This weeks reading stirred my soul such that I went careening overboard. I was so moved with Beierwatles exposition on eros that I am beginning my post with a poem from Walt Whitman entitled The Dalliance of the Eagles. It would help the reader to know that when eagles mate, they mate for life. Their marriage ceremony consists of soaring high into the heavens whereupon the bride and groom lock talons and plummet together, spiraling towards the earth in a cosmic death/life spiral. A split second before hitting the ground they loose their talons and are bonded for life. If one of them were to release the others talons before the last possible second then the marriage is void and they search for another.
The Dalliance of the Eagles
SKIRTING the river road, (my forenoon walk, my rest,)
Skyward in air a sudden muffled sound, the dalliance of the eagles,
The rushing amorous contact high in space together,
The clinching interlocking claws, a living, fierce, gyrating wheel,
Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling,
In tumbling turning clustering loops, straight downward falling,
Till o’er the river pois’d, the twain yet one, a moment’s lull,
A motionless still balance in the air, then parting, talons loosing,
Upward again on slow-firm pinions slanting, their separate diverse flight,
She hers, he his, pursuing.
Since the time of St. Augustine, and arguably before, Christians have been mistrusting and suspicious of the “sensuous character’ of art.” In those days art had value because it could be a vehicle for transcendent truth. Augustine professed that art pointed beyond itself to the divine and through meditation and observation of the beautiful we could touch the essence of beauty at its source, i.e. the Good and beatific creator who is himself, “beauty beyond beauty.” Although art was held in high esteem with philosophers and theologians alike praising its transcendental properties, there remained a detached skeptisism concerning certain aspects of art and how it could lead a Christian into temptation. If art reflects the image of what is true and good and beautiful what kind of temptation are we trying to avoid?
Here we have the distrust and imprisoning of the true eros. Eros, in modern church circles, is usually defined as merely sexual love and sex is definitely taboo. But eros, as defined by Beierwaltes is, “… the initiating, moving, and perfecting element of dialectical ascent and assimilation to the origin.” He goes on to say that, “… eros leads the wandering soul away from the uncertain mere semblance into the bright sphere of the origin of beauty and thereby effects the soul’s transition into the intellect, its own radiance.” Eros is the attractive force in God which calls to all men through nature, beauty, their spouse and children, it whispers on the wind and touches the still pond with a perfect ripple, it yearns in poetry and longs in music, it invites with story and leads with dance, it calls to all the earth with the same voice which formed the earth reflecting the form of beauty which is beyond beauty and harkens all to come to the very fount and source of all that is and will ever be breathtaking, the face of God.
Somehow we traded ecstasy for apathy and passion for predictability. If we refuse the invitation of eros, then we might as well get a block of wood and start carving our own household gods! But if we will, in the metaphorical language of Plotinus allow our souls to be, “…thrown into the chaos of passion, filled with barbs, warmed, awakened, strengthened, truly winged and in the movement of memory toward the origin, made light” then, Plotinus writes, we will become eros. Our souls once united with the “beauty beyond beauty” will lose themselves in the brilliance of the interlocking gaze of the beloved and his bride. Like the Dalliance of the Eagles we will lock talons with the eternal and fall swiftly to the earth in the complete ecstasy of losing our lives in him that we may find his life in us before we hit the ground.
Some final thoughts on eros. How often in my life have I refused the Lords invitation? How many times has he stood at my door and knocked while I rolled over in bed and pulled the covers over my head, then in a moment of panic thrown off the covers and raced to the door only to find that my lover has vanished into the mist. Though I pursue him in the streets I cannot return to the knock on my door even as its terrible echo resonates in my grief. Grief at having let inspiration pass. Grief because he wanted me, to talk to me and show me something of his heart. Grief born of self interest and comfort instead of sacrificial love. Eros means to me, to turn aside accepting the Lords invitation, altering my perception thus plunging me into the stream of divine revelation. To resist his passion is to numb my heart and deaden my senses to the point of unfeeling. That is a spiritual and emotional death divorced from the goodness of the Lord. To open myself to his love is life in the fullest, spilling out, giving shape, texture, contour, color, emotion, purpose and pleasure to every living thing I see and to every breath I breathe. Indeed, he dwells in another atmosphere entirely, one which draws me out of myself and into a dance, a fire, a spectrum- shinning forever in every direction.
So I lock my talons with his. I lock my talons with the life he has given me. With my wife I lock my talons, with my family and writing and work and music and friends I lock my talons. All that is life is his gift and I will not let him go even as we spiral into the vast unkown.