By Mark Clavier
Several of my recent posts both on Covenant and elsewhere have caused some concern about my political well-being. Some have wondered whether I’ve strayed into Marxism, while others have cautioned me for my supposed uncritical support of Black Lives Matter. Even my own father suggested that I was taking up the mantle of Henry Scott Holland and Conrad Noel, well-known Anglican socialists of bygone days.
While I’ve been enjoying all this immensely, it does suggest I’ve done a better job at criticizing than explaining. I remain fundamentally conservative, though it’s true that my conservatism has led me increasingly to part company with the Right. One reason for this is my belief that the West in its affluence has strayed far from the path of wisdom. More fundamentally, though, my conservatism is based on my underlying theology, which in this essay I’ll try to articulate positively (with links to other essays I’ve written). You can decide for yourself where this places me on the political spectrum, though I don’t much mind whether my bedfellows are red or blue.
Conviviality & Delight
I’ll begin with a concept that has been central to my theology for more than a decade now: delight I define as enjoying the other for its own sake. It describes a state of pleasure, contentment, and happiness that makes no demands on the other. To delight is simply to enjoy the object’s existence and its freedom. It is integral to the idea of Sabbath when God rested in his eternal delight.
Delight appears in Scripture in ways that are often overlooked. In Genesis, when God sees that his creation and all his creatures are good, he is delighting in them. The psalmist repeatedly declares his delight in God’s law or commands us, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8). Both Eden and the heavenly Jerusalem bookend Scripture with evocations of delight (we’re intended to delight in the visions they portray). And as J. R. R. Tolkien recognized, the “eucatastrophe” of Easter following upon the catastrophe of Holy Week “pierces” the faithful with joy and delight:
I coined the word ‘eucatastrophe’: the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears… the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.
Such divine delight, underpinned by the orthodox belief that the God is love, teaches us two lessons: first, that our highest calling is to delight in God and his creation, and second, that such delight commits us to a way of life.
Of course, we don’t delight in God and creation in the same way since our delight in God’s creation is only proper when it leads our eyes through it to God, whom Augustine memorably calls “beauty so ancient, so new.” As George Herbert reminded us:
A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye;
Or if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav’n espy.
Yet, we should also learn to see creation itself through God’s eyes and not according to our needs or wants. By looking through creation to espy God, we learn to look at creation from God’s perspective: to see that it is good and created, like us, to manifest his love and goodness.
Seeking to delight in God and creation engenders a responsibility to foster and nurture delight amidst a fallen world. We’re steward-gardeners who seek to honor our Lord in part by tending his garden. We are duty-bound to encourage the flourishing of creation so that whatever is good, true, and beautiful abounds. There is no excuse for harming God’s creation for our own supposed profit. Indeed, nothing that dishonors the delightfulness of God, his creation, or our neighbors can ultimately benefit us, no matter the supposed short-term profit.
But we don’t do this primarily as individuals. We’re called to delight and to nourish delight together. The scriptural vision of humanity is of a joyful people who delight in God, the world he made and has redeemed, and “company of God’s faithful people.” And because through faith such delight is anchored in God, it transcends the fear, hatred, and vainglory that characterize our world. Delight spills over into delight as we grow into an ever-deepening union with our Creator and Redeemer. St. Anselm, the 11th-century monk, describes this communion in chapter 25 of his Proslogion:
Now, surely, if someone else whom you loved in every respect as you do yourself were also to have the same kind of divine happiness, then your own joy would be doubled; for you would rejoice for him no less than for yourself. And if two or three or many more persons were to have the same kind of joy, you would rejoice for each of them as much as for yourself — assuming that you loved each as you do yourself.
Because of the joy we share with our fellow Christians, Paul tells us that even in the midst of trial and tribulation, we can “rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”
Another way of describing collective delight is conviviality, which originally described the spirit of feasting. Wendell Berry uses conviviality to describe a harmonious relationship between human societies and the earth that results in healing; it’s akin to husbandry. Drawing from this, I describe conviviality as ordering our lives so as to live well with God, creation, and each other. This requires virtues central to the Christian idea of mutual belonging such as humility, self-sacrifice, compassion, and magnanimity. Notice their absence in much of our public discourse today.
Finally, within a Christian context, convivial feasting should recall the Eucharist where we gather in thanksgiving to participate in the “Lamb’s high feast” and are built up together in the quickening love of God. In this way, we flourish individually and as a community. But such flourishing at its best looks like the cross to the world — by taking up our cross and following Jesus, we surrender our wills and ego to the God who is our chief delight. The articulation of this within an actual local ministry is the goal of Convivium, a program to support a program that encourages Christians to engage with their local landscapes, heritage, and communities, which I established at Brecon Cathedral in 2018.
