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The Age of Hooper: On Calculation, Poetry, and the Grace That Will Save the World

I returned from the conference a couple weeks ago, mind flush like an overheated thermometer, yearning to record something here, to continue the discussion, only to turn to preparations for the apprenticeship, which overflowed the whole of last week. Previously, I had traveled “home” to Green Bay to say good-bye to my family home of some 32 years.

After each event not a few reflections and reminiscences suggested themselves for duty on this blog.

Then over the weekend and into this week, I took some time off and watched the whole mini-series Brideshead Revisited, discussing it somewhat extensively with my dear friend, Jonathan Councell.

I wish, in a wistful, self-centered sort of way, that I could take weeks after each event just to process my thoughts and write what might seem helpful. Instead, I have a few minutes tonight, during which I’m trying to note any thread that might have bound all these events together.

If there is, that was it: threads. Maybe even weaving, but certainly this: Existence is creation, creation is image, image is analogy. We do not live in a scientific experiment, experiments deal with problems and solutions, and problems and solutions reduce to calculations.

Truth is known through analogies, such as a tapestry, a home-coming, an older and younger brother, a temple.

In a world that is itself analogy, calculation offers us great power, both to know and to obscure, to build and to destroy. But the knowledge that calculation offers falls short of the knowledge gained by analogy.

We all know this so well that we practice it ourselves from birth and we always turn back to it when we teach. But when you state it as a proposition, people who lack self-awareness or who are univocally committed to a positivistic dogma resist.

But there’s this: calculation is itself an analogical activity, and as beautiful as it is, its harmonic reach is limited. It can only bring so many things into the same key.

You cannot build a business on calculation, not to mention a family, a household, a tribe, a city, a state, or a confederation of states.

You cannot build a moral code on calculation.

You cannot reduce instruction or assessment to calculation.

You cannot do philosophy or theology with calculation.

Calculation is perverted (turned aside) when it is not subject to philosophy, theology, teaching, morals, and society.

I quote for you a beautiful and somewhat extended passage from Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited to illustrate my point, for there is no calculation adequate to the task (and I urge this book on anyone who either has or wants to gain insight into Lewis’s Charge that we are accomplishing The Abolition of Man):

Hooper was no romantic. He had not as a child ridden with Rupert’s horse or sat among the camp fires at Xanthus-side; at the age when my eyes were dry to all save poetry–that stoic, red-skin interlude which our schools introduce between the fast flowing tears of the child and the man–Hoooper had wept often, but never for Henry’s speech on St. Crispin’s Day, nor for the epitaph at Thermopylae. The history they taught him had had few battles in it but, instead, a profusion of detail about humane legislation and recent industrial change. Gallipoli, Balaclava, Quebec, Lepanto, Bannockburn, Roncevales, and Marathon–these, and the Battle in the West where Arthur fell, and a hundred such names whose trumpet-notes, even now in my sere and lawless state, called to me irresistably across the intervening years with all the clarity and strength of boyhood, sounded in vain to Hooper.

It is perhaps the saddest truth of our wandering age that so many of those names sound in vain to us as well.

We, made images, yearning for nothing more than to be like another, are granted so few informing childhood images that, having passed through the intervening years, we know too little even to listen in vain for echoes of the trumpet notes of those ungiven images sounding “with all the clarity and strength of boyhood” when we, more errant than knight, seeking missing mentors, press upon the unformed paths that we know only too well will define us.

It is not information that will save the world, but grace; and grace comes in the story of an image-restoring Son.

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