gone, Von Hugel, Homer preached nothing but original sin!!! the…er…sin of finitude?)—or at least those who leave theoretical thought up to those others (over there, standing apart, holy, secure, worshipful in all their footnotated lives, satisfied with that one epiphany at twenty-three, defend it: self-criticize! o, but careful, child, careful or you might destroy the very foundation of your career (read: your cheezburgerz)

“What about those who treat theoretical thought like a ball to throw around when you’re drunk (or under the desire to impress girls *insert voice break* “what ever happened to singleness? I’ll stand up for it! I am kind, smart, and important—so please marry me now”), an activity as free and non-effecting and incapable of permeating our lives as the epiphany did for the single twenty-three year old philosissimo up until he popped in a VHS for season one of “Friends”—and civilization and many shed tears cascaded down from there, my two-and-a-half men. O, community, o spiritual friendship, it comes only at the price of gentle laughter—and a dusty thrift store purchase at the odd price of .97 cents.

“Gluttons! we’d like to say. Don’t we now see our fantastic opportunity in our affluence to use our leisure to progress philosophy or, em, contemplation and all those other disciplines that require nothing more than a lot of observation, description, comparison, and thinking for anybody who’d like to chime in amongst a multitude of those who will hold their thoughts accountable to the substandards of the professional community?

“Or, is the amateur thinker required to carry with him a passport at all times, handed out by the Machine (so rage, such bad) to pay a license fee before having the right to think and offer his beliefs, his experiences, his trusts? Are only a few allowed to be part of that discussion between mortal dudes and gals that spans the AGES?!
Grand thoughts: attainable now, four books feed me, but a little rest, a little folding of the hands—and then I can finally get to work. After all, there’s a lion on my desk, the COMPUTER: how are we expected to get any work done, anyhow?

“Some Machine must have illuminated all them dudes/gals by means of Mammon!

“I think, in my humble opinion, respectfully, giving dues where Dews be dude, everyone is encouraged to have their ivory tower and everyone would do well to meet commonly every now and then, as is the habit of some, 70 men in 70 ivory towers coming together in the center to compare notes on what’s going on, brother. But, I see picket lines and people punishing one another with brutality of speech—can we be free enough to first pick ourselves apart, before worrying about who might be setting us up? Don’t we set ourselves up? How can we take down what we set up for ourselves?

“Let me repeat that same question for you in an entire chapter dedicated to refute concerns no one actually had. And let me reinforce my point by not connecting my thoughts at all.”

Excerpt from Chapter 2: “How Is All This Exactly Not Related?”

“A cenobitic monastery—the architecture of the place. Individual cells stacked around the center like the combs of a hive, a common room in the middle—why isn’t that our model for leisure?

“We love balls and love to know how to throw them across very helpful lawns, full of edible tomatoes and onions—for the kids. We love to make rules for games after skύl, nevermind the tomatoes, grab a bag of frozen Nomeatos (just pop ’em in the oven, bro).

“OR: if you dislike all of this, if you’re curious about what I “really” think: why not just form a new career? The generalist prophet. Why does no one feel called to live in a shack and be that wild philosopher, that persona Annie Dillard knit together in the womb of a pilgrim that never really existed and put on her skeletal shoulders in the harsh cold of the concrete jungle (where’s the grass? asks Arcade Fire: haven’t you ever seen a lawn?).

“I think it’s high-time we capitalize on a new vocation, one born out of affluence and asceticism. It is necessarily viable in our time.”

Chapter 3 of the Abridged “What Do About Culture Wars?” entitled “What Do About Generalist Prophets…Do?”

“What would a generalist prophet need? What would be the toolbox of his virtues? On top of the list, I think, would be meekness. He has a vision, but knowledge does not puff him up. The second would be mentorship. He has mentors, people to respect, admire, and learn from. A generalist prophet would need unlike our typical conception of theoretical thought—or even of something as casual and supreasy as cultural criticism—which assumes that the prophet is a tour de farce, stands apart, aside. The prophet is actually a person who has decided to use his life as a mouthpiece for truth, a student, a conduit, a slave.*

“*end paragraph for emphasis.

