Lenten Observance, Day 39, 2013

Well, today I was watching a production of Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author. And it struck me that Pirandello’s absurd play could be entitled “Six Characters in Search of God.” The play does address permanence (the characters are ever-lasting — in a sense they never die, but humans die; the characters also have a certain fixity of emotion, as their lines and conception are always set, where humans change from person to person, from day to day — we are always reinventing ourselves). The figures in the play who represent people outside the play (the director, e.g.) are convinced that they have a permanent identity, until they are made to reflect on how different they are from how they were, and how their past is largely conditioned by the memory they have, so that their present version of themselves has largely rewritten past versions, in order to maintain an integrated and permanent identity. And this got me thinking of St. John of the Cross — I imagine he would believe in a permanent self, but that desires and other habits of life have encrusted that over. For St. John, the only way is to somehow break through to a deeper and truer reality than the world of appearances, which we cannot trust. But that concept itself is developed by a sentient being, one who feels and perceives, often incorrectly or inaccurately. So how valid is that concept? Can we ever know? As we have to evaluate it in a system of language, and any such system will itself be somewhat inaccurate. And yet, that union with God is something that is not negotiable with St. John — that has to be a fixed point which is true, beyond anyone’s conception of it. All of that sounds a lot like Plato and his concept of forms (which exist behind and beyond the world of things — that world is a world of shadows, but the world of forms and ideas which stands behind it is the light). And Platonism and Neo-Platonism have played a large part in Catholic theology, even when modified by neo-Aristotelians like St. Thomas Aquinas. As we do not see God as a physical being in the world around us, we must imagine God to be some unseen, but real, presence behind the world of sensation. And to get at that reality behind our illusion, we somehow have to short-circuit our senses. Of course, I can only reflect on this a bit, before my brain starts to swirl and everything goes through the Looking Glass.

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