A Poem for My Wife

This is a poem I wrote for my wife for Christmas 2021. It’s inspired by Charles Williams’ Arthuriad, and some lines from a cookbook by Robert Farrar Capon.

Blake to Leah: on Farming

I walked a long path, alone,
By turns hot and cold,
Through night to find my place.
A diagram of fertile land before my eyes
I had by gift of Heaven -
A goodly land, accepting of a lord,
Where all things give, and all receive,
By the Way of exchange.

The Eye of Heaven, the Sun: gives light,
     Thus vision - seeing and knowing - illumines
     Patterns of act and fact and meaning,
     Warms the airs and earth,
     Makes grass to grow.
The Grass, and Trees and Vines: clothe earth
     As raiment, a covering of glory
     For humble dust. Roots for soil;
     Soil for roots; both for teeming microbes
     And fruits. Grass feeds cattle.
     Grain feeds the mill
     And gives bread its substance.
     Blest be that pasture and field
     That keeps a father’s table filled
     With bread and wine.
The Cattle: cow and fowl, bee and Cross-bearing donkey
     Which carried the Maiden Mother -
     Live the death of grass, die the life of Man.
     Unpoetical manure they trod into the earth,
     Food for worms.
     Poetical blood they spill on earth,
     Meat for men sacrificed, transfigured in fire
     Of oven or altar. Skin of one made
     Skin of another.
The Land: flows with milk and honey,
     Through and to and in and on
     A web of exchange. Energies pass
     Hither and yon, gifts of life and communion.
     Earth, a womb, bears children, breasts, feeds them,
     Hands, yields them to her husbandman,
     Face, smiles to him her bountiful beauty.
     This place - my own: for work and rest,
     To see and know and learn and love.
The Farmer: keeps the doctrine of exchange,
     Law and grace sweetly complying,
     Priestly watch maintaining, lest heresy, mechanical or chemical,
     Contracept communion, or convenience swallow exchange.
     He - warrior, king, and midwife - wields scythe as sword
     Against thorns and tenderly delivers lambs, enduring
     The necessary letting of life and life-blood.
     He - I hope myself - sees and knows
     The Sun-brightened patterns
     Of meaning and fact and Act.

It is not good for Man to be alone.
This I felt in my flesh and in my bone.
And so Heaven another gift, another diagram,
Another exchange offered; yet the same.
“Sleep now death’s deep sleep, thy heart and side
To open and bleed; thy substance given to Another.
Awaken, and receive that Other.”
What shoot had sprung up from the bleeding seed
Of my heart? I thought myself blinded,
Seeing only one as a tree, walking.
Then the Sun rose and I was blest
With double vision to see
The goddess and the silly girl,
Forms co-inhering, tensing, twining,
Dancing for her Adam.

Meaning: the Archetype; Venus and Earth-Mother;
     Immortal; the bodily site of exchange;
     Land-made-flesh; womb and breasts and hands
     Are the pastures and gardens worked by Adam’s sons;
     Milk and blood, growth and life-from-decay,
     Changes, cycles, seasons - Eve, mother of all living.
Fact: the Ectype; earthly wife and mother;
     First, daughter; a girl who laughs, sometimes
     Because she cannot help herself; baker;
     Lover; friend; and sister - she loves well,
     And sings, sometimes cries; her son vexes
     And cheers her; her northern-sky-eyes
     Enchant me; she feels her frail, mortal frame
     But hopes and uses it well; my comfort;
     My glory; matter of home - Leah, mother of my children.
Act: the Union of Archetype and Ectype;
     The work of union and identity,
     Where we play the patterns of meaning and fact:
     Your hands the bread to make.
     My hands the bread to break.
     You my Levite, I your priest,
     Guard the house and keep the feast,
     Welcoming who will to read the diagrams
     Of exchange in field and home,
     Believing the doctrine of Kingdom come.
I pray: Let us be planted here, as Farmer and Wife,
     To keep house and land well,
     For father’s honor and children’s joy.
I survey the land: seeing the streams, the pond, the fields, and trees,
     knowing the smile of the Spirit in the hills.
     The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places.

