Tuesday, September 20, 2016
The trees are mostly green,
and yet the summer is dying;
in the soft, still, hot breeze
The breeze brings with it
a yellow leaf, careless of life;
in the writhing as it falls,
Another summer comes,
out of death, but this death
the severing of a leaf
sets into motion
a grief, a sleep
Tuesday, August 23, 2016
Here's how it went: my husband and I have a revolving-door argument; he feels that I expect him to listen to my feelings and yet don't expect myself to hear about his. That's not exactly how I see things. I feel that I am being quite truthful and objective most of the time.
Finally he turned to me and said, "I am seriously accusing you of hypocrisy here."
I replied, "I am very hurt by this."
We parted ways in the kitchen, and I went to commiserate with God about how hurt I was, and began to read the Gospel readings for the day. Here was the reading, from Matthew:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! 25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. 26 You blind Pharisee! first cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
Yes, I was a little shocked. It was as if the Lord stepped into the room and joined the conversation right where it left off. And I cried a little inside, saying to Him, "But I'm not lying when I say I feel that I am being truthful and objective. So how am I a hypocrite? Aren't hypocrites liars?"
I read on to the meditation below, and then I understood, and a flash of great light was shone on the error of my thoughts:
Do you allow any blind-spots to blur your vision of God's kingdom and his ways? Jesus went to the heart of the matter when he called the religious leaders of his day blind Pharisees and hypocrites! A hypocrite is an actor or imposter who says one thing but does the opposite or who puts on an outward appearance of doing good while inwardly clinging to wrong attitudes, selfish desires and ambitions, or bad intentions...they[scribes] were so exacting in their interpretations and in trying to live them out, that they had little time for much else...they were very attentive to minute matters of little importance, but they neglected to care for the needy and the weak. Jesus admonished them because their hearts were not right. They were filled with pride and contempt for others who were not like themselves. They put unnecessary burdens on others while neglecting to show charity...
I have a very exacting, logical side to my personality; I relish computations and ordering and symmetry. I could probably be a very good, happy accountant. I also have an artistic, hippy side and so I forget that the logical side, though good, can begin to take over if I forget what an ass I can be, if I forget my fallen state and that 'the devil is like a lion reading to devour' and that my pride is a major breach in the defenses.
Through wounding, or what my own birth family valued highly (order, politeness, exactness, along with fun and love), I failed to see who my husband is. I failed to see his desire for good, in my zealousness to wrestle with the logical or theological issue from a book we were discussing. I was paying attention to straining the ritually unclean gnats of inadequate or ambiguous language, and swalllowed the ritually unclean camel of total insensitivity and lack of charity towards another human being.
I understand now that hypocrisy is not really about lying, though it is in the end, a lie. It is about a heart that is itself a lie, that habitually misses the mark. I saw how full of sin I am, because does not St. Paul define sin, fundamentally, as "missing the mark"? As St. Thomas Aquinas says, none of us are doing things because we say, "Oh, good, that's really evil. I am going to do that." Instead, we have reasons why we think it is actually good, or we think actions are coming from a good intention, which they may well be; the real question is deeper than that:
Is our heart, the center of us, where actions come, set up so that we consistently hit the mark?
What is the mark?
God said it quite severely to me this morning. The mark is love. Not sentimental slop, but a true desire for the good of God, which encompasses the true good of others and myself. It is always lining up my good with God's will, God's good. And God's will is love first: the person comes first before the argument; the good of a human being before the good of being right. Being right, finding truth is good insofar as it is good for the other, ourselves, God. We cannot worship anything, anything, or anyone besides God by putting them out of the order of love.
Anything we do, any communication, must be in love if it is to really hit the mark; our hearts must be ordered to Christ's way, to Christ Himself, whom we must imitate.
After I apologized to my husband and everyone I could think of, I apologized to God, who told me in my heart that in apologizing sincerely and in being willing to see it, I was following His order of love and thus apologizing to Him. I went around singing, "I am a hypocrite" and feeling joy about it, because I could see it.
The worst thing is to be tied up in one's own thoughts and ideas so that seeing the truth inside is near-impossible; I now must find another way to think and to live, and I need help from others because it has been a working part of me so long, deep inside, that I don't know how to live another way, in practice. To love in practice, and not abstractly.
To avoid the camel by looking past the gnats, or loving past the gnats.
Monday, July 25, 2016
Once I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a large book sitting on a table. Its cover was a detail-photograph of a roof-corner. I was caught immediately, like love at first sight. A detail of a roof was all it took to make me a life-long fan of Antoni Gaudi i Cornet, the genius-artist-ascetic whose vision lies behind the last truly great building project of modern times, La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Sagrada, Gaudi's crowning work, and the last of this man who slowly became more and more determined to be only God's, is great because he saw a vision of the cult-center of Barcelona's true soul, that twin-love of their natural land and the Word who made it, and he submitted his great gifts to the truth that all truly great architecture--indeed, all great art--draws our souls back to their source, to each other, to the universal and common truths, to God. Indeed, Gaudi's work, as exemplified in La Sagrada, is a plastic (as in the sense of the 'plastic arts' such as architecture and sculpture) manifestation of the land and natural beauty that surrounds Barcelona, an ordered version of nature which is again moved, in concert, to its highest end, that of revealing the beauty, truth, and order of God. In other words, it is art imitating and re-ordering nature, and becoming itself a revelation of God. Gaudi's work helps human beings to see God poetically through nature, through art, again: to know, to receive in impressions upon the soul His fecundity, His wild goodness, His simple order within complexity, His extravagance of love.
Most importantly, La Sagrada brings nature again clearly under the ends to which she was originally created: as a Christian liturgy of sacrifice, love, fecundity, order, and beauty.
