I always give pause when these two…

…find themselves in some sort of agreement on a matter.

Listen to Tyler Durden soar to idyllic heights:

“Imagine,” Tyler said, “stalking elk past department store windows and stinking racks of beautiful rotting dresses and tuxedos on hangers; you’ll wear leather clothes that will last you the rest of your life, and you’ll climb the wrist-thick kudzu vines that wrap the Sears Tower. Jack and the beanstalk, you’ll climb up through  the dripping forest canopy and the air will be so clean you’ll see tiny figures pounding corn and laying strips of venison to dry in the empty car pool lane of an abandoned superhighway stretching eight-lanes-wide and August-hot for a thousand miles.”

This was the goal of Project Mayhem, Tyler said, the complete and right-away destruction of civilization.

This is really one of the most prominent themes in Fight Club: self-destruction as a means towards a new reality, “Maybe self-improvement isn’t the answer…Maybe self-destruction is the answer.” The entire notion of a fight club involves the desire to explore the possibilities of ruin. But here Mr. Durden reveals an internal motivation for all his mayhem: peace. A peace that Durden (that is, Palahniuk) believes will come with the inception of a Thoreau-goes-green sort of simplicity, “Project Mayhem will force humanity to go dormant or into remission long enough for the Earth to recover.”

Imagine my surprise when I found a similar sentiment in some lines of verse by the esteemed Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis. The lines are from his poem, “Pan’s Purge,” (c. 1947) found in Poems.

Lewis begins with the death of Pan, Greek god of nature, which is precipitated by “the planning of peremptory humanity”:

But the lion and the unicorn were sighing at the funeral,
Crying at the funeral,
Sobbing at the funeral of the god Pan.

The poet lingers over the mourning for another stanza before turning to the vengeance hinted at in the poem’s title:

No longer were they sorrowful, but stronger and more horrible,
It had only been a rumour of the death of Pan.
The scorpions and the mantichores and corpulent tarantulas
Were closing in around me, hissing Long live Pan!
And forth with rage unlimited the Northwind drew his scimitar,
In wrath with ringing scimitar
He came, with sleet and shipwreck, for the doom of Man.

A falling of fire and brimstone like something out of John’s Revelation commences, leading the poet to conclude:

It was the end of Man;
Except where saints and savages were kept from his ravaging,
And crept out when the ravaging
Was ended, on an empty earth. The new world began.

Perhaps I’m just a naive post-modernist, but I can hardly imagine a more fitting visualization to these lines than the cataclysmic ending of the cinematic adaptation of Palahniuk’s Fight Club:

And here is where an eerie similarity in the post-apocalyptic vision of Chuck Palahniuk and C.S. Lewis becomes apparent:

A small race – a smiling heaven – all round the silences
Returned; there was comfort for corrected Man
Flowered turf had swallowed up the towered cities; following
His flocks and herds where nameless, untainted rivers ran,
Leisurely he pondered, at his pleasure wandering,
Measurelessly wandering…
Clear, on the huge pastures, the young voice of Man.

The rural swallows up the industrial. The organic survives the mechanical. Patches of green grow atop the factory’s grave.

Now, what cannot be done at this point is to pave over all the other glaring differences between Palahniuk and Lewis. Because they are legion. What I’m doing here is playing the part of the archaeologist who has discovered the same religious artifact on opposite sides of the globe. Or different planets, for that matter.

In both Palahniuk and Lewis, there is a longing for something here. What is it?

A new creation.

Lewis loved his outdoor walks. It is obvious that they had a spiritual dimension. They allowed Lewis to behold the beauty that pointed him to its Maker. “Pure white magic,” Lewis once said in the midst of some English woods. I believe this juncture between the spiritual and the pastoral is illustrated well by one of Lewis’ walks, as recorded by George Sayers in his biography of Lewis, Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis. On this walk, Lewis and his brother, Major Warren Lewis (or “Warnie”), encounter the famed Tintern Abbey. Lewis comments on the sight:

Anything like the sweetness and peace of the long shafts of sunlight falling through the window on this grass cannot be imagined. All churches should be roofless. A holier place I never saw.