The Will to Power
Of course, the world in which we live is often not delightful or very convivial. Fallen human nature tends to bend in on itself, placing our own perceived needs (how often our desires elide into needs!) and self-interests before the good of others. Because of fear, anger, and vainglory, we turn against our neighbors in violence or rivalry while seeking to suck the world dry for our own advantage.
During the past several centuries, we have become masters of bending the world and defenseless people to our wills. Thanks to swiftly developing technology and morally destructive affluence, we assume the world should conform to our own will — we insist that it benefit us here and now even if that comes at a cost to others elsewhere or yet to be born. Instead of delighting in creation, we demand that it satisfy our every pleasure and conform to the greed, gluttony, and lust of those with the greatest means for imposing their will. I describe this elsewhere as living in Technopolis: “a massive project to compel the world to be as we think it should be.” It is the antithesis of the gospel.
How readily and with what ingenuity do we justify Will to Power when it serves our interests or those of our friends and allies. We have supported slavery, sweatshops and workhouses, industrial exploitation and pollution, imperialism, brutal warfare, ecological devastation. For the sake of a few, we have inflicted tremendous pain on the many and have wrought ugliness and ruin on much that was previously beautiful and teaming with life as God intended.
People who exploit others don’t delight in all who bear God’s image. People who disparage the poor don’t delight in the Kingdom of God (Lk. 6:20). People who attack their enemies don’t delight in God’s commandments (Mt. 5:44). People who destroy the earth for cheap goods and luxury items, don’t delight in God’s creation. People who block their ears to the cries of the oppressed, the suffering, and the defenseless, don’t delight in Christ (Mt. 25:40). Insofar as we don’t delight in any of these, we don’t delight in God. “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars” (1 John 4:20). We can’t delight in God without delighting in all that he has made.
If delight and conviviality underpin my theology positively, then my opposition to this Technopolis marks it negatively. I believe our world is increasingly a manifestation of Tolkien’s Machine, bent inextricably against God and creation as it seeks to impose the human will on everything. We are the world’s tyrants, and little is safe from our meddling and violence. Ruled by our dread of death, we tinker with and exploit everything in order to satisfy our personal desires while ignoring the ecological and human costs. Our world’s by-product is ugliness and discord masked by a middle-class fantasy that can’t long be sustained.
In such a world, committing ourselves to manifesting God’s love and delight takes confidence because it defies both contemporary conservatism and progressivism. Seeking to live well with God, creation, and each other requires humility and obedience, temperance of words and deeds, and a refusal to give up on others, especially those who have the temerity to disagree with us. I think it also obliges us to forsake faith in ourselves — and not only in ourselves but also collectively in human capacity and ingenuity. This is what it means to throw ourselves humbly on God’s grace. If there’s one thing we mustn’t do, it is to believe in ourselves — in that direction lies hubris and enmity.
Committing ourselves to a more convivial Christianity also requires patience and forgiveness. I know I fall far short of the vision that underlies my theology. I am a hypocrite who enjoys the privileges of being a middle-class white man in a western country. While I try to live sustainably and to help my neighbors, I normally do so without much sacrifice or discomfort. I consume far more than I produce. In short, I am a sinner whose outward faith does little good to anyone else.
Yet, if I am to become more than that (by God’s grace), then it will only happen by my standing more fully open to God’s love and delight through my love of him, his creation, and my neighbors. Delighting in God while “tending and guarding” his creation must be my North Star, guiding me where both conservatives and progressives fear to tread. I must allow God to release my fears and anxieties, my need to be among the righteous, and my secondary allegiances, so that I can manifest his love and delight more fully in my life. I must return to the gardening for which I was created and redeemed, knowing also that such planting and watering “is being governed and directed invisibly by God” (Augustine, gen. litt. 8.8.16).
This may all be hopelessly naïve and optimistic. That’s fine with me. In the early days of the Church, others mocked Christians for the naivety of brotherly love. But I remain convinced that concepts of delight and conviviality are not only profoundly good and true but also articulate the very essence of Redemption. Whether that makes me a Marxist or a capitalist, a conservative or a progressive, I care not a jot.
The Rev. Canon Dr. Mark Clavier is the residentiary canon, or priest in residence, of Brecon Cathedral in mid-Wales.
With charity…might you be misreading the situation and/or your ‘not a jot’ posture?
Covid is tough on the mind/spirit. Be well! Good fishing in mid Wales.