Baptism and the Recovery of Christian Literature

In his new book Heavenly Participation, Hans Boersma argues that the natural and supernatural are not separated but interwoven realities, like threads in a tapestry.

This means that a flourishing Christian life requires cultivating an ability to see how the natural world participates in heavenly realities. Boersma quotes theologian Alexander Schmemann to make an interesting point about how the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper help cultivate this vision:

Christ came not to replace ‘natural’ matter with some ‘supernatural’ and sacred matter, but to restore it and to fulfill it as the means of communication with God. The holy water in Baptism, the bread and wine in the Eucharist, stand for, i.e. represent the whole of creation, but creation as it will be at the end, when it will be consummated in God, when He will fill all things with Himself” (Of Water and the Spirit, 49).

In other words, these two special sacraments of the Church teach us to see every created thing in a sacramental way.

Thus are the church’s sacraments simply the beginning of the cosmic restoration. The entire cosmos is meant to serve as a sacrament:  a material gift from God in and through which we enter into the joy of his heavenly participation” (Boersma, loc. 154).

I’ve just started Boersma’s book, but I’ve already seen a lot of resonances with C.S. Lewis and Augustine (both of whom Boersma has discussed). These quotes above remind me of how fairy tales can also reenchant our vision of the everyday world. Poetry and literature in the hands of the right author do the same thing.

Literary history makes the case that a “sacramental imagination” is essential to the Christian poetic. Seeing every created thing as itself and also pointing to deeper realities beyond itself is a poetic vision common to many of the greatest Christian authors.

Dante and George Herbert certainly had it. Gerard Manley Hopkins had it (“The world is charged with the grandeur of God”). C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien saw the world this way, as did Flannery O’Connor. Even T.S. Eliot had this vision, though mostly as a photo negative (he lamented the absence of transcendence in the modern world) until he wrote The Four Quartets.

I’ve just begun Boersma’s book, but I’m already certain that it has profound implications for Christian poetics, arts, education, and parenting.