Some read Genesis and say that all the world was made a sanctuary. I think Lewis would probably agree. But nature is not the only holy place, as Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” “God’s temple is holy,” he continues, “and you are that temple.” New creation. We want to see it in nature. Ironically, nature wants to see it in us, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”

Palahniuk and Lewis longed after the same thing. Palahniuk explores this longing with the literary device of a fight club, a kind of resurrection of medieval flagellation, where one tries to force a new creation within the self through clenched fists and violent pain. But this is like the child who thinks he can measure the moon by eclipsing it with a quarter. All the revolutions in the world can’t save the soul of a man.

“Truly, truly, I say to you,” says the Son of Man, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

There will be an end of all things…

…but at the center of the new Jerusalem is a tree of life, the leaves of which will be “for the healing of the nations.”

“Behold,” announces Christus Victor, “I am making all things new.”

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So I watched The Dark Knight Rises.

And it was good. Very good. But it reminded me of a few things (beware, spoilers follow).

Near the beginning, Officer John Blake (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) tries to encourage one of the many orphans of Gotham City. The boy idly draws the Batman logo onto a bench  and asks, “Do you think he’s coming back?” The child refers to Batman, but my mind instantly went elsewhere.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:18-19)

Blake himself is an orphan. Even Bruce Wayne’s own father can’t be found in any of the countless buildings that bear his name (I’ll let you connect the analogy there). A world of strays and lost sheep. These He came to redeem.

The Batman does eventually arrive on the scene, in all his diesel-fueled glory, and he soon follows a trail that leads him to the underground headquarters of
the film’s villain, Bane (played by Tom Hardy, of Guy Ritchie fame; quick bit of trivia: apparently Hardy was not given the part of Bane because of his role as a vicious bareknuckle boxer in the film, Bronson, as was believed, but because of his lighthearted character, “Handsome Bob,” in RocknRolla). However, Batman does not arrive at the end of this trail before a seemingly close ally, Catwoman (played by Anne Hathaway), betrays Batman into the inescapable hands of his enemies.

Now who else was famously betrayed by a close friend and led to His death? (Not to mention Ms. Kyle later shares a kiss with the Caped Crusader, but I don’t want to force the connection.)

Batman is soon locked in combat with this archetypal force of evil. It does not take long before it is apparent that our hero cannot match Bane’s strength. After a series of agonizing blows, Batman lays prostrate on the ground. He lunges towards Bane in a final attempt, to which Bane responds, “I wondered which would break first, your soul or your body.” Bane punctuates this final line by lifting the defeated Batman high over his head and slamming him across his knee, breaking his back.

“‘Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.” (John 12:31-32, italics mine)

Bane, an intelligent, powerful beast of a human being, having been hardened by a virtual eternity of life within prison, digs a pit in the center of the film’s microcosm and destroys the hope of Gotham.

“Here we may reign secure, and in my choice to reign is worth ambition though
in Hell: better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n. But wherefore let we then
our faithful friends…and call them not to share with us their part in this unhappy mansion…” (Paradise Lost)

In this “unhappy mansion,” Bane surrounds himself with an army of desperate, never-ending criminals, each willing to die in order to “start the fire,” as one member of Bane’s league testifies early in the movie, before allowing himself to die in a plane crash at Bane’s request.

Bruce Wayne awakes in an enormous, gaping pit teeming with criminals, the same ancient prison that Bane ostensibly grew up in. Wayne is greeted by Bane, who celebrates his victory over the protagonist by explaining how he will destroy the people of Gotham, now that their defender has been removed. Bane justifies this course of action by alluding to some grand, necessary purpose for the people of Gotham: that they must be destroyed for their evil.

