[ by Charles Cameron – extended analytic game on Israeli-Palestinian conflict — continuing ]
Move 18: The Lamb of God
If you want it in short form, the move content here is: “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8) — note in particular the curious involvement of time in this formulation…
The Lamb of God is a superposition, a simultaneous envisioning of multiple meanings with their inherent values – it’s a thought (concetto) in a style of thinking that once was and should properly be known by the name of Poetry – a style of thinking in which a rich cluster of meanings is concentrated, potentiated, distilled as wine is distilled into brandy.
It is not, therefore, simply a decorative motif for churches, hymnals and religious pamphlets, not is it that brilliant but weak thing, a metaphor. Layered after the manner of Blake‘s fourfold vision (move 4), it is at once:
the radiance of Godhead;
focused in the person, life and death of the window, Christ, through which that radiance streams;
in his act of permitting his own slaughter, nailed and bleeding, on the tree that echoes the tree in an eternal garden;
prefigured in his breaking of bread and offering of wine, wheat ground by millstone and grape trodden in winepress, the fruits of the earth, the seasons and human labor;
offered in substitution as a Passover sacrifice;
repeated wherever and whenever Eucharist is celebrated;
portending the great union to which we are invited, the Marriage Supper;
seen in the image of a lamb, a child of sheep…
through all of which the divine radiance takes form, is colored, may be glimpsed, may be made ours… by means of which — “take, eat, this is given for you” — we may be made his.
This sounds like religion, and no doubt it is – but the mode of perception required to apprehend it is not material, not literal, not within reach of camera or microscope or x-ray, of fact, but symbolic, transcendent, within the reach of insight, of poetry, of love.
Likewise, the relation of time with the timeless in sacrifice is expressed as poetic truth in the words “slain from the foundation of the world “.
You may know these things from experience, you may see them as I write this, or this may all be as dust to you, the merest dull preachment, so many wasted pixels, so much spilled ink.
Perhaps I can convey some of the life of this matter through the works of great artists… for that is what they are great for.
Visually, the appropriate illustration would be the Adoration of the Lamb from van Eyck‘s Ghent Altarpiece, sonically the Agnus Dei from Bach‘s B Minor Mass – which I can happily present together in this video of John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists:
Here too, from Handel‘s Messiah, is the final chorus Worthy is the Lamb that was Slain and concluding Amen, sung by the Ichud Choir with the Herzliya Chamber Orchestra under Harvey Bordowitz:
I am particularly delighted to feature a choir and orchestra from Hertzliya here, because I generally associate Hertzliya with Dr Reuven Paz of the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, a noted counter-terrorism (CT) analyst — and besides, a Jewish choir and orchestra singing Messiah is interesting in its own way. More on that later…
To pigs, move 16: it is indeed a pleasure to move from the use of animals such as the pig in an imagery of hatred to that of the lamb in an imagery of love, and it may be noted that this shift accompanies the motif of sacrifice…
To Revelation, since “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” is a quotation from Revelation 13:8.
To Netanyahu’s leopard, via this lovely quote from Isaiah 11.6:
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.
Different moves can be seen as the “heart” of the game from different perspectives: this one presents the heart of the game’s (and my) metaphysics.
Specifically, there’s a great deal more I want to say in terms of the move content, laying out in more detail the relationship of “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” to the Wedding Supper of Revelation, the Eucharist, the Seder, ritual in general, time and eternity. For the sake of clarity, I’ll lay this out in a cadenza, an excursus — please read it as part of the move content for purposes of play.
Time lies at the heart of this move – or more precisely, time with eternity.
The thing being, that “time” contains “eternity” in the hidden heart of every moment, while “eternity” simultaneously contains every moment of “time”. Christ seems to be thinking along these lines in mind when he says “Before Abraham was, I am” – and the Zen Master Hui Neng‘s koan, “What is your face before your mother and father were born” carries a similar implication.
Indeed, this whole business of time, space and the Lamb is highly paradoxical, when viewed from a linear, secular perspective.
