Treebeard in a Forest of Options

Benedict, Bombadill, Gandalf, and Beck
Treebeard “supposes.” His option: “must do.”
Given no choice, with the threat to his neck,
he heralds his plan and follows it through.

Tim Ferris interviewed Chuck Palahniuk on his podcast recently. Not long into the interview, Palahniuk explains the phenomenon that some readers of his story, “Guts” experience. They pass-out. Maybe that shocking detail made me lean in to hear, what I think to be, a profound summary of what Palahniuk understands his calling to be. He says:

The goal is to make people laugh and then to really break their heart.

This, of course, makes complete sense coming from the man who wrote Fight Club. A movie that holds much of it’s college-aged-viewing charm after first viewing. I think because even after you have been whiplashed by the surprise ending, you ache to see old forms of personhood and institution crumble (while a Pixies song plays) to death.

At the same time, hearing the master of modern-grotesque describe his aim as an author, I was suprised. His words stunned me for their uncanny resemblence to a few lines of rhyme from C.S. Lewis.

Have you not seen that in our days
Of any whose story, song or art
Delights us, our sincerest praise
Means, when all’s said, ‘You break my heart?

“Laughter through tears.”

Writing on the subjects of diversity and inclusion for some new job stuff, I came across this Love-Actually-type video on inclusion. It’s a great artifact of rhetorical mastery: logos and tear-worthy pathos.

George Herbert's Pre-sermon Prayer

An excerpt from George Herbert’s book A Priest to The Temple: Or The Country Parson, His Character, And Rule of Holy Life, included in the chapter titled, “The Authour’s Prayer before Sermon.”

Thou hast exalted thy mercy above all things; and hast made our salvation, not our punishment, thy glory: so that then where sin abounded, not death, but grace superabounded; accordingly, when we had sinned beyond any help in heaven or earth, then thou saidest, Lo, I come! then did the Lord of life, unable of himselfe to die, contrive to do it. He took flesh, he wept, he died; for his enemies he died; even for those that derided him then, and still despise him. Blessed Saviour!

Narrow Scope Anxiety

Possible Answers to Prayer

Your petitions—though they continue to bear
just the one signature—have been duly recorded.
Your anxieties—despite their constant,

relatively narrow scope and inadvertent
entertainment value—nonetheless serve
to bring your person vividly to mind.

Your repentance—all but obscured beneath
a burgeoning, yellow fog of frankly more
conspicuous resentment—is sufficient.

Your intermittent concern for the sick,
the suffering, the needy poor is sometimes
recognizable to me, if not to them.

Your angers, your zeal, your lipsmackingly
righteous indignation toward the many
whose habits and sympathies offend you—

these must burn away before you’ll apprehend
how near I am, with what fervor I adore
precisely these, the several who rouse your passions.

Supreme Thanks

Thank you, Jenzia Burgos, for the incredible resource of a Black Music History Library. Today, I read Greg Tate’s review of Ashley Kahn’s book A Love Supreme. The article includes this block quote describing how Coltrane’s album begins:

Elvin Jones leans to his left and, striking a Chinese gong, opens the album with an ethereal, exotic splash. “It’s the signal of something different,” remarks [Alice and John Coltrane’s son] Ravi. “You don’t hear that instrument anywhere else on any other John Coltrane recording.” … In one stroke, the hammered metal’s distinctive shimmer clears the air of standard jazz practice… . Coltrane enters with a brief fanfare. Whether blown from minarets or at military barracks, as a call to prayer or to arms, it’s a time-honored device with a timeless function …

Now I’m gonna go listen to “Psalm” and read Coltrane’s liner-notes poem. Salud!

Every US National Park ranked.

Prayer is a portal

I'm headed to the beach this weekend!

Whenever we touch nature we get clean. People who have got dirty through too much civilization take a walk in the woods, or a bath in the sea. Entering the unconscious, entering yourself through dreams, is touching nature from the inside and this is the same thing, things are put right again.

— Carl Jung via: Swissmiss

This Jung quote grabbed my attention for its Emersonian charm and near narration of what I hope this weekend to be. On second reading, I found myself remolding some of the pastoral platitudes. At the risk of over-spiritualizing, here are my thoughts:

When one enters a dream, more than one's self is present. We enter the unconscious in the compony of the invisible. There, not all are benevolent. Yet, when we humble ourself to the good, true, and beautiful one, we bath in the sea, walk in the calming compony of the woods and are consequently washed, calmed, and put right, in the compony of The Man of Sorrows. In him, we get clean. In him, we touch nature from the inside.

Prayer is the portal.

Among. (Day 13 of the August Photoblogging Challenge)

Feliz–belated–Cumple, HUvB!

Sound. (Day 12 of the August Photoblogging Challenge)

Tree fell.

