JP: Welcome everyone to this new episode of the Symbolic Life with Jonathan Pageau and JP Marceau. Today we’ll do an episode about applying symbolism. So far on this podcast, we’ve mainly talked abstractly about symbolism, analyzing several things, such as biblical structures, stories, or cultural practices. At this stage, I thought it would be good to record an episode specifically on how to apply symbolism to ordinary life.
To start, I wanted to spell out some etymological considerations that surprised me as I learned them. The first one I want to mention is that the words used in Genesis when God tells Adam he must “work” and “keep” the garden are the same words used to describe how the Levites “work” at and “keep” the Tabernacle.
We can see that this terminology is starting to spell out a continuum between the work we do in the garden and the work that Levites do in liturgical practices. Further, there’s something like this happening in Greek with the word for “liturgy”, which does indeed refer to the religious practices that we do at church or synagogue, etc., but also means social work.
For instance, think of the people who took care of the city lights, or who cleaned up the streets, etc. Those kinds of tasks were also called liturgy. So here again we have a continuum.
Some people do individual work, like a carpenter builds things for instance, but there are also people who work at the social scale, such as people taking care of social infrastructure, and also people performing religious rituals that bring the whole society together. So here again, you see the continuity between people’s concrete daily tasks and what they do at the social scale in liturgy, and even between that and the work that happens at the cosmic scale in the garden or at the tabernacle.
What I’m trying to say with all this is that there is a continuity that used to be easier to notice in ancient times. This loss of continuity today contributes to the ongoing heaven-earth split. Even in the Symbolic World, there are many people who first see symbolism as kind of abstract and hard to apply concretely. We do have brute intuitions about certain things we must do, like going back to church because one sees truth in the Christian narrative. There are practical consequences like this to symbolism. But the link does not go as deep as what we could surmise from the etymology of work and liturgy like we just did.
I think I’ve heard you say something like this about art too, Jonathan? I.e., that what we currently mean by art isn’t the same as what ancients meant?
Jonathan: Yeah, the latin term for “art” means “what is well joined together”. We can see this as an ability to take disparate elements to link them together. That’s why the words “art” and “technology” are essentially the same for me. “Art” has a latin root, while “technology” has a Greek one, that’s it. Both mean the same thing, but in modernity we’ve separated art and technology. However, if we see both of them as the ability to gather things together well towards a goal, a reason, then we can understand. We can understand why making bread is an art, why writing a poem is an art, etc.
We could make a hierarchy of arts, that’s possible, but each art has its goal and purpose. Someone who manages to do his art well has an ideal participation in their occupation but also more generally in society.
Now, art isn’t exactly the same thing as work. Art is really more about fabrication. The idea of working and keeping the garden isn’t exactly the same as fabrication, which really happens after the Fall.
Fabrication can of course be saved but it may not be the same as just organizing, or structuring things at a social level.
JP: I have a hard time putting my finger exactly on the difference. In both cases, one unites heaven and earth. E.g., Adam and Eve, in the garden, when they work and keep the garden, they’re organizing things at the social and even cosmic scale, taking all of creation and turning it, liturgically, towards God. That’s how they unite the concrete matter of Creation with its goal, i.e., God. That’s uniting heaven and earth. Same as what the Levites do at the temple.
In contrast, after the Fall, work is not just about uniting things that already exist to turn them to something higher, but… Maybe one way to put it is that in work, after the Fall, one must dig deeper into the earth?
Jonathan: Yeah I think that’s the best way to see it. It’s about going into the earth, taking things from there and assembling them so they become vessels for heaven.
The problem is we can always see it both ways. The Fall really is a fall and its consequences are scandalous. But they’re also opportunities to go deeper into the earth and elevate lower things to God. That’s why this symbolism is hard to understand. The symbolism associated with Cain in Genesis is also associated with those who build Moses’ tabernacle.
I may have mentioned this in this podcast before, but the name of the person called by Moses to build the tabernacle is Bezalel, who is assisted by Oholiab. I think that the name Bezalel in particular means something like “the darkness of God”. He’s described as an artisan, and the only other place in the Bible where the word “artisan” is used is for Tubal-Cain. That’s the descendant of Cain who developed metallurgy.
