Friday, January 06, 2012

On Phantasie

Dear friend,

You and I were talking yesterday about something I call phantasie. That is my word for a lifestyle of illusion, where one's activity and thoughts swim in dreamy reveries and stories, swallowing hours, days, even years if indulged. Phantasie numbs the heart and mind against the real quiddity of the world outside, so that one goes willing into the invisible prison of one's own imagination.

My thinking of phantasie goes in three directions. First, the gospel is a summons to real life, a life peopled with real bodies and words with real meanings. The gospel calls us to resist phantasie. The living God calls us to love him and to love our neighbor. Second, phantasie seduces us as a distraction from the void. We do not feel the challenge of the meaningless, of the absurd, or the end because we are waking dreamers whose world is alive with drama and color (See my post "Blue Longing or Yellow Laziness".) The cross permits us to look into the void and to not be afraid without needing to shoulder the heavy angst and absurdity inevitable for the existentialists (See my discussion of Emile Cioran). The third part of my thinking about phantasie addresses its affect on the doctrine of revelation. I was raised in traditions that encourage a kind of mystical connection with Jesus through public and private worship, parallelled by an individual and devotional hermeneutic in the case of scripture. It was only when I began reading the Reformers (primarily Martin Luther and John Calvin but also statements such as those in the Book of Concord) that I began to gather the tools to challenge this tradition and to step out onto a path by which the Spirit, rather than speaking in an inner voice to us, has inspired and now illumines/opens our ears to hear the voice of scripture, "he who has ears, let him hear." The tedious ordinaity of reading, of thinking over a historical context, asking grammatical questions, toying with how authors are using words, etc.--the banality of these things becomes the human aspect of a simultaneously divine relationship (See my post "You are Removing God from the Everyday".) Phantasie is that affective prison that turns our own psychology into a little god whose introspective self-doubt distracts us from the judge and redeemer of the Real. Because it numbs us to reality, it prevents us from owning our relationship to the truth of things--it is an enemy of the truth. Thus, it is sin and bondage. Thus, it is what is being put away in this age, and it will not go into the next.

I have struggled with phantasie at various times of my life. It is a subtle and normally invisible opponent. No one talks about it, and especially as our culture is so obsessed with make believe, but you can spot its victims easily enough: smart, creative people who, for one reason or another, retreat from real life and real human community and relationship into the world of films, TV, books, etc. Don't we know these people well enough? Haven't we been those people on occasion? I've lost years to phantasie. Years of being drugged without realizing one is drugged. And so susceptible am I to its power that I'm shy of such things even today.

Ours is a culture addicted to phantasie, to its amusements, to its escapes. We exist simultaneously as citizens free of its dominion by grace, waiting in hope for our full deliverance into the Real, and as people who still struggling with it or give in altogether. Confession and repentance is a daily discipline, as is gratitude and praise.

Warmest Regards