Love and Mercy

Nick Cave is batting 1,000 on his last few Red Hand Files newsletters. I shared a highlight from the last issue regarding writers block. This week, he connected the principle and practice of "mercy" to the problem with cancel culture. He wrote:

Mercy allows us the ability to engage openly in free-ranging conversation — an expansion of collective discovery toward a common good. If mercy is our guide we have a safety net of mutual consideration, and we can, to quote Oscar Wilde, “play gracefully with ideas.”

...It is a value we must nurture and aspire to. Tolerance allows the spirit of enquiry the confidence to roam freely, to make mistakes, to self-correct, to be bold, to dare to doubt and in the process to chance upon new and more advanced ideas. Without mercy society grows inflexible, fearful, vindictive and humorless.

The picture of a society without mercy reminds me of something I heard about mercy defined linguistically. The Hebrew word associates the experience with pregnancy. Mercy is like being pregnant. "Bearing with" the other in mercy requires genuine selflessness.

Ethicist and Church Historian, Walter Brueggemann makes the case that the most fundamental, human enemy of mercy is "the pattern of self-preoccupation." Krista Tippett interviewed Brueggemann some time ago on the podcast "On Being" and asked him, as Nick Cave was asked, to define "Mercy." Here's Brueggemann:

You may know that the Hebrew word for — Phyllis Trible has taught us that the Hebrew word for mercy is the word for womb with different vowel points. So mercy, she’s suggested, is womb-like mother love. It is the capacity of a mother to totally give one’s self over to the need and reality and identity of the child. And mutatis mutandis (translation: "things being changed that have to be changed"), then, mercy is the capacity to give one’s self away for the sake of the neighborhood.

Now, none of us do that completely. But it makes a difference if the quality of social transactions have to do with the willingness to give one’s self away for the sake of the other, rather than the need to always be drawing all of the resources to myself for my own well-being. It is this kind of generous connectedness to others. And then I think our task is to see how that translates into policy. Now we’re having huge political storms about whether our policies ought to reflect that kind of generosity to people other than us and people who are not as well-off as we are, or whatever.

I think that a community or a society, finally, cannot live without the quality of mercy. The problem for us is, what will initiate that? What will break the pattern of self-preoccupation enough to notice that the others are out there and that we are attached to them?

"Others are out there" means that mercy requires love as defined by Iris Murdoch. She says, "Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than yourself is real." Love initiates and invites mercy

Transport. (Day 11 of the August Photoblogging Challenge)

Thanksgiving tower takes me back to living in downtown Dallas.

Windows. (Day 10 of the August Photoblogging Challenge) From back in Oak Cliff where my cousin assisted on a project with tierra firme.

My friend and I swapped stories of working amidst distractions at home. I told him that I wanted one of these for Chirstmas.

Black-and-white. (Day 9 of the August Photoblogging Challenge)

Jazz Gratitude

Here are a few of John Coltrane’s words from “A Love Supreme” liner notes:

This album is a humble offering to Him. An attempt to say “THANK YOU GOD” through our work, even as we do in our hearts and with our tongues. May He help and strengthen all men in every good endeavor.

Like a good jazz fan (in the mode of a good jazz musician), Tim Keller stole and used the same for the epigraph to his book. The “THANK YOU GOD” in all caps has, lately, been reminding me that the best attitude is gratitude.

Currently reading: Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work To God’s Work by Timothy Keller 📚 because I’m starting a new job next month. Thanks for the dope, new feature, @Manton!

Wait For It

My anxiety shortens my breath. The fundamental instinct of respiration thwarted by fear, worry, too much time just in my head. I've learned, through the trauma of a couple panic attacks and a steady breathing practice—in thru the nose, out thru the mouth—that breathing consists in waiting (thanks for humoring the personal example).

It might sound weird that I'm relearning how to breath as an adult. Mindfulness, meditation, contemplation, prayer-all forms of attentive breath train one to wait. I use the personal and fundamental example of patient breathing to claim that to wait is to be human. Our journey through time waits for an end.

Here's Nick Cave on the theme:

The idea of lyrics ‘not coming’ is basically a category error. What we are talking about is not a period of ‘not coming’ but a period of ‘not arriving’. The lyrics are always coming. They are always pending. They are always on their way toward us. But often they must journey a great distance and over vast stretches of time to get there. They advance through the rugged terrains of lived experience, battling to arrive at the end of our pen. In time, they emerge, leaping free of the unknown — from memory or, more thrillingly, from the predictive part of our minds that exists on the far side of the lived moment. It has been a long and arduous journey, and our waiting much anguished.

Language Caught Alive

"Poetry is language caught alive"

Then just call me Joe Exotic and my verse cagey tigers.

Netflix jokes aside, I really dig this poetry resource. Poetry as 'performance', I think, serves to bring it out of the learned towers of academia and, in that way, breath life and longevity into it.