We must also understand that when the Bible describes Jesus as a carpenter, it really says that he’s a “tekton”, an artisan. So I think that the Greek term that describes Jesus as an artisan really refers to Bezalel and Tubal-Cain.
This is a scandal and an opportunity. God can always use our tendency to make garments of skins to direct it up to higher participation. To give a simple example, consider Adam and Eve naked in the garden, who then clothe themselves. Later, you see Moses receiving the law and constructing the Tabernacle, which is a kind of mobile home, a tent, and then you have Solomon’s temple. The temple then becomes more and more solid you can say, until Herod, where you have an entire complex of halls. This temple is a glorious human construction.
So we can see the progression from the garden to Herod’s temple.
JP: What I find interesting in this is how we can go from one layer to the other fairly concretely. To set things up, let me say that I know many people at The Symbolic World, who, upon hearing you speak, want to speak or write about it. Very intellectual stuff, and it’s not super clear how to apply it to one’s life. Now, as I said, there are some obvious things, like going to Church and getting involved in one’s community, but it’s less obvious how to apply symbolism in more mundane tasks, like work.
But in all cases, there should be a continuity because all of it is about uniting heaven and earth. So the things you learn while studying the abstract symbolism of heaven, earth, space and time, should apply to all layers of reality. Not just at liturgy, but also in daily work, even if that work is very technical.
Jonathan: The problem we have today is specialization. The more we are technicized and specialized, the harder it is to fully live out symbolism.
In contrast, ancient crafts like metallurgy or bakery were such old and refined arts in terms of participation that they practically became religious microcosms. That’s why there used to be religious symbolism in construction for example. The whole free-mason symbolism didn’t come out of nowhere. It probably came from a kind of craft symbolism that existed in the middle ages or in the late middle ages, which became more and more speculative.
But we can imagine the same thing for someone who crafts clothes. Weaving is an extremely cosmic art. The idea of creating a frame for reality and then weaving a pattern on top of it. We see it in ancient cultures: creating carpets and things like this are very symbolically rich activities.
If you contrast that with hyper specialized modern jobs like data analysis, you can see why we have a problem today. I don’t think it’s impossible to participate like the ancients did, but we’re so specialized today that it’s harder.
JP: On that note, I think that in the last episode we recorded, you mentioned that there used to be guilds in which people were initiated into a craft. This would have a reach that was not only technical, but also spiritual. Could you say more about that? It’s not so natural today, because we go to school and then we go work our technical job, and it’s unclear how…
Jonathan: There are still residues of this. Not a lot, but there still are. In construction, to be an electrician for instance, you’re initiated. It’s very practical, but there are names like “apprentice”, “fellow”, etc., until you’re a master electrician. Those are the residues of a system that used to be more universal. You would be given as apprentice for a trade when young, 12, 13, 14 years old or something, and slowly you’d be initiated to the world of that trade. Until one day, when you could show the guild that you had mastered that craft. Not just in terms of the products you could build, but even in moral terms, since guilds had a reputation regarding money, regarding how to interact with customers. All of those things mattered to consider someone a master.
So, we still have remnants of the kinds of initiation that used to exist.
JP: About the moral aspect, I wonder about one thing. I haven’t heard that many people speak about this very explicitly, but I’ve been trying something in my own life.
Consider that I have a certain capacity to unite heaven and earth. That’s the case for all humans, that’s what we do. That’s our role in creation: uniting abstract structures with concrete matter.
We do this at different levels. We may do this through leadership roles at our parish, uniting certain people in groups oriented towards certain directions. We do this in our families, again uniting a group of people towards a certain direction. Even in something as simple as a meal for instance, we need to assemble people and things into a single family. We also do this at work, whether it’s not technical at all or super technical. We all have to take certain things and assemble them towards a certain goal.
Now, I’m always the same person when I perform all of those unions. There will be deep correspondences between the ways I do each of those. The same vices and virtues will tend to pop up across those different areas, which also means that I can work on cultivating virtues across all of those different areas.
