But the thing that stuck with me was the fact that their religious fervor, to rediscover these wonders, was born of a simple desire: immortality. Not like vampires, whose immortality is fraught, but more like Werewolf Boyfriend: if you stretch time out until it doesn't matter, if you lose all concept of time altogether, then that moment could last a split-second and it would be eternity. They just wanted to lose themselves. Just for a second. Because they knew that this was the experience of God:
Ekstasis comes from the word for displacement, ek (out) + histanai (to stand): To rise up. To come out of stasis. From the word for stand we get "stet," like to leave things the way they are, and "status quo," and basically everything that defines us. To step out of that, for even one second, is also to touch all of it at once: That's God. There is not a better definition for divinity. Every religion that ever existed is about this attempt to get out of our shitty mud and touch something eternal.
The only differences lie in the characteristics of the God in question. If you're a Wiccan that means Earth, Gaia: The smells and tastes and wonder of Her body and yours. If you're Zen, or St. Therese, that means doing whatever you were going to do anyway, but wholly. If it's Dionysus, that means getting there on a rocky road and pushing right past the limits of sanity. If you're Christian, that means one of several different things. If you've ever read The Wind In The Willows, you know that experiences of God -- even or especially of Dionysus -- come with the price of forgetting. Not forgetting means you've gone crazy, so you have to stay here with us.
But you can feel that feeling: Beautiful art, the end of this episode, your kids, certain moments in church. That's what charisma actually means: That gift of God, from the same root as "charity," and our gratitude for it, and the way we use it. Those moments mean memories of wholeness, which can't ever last without you turning to stone; they are also the markers on the path back to wholeness, without which you can't exist without turning to stone.
They are both: the other side of grace is also grace. That tension defines Greek antiquity. The main difference between Greek and Roman architecture is the lack of circles in the latter: Greeks were allowed to go crazy, Romans weren't. Greeks were allowed to do both, and go back and forth across the line, and Romans weren't. We're not, either. So it gets squeezed out: Into subculture, into solitary study, into new delirious forms. Into perversion, lots of times.