Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Red Pill - Leaving our Delusions Behind

Morpheus: I imagine that right now you're feeling a bit like Alice. Tumbling down the rabbit hole?
Neo: You could say that.
Morpheus: I can see it in your eyes. You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he's expecting to wake up. Ironically, this is not far from the truth. Do you believe in fate, Neo?
Neo: No.
Morpheus: Why not?
Neo: 'Cause I don't like the idea that I'm not in control of my life.
Morpheus: I know exactly what you mean. Let me tell you why you're here. You're here because you know something. What you know, you can't explain. But you feel it. You felt it your entire life. That there's something wrong with the world. You don't know what it is, but it's there. Like a splinter in your mind -- driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I'm talking about?
Neo: The Matrix?
Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is?
(Neo nods his head.)
Morpheus: The Matrix is everywhere, it is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window, or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, or when go to church or when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, born inside a prison that you cannot smell, taste, or touch. A prison for your mind. (long pause, sighs) Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back.
(In his left hand, Morpheus shows a blue pill.)
Morpheus: You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. (a red pill is shown in his other hand) You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. (Long pause; Neo begins to reach for the red pill) Remember -- all I am offering is the truth, nothing more.


My friend John at Notes from a Commonplace Book once quoted at length from Fr. Alexander Schmemman's journals about the problem of how we view (or ignore) death. In reading Fr. John Behr's "The Mystery of Christ - Life in Death," my mind has turned to contemplate that great mystery.

Reviewing John's post spurred me to think - we've really got it wrong, how we view death as a 'natural part of life' and sit around expecting the coming of the 'sweet by-and-by.' Our true death is also our rebirth - and it happens in our baptism with water and Spirit. But to walk around as if we are alive in ourselves ignoring that we must, in fact, be buried with Christ and raised in Him, is to live 'in the Matrix' - "the world that has been pulled over [our] eyes to blind [us] from the truth." What truth? That actually we live in bondage to sin and spiritual death, in separation from God, and that apart from dying to self and being reborn, we are already lost.

In 1944, the 506th Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division jumped into Normandy as part of the campaign to liberate Europe from the clutches of Nazi Germany. "Easy" Company of the 506th, made famous by Stephen Ambrose's Band of Brothers, jumped into Normandy with 139 officers and men on June 6th. Twenty-three days later they came off the line with 65 fewer souls [if my math is correct].

In the HBO/Play Tone production of Band of Brothers [which, incidentally, IMO is the best 'war movie' made to date], there is a conversation between a feared and respected Lieutenant Ronald Spiers and a Private Blithe. Blithe is struggling with the shock and fear of combat and confesses that he hid in a ditch after the jump rather than seek out his unit and join the fight. Factually, Albert Blithe was wounded in combat during the Normandy campaign and never fully recovered from his wounds, finally dying in 1948.

Spiers: "We're all scared. You hid in that ditch because you think there's still hope. But Blithe, the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you're already dead."

While the point of the [perhaps imagined] conversation was to give a soldier the means to overcome the fear of war and to act effectively, the idea of 'hiding in a false hope' due to fear has some application.

As Christians we are to also accept, as St. Paul says, that we have died to self and live only in Christ. Not "I" but Christ who lives in me. The only hope we have is to accept the fact that we're already dead without Christ. Moreover, in baptism we die with Christ, and our new resurrected life is hid in his.

We put our hope on accepting the fact that we are already 'dead' to the World - and we are [as St. Paul says] truly pitiable if Christ has not, in fact, risen. Then we are men bound to a false hope.

But if our belief is true, there is no other hope than to accept the fact that we were already dead in sin, and will only be alive in Christ by dying to the World and being raised with Him, and that acting otherwise is to hold out hope that we somehow will be able to live without Christ.

We hold to many truly false hopes. Recently, after realizing a sinful behavior, despite 'knowing better,' I was given to think as I suspect we often do: "perhaps I can yet redeem myself in the eyes of my Lord by the improvement of my behavior." If Jesus is (as I believe and confess) God from God, the Existing Logos, there is little I could do to 'redeem myself' in His eyes. I realized that I was clinging to a false hope, like Private Blithe, thinking this was a way to cling to life.

I believe this is a common false hope to cling to, even when we 'know better' through having been taught that no man can justify himself through his works (rather, his works are an external indicator of obedience to the commands of Christ and faith in Christ). We still want to hide in the ditch thinking there is still hope for life while remaining just where we are, hoping that at some little moment we will redeem ourselves in the eyes of our Lord - that we will be our own Savior in the eyes of our Judge, rather than really accepting, deep in our nous, our 'heart of hearts' that our Judge is our Savior, and realizing that there's nothing we can do to redeem ourselves. As we stand before him all we can do is throw ourselves upon his infinite mercy.

"To be Christian, to believe in Christ, means and has always meant this: to know in a transrational and yet absolutely certain way called faith, that Christ is the Life of all life, that He is Life itself and, therefore, my life. 'In him was life; and the life was the light of men." All Christian doctrines--those of the incarnation, redemption, atonement--are explanations, consequences, but not the 'cause' of that faith. Only when we believe in Christ do all these affirmations become 'valid' and 'consistent.' But faith itself is the acceptance not of this or that 'proposition' about Christ, but of Christ Himself as the Life and the light of life. 'For the life was manifested and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us' (1 Jn. 1:2). In this sense Christian faith is radically different from 'religious belief.' Its starting point is not 'belief' but love. . . And if to love someone means that I have my life in him, or rather that he has become the 'content' of my life, to love Christ is to know and to possess Him as the Life of my life."

-- Fr. Alexander Schmemann, from Ch. 6 of For the Life of The World, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press (1973).


Today outside your prison I stand
and rattle my walking stick: Prisoners, listen;
you have relatives outside. And there are
thousands of ways to escape.

Years ago I bent my skill to keep my
cell locked, had chains smuggled in to me in pies,
and shouted my plans to jailers;
but always new plans occurred to me,
or the new heavy locks bent hinges off,
or some stupid jailer would forget
and leave the keys.

Inside, I dreamed of constellations --
those feeding creatures outlined by stars,
their skeletons a darkness between jewels,
heroes that exist only where they are not.

Thus freedom always came nibbling my thought,
just as -- often, in light, on the open hills --
you can pass an antelope and not know
and look back, and then -- even before you see --
there is something wrong about the grass.
And then you see.

That's the way everything in the world is waiting.

Now -- these few more words, and then I'm
gone: Tell everyone just to remember
their names, and remind others, later, when we
find each other. Tell the little ones
to cry and then go to sleep, curled up
where they can. And if any of us get lost,
if any of us cannot come all the way --
remember: there will come a time when
all we have said and all we have hoped
will be all right.

There will be that form in the grass.

- William Stafford


Blogger Mimi said...

This is a fantastic post, as always. Thank you.

9:43 AM  
Blogger Hilarius said...

Typos and all . . . heh.

Thanks Mimi - I am thinking of turning to more 'quotidian' postings on progress on the farm and rainy day thoughts and less heady (and out of my league) theological musings.

What do you think?

Today I am happy that we are getting a little rain to refresh the pastures and sprinkle the garden before we head towards the summer and heat dormancy of the grasses.

May God bless your ways, friend.

-Eric John

10:26 AM  

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