You see, the evil one is our accuser. St. John tells us in the Revelation, “the accuser of our brothers…accuses them day and night before our God.”

And the accuser would see us destroyed, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

And Batman seems to have no option but to wait and watch it happen. But there is a way out of this pit. A means of escape. Near the top of the towering pit wall is a ledge. Reaching this ledge requires a leap that no one else has successfully made.

“…the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

And, doubtless, many inmates of that pit crawled towards the light.

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind…that they should seek God in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him.” (Acts 17:26-27)

Bruce Wayne climbs the pit wall and makes the impossible leap. He pulls himself up, clears the entrance, and stands to his feet. Before beginning his long journey to Gotham (from whatever nondescript desert the pit is located in), Wayne hesitates to drop a rope down to those still trapped. He bridged the unbridgeable gap.

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14-15) 

Bane will later ask the penultimate question, “Why did you return? To die with them?” To which Batman responds, “No, to defeat you.”

And Bane is defeated. In a sort of anticlimactic, unbelievable fashion. A single shot fired levels the beast. It is laughable how easily it happens.

“And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.'” (Luke 10:18)

“And I heard a loud voice in heaving, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down…And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony…” (Revelation 12:10-11)

It is this testimony that I proclaim to you. Christ is risen. What our culture marvels at unknowingly, the gospel reveals.

“God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” (Acts 2:24)

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)

In chapter 13, we reach the conclusion of the interview between the Lady Spirit and the Dwarf/Tragedian Ghost. The Dwarf shrinks into nonexistence upon choosing his “self-made misery” over the joy of Heaven. The Lady returns, in unaltered perfection of love and joy to the procession that celebrates her. Upon the reunion, the “Bright Spirits” come forward to receive her and sing something that sounded very familiar when I read it:

“The Happy Trinity is her home: nothing can trouble her
joy.
She is the bird that evades every net: the wild deer that
leaps every pitfall.
Like the mother bird to its chickens or a shield to the
arm’d knight: so is the Lord to her mind, in His
unchanging lucidity.
Bogies will not scare her in the dark: bullets will not
frighten her in the day.
Falsehoods tricked out as truths assail her in vain: she sees
through the lie as if it were glass.
The invisible germ will not harm her: nor yet the glittering
sun-stroke.
A thousand fail to solve the problem, ten thousand choose
the wrong turning: but she passes safely through.
He details immortal gods to attend her: upon every road
where she must travel.
They take her hand at hard places: she will not stub her
toes in the dark.
She may walk among Lions and rattlesnakes: among
dinosaurs and nurseries of lionets.
He fills her brim-full with immensity of life: he leads her
to see the world’s desire.”

I’m certains other have caught this before (in fact, a brief Google search shows that they have), but it was still fun to realize that, in the Bright Spirits’ song, Lewis was giving us his paraphrase of Psalm 91:

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.’

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.

A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place –
the Most High, who is my refuge –
no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.

For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”

I think it’s really important to understand

that Μαθθαῖος (Matthew)

and Μᾶρκος (Mark)

and Λουκᾶς (Luke)

and Ἰωάννης (John)

never wrote the word “God.”

They wrote the word “θεὸς.”

Language can be a vehicle to οὐρανός (Heaven)

or γέεννα (Hell).

 

 

Regrettably, I spent a small fortune to watch this movie:

The movie did not even have the chance to impress me with its only strength – visual effects – before it became very clear that I was being told another story of the  Übermensch:

“But when Zarathustra was alone, he spoke thus to his heart:…God is dead!”

“When Zarathustra arrived at the nearest town…[he] spoke thus to the people: I teach you the Übermensch. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?”

(Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Friedrich Nietzsche)

Immortals claims to be the story of Theseus of Greek mythology, but this reinterpretation by Vlas and Charley Parlapanides holds little more than Theseus’ name and a few landmarks in common with the legend of antiquity. What I found was closer to a postmodernist ode to atheistic hedonism. I was offended for the Greeks. At least Homer had the courtesy to attribute most of the senseless immorality in his Iliad and Odyssey to the Olympian misfits, and allow his human characters a sense of honor. Scoundrels though they were, I am far more sympathetic towards Patroclus and Hector (I have no patience for Achilles) than Aphrodite and Zeus.

Instead, we are told from beginning that both our protagonist (Theseus) and our antagonist (Hyperion; notably the name for the ancient sun-god in Greek mythology) are atheists. “God is dead!” is screamed with Nietzsche from both ends of this film.

And who can blame them? The gods that do exist are hardly immortal, hardly worthy of praise. As much screen time is devoted to the execution of gods and goddesses as is to that of human soldiers.  The gods of Immortals seem to derive their authority simply from occupying a higher altitude in space and nothing more.

To whom then must we look to for our salvation, what with God being dead?

Man, of course. “I teach you the Übermensch” is the chorus where “God is dead!” is the verse. It is the constitution following the revolution. The immunization following the infection. The punch line to the joke.

Übermensch can be translated as Superman or Overman. It is what man should be, but isn’t. It is what militant members of the “new atheism” like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens pray to when they write their books and hold their lectures. There have been times when I also have visited the service, sang the hymns. I know the temptation, the draw. Can’t you understand it also? The burning glory of the individual toppling the Divine Oppressor, building a tower of our own making. Alister McGrath in The Twilight of Atheism speaks of the toppling of the towering Bastille, the French Revolution of 1789, as the the monument in history that signifies the brilliant dawn of this worship of the Übermensch, “Atheism was the Promethean liberator, which alone could guarantee the initial success and subsequent triumph of the Revolution.”

But where does this leave us? The end of Immortals shows us: two egomaniacs wrestling atop a mountain of crumbling treasures and a hurried apotheosis.

But a society of Übermensch-worshippers doesn’t really have the stomach for this. So we construct something glorious, yet palatable; majestic, yet kind to our ears. We construct a New Mythology.

In G.K. Chesterton’s biography of St. Francis of Assisi, the stage is set for St. Francis by introducing the course of paganism in the ancient world. Chesterton
describes paganism as the sensual, hedonistic nature-worship that preceded the austerity of the Dark Ages (associated with celibate monasticism), preparing the landscape (in Chesterton’s brilliant and forgivably-biased mind) for the entrance of a wonderful little monk named Francis. My following summary can hardly do justice to actually reading  (at least) chapter 2 of Chesterton’s biography. Chesterton describes ancient paganism as “a very high civilisation,” adding, “It would not weaken our thesis, it might even strengthen it, to say that it was the highest that humanity ever reached. It had discovered its still unrivalled arts of poetry and plastic representation; it had discovered its own permanent political ideals; it had discovered its own clear system of logic and of language.”

History, I feel, will undoubtedly consider ours to also be a season of “high civilisation.”

Chesterton proceeds, however, to point out the error of paganism: “the mistake of nature-worship.” That is, the worship of what is created.

Don’t our people, our academies, cinemas, senates, and concert halls also bow before the creature?

Chesterton beautifully elaborates on the abysmal depth of this mistake, “The truth is that people who worship health cannot remain healthy.” Man began to turn in on himself, as only a crooked thing can. And the result was the corruption of the nature that was worshiped, “…the whole world was coloured by dangerous and rapidly deteriorating passions; by natural passions becoming unnatural passions. Thus the effect of treating sex as only one innocent natural thing was that every other innocent natural thing became soaked and sodden with sex.”

Sin ate everything up.

Ghouls and shadows was all that eventually remained of this nature-worship, “The Early Church called the gods of paganism devils; and the Early Church was perfectly right. Whatever natural religion may have to do with their beginnings, nothing but fiends now inhabited those hollow shrines. Pan was nothing but panic. Venus was nothing but venereal vice.”

