And departed Jacob . . .
. . . from Well-of-an-Oath
And went toward Parched.
And he lighted on the place
And spent the night there because the sun had set.
And he took of the stones of the place
And put at his head-place
And lay down in that place
And he dreamed.
And behold! A stairway was set on the land
And the head of it touched the heavens.
And behold! The angels of Elohim ascending
And descending on it.
And behold! Yahweh stood above it
And said, “I am Yahweh, Elohim of Abraham your father
And Elohim of Isaac.
The land which you lie upon—to you I will give it
And to your seed.
And shall your seed be as the dust of the land.
And you will break to the west
And to the east
And to the north
And to the south.
And blessed in you shall all the families of the soil be
And in your seed.
And behold! I am with you
And will guard you wherever you go
And will return you to this soil.
For I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you." – Genesis 28:10-15
There is palpable sense of anticipation in contemporary culture—a feeling that something entirely new is coming soon. The remnants of the modern age left over from the World Wars are still with us, though fading. As they fade, we assume that some new light will rush in to replace them. We live in the valley between two epochs. Only it is a valley of mists. Our feet tell us we are at an incline, but we cannot see the summit. This has led to a number of unfulfilled predictions of what our future will be. Though we created the atom bomb, the world has yet to succumb to all-out nuclear warfare. The further we drive computing technology, the further off we are from any kind of singularity. Though space colonization seems to be within our reach, the idea that it will be achieved within the next fifty years is less plausible than it was fifty years ago.
One of the reasons, I presume, that technology has not already punched through the mist is that our ideology is scattered. Postmodern universities, industries, and social trends are increasingly specialized and disintegrated. There is no shortage of fervor for change. But that fervor is so far dissipated in so many directions that it diffuses its own potential. The rise of slacktivism (pejorative title) on social media is among the more deplorable byproducts of this phenomenon. The fact that friends of mine can make a living developing robotic baby strollers and artificially intelligent toy cars is a more fascinating result. This morning I watched a video of wood being turned into a substitute for glass.
The arts are similarly affected by the dispersion. To achieve a cohesive corpus, it is necessary for an artist to lay some kind of foundation upon which to build. (This is true even of those who seek to build without one. Their founding principle is to be dispersive.) At times in history, artists have knowingly or unknowingly joined foundations and built alongside one another. We look back and give names to the schools they built, e.g. Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, and Romantic. We do this in part to recognize the successive nature of these movements, the sense in which one movement directly responds to another.
We do have artistic schools today, though no longer in succession. They do not normally trigger a direct response. They simply fade after a generation and become the "post-" versions of themselves. In music, there was a time when Romantic composers could be said to be heirs of Beethoven in some sense. Modernist composers could at least be seen as for or against the likes of Wagner or Strauss. Postmodern music tears down this succession (or the illusion thereof) and seeks to build fresh foundations from the rubble. Composers patch together from rock, jazz, baroque, eastern philosophy, medieval chant, and popular science—to name a mere few—in order to fashion something authentic to themselves. If there is any guiding principle in the music of today, it is that we should create from the stuff we like. Eat, drink, and be merry.
Some are satisfied with the state of things, and I am inclined to agree with them in part. Since the future we hoped to build in the modern age has collapsed, and since we do not know what will rush in to supplant it, it seems there is nothing better for us than to delight in whatever we can at present. (cf. my previous post) Where I may differ with some is that I still believe in the promise we feel deep in our bones: that another epoch is coming.
There is little reason to think that it will occur in this generation. Though I hope to take a trip into space before I die, I do not expect that I will live to see significant settlement off-world. It is possible, even probable, that some millennials will grow tired of ravenous individualism and cast off in search of something post-post-modern. (Or is it post-post-post-modern?) It seems just as likely that some Christians in the west will begin to ache from the way the church has divided itself over the centuries and seek ways to restore unity (John 17:20-23). It will take much more than a single generation for these kinds of changes to come to fulfillment.
We are like Jacob, who saw a stairway into heaven, a true tower of Babel, but died centuries before the building of Solomon's temple (2 Samuel 7:12-13) and the coming of the Messiah (John 1:51). Since we are in mist, we may as well enjoy it while we have it. Having tired ourselves chasing after wind, we should take opportunity to rest and dream of what might be on the other side that blue sky. When we awake, no doubt it will be far more awesome than what we dreamed.
And awoke Jacob . . .
...from his sleep
And said, “Surely is Yahweh in this place
And I did not know”
And he was fearful
And said, “How fearful is this place
This is none other than the house of Elohim
And this is the gate of the heavens”
And early rose Jacob in the morning
And took the stone that he had put at his head-place
And put it as a pillar
And poured oil on its head
And he called the name of that place House-of-God
But Almond-Tree was the name of that city at the first
And vowed Jacob a vow saying, “If it shall be that Elohim is with me
And guards me in this way that I go
And gives me bread to eat
And a covering to put on
And I return in peace to the house of my father
Then shall Yahweh be to me Elohim
And this stone which I have put as a pillar shall be the house of Elohim
And of all you give to me I will give a tenth to You”