Who can say what the ‘World’ is? In its different way, it is as strange, marvellous, and mysterious, as the Nature against which it is often contrasted. There is a profound and unsettling puzzle about the World. It is fearful and wonderful at once; there is something terrible about it, so much so, we might have hoped to live close to Nature forever without venturing into the open-ended and vast empty space of the worldly. Yet it brings a new opportunity for freedom, for creative and loving action, that also renders it intoxicating.. The World both repels us, and invites us into its complication, its ambiguity, its ambivalence, its sense of danger and chances to ‘do’ something new.. The World is more paradoxical than Nature. The World raises a question for the heart that cannot be answered in any glib, off the top of the head, manner. Living close to Nature consoles and excites the heart; the question is not put..
It would seem that early humanity finally ceased living close to Nature when the so-called ‘high civilisations’ of antiquity started to be built up. The watershed in moving toward this probably occurred much earlier in time at the point of the transition from the more ‘dynamic’ life of nomadic wandering, with its hunting and gathering, to the more ‘static’ life of settled crop growing. From ‘settling down’, ceasing to be ‘on the move’, came the grain barns that are the ancestors of the banks.. Paradox surrounds this earlier transition: though the nomads were warrior like, and the settled ostensibly peaceable, rivalry over ‘possession’ of the grain barns generated far more violence, and far nastier violence, than the skirmishing of fighting bands engaged in contests of bravado, but never resorting to the theft of all the enemy’s land and their entire extermination.. It is the peaceable farmers who, increasingly, justified theft from your brother as ‘ownership’ of ‘private property’, and created a social law that rationalises, and sanctifies, the ‘haves’ against the ‘have nots.’
God accepted Abel but repudiated Cain: the pastoralist — harking back to the primordial nomadic life of humanity — was blessed, while the farmer was refused any blessing. Full of resentment against his brother’s freewheeling and inherently more favoured manner of living, the farmer kills the pastoralist, but God spares the ‘peaceable’ killer, though a mark was put on him by which his primordial rupture with the Beginning of all time, and departure from the First Way humans lived in that Beginning, could never be forgotten. Cain is marked with a primal crime: a crime against the primal. In some peculiar sense, this mythical story marks the beginning of history: the World is built out of a consciousness of that primal crime, a regret, almost a nostalgia, for all the robust virtues and spiritual riches of the dynamic life which it had to forfeit in order to settle down.
For example, the nomads ate less than the settled, but were healthier. Life on the move was harder, but more stimulating. Life on the move demanded human solidarity and so was inherently more democratic, whilst the settled life — though more specialised in diverse roles — also became gradually and relentlessly more hierarchic, with concentrations of power and money at the top, and massive poverty and disenfranchisement at the bottom, like a triangle with a broad base and a steep apex. Finally, when we tamed the natural environment we became tamed, and ever since then we have restlessly wanted to break out of the corral that inhibits our wild life force; but we do not know how to break the chains that bind us, because we will not cease from using these chains to bind life.
The story of Cain signifies both our nostalgia at losing, and guilt over jettisoning, some innate sense of the way to live that we had been gifted with from the dawn of time. That two-fold nostalgia and guilt still dominates our unconscious feeling about Nature, and the Indigenous peoples who somehow manage to hold on to the ‘Dream Time’ of life on this planet.. In our soul we know we have lost something significant, yet in our ego-driven mind which seeks to scheme and calculate its path to worldly success, we see only externals, and remain in shallows.
That superficiality is key to what the World is, and that is why the preacher complained of worldly life that it was all ‘vanity’, pointless show, sturm und drang signifying absolutely nothing: “I have seen all things done under the sun, everything is meaningless, and a chasing after the wind” [Ecclesiastes, 1, 14]. The World is what we ‘build’ as a result of the Fall from dynamic into static, so it represents humanity’s self-willed separation from God and Nature.
Yet the World is a possibility, an opportunity, more than that. The Messiah says: ‘I came into this world not to judge it, but to save it.’ If the World were mere show without substance, why would any Saviour bother over it? The Messiah whom the Jews foretold: ‘a man is coming whose heart is deep.’ He was needed because, as Nietzsche perceived: “The world is deep.”
This is the mystery, the puzzle, the question. This depth that the World brings with its rise is what redeems Abel’s slaughter, and the ongoing march of Cain and his descendants. The World is not just the shift from countryside to city; the World is not just the shift from living close to the earth to building upward the high rise of civilisation; the World is more than all that. The World is a break with an ancient and primal splendour; it is a violent disjunction with an old way that was a good way, a way that had valour, and generosity, built-in to its very breathing of life and the very sinew and bone by which life sparked it to move.. Beauty above me, beauty below me, beauty behind me, beauty ahead of me, beauty all around me– in such words the Navajo remember the First Time.
The First Time feels eternal, timeless, a moment indwelt by eternity. The shock is that the eternal moment ends. What ends it? Not just human greed, not just the ego climbing the greasy pole of worldly ambition, not just the shallow mind always working a calculus of gain for self at any loss to the other. A new reality comes with depth, a reality both spiritual and in time, of this world, existential in its cutting edge; this reality of depth is both terrifying yet exhilarating.
Depth inaugurates, and works through, time. Mythological time is not really time; it is timeless time. Depth inaugurates and works through history. This signifies a new disclosure of God in which God is tied to time, God is tied to history, God is staked to the ground.
Depth inaugurates, and works through, a risk God is taking, with time, through history, on the ground. This risk is focused upon, ‘bound hand and foot’ to, ‘This World.’
What is this risk?
The risk= existential freedom for anything to happen; then, that means the existential situation risks far more human destruction, but opens the door to a greater and deeper humanity. The risk= to lose all love, or find a more Godlike love. A fundamental Either/Or, two roads, arises, forcing humans to choose.. The Easy Way versus the Hard Way arises.. But this also means that the heart is tested as never before, and in fact, we have to search out, test and prove, what ‘heart’ is or is not in all we do..
The loss of the old way= the soul. The gain of the new way= the heart. But, a conflicted heart, a torn heart, a heart pulled in different ways, and a heart that must enter this strife, and suffer its enigma, to go deeper.
This is almost impossible to put into words.. It is very hard to describe this ‘new situation’ of the ‘worldly’ as differentiated from the ‘natural.’
We had to come out from the intricate web of Nature’s inter-connectedness and interdependency to uncover depth, and risk the heart to it. The World is disfigured by the clever, the scheming and calculating, the shallow, in mind. Yet the World is marked by a depth that requires depth of heart in humanity to wrestle with it; we are risked to the uncovering and attaining, or losing of, a heart deep enough to be equal to the World.
The World lives by ‘strife’: contention, clashing of forces, tumult, trouble, striving, searching out in depth what is true or false.
The mystery of depth that characterises the World is the question put to the heart that forces it out of its contentment in Nature, and throws it into a new field of activity, an existential arena.
Thus the World= the contest of love, the contest of hearts, for what kind of heart will rule the world and hence dynamically create its final destiny.
In Old English, the root for ‘world’ means, ‘the era of man’, the time of man. The ball is firmly in our court. What heart will humanity pursue?