What is left at the godless shrine?

I propose that we are witnesses to a New Mythology, a New Paganism, wherein the creation is worshiped and the Creator disdained. Where we would subject ourselves to the winds and waves before we would subject ourselves to the One who calms them. Where we would praise the power of words before we would praise the power of the Word. Where we would confess the championship of death before we would confess the Resurrected One.

We enthrone idols and ignore the King.

“Nothing,” declares Chesterton, “could purge this obsession but a religion that was literally unearthly. It was no good telling such people to have a natural religion full of stars and flowers; there was not a flower or even a star that had not been stained. They had to go into the desert where they could find no flowers or even into the cavern where they could see no stars.”

We have One that has come out of the desert.

“Christianity had entered the world,” Chesterton maintains, “to cure the world; and she had cured it in the only way in which it could be cured.” The ankle broken in impassioned sprinting required setting; or as we read in Hebrews, “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed” (12:12).

We have one Healer.

Chesterton recognized this dislocated limb in the human, “There is a bias in man like the bias in the bowl; and Christianity was the discovery of how to correct the bias and therefore hit the mark…the glad good news brought by the Gospel was the news of original sin.”

This world does the same old cartwheels. The accuser does the same old magic  tricks.

There is still One who says, “Behold, I am making all things new.”

daniel

(The art included is by the incomparable Peter Howson)

I know You
deep Breather of Ventus
I chase You
Thirst of Nicodemus

You do not
leave us

Dearest Παρακλητος

Comforter and Soul

of this
the Body

Led by You
to this darkness,
the immunization

Each pupil
I watch
as You trace

with light

in a dendro

chrono

logical

manner

But even

John J.
W. Dylan

cannot construct
the hymn that could hold you

O

Hoverer of waters
Igniter of fires
Builder of bridges
Singer of groans

O

Emmaus pause

O sustained tone

A cigarette behind your ear
Like a dying childhood memory
You can’t allow to fade
To dissipate
Like water spilled on searing asphalt

This is yours
And I know why

But lift your head
Watch the tops of trees
As lighter things
As quiet kings
Swaying in acquiescence

“Nothing to prove,
Nothing to submit.
Ears to the sky,
Feet tucked below.
We are always new
And truer than you.”

You must learn the loss
Of cracked hubcaps,
of soft faults,
and false dross.

I often look to stars,
seasides, and Spanish moss
when plumbing the white hot depths
of peace and glory

As should you.

daniel

My parents once told me something remarkable.

At the age of 9, I came to them with a question. “When I am angry, I know that I cannot hurt someone else. But if I need to be angry, can’t I hit my pillow?”

“No,” they said to me, eyes full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit, “when you are angry, you must not hit anything.”

This puzzled me for years to come. I could not image the harm in exercising my flights of passion upon something immaterial, something that could not feel or cry. But my parents knew the truth.

The soul of man does not seem to be a permanent thing. It is volatile and dynamic. It can learn to lie or to give a man a cup of water. Repeated action will solidify the countenance. This is how grown men can act like children or children can exhibit a very grown-up sense of virtue. Our bodies are just a mask to this truth.

Prof. Jack told us in The Weight of Glory:

“There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.”

I, as an individual, know this as anyone does. So do you. Those tiny choices we make, they are not without consequence. They build a monument that will stand throughout eternity. This is the gift of free will.

When my parents told me not to hit pillows, what they knew was, “You must learn to take blows and not return blows. You must learn to love and not hate. To let the fire of your anger burn patience into your soul.”

So, I try not to hit pillows.

Mumford and Sons make music. Here’s some:

Hurricane

I was always one

to be swallowed by the hurricane

rather than hear it ravage the world

outside thin walls.

I hope my words find you well and near our Lord.

daniel

When a friend asks me who my favorite actors are, I think of three men.

One of them is Liam Neeson.

