In the name of the Father
Holy Amen Spirit,
and the Son and the
I have been meaning to talk to you about this for a while, but I’m not sure how to say it, so I’ll start with a story I like. Socrates was a big fan of staying up late. One night, he and his friends were taking turns making speeches at Agathon’s house about the elusive god Eros: Love. According to Hesiod the poet, Eros was one of the first beings that sprung into existence out of Chaos, because Eros attaches heart-bodies together to grow new heart-bodies. Eros is the thing between Lovers to make new Lovers. Socrates loves Eros because Love is the go-between, going from the Divine to the mundane and back again; Love makes the distance between Lovers’ heart-bodies shorter and shorter. Love laces Lovers. Love represents a self-incompletion, an implication that being unlaced is insufficient.
Socrates finished his speech and his friends were speechless, except for one lover who was just barging into Agathon’s house: Alcibiades. It was very late now (just how Socrates likes it), and Alcibiades was raucously drunk. He stumbled in, killing the Lovely vibe that had just been instituted and demanding to see Agathon, the outrageously beautiful man who had just won the tragedy competition. He spewed out the hot, alcohol-saturated gas that had built up in his passionate breast when he saw that dreadful man-stealer, Socrates. He unleashed. He accused Socrates of always selfishly taking the prettiest man for himself and pointed to Socrates and Agathon reclining together on the couch. Then Alcibiades composed himself and enunciated his new motive: the great Praise-Roast of Socrates.
This symposium’s previous intention was to speak in praise of Eros, and Alcibiades now promises to speak in praise of (the terrible) Socrates to keep something of a theme going. He recalls a story in which he tried to seduce Socrates, but it didn’t work despite his best efforts, despite his love for Socrates, all his charm and all his manly beauty. Humiliated. He had thrown all his pride away to have a night of love with Socrates, and Socrates quietly disempowered his intention because Alcibiades was trying to trade his superficial youthful beauty for Socrates’ internal polished beauty, “bronze for gold.” Reminded of the vast chasm of moral difference between himself, an objectifying thrill-seeking drunkard, and Socrates, the monogamously Good-seeking Wisdom-Loving (Philo-Sopher), Alcibiades picks up an accusation of Socrates, which I now redirect towards you, Menōn: I lovehate you because you’re always like this, you goatman/Godman! Every time I’m with you, your words wriggle under my skin like worms in a dead animal, effervescently spraying up foam like a shaken soda in my uncarbonated heart, always impelling me to transform my ways, to trade in my worthless garbage for your gold, always making me itchingly aware of how absurd and selfish my choices are! Every time I hear your divine guidance caked in your simple words, the beautiful Call to all-encompassingly follow you, and her evil twin Status Quo, assail my stupid heart because you truly demand everything!
Menōn, once, in somebody’s house, you told your disciples that the kingdom of the heavens is the same as a treasure buried in a field that a seeker finds – the seeker buries it again, and joyfully inspired, gathers and sells everything they have and buys that field there! You even told that story in the present tense in the perspective of that seeker because it’s such an impassioned story! But it’s such a scary story too, Menōn. You offer us the kingdom of the heavens in exchange for our very selves. You told your disciples to Love you with all our thought-feeling and all our breath and all our ability, and to Love everyone else like we Love ourselves, and you tell us and show us how that way is the way that aligns us with the creation that was made through you, that fills up the emptiest bucket in our hearts with exactly what it thirsts for and aligns us with the thirst of every other breathing thing that manages to Love, unbroken by the hate we do. One of your disciples later told some of his disciples that you demand us to Love, that anybody who says that they know you but doesn’t Love is a liar, and that your Love is here so that we carry out your demand to Love, which isn’t too heavy! But Menōn, my love doesn’t fill like yours does. My love pushes its objects away and locks the doors and sputters out when I refuse to install the new engine you gave me, but yours walks out and wades in and waits for. Your Love comes near to make stone-hearts into new Lovers. My love is a shallow kiddy pool that only I can uncomfortably sit in, but yours is the endless briny expanse of the watery heavens, swelling with waves and circling riptides that suck our empty bucket-hearts into its infinite unpolluted twinkle, and you offer us a boat to tell all the empty buckets where they can get so full that the rim forgets itself! I’m so frustrated, Menōn! How do I somehow always mistake this all-consuming flood for a quaint little once-a-day half-hearted coffee date with you? How do I mistake your call for me to drop everything and follow you for an occasional recognition that my stuff is yours while I waste away in the life-sucking desert of personal material security? How do I mistake your call for me to lose myself in the stomach-butterflies-inducing honeymoon with yourself and the rest of your beautiful humanity for the torture of my spiritualist solitary confinement that I punish myself with, somehow thinking that goodness for me isn’t part of the same stew you’re making for the goodness of every person?
But Menōn, I can’t live a filled-up life without you. You’re the vine, and we are the branches. You’re the abiding in us: the menōn in us. You’re the fullness. Your way is to turn our minds and give you our loyalty – to “repent and believe.” “Salvation” without a new Spirit who pours the Love, without working for justice in the ways we’re invited to, without hurting for the hurting, without Loving the Loveless, without speaking truth like you do, without dying to self and finding life in you, without knowing you, isn’t salvation at all. It’s empty words. Menōn, please, be the Socrates to my Alcibiades: uproot my deeply-held cultural worship of that lie that the spirit is me and the body isn’t, that allows me to think I can have a deep Eros with you without radically changing my ways in Body as well as in Spirit. Menōn, abide.
In the name of the Father
Holy Amen Spirit,
and the Son and the
Nicolas Jay Schroeter ’22 is majoring in Classics and Religion with a concentration in Jewish Studies, all three of which he refers to as “really old stuff.” He’s a Catholic convert, a Texan, and usually a vegan. He misses yellow grass and frito chili pie. Racial reparations are necessary.
For a concisely well-put and beautifully profound picture book that says the same thing Jay was trying to say in this essay, read “Brother John” by August Turak, which Jay discovered several months after writing this piece.