“The main sacrifice that a generalist prophet would have to make is of creature comforts. On the line from gratitude for gifts on one side and sacrificing non-necessary gifts for others (both good things), he has chosen the latter more than the former—and he exchanges common gifts for more obscure pleasures that are nevertheless still just as creaturely. While he has a high capacity to be free from loneliness, he will yet be alone. That is the nature of his career. His community is one of mentors and friends, not family and lovers. And like all other vocations, he cannot—must not—elevate his ambition and confidence to the same place as a job done, a life fulfilled, a message heard…

“To conclude: the beating heart of his vocational joy is work done in obedience—happiness is just a run-off.” – Dr. Eggs Benedict, professor of breakfast at Biola University

Everything I Can Ever Remember

(2015)

I

Last night, I had dreams of our home in St. Charles. We lived at the end of a cul-de-sac in a suburban mansion of sorts. We were home-schooled and my mom was blessed enough to have a schoolroom above the garage. It was always hot up there. You had to go up a staircase and there were always hornets hiding behind the accordion flaps of the air conditioning unit.

We also had a living room with french doors that went onto the back porch. We didn’t often use them or we weren’t supposed to use them. Either way, they were often painted-stuck to the floor-to-ceiling windows of the living room. There was a fireplace in there. I remember–and I think my mom holds it as one of the best memories in that house–a time around Christmas when we turned off all the lights and we had the fireplace going and we watched the blazing snow fly across the arcs of the floodlights stuck to the side of the house. We had guests over for a sleepover, two or three of her high school students. They were all huddled on the couch with blankets over their knees and most of the family was there, too. Dad stayed awake for us and so did Anna and Mom was on the edge of the couch drinking wine, I think, and I was there in the rocking chair. We all laughed together.

But that memory is not part of the visions I had last night. Last night, I dreamed I was in that house alone. I was in the schoolroom alone when the whole family, including my siblings in China, had gone out to do something fun together. Last night, I dreamed everyone went to sleep, but I stayed awake. I couldn’t go to sleep and sat in our living room, crouching under the rocking chair. And I had the impression that there were people in the house and that Grace had just gone to bed and that Mom and Dad were upstairs behind their closed bedroom doors, but were they really there? I was alone in a house that once held ten people for an entire summer. I believe I was alone in the memories of the place, my memories, looking out from the living room into the big blue twenty-foot windows of our bare white library, the blue moonlight hitting the tiny interior windows of Grace’s room hanging above the library like an observation deck. Was she really in there?

I had that feeling of complete emptiness I always got when our parents would take their Sunday nap. We had to stay locked in the finished basement (did they finish it, so we would have someplace to go when they took their nap?) because they could somehow hear your footsteps if you walked anywhere on the first floor. The house echoed easily like it was empty. And so we stayed in the basement watching TV, which was horrible because typically the only things on were PBS carpentry shows or Walker, Texas Ranger.

I woke up this morning around five. This is unusual for me. If left to my own devices, I would wake up at noon. Every day. I woke up this morning at five, more melancholy than I have been in my life, because I looked around the room, my college bedroom, my current life, my clothes on the floor, and thought, “Who is going to remember all of that?” I was terrified, because in one moment I saw a past and then I looked at a future and realized that I was going to have to let go of some burdens. It is going to be too much to carry. At a certain point, there will be places I cannot go back to.

When will the day come when I can’t go back to our home in St. Charles as an eleven year old?

I laid in bed, trying as hard as I could to hold onto the memories, the images–but how they fade! When wise men and sages talk about men and nations fading, don’t they really mean that it is all these memories which fade, not the men themselves? Men continue on after their deaths, but the body which falls–is it really just burdened by all the images we are too mortal to hold ourselves? Or maybe I am not called to remember. Maybe I am supposed to forget. But if I forget, who is going to remember home for us? The images fade, the memories fall, and with them so do the people we once met and knew.