In 1996, at the age of 44, Liam Neeson starred as Michael Collins in the Irish period piece, Michael Collins.

I started into the film thinking Michael Collins to be a kind of George Washington for the Irish Republic. Midway through the film, I realized he could be more accurately described as the Irish Che Guevara.

I found the film itself to be incredible. Along with Neeson, its cast included Aidan Quinn, Alan Rickman, Brendan Gleeson, and (if you can spot him) Jonathan Rhys Meyers; not to mention Julia Roberts doing her darndest at an Irish accent (much better than Mary Reilly, a film that opened seven months before Michael Collins and for which Roberts earned the Razzie Award).

Neeson’s posture throughout the film screams violence. From beginning to end, when he’s not plowing through his enemies with guns blazing, he’s wrestling his friends. There was not a word spoken by Neeson that did not glow with passion. You felt that this lumbering character was Ireland.

The film follows the events surrounding the life of Michael Collins – a political leader in the Irish War for Independence – during the early 1920s.

Through bloodshed and broken hearts, Collins eventually brought the British to a cease-fire.

And the cease-fire led to Collins’ agreement to establish Southern Ireland as the Irish Free State. But this Free State was hardly what some Irish nationalists believed to be free. Technically, this made Ireland a dominion of the British Empire.

Think:

The Irish Free State was to Britain

what Puerto Rico is to America.

They let the Irish have their government, but retained a stake in the territory. Some could not accept this.

And thus began the Irish Civil War.

This was brother against brother. And it was in the midst of this conflict that Collins lost his life. The film (or perhaps simply Liam Neeson) provides a poignant end. After the death of his closest friend, Collins is convinced to meet with the Republicans to negotiate a truce. On his way, an ambush organized by Anti-Treaty (that is, Anti-Free State) Republicans took his life, the only casualty amidst the gunfire.

Collins’ attempt to end the war cost him his own life.

This is Ireland. This is us.

One of the most confusing aspects to me of the Irish conflict during the 20th century was the religious division. The nationalists (desiring an independent Irish Republic) were Catholic, while the loyalists/unionists were Protestant. In fact, one of the major factors urging the loyalists to resist the nationalists was the possibility of being a Protestant in a Catholic-ruled nation.

What is this? What is this thing that divides Christians?

This Irish Tragedy created W.B. Yeats. Yeats wrote a poem entitled A Meditation in Time of War:

“For one throb of the artery,
While on that old grey stone I sat
Under the old wind-broken tree,
I knew that One is animate,
Mankind inanimate phantasy.”

W.H. Auden said of Yeats in his poem, In Memory of W.B. Yeats:

“…Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still”

The war of Ireland is the war in us.

daniel

I recently finished reading the graphic novel, Watchmen, by Alan Moore (illustrated by Dave Gibbons). Alan Moore has achieved widespread fame and recognition for such work in the comic book/graphic novel genre as V for Vendetta, Swamp Thing, and certain installments in the Batman epic.

Dave Gibbons can be most readily recognized for his work with DC Comics’ Green Lantern series, of which a movie has been produced, set for release on June 17, 2011:

(Prediction: A Hal Jordan that is a poor imitation of the Tony Stark/Iron Man character, only without Robert Downey Jr., and thereby doomed to suck)

Now, there is something you should know. Alan Moore seems to have lost his mind. That is not to mean he has lost grasp of every aspect of reality, nor that he is incapable of excelling in the field that he has chosen for this reality; simply that, on those issues that are most crucial to establishing and maintaining sanity, he has decided to employ a more, well, flexible grip.

In the documentary The Mindscape of Alan Moore, Mr. Moore reveals that at the age of forty (1993) he decided that he would be a magician; that is, a dedicated advocate of the occult, not to be confused with a showman or entertainer.