There are even pretty interesting studies about this in cognitive science. One thing that our friend John Vervaeke has mentioned is that to balance things, even very abstract ideas in ethical debates for example, we use the same brain machinery that we use when balancing ourselves physically.
So, when we’re kids and we’re running around, playing, etc., we’re practicing our balance not just physically, but in general. We can reuse that ability to balance ourselves physically to also balance closeness and distance when interacting with others, or when we balance arguments in an ethical debate, etc.
In other words, we humans reuse skills that we learn as kids. The balance between going too far and falling versus not far enough and staying stuck is useful way beyond our childhood. It’s about learning how to balance left-right symbolism, and we reuse this at all scales through our entire lives, whenever we need to balance left-right symbolism.
Now, to apply this, let me give a concrete example. I often have the tendency to be too right-handed. Quite rigid and orderly, sometimes to a fault. I noticed this in a few areas of my life. So, for instance I would work out so much that I would get injured, because I didn’t leave my body enough time to rest and recuperate. Regarding certain ideas, I noticed that I wouldn’t be explorative enough. And also at work, I would notice that I lacked flexibility.
So, in the same way that if I’m trying to see a pattern in stories I will look for it in different stories and at different layers, I could look at different areas of my life to try to identify a common pattern. And in that case, I noticed the same pattern of right-hand excess across different areas of my life, and the very cool thing is that it meant that I could also try to remedy that in different areas of my life. I could practice being more flexible not just when I’m working out but also when I’m at work with my colleagues.
In short, I was able to use symbolism to see some of my faults across different areas of my life, including work, and I could also try to fix those faults at work. So, I’m guessing that in ancient initiations there used to be something like this? People understood that what you do in the microcosm of your family or your work is all related. If you improve in one, you can improve the others.
Jonathan: I think you’re right. It can seem surprising, but someone who is attentive can learn a lot about a person’s personality by seeing them do almost anything. The characteristics of a person manifest through how the person acts at different layers. As you say, it transfers to a certain extent to other aspects of reality.
There are sometimes relationships that aren’t direct, it can be inverted. It depends, but there are certainly relationships. It depends on the angle through which you look at it, but yeah, you’re probably right that if you do a craft fully, say, baking, you could automatically become a good citizen. By mastering this aspect of life, it transfers to others, as you say.
Also, the physical aspect is super interesting. I remember one of our children who had trouble reading, with a slight dyslexia. We talked to a specialist who asked us whether our child had skipped the step of walking on all fours.
So we were like, “what?” And she explained that yes, even an older child who has trouble reading will improve his reading skills by walking on all fours. And indeed, you can understand that walking on all fours really has you deal with working opposites together, right arm with the left leg, left arm with the right leg, etc.
So this is just one example but I think the idea of transfer is real. It shows there’s a real relationship between abstractions and concrete things. They manifest through the same structures.
Even a secular naturalist should see this. There’s often this blindness in the secular world, which sees the physical world working one way and the mental world working some other, disconnected way. But it’s much more plausible to think that, on the contrary, there are constant analogies between the different layers of the world.
JP: On that note, I asked John about how to avoid the risks of symbolism a few months back. Remember when we were speaking about people who were having a lot of difficulty staying connected to reality in part because of symbolism? John made me laugh initially, because he recommended people do movement practices. You know, he does tai chi and this kind of thing.
This came as a surprise and made me laugh initially, but I see why he said that. If someone has a tendency to let their ideas disconnect them from concrete reality, then that person could benefit from doing practices like dance, martial arts, etc.
Jonathan: Yeah, things that force you to deal with real opposites in the world, equilibrium and disequilibrium, etc. Yeah, for sure.
JP: Another funny thing I thought about when you were speaking earlier about guessing people’s personalities in microcosms; it reminded me of something at work. To hire people for internships, we give ourselves one hour for the interview process. It’s typically 55 minutes of actual interview, with two interviewers, plus 5 minutes with someone else who just gives a tour of the office.
Amazingly, it turned out that 99% of the time or so, the person doing the 5 minute walk would end up with the same conclusion as the two others who were the actual interviewers.