When we are in the presence of God, I will ask him, “Father, can you please let me explore the memories of the people I love? What memories has my dad forgotten about his parents one morning at breakfast? And if he was to dream about a house he grew up in, would he dream that he was alone there?”

II

Imagination is time-warping, space-bending. It never pretended like it was anything else than pretending like it is something. Imagination is the gift to retrace our steps and to dream at our desks. Imagination is the ability to be grateful again, or to finally be grateful for things you once overlooked.

If you deny imagination, if you deny the past ever existed, you are really just doing it because you are scared that you are fading along with your past. If you deny that it ever happened and that you can go back to it like it was happening now, you are just afraid of death. You fear that what you love is a precious commodity, something “Not For Sale.” But, death doesn’t ask if what you have held is for sale. Death will just take.

How can you be afraid of death, Caleb? I thought you got over your fear of death at nine years old when you were so frightened of what you did not know that you shivered in bed and Josiah told you to go talk to Mom and Dad. So you went down the hall and saw Grace sleeping in bed and then you knocked on Mom and Dad’s closed bedroom door and they were there and you put your belly up to their master bed and said, “Dad, I’m scared.”

“Of what?” Mom took her reading glasses off and looked over and she closed her book on her finger. My lip started to quiver.

“Of death.” And I began crying and he held me and he said, “It’s okay.” And he explained to me things I didn’t understand, but he ended it all with squeezing my little arms and saying, “This is going to give you big faith muscles.”

I’m not supposed to be scared of death anymore then, I guess. But I am. I am afraid, not only of my bodily death, but that all the memories I have made with people I love are going to fade away.

But of what am I really afraid ? Am I afraid that my glory will fade?  Am I just hungry for glory? Am I afraid that men will forget me? No. I don’t think that is it at all. I think I am afraid that particular people will forget. I am afraid that I will forget.

But, if when I am put into the nursing home one day, if when long after all my other siblings and parents and friends have died, if when I outlive the world I now know, if when I lay in bed and am visited by a young family like we once visited Mr. Anderson and his silent wife, if when my obituary is found like we found his years later, out of curiosity, wondering “what happened to Mr. Anderson,” if when that family becomes silent together like we did for Mr. Anderson and his beloved wife, I will remember that my past was never mine.

We love each other. We love creatures. We love dying things.

Alice Cooper Exegesis

And now, thus saieth the Preacher:

“Your cruel device, your blood, like ice. One look could kill. My pain, your thrill.
I want to love you but I better not touch (don’t touch). I want to hold you, but my senses tell me to stop. I want to kiss you but I want it too much (too much). I want to taste you but your lips are venomous poison. You’re poison, running through my veins. You’re poison. I don’t want to break these chains.
Your mouth, so hot. Your web, I’m caught. Your skin, so wet. Black lace, on sweat.
I hear you calling and it’s needles and pins (and pins). I want to hurt you just to hear you screaming my name. Don’t want to touch you but you’re under my skin (deep in). I want to kiss you but your lips are venomous poison. You’re poison, running through my veins
You’re poison. I don’t want to break these chains. Poison.

(Guitar solo)
(Guitar solo)
(Guitar solo)”

Exegesis of relevant passage:

Clearly, the Preacher here is telling us that the woman in question, Lady Folly (or Lady Poison in context), is someone to avoid. She is the perfect metaphor for temptation. She is clearly desirable (v. 2), but will be bad for him–and pursuing her might even lead to death (v. 1, “one look could kill”).

(commence application)

Is there this kind of dark desire in your life for someone else? Someone you are really drawn to, but shouldn’t be? It is a lie. Bread stolen in secret is sweet poison. Do not give in, lest you be like Billy Paul.

Billers V. The Pleasure Co. (a family company)

Has anyone heard about the Supreme Court Case “Billers V. The Pleasure Co (a family company)”?

It all began in 2021, when the Oklahoma state government hired The Pleasure Co as a para-government organization to manufacture micro-filters designed to go in the gap between dopamine receptors in the human brain. These metal chips, called “pleasure chips” (and I thought pleasure chips were made of potatoes) would automatically connect to the local fiber internet and send in a report of how many pleasure points someone used that day. In addition to internet functionality, the pleasure chips had a GPS tracker which made the job of participating police officers easier.

