Friday 16 July 2021

An enchanted family picnic - what does it mean?

I use a family picnic as (sometimes) an example of one of the most delightful occasions of being a parent with children. 

Certainly, the picnics in the middle of a country walk (or a walk around a country house estate) are among my treasured memories. 

There was about them a spontaneous atmosphere of enchantment - but there are various ways of conceptualizing its meaning. 

In a mainstream, materialist and mundane fashion - a 'successful' family picnic could be described as a form of pleasure; some kind of combination of the biological bond between parents and offspring, and the physical pleasures of warm weather and soothing views, pleasant food and rest after exertion... something of that kind. 

By this account there is no extra or special significance to a family picnic - it was nice while it lasted; but in mortal life nothing lasts...

And when the event has faded from memory, then it will have disappeared from reality. The vast universe closes over the indescribably micro-incident, obliterates it - as if it never had been. 

Or; we might imagine something like a family picnic among animistic hunter-gatherers - with a significance that is in one sense timeless and in another sense one of an unending cycle of eternal recurrences with transformations. 

One picnic is all picnics; and all picnics are in that one picnic here and now. No individual picnic is necessary, none add to the sum of picnics - but any specific picnic is simultaneously all past and future picnics. 

Each is different, but in a way that does not affect the quality of the world - which Just Is. 

In the same way each reincarnation of each family member is different in terms of the exact manifestation of the soul - but there are just so many souls which recur over time. 

There can be permutation and recombination of the specifics of a picnic, but it is ultimately an arbitrary event artificially detached from the unending continuum of live cycling and transforming - neither adding-to nor subtracting-from the totality of creation.  

From a traditional Christian transcendent (broadly Platonic, or Eastern Orthodox Christian) perspective; the picnic might be seen as a glimpse or foretaste of Heaven. Its value lies in what it symbolizes, what it represents, what it leads-to. 

Strictly speaking, the actual earthly picnic is not significant - because it is transient and mundane. Only insofar as it induces us to think of the eternal and unchanging true-reality of Heaven, to yearn for it, to strive for salvation - does this specific family picnic have value. 

Mortal life is - at most - a preparation for eternity. 

The earthly picnic is evanescent and will disappear, because ultimately it is not needed. If the picnic had never happened, this would not affect the reality of eternal Heavenly perfection - which, because it is perfect, has no need for earthly things, and can neither be enhanced nor affected by earthly occurrences. 

But my own understanding is that this picnic is unique and unprecedented; and adds something eternal to the cumulative sum of divine creation; which had a beginning, and perhaps a different future because of this picnic. 

This earthly picnic potentially affects the eternal souls of the participants. If the family are able to learn from their experience now, then after death their resurrected souls will carry the learning from this picnic forward into Heaven. 

This picnic has something Good in it which makes a permanent difference, and things will never be the same again afterwards. 

Even if the picnic - and what it did, and what it meant - is absolutely forgotten by the mortal humans who participated in it - no matter! The immortal souls of those humans will be affected by it - and the Good consequences will survive through the transformation of resurrection to affect Heavenly life everlasting. 

My point? What happens on earth means more than our fleeting feelings in this transient mortal life; yet the Good, significant events of our lives are not merely secondary,  imperfect and disposable glimpses of the eternal perfection of Heaven. 

Our bodies and minds are temporary - but our souls are eternal.

And if our souls proceed to resurrection and Heaven; then all that is relevant which we have learned on earth will be carried forwards into life everlasting; and will change the nature of eternal creation.



Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

Very clear illustration, and I agree with your own view.

However, please check your oppressive language!

Bruce Charlton said...

@Wm - I'd rather not give comment space to such outrage-bait stuff.

But the Minnipin books by Carol Kendall call a picnic by an even better word: 'picklick' - named because you pick at food, then lick your fingers.

I always used to enjoy the way that the Native Amerindian characters on the TV series Northern Exposure would have a picnic as the usual shared activity for their dating; and I liked the way these were depicted.

Francis Berger said...

I like the idea of the good of the picnic extending into eternity and carrying over at the level of soul-learning even if it is all but forgotten in the temporal world.

In this sense, I don't think the Platonic idea is incorrect, but - according to what you have noted here - merely limited. The picnic does offer us a glimpse into eternity, but there is more to it than that - much more.

I sometimes ponder if the same can work in reverse - if eternity can extend into this world and add additional good to the already enchanting family picnic. Additional good that will also carry over, as it were.

