Saturday, February 20, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010

Where all loves end

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.
--T. S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday
I love the juxtaposition of contraries. It is an ancient rhetorical device, and an honorable one. It brings to mind Mme Virginia Crosby who taught French at Pomona College. In a course on French Renaissance Literature she started the semester by saying that one definition of art was a frame to contain contradictions. I liked that definition then and I like it now. That is certainly not all that can or should be said about what art is or is not, but it captures at least one great truth.

The most striking example in the Bible may well be Isaiah 45:7. In the Authorized Version (KJV) it reads thus: "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things." Later translations water this down into "weal and woe" but the word for evil means exactly that. It is possibly the most ambitiously monotheistic verse in the Bible. What we deem evil is also God's work. What other logical source can you posit?

Here it is in the Hebrew:
יֹוצֵ֥ר אֹור֙ וּבֹורֵ֣א חֹ֔שֶׁךְ עֹשֶׂ֥ה שָׁלֹ֖ום וּבֹ֣ורֵא רָ֑ע אֲנִ֥י יְהוָ֖ה עֹשֶׂ֥ה כָל־אֵֽלֶּה׃

Well, I do not intend to wrestle here with theodicy, but you can see that juxtaposition of contraries has an honorable heritage.

Orthodox liturgies revel in combining images that are seemingly contradictory. The Feast of the Theophany, for instance, refers repeatedly to fire going down into the water and the Romanos the Melodist builds his hymnody on the approach of the Unapproachable Light. The climax of the narrative in the Orthodox celebration is the moment when John the Forerunner, a mortal creature, does the unthinkable and touches the Creator in the flesh. The entire mystery of Incarnation is manifest and the ability of God to make happen what we declare cannot happen.

The Lady, the Rose, the Garden all participate in contradiction. If they did not, they would be inadequate to express totality.

This is mostly a problem for us children of the West. We are raised on either/or instead of on yin AND yang. We deem opposites to be mutually exclusive instead of complementary. Even the symbol of yin and yang calls this into question for in each half is found the seed of the other half, that small dot of the opposite shade.

Whether love is unsatisfied or satisfied (and that is the greater torment if it leaves us both sated and wanting, needing more), the speaker knows he can go no further. This is "where all loves end."

There he encounters "Speech without word and/ Word of no speech," the Logos that transcends all speaking yet is the expression by which and in which all things come into being. This Word, that communicates God's gracious will and saving power, is the end, the τελος, of love: its fulfillment.

Where life and love fail, there is the unexpected grace.
Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.
"And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance."

Yin and Yang in constantly shifting relationship, always in dynamic balance, together constitute the whole, the Tao. There is neither division nor unity. (Echoes of the Chalcedonian definition!)

Beyond hope, beyond death, there is an inheritance. And we shall come into it.

--the BB

Smaller and dryer than the will

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly

But merely vans to beat the air

The air which is now thoroughly small and dry

Smaller and dryer than the will

Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still.
Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death

Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
--T. S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday

The image of a shriveled will, small and dry, is striking. The sense of agency is diminished, as though the speaker’s sense of selfhood is failing.

How often do we experience our sense of self, of agency, as weak? Certainly in bouts of depression or periods when we are so beaten down by life that we no longer “have it in us.”

Clinging is vain. Trying to save ourselves, we lose ourselves (I have it on good authority). Yet letting go is difficult, whether we are feeling (illusorily) omnipotent or utterly helpless. We thus have a prayer: “Teach us to care and not to care/ Teach us to sit still.”

Engagement with detachment.

The balance in which we have not withdrawn from life yet we are free of compulsive attachment to outcomes. We do what we ought and must without allowing anxiety to consume us. We do not control outcomes but we must act in accordance with our nature and the imperatives toward justice and compassion.

And, as noted at the beginning of Lent, we must let go.

Teach us to sit still.

Lady, pray for us in the great death and also now in the countless moments of our little deaths.

--the BB

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I signed

Several Senators called on Senator Reid to restore the public option to healthcare reform through reconciliation. Those few have grown to 18 signers and some more supporters.

I joined as a citizen signer tonight and sent e-mails to both my Senators, thanking Udall for joining and urging Bingaman to add his name.

--the BB

A thought or two

A faith community that is God-centered has got it right.* A faith community that is centered on us has got it seriously wrong. A faith community that is Bible-centered is outright idolatrous.

A corollary:
I don't care whether you believe in the Bible. The very concept is suspect (see above). John 3:16 does not conclude that "whosoever believeth in the Bible shall not perish but have everlasting life." Do you believe in God? Does the God in whom you believe love creation, including us?

If the answer to that last question is "No," then your deity is either uninteresting or repugnant.

If you do not believe in God, I probably have more in common with you than I do with those who put their trust in a book.

Πιστεύομεν εἰς ἔνα Θεὸν

*Assuming it is not so heavenly minded it is no earthly good, but that is not being God-centered.

--the BB

These matters that with myself I too much discuss

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessèd face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us
--T. S. Eliot, Ash Wednesday
I doubt that Eliot could be anything but Anglo-Catholic, writing as he does.

The incarnational specificity one encounters in words such as "what is actual is actual only for one time/ And only for one place" echoes, for me, the occasional and specific nature of Anglican theology. We are not known for great generalities and systematic thinking but for bringing all our resources to bear on a specific question, a particular instance, a pastoral issue that is anything but abstract. We want to talk about real lives, not eternal principles, though we are eager to know what eternal principles have to do with real lives. We prefer "both/and" but, when forced to choose, tend to go with real lives.

We care more about our endangered siblings in Uganda than we do about discussions of "norms."