After submitting themselves to the required-by-law installation process, each Oklahoman was allotted 1,000 pleasure points per day. Unused points could be kept for future days and would build into a kind of “pleasure fund”. A can of coke counted as 10p back in 2021, but these days it’s a mere 1p. Or, if a couple wanted to have intercourse they would have to live ascetically for about two weeks before having it as the pr rate for sex was 15,000p for the year 2021. These days, it’s 7,000p. As soon as someone did something pleasurable, the pleasure chip would send the information to The Pleasure Co (TPC). If a citizen’s pleasure rating exceeded 1,500 points, local authorities would track the person through the chip and bring them in for questioning. It was usually a pretty tame discussion about what they did that day. TPC also provided a growing list of activities and the pleasure rating corresponding with each. At the end of every day, citizens were expected to manually fill in a daily report on the website of what gave them pleasure and when so that the company could (to the best of their abilities) map activities to ratings. Wealthier citizens could install micro cameras in their tear ducts that would take and analyze pictures for what activity was being performed at the time of the dopamine release, colloquially referred to as “drops”. TPC then calculated the average pleasure ratings of every Oklahoman for each listed activity. TPC provided these pleasure rating lists free of charge on their website, “https://thepleasurecompany.gov/“. Currently, the site cannot be reached as TPC uses a private domain, accessible only to citizens of Oklahoma.

It took seven months for every citizen, aged 4 and up, to submit themselves to the installation process. It took three months to produce reliable pleasure rating lists. It took roughly five months for the local authorities to understand what and how to deal with citizens whose pleasure ratings exceeded 1,500p. The highest recorded pleasure rating to date is 15,000. That girl was on drugs—drugs!

But do you know who was not on drugs? Mr. Billers. Mr. Billers, 45, was sculpting as per usual in his studio, using a female model as he was wont to do (occasionally, he required a male model), when the local authorities kicked down his door. He was stunned and so was the model, naturally. They took him in for questioning, of course. They told him that his pleasure ratings spiked “well past the legal 1,500p”. Mr. Billers commenced a tirade against legislated morality and how if you’re going to do it right, you shouldn’t choose something arbitrary like finding the averages of pleasure in a given population. It might seem like it work, but it leads to more problems—like broken-window policing. You should choose something that gets the job done, like killing people. They say he spit on the officer. They say he went on to accuse Oklahoma’s governor of never having read any work of science fiction, for if she had, she would have known that anything involving technology and morality is “bad-news-bears”.

What ended up happening was that Mr. Billers appealed to the Bill of Rights and the right to free speech, interpreting a certain clause as a right to “pleasure as a result of self-expression”. He claimed this applied to art.

Fast forward, because I know you are bored: the Supreme Court ruled in favor for him 498-2 (back before they upped the SC number of judges to 1,000) and out from the whole deal came the “Right of Artists to Their Pleasure” that went through Congress. The bill states that artists under surveillance from a “Legislated Pleasure State” in the United States are allowed to receive an allotted 3,000p per day as opposed to the normal 1,500p. The technical definition of an artist was one who is either a sculptor, visual artist, film director, writer (and another 26 self-describing terms) by trade and must have a salary of 50k per year in order to qualify for the higher pr rate.

Now the hot-button question is this: “Do artists experience more pleasure than other people and should they be self-described?”

Statistics imply a firm yes for Oklahoma then went on to have the highest rate of self-described artists by state than any other state in the country.

and I cannot these days helps you, but to speak is my curse

I found myself on a long road covered over with trees whose leaves were lizards and its branches serpents. The road was covered in dark black stones that were actually darkling beetles and I winced at the crunch of their shells under my steps. It seemed as if they had been placed on the path just so I could have the privilege of walking over them. This was something very personal to me and a special sacrificial treat of thousands of lives, because no one seemed to have walked this path before. I knew this, because nothing was dead except for what I left behind me.