Most importantly, La Sagrada brings nature again clearly under the ends to which she was originally created: as a Christian liturgy of sacrifice, love, fecundity, order, and beauty.
La Sagrada Familia, or just "Sagrada" as it is affectionately called, rises like the Montserrat mountains near Barcelona: not just figuratively 'rising' but rising, like the great dolmite-shaped, exposed bones of the mountain, the cathedral looks like the mountain; it is as if a section of the mountain was indeed moved by faith, echoing the promise of the Lord, and settled itself in the middle of Barcelona.
The inside of the cathedral is just as magnificent and seductive to the soul as is the view for the homecoming sailor watching for the glint of the ceramic-encrusted spires on a familiar, permanent mountain-shape. When one enters this mountain, one enters a forest of helicoid vaults and hyperboloid columns, shaped themselves along paraboloid lines with the vaults. It is a study in natural surfaces and planes, abstracted, yes, but distilling the essential shapes one finds in nature, distilling and ordering them.
Inside Sagrada, the mysterious watching and waiting, the escape from a work-a-day world that a natural forest provides, is experienced, but married to the Presence in the Tabernacle: the forest finds its end as mystery in the Mystery of the Eucharist; the liturgy of the trees, leaves changing color and with time falling and rising, the seasonal sound of the birds is re-ordered in the light falling through the stone, the liturgical vestments, the choir, the organ.
About the Church as an institution, and about art, Gaudi proclaimed, "The Church makes use of all the arts, both those involving space [architecture, sculpture, etc] and those involving time [poetry, music]; the liturgy offers us lessons in aesthetic refinement."
I believe Gaudi meant 'aesthetic refinement' in both senses of the adjective: both an appreciation or a recognition of beauty and an appreciation of the principles that underlie this beauty. 'Aesthetic refinement' can become impoverished when it is simply 'good taste' in terms of 'style' or an end in itself. At its highest levels, aesthetic refinement is a a soul able to see Beauty and the principles that underlie it: Truth, Order, Love. A true poet, a true soul, will recognize the highest level wherein Beauty is Truth is Love is Order. There, one has found also that these, in their oneness, are in fact not concepts, but a Person: Three Persons in One. Thus, the liturgy, an Art, is meant to form us in an appreciation of Beauty, Truth, Love, Order.
Gaudi saw this and incorporated it into his own art, and yet saw outside his own discipline deep connections in human nature and history contained in the liturgy: One is the dramatic action central to Christian life and liturgy and worship, the Holy Sacrifice. Gaudi saw that this had been foreshadowed in the ancient Greek tragedies, central to the religion and life of the Greeks. He said, "In the Mass there is a dialogue between the celebrant and choir, between priest and faithful; postures and movements are precise and correct; entreaties, blessings, and sermons pronounced...these are of the greatest plastic grandeur and beauty." For hundreds of years, probably millenia before the Incarnation, human beings have been doing the action of seeking, attempting to become again one with the Source, trying, in the words of Daniel O'Connor, "...to repair the relation between the acts of the past and eternity, to ensure that the present has the proper relation to eternity, and to prepare the future to have the proper relation to eternity, mystically taking it into ourselves." The drama of the Holy Sacrifice is the true expression of the culmination, the consummation of this drama, enacted over thousands of years; it is the expression of the Sacrifice of the Lamb in heaven, seen by St. John mystically in Revelations.
Gaudi also, as a deep Christian, understood that the Church's spiritual order takes precedence over any of the arts She employs. He related the story of an artist who asked that some especially beautifully-wrought Tabernacles be left uncovered so that they could be seen by the faithful. The Church denied this request, and the Tabernacles were left covered: the mystery is greater than the art, the soul greater than the liturgy or the vestments or even the church surrounding it. He knew that an re-ordering or relationship with eternity is a gift from God, a grace, and no human art, dramatic action, or logic can effect that. It is the Incarnation, Sacrifice, and Resurrection of Christ; it is the action of the Holy Spirit, the creation of God. In fine, we can only as artists and poets, imitate it, serve it, dispose others to receive it by first receiving it ourselves.
Gaudi was one of those rare Renaissance-like artists, like Da Vinci, able to produce poetry with logic as a tool; he was a myth-maker, a true poetry-creator, who understood in his sub-creation, 'where the Leviathan lies' or 'how the pelican feeds her young,' and yet also visualized, always, the wholeness of the thing. He did not let the details or the skeleton of the thing distract him or stop there as in many modern art pieces, but rather saw the revelation in it towards a final wholeness, a final revelation, which can only be seen by poetic wisdom. Gaudi said, "Sagacity is superior to science. The word comes from sapere which means to savour [to taste]; it refers to the fact. Wisdom is wealth, it is a treasure; science provides us with certainty about what we examine; it is required to keep counterfeit coins out of the treasure."
What is poetic wisdom? Daniel O'Connor, in his book The Crown and Completion of Sanctity on the writings of Luisa Piccaretta, speaks about poetic wisdom; though about her revelations, it is, I believe, analogically applicable to the work of Gaudi:
G.K. Chesterton shared great insight when he said, “The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”
Expect to feel overwhelmed if you take the approach of a logician; striving to master these revelations the same way you study the material in a textbook before the final exam of an important class. There are seemingly endless analogies, modes, explanations, applications, and so on. How they all fit together will not be readily apparent...I merely wish to encourage reading them with the approach of the poet, saying to yourself as you approach them, I will not worry about trying to memorize this or trying to categorize it according to how I already understand...I will simply read this for the same reason I listen to a beautiful symphony; to be spiritually built up by the impressions it leaves upon my soul rather than to methodically analyze it, writing down the succession of notes...
Trying to understand Gaudi's work only through logic does overwhelm, as is trying to understand God primarily through formulas, true though they might be. To understand the science and logic behind a flower, or a work of art, can either add to the wholeness and beauty within our understanding, or totally destroy it. It depends on which truth--the scientific or the poetic--is held as closer to the level of truth where Truth, Beauty, and Goodness become one.