Sex and the Love of Money

Sodom, Late Greece, Late Republican and Imperial Rome, Weimar Germany, 21st century USA – in each place extreme wealth is gathered, sexual perversion is prevalent and prominent. Why? I think the answer to that also answers why the love of money is condemned by the prophets and apostles in ways love of glory and power and family are not.

Money is an abstraction. Like any technology, it creates a degree of separation from the world. Consider two men wishing to mow their fields. The first man is a cash-poor man. He has to get up at dawn, take his scythe, and cut the field by hand. He is in direct contact with the field, the grass, and the tool. He can see the health of the grass. He can tell when the scythe needs sharpening or repair. He can see that he has cut too thin over there, left grass too thick here. He can see that he shouldn’t have struck that sapling with the scythe-blade, since the blade is now nicked. He feels the human cost of the work he is doing in the sweat running down his brow and the fatigue in his legs. He has a clear view of what he is doing, what it truly costs, and what it truly causes. The second man is cash-rich. He hires another man with a tractor to mow his field. He is removed from the field by two degrees of separation, which the money makes possible. He doesn’t know how the grass is doing; he doesn’t know how well the cut has affected the field. He doesn’t really know what went into transforming the field from thick, tall grass to low, neat grass. The first man knows the consequences of his action, because he feels them directly. The second man does not, not like the first man does. If something goes wrong, the first man will be able to respond immediately, and therefore limit the damage done to his field or to himself. The second man cannot respond immediately, and so problems will tend to go further and become more destructive.

You could also think of the Wall Street trader manipulating stock tickers. He has no clue what real world affects those tickers mean. He doesn’t know what families he is depriving of work or what towns he is sentencing to slow death. The money that he works with doesn’t have any straightforward or obvious connection to those things. He does not feel the consequences of his decisions. Someone else bears that burden because the abstraction of money has shifted it off him. A people who are used to manipulating money will become accustomed such burden-shifting. It becomes integral to their social and economic life.

Sex has momentous, natural consequences in the world. Maybe the most momentous and consequential. They are of an emotional, social, biological, economic, domestic, and religious character. Living in extreme wealth, though, forms you sexually in two related ways: first, it trains you to separate yourself from the consequences of your actions generally, and second, it lets you remove yourself from those particular consequences of sexual adventure which you deem inconvenient. Kids? Daycare, or abort them. Disease? Medical treatments. “Unfulfilled marriage”? Divorce. These are all very costly means of consequence-avoidance. Money becomes a shield between a person and the natural consequences of his sexual perversion. Those natural consequences are a gracious feedback mechanism in Creation. When we do something destructive, it hurts. Ordinarily, we’d stop doing that thing. Sodomites, for instance, get diseases and do not reproduce, so their lives ordinarily are short and unattractive. Extreme wealth, though, makes undermining the natural hurts of sodomy possible, so a people is able to pursue sodomy to ever greater degrees, because it never feels the painful consequences. That’s the link between money – excessive accumulation of money – and sexual degeneracy.

Kings and the Image of Self-Sufficiency

The image of “every man under his own vine and under his own fig tree” is one of my favorite biblical symbols. The vine and the fig tree are means of sustenance and objects of ownership and work. They are embodiments of peace, prosperity, and liberty. The man who works his vines and fruit trees is the free man, the man of peace, the prosperous man. He is the Image of Self-Sufficiency.

Holy Scripture uses this image explicitly in four passages. First, in 1 Kings 4:25:

And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beersheba, all the days of Solomon.

Here it’s used to describe the glory of Solomon’s rule. The King established peace and order, allowing the people to cultivate their private property and produce the fruits of their labor.

Second and third, in 2 Kings 18:31 and Isaiah 36:16 (the texts are identical):

Hearken not to Hezekiah: for thus saith the king of Assyria, Make an agreement with me by a present, and come out to me, and then eat ye every man of his own vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his cistern.

In these places Sennacherib is attempting to discourage the Judeans so that they will break faith with King Hezekiah and come under Sennacherib’s rule. The implicit idea is that only one king or the other can ensure that each man have his own vine and fig tree, with all that means. Where Sennacherib blasphemes the LORD, Hezekiah goes to His Temple and mediates on behalf of the kingdom. Because of Hezekiah’s mediation, the kingdom is saved from Sennacherib and enjoys an era of peace and truth under King Hezekiah. (Cf. 2 Kings 20:1, Isa 39:8) The acts of the king secured that peace and order.

