Random thoughts

Homelessness as ethical and aesthetic normativity

Shahram KhosraviBeing at home means belonging, but it also means constructing borders and excluding the other. Any kind of group identification constructs the social category of the other. Homes are primarily sites of exclusion, not inclusion. The notion of the home nourishes racism and xenophobia. The German Jewish philosopher Theodor Adorno, himself exiled by the Nazis, believed that ‘it is part of morality not to be at home in one’s home’ ….

It is only in homelessness that genuine hospitality becomes possible. Homelessness means not recognizing anywhere as home. […] Homelessness as a paradigm, as a way of being in the world, as a lifestyle, as ethical and aesthetic normativity opens the door to accepting the other as she is, not as we want her to be.

Shahram Khosravi, ‘Illegal Traveller’: An Auto-Ethnography of Borders; the reference is to the German Jewish philosopher Theodor Adorno’s work Minima Moralia.

These are radical words by someone who has himself experienced what it means to be homeless. Is Khosravi right that genuine hospitality is possible only in homelessness? It would be all too easy to take issue with this, arguing that it goes several steps too far.

However, looking at it from a Christian perspective, one is reminded of Paul’s words to the Philippians, who are told that ‘our citizenship is in heaven’ (Philippians 3:20). The letter of 1 Peter, in turn, is addressed ‘to God’s chosen strangers in the world of the diaspora’ (1 Peter 1:1), who are described as ‘immigrants and strangers in the world’ (2:11). Homelessness, indeed, was the chosen state of the one whom Christians profess to follow and who once said of himself that he had ‘no place to lay his head’ (Luke 9:58).

Khosravi’s are radical words indeed, but they need to be taken with utmost seriousness if we are concerned about genuine hospitality and accepting the ‘other’ as they are.

Poetry · Random thoughts

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’.

.

Spirituality

Bathed in the silence of God

Without the mystical, we are left without the full understanding or meaning that could exist. We can neither fully see, nor fully hear, the otherness of the divine without a fully developed sense for the mystical.

For the soul to grow beyond the verbal expressions of the mind, it must be bathed in the silence of God, wherein God speaks beyond words to reveal beauty to us.

Brian Kirby, ‘Beauty from Silence’

Poetry

Love of life, heart and being, the downward drag of gravity, hope during an endless coma of cold, cells charged with dream – the beauty of John O’Donohue’s poetry

Another book that I find truly inspiring and refreshing is John O’Donohue’s The Four Elements. Here are some extracts from three of his poems quoted by his brother Pat in the foreword.

From ‘In Praise of Fire’

As air intensifies the hunger of fire,
May the thought of death
Breathe new urgency
Into our love of life.

As short as the time
From spark to flame,
So brief may the distance be
Between heart and being.

May we discover
Beneath our fear
Embers of anger
To kindle justice.

From ‘In Praise of Water’

The courage of a river to continue belief
In the slow fall of ground,
Always falling further
Towards the unseen ocean.


Its only life surrendered
To the event of pilgrimage

It continues to swirl
Through all unlikeness,
With elegance

Let us bless the humility of water,
Always willing to take the shape
Of whatever otherness holds it.

The buoyancy of water,
Stronger than the deadening,
Downward drag of gravity

From ‘In Praise of Earth’

When the ages of ice came
And sealed the earth inside
An endless coma of cold,
The heart of the earth held hope,
Storing fragments of memory,
Ready for the return of the sun.

Until its black infinity of cells
Becomes charged with dream,
Then the silent, slow nurture
Of the seed’s self, coaxing it
To trust the act of death.

Let us ask forgiveness of the earth
For all our sins against her:
For our violence and poisonings
Of her beauty.

Random thoughts

Lower the defences

Dialogue is born from a respectful attitude toward the other person, from a conviction that the other person has something good to say. It supposes that we can make room in our heart for their point of view, their opinion and their proposals. Dialogue entails a warm reception and not a pre-emptive condemnation. To dialogue, one must know how to lower the defences, to open the doors of one’s home and to offer warmth.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, now also known as Pope Francis, as quoted in Paul Vallely, Pope Francis: Untying the Knots

Spirituality

Not a manipulated extension of myself

We cannot love God or our neighbour. We love both or neither. And what love means is rejoicing in the otherness of the other because the depth of this awareness is the depth of our communion with the other. … in the people we live with we find not objects to be cast in our own superficial likeness but, much more, we find in them our true selves, for our true selves only appear, only become realized, when we are wholly turned towards another.

[…]

In this recognition of the other person, a recognition that remakes my mind and expands my consciousness, the other person comes into being as they really are, in their real self, not as a manipulated extension of myself. People move and act out of their own integral reality and no longer as some image created by my imagination.

[…]

The essence of community … is a recognition of and deep reverence for the other.

John Main, Word into Silence