The scientific method, or logical steps are important, but lower on the hierarchy of the soul than the poetic, as love is higher than knowledge: "If I have all knowledge, and have not love, I am nothing." Yet Gaudi said, "[The] procedure of trial and error is required by limited human intelligence. The bases of reason are the rule of three, mathematical proportion, syllogism." He used this sense of 'trial and error,' logical analysis, and a knowledge of mathematical principles to create the natural beauty of his structures: "Paraboloids, hyperboloids, and helicoids cause the incidence of light to vary constantly; they have a wealth of nuances of their own which does away with the need for decorating and modeling." Scientific knowledge and logic are thus, for human beings, essential knowledge that allows us to build towards truth, like the knowledge of structures, measures, and weights allows for a great building to rise; yet this knowledge is clearly not enough to create beauty that speaks of that higher Beauty: "Work grows out of cooperation, and this can only be based on love; that is why those who have the seed of hatred within them must be set apart," Gaudi said.
True art, true poetry, whether it is found in the action of the drama, the words of the writer, or the plastic representation of the architect or sculptor, or the aesthetic sermon of the liturgy, and which we are all called through wonder to sub-create or to be formed by, allows Beauty, Truth, Love, Order to enter within us. The experience of true poetry and art is the far cry, clear and luminous, of the Lover who seeks us; the creation of it is our response, our submission of ourselves to Him; we become formed into our true selves either through receiving or giving true art, the art which has its source and end in God.
Sunday, July 03, 2016
I love The Great British Bake Off.
Weird, because I can't bake, and I can't even eat the stuff they make on the show, mouth-watering as it is; you see, I can't have dairy, any grains, or nuts. So baking, unless it is some alternative that smells kind of good and then, kind of, suspiciously, like chickpeas, is pretty much out. So am I living vicariously, or torturing myself? Are my thighs safe from the delectables because they are electronic signals and colored pixels and in the past? No, because as a result of watching I always get tea in a pot with a nice china cup and eat the chickpea crap anyway; I fall to temptation in the way that I can. With chickpeas, I always get a stomachache, too. No one except a fallen-archangel type can look at petit-fours and choux-buns for an hour without going for the fridge.
Really, it has nothing to do with the delectables. But I am living vicariously, in another way.
The Great British Bake-Off is about the best amateur baker, and about a craft. There is no million-pound prize, as far as I know, or book deal, unless accidental after the fact. There is no twenty-something sex pot pandering brand names; the hosts are two delightful thirty or forty-something women who are--gasp--intelligent, funny, compassionate, and not particularly stunning visually. There is a simple tent and there are friendships forged, and emotional melt-downs which get mopped up with the help of others, even fellow competitors. There are bakers who will say, "I'd rather Ian and I both do medium-well than for him to totally fail. He can use my oven, too" (when opening the oven means the final product will potentially deflate-- "gasp"). There are nicknames developed affectionately over time, and a judge who is in her 80s and respected for her knowledge and person pairing up with yes--Paul Hollywood, a master-baker who isn't afraid to just be a man; there are humble back stories, and apparently, real sorrow and sensitivity when a baker must leave the show. There is sometimes plain honesty softened by well-chosen words and an ultimate atmosphere that says, even to the less-than-best, "you are one of us." The winning is not the main attraction: it is the community forged around a love of a craft. There are normal people excited about the art, and there is a level of relational art--the art of courtesy--that we Americans only dream about.
I was recently reading about the show, and was interested to find that Paul Hollywood and Co. had tried a Great American Bake-Off: it didn't work, because American viewers said, "It seems really phony." What was being referred to seems to have been the balance between camaraderie and competition; could Americans simply not believe in something more about the art, and ultimately, the community, than the baking king taking over the cake mountain?
I am only part American. I am really a third-culture person, which means I live in something of a cultural limbo, a place between cultures. My parents' home culture is American, but I am partly Afghan, partly Greek, and yet not these either. My pre-school and kindergarten was British, and first and second grade Greek, and so it goes.The result of this is that I have a hybrid inside-outside view of American culture, which means I'm not really inside it. This gives me a unique view, a kind of bird's eye view, which may mean I don't see some things correctly, but others I see quite clearly.
American competition is one thing I see clearly. My feelings about the typical American community are like the feelings one has about a knife-edge: you can see it cuts really well and you can really do some good work together, but it must be handled carefully, and there's never anything close to a womb-like feeling of belonging or unconditional acceptance and support. We belong in the sense of how we relate to the best, or the most innovative, or the bravest, or the strongest, or to someone who stands out in some way or another. Independence seems to be the catch-word. The community is often a spring-board for fancy moves, not an end in itself.
Maybe I sound jaded or cynical.
But ask yourself: whom does your typical American community value most highly? The person who innovates really good solutions or makes a lot of money, or the person who seeks no credit, is unknown, but brings people together, who serves? The young or the old?
If I am right, and you are American, you chose the individual innovator, the entrepreneur, and the young; it is not like this everywhere in the world. There are cultures in the world who value much more highly wisdom of experience and the collaborator, the follower; there are cultures who see a different end of community than material or political or athletic success. Do these cultures have their own problems? Yes. I know Greece a little, having loved it, and I see with sadness that the high value on communal living, just being, and on family can turn into nepotism and disarray. In Canada, and Australia, two places I've lived briefly, students in class will not answer questions because of the 'tall poppy syndrome' (everyone wants to cut down an inordinately tall poppy so the focus is on the nice grouping). But what about a culture that values winning, independence, more than anything else?