I remember my high school biology teacher, Mr. Moore, who on weekends taught Sunday school in a Methodist church, trying to get us past a concept of biological ideals. When I studied zoology with him he told us that one does not take a murine specimen and ask: "Is this mouse correct?" It simply is, and your concepts of "mouseness" must take it into account. There is no abstract mouse (pace Plato), only specific mice from which we must make generalizations.

Back to Eliot:

There is a sense of acceptance when he writes "I rejoice that things are as they are" and I love that phrase but the line does not end there. We have the "and" hanging at the end of the line, much as γαρ hangs at the end of the final verse of Mark's Gospel. [Those who do not wrestle with the Greek text of the NT may ignore that reference.]

"...[A]nd/ I renounce the blessèd face/ And renounce the voice...."

Eliot is not ready to respond, to have his encounter with the divine (or its channels). This is a poem written after his own conversion and it describes a process and a transformation. It is about turning, about metanoia, though it begins with no hope of turning. The speaker in the poem rejoices in "having to construct something/ Upon which to rejoice." He has chosen to rely on his own resources, in spite of not hoping to turn again. A bravura posture? Making the best of something already named as hopeless?

And yet...

"And pray to Got to have mercy upon us...."

There is the plea for that which we cannot create from within ourselves alone.

In that is hope.

Note: someone else shares thoughts on this poem. I commend Matt's undergraduate paper found here.

--the BB

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?
--Ash Wednesday by T. S. Eliot
Eliot's question brings to mind this passage from chapter 18 of the Apocalypse:
And the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning; they will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say,
‘Alas, alas, the great city,
Babylon, the mighty city!
For in one hour your judgement has come.’

And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo any more, cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, olive oil, choice flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, slaves—and human lives.
‘The fruit for which your soul longed
has gone from you,
and all your dainties and your splendour
are lost to you,
never to be found again!’
The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,
‘Alas, alas, the great city,
clothed in fine linen,
in purple and scarlet,
adorned with gold,
with jewels, and with pearls!
For in one hour all this wealth has been laid waste!’

And all shipmasters and seafarers, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning,
‘What city was like the great city?’
And they threw dust on their heads, as they wept and mourned, crying out,
‘Alas, alas, the great city,
where all who had ships at sea
grew rich by her wealth!
For in one hour she has been laid waste.’
I notice they do not seem to be lamenting their perished beloved but rather what she did for them: their commerce, their wealth, their power, their prestige.

Is not this something like "the usual reign," the domination systems we erect to protect ourselves, enrich ourselves, create defenses in the chaos of life? If it were all stripped away would we mourn? Would we throw dust on our heads and weep and cry out?

For all its superficial splendor and brute power, does it merit lamentation?

Their is another reign, you know. God's reign.

Jesus was obsessed with it, possessed by it, heralded it and demonstrated it in all he did.

And there is change. There is transformation. There is a turning, even if we do not dare hope for it.

Consider chapter 21 of that same Apocalypse:
I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honour of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practises abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Note the presence of the kings of the earth. Are not these the same "who committed fornication and lived in luxury with" that great whore, Babylon?

Now they bring their glory into the New Jerusalem.

We have moved from the earthly city of shame to the heavenly city of splendor.

And it is not their shame they bring to the new Jerusalem but THEIR glory.

What glory do these sinners have to bring to God's city? Evidently God thinks they have something to contribute. And the gates are not shut against them.

And so I have hope, though I often doubt that it is in me to turn again.

--the BB

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Poetry for Lent

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn

Those are the opening lines of T. S. Eliot's poem Ash Wednesday. I propose to take this poem and the Four Quartets as my texts for meditation this Lent.

Sometimes the Bible passages, especially for a former Baptist (and a very pious one at that), are simply too familiar. More to the point, last year I found them altogether too problematic. The patriarchal, violent bent of the Bible drove me to distraction the last time I tried the discipline of commenting each day during a violet season. I could not allegorize away the horror. Thus I have chosen to do something else this time around.

We approach Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent with words of seeming despair. "Because I do not hope" = the etymological meaning of "despair," a falling away from hope.

It is a classic starting point of any cycle of spiritual growth: the purgative stage when we are stripped, when we must let go, when our illusions are torn from us and we are left naked and defenseless, disoriented, lost, not knowing the way forward or even if there is a way forward.

It is probably a good place to start Lent. It is not our cleverness or our piety or our worthwhile deeds that will bring us to Easter; it is the action of God.

--the BB

Howdy, howdy, Vatican City

I evidently just had my first visitor here from the Vatican City.

Welcome. This is a very personal site by an irascible Anglican who loves so very much of the Roman tradition but is, well, critical of officialdom whether in my church or yours or any church, for that matter. You are, all the same, welcome here. Blessings be upon you.

--the BB

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Satan's spawn spews again

Why is Liz Cheney allowed to make shit up on the public media? As a commenter noted, "I know $10 crack whores with more integrity."

Another: "I like that "Former State Department Official". Hell, she was part of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. Her job was to help implement the raping of the Iraqi economy."

And the bottom line: "Right or wrong, Constitution, American Law, our Nation's honor, what the fuck ever, this monster's lone goal is to save that blood drenched, war profiting, coward ass mass murdering father of hers."

I wish the entire family would ooze back into hellmouth or wherever they came from and never be heard from again. Soulless scum.

Anyone worried that I'd forgotten how to get riled may now relax. Dick the dick and his lying bitch daughter will bring my blood to boil in an instant every time.

--the BB

Not brimming with outrage these days

Nor am I feeling very reflective. But I'm doing fine and enjoying this long weekend (federal holiday). Dear friends, the shortage of posts is me taking a breather.

--the BB