Having said all that, I think it would be a mistake to attempt to preserve or prolong the enchantment of the family picnic in this world. Unfortunately, so many of our former and current maladies can be attributed to such impossible longings.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank "I don't think the Platonic idea is incorrect, but - according to what you have noted here - merely limited."

Well, I regard it as incorrect in seeking eternity as immutable perfection. And I also believe that - beyond an initial and superficial appeal - it simply does not *work* as a way of finding meaning in life; even among those rare souls to whom it is possible and powerful.

For example, to a high degree Charles Williams seems to have seen the timeless Platonic Forms behind the changes of mortal life - this is often depicted in his work. But it seems to have made his own life harder rather than easier, and to have devalued it... Or rather, to have made its sufferings even harder to bear, because they were also eternal.

I strove for this Platonic idea for fair while, tried to see my modern mundane life and surroundings as a 'palimpsest' painted on the eternal; on but I found it had much the same negative effect.

Francis Berger said...

@ Bruce - Sorry, I didn't communicate my thoughts effectively in my previous comment. I garbled up the correctness of the Platonic idea with the reality of the enchanted family picnic being able to offer glimpses into eternity.

The enchanting family picnic or some comparable event or experience can provide glimpses of eternity, but I didn't mean to imply that these glimpses were proof of the correctness of Plato's immutable perfection - rather, that the glimpses themselves do indeed offer us a taste of eternity. Those who subscribe to a Platonic perspective will view these as glimpses of eternity as glimpses of timeless, immutable perfection. I meant to communicate that this was a limited way of perceiving the experience.

I certainly don't see it that way. Creation and eternity are dynamic and ongoing, not immutable and perfect.

Your example of Charles Williams (and your own experience) fits well with my understanding of the futility of trying to graft mortal life around Platonic Forms, of attempting to "capture and hold on to" this sense of eternity in mortal life.

What the enchanted family picnic really seems to generate is creativity - the good of the experience adds to/influences/helps form Creation. This sort of creativity is not possible in the realm of Platonic Forms, where creativity is relegated to task of mimicking/mirroring perfection - hence, not really necessary to eternity.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Frank - I was mostly riffing off your comment for the benefit of other readers, rather than assuming you personally believed in the Platonic realms as the ultimate truth.

The thing about the Platonic idea is that it is immediately appealing, and it is initially effective - so people can and do get stuck on it. However, I believe it leads to serious problems (for a Christian) over the long term; and the more rigorously it is followed.

Today's post about Charles Williams (and its links) are further thinking along this line.

Francis Berger said...

@ Bruce - The riffing off is good. It helps clarify and elucidate extra dimensions.

Harry said...

" rather not give comment space to such outrage-bait stuff"

I would greatly appreciate hearing a blog lost about outrage bait, outage porn.

I recently ended fifteen years of addiction to this stuff. I was telling myself I was enthralled with the great battle against the leftists.

Then something clicked in recent months or years. I saw that the impotent carpers carping about the daily outrage or more accurately the sixteen daily outrages of the day, had never conserved anything and I would never conserve anything by adding comments to their articles. Entire dozens, hundreds, of small media firms dedicated to nothing but impotent whining. Nothing can ever undo millions and millions of kids raised in this culture who grow into adults who are outraging me. It was false participation in the public square. I'm glad I quit. Still backslide occasionally.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Harry "I would greatly appreciate hearing a blog post about outrage bait"

No need - you've said it.

The main problem is that it blocks the proper and necessary spiritual response to these times.

I don't see any point in logging specific outrages when all the major institutions in the world (including Christian churches) are on the evil side in the spiritual war. We should expect outrages as normal - which is the case.

No Longer Reading said...

I believe that the Platonic and Aristotelian philosophies did much good and have great admiration for the moral uprightness of many of their practitioners.

But I agree that the philosophy is incomplete. I think one of its biggest blind spots is
is that one of the main ways the spiritual is conceived is in terms of what is left when the material subtracted (though in different ways for the two philosophies). For instance, Edward Feser writes here (

"A human being in his mature and healthy state will exhibit these bodily properties, which is why death is for Aquinas not a liberation (as it is for Plato). It is, as I have put it elsewhere, something like a 'full body amputation' – the loss of all of the bodily properties that a complete and fully functioning specimen of our kind would exhibit, leaving only the non-bodily properties."

One example of this is issue with regards to eternity and Charles Williams, which you have written about. It's not the abstraction of the idea that is the issue; it is its positive content, that all times are simultaneous. But this comes from the fact that people believe that there is a richer kind spiritual time, but it is primarily conceived of in terms of the *absence* of time as we know it, rather than something more than mortal time.