Life is on our side

Albert Pinkham Ryder, Resurrection

Albert Pinkham Ryder, Resurrection

Life is on our side. The silence and the Cross of which we know are forces that cannot be defeated. In silence and suffering, in the heartbreaking effort to be honest in the midst of dishonesty (most of all our own dishonesty), in all these is victory. It is Christ in us who drives us through darkness to a light of which we have no conception and which can only be found by passing through apparent despair. Everything has to be tested. All relationships have to be tried. All loyalties have to pass through the fire. Much has to be lost. Much in us has to be killed, even much that is best in us. But Victory is certain. The Resurrection is the only light, and with that light there is no error.

Thomas Merton in a letter to Czeslaw Miłosz, as quoted in The Merton Journal 22.1 (2015)

My silence is my salvation

I enjoyed reading a fascinating article on silence in the poetry of Thomas Merton and T. S. Eliot (in The Merton Journal 22.1 [2015]). The author, Sonia Petisco, quotes Merton as follows:

My life is a listening, His is a speaking. My salvation is to hear and respond. For this my life has to be silent. Hence my silence is my salvation.

Also, these lines from Eliot’s poem ‘Little Gidding’ spoke to me:

… pentecostal fire
In the dark time of the year. Between melting and freezing
The soul’s sap quivers.

Petisco herself offers some interesting insights into Merton and Eliot’s work, noting, for instance, that ‘with their poetry they were implicitly hinting at the dethronement of man as the owner of Logos, so that things around us can recover their own speech and engage in a (sic!) honest dialogue beyond the objective/subjective dichotomy. … awakening in us a new sacramental awareness of the mystery of Life’.

And some brilliant lines from Eliot’s ‘East Coker’:

In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

And from Merton’s Cables to the Ace:

Waste. Emptiness. Total poverty of the Creator: yet from this poverty springs everything. The waste is inexhaustible.

Eliot again, this time some well-known words from ‘Burnt Norton’. For, addressing the limitations of language, he is all too aware that his words:

… strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
will not stay still.

‘History’, Merton suggests in The Tower of Babel, is ‘going inevitably forward / by the misuse of words’. The current public discourse around refugees and asylum seekers comes to mind. What both, Merton and Eliot, are aiming for, Petisco suggests, is ‘a theology based on the regenerative Word of God as the only antidote to the word of fear ruling the contemporary world’. However, that word can’t be heard because there isn’t enough silence in the world. Again, what is needed is ‘a Word which decentralizes man as the owner of Reason, restoring the lost dialogue between “I” and the otherness’. And, with silence being the key, Merton prays:

Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all’.

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Disrupting the dance of ideology

Mira SchorIn order for art to get beyond or behind [repressive] conventions of representation, in order to expose the ideology these conceptions serve, artworks should employ ‘dis-identificatory practices’ that disrupt ‘the dance of ideology,’ and ‘distanciation’ that would ‘liberate the viewer from the state of being captured by illusions of art which encourage passive identification with fictional worlds’.

Mira Schor, ‘Medusa Redux’, quoting Griselda Pollock, Vision and Difference

The world would be desolate

I was struck by these thoughts on perception and the enlargement of the spirit, which I came across in an article in the journal Arts: The Arts in Religious and Theological Studies (vol. 28, no. 1).

The world about us would be desolate except for the world within us.

Thus says Wallace Stevens in his article ‘Relations between Poetry and Painting’. He goes on to challenge us to embrace

the extension of the mind beyond the range of the mind, the projection of reality beyond reality, … the determination not to be confined, the recapture of excitement and intensity of interest, the enlargement of the spirit at every time, in every way.

Paul Klee, in ‘Creative Credo’, reminds us that:

art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible.

And Robert Frost, ‘Education by Poetry: A Meditative Monologue’, insists that,

unless you have had your proper poetical education in the metaphor, you are not safe anywhere. Because you are not at ease with figurative values.

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God is the greatest question

 

John O'Donohue

John O’Donohue

God is the most passionate presence in the universe. … there is not a stitch of utilitarianism or functionalism in God. … God surges and flows and is wild. 

This aspect of God’s vitality has been lost for so long with­in the tradition. … Aristotle’s idea of God as unmoved mover seemed to protect the transcendence of God by putting him safely beyond all change.

The danger of such a concept is that it deadens the deity. God is not a dead answer. God is the greatest question in the universe, a question that has kept itself free of banal answers. This is where all fundamentalists and sects get lost. They convert the passion, wildness and danger of God as a question into a clichéd answer ….

John O’Donohue, ‘Fire: At Home at the Hearth of Spirit’, in: The Four Elements: Reflections on Nature

Anger points to life

Fire is often used to portray anger. Anger burns and blazes. It inflames the human heart. But it can also be a subtle presence. It can turn totally inward and become depression. It can also hide under several guises. However, unlike resent­ment, which points to death, anger points to life. For oppressed people, or for oppressed dimensions within the individual life, the awakening and release of anger can be powerfully liberating. Anger is powerful because it has an immediacy, innocence and action in it. The reason that so much evil and corruption are allowed to destroy so many lives is that people’s anger is cleverly managed and quelled into indifference and powerlessness. One of the first targets of prophecy is to locate and kindle this forgotten and neglected anger. Part of the wisdom of living a creative and healing life is to learn the art of using this inner fire well.

John O’Donohue, ‘Fire: At Home at the Hearth of Spirit’, in: The Four Elements: Reflections on Nature

Things I didn’t know I could get out from underneath – and other thoughts from Krista Tippett’s book ‘Becoming Wise’

Here’s my final post offering thoughts from Krista Tippett’s book Becoming Wise.

I was struck by this wise statement on community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, which she quotes:

The person who’s in love with their vision of community will destroy community. But the person who loves the people around them will create community wherever they go.

Brené Brown

Brené Brown

Brené Brown, one of Tippett’s interviewees, studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame – and has this to say about courage and vulnerability:

I cannot find a single example of courage, moral courage, spiritual courage, leadership courage, relational courage, I cannot find a single example of courage that was not born completely of vulnerability. We buy into some mythology about vulnerability being weakness and being gullibility and being frailty because it gives us permission not to do it.

Even more powerfully, she makes the point that:

the most beautiful things I look back on in my life are coming out from underneath things I didn’t know I could get out from underneath.

Brown is well worth listening to, as she has demonstrated in her TED talks on The power of vulnerability and Listening to shame.

Lastly, Tippett addresses another important issue when she says:

There is a fine line between saving the world and manipulating other lives, however well-meaningly, in our own image.

And she reflects on Courtney Martin rejecting the notion that the world divides into ‘savers and those who need to be saved’. As Martin herself says:

Our charge is not ‘to save the world’ …. It is to live in it, flawed and fierce, loving and humble.

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