Jonathan: Yeah that’s it. Plus the fact that the person is disarmed, more in their body acting naturally. The way they act, move, etc., you can have a good intuition. I’m sure you can’t hire someone based on that though! (laughs)
Another example is that you can easily discern certain aspects of a person just by seeing them cut vegetables, for instance. Anything the person does.
Also, it’s not a question of good or bad, it’s about where the person fits. So for instance, if you asked me to order nails in my workshop and you could see how enraged I would get, you would understand that you shouldn’t ask Jonathan to help you with your tax reports! Don’t ask me to be super attentive to precise, calculable things.
This seems really natural, but there are these relations between all layers.
JP: Yeah, that’s good.
Now I’d like to talk more about modern work and how to ascend in the same way you talked about the baker earlier. There’s this basic path that my wife and I learned when preparing for marriage. It’s fairly classic in the Catholic Church at least, and I’d like to have your opinion on whether it can allow even modern people to participate in higher and higher unions of heaven and earth.
First, you’re a child. At that stage, we mainly just receive heaven. We’re matter and we’re being informed. We receive patterns from our parents, from school, etc. We also play as we discussed earlier, where we create very minimal, physical unions of heaven and earth.
When we become adults, we can start working and uniting heaven and earth at a higher level. We can create things that are useful to others. You can say that we unite heaven and earth at the individual level, generally not yet able to unite groups of people well.
Creating group-level unions of heaven and earth will generally happen a bit later, notably by having a family. You have to unite the group of people into the pattern of an actual family. And similarly at work, it’s possible to do this with people. Maybe you’re doing a social kind of work, like nursing for example, and you’re always trying to unite people within themselves and with their community. But even if you’re doing something technical, like in a factory, you can start managing groups of people. You have to unite a multiplicity of people towards a certain purpose.
Now, it’s important to stress what we discussed before. What we learn at one level of reality applies to the others. A child playing learns to unite heaven and earth at the physical level, and he can then reuse that as an adult when doing individual work. And then what an adult learns when doing individual work can be reused when doing group-level work. If you’re a good factory worker, you’ll be able to manage groups of factory workers. You can quickly have insights about how a few people could collaborate to build a certain thing.
So, all that is to say that as you get older, you can participate in higher and higher level unions of heaven and earth, yielding more and more fruit. What you learn as a child, you reuse as an adult at work and in your family. You can also reuse what you learned at those layers and apply it at your parish. You can lead different groups, and even liturgy, by uniting groups of people towards spiritual purposes. Higher and higher unions of heaven and earth.
And ultimately, we all become old and essentially monastics. In old age, all that we can do is pray and provide counselling to people who ask for it. We’re too old to be very active, but hopefully we’ve become good enough at uniting heaven and earth that our prayer can reach very high, and we can quickly provide deep insights to people who need them. In other words, if we’ve ascended all the layers well, when we reach old age we become an image of heaven for people.
Now, what I like about this whole arc is that it unites one’s entire life and makes all of it meaningful. All of it has the same goal of uniting heaven and earth as much as possible. Even play. Even very technical and seemingly boring work. All of those things can participate in higher meaning if we keep in mind that the goal is to move up layers and not remain at one of them.
Jonathan: I think you’re right. The fact that we can manage or work with people means that all work can be a support for a symbolic life. You don’t absolutely need to have a very ancient craft like baking. Uniting groups of people towards certain goals can do it.
For sure it’s still harder. It depends on the kind of work, but especially in factories. Factory work isn’t thought to bring you to become a person who’s good at managing many processes united together. So it must be harder in that context.
There are even certain businesses who’ve decided to give up on assembly line work for similar reasons. They realized that assembly line work for humans is very alienating. Because we’re built to unite heaven and earth, it’s difficult to be told that we can’t assemble the whole thing, and that we can only do our small piece, while someone elsewhere will unite heaven and earth.
But still, as you said, it’s possible no matter where we are. An example we have in the Bible is Joseph. Wherever he goes, he does the little things well. Like Christ says. So he does the little things well, again and again, and he always ends up being the manager. He goes to Potifer, where he starts out as slave and then he ends up managing the house. He goes to jail, and by doing the little things well he ends up managing the prison and ultimately managing Egypt itself.