Fourth, in Micah 4:4:

But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the LORD of hosts hath spoken it.

This oracles tells of the rule of the Messianic King, who is so alike to God that the Image and the Imaged are practically indistinguishable in Micah 4. The passage is a variation on the theme of 1 Kings 4 in more ways than I’m noting here, but for the sake of brevity and focus note that, again, the glory of the King is shown in his establishing peace, safety, and order so that the people can have vines and fig trees of their own. Their property is guarded and their fruitfulness promoted. They can, under righteous rule, be self-sufficient in the sense of producing their own goods and food and owning their own land and tools.

It’s a common idea that self-sufficiency and freedom can’t really be reconciled to kingship, authority, and rule, but the Scriptures make a very different assumption. Far from being irreconcilable things, liberty and self-sufficiency are the glory of good rule and authority. They flow from the rule of the godly king just as the oil flows down from Aaron’s beard. The men of a kingdom will image their king. The king is the Image of God. The LORD is the only absolutely self-sufficient One. Liberty and self-sufficiency come only by the Acts of a godly king, a righteous Authority. Let the nations remember this.

The Thrust of the Law

Genesis 1 is a record of God’s establishing Order – distinction, distinctness, definition, form, law, boundaries, limits, hierarchies, authority. Genesis 2 is a microcosm of Genesis 1. And then the rest of Gen is a record of how that Order falls apart. It’s a story of the world unraveling. Genesis starts at the high point of Order, Godliness, and Communion with God, and then descends into Chaos, Ungodliness, and Separation from God. Israel finally finds itself down in Egypt, the geographical Pit of Death.

Death is the ultimate loss of definition, form, boundaries, etc. In Death, what God joined (body and soul) are separated: the soul returning to God, the body disintegrating back into the earth. The borders of the body are violated, and it ceases to be. The borders God made are transgressed. Transgression is Chaos; Transgression is Death. The Israelites in Egypt are in danger of completely dissolving into the Egyptians. God calls them out of their Idolatry, Transgression, and Death in Exodus. Exodus, then, is an Ascent back up to the Mountain of God, back to definition, law, form – Order. The Israelite body politic is saved from Death. It is reconstituted from the dust of the earth, brought up out of the waters just like Creation, especially the Land, in Gen 1 and 2. It receives a Law.

The building blocks of that Law go right back to, you guessed it: Genesis 1 and 2. At the end of Exodus, the people have been raised up from Egyptian Death to Jehovah’s Life and Order. And that leads to the Priestly book of Leviticus. The book of Leviticus is the book on how to maintain the Life and Order of God. Actually, the Torah as a whole is that. Leviticus stands at the heart of this maintenance of Order. Genesis and Exodus both anticipate Leviticus, and Numbers and Deuteronomy both recapitulate it. They are all working together to teach the Israelites – and us – how to maintain the Order of the World.

This is perhaps why these books, especially Leviticus, appear so strange to us. We don’t ordinarily feel the need of maintaining the great Order of the World. We’re shielded from this necessity by our technologically advanced society and the immense power of the modern State. Our technologies allow us to treat Time and Distance as if they are non-existent, or at least trivial obstacles. Other givens of nature, like basic facts of biology, are likewise negated. Cf. The Pill or sex reassignment surgery. Technology allows us to brute force our will on Nature. The State is able to impose an Order without respect to our will, approval, or action. It can minutely control territories, markets, and institutions. Which is to say life in a technologically advanced State is not “natural.” It is only possible because of a huge power at work.

The State is simply human power, but it feels like it’s the natural order, “the Way Things Are.” That’s not the case. And the Israelites knew that. The Israelites had neither the technology nor the modern State. They understood how easy it would be to slip back into Chaos. The Torah was how God taught them to maintain His Order. The laws God gave to the newly revived Israel were for keeping things in their places, according to their kinds, definite, ordered, distinct, rightly divided according to the Word. The hierarchies and grants of authority are not given arbitrarily, but rather insofar as they preserve the World-Order. This is why obedience to the Law would yield Blessing and Life, but disobedience Curse and Death. Curse and Death just are the wages of tearing down the hierarchies, overturning the authorities, and transgressing the limits and boundaries set by God. You can’t pull down hierarchies without descending into Death.