Winning and independence are goods, but not the highest goods. When 'winning' boils over the proper boundaries, it can seep into places and communities where it simply does not belong. Even sports--everyone knows well the rabid, mouth-frothing coach who thinks it good to scream threats at players: but, you say, this is Little League. No matter! Win! Win! Teach them early that it's a tough world out there!!! Even if the world, actually, is not a baseball field. Truly.
"No. Baseball is life."
"You mean 'baseball can be a metaphor for life,' don't you--which, by the way, I don't agree with--"
What about a medical community? Is it about being the star doctor?
What about an educational community? Should we make sure our teachers are up to scratch by having them compete with each other through peer and student evaluations?
Do either of these examples strike you as really problematic; do they strike you as having one value, winning, which very probably will undermine the true goal of the community?
The end of a medical community is health of the body of an actual person. What a far ways our mainstream, Western medical community has come from the receptive, personal, wholistic Hippocrates. Or is the end of medicine innovative science? Science is an important, essential, good element of a medical community, but not its 'final end.' When I say ' final end' I mean the primary, ultimate purpose. Like the north star on a voyage, this must always be kept in sight, or the ship, the community, will wander, get lost, and perhaps founder. The whole person must be taken into account, the soul and mind, but the medical community has a sub-end which it must keep an eye on primarily: the health of the body of the individual person who is part of a community. The medical community must also know, through seeing its own end within a Whole, a Tao, that its end is always subordinate to the end of the enfleshed soul.
For the educational community, the end is health of soul, a higher end than that of the medical community and an end it has in common with the Church; for when we educate a human being, we cannot parse him or her out into separate bits: education will, whether we intend it or not, form the entire person. What is 'health' of soul? Socrates calls it 'justice' and defines justice as a kind of harmony, akin to music. The parts of the soul must be balanced--the spirited part, the rational part, the spiritual part, even the part that is most connected to the body: the passions.
So if the end of education is the health of the person's soul, should teachers of different disciplines be competing with each other? What does it actually mean to be the best, or 'winning-est' teacher of a human soul?
It is very, very rare to have one teacher who can effectively teach all parts of the human being; we are deep, complex creatures, enfleshed souls who live in a world of myriad challenges and beauties. We must begin to travel towards balance, towards the simple Good through different skills, sciences, disciplines--it requires different methods and people to begin to create a unity of disparate parts. As a teacher myself, of twenty-odd years, now, I know very well that I cannot be all things to all students. Therefore, different teachers are needed for the same student, over many years.
Imagine teachers as a soccer team, or a chef's team, or a team of doctors and nurses in an operating room. What would happen if the goalie started competing with the defense, or the sous-chef with kitchen-help, or the doctors with the nurses or each other? The game would be lost, the food spoiled, the patient probably dead.
To me, 'community' is beyond a team, with a much higher end than 'winning' or 'survival', with the focus on communion for an end proper to the activity or essence. There is a reason why we don't root for the Seattle Seahawk Community. Beyond the proximate end of the sports team which I would argue is not winning but rather practice in virtue, isn't 'winning' a branch of survival of the fittest, or just pure survival? It does have a good purpose, if subordinated to a higher end, like overcoming temptation for the sake of salvation or beating a terrible disease for the sake of health; but if ever an end in itself, 'winning' makes animals or demons of us all.
Teachers really should be helping each other, encouraging each other, not trying to be stars. And, if you put 'Christ-follower' into the mix, the emphasis we should see is teachers serving each other: "If you want to follow me, you must serve; become the least for the sake of others." It struck me today with force, this saying I've heard without hearing it for many years, from St. Paul: "May I never boast except in the cross of Christ."
I let these words sink in today. Never boasting, not even paying attention to winning, only to the cross of Christ. That is incredibly radical, and it is the beginning of a community not turned in upon itself, but upon not only serving without credit, but becoming the scapegoat, if necessary, to win salvation, through Christ, for others. Now that's a community.
Saturday, June 04, 2016
The word "dialectic" means, from the Greek, "to speak through." This is a poor picture of this beautiful, rich concept of lover and seeker, and that waiting, desiring, to be found. Let me try again:
"Diá" (διά ) is a preposition that has a sense, in the richness of Greek, of getting successfully across to the other side, and carries also a sense of 'for the sake of' or 'on account of.' The fact that διά is a preposition is beautifully parallel to the meaning of this word, for isn't a preposition itself a kind of bridge between things in a sentence, providing a means to relationship of substances: "the child in the mother"? The best picture of διά is that of a bridge, which holds all the connotations of this tiny bit of speech within itself. It is a bridge and yet more, for bridges hold within themselves, by virtue of what they are, the possibilities of the Other Side. The Other Side of a bridge holds a fascination for those who are seekers and those who are lovers. You know who you are, as you imagine the Other Side, and the desire for a way across, and the joy at the building of the bridge, the relationship between things that makes possible a journey to something Other, something new, or something ancient we find again, in recollection.
"Lectic" is a variation of the word "lexi": word, speech; it is also related to "logos" which St. John uses, as the Hebrews used "memra" (word, speech), for God. The Logos who Speaks the Cosmos in John, and the 'memra' who spoke to a scared and lonely prisoner in the dungeon of Pharoah is the same One. The very ancient root words for speech also hold the connotation of "pulling pieces together" or a kind of ordering, which makes sense both for speech as we commonly understand it, and for the Creator.
Together, διά and λόγος are "bridge-across-to-the-other-side-pulling-together-ordering-word-speech."
Dialectic. Fr. Benedict Ashley, in his A Handbook of the Liberal Arts states, " The art of conversation, discussion, debate, and inquiry is called dialectics"; the use of the word 'art' always fascinates me: this language-as-bridge is, in fact, an art--not a science, not a cold method, but rather a moving, living, morphing activity that has beauty and rightness, and an ordering-for-the-sake-of-something-higher. It is a practice that requires practice, and like the painting of Rembrandt, or the sculpting of the great Phidias, it is best done in the passion of love (which is always a seeking) tied to the humility and strength of discipline, for the sake of something deep and great and true, an almost, or truly unknowable, for-the-sake-of, for the sake of pleasing the Highest, through imitation-praise of the Highest.
