‘My name is John Daker’ as a theological parable about the relationship between eros and agape and the virtue of perseverance. ;)

Recently I was reminded of the video ‘My name is John Daker’ and it got me thinking… Initially, I was a bit baffled by the medley of two songs, one a classic Christian hymn celebrating the resurrection and the other a 1950s hit song by Dean Martin celebrating romantic love. However, I now think John Daker was making a profound (though subtle) theological point in crafting his performance into a parable.

As Origen states (echoing St. Ignatius of Antioch), ‘my eros has been crucified’. However, it is because of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus and Pentecost that our eros may be redeemed and gathered up into agape and thus be directed towards the Lord in worship (a total repudiation of Nygren’s thesis in ‘Eros and Agape’ (with a h/t to Dante) doubtless both these works influence this parable). In our ‘now and not-yet’ reality none of us can give clear expression to this truth. We forget, falter and get things wrong (sometimes even embarrassing ourselves). The key is to persist under the grace of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit in allowing the resurrection power of Christ to sanctify all our loves. One of the key virtues in this spiritual warfare is the virtue of perseverance. This virtue is called to battle especially when it appears that what we are doing is futile, ridiculous or failing. As John Daker indicates through the clever use of his eyebrows, he gets all of this perfectly. Also, by recording his parable and stating his name at the outset he indicates that this ‘treasure’ is held in jars of clay and must be joyously incorporated into our witness. ‘God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness’.

Dostoevsky — “Beauty would save the world”

“HIPPOLYTE, who had fallen asleep during Lebedeff’s discourse, now suddenly woke up, just as though someone had jogged him in the side. He shuddered, raised himself on his arm, gazed around, and grew very pale. A look almost of terror crossed his face as he recollected.

“What! are they all off? Is it all over? Is the sun up?” He trembled, and caught at the prince’s hand. “What time is it? Tell me, quick, for goodness’ sake! How long have I slept?” he added, almost in despair, just as though he had overslept something upon which his whole fate depended.

“You have slept seven or perhaps eight minutes,” said Evgenie Pavlovitch.

Hippolyte gazed eagerly at the latter, and mused for a few moments.

“Oh, is that all?” he said at last. “Then I–“

He drew a long, deep breath of relief, as it seemed. He realized that all was not over as yet, that the sun had not risen, and that the guests had merely gone to supper. He smiled, and two hectic spots appeared on his cheeks.

“So you counted the minutes while I slept, did you, Evgenie Pavlovitch?” he said, ironically. “You have not taken your eyes off me all the evening–I have noticed that much, you see! Ah, Rogojin! I’ve just been dreaming about him, prince,” he added, frowning. “Yes, by the by,” starting up, “where’s the orator? Where’s Lebedeff? Has he finished? What did he talk about? Is it true, prince, that you once declared that ‘beauty would save the world’? Great Heaven! The prince says that beauty saves the world! And I declare that he only has such playful ideas because he’s in love! Gentlemen, the prince is in love. I guessed it the moment he came in. Don’t blush, prince; you make me sorry for you. What beauty saves the world? Colia told me that you are a zealous Christian; is it so? Colia says you call yourself a Christian.”

The prince regarded him attentively, but said nothing. Continue reading

Eros, Agape, and mere sex

“There is an implication to calling eros a mediative power that unites the lowest with the highest in man; that links the natural, sensual, ethical and spiritual elements; that prevents one element from being isolated from the rest; that preserves the quality of true humanness in all the forms of love from sexuality to agape. The implication is that none of these elements can be excluded as inappropriate to man, that all of them “belong”. The great tradition of Christendom even holds that those aspects of man which derive from his nature as a created being are the foundation for everything “higher” and for all other divine gifts that may be conferred upon him. “It is not the spiritual that comes first but the sensuous-earthly and then the spiritual”–if one were unfamiliar with this quotation, one would scarcely guess that it comes from the New Testament (1 Cor 15:46). Furthermore, Thomas Aquinas, the last great teacher of a still undivided Western Christendom, says that were natural love (amor), or eros, not something good in itself, then caritas (agape) could not perfect it. Rather, agape would have to discard and excluded eros (which Anders Nygren asserts that it does). That same tradition we call “Western” in the specific sense of being not unworldly but rather characterized by a “worldliness” founded on a religious and theological basis–that tradition speaks with complete matter-of-factness of sexuality as a good. It says, with Aristotle, that there is something divine in the human seed. And unresponsiveness to sensual joy, insensibilitas, is treated not only as a defect but also as a vitium, a moral deficiency. On the other hand, the underlying conception implies that all of man’s powers, and especially sexuality, can remain “right” and “in order” only in their natural place, which is to say, within the wholeness of physical-spiritual-mental existence. Once again we call to mind the mediative and integrating functions of eros. Continue reading

“Heaven” and the Ascension

“To understand it [heaven], let us skip all approximations and go straight to the point: Heaven is the intimate reserve of holy God, that which St. Paul calls the “light inaccessible” which he inhabits, unapproachable for any creature (I Tim. 6:16). When we meet a person in the street or in a room, he stand there openly before us. We can look at him, photograph him, describe him, and can often guess a good deal of what is going on inside him. Withal, he is more or less ‘public.’ On one point, however, he remains impenetrable: his attitude towards himself, his manner of answering for himself and his acts. For the most part, man is absorbed by corporal, psychological, sociological realities; in other words, by public things. But there are certain moments when he retires into a corner of his being that is closed to others–into his most personal self. No one can violate that privacy; if it is to be opened, then only by opening itself. This is what happens in love, when a person not only permits himself to be observed, not only speaks about himself, but gives himself in vital exchange. If the other accepts him, likewise opening the way to his most intimate self, desire the other more than himself, entering into pure contemplation and exchange, the the two intimacies unite in a single community open to both participants, but closed to everyone else. The greater and deeper the person and his experience, the less accessible this inmost realm will be. But what if it is not question of a person, but of God? God, the incommensurable, infinite, simple; essence of truth and holiness? His reserve is absolute. Nothing can even approach it. God is all light because he is Truth itself; all clarity, because nothing can overshadow him; he is the Lord, free and genuine Being to whom all that is belongs–yet inaccessible in his light, mysterious in his truth, invulnerable in his kingdom. This initmate reserve of God is heaven, ‘destination’ of the risen Lord–and not only of his spirit, but of the whole resurrected Lord in all his living reality” (Romano Guardini, The Lord, p 429).

Love and approval

“We have seen that loving concern, although it actually confirms the beloved in his existence, can also have a shaming element. This fact–which seems paradoxical only at first glance–indicates that love is not synonymous with undifferentiated approval of everything the beloved person thinks and does in real life. As a corollary, love is also not synonymous with the wish for the beloved to feel good always and in every situation and for him to be spared experiencing pain or grief in all circumstances. “Mere ‘kindness’ which tolerates anything except [the beloved’s] suffering” has nothing to do with real love. Saint Augustine expressed the same idea in a wide variety of phrases: “Love reprimands, ill will echoes”; “the friend speaks bitterly and loves, the disguised foe flatters and hates.” No lover can look on easily when he sees the one he loves preferring convenience to the good. Those who love young people cannot share the delight they seem to feel in (as it were) lightening their knapsacks and throwing away the basic rations they will eventually need when the going gets rough” (Josef Pieper, Faith, Hope, Love, p 187).