It seemed like all the living creatures in the world had convened in a special council to prepare this strange pleasure of death for me. The trees writhed and the path shuffled and clicked, but all did the best they could to give the presentation of lifelessness, a set for the scene I am about to describe. It is only that all these things had it in their nature to make some movement or sign of their life, but their wills fought brutally against this for me!

There was one thing about this set that did not make any motion, or any sign of life. The limbs were serpents, but they were held up by motionless hands and those motionless hands were attached to still arms and those still arms to humans all standing there looking at me, tree-like. I would have said thank you, but there was something noble about their silence and the clicking of the creepers attempting to hide their gifts of instinct and nature behind their selfless wills.

And the people—their nobility was not in the discipline of standing silently, but in participating with the rest of the creepers!

And it is here that I must tell you about what this path led to. A square, tall block of stone, the kind you might find in a lazy sculptor’s studio. But there was an oddity about the stone that suggested a work of art: a mouth, skin-colored, peaking through about the same height as my own. To this mouth I directed my hello.

Hello, it said in sorrow.

What are you? And are you the one who made all these animals strain like this?

What? Oh, no! I got trapped in here.

How?

Well, I was tirelessly working on a book, hoping that by my words I might incant a body of armor around myself. What enclosed me, instead, was this stone block!

I see. And how is it that you can hear me, if it is only your mouth that is uncovered?

Oh, well it did not so much enclose me as it became the vessel for my life. I perform all my bodily functions within this stone and through this mouth. I do speaking very well.

Poor soul!

What?

Poor soul, I said.

Oh. Yes, well I am quite safe in here, I assure you. I suppose in a way it has become my armor!

But you can’t see the path I’m talking about? The one right in front of you? And can you walk?

Of course I can—just very slowly. My steps are infinitesimal. I am walking now. Like I said, I do all my bodily functions through this block, just not well. Speaking I do very well.

Describe me, please.

You’re dark, much like the path.

I said in my mind, that strikes me as proverbial.

Was it always that way?

What? Oh, no! I stumbled upon this path long ago: it’s what inspired me to write the book of incantation.

What on earth possessed you to summon armor?

Why, sir! Because something so strange, so alive and yet still—such a participation of living creatures—at any moment they could have turned on me with such a precision, I would have fallen before I had gotten to the end of this path.

What is at the end of the path?

What?

The end, what is it?

Hell if I know, but for you it’s me. As you can see, I am proverbially “blocking your path”. You will not go beyond me. And, and the creatures might attack you.

And what about the humans playing trees?

Even they don’t know what they’re doing here. After  years of observation, I’ve figured out the only reason they are here is to kill time and feel like they are doing something with their lives. They take breaks, you know, for urinating and concupiscence and lunch—I imagine. But the switch-out is seamless and silent.

That’s brilliant!

Oh, I know it is. What is also brilliant is that you are on this path to fulfill a necessary role.

What is that?

What? Oh, why the seeker of course! The one who comes and marvels—and I am the one you must choose to become or not to become. What you need to figure out is what instincts of desire you have that might get you to the exact situation I sought to avoid. That was my fate, I admit.

How?

Because I came here to wander. And now I no longer wander. I am only still and imperceptive. And I fill this place with speech, the place I admired for the nobility of its silence and the simplicity of the truths it teaches. The hero is the one who looks for an answer.

At this point, the speech stopped and I heard gentle sobbing and it was then that I caught glimpse of the hidden eyes within the stone.

And I cannot these days helps you, even though to speak is my curse.

The Visible and the Invisible

Note from the editor: All I really mean by drugs is some consumable that offers the user an altered and temporary state of consciousness. Something that can be overdosed on. Something that can master-slave you. You know what drugs are.

Are we to use altered experiences to re-evaluate our knowledge base and what we know?

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible. This is a philosophical claim. We are living in a prophetical silence now, a time where the supernatural appears to be a belief and not a reality. And this has happened before—when we ask where God is, can’t we see the unseen ministers over what is seen to make seeds into trees and for people to die without fear? We are not the first to desire some break from a prophetical silence like this.