Dialectic happens between humans and between humans and God. Animals do not have dialectic: they may even have a form of speech, but never dialectic. Why? Animals have conversation: we've all seen those infernal squirrels teasing the poor dogs (probably cussing them out, based on the dogs' reactions), and teenager robins calling out for their parents as they flutter around the yard, trying out their wings. But dialectic is an art: Animals don't practice something for-the-sake-of a higher cause; their speech is limited to the needs at hand.
We practice an art, like dialectic, to reach deeper towards the center of things, towards the sources, to participate in reality in deeper and deeper ways, to stand under the fire and water of Meaning, becoming one with it, the way one wants to become one with the beauty of the Grand Tetons or the light flowing across the sea at dawn. No wonder the Greeks personified nature; if Dawn is more than just energy particles, one has a hope of knowing her (though the truth hidden, deeper, that the Greeks were on to but could not see, is that the desire for knowing and unity is truly for the Creator). An art, like the art of love, is always about, towards, knowledge-in-being, not knowledge outside myself, but myself within it, being within it; it is also always about creation, and bridging, and getting to the other side. Seeking, more like a lover than a prospector.
Dialectic is also a dance; it cannot happen in the vacuum of self alone with self, but even if over a lifetime with one's selves at different times, it is always in the context of the other, of other thoughts, just like one cannot build a bridge with wood alone: one at least needs hands, and tools to shape it. An art is a conversation between hands and material, and dialectic art is language-bridging between oneself and another, the 'interlocutor,' towards something greater than either.
Recently, I have noticed something. I have seen dialectic strangled. Of course, it happens in many big and obvious ways: as one friend put it, "Beware of vested interests masquerading as facts"; one find it also in many people's inability to put words to reality, a refusal to step outside the borders of more and more extreme 'toleration' to the point that naming, personal logos-ing, has lost touch with reality. Joseph Pieper phrased the billboard-level of strangled dialectic as "abuse of language"; he meant, I think, that the hijacking of words and speech is really a power-play, and a deeply effective one. Laws requiring that you call people by pronouns that they dictate to you is a power-play, a naked, bloody-edged, loaded-gun power play. The individual's 'right' to define their own universe enshrines the Triumph of the Individual but is itself a cloak for the Triumph of those who find it all too easy to control individuals completely out of touch with reality and prone, therefore, to be enslaved to their own thoughts, whims, and passions.
I have seen, as we all have, dialectic strangled in the public square.
I have seen it more subtlety done, however, and perhaps, just perhaps, this more subtle version is the seedling of the poisonous imitator of the mustard tree growing over human culture presently:
Recently I read a conversation online in the comments box about a rather provocative article. One interlocutor provided a masterpiece of dialectic which moved beautifully, artfully, between first principles (that which is immediately evident), authority, evidence, and well-grounded hypotheses, a position inviting dialectic in the true sense, a building of the bridge which asked for the essential materials of another.
Then came another, who took the first person's invitation to art, this receptive masterpiece, and reduced it to a caricature of itself, and then asked a skillful question based not on the dialectical material at hand, but rather on the caricature--an attempt, whether conscious or not, to make the first person look like an idiot. Add to that the "ethos" or known character of each, the first person a less authoritative, less-titled person, and the almost-halo put by others habitually around the second interlocutor, and you have both a rhetorical trump and strangled dialectic: The bridge to the Other Side weighed down and broken finally, by the sheer weight of a dump truck full of cotton candy speech. The Other Side became, suddenly, again, unreachable, unknowable, all done possibly for the same reasons the US nuked two Japanese cities even when they knew the Japanese government would surrender yet cloaked it in language about 'saving lives' and 'peace,' the way the Japanese themselves committed war atrocities and cloaked them in hijacked language, the torrent of language most like the torrent of pee from a strange dog covering the four corners of your yard: vested self-interest in something other than the for-the-sake-of, a blindness about the larger meaning, the Other Side, the Truth, towards which the dialectic had been a bridge.
How often does vested-interest, self-aggrandizing rhetoric strangle dialectic? Are these small sins, like the tiny specks of dandelions, precursors to a field infested? If we learned how to put self aside and look for, like a seeker and a lover, the 'that for the sake of which', would the world change, at least in the small corner that is our territory?
I will contend here that all dialectic, if it is to be what it is, looks inevitably, essentially, always, towards reality, deeper and farther in, like the concentric Narnias in The Last Battle, like the white shores under a swift dawn (Tolkein), like the longing we all know, if we are true to our being, for Home--a Home which is not just about rest, or safety, or surfeit of love, but which is truly about being who we were meant to be: A being in relation with Love and Being, the paradox of ourselves finally one with the Other yet still the most ourselves possible through this knowing.
Put another way, dialectic is about the truth of ourselves, which can only be found beyond ourselves in relationship with Truth.
Anything else is Bad Rhetoric: clanging cymbals that drown the still, small voice in the wind.
Saturday, May 28, 2016
Can you be a Christian, a follower of Christ, and be a liar?
When first a more serious, idealistic Christian, I didn't think this was even a possibility. Surely those who followed the Humble God who died an ignominious death at the hands of slanderers would, if liars, just follow someone else, or themselves. The gold for selling yourself and damaging those who threaten you is a bigger pile on the world market. What is the point of being a liar, and I mean a person who builds himself or herself based on lies, and yet serving Christ who demands everything, a suffering God who asks His followers to suffer?