So I think we can see in Christ’s words that if we are attentive and we do well the little things that are given us, it will enable us to do greater and greater things, uniting heaven and earth at higher and higher levels. And it will not only enable us, but people will also notice. For sure, in well-functioning companies, they always keep an eye open to identify people with potential, and they can see this in the attention we have when doing little things.
So yeah, I think this is a simple way to live out symbolism without being a medieval armorer, or something like that! For my part I’m lucky, because I’ve been sculpting icons for a long time, and I think that’s something that easily includes all the elements.
JP: Yeah, that all sounds good. About the dangers related to technical specialization, another possibility today is that of advancing your career without ever managing people. That’s something I see in my field, in the software industry. It’s such an abstract field. You know, you’re not limited by how fast you can physically type, but rather by how you think through problems. So someone who’s been in the field for, say, 15 years can easily be 25 times more productive than someone who’s been there for only two years.
Most people will eventually end up leading people because they see that it’s a good opportunity to scale and get things done, but not everyone will go for it. It’s possible to just keep becoming a better and better individual contributor without ever managing people, or interacting that much with other people, which feels like a danger to me…
Jonathan: Well, it’s not necessarily bad. I think it depends on the person, on how it presents itself to them. Because, you know, monks exist. We have a monastic tradition in the West; people who only specialize in prayer, without any expectation to become pastors of people. So maybe something like this is possible with modern jobs too, where becoming excellent at something can be a door to something higher.
But it can also be a temptation, a test to know if you’ll just become a jerk. You can sometimes see this in specialists, like the caricature of the surgeon or other hyper specialized folks who become arrogant or cold. On the other hand, if you become great at something without necessarily leading people, while still keeping a kind of unity and openness and sensitivity to others, I think that could work.
JP: Yeah you’re right, I think I can imagine that working. I still find the whole monastic aspect so mysterious. On that note I’ve been thinking about John the Baptist and struggling to really understand his role.
Most of the main characters in the New Testament have a certain trade that they make use of. Maybe the most obvious example is Christ. For 30 years he was unknown, doing his ordinary work and spending time with his mother and father. He was learning a bunch of concrete things about the culture of his time. Jewish culture, Roman culture. All the very material and concrete things people engaged in.
Then, he spent three years working publicly at the social level. He took the knowledge he developed previously and used it to craft stories, parables, sermons, and events he enacted. So he was performing higher-level unions of heaven and earth with groups of people, starting to craft the Christian narrative.
Then, during Holy Week, Christ brought that up to a cosmic level. He reused all he learned at the individual and social levels and united all of creation with its creator. The ultimate union of heaven and earth, which fractally includes all the lower ones he engaged in during the rest of his human life. So you have this progessive build up.
Jonathan: John the Baptist is the opposite! (laughs)
What’s the Jewish tradition? Before the messiah comes Elijah…
JP: To flatten everything…
Jonathan: Yeah that’s it. Characters like John the Baptist and Elijah are there to destroy things in fact. Destroy what is faulty, what is not working. So they’ll often appear as people who judge, who mock, who are hard. Their goal is to destroy the system to prepare the earth for the one who comes to build.
This manifests itself as ascending to heaven, as we’ve talked about before. They’re separated from us. That’s the image of John the Baptist being beheaded I think.
So, in general, you could say that their role is to separate heaven and earth.
JP: Ok yeah, I hadn’t thought about this, but it’s a great explanation. So rather than working, John the Baptist destroys the existing union of heaven and earth so that Jesus can create a new one.
Jonathan: I think that John the Baptist is still working, it’s just that his work is about division. He doesn’t gather people, that’s for sure.
He washes people, that’s what baptism is. He eliminates what isn’t useful.
JP: Yeah I see, so at this point I’d like to explore the symbolism of the work of some other biblical figures. We’ve already spoken about why Jesus is a tekton in our episode on technology. But I was wondering if there were specific reasons why Peter is a fisherman and Paul is a tent maker.
Jonathan: I’ve thought about this… It goes back to what you said earlier, with children learning to balance things physically so that they can later balance things mentally. I think that’s what Jesus was employing when selecting people.
