Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Annunication and Horizons

"Horizon" is one of my favourite words. It has a pleasant sound and it also has an exciting meaning. I believe that humans have a deep psychological need for horizons. We need a horizon behind us. We also need a horizon in front of us. We need to come from somewhere and to be going somewhere-- or at least, we need to be part of a movement towards something, even if we never live to see it. And that "somewhere" can't just be an endpoint, but a new point of departure.

It has to be something big, too-- something enormous. At least, it has to be enormously important to us, even if it's something small in human terms-- like a local football team or a collection of dolls. It has to be something that can absorb all our devotion and yearning.

One of the reasons I am so keen on tradition is because I believe that tradition satisfies, in part, this dual need for a horizon behind us and a horizon in front of us. To belong to a tradition is to have an ancestry (of some kind) to honour and a posterity (of some kind) to work for. In fact, we don't even conceive of it in such purely altruistic terms-- the future of a tradition is our own, even if we never see it. 

Besides, a tradition gives us a horizon even within our own lifetime. Let's say you're a big fan of jazz-- well, there is no end to the new jazz you can explore. There's always a horizon opening before you.

As I've said before, one of the reason I'm opposed to many forms of liberalism and modernism is because I think they close down horizons rather than opening them up. For instance, post-modern art is a dead end, because once you've thrown out all the conventions, you have nowhere left to go, except perpetual repetitions of the same thing. 

One of my favourite lines of poetry ever are these lines from Keats's "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer", especially the first two lines, which express the wonder and excitement of a new horizon better than (perhaps) any other words ever written:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken
Or like stout Cortez when, with eagle eyes,
He stared at the Pacific; and all his men
Stared at each other, with a wild surmise,
Silent upon a peak in Darien.

I was praying the Joyful Mysteries this morning and I realised that the Anunciation is ultimate instance of this phenomenon-- the opening out of a new horizon, one unguessed at before.

What enthralls me about the Annunciation is how unexpected the angel's revelation was-- the Jewish people were expecting a Messiah, but the idea that he would be the son of God, one person of the Trinity, was impossible to imagine. As ideas go, it's hard to imagine anything more "mind-blowing"-- indeed, we can't even take it in, and the history of heresies show that the human mind has a kind of resistance to it.

I particularly like the idea that "the New Testament lies hidden in the Old"-- the Incarnation was foretold by the prophets, but enigmatically. Like a punch-line to a joke, or a massive plot-twist in a story.

I like to think of the Anunciation opened up a horizon bigger than anything we could ever have imagined otherwise, and one that would be perpetually new. This is what stirs my imagination when I pray this decade of the Rosary.

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