Sunday, August 31, 2008

Faith/Art/The World Around Us

"I have found that some of my clearest and most apparently 'spiritual' writing has come when I've abandoned the big task of trying to say something profound and am just fooling around with words. This is because I then unconsciously draw on the reserves accumulated over years of knowing God. I'm more likely to come up with great insights while writing about a coffee mug or a cereal packet than if I contemplate la condition humaine." Steve Turner, Imagine: A Vision for Christians in the Arts

"...There are things we do not see and things we cannot see and things we refuse to see, and there are also things we can't make out, puzzling things and sickening things that make us wince. There are things to boring to see, too normal or unremarkable to ever catch the eye, things that fall through the cracks of vision, things so odd we never figure them out, blurs, confusions, smudges, and smears. There are things emptied of meaning because they have no use, they answer to no desire, they cannot be owned or moved or enjoyed. There are flickering things we can't quite catch in the corner of our eye, movements that are gone when we turn our head. There are things too brilliant to see, that sear the retina...and things too dangerous to see, charged with frightening emotional power. There are sexual things we might love to see but can't make ourselves look at, and there are beautiful faces we would love to explore but propriety tells us we shouldn't. There are things we don't see because we don't know their names, things we overlook every day of our lives and will continue to miss as long as we live, things that try to get our attention and fail, and things that hide, camouflaged and secretive things, little things hidden and forgotten among other things..."

...Why do we continue to see so little even when we want to see so much? ...The field of vision appears to be seamless, but it is shot through with holes. I look at a naked body and I fail to see entire limgs. I look at a landscape and I do not notice whole mountains. Perhaps ordinary vision is less like a brightly lit sky with one blinding spot in it than like the night sky filled with stars. Maybe we see only little spots against a field of darkness. Once in a great while there may be a flash of lightning and we see everything, but then the darkness returns. My vision, even at its most acute, is probably not much better than the points of the stars against their invisible field of black." James Elkins, The Object Stares Back

Friday, August 29, 2008

On looking in all the wrong places...

Song: Not There

I went to the cupboard, I opened the door,
I cried to my people, O it's not there!
"How long did you think it would last?" said the cook,
Said the butler, "Does anyone care?"
But where is it, where is it? O it's not there,
Not there to be saved, not there to be saved,
If I'm saved it will not be there.

I ran to a plate, to a pig, to a dish,
An old china pig, a plate, to a pear,
Said, To find it, O, I will look anywhere,
Said, Anywhere, Anywhere..."Look anywhere,"
Said the plate as it laughed, "yes, look anywhere;
There's as good as here, here's at good as there--
For where shall you look to be saved?"

I said to my people, the plate, to the cupboard,
The pig on its platter, the pear, the pear:
O where is my salvation?

"O it's not anywhere.
You break in my head like a dish," said the plate,
"A pig," said the pig, "a pear," said the pear--
Not there to be saved, go not there to be saved,
If you're saved it will not be there.

Randall Jarrell

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Quotes from "Interglacial"

"Whatever god wrote us is fond of characters who don't feel natural in their parts, who forget their lines."

"If I have to make a decision, I'm not ready to."

"The point isn't the point."

"Tree's most tree when it tries to run."

"By looking for the origins of things we deceive ourselves about their inevitability. Things that did not happen also have origins."

"Happiness is not the only happiness."

"No matter how fast you travel, life walks."

-James Richardson

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Snow" by Louis MacNeice

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and fell
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes—
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands—
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

Part 3: God Is The Only One Who... wholly innocent.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Some Kind of Paradox

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.
(Matt. 22:37, 38)

I will love thee, O LORD, my strength.
(Psalm 18:1)

Friday, August 22, 2008

Part Two: God Is the Only One Who...

...never treats anyone or anything as merely a means to an end, even though we treat Him that way all the time--for instance, we treat Him as a means toward some notion of "salvation" (as in some mechanistic version of "fire insurance), rather than as an end, the end, in Himself.

The famous Bro. Lawrence of the Resurrection (17th century), writing about himself in the third person, said that he gave thought neither to death nor to his sins, neither to Heaven nor to Hell, but only to the doing of small things for the love of God--small things because he was incapable of big ones. He need trouble no further, for whatever came after would be according to God's will. He also wrote, I undertook the religious life for the love of God only, and I have tried to live only for Him; whether I am lost or saved, I want simply to go on living entirely for God; I shall have this good at least, that I shall have done all that I could to love Him until death.

I notice how gently and respectfully very holy people treat the world around them, including inanimate objects, and how differently they even move in their bodies through the world and through time, whereas I tend to be hasty and subtly violent (in the sense of embodying a certain hostility/aggression/irritability/crankiness toward time, being, and necessity).

Thursday, August 21, 2008

God Is the Only One Who...

...never does anything that is in the least sub-personal or non-personal, as opposed to humans, who are so often:

abstract and/or abstracted,
"on automatic,"
or rote.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"If I Can Think of It, It Isn't What I Want"

A Sick Child

The postman comes when I am still in bed.
"Postman, what do you have for me today?"
I say to him. (But really I'm in bed.)
Then he says - what shall I have him say?

"This letter says that you are president
Of - this word here; it's a republic."
"Tell them I can't answer right away."
"It's your duty."
No, I'd rather just be sick.

Then he tells me there are letters saying everything
That I can think of that I want for them to say.
I say, "Well, thank you very much. Good-bye."
He is ashamed, and turns and walks away.

If I can think of it, it isn't what I want.
I want . . . I want a ship from some near star
To land in the yard, and beings to come out
And think to me: "So this is where you are!