When he tells Peter that he’ll be a fisher of men, that’s not just a nice sentence to tell Peter what he’ll do. He’s telling him that what Peter has been doing all his life, finding fishes, assembling them and raising them out of the water towards heaven, bringing them to participate in something higher, that’s what Peter will do. The skills he learned as a fisherman, those are the best skills for his spiritual vocation, when transferred to that level.
About saint Paul, I think it’s about the skins. Tying skins together, creating veils. That makes sense because Paul is a semi-stranger.
JP: That makes sense, very good explanation.
Now that I understand this more conventional path better, I’d like to come back a bit more to the monastic one. I’d like to talk about a danger I see in that path, i.e., people doing only individual work and then jumping straight to the spiritual level.
We talked about John the Baptist. Another example is Mary, who obviously did some social-level work because she had a family to take care of, but who wasn’t out there leading groups in society. John the Baptist and Mary both achieved extremely high unions of heaven and earth even if they didn’t really test things out level by level.
Let me make my worry clearer. I understand how one uses what they learned as a child to do their individual work. I understand how one uses what they learn in individual work when doing social work. I understand how one uses what they learn in social work to perform liturgical work/prayer.
When one goes step by step, I get it. I find it safe and I see how it all works.
But for people who have to jump from individual work straight to prayer, it seems like a big gap to me. If they haven’t tested themselves at the social level, I struggle to see how they could really know that they’re actually uniting heaven and earth, rather than fabulating.
Jonathan: Yeah, I think it’s rare. Probably that it’s rare, but if it works then it creates something even higher. A direct jump. The idea of the waters directly reflecting the light, without the intermediary world in between.
But that’s also why there are so many warnings. Especially for monks who are alone, i.e., the anchoritic monks, as opposed to the cenobitic who live in communities. There are warnings everywhere against doing this. All over monastic writings. “Don’t become a hermit”, “be in a group”, etc.
Those who manage to do it become the greatest saints, but the warning is there because the majority, or probably a large part, become crazy. They just can’t do it.
JP: This reminds me of what we were talking about last year, when symbolism was making some people lose contact with reality. It’s very dangerous to live in cosmic symbolism if you haven’t tested yourself at the social level. The people who were freaking out were mainly alone at home, with maybe individual work and some small group involvement. They weren’t, say, bishops or other people with lots of social level responsibility.
But at the same time, as you say, we can’t simply dismiss the people who try to jump layers, because it sometimes yields the greatest saints.
Jonathan: But it’s clear you shouldn’t do this! (laughs) It’s clear in the texts that you should join a community.
So, the danger of testing one’s symbolic abilities at the group-level is the thirst for power. This power we can exercise over others is appealing and dangerous.
In contrast, the danger of the monastic is thinking he’s very spiritual and awesome, with no one around to test him and bring him back from his delusions.
There are good stories about this in monastic writings. One is about a monk who was falling into prelest and decided to leave his monastery to go live out like an angel in the desert. No need to eat, or anything. So he leaves, alone, for the desert, to live without material constraints.
And of course he comes back in the evening, with his tail between his legs, brought back down to earth by his stomach! He needs to eat! To connect with his body.
JP: Maybe a way to put it is that there are two broad paths to connect heaven and earth. Starting more from the earth, or more from heaven. Starting from the earth is going at it layer by layer, safely as I said earlier, but you may not reach as high because you’re going slower.
Then, in contrast, there are more prophetic or monastic figures who can’t seem to help themselves from jumping to something very high. Maybe artists are like this too; I’ll be curious to know if that’s your experience.
What I see in prophets and artists is people who receive ideas and can’t seem to help themselves from trying to realize them. They’ll have to make a lot of sacrifices for this. They live at a high level, and they try to throw a lot of seeds, most of which won’t take. There are people whose entire lives won’t land, in fact, because of this. But when it does take, then it can yield something awesome because the seed came from very high.
That’s why prophets have such a hard time. They can’t help themselves from doing what God asks of them, but it really doesn’t look fun…
Jonathan: No! (laughs)
JP: Maybe they’d even prefer to do things slowly step by step, but they don’t have the choice but to do something very high.