There is, therefore, an abiding importance for understanding Leviticus, indeed the whole Torah, and for keeping the substance of the Law. The remainder of the Old Testament writings is a record of this Order either being Glorified, as in aspects of David and Solomon’s reigns, or being allowed to devolve back to Chaos, as in the Exile. The Scriptures reach a fullness in Christ, who is this Law made Flesh. While He frees his people from the multiplicity of ceremonial and symbolic forms and rites the Law required, He does not remove our obligation to obey its substance. We are called now to preserve the Order of the World in Christ, not to send the world spiraling back into Chaos. Our Christ is a God of Order, not confusion. It’s in the light of the Torah, especially Leviticus, that we are to read our New Testament rites and laws. Obedience, Authority, Baptism, Eucharist, Submission, Patience, Forgiveness, Faith, Repentance – Love. These and more are instruments for maintaining God’s Presence with us, and hence the Order of our World, Life, and Glory.

The Bible on Household Baptism Compilation

These are links to a series of posts I wrote for Facebook on household baptism. Clicking the highlighted titles will take you to the Facebook posts. This is not meant to be anything like an exhaustive case for household baptism, but rather just a way to highlight the theme from some of the more explicit passages in the Bible. Hopefully it will cultivate good meditation and conversation.

I’m also linking to a longer post I wrote on this blog which goes with these shorter pieces: Repent and Be…

Repent and be…

One of the major stumbling blocks for advocates of credobaptism, that baptism may only follow an individual’s credible profession of faith, is the formula and pattern found in Acts 2:38: “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” In the baptistic view, Peter commands first repentance, then baptism, and so that is the essential chronological order of the actions. The rest of the baptisms in the book of Acts are read in those terms. There’s no reason to read Peter’s instruction as saying some singular act of repentance must precede baptism, however. In fact, to take it that way is to misunderstand the nature of repentance and baptism both.

On the baptistic view, repentance in this context is taken to be a singular point of decision, almost a crisis moment. You repent, and then you move on to other things. I won’t deny there’s sense in which repentance can be like that, but it’s not the typical biblical idea of repentance. And it’s not how our theologians have explained repentance. For example, John the Baptizer says, “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” To him, repentance is more like the fruiting of a vine or fig tree: it’s a long, slow work in the same direction. It takes time. It’s a way of life. It’s not a one-and-done deal. The Heidelberg Catechism explains repentance on Lord’s Day 33:

88. In how many things does true repentance or conversion consist? 
In two things: the dying of the old man, and the quickening of the new.

89. What is the dying of the old man? 
Heartfelt sorrow for sin; causing us to hate and turn from it always more and more.

90. What is the quickening of the new man? 
Heartfelt joy in God; causing us to take delight in living according to the will of God in all good works.

91. But what are good works? 
Those only which are done from true faith, according to the Law of God, for His glory; and not such as rest on our own opinion, or the commandments of men.

So true repentance is two-parted: there’s a dying and a coming to life. The dying of the old man is hating and turning from sin. The coming to life of the new man is delighting in and living according to God’s law, that is, doing good works in faith for God’s glory. Note the dying is always and more and more. It’s not a one-off event. It’s something we do as habit, just as we live. Living is something done over time. You don’t live for just a moment!

Even though we don’t strictly equate true repentance with doing good works, we can see here that the man who truly repents is the man who does good works, and the man who does good works is the man who truly repents. A call to doing good is a call to repentance, and vice versa. “Turn from your wickedness!” implies “Be righteous!” “Be fruitful! implies “Cast out the evil thing from among you!” The positive and negative aspects are never separated, even if only one of them is explicitly named in a text. (This is called “synecdoche.”) This biblical understanding of repentance opens up our understanding of baptism and it’s historical predecessors.