Since that first, idealistic time, when I began to leave my own lies behind, I have had experience of Christian liars. These are people who present an image containing many good things: piety, manners, a well-phrased turn of speech, admiration from peers and those they claim to serve, a focus on virtue, ad nauseam. Often, these are very educated people in positions of influence, precisely because the image they present is so compelling and admirable to other Christians who, like me, cannot fathom a liar following a persecuted-for-His-honesty God.
Can you be a Christian, a follower of Christ, and be a liar?
The answer should be obvious, but it isn't when one moves into the realm of individual human beings and their complexity. Complexity for a human being, in our deepest places, is not a good thing. The neo-Platonic philosopher and mystic Plotinus understood this, with his theory of the One and the truth contained in his insight, based on Greek philosophy, that the highest Being is absolutely simple, containing everything in a profound unity.
Plotinian "simplicity" is not imbecility, or naivety, as we often use it. It is more akin to the Christian virtue of purity, or single-mindedness, a single-mindedness that is focused on the truth, on reality; it is the desire, at the center of one's being, to simply be in the presence of, unified with, God, who is Reality, and Truth, and Love, even at great cost to one's success or reputation; it is leaving the myriad, complex desires of ourselves or others behind, like one leaves the intricate patterns made by shadows on the ground, in order to stand in pure light. Simplicity is to become pure light.
Complexity is existence away from that simplicity, a chiaroscuro world of desires and mistaken ideas, subject to the very difficulty presented by human communication in a fallen world. We find Our Lord, walking on the lonely roads through Palestine, struggling with the complexity of human language: We find Him using parables because he knew that the truth could not be received like direct, pure light by these creatures impoverished by their own complexities. He changes tactics, slowly beginning to feed the disciples more pure food, and his disappointment is evident at their impurity of thought, their inability to hear the simple truth, even at the very end of his ministry. We, with hindsight, often find ourselves chuckling at their blindness, their "when are the Jews going to have hegemony again?" even after three intimate years with Him; yet, how often can we hear the truth when it is uncomfortable, or shatters our expectations and images that we've built carefully over years, those which have been built into us by our broken parents and friends and spouses, our broken culture? How can we communicate and receive truth, not lies? How do we know if we are liars?
In the Gorgias, one of the greatest treatises on human communication ever written, Socrates confronts a series of well-heeled, well-educated liars, young men who are the cream of the crop, the leaders. For the Greeks, the highest art or mode of living was to be a leader of the polis. At its most pure level, at the ideal, it was to find reason, to live well, to live virtuously, to live according to reality, to create a human community which lived in the light of the Good. Dialectic, the use of communication in discussion or argument, was the means to finding the right way. Rhetoric, or persuasive language, was the means to persuade the city at large to follow the right way found through dialectic. Rhetoric, in a sense, is a means for providing an image in the mind of the person receiving it from the rhetor; fundamentally, it is allowing the rhetor and his view of the right way to create an image common to both speaker and hearer in both their souls. We see Socrates practicing this kind of rhetoric, in another dialogue, the Republic, when he creates the image of the soul by creating for his disciples an image of the ideal republic, so that, 'by seeing a larger image, they can understand the deeper, harder-to-see one, that of the soul.' Spoken in Christian terms, rhetoric is imitating the power of the Logos, Who spoke reality into being from all that He received from the Father. For a human being it is a kind of sub-creation, and a powerful rhetor will create an image that people will see as the true narrative, or eikón, of reality and so become unified with others in the Right Way. The root of 'communication' is 'to commune' or 'to have unity.' Past bodily unity in this life, enfleshed souls must commune via image transfer, through language mainly: and of course, this can be creating true images, or false ones.
The young men of the Gorgias have varying views of rhetoric, which is ultimately political leadership; however, they have lost sight of the true eikón which is based on reality, on truth, on the simple light, and they have mixed in their own desires and selfhood with it: for them rhetoric is the power based on their own superior sight (which pride makes blind); thus their communication becomes instead an eidolon, an apparition or ghost of the real thing. They think that they see the truth, and in the end, they are those who despair in ever knowing real love, or truth, or that the universe is built on this love. It is not surprising: one can pity these young men, yet what was it in them that made them turn on Socrates, who spoke truth, or rather stepped aside to try and let them see the true eikón? Like Christ, we can see Socrates attempting different forms of language to try and commune, be unified with, to midwife the truth between himself and others. He was different in one respect from Christ, of course: Socrates knew that he himself did not 'possess' the truth, while Christ Himself was the incarnation of Truth; his is why Socrates is the eikón, the true image, for what the human being should be, vis--a--vis the truth, vis--a--vis Christ, but that he is in a sense an eidolon if one tries to equate him with Christ.
The young men of the Gorgias are complex, living in the shadows, made so, perhaps by the ideals of pagan culture: warrior-class prowess and an image of success based on might and domination, that deep, almost-inherent force within fallen human beings and demons that seeks to destroy the father and mother, the source of oneself, in order to gain primacy and independence, like Zeus destroys his own father, like Greeks destroying Troy, like Priam lying in his own blood at the foot of the altars, slain both by the actions of his own son and those of the culture which was engendered by his own, a culture which desired what he possessed yet desired also to outstrip it in glory.
This father-mother slaying, this rising above in power, is a cultural eidolon, a false-image which answers the very complex desires of...us. None are exempt from it at birth but are subject to Adam and Eve's original creation of this image. Our first parents, too, attempted a source-slaying, in order to have their own identity, an identity they owned. Original sin, in this sense, can then be seen as a kind of deep rhetoric, an eidolon, seeded deep in our being, deep in the heart of our species. Adam and Eve run into the shadows away from the pure light, and they live (in us) in that chiaroscuro world of shadows, complexities away from the unity, purity, and simplicity of God.
