Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Ecclesiast's Riposte: The Archai of Water in Air

I am humbled at the invitation to offer this brief riposte to the illustrious Magus of the North's lecture Steampunk is Geistpunk. As a simple cleric, far be it from me to offer much in the way of a pointed challenge to the musings of his Steam Address. If this riposte is a parry, it is meant solely as continued engagement, not the dénouement. 

However, it seems that the good doctor, in his meditation, fails to honor the traditional archai set forth by Empodecles, the archai that have grounded all such metaphysical reflections since the pre-Socratic era. He has noted and named the wind. He seems to have forgotten the water.

I do not believe he intends this. Perhaps for the illustrious doctor wind always implies water as well. If so, so be it. But I hardly think the point can be left at the implicit level. Certainly very little wind, as we well know, is completely devoid of water, just as any of the four basic elements are rarely refined and completely alone from the other three.

So humor me a moment with these meditations on the humours. Water, associated as it is with phlegm, reminds us of the moment Jesus spat on some dirt and made mud (so mixing earth and water, all effected by wind) and then spread it on a man's eyes to heal him (John 9:6). Does this miracle of Jesus not denote, among other things, that the water is necessary for our sight? And although wind is as we know mostly invisible, nevertheless disembodied spirit is no Geist at all. Steam, as all are aware if watching a Watts machine, is very visible, often inordinately so, clouding our vision of anything other than the steam.

I quote the Magus, "Geist is a strange substance that is no substance at all.  It is breath, mind, and freedom all in one." In one sense this is true. In another, it is only true precisely in that Geist/steam is substantial, for it carries the water. The power of steam, though energized by the wind, is effectuated in the water.

This is all the more necessary to point out in this Pentecost season, for many erroneously name Pentecost the birthday of the church, when it ought more rightly be termed the baptism of the church. Birth is certainly full of water, yes, and earth and fire as well, and so is no small thing, but it is the proclamation of the gospel that clarifies that baptism is the new birth, endowed especially as it is with the wind in the water and hovering over the water, and the two together, heated (fire), accomplishes what we know of the steam. Then the power, if not harnessed to the earth (in our machines, but not just in machines), is a detached power. Only when it connects to the earth does the power live.

So my point, and my only point, is that we need remind ourselves that Geist is also water, if we are to understand precisely how Geist is "breath, mind, and freedom all in one." It is this because of the marriage of the air and the water. And the crossing of these is precisely the blessing and the enlivening of the lowly ones that I, and the Magus with me, so wish to uphold as central in our Geist-ological reflections. We remember, as it were, that the same Christ who sent the Spirit also poured forth water from his wounded side and attested to himself as the living water.

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