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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
What can I keep from the childlike (not childish) awe from before now, when all I got from growing up was getting old?
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.
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.
[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:
"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.
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.
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.
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.
Toni Morrison's "chaos contains...wisdom" idea of growth in despair
Gerard Manley Hopkins poetic line, "Wisdom is early to despair."
Hopkins line comes from his poem "The Leaden Echo And The Golden Echo." In which, he seems to borrow heavily from the Hebrew poet Qohelet, who says this about his work of philosophizing and writing (making art you might say):
So I turned about and gave my heart up to despair over all the toil of my labors under the sun.
We have to recognize that this very act of Qohelet writing his despair is artful. As a product of his salty lament, a book was birthed titled Ecclesiastes.
Toni Morrison, of course, had a very different lived experience from Hopkins (white, Victorian, priest (SJ)) and Qohelet (10th or 3rd C BCE, Hebrew, poet)1 for that matter. And yet, her case for finding wisdom in the midst of despair, harmonizes with the poetic tradition of lament.
Morrison seems to possess a righteous anger that keeps her from strict despair. Instead, she is thrust into lament—dispair with a vocabulary; hurt articulate in wail, "We do language." She gives voice to a primeval wisdom that speaks despair in the midst of chaos and rises on wings of hope into lament that sings. Wisdom rejoices in lament.
The ancient literature of Proverbs tells the story of wisdom in the midst of primordial chaos, in the beginning, at the birth of the world. Here Hokma is personified as the creator's first offspring. Like a protege marveling in the virtuosity of her master teacher, lady wisdom "rejoices" in the work!.
The Lord fathered/created (LXX) me at the beginning of his work the first of his acts of old...When he established the heavens, I was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above...when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command...then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world, and delighting in the children of man.
Here is a charge for the artists who weep for injustice and cry for the mercy of justice: In lament and despair, love beauty, make beauty, live and eventually die for beauty.
I'm serious. Husband runs off with a politician? Make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by mutated boa constrictor? Make good art. IRS on your trail? Make good art. Cat exploded? Make good art. Somebody on the Internet thinks what you do is stupid or evil or it's all been done before? Make good art. Probably things will work out somehow, and eventually time will take the sting away, but that doesn't matter. Do what only you do best. Make good art.
In his recent newsletter, Michael Sacasas re-articulated Marshall McCluhan's argument that new technology/media reconfigure society. Reconfiguration takes place, not by an ex nihilo big bang, but by rearranging the pre-existent material. New media rearranges "the public" culture (Kierkegaard). Sacasas gives the example inviting us to:
consider the effect of digital media on memory. If collective memory is a crucial element of a cohesive, well-functioning society, if, as Ivan Illich has observed, what we call different cultures are merely the manifestations of different means of remembering—then what are the consequences of the radical re-ordering of how we remember occasioned by digital media?
Cultures, as shared-memory communities (Ivan Illich), might be radically disrupted by this media re-arrangement of shared memory. Cultures are shaped by memory and memory is the story of the past. In other words, Media has the power to reshape the stories we tell about our past.
Some examples of media and what they've reshaped:
Cable news, entrenched two-party system
Social media, fundamentalist religious and ideological terrorism.
The digital scroll-feed, what an individual sees as most important (no temporal bandwidth).
A follow up:
Another instance of media shaping memory came to mind, when I watched the documentary "13th." The film begins with an extended discussion of the film "Birth of A Nation" and it's shaping of the race imagination in the US. Towards the end of the documentary, after a lengthy and sad discussion of disproportional incarceration, the interviews return to a discussion of how media shapes the telling and remembering of black history.
Some time ago, a small detail from the Road to Emmaus story in Luke's Gospel surprised me. It occurred to me that the theme of "new" exodus which is vital to Luke's telling of what Jesus came to do, finds a climax in the Road to Emmaus. Let me explain.
The two travelers walk from Jerusalem and discuss the report that some folks saw the tomb empty, in addition to angles who said Jesus is alive. While they travel, a man they don't recognize (who Luke narrates is Jesus) joins them. He inquires as to the topic of conversation. Cleopas explains and the stranger takes the news in stride. Without browbeating as to who he is, Jesus proceeds to cite evidence from the Hebrew bible that it's all true of him. He says:
"Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"
After which Luke picks up narration:
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
Here's what I learned.
Cleopas and possibly his wife, as two representative disciples, journey west toward a new, recreated world having the true story of redemption and forgiveness recounted to them, by Jesus. Since Adam and Eve were exiled to the east from the garden, humankind suffers to be back with God. He comes to us. Not since Adam and Eve has a couple walked with God out from exile into new creation. He frees us to travel through the ordeal into eternal rest with him, in the City of God. The way has been given.
Of course we can't know for certain where the city or village of Emmaus stood. However, the map below offers three possible sites of the historical Emmaus, all of which sit west of Jerusalem. While it's true that the two travelers return east to Jerusalem to share the good news of Jesus' appearance, this, theologically, fits with the centripetal, sending nature of God—an incipient story of the command to go and initiate disciples into the community with a God bath.