This is why we have the apocalyptic books that were written for the assurance that we are in time and that God has entered time in the past, into our bodies personally and through the body of Jesus for the whole, the Jesus who intervened for us and was forced to feel the knowledge of invisible realities in a visible world, which is how it is for us visible creatures. Jesus, too, felt the ache of the visible world, a world built for bodies.

If you see the value in drugs, then you should also be able to see the utility in memory which, unlike drugs, is a necessary part of how we interact with time and what we experience. Unlike drugs, memory is not a manufactured intervention which breaks how we naturally relate to the external world. The process of remembering is a “real hallucination” and is the gateway into the unseen. St. John’s hallucination in Revelation is reliable, because its basis was the memory of God’s promises of the end to a hope we cannot see.

I’d argue that drugs are a counterfeit memory and for those who don’t want to remember, but to forget the aches of the visible world. Those drawn to drugs, I’d suspect, are also drawn to leaving the natural processes of the world that either fill us with wonder at what is unseen—or dread that there might be something unseen weighing over us. Maybe those drawn to drugs are those who don’t accept that the invisible is there, is perceivable, or is even connected at all to this world built for bodies. Maybe drugs are for those who are more willing to confuse perception with reality than they are willing to accept that our perception of one reality is narrow. Maybe drugs are for those who do not see the utility in hallucinations, but rather see hallucinations as the end in themselves: the escape from the Great Dread of Being a Body. Maybe drugs are for those who deny the visible as a gateway (the visible is transformed into the invisible through memory) to truth.

But if you are using drugs honestly, seeking the utility in hallucinations (either real or illusory visions of the invisible world, whether it be through some altered or strange experience that breaks with the normal flow of being), know that the utility of drugs pales is really a false copy of that which memory is designed for: memory is the break of all prophetical silence.

And this is something for which we need and ache. We need a break of this prophetical silence—and this is why we remember. We remember, so that the silence can be broken. When we remember the promises of God, the silence is broken and we remember through hallucinations of past promises. The past is the invisible realm we cannot deny, the place where promises are kept hidden and only perceivable through memory.

This is why I think we need more literature like Revelation so that we can recalibrate our perceptions. Revelation was a comfort to the early church which was full of Christians wondering what order there was to their persecution. They looked for some sign of the divine order which makes all things intelligible, that order which directs growth, progress, and change. And so John wrote the revelation of this secret order for their hope. And when we read Revelation, it seems like a mere hallucination of John’s.

Maybe that is why some people take drugs: they are taking them with the intention of getting to some end. We are to look at all resources before us, whether they are our faculties or some external interventions, as means to the end of seeing the visible rightly and discerning the invisible. The impulse to take drugs is entirely human, if it is not merely the desire to get “messed up”. If the desire to get “messed up” is the purpose of taking drugs, then the means is seen as the end. The mechanic of a resource is not to be the end in itself, but rather what the mechanic might provide you once it has gone. This is how to rightly use the faculties and natural tools before us.

This is the fundamental problem in people taking drugs to achieve that perception of some invisible order of the visible, though: when it is just a means to reconstruct the visible life. The altered experiences or hallucinations of drugs are acknowledged illusions and false perceptions that exist only within the mind. The utility of drugs is only really there if you are willing to confuse your perception with reality. Drugs provide broken perception, unnatural interventions, and even when they are (rarely) used with intention they are ultimately counterfeit copies of the natural faculty of memory.

Taking drugs is not a natural use of what is before us: it destroys the natural order which the user claims they are trying to discern. And if a user does not claim to desire some vision of order, then they are making drugs the end. That is how drugs are “misused”. My point is that even when drugs are rightly used, their pay-out is false and misleading. The only real utility of drugs, I believe, is destruction.