Complexity of desires, wounds, and selfhood, all communicated by different kinds of language, or rhetoric, is the rampaging, over-fertile soil in which the liar can grow...and like our First Parents, or the young men of the Gorgias, who became later those men who murdered Socrates, or the disciples of Christ, or the Jewish elites who murdered Him, or each of us, we out of our impurities cannot stand the truth, especially about ourselves.
We all, like those who were privileged to be present at Socrates' dialectic towards truth, or those who met the Truth along the Palestinian roads and in the synagogues, will be creatures full of the eidolon of our respective cultures, and the eidolon we carry within ourselves, about ourselves. The eidolon will face the eikón, that image communicated to us through a story, a gospel, a vis--a--vis Christ or one of those who carries, truly, His eikón. It is a battle of life and death, of truth and lies. Lies are myriad, and the truth has a unity so that even small truths are intimately connected to the Whole, in simplicity and purity. Lies look self-ward, towards reinforcing the eidolon.
Now, instead of just a cultural eidolon that is pushing people together the wrong way (like Stalin's Russia), we have an eidolon that pushes us farther into our individual eidolon, so that now rhetoric, though pretending to be about unity in tolerance, is really about creating eight billion little universes detached completely from reality.
And so, how much are we Christians seduced into this multi-headed, beast-like eidolon--the beast with eight billion heads? How have we been malformed, wounded, like the young men of the Gorgias? Have we fallen into the lie about ourselves?
If piety has become your 'choice'; if your education has initiated you into 'those who know' instead of 'those open to truth'; if your image as a pious, or educated, or 'better than those prostitutes' has eclipsed your sight of others, of Christ in the poor of this world, of Christ hidden deep within your own soul, then you are a liar.
I have not only seen this in myself, I have also seen Christians like this become actual liars, spreading slander, taking their own eidolon about another as the truth, because they feel that they, with their greater education and sight, simply cannot be wrong. I have seen this morph, inexplicably, into slander which protects something that these liars want to protect: but if protected by lack of knowledge, lack of relationship, lack of truth, anything, even something that by itself may be good, becomes just a tool for the erecting of a self-eidolon.
I have known great writers who fight for Christian causes in public spheres who turn and slander a four-year-old child and a family to the Christian community around them, effectively ostracizing and scapegoating an imperfect, yet decent family. And they prey on the trust of those basically good people who believe them. I have seen pious people destroy another's reputation on the spurious words of others without having enough love and courage to find out the truth for themselves through loving relationship with their brothers and sisters. I have seen those who say, "They are not our kind of people" because they want to be better, they want not to be contaminated. They are still writing and fighting and visiting Marian shrines and going to church, but I believe these may find the Lord saying, "You said, 'Lord, Lord,' but your hearts were far from me. I do not know you."
If I have done this, even out of fear or insecurity, I may find the Lord saying it to me. I must repent; and the greatest gift for someone like this, like me, is to be given the pain of seeing the true image of myself so that I can repent.
And if one lies, fundamentally, not only about and to others, but to oneself, how can one be got out of it? Christian liars are much, much more dangerous than anything out there. They are the proverbial snakes in the grass, the rhetoricians from whom we most expect the truth.
How shall you know them? How shall you know the liars? How shall you know the true rhetors, the real Christians, from the liars?
Everyone knows the answer. But it is not always easy to see the fruits when you have a very intelligent Christian liar, and often no one imagines the pain of one being persecuted, slandered, by those who are upheld in honor by everyone else: only Christ. I believe the fruits we are looking for are those which are very obvious to those who can see them, those with enough single-minded desire to truly know God. It follows the truth that 'those who have, will have more.' The desire for truth must be present, in love, before one can see the fruits of it.
I choose Mother Teresa because her story is most obvious, and yet holds a deep truth that is perhaps not as easy to see for those of us blinded by her celebrity. I grew up with her celebrity: I was surprised to learn, after her death, about her darkness.
She was called not only to 'serve the poor'--this she could have done from her Loreto convent in Calcutta--she was also called to 'live with the poor, to be one of them.' The significance of this is missed, often. She was called to a unity with the dying, the suffering, the poor: most importantly, with the abandoned, those whom nobody else wanted, the refuse of the world, as she used to say.
So, like Francis of Assisi, whose prayer she said everyday, she took this most literally and went with five rupees to live with the poor. And like Francis, who set about rebuilding, literally, a little run-down church when God was asking him to re-build the Church, the Body of Christ, Mother Teresa fed the poor and sheltered the dying, when God was asking her to become an eikón of them, a true and living image. He gave her her success in her efforts, he gave her celebrity, yet He also gave her darkness. She lived for fifty years feeling abandoned by God, unwanted, unloved.
Why? Isn't doing good works enough? Isn't piety, or good teaching, or education, or profound rhetoric, a humble exterior, going to the right places and liturgies, being a Catholic family, open to life, enough? Wasn't God cruel to ask more than this of none other than Mother Teresa? Wasn't she other-worldly enough in her rejection of power or status in the pagan sense and in the worldly religious sense (everyone sees how Christlike I am, what I'm doing for the Kingdom)?
I thought at first, naively, even stupidly, that God allowed this darkness to protect her from the temptations of fame. But now I see that would be cruel, in a sense. The profundity of Eloi, eloi, lama sabachthani (My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?) cannot but be wasted if simply to provide a hedge against temptation. No.
She lived this moment of Christ's passion for fifty years, she became exteriorly, and--fundamentally, essentially--she became interiorly this moment of Christ's union with broken humanity, the ultimate poverty: not just God become Man, but God become abandoned man, man unable to help himself, refuse man.
It is astounding.