Take, in the first place, Noah. Peter says that Noah’s salvation through the Flood with his household is a type of baptism. We should expect, then, that all the major aspects of Christian baptism are addressed in the narrative of the Flood. Repentance no less than water or salvation or the recipients. If you take the baptistic understanding of repentance, do you find that in the Flood story? I don’t really think you do. But if you take it in the Reformed sense, you certainly do. Consider first our introduction to Noah: “Noah was a just man and perfect in his generations, and Noah walked with God.” This is a penitent man. In keeping with what we’ve said, to walk with God is to leave the paths of the wicked. Noah lives his life dying to the old man, and so God blesses him and his whole household with the baptism of the Ark. They are brought safely through the waters of cleansing and judgment. On the other side, God further establishes his covenant with Noah and his children by repeating the blessing of Adam: “Go forth of the ark, thou, and thy wife, and thy sons, and thy sons’ wives with thee…and be fruitful, and multiply upon the earth.” Again, this is the positive side of saying “go forth and repent!” Fruitfulness is the mark of repentance. The fruitful man is the penitent man, and vice versa. This is why, again, John the Baptizer says, “therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” Bearing fruit, and thus repentance, is a condition of Noah’s covenant no less than any other.

Those “baptized” with Noah all had a duty to repent, just as he repented. But we know that Ham was unrepentant and chose to die to the new life promised by God. He returned to the old way of living, the wicked paths which led to the judgment in the first place. Yet, God still baptized him and told Noah to include him in the blessings and duties given to Noah’s family. Here was a baptism both preceded and followed by a call to repentance, and baptism given to a whole household where not all the children have necessarily repented individually.

Take another example, our father Abraham. God says to him at the outset, “Get thee out of thy country…” We know from the book of Joshua that his country, even his father’s house, was a place of idolatry. So telling him to leave it is a command to repent, to leave behind the old man, and to walk with God in newness of life. His very literal, geographical “turning away” corresponded to a spiritual turn and new orientation. An even more interesting part of his story, and one more relevant to the topic of baptism, is at the institution of the circumcision rite. We can make some real hay here. God begins his address with “I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly.” We have a tie back to Noah; God is going to fulfill the command to multiply in Abraham’s family. He also calls Abraham quite clearly to repentance: “walk before Me (like Noah!) and be thou perfect” As we’ve established already, this is the positive aspect of true repentance, the coming alive of the new man, the loving and joyful keeping of God’s law. It is the same as what Peter lays on his audience on the day of Pentecost.

The sign of this covenantal obligation in Abraham’s day, however, was to be circumcision. After calling Abraham to repent and walk with Him, God gives him the sacrament of circumcision as God’s mark of ownership on his body – and the bodies of all in his house. Thus, God effectively preaches, “Repent, and be circumcised in the name of Jehovah, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (See Gal. 3:14 for why we should see a reference to the Holy Ghost here.) How similar that sounds to Peter’s cry at Pentecost! And yet, Abraham is to give the sacrament to his infant sons in their generations. We can’t, therefore, take the formula, “repent and be…” as a chronological order. Rather, it’s instruction as to the duties laid upon us whom bear the mark of God’s covenant in our flesh. The sacrament calls us to believe, and to repent, and to obey. It’s not much different than preaching or reading the Word in this respect. It’s different mainly in that it is a physical, tangible Word.

The baptists are wrong to think the sacrament of baptism requires conscious repentance before receiving it. The same command is given to our father Abraham, and his household were all circumcised, infants included. The sacrament does call us to live repentant lives, however. By the Spirit of Christ it is even a mystical help to that end. It is a witness, as the old heaps of stones were witnesses, to our obligations in the great Covenant. Let us keep our obligations. Let us remember our baptisms, and repent…

On Order, Ethnicity, and Sabbath

Christianity is the Faith of order and purity. Creation is a progressive work of establishing order, one in which Adam is called to participate. Noah, Abram, Israel, and others are called to be new Adams and establish God’s order in the world. This is one of the major pillars of the Levitical ministry – to establish the divine order. Importantly, God’s order has never been solely concerned with “good” and “bad” in an ethical sense. Day and Night are separated and bound, but both are declared “good.” So there are plenty of divisions between two opposing-yet-still-good things. Work is good, and Rest is good, but you shouldn’t mix them up. The Sea is good, and the Earth is good, but it harms Men when the boundary between them is transgressed. Likewise with donkeys and oxen, linen and wool, and so on.