The Dilemma of Melancholy

 

“I find my own self hard to grasp. I have become for myself a soil which is a cause of difficulty and much sweat.” – St. Augustine

I am small and drowning in time—the present pushes on me like white rapids—and I am seeking a God beyond time. I know this present well, for I perceive it with all of my senses. But where does all that information go? The information is stored in my memory and there my memory makes sense of my present. But without any reason for being preserved, these memories will die like I am going to die. Memory is that power which rises above my ability to perceive and makes sense of my perception. Memory is that power which allows me to take a step back and look at my time-bound existence and come back to past ‘presents’. Why do I have this ability? Does it guarantee that I am a finite cocoon of self, always inspecting myself and left alone to contemplate my condition? Or can my memory in some way aid my search for God?

In Book X of Confessions, Augustine asked how memory works and why it works in the context of this search for God. “There [in memory] sky, land, and sea are available to me together with all the sensations I have been able to experience in them, except for those which I have forgotten,” Augustine says. Except for those which I have forgotten, though; that is the trouble for me. What of that? We use memory as a tool to find something inside ourselves, but if we turn to memory and ask to possess it, we are forced to say “it is a vast and infinite profundity. Who has plumbed its depths?” Augustine said that amazement gripped him when he thought of our inability to understand memory. I am more scared than amazed. I am afraid, because I don’t understand why I am to remember. Yes, I use my memory to store and sort through all of my past. But why I am supposed to remember things I know will be forgotten? It feels like a mortal taunt, an accidental vast chasm that my limited frame can access every now and then. “Is not human life on earth a trial in which there is no respite?” Why is an infinite faculty available to a finite creature? I say that memory is just another way that my mortality is tragic: Augustine said that it is the only hope in making sense of our little place in time. In memory, we can seek after God and find that he has been looking for us the whole time. And Augustine can personally testify to this discovery of remembrance.

The exercise of exploring past images also teaches me, like it did Augustine, that God has not made his abode in my memory. Yet, the very ability to hold onto past images is a work of God that he holds above me. God is not within my memory, because the place of memory organizes itself by placement and Augustine believes God to be “unchangeable”. God cannot be unchangeable inside my memory, because memory is a process that requires the shifting of images into an understandable narrative. This process of memory is “all that is what happens when I recount a narrative from memory.”

If I am to use memory to find God but he is not there, then why do I remember? I do not find God in my memory, but I can remember God’s work in my life. And so this exercitatio animo actually serves the same purpose as the divine command of righteousness to remember the Lord my God. This memory does not exist inside my mind, but the images which are retained in my memory allow me to recall what I need in order to remember what God has done to lead me to himself. God was doing things for me in past “presents” that I did not understand at the time. And now that I am where I am, I can look back and see how what has happened to me brought me to this present place. This is the entire modus operandi of Augustine’s Confessions. The entire book is an exercitatio animo. Augustine is remembering for us, so that we can see that God had been there all along pushing him toward himself.

Augustine wants to prove that he had always been seeking God even before he felt his presence. In order to prove this, he must order the images in his mind. To order the past is to determine what is first remembered and what is finally remembered, or discovered. Augustine wants to say that we have all been looking for God. We are looking for a God like a woman searching for a lost coin. If people come to her and say they have found her coin, she is disappointed when she sees the object they are holding and finds that it is not the coin. It does not match what she has been searching for, even though she is searching because she has forgotten its place. It seems like we must have some memory of God even before we know where he is, because when we find him there is that elation of discovery. There would be no elation of discovery if we had not known of him before. Our memory is satisfied when all the past images become rightly ordered to the end of finally finding God. This is what Augustine did in Confessions. He ordered his memories into a narrative so we could see how each past “present” pushed him to the intensity of conversion.

Augustine’s view of memory saved me from the condemnation of memory. I can know God is always moving me somewhere in my present even though it doesn’t feel like it. This is a twist to my previous dilemma: I went seeking after something in memory and found that memory was there to seek after me. Reflecting on the past is not valuable for its own sake. And memory is not there only to produce the sensations of melancholy that might itch pleasantly, but rather to show that God is working in my present. And if God is working in my present, then I know that my finite condition is of an eternal interest. Memory is the bridge by which God makes clear my place in time. By reflecting on past events, I like Augustine can see how my feeble frame has moved in time according to an eternal purpose.