Some time ago, I was lucky enough to catch Dana Gioia at a poetry reading hosted by the Dallas Institute. That evening, I witnessed firsthand a master 'performative' poet recite his work to his guest. He looked down only once to his written material. Otherwise he spoke his lines as the living drama that they are. I can't help but think that poetry can act like a thin spot between something like Aristotelian particulars of people in a room (with one man's voice) and Platonic forms of heavenly, language flowers dropping their petals to the here-and-now.

Wonder and Bread

Image Source

Lately, I've been obsessed with the Lone Bellow's latest album, "Half Moon Light." Alongside Bob Dylan's latest and "Easy Rider: The best of the Mercury recordings" by Johnny Cash, New York's finest country-folk band has my heart and ears. A favorite track titled "Wonder" asks,

"Should I let go of the wonder? Let go of the wonder? I'll find it out beyond the trees."

The question is a good one because it seems to be asking two things at the same time.

  1. What can I keep from the childlike (not childish) awe from before now, when all I got from growing up was getting old?
  2. How am I holding on to an imagined person, place, or thing that isn't leading me to hope and love? Is it best for me to let that go? If so, where will I find the strength to do so? What do I hold on to instead?

Thinking about wonder and seeing that Austin Kleon was recently asked by the Corita Art Center to speak about Sister Corita Kent in a conversation about her influence on his own work, reminded me of her great collage using Wonder Bread branding (image above). In that collage Sister Kent incorporates a hearty quote from Camus. The tiny script in her collage reads:

Great ideas, it has been said, come into the world as gently as doves. Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear, amid the uproar of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope. Some will say this hope lies in a nation; others in a man. I believe rather that it is awakened, received, nourished by millions of solitary individuals whose deeds and works everyday negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history. As a result, there shines forth fleetingly the ever threatened truth that each and every man, on the foundation of his own sufferings and joys, builds for all.


The Tree of Knowledge in The Soil of Being

This morning, I watched a few minutes of a Robert Wood lecture on Martin Heidegger. The lecture was given in a series titled, "Beauty in The Tradition." Serial lectures given at the conference of The Hildebrand Project.

Wood begins his lecture on Heidegger by first illustrating the priority of Renee Descartes's philosophy. He draws a tree on a whiteboard and names some branches.

As Wood draws, he tells the philosophical story that has shaped—how and what we think—us modern folk, and the world in which we find ourselves.

By using Descartes's own 'Tree of Knowledge' illustration, Wood explains Heidegger's priority for tilling the soil in which the tree is planted. Heidegger wants to know what the tree of knowledge is planted in. His answer?

Being in the world. This is the soil. Humanness by virtue of being is the terra firma of knowing. Being is the ground of knowing.

For the Christian, 'being' is of course foundational in the three-person-ness of, "I believe: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." God is being and he gifts us his being by virtue of his forming us in his image, in the act of creation and Incarnation.

Matthew B. Crawford's Book The World Beyond Your Head has helped me understand this very fundamental fact.

A Lesson in The Geometry of The Cross with St Augustine

[Of the Cross] Its breadth lies in the transverse beam on which the hands of the Crucified are extended; and signifies good works in all the breadth of love: its length extends from the transverse beam to the ground, and is that whereto the back and feet are affixed; and signifies perseverance through the whole length of time to the end: its height is in the summit, which rises upwards above the transverse beam; and signifies the supernal goal, to which all works have reference, since all things that are done well and perseveringly, in respect of their breadth and length, are to be done also with due regard to the exalted character of the divine rewards: its depth is found in the part that is fixed into the ground; for there it is both concealed and invisible, and yet from thence spring up all those parts that are outstanding and evident to the senses; just as all that is good in us proceeds from the depths of the grace of God, which is beyond the reach of human comprehension and judgement.

St. Augustine: On I John.

"Concealed and invisible" alluding to the depth of the cross—its victim, and work— reminds me of (1)Jesus' and (2)Wendell Berry's words:

  1. "Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal.

  2. Put your faith in the two inches of humus
    that will build under the trees
    every thousand years.
    Listen to carrion — put your ear
    close, and hear the faint chattering
    of the songs that are to come...Practice resurrection.

It seems like Augustine cannot but help himself from interpreting St John's letter with the language of the apostle of the cross, St Paul. Did Paul have the multi-dimensionality of the cross in mind when he wrote to the Ephesians, Dear Bishop of Hippo?

that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

The Question, The Facts, and The Meaning

To believe in God means to understand the question about the meaning of life.

To believe in God means to see that the facts of the world are not the end of the matter.

To believe in God means to see that life has a meaning.

—Ludwig Wittgenstein

The Miracle of God's Love

When we come to a point in our lives where we are completely ashamed of ourselves and before God; when we believe that God especially must now be ashamed of us, and when we feel as far away from God as ever in all our lives—that is the moment in which God is closer to us than ever, wanting to break into our lives, wanting us to feel the presence of the holy and to grasp the miracle of God's love, God's nearness and grace.

—Dietrich Bonhoeffer