Day and Night is a division between the Known and the Unknown. You can see in the Daylight, and thus know your environment. This is not true of the Night. You cannot see, and thus cannot know. Work is fitting to be done in the Day, and Rest is fitting to be done at Night. Work is the establishment of Order. Rest is an introduction of Disorder, a relaxing of the body and mind so that they may be refreshed and renewed. An Ordered World can be Known. An Unordered World is Unknown. We “know” when we are awake, in the Day-Light. We don’t know when we are asleep in the Night. The week of Creation is 6 days of Work and 1 day of Rest, as is every week following. Work and Rest are held in balance. The Order is established on Work-days, and allowed to “run wild” on the Rest-day. This is behind the Sabbath-years. For a whole year a field is to be left to itself, to run wild, to Rest. No Order is to be imposed in that time. The field becomes somewhat “Unknown,” and that allows it to be renewed and refreshed. New life is brought into the old Order. But the field is not left to itself for all time. Once it has Rested a year, Work begins again, the Order is renewed. The Sabbath is a day of leaving Work undone. Of giving the completion of the Order in God’s Hands, recognizing that Man cannot impose a totalizing Order. This is the meaning of the tassels, the unfinished edges, of the Israelites’ garments. The tassels are a sartorial Sabbath. A reminder that we must impose Order (the center and bulk of the woven garment) while leaving some room for renewing Disorder. We let the end of our weaving Rest, just as the end of our week Rests. BUT…”a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to Rest, and poverty comes on a man like a thief…” Rest, Sleep, Night – while needed – are double-edged swords. Too much Rest and you lose what you’ve gained by your Work. Too much Sleep and you become poor and impotent. There has to be a limit on how much you Rest. Rest has to be the exception to the rule of Work. We work more than we Rest.

Wine is similarly two-edged. Wine is the Sabbath-drink. We drink it at the end of the Day, when our Work is done and we are Resting. It gladdens our hearts, lets our minds have run-of-play, and inspires our tongues to dance. It’s the drink of the Sabbath-Feast. It leads us from the Known to the Unknown. If we drink too much, we fall into staggering blindness – complete Chaos and Night. So we drink it in moderation. We want enough to aid our Rest and to refresh us, but not enough that we destroy all our Work. Wine is the exception to the rule of food. We eat and drink other things more than we drink Wine.

Ethnic intermixing can be viewed similarly. Ethnic homogeneity is Day, Order, and Work. We know what to expect from those of our own tribe. We know their customs, looks, foibles, strengths, etc. because they are our own. We can navigate such an Order World. Our people have Worked it, and made it intelligible to us. They have woven a social fabric for us to wear as protection against the Wild Unknown. They have given us good meat, bread, and water to strengthen us for our Work. We have a duty to them and the world at large to protect that Order, that garment. Introducing foreign ethnicities to our lives is Rest, Night, Wine, the Unknown. Other ethnicities are straightforwardly Unknowns. We don’t know how they think, act, or speak. They look different. This doesn’t mean they are bad. BUT it does mean there are some limits on how separate ethnicities should interact. A society or community which loosens its ethnic boundaries TOO much will go blind drunk and lose any sense of itself, lose its wealth, and die. A healthy, homogeneous society can afford ethnic intermarrying and other sorts of intercourse, we even could say it NEEDS it, just as a healthy man can drink and even needs Wine. Thus, a categorical prohibition on inter-ethnic marriage is out of step with God’s order, but prudential limits on the extent to which your community intermarries with another ARE acceptable. Indeed, this is what we find in the example of OT Israel.

Thus, the error of the racial absolutist is the same as the sin of the teetotaler, and the man who refuses to acknowledge ethnic distinction and distance is a drunkard. Both are doctrines of demons. Maybe our fathers erred in the former direction, but in our day, we are quite drunk. Turn on the TV and you will see ad after ad featuring sodomite, inter-ethnic pairings. Both are blurring of boundaries and the end result of too much Wine, too much Chaos. Both betray the erosion of our social order, and signal the beginning of a week of hard Work.

Coverings I

There’s a lot about “coverings” in the Bible.

