In defence of the proximate.

Defence of the Defence (2 sentences)

1. Not the ‘approximate’, although it is worthy in its way. It is an attribute of God to be proximate to all and thus (a)proximate to human understanding. There are pleasant idle hours to spend in contemplation of the alpha privative. (Particularly one as odd as the ‘a’ in approximate). I nod in friendly estimation toward the Negative Theologian. But the via negativa is hardly a road, more of a fence to keep you on the road. We must journey further on the Way who proceeds.

2. And I challenge anyone to question my commitment to the ‘farther off’. Many of the finest things are farther off, don’t you think? Mountain ranges are an obvious case. In fact a double case: fine to behold from afar, and when you’re perched on the crest, making far-off things fine.
I long for the Delectable Mountains, to be shepherded in Immanuel’s Land; for the glimpse from Mt Clear of the gates of the Celestial City. I am tortured with the thought that perhaps they will always be farther off.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?

Psalm 121:1

This, of course, is the dangerous ambivalence of the ‘farther off’. It can be constantly removing itself to the horizon. Perhaps because something in the human heart was created for visions, for anticipation and expectation, the ‘farther off’ is the most powerful of the modern techniques of power. Some things that appear farther off are not really there at all, no matter how fast you run. No trophy, no flowers, no flashbulbs, no line. The desire for the ‘farther off’ when undisciplined, when cultivated without wisdom or direction, flowers into an infinite dissatisfaction whose-not-entirely-approximate name is Hell.

The true lover of the ‘farther off’ engages a double aesthetic: on the one hand, a disciplined appreciation that somethings are fine simply because they are distant; and therefore one must keep one’s proper distance to love them truly. On the other, acknowledging that there is a ‘farther off’ which beckons us come closer: its name is ‘promise’. The true lover of the ‘farther off’ engages in this aesthetic discipline: cultivating joy, wonder, reverence, sublimity at the contemplation of the essentially ‘father off’; and yearning to come closer to the promised. (the cultivation of this discernment in human affairs is one of the true uses of philosophy, even of the post-modern hermeneutic of suspicion). This double aesthetic is the heart of Christian worship: it is its dynamism and transcendence; it is what makes it interesting for all eternity. It is the double aesthetic of the resurrection: the place where the true lover of the ‘farther off’ learns to cultivate discernment, to learn what it is that beckons us closer, and what demands that we remain distant. It is the double aesthetic of the Trinity and Incarnation. It is the character of God.

3. I rest my defence of the defence.


In defence of the proximate:

The proximate is neither approximate, nor farther off, nor promise.
It is what we must be in order to love them truly.

You and me and the friend
who draws near in faith.

“And they said one to another,
Did not our heart burn within us,
while he talked with us by the way.” (Luke 24:32 KJV)

I rest my defence.

(for Emma on her 30th Birthday)

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