I am aware that this perception of the symbolic superposition of one time on another — like washes of watercolor on a painting and with “eternity” like the white canvas beneath them all — is an unfamiliar one in our clock-driven world. But it is an essential mode of perception if we are to understand the long memories of the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, and the eschatological hope that each of the three Abrahamic religions perceives in the spiritual topography of the Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem.
In playing this move, I wish to give the reader a background awareness of this style of perception: for it is this manner of thinking which allows centuries-ancient scriptures to map to the disputed terrain of these contested times.
It may thus serve us well as, moving further into the game, we encounter the more urgent and immediate voices of our contemporaries, friend and foe, skeptic and believer, warrior and peacemaker alike:
It was ever thus with prayer and sacrifice, as Martin Buber observes:
… prayer is not in time but time in prayer, sacrifice not in space but space in sacrifice, and to reverse the relation is to abolish the reality …
We find this sensibility spelled out explicitly in Jacob Neusner‘s account of the Passover seder, in his Introduction to Judaism:
Through the natural eye, one sees ordinary folk, not much different from their neighbors in dress, language, or aspirations. The words they speak do not describe reality and are not meant to. When Jewish people say of themselves, “We were the slaves of Pharaoh in Egypt,” they know they never felt the lash; but through the eye of faith that is just what they have done. It is their liberation, not merely that of long-dead forebears, they now celebrate.
Here lies the power of the Passover banquet rite to transform ordinary existence into an account of something beyond. … Now, in the transformation at hand, to be a Jew means to be a slave who has been liberated by God. To be Israel means to give eternal thanks for God’s deliverance. And that deliverance is not at a single moment in historical time. It comes in every generation and is always celebrated. Here again, events of natural, ordinary life are transformed through myth into paradigmatic, eternal, and ever-recurrent sacred moments.
Indeed the Haggadah, the liturgical text of the seder, itself expresses the need for this folding of time upon time:
In every generation a person is obligated to regard himself as if he had come out of Egypt, as it is said: “You shall tell your child on that day, it is because of this that the L-rd did for me when I left Egypt.”
Christ, who is simultaneously the sacrificing Priest and the sacrificial Lamb, is understood in the theology of the Eucharist as extending throughout and beyond all times and spaces – he is “slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13.8 as quoted above), he re-enacts the original Passover in the Last Supper (Mark 14.14) and at his Crucifixion (his body broken and blood spilled), and is present at every Eucharist…
Dom Gregory Dix, after 700 pages of exceedingly detailed scholarship on the early formation of the Eucharistic rite in his seminal book, The Shape of the Liturgy — suddenly bursts out with this stunning paragraph:
Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacles of human greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; for a village headman much tempted to return to fetich because the yams had failed; because the Turk was at the gates of Vienna; for the repentance of Margaret; for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so, wounded and prisoner-of-war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc — one could fill many pages with the reasons why men have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of christendom, the pastors have done this just to make the plebs sancta Dei — the holy common people of God.
And every Eucharist, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council tells us, offers us “a foretaste of that heavenly liturgy which is celebrated in the Holy City of Jerusalem toward which we journey as pilgrims, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God, Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle.”
We find the same in the profound reaches of Islam, where as Gerhard Böwering notes in The Concept of Time in Islam:
Through a distinct meditational technique, known as dikr, recollection of God, the mystics return to their primeval origin on the Day of Covenant, when all of humanity (symbolically enshrined in their prophetical ancestors as light particles or seeds) swore an oath of allegiance and witness to Allah as the one and only Lord. Breaking through to eternity, the mystics relive their waqt, their primeval moment with God, here and now, in the instant of ecstasy, even as they anticipate their ultimate destiny. Sufi meditation captures time by drawing eternity from its edges in pre- and post-existence into the moment of mystical experience.
I’ll leave off with the celebrated words of St. Augustine on time:
For what is time? Who can easily and briefly explain it? Who even in thought can comprehend it, even to the pronouncing of a word concerning it? But what in speaking do we refer to more familiarly and knowingly than time? And certainly we understand when we speak of it; we understand also when we hear it spoken of by another. What, then, is time? If no one ask of me, I know; if I wish to explain to him who asks, I know not.
— Augustine of Hippo, Confessiones lib xi, cap xiv, sec 17 (ca. 400 CE)