Come." Except that they won't do,
I thought of them. . . . And yet somewhere there must be
Something that's different from everything.
All that I've never thought of - think of me!

Randall Jarrell

Monday, August 18, 2008

Conversation at the Coffee Hour After Church Yesterday

Me, turning to E.: So how are things in your world?

E: Well, everything keeps shifting, minute to minute. I can't manage to get a handle on experience.

Me: I know what you mean! Experience doesn't really seem to have a handle!

M: And it's round, so you can't grasp hold of it! It keeps slipping out of your grip, because someone's greased it!

Me: And there's an electrical field around it, so you get a shock everytime you try to grab it!

All of us: That's it! Noooooo handle......

Friday, August 15, 2008

Tag, You're It

"God wants his people to be in every walk of life, in every social stratum, in every ethnic group, in every location precisely to maximize his influence and draw the world most effectively to himself. Thus he strategically deploys individuals. There is a kind of circular logic here that is nonetheless important. I am situated where I am, and I am the kind of person I am, precisely to do what only a person such as I can do: namely, to witness to, to exemplify, and to effect the gospel in my particular social matrix. Only I have these relatives, these friends, these co-workers, these enemies, these neighbors, and so on, and only I am in this set of relationships, and only I am this sort of person, therefore only I can exert the particular benign influence that only I can exert. This sounds nonsensical, of course, but I don't think it is. Instead, such a statement is vital to the realization that God has not made mistakes in making us who we are and placing us where he has in order to get done what he wants to get done...

...[W]e ought to give thanks to God that we are not more gorgeous than we are--or more intelligent, or more creative, or more rich--because if we were much more gifted, we could not function the same way in our particular roles. People might write off our testimony with 'Well, that's easy for you to say.' Or they might never feel they could identify with us, and so never confide in us. Or they might push into the Kingdom of God for the wrong reasons, to enjoy the trappings rather than the substance of the gospel of renewal. One day, thank God, we will be more beautiful and talented than we are today. But for now we are 'under cover,' playing the roles we have been given in order to achieve key mission objectives that could not be achieved were we to drop our disguises and appear in the glory that God has prepared for us..."

John G. Stackhouse Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World

Sunday, August 10, 2008

A New Category of Prayer

Petitionary prayer, seemingly unanswered prayer, contemplative prayer, blah blah blah.

Why does no one ever talk about extinct prayer? I'd like to propose a list. Blog readers are welcome to add entries:

A Partial List of Extinct Prayers (Personal)

1. God, are you real?

2. Jesus, are you real?

3. Please help me through childbirth.

4. Please let the baby sleep through the night.

5. May I always live in this apartment and never have to move.

A Partial List of Extinct Prayers (Global)

1. Please keep our ship from sailing over the edge of the world.

2. May the Huns be smitten with pestilence before they reach our village.

3. Please bless this attempt to transmute lead into gold.

4. May our glorious Armada prosper and prevail.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Is This True?

I keep wondering about this passage from Lynda Barry's What It Is, one of the best books I've ever read on creativity:
The thinking part of you
is not the doing part of you
or the experiencing part of you
The thinking part of you can
tell you that a decision has
been made but it's not the
part of you which decides things
This is why thinking is not
the same as creating through
the thinking part of us seems
completely unaware of this

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Things to Think

Things to Think

Think in ways you've never thought before.
If the phone rings, think of it as carrying a message
Larger than anything you've ever heard,
Vaster than a hundred lines of Yeats.

Think that someone may bring a bear to your door,
Maybe wounded and deranged; or think that a moose
Has risen out of the lake, and he's carrying on his antlers
A child of your own whom you've never seen.

When someone knocks on the door,
Think that he's about
To give you something large: tell you you're forgiven,
Or that it's not necessary to work all the time,
Or that it's been decided that if you lie down no one will die.

~ Robert Bly ~

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Inside the Fire

Inside the Fire

You see that everyone is famous.
You hardly know what to say.
"It is a great honor to meet you."
"I am fortunate indeed to make your acquaintance."
But who wouldn't think you were being facetious?
You see with the sight of burning eyes.
The faces inside the faces.
They are the children of fire with classic features,
no matter who they are, no matter how deformed.
They are the stars in the only theater,
each brilliant actor in the role of her life.
Each face burns with a different light.
Blow on the soul.
See the face.
Blow on the soul.
See the face.
Look away.

Monday, August 4, 2008

FOR I WILL CONSIDER MY CAT JEOFFRY from"Jubilate Agno" by Christopher Smart

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider'd God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day's work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord's watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he's a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord's poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually--Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God's light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life. For he can creep.
Christopher Smart 1722-1771

Friday, August 1, 2008

False Dichotomy

Almost every morning, I sit on my front stoop with a cup of coffee and watch the sky while everything's still fresh and new. I will never take clouds for granted, especialy since they are always changing.

This morning, my mind returned to something I've wondered about for decades: in the universe--in clouds, for instance--does God set up the initial conditions and then let everything run its course?--or is God completely hands-on, for example, sculpting each cloud contour from the inside out and the outside in? A childish question, perhaps, but what the heck...

My answer thus far has always been that somehow both are true--at different times and on different levels. On one level, God continuously wills every atom and quark into being, otherwise, nothing at all could exist. On another level, there's the whole free will thing.

And I still believe that. But this morning, it occurred to me that God really, really loves freedom--really, really delights in allowing everything the space and freedom to be and to become. But because God is love, this freedom does not entail distance, remoteness or impersonality of any kind--not even a minute speck of it. Absolute freedom and absolute intimacy--even, eventually, union--not opposite ends of a continuum, but somehow, in Christ, the same thing?