Thursday, November 30, 2006

Beatrice's Eyes

Reflecting the Griffon

A comment that friend Scott Dinsmore shared sparked a memory of something about the Church, connecting with others, and an alternative to "is this all there is?" ways of relating in a hall of mirrors.

The world is filled with people trying to connect with something transcendent, but usually in rather earthly ways with their eyes leveled on other human beings. René Girard's mimetic theory all too well delineates the ways that humans interacting with humans, sans authentic transcendence, degrades into rivalry, resentment and -- well -- basically the worst parts of human behavior.

I share at length an excerpt from a tape series by Gil Bailie (The Cornerstone Forum) that speaks to an alternative to this human dilemma:

At the top of the purgatorial mountain, Christ comes out -- Christ is manifested in this poem, in this pageant -- as the Griffon, the figure that is part lion, part eagle. The Griffon represents for Dante the two natures of Christ, the divine and human nature of Christ. So the Griffon stands there as Christ in Dante’s poem, and Dante is led by the four cardinal virtues -- justice, prudence, temperance, and fortitude -- to the Griffon. And this is what Dante says, “They led me to the Griffon. Behind him Beatrice waited. And when I stood at the Griffon’s breast, they said in unison, ‘Look deep. Look well. However your eyes may smart, we have led you now before those emeralds from which Love shot his arrows through your heart.’” In other words, the transfigured Beatrice. You could almost say the risen Beatrice; the transfiguration of the Beatrice he had known in his youth. They say to him look there! They are performing the same function for Dante that the Serpent performed for Eve in the Garden. They are directing his attention, his desire, toward Beatrice. And what does he see? Dante says, “A thousand burning passions, every one hotter than any flame held my eyes fixed on the lucent eyes she held fixed on the Griffon.” So she’s not looking at him, she’s looking at Christ. And Dante says, “Like sunlight in the glass, the twofold creature shone from the deep reflection in her eye.” So he looked into her eyes and he saw the reflection as in a mirror of Christ. And I think that’s exactly it.

How do we get out of this mess? The same way we got in.

We see. We look. We see another whose desire is not “horizontal”, so to speak. Whose glance is looking at something above the horizon. We see somebody like that and we think, “Wait a minute.” It feels like somebody is calling us Home.

You go about your everyday life and all the little mimetic entanglements, you know, that we’re all involved in (“How’m I doing?” etc.). And every once in a while, you come somebody and you notice that their glance is above the “horizon-line”. They seem to be going through life looking at Something Else. And when you notice that, it is like being called Home. You think, “They’re onto something.” And then you notice, if you find out more about them (like you read the life of Teresa of Avilla and you find out how she was influenced by and was an influence on John of the Cross) and you see that, “My goodness! this thing is the Communion of Saints, isn’t it? We ‘do it for each other, don’t we?’”

We catch each other in this moment when our glance, when we’re looking at Christ, to use the Dantean metaphor. And at that moment, we start to come up out of this ‘soup’ we’re in. I’m not doing this justice, but I think there’s something quite symmetrical with the Genesis story of the Fall in Dante’s story of Redemption. Both have to do with mimetic desire. And we can’t get out of “this” except (by) the same way we got in it.

We don’t want to be ‘caught’ looking at one whose eyes are looking at Christ, because that seems pretty passé. Yet on the other hand, we don’t want to be caught with blood on our hands. So we don’t want just completely embrace the Adam, Eve, Cain syndrome ... (Bailie concludes by alluding to Virginia Woolf's novel, The Waves.)

So, of the three, I would suggest Dante’s.

The Church offers in the Real Presence of Christ -- body, blood, soul and divinity -- the One Who is worthy of our adoration, worship and "connectedness".

The closer we come to the Word made Flesh (John 1:14), the closer we come to one another in right relation. Far closer than in the sad, debased and often brutal ways of the sarx, (flesh) as St Paul warns.

The Massketeers attest to this in our lives and with our lives. Cheers!

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