And it holds a truth about being a true Christian, not a liar, about becoming an eikón. Everyone has seen an 'icon.' It is an image done in the Eastern Christian tradition, and it is more than a 'painting.' It is a 'writing' in the sense of logos, in the sense of true rhetoric, wherein an image is communicated, a true image, a real image of the person, the truth, the Logos, the Unity of Truth and Love. The icon is spoken of in the East as a 'window' or 'sight-gate' to reality, a reality that the saint has become. The saint himself or herself has become an icon, a 'sight-gate,' a communion, with Christ, and through Christ, to the Father: "That they may be one as We are One."
Mother Teresa became an eikon, a true and real image, a reality, by being willing to identify completely with those she was called to help save. She was, in her very being, not a liar, not an eidolon, which she easily could have become: a pious, good-works-doing, but prouder-than-hell Christian on the inside...the ultimate lie, the lie that Satan performs each instant to us all; the lie which is all-too-easy for Christians, especially the privileged, gifted kind.
Her fruit? Compassion--co-suffering. I think you know you are with Christ, a real Christian, when he or she steps into your poverty, and suffering, and shares that image with you at the cost, perhaps, of his own reputation, in order simply to be with you, and to bring God into that shared poverty, that sin, that suffering.
Does this mean one becomes a prostitute with other prostitutes? After all, the Lord told the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute, effectively becoming one with her. He made Mother Teresa live the life that sin brings: that of refuse, of separation from God.
The truth is that God did not intend Hosea to be a prostitute, or intend Mother Teresa to be abandoned. He wanted to show Israel, through Hosea as a profound sign, that he loved her so much that he would join Himself to her even in her sin; he wanted to show us that we abandon Him in sin, and become poor, and that He is willing to become, to feel, abandoned, in order to simply...be with us.
You will know a real Christian the way you know a real Socrates, a real teacher: He or she is not 'one who knows'(a guru) but one who steps into the sewer with others, is willing to be in the mud, to be covered with shit, to be Christ, to find the Christ within them, to be the rope, 'the tool in His hand' (most assuredly not the guru), but the midwife, the rope that God uses to pull the poor, the lonely, the sinful, the abandoned,the ignorant, out to a place where the cleansing waters are.
God has no use for the pious unless they see that piety is a duty, fundamentally, to follow Him to crucifixion, to ignomy, to self-death, out of the abundance of love that they, as a true eikón of Him, bring.
Christians who live so that they are never contaminated are useless, and they are liars, because we are all contaminated more seriously than we can imagine if we have ever seen a human soul as it was meant to be. We work to build a culture of love and beauty, the beauty of the monastery and the liturgy, but we don't do it because we want an un-contaminated, sterile test-tube to save for later. We do it so that there is a true eikón of heaven, and we are just the imperfect tools, and it may be built in a way that we cannot imagine: like Socrates, our rhetoric, our dialectic, our plans, must be always open to the Other, to the other. To the unexpected.
We must, then, live within the tension of sub-creating beauty and yet being an eikón of the Suffering Servant, who goes out to find the lost sheep in the bracken; further, in order to save, we must step into their suffering. The beauty of the House of the Dying, where resided the Eucharist in an old Hindu temple, out of which Mother Teresa, eikón of abandonment, a sign of the God who wills to suffer with the human being impoverished by the sin that plagues us all, went into the sewer, literally, and returned with those whom the sewer had claimed.
That is true rhetoric, true imaging, and she told the truth in every fibre. Let us be that and the Holy Spirit will pour Himself out through a billion springs.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
By Thaddeus Kozinski
I think the one thing necessary is to do everything one can to become conscious of God's
presence and to obtain intimacy with this presence and the adorable Will to which it
gently invites us to surrender ourselves. Beautiful and reverent liturgy is, of course, a
primary tool for such intimacy and surrender. However, my personal experience tells
me that one's finite thoughts and feelings about God and His will, no matter orthodox,
sublime, and in accord with authentic Catholic Tradition, can easily be mistaken for God
Himself, and become an idol that actually serves to separate us from the awareness of
and intimacy with God's presence.
The present moment, regardless of its content (except for sin, of course, but even there
God is waiting for us to come to our senses) is where we find God, and only there, for the
future and past do not exist. We can easily live our entire lives in alienation from this
divine present moment, due to an inordinate attachment to our plans, the future, the
past, our convictions, and our oh so pious thoughts and intentions, as well as rash
judgments of others. There is nothing wrong with a robust and loyal devotion and
defense of Tradition, but the Pharisee temptation, the temptation to a fanaticism that
protects us from what we neurotically fear, usually some post-traumatic-stress form of
fear of contamination and intimacy and loss of control, is as powerful among those with
the particular charism to defend Tradition as it is undetectable by them once it is given
in to. I speak from personal experience. I have found that the awareness of this
temptation, and one's susceptibility to it, once it is has been given in to repeatedly,
decreases as a function of the spiritual urgency of one's need to recognize it in order to
be free of it through repentance. In other words, it is the kind of sin that makes
repentance nearly impossible--for it is "they" who need to repent, who are impure and
disloyal and traitors to God, not me!
The world, and the people floundering around in it, needs our love and hope and
friendship, as much as it needs correction and even condemnation--its sins and
structures of sin, that is. Surely, we can only do this effectively from a perspective
steeped in Catholic Tradition, but only if such steepage is actually making us humble,
loving, simple, intimate with God. Brother Lawrence is the model for such humble
simplicity. All he wanted was to be in the presence of God, and he showed us how to do
But, how can we be both supportive of the best in our culture and tradition, and yet
willing to have supper with the prostitutes and tax collectors, who we all are to a larger
extent than we want to realize, without becoming elitist snobs and Pharisees, on the one
hand, and sentimental enablers of evil, on the other? How can we imitate Christ and
cleanse the modern temples of Christ of mediocrity and ugliness and hypocrisy and
ideology, and our secular culture of self-and-mammon-worship, as we rightly desire,
while also being willing to ask sinful men and woman for a drink of water, perhaps from
an impure well, so we can share our gifts and hope with them?