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Mystagogy: The Rod, the Root, and the Flower pt III


'There shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root.' [Isaiah 11:1]

'My covenant shall be in your flesh.' [Genesis 13:17]

Part three of my reflections on Coventry Patmore's short religious thoughts in The Rod, The Root, and the Flower [Part I and Part II]

From "Homo"
VIII - Creation is nothing but a concerted piece, consisting of representative repetitions and variations of and harmonious commentaries upon the simple theme, God, who is defined by St. Thomas as an Act—the Act of love, the 'embrace' of the First and Second Persons, and their unity is the thence proceeding Spirit of Life, 'Creator Spiritus', the Life and Joy of all things. In this divine contrapuntal music, plagues, the sack of cities, and hell itself (according to St. Augustine) are but discords necessary to emphasize, exalt, and illustrate the harmony. If Beethoven and Back are but senseless noise to the untrained ears of the boy who likes to hear Balfe on the street organ; you, though you may be capable of Beethoven and Back, should hesitate to affirm that the sphere-music is not music because to your ears it is nothing but confusion. The first step towards becoming able to hear it is, to fix your attention, as every listener to learned music does, upon the theme, which is God, and 'the love which is between Himself', the love of which all other loves are more or less remote echoes and refrains. This 'dry doctrine' of the Trinity, or primary Act of Love, is the keynote of all living knowledge and delight. God Himself becomes a concrete object and an intelligible joy when contemplated as the eternal felicity of a Lover with the Beloved, the Anti-type and very original of the Love which inspires the poet and the thrush.
This first drew to mind J.R.R. Tolkien's "Ainulindalë" which is the version of The Creation as told by the elves. The Ainulindalë uses the imagery of music played/sung by the Ainur (Tolkien's angels) based upon themes proposed by Eru (God). The Ainu Melkor, desiring to impose his own will on the symphony introduces his own themes but instead causes discord. This music of the Ainur is taken from abstract to concrete when Eru sends the Flame Imperishable (Holy Spirit) into the heart of their music actualizing into Creation. Right along with Patmore and Augustine's explication of the 'discords' Eru says "thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that has not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall be but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined."

The connection is interesting (Charles William, fellow Inkling with Tolkien and Lewis was apparently a Coventry Patmore fan ...), but I am more interested in Patmore's discussion of discernment of the theme. This ties in directly with what the purpose of the Daily Examen should be, not merely a cataloging of faults to be corrected or virtues to be strengthened but a discernment of God in one's life. In my post on the Examen I used the metaphor of "reading" the day as one my read scripture, looking for the Spiritual as well as the Literal sense of the day's events and images. But that metaphor might be more useful in looking at individual moments and images in a spiritual sense. In looking on the day as a whole, or using the Examen to cover a period of life, long or short, starting with the Trinitarian theme of the "Act of Love" might be more fruitful, or even cause the individual notes to stand out more.

XXIV - Perfect, easy, and abiding control over the senses is the fundamental condition of perceptive knowledge of God, and this control consists, not in the destruction of the senses and in the denial of their testimonies, but in the conversion of them from smoky torches into electric lights. 'He who leaves all for my sake shall receive a hundredfold in this life.' of the same felicities—which we can only obtain by abandoning the pursuit of them.

"The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! —Matthew 6:22-23

The senses are as good as the aim toward which we use them. To what are my eyes trained on, to what am I straining to hear, etc? Daily I can ask myself what I sought with my senses, perhaps comparing them to relevant verses
  • Thou hast said, "Seek ye my face." My heart says to thee, "Thy face, LORD, do I seek." -Ps 27:8
  • He who has ears, let him hear. ... As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it -Mt 13:9 & 
  • O taste and see that the LORD is good! -Ps 34:8
  • "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." -Jn 20:27
  • God, your love is better than wine, better than the fragrance of perfumes. Your name is a flowing perfume ... I run after You to the odor of Your ointments. -see Sng 1:2,3,4
And where they have fallen on something other than God, I can pray for their conversion (con-versus "to turn around") to face toward God and desire nothing else. If for no other reason, than it seems my desire for the Examen cannot occur without that "fundamental condition of the perceptive knowledge of God." As such devoting the Examen first in time to discipline, if not first in purpose (to know God's will in one's life), seems prudent.

XXXIV - The Foul, puritanical leaven of the Reformation has infected the whole of Christianity, and it is now almost impossible to speak with any freedom and effect on the doctrine of the Incarnation without shocking the sensibilities of those who, like the angels who fell, insist on being purer than God, and refusing worship to 'the fullness of the Godhead manifested bodily.'
Beware of spiritualities and prayer-forms that distance your faith from the Incarnation, instead of bringing it to the font and center of your faith and prayer, meditation and contemplation. The Mass and all the Sacraments engage the Body of Christ feeding our bodies, bathing them, anointing them, touching them and healing them. We must constantly seek to touch even the hem of the garment of him who can save us. The Incarnation is why the Rosary, for all its simplicity remains such a powerful and effective form of prayer for the Word Made Flesh is as at the heart of every vocal prayer, and is the substance of every Mystery.

I'll conclude my reflections in the next few days. Let me know what you think of this sampling of Coventry Patmore's writings, or let me know what of his you've read and what you've discovered.

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