The Hour for Moral Imagination
Where your attention is, there is your heart. We become what we look at and shape our minds and hearts through what we choose to perceive.
We live in an apocalyptic time. It may not be the end of the world but it is the end of a world. Many who critique the system believe the path forward is controlled by entities which despise anything they cannot control. This seems correct.
These critiques and proposed alternatives tend to loop back to the past, though it was the past which brought us here. If we need to find a complete way through the tunnel then it seems something still is lacking. What is that something?
The global dominion of the Machine cannot be brought to a halt without horrors upon horrors. Still, with each hour the Machine seeks to seal up any lingering cracks through which the light may enter. And still the “something” our minds seek eludes us. Manifestos are written, parties formed, encyclicals called for, podcasts issued, utopias decreed.
What is that part of our heart devoted to mystery, grace, and the unfolding of the spirit to do?
These are the question I have dwelt long upon. “What is the something-missing and what does one do with it?”
In the pre-dawn hours over several years of seeking a picture began to form. Sometimes distractedly and sometimes with great focus I carry that picture through the day. I work on it when I wash the dishes, I work on it when I change the diapers, and when the child ask about what a body is and what a planet is and why the trees grow. At every moment I am called to turn away from formulas and reductions to see anew the world and the heavens, and to bring it into accord with the picture in my heart.
This picture of the world is illuminated by Christ, and there is a path, a path which is “in and through.” It is a path sketched out by people such as C.S. Lewis and Simone Weil and George MacDonald. It is the path of the moral imagination and it is a light to help see the world, ancient and yet renewed.
Among the foremost of the guides sketching this path for me is Rudolf Steiner, whose hundreds of lectures painted a Christ-infused vision of the cosmos.
To speak the name Rudolf Steiner in certain Christian circles is to promptly label oneself a heretic. C.S. Lewis couldn’t get over his dear friend Owen Barfield’s devotion to anthroposophy, though still considered Barfield one of his personal greatest teachers. All I can offer to Christian skeptics are Steiner’s own words: “An understanding of the world is only present today when a transubstantiation is carried out at an altar.”
That is one critique. The other comes from the mainstream defenders of the Enlightenment project to turn quality into quantity, the ones who delight in the subversion of norms but balk at the suggestion that matter has meaning. Discussion involves people seeking truth together, and if one party will not hear then discussion must, alas, wait.
As for anthroposophists themselves: some do their best to avoid speaking of Christ, others who treat Steiner as a sort of god figure. You need not become either to have your moral imagination kindled as Steiner points to the Holy Spirit and the mysteries abounding in the flesh and minerals and plants and sky all about us. Over and over in his writings Steiner eschewed dogmas of abstractions and pointed to truth as an objective but also living being with whom we enter into relationship with, rather than treat as a static theory.
Abstractions are dead and can thus easily be controlled and managed. Bureaucracy is where life goes to die. When our imaginations have failed to participate in the meaning of a living thing, like a tradition, then it becomes sclerotic and is sent to an old-age home till no one remembers what its purpose was in the first place.
Steiner wanted us to leave him behind if the Truth goes elsewhere. He sought to kindle our moral imagination in order to follow the living Christ. Our wills are to bloom in pictures, to participate in the redemption Nature requires, to live as matter is made meaningful by Christ’s death and resurrection.
One of my other teachers, Ivan Illich, once said “Imagination ‘sings reality.’” I dwell on this thought while observing the mass noise which overwhelms the mind and body. It is nearly unescapable. When it comes as pop music, devoid of harmony or melody, it addicts young souls to cycles of dopamine rushes and despair. It is mirrored in our landscape of ornament-less buildings, cheap utilitarian despair, and wherever impulses to love and imagination are redirected by screens which turn our personal stories into Facebook Moments.
These technocratic Titans moves to shutter heaven and earth in order to sow our moral imagination with acid. They dissolve and renames every inch of Creation. Our understanding of everything must be mediated by the flattening institutions. You are not even to know your own body: it is a dead but contagious artifact which you must surrender to prove your fealty to the Regime. An airless plastic wired reality becomes the replacement for the one which was broken, so broken the light could still come through and men could still call it grace.
The reactionary is right that truth is objective. He is right the ruling classes and their servants do evil by imposing a new Year Zero where the spirit is dead and the human body, even those of children, must submit to the dominance of the zeitgeist. “Assigned at birth,” we must chant as we reject the possibility of givenness.
The progressive is right that truth is not binary (it is living and trinitarian, but they glide over that part). He is right that reactionaries too often want to live by the Law, a which seems one more abstracted formula without Love. For some centuries now the moral imagination of the traditionalist has gloomily starved itself of spiritual food, cowed by the encroachments of the laboratory-minds till there is only a God of gaps and dogmas. Neither the progressive nor reactionary question the Machine but simply seek to rule it a little differently.
If we see the angels, forms, dominions, thrones, principalities, and powers only as abstractions, then it is not they who are diminished but ourselves. Our picture-making abilities have deteriorated as we are taught from an early age to allow screens and textbooks to manage our mental landscape. And the shepherds of the moral imagination, cowed by loud men with flat minds, have embraced a world-picture where all is reduced to algorithms.
We cannot go back, but we also must not submit to Year Zero. Chartres is beautiful; what do we build now? Bach is gone, but Arvo Pärt and Valentin Silvestrov lives. We have deceived ourselves about the need to forfeit the moral imagination, in pursuit of mere respectability in the sightless eyes of machines.
As Arvo Pärt’s fingers fall slowly upon the keys like sunlight upon the earth, the piano is made to live. The composer who brought trinitarian understanding into his music with tintinnabuli has a gaze which goes outwards and inwards. He muses over the machine which has been redeemed by his attention: “A need to concentrate on each sound, so that every blade of grass would be as important as a flower.” Not identical in being, but transformed into importance by the capacity for attention in the Person.
“I am always looking for it,” he says. “Sometimes it comes easily, sometimes it doesn’t come at all.” The moral imagination has been bathed in acid and plastic and altered water all our lives. But it is this atrophied gift we were given in the garden, which manifests as naming, shepherding, and hallowing, which waits for us to pick up again.
The mental revolutions of the past few centuries are not necessarily foreordained to usher in the Borg. Starlink may hide the constellations but it cannot destroy them. It is only if we choose to live only by numbers, to flatten our hearts and see in black-and-white, that we will die into augmented lumps of wire.
It is the task of our hearts to renew this music down here amid the droning and to rekindle the world so it may receive the light of Christ. To see anew a trinitarian world of reconciliations, not a Manichean one of bitter power struggles: this is a gift which makes all burdens easy. I will spend this day and all others I am blessed with walking and drawing this path, making spaces for the light to fall through, reconciling the clover with the harmony of the spheres.
St. John’s day is near!