Memory allows mortals trapped in time to comprehend the works of God. And to comprehend the works of God is to be able to pursue truth and seek that happy life. All of the works of God that we can know have been done in the past or will be remembered through the past. But God is not within our memories. Memory is a means to bring us to God. I can say of memory what Augustine said of the sky: “Tell me of my God who you are not, tell me something about him.” Memory will point us to him: God made memory functional. We remember so that we can comprehend what is true. And we comprehend truth, so that we can comprehend God. Because memory is the “stomach of the mind” and since the present cannot be contained since it goes too fast for us to understand, the present goes through the process of becoming the past for us by being processed into the mental images that memory retains. And it is here that we can discern the meaning of certain memories in a series: this is the entire point of the first nine books of the Confessions: inchoate events in Augustine’s life were leading him to God. When we use our memory, we are really remembering the works of God—and this is the purpose of memory.

I have struggled for a long time with my memory: the burden of vividness I sometimes experience, the passing of memories and my attempt to try and keep it all. But it is not for me to hold onto things that I am built inevitably to forget. I must trust that what God wills for me to remember will be kept, not for the benefit of understanding my past life but for the security of understanding the present. Memory allows me to go through those old images of the present I once experienced and understand them now and what they mean. The places I once walked in were unknown to me and will be unknown to me once I know why I walked in them.

Like Augustine, I don’t find God in the external world nor do I find him in my memory. But father “you are the abiding light by which I investigated all these matters to discover whether they existed, what they were, and what value should be attached to them. I listen to you teaching me and giving instructions.” It is only by the power of God that we can enter into memory with melancholy and leave in hope.

When I think how you love me, it brings me to tears.

I tried to say something that was clever and clear, but all I wrote was that I wish you were here with me.

How to Pay Your Vows

Let’s ban the Muslims from entering the country because of terrorism, the Christians for the Crusades and megachurches, the atheists for Richard Dawkins, Al Gore for the internet, the feminists for stealin’ R voting rights, the dogs for not being cats, the animals for not being other animals, the animals for not being humans, and the humans for being like animals freaky Achilles’ style or pillar-of-salt-like (indulge your eyes with the sight of the guilty), ya feel me?
‪#‎dehumanizationisreprobation‬
The community of the living pray to their gods, not to ask for the forgiveness of indulging their animalistic fear of dying (to push away all Other as a potential threat to their cozy nesting), but to thank their gods that they are not like other men–swindlers, adulterers, tax collectors (i.e. those just like us, but in the wrong place at the wrong time).
Words have not lost “their value” just because the marketplace has gotten larger and more cacophonous. Words ought to be few when we are paying our vows to God in the temple. The temple is now the entire world and God still hears our words whether there are a billion of us or just one. We have been given a metric for the value of words and how we ought to weigh them economically. The value of our words is weighed by what we are fearing when we pay our vows to God. Are we fearing the most urgent, pressing realities? Are we fearful of humanity? If we fear humanity, we despise the Other and therefore despise ourselves.
Paying your vows with urgency does not mean that you have logorrhea: paying only the urgent, most immediate and fearful vows is to be full of vain speaking. If this seems erudite, I only mean that prayer is not a means for us to indulge our beast-fears, but to control them and order ourselves towards the love of others.
If it is our wealth and honor that is threatened at gunpoint, the greatest evil death represents is not the end of the wealth and honor, but the people like you who will pass into darkness before they had the gift to enjoy it.
The wealth and honor of the dead will be given to the righteous to spread–not for the sake of the fruitless common good, but for the evident sign that the comfort we are desperately holding onto cannot be preserved by our *ears of deathness* in the house of laughter. The only value of the righteous spreading their wealth to others is the association of the righteous and their gift of pleasure.
The house of mourning is the house where fear is pushed away by prayer and all men come together under the ecumenical banner of death.
That includes Muslims and, I suppose, even Al Gore.