The Firmament covers the earth, shielding it from Heaven. The trees and herbs cover the earth, too.

Finding themselves naked (uncovered), Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves after they sinned. God gave them better coverings of skins from a sacrifice.

Ham uncovers the nakedness of Noah. Japheth and Shem restore that covering.

The Veil of the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, is a covering separating the Holy Place where the priests minister (Earth) from the Most Holy Place where God sits enthroned (Heaven). Josephus says the starry heavens (the Firmament) are embroidered on the Veil. Both the Veil and the Firmament are shields – a kind of covering.

The word “atonement” is literally “covering.” So the sacrifices make a “covering” for the Israelite worshipper. The Day of Atonement is the Day of Covering. There is a deep magic in the fabric of Creation that says the world and its dwellers must be properly covered before the face of God.

The priestly people have always been concerned about right coverings. Moses covered his face when he came down from Mount Horeb, shielding the people from the Glory shining from his face. The work of the Levites was ensuring the world stayed properly covered – recall that sacrifice is about atonement, that is, covering. The laws and rites concerning skin diseases, mildewed clothes, and mold on the walls of houses, too, are a part of this, and make sense in this context. Skin and clothes and walls are coverings. When they are diseased or contaminated, they are coming unmade, disintegrating, and are a symbol of the disintegration of the covering of the world. They are a microcosm of a failing priesthood.

Coverings both hide and reveal glory. The veil on a woman’s hair covers the glory of Man, and of Woman (cf. 1 Cor 11). The kings robes reveal his lofty office, as do the High Priest’s garments. So while covering IS about “fixing” sin and mending something that is wrong, it is not ONLY about that. It is also about GOOD things which we would have even if there was never any sin. So we should revel in our coverings, clothes – and take care to cover ourselves appropriately. This is one reason why making sure men are unveiled in worship, and women are veiled, is not a small matter. It’s a reason why Christians can’t be nudists. Covering is for glory, and Christians are for glory.

The Apostle Peter says love covers a multitude of sins. The Apostle James says the man who saves another from deadly error covers many sins. The new priesthood is not radically different from the old. Just like the Levites served as a kind of shield against God’s wrath and encroaching chaos for the world, the priestly servants of Jesus Christ do the same. We are called to maintain the coverings of the world, to properly arrange them. The Church is the Shield of the World.

Addendum: There’s also a historical aspect to covering. What might be a proper covering at one point in time might become improper at another time. Infants, for example, may go about unclothed, whereas a grown man may not. Adam was naked in the Garden of the youth of Mankind, but he and his children were always destined to put on the robes of authority and kingship, as we have in Christ. Likewise with head-coverings in worship. Men were once covered, but now are not, though women still are. But they will be uncovered in Glory.

Calvin and Tolkien Together

The boys talk angels together. First Calvin:

Meanwhile since angels are living creatures we must observe in what sense God attributes to angels themselves the head of a lion, an eagle, and a man: for this seems but little in accordance with their nature. But he could not better express the inseparable connection which exists in the motion of angels and all creatures. We have said, that angels are not called the powers of God in vain: now when a lion either roars or exercises its strength, it seems to move by its own strength, so also it may be said of other animals. But God here says, that the living creatures are in some sense parts of the angels though not of the same substance, for this is not to be understood of similarity of nature but. of effect. We are to understand, therefore, that while men move about and discharge their duties, they apply themselves in different directions to the objects of their pursuit, and so also do wild beasts; yet there are angelic motions underneath, so that neither men nor animals move themselves, but their whole vigor depends on a secret inspiration.

Commentary on Ezekiel 10:14

Then Tolkien:

I perceived or thought of the Light of God and in it suspended one small mote (or millions of motes to only one of which was my small mind directed), glittering white because of the individual ray from the Light which both held and lit it. (Not that there were individual rays issuing from the Light, but the mere existence of the mote and its position in relation to the Light was in itself a line, and the line was Light). And the ray was the Guardian Angel of the mote: not a thing interposed between God and the creature, but God’s very attention itself, personalized. And I do not mean ‘personified’, by a mere figure of speech according to the tendencies of human language, but a real (finite) person. Thinking of it since – for the whole thing was very immediate, and not recapturable in clumsy language, certainly not the great sense of joy that accompanied it and the realization that the shining poised mote was myself (or any other human person that I might think of with love) – it has occurred to me that (I speak diffidently and have no idea whether such a notion is legitimate: it is at any rate quite separate from the vision of the Light and the poised mote) this is a finite parallel to the Infinite. As the love of the Father and Son (who are infinite and equal) is a Person, so the love and attention of the Light to the Mote is a person (that is both with us and in Heaven): finite but divine: i.e. angelic.