And then there are tons of false prophets. I don’t know what the ratios are in the Bible, but I’m reminded of Isiah on Mount Carmel, alone against 850 false prophets. All that is to say that if you want to live at that prophetic level, the odds are against you.
Jonathan: Yeah, if a prophet seems like he’s doing well, I’m not so sure he’s a prophet.
It often looks so harsh. I think it’s Ezekiel who gets thrown into prison because the king is tired of hearing him say that the city will be destroyed, which indeed ends up happening. (laughs)
JP: Yeah it’s really no fun. I remember a passage from Jeremiah 20:
For since I spake, I cried out, I cried violence and spoil; because the word of the Lord was made a reproach unto me, and a derision, daily.
Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.
You can see that he would rather have an ordinary life, but he just can’t help himself from saying what God wants him to say.
Jonathan: And yeah, God asks for difficult things. He asks prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute to enact the relationship between God and his people, where Israel is prostituting itself.
That sounds like fun! (laughs)
JP: And isn’t there a prophet who has to cook his food with excrement, again to display the relationship between God and his people?
Jonathan: Yeah, God asks Ezekiel to cook his food by burning human excrement! Ezekiel replies that he’s never broken the law, so God allows him to use animal excrement instead! (laughs)
Ezekiel’s story is crazy. I think he has to lay on his left side for several years…
You know when people pray to ask God for something and are disappointed he doesn’t seem to answer… maybe look more into the stories of people who asked for several years. Saint Mary of Egypt repented and prayed for years and years in the desert, and then she received communion once and died! (inappropriate laughs (from both of us))
There’s no place where it’s written that life will be easy for prophets.
[For the next five minutes, I (JP) brought up a question that didn’t really work, so I decided to exclude it from the transcript for brevity.]
JP: I have one last question before we finish. I’m curious to hear how you would deal with an objection.
If it’s true that everything we do is uniting heaven and earth somehow, and that what we learn in one area transfers to others, then it seems that symbolists should excel at everything. Indeed, by learning symbolism you become better able to unite heaven and earth in general, so that should apply everywhere. So, why aren’t symbolic thinkers dominating everything?
Jonathan: I think that’s because symbolic or traditional thinking aims at directing manifestations towards their good. But in practice, if you want to gain a lot of power by doing something, it’s not necessarily at your advantage to turn that thing towards its good. So, a symbolist, as we’re using that term, might refrain from absolute efficiency, from absolute technical progress, because he wants things to serve higher purposes.
The idea that people from the middle ages would block progress is true I think. Progress, in itself, is neutral. So before we engage in it, we must make sure it serves the good.
So, if someone wanted to accumulate a lot of riches and power, symbolism might not be to their advantage.
JP: I agree. Another way to say it is that if you want to get really really great at something, you’ll need to stay at this level for a long time. But naturally I think that symbolic thinkers will tend to want to create greater and greater unions of heaven and earth, so they will leave the place they’re at. They may want to manage greater organizations, or to manage organizations of comparable size, but with higher purposes.
So maybe you’ll quit your corporate job where you manage 100 people to become a priest, where you’re still responsible for 100 people, but now you’re trying to unite them towards a spiritual purpose. If you do that, you’ll lose status in the eyes of the world.
Jonathan: Yeah, I think you can see that in the way that Jesus opposes the world and the kingdom. If there are things from the world that we can use as analogies for the kingdom, that’s good. But we must always be careful because the world is always an imitation of the kingdom. The billionaire who dominates everything and manages an enormous company worth billions and billions, that’s an imitation of what uniting heaven and earth should be. There’s a twisted and instrumentalized aspect there.
JP: As if Peter had become the greatest fisherman in the world, rather than becoming the leader of the apostles.
Jonathan: Yeah, and it’s not bad in itself to become, say, the manager of a huge fishing company, but it’s not the highest thing one can do, that’s for sure.
JP: Perfect! That covers all the questions I had, so unless you have something more this would be the end of the episode.
Jonathan: No, I think we’re good!
JP: Perfect, so thank you Jonathan and thanks everyone for listening, see you soon.