We can take encouragement from the fact that Watchmen‘s publication (1986) took place before Mr. Moore’s mystical conversion, and that he may have yet been able to communicate some seed of wisdom before he decided to spend the remainder of his life dabbling in tarot cards and pentograms.

That being said, about 2/3 into Watchmen, a conversation takes place between two of the work’s “superheroes”: Dr. Manhattan/Jon Osterman and Silk Spectre/Laurie Juspeczyk that captured my attention.

It resonated.

I’ll try to set the scene a bit: Manhattan and Spectre are having their conversation, by way of a somewhat complicated series of events, on Mars, where Manhattan (the only superhero among the “Watchmen” who actually possesses supernatural abilities; abilities which are limited only by Manhattan’s imagination) is providing oxygen for Spectre by projecting a kind of “aura” around her.

The purpose of the conversation is relatively important: Spectre is trying to convince Manhattan to save the human race.

As they debate back and forth, Manhattan is finally convinced to do what he can to save humanity, an event reached at by a single conclusion:

Manhattan: “…in each human coupling, a thousand million sperm vie for a single egg. Multiply those odds by countless generations, against the odds of your ancestors being alive; meeting; siring this precise son; that exact daughter, until…of the thousand million children competing for fertilization, it was you, only you, that emerged. To distill so specific a form from that chaos…like turning air to gold, that is the crowning unlikelihood. The thermodynamic miracle.”

Spectre: “But…if me, my birth, if that’s a thermodynamic miracle…I mean, you could say that about anybody in the world!”

Manhattan: “Yes. Anybody in the world. But the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget. I forget. We gaze continually at the world and it grows dull in our perceptions. Yet seen from another’s vantage point, as if new, it may still take the breath away…You are life, rarer than a quark and unpredictable beyond the dreams of Heisenberg; the clay in which the forces that shape all things leave their fingerprints most clearly.”

Some could argue the real miracle is that Moore wrote this masterful little piece of prose. But let’s leave him alone.

This scene brought an image to my mind. That of a picture taken when I was 11 or 12. Where I stand on a front porch with about 20 or so of my other cousins. Standing at the peak of this small crowd is my mother’s mother – Grandma – smiling beautifully, peering through pink-rimmed glasses, arm-in-arm with some of the oldest of her grandchildren. If you could see the picture, there’d be no need for explanation. It shows the accomplishment of a woman who had seen nine American decades involving back-breaking work, economic collapse, hard-fought survival and two World Wars. In an interview conducted by one of my uncle’s (one of Grandma’s two sons), she mentioned how, as a child, they typically had one meal a day which consisted almost primarily of those items that they could grow themselves. My life (in terms of years lived and effort expended for survival) is currently a fraction of what was her own. She passed away some time ago.

This image made me think of our Lord and the humanity He pieced together. It made me think of the dynamics of humanity. How, of the infinite possiblities of survival that God could have conceived for us, He chose reproduction, a process that allows the child to carry the genetic data of the parent, perpetually intertwining us, generation after generation. A process in which every person is simultaneously independent but also possessing a heritage centuries deep.

It made me think of salvation, redemption, adoption.

How, upon the act of redemption, the Holy Spirit – the temple’s Holy of Holies – indwells within us. We carry around within us the movement of the Father. How God, upon creating humanity, desired to have a people of His own, whom He could live among.

Jeremiah is a storehouse of information on the subject.

” ‘But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,’ declares the Lord, ‘I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.

‘They shall not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,’ declares the Lord, ‘for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.’ ” (31:33-34)

” ‘As the host of heaven cannot be counted and the sand of the sea cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of David My servant and the Levites who minister to Me.’ ” (33:22)

John wraps it up nicely,

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them,

and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’ ” (21:3-4)

Those first things, they will pass away. There will be things after the first things. Better things, apparently.

But here, in the midst of those first things, I am arrested by the clarity by which we can identify the working of a God simultaneously devastating in His glory and saving in His love.

Here’s to a New Year. New First Things.

daniel