In one of my graduate school classes, held in a ground floor classroom in a little old Greenwich Village building, we spent a lot of time talking about the ways philosophers have thought about the world. Is it real, or a figment of human imagination? Are we brains in individual bodies, essentially separate from one another, or are we defined by our relationship to everything else? Can we really describe reality, or does it resist description?
One day, after a particularly intense conversation about Heidegger, my professor leaned back in his chair and twisted around to look at the rain that was hitting the windowpanes and the umbrellas of pedestrians who streamed past. “What we forget,” he said, “is that at the end of the day, the philosopher closes his office door and goes home—and just is, despite how he thinks he ought to be. He plays with his kids and eats his dinner and sleeps in his soft bed.”
I felt a jolt, like when the elevator stops suddenly and gravity is stronger for just a moment. Of course, he was right. In school, in discussions with friends, even in church, we spend a lot of time talking about how we ought to think about our lives. Whose ideas shall we consider? What doctrine should we adopt?
But at the end of the day, after we get our worldview together and know all the right things to think and say, after we think we’ve sorted out our theology, we pack up our books and go home. We sit on our couches, wear our sweaters, cook and eat dinner, read stories, watch movies together. And we can delight in those things because they are good—they are tiny, foggy reflections of the glories of heaven, brought down to earth for us, here, now.
Episcopal priest Robert Farrar Capon’s classic The Supper of the Lamb, which I implore you to read, is a cookbook, but it’s also a rollicking, occasionally scandalous theological defense of food and the rest of the created order. In the most famous chapter, Fr. Capon takes us through the process of cutting an onion, experiencing its layers, observing not just the “gorgeous paradigm of unnecessary being,” but the “act by which it exists.” In it, he tells us why onions even matter:
Man’s real work is to look at the things of the world and to love them for what they are. That is, after all, what God does, and man was not made in God’s image for nothing . . .
Things must be met for themselves. To take them only for their meaning is to convert them into gods—to make them too important, and therefore make them unimportant altogether. Idolatry has two faults. It is not only a slur on the true God; it is also an insult to true things . . .
One real thing is closer to God than all the diagrams in the world.
In this issue of Comment—coming, as it does, in a season when we gather indoors with friends and family to find comfort together in the stuff of both God and man’s creative acts—may our celebration of the true things come together in one magnificent jubilee in honour of the true God.