Letter 99, To Christopher Tolkien

There is a common, catholic – if not identical – doctrine of angels here. Calvin elsewhere in his Ezekiel commentary discusses how angels are pictured as lightning, a form of Light.

A Farmer’s Sword

Lately, I’ve had reason to think of these lines from the Georgics as I’ve cleared thorns and thistles from my land where I hope to establish a farm:

“Nor must we pass untold what Arms they wield,
Who labour Tillage and the furrow’d Field”

I come to a piece of land overgrown with blackberry, briars, thistles, sweet gums, wild muscadines, small pine trees, wild cherry trees, dog fennel – all kinds of low brush and trees. It is wild and untamed. Vines snake through trees; briars spread between trunks. A lot of it I can’t force my way through. It’s lush and vibrant, a mass of vegetation – obviously full of potential and fertility. But it’s fertility unguided, undirected, ungoverned, and so it chokes out productive life which might yield fruit good for eating.

I obviously want the land to be productive for me and my household, so I have to bring some order to this unruly mess. I have to establish order – to judge, name, separate, divide, and gather.

Judging, naming = seeing what’s here and determining what needs to be cleared away. The wild cherry and dog fennel has to go, for sure. It’s a danger to my goats. So it is out. The sweet gums and pines, too. Sweet gums are too big and take over too quickly, and pines make the soil too acidic. Not good for farming. There are several pretty dogwoods I plan to keep. The blackberries and muscadines, though, pose a question. Perhaps some of them can be trained? Not sure yet. We’ll see. Making these judgments requires knowing the land well, knowing both what my vision for its future is, and what it can handle.

Separating, dividing, gathering = executing the judgment. This is where I wage war against the thorn and the thistles. If you’ve ever tried to cut down a briar thicket, you know it’s the work of war. The briars snare you, cut you, try to drag you in. You have to be on guard! I’m doing most of the work with goats and hand tools. My best weapon is a bush axe. (You need one!) I can cut down trees and briars and beat down thickets easily with it. I have to do this part carefully, though, because I don’t want to uncover too much of the land. Land needs to be covered to preserve (and increase) the fertility of the soil. If I uncover too much too quickly, the soil will erode and wash down the hill. It will become hard, compacted, beggarly – inhospitable to life. Again, I have to watch the land closely, stay present, listen to it. Perhaps change a previous judgment.

It’s probably easiest to associate swords and Law. Yet, here, I am the Law, working to establish a realm fit for the glory and communion of a Garden. My bush axe is an instrument of the Law, Law-made-tool. Just as a warrior’s sword is Law-made-tool. He judges friend from enemy, separates body from soul. A minister is the same. His voice is his sword, his preaching is Law-made-tool. That preaching separates good from evil, holy from profane, saint from sinner. It judges the thoughts and intents of the heart, divides soul and spirit.

Our women are Gardens personified. Our souls are Gardens. Our households are Gardens.

This shows the mutual need of Man and Woman. What is a Gardener without a Garden? What is a Garden without a Gardener? The Gardener has to have a vision of the End and know how to make order. The Garden has to receive the order of the Gardener and give fruit and life in accordance with the order, else it’s just a tangled mess where no one can live.

I think of Paul’s command for younger women to get married, have children, and run their households. He knows the feminine tendency will be towards disorder. He knows that without a Gardener, they will be unguided, undirected, ungoverned, and so will choke out productive life, not yielding good fruit. They need a Gardener! They need Law. And so a husband must be a good Gardener. He has to know his Land. He has to be close to it. He has to have an end envisioned. He must know what his Land can handle. He has to be proficient with the tools of his trade: the Word which is the Farmer’s Sword.