Friday, May 29, 2009

A Few Propositions #2: Hatred

There is no neutrality between gratitude and ingratitude. 
Those who are not grateful soon begin to complain of 
everything. Those who do not love, hate. In the spiritual 
life there is no such thing as indifference to love or hate. 
That is why tepidity (which seems to be indifferent) is so 
detestable. It is hate disguised as love.

-- Thomas Merton
Thoughts in Solitude, p 41

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Few Propositions #1: Hatred

Hatred is not the opposite of love, but is the absence of love. It may or may not exist in tangent with familiar emotions we often think of as hatred. It could simply be the lack of desire of communion with or commitment to an object, idea or person. We may hate someone without wishing them any ill will. We may hate God while profoundly believing in God. Due to the disorder of the soul -- where everything is out of whack and the body or the emotions or appetite often rule the spirit, or due to some additional injury and its attendant pathology (i.e., the lack of parental love, or other abuses we have suffered), we may simply be incapable of love. The injury to our psyche, the inability to love as an act of the will without contingencies, without derailing into an infantile game of punishment and reward whereby pure self-interest masquarades as love, may result in a life totally absent of love: in other words, a life and soul filled with hatred, which manifests itself in profligate passions, addictions, high drama, manifold insecurities, a condition in which the human person becomes a plaything of its own fear.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

No Object Lesson

When I was a child in Oklahoma the other kids would catch fireflies (which they might have called lightning bugs), rip them apart and put the bright chemicals on their fingers as glowing rings. My parents must have expressed some form of distaste for this practice, which I absorbed. The boys do not know about this practice, though Dylan mentioned the idea of collecting them in a Mason jar. I demurred, indirectly.

One afternoon the boys drew Kansas City and its landmarks, including their house here, and neighboring towns and their landmarks (including their other house there) in chalk on the sidewalk that runs from the porch to the street. A broad highway connected their chalk towns, populated with gigantic automobiles with overblown tires that looked like appendages.

When it cooled down last Fall, I gratefully set the electric bill aside and turned off the air conditioner, opened the windows. I had been cleaning and for a while the kitchen smelled like Pine-sol. I lit a vanilla candle. I thought about financial problems and remembered how rich I am, and said to my soul, 'Soul, we are a people who are insanely wealthy, the only people, perhaps, who live in unspeakable comfort, but fill ourselves with dread over the remote possibility of discomfort." In memory of Solzhenitsyn, I tried to take each (metaphorical) cigaret at a time with humility and gratitude, and several moments passed.

When I was a child and snubbed time, incapable of seeing idle moments as idle, but only as the energized space inhabited by all that I saw -- the green Oregon mountains to every side, lush tress and plants; by what I heard, the voice of my parents, the drone of the television, an airplane grinding into the sky overhead, the wail of chalk and the endless chatter of classmates gossipping and speaking of loving each other "in God's way" as opposed to love that is intense, fully embodied romantic eros, traced with shadowy sentiments reflexively borrowed from t.v.; the feeling of clean sheets and new clothes that gave me a sense of solidity, the strange suspension of my heart that seemed to float for a moment when a classmate (most likely, as opposed to an adult) showed me how to do something, how to color inside the lines by tracing the figure first, while I watched and listened in silent, confusing but pleasant elation; the taste of chocolate milk and the goodness of sugar, the firm and pleasant texture of food that is crisp rather than soft, scrambled eggs drowned in ketchup, tuna fish mixed with diced dill pickles; there was the odor of grass in the dry summer air, the rotten uncollected eggs of the hen that had no counterpart to fertilize them, the verdant aroma of wild weeds and ancient fossilized cow shit -- I took all the hours with fulness in and let them drift, my imagination furious and lonely and spontaneously unburdened.

In the field behind our house I made up a name ("Billy Porter") and pretended I was him, that I was on a horse, and galloped, my legs approximating, and ont his day at the age of nine thought of the difference between the city and the country, and imagined a person from the country (played by myself) impressing all the people from the city with his essential country qualities. Maybe this person was Billy Porter, and he had been from the city originally, but moved out into the country and lived there for a long time (not time in terms of months or years, but as a quality of absorption), then was sent back to the city where people do not know anything about rural life. The contrast ennobles him, and he is surrounded by a cloud of awed witnesses, as ethereal and silent in my imagination as saints and angels, awed, it may be implied, into a stupor by Billy's country character and unique down-home qualities, whatever it is that makes him something (a country boy) that they are not.

We lived on the edges of town in a large house with three-and-a-half fenced-in acres of field and a broken-down barn. Dad rented a stall out to someone who had an untamed horse for a while, and the horse would come to the stall at times and accept our apples, but usually we left it alone, and it moved about in the field. This day I went out to visit the horse, tramping through the field, Billy Porter drifting about in the periphery of my interior consciousness repeatedly amazing the city folks like in a repetitive dream during uneasy sleep. And suddenly I stood at a certain distance from the horse, and stopped, staring at it. "Hi," I said. I was just visiting, and had no crazy thoughts of actually trying to ride the horse or anything like that, but the horse didn't know that. Horses apparently are not mind-readers. I took a step forward, and he charged me. He came suddenly and with violence, his nostrils flaring, his eyes wild with crazed fear, his gait long and possibly trampling (a trampling gait), and I watched, filled with my own unleashed breath, my entire body shot through with dreadful adrenaline, and two feet from me he turned, swerving away, while I fell flat on my back, suddenly looking but not seeing the impossibly dark-blue sky. I ran, hoping he wouldn't chase me, heartbroken and betrayed. I did not go out into the field again.

There is no moral here, no object lesson, unless its unintentionally implied. I was nine years old and the horse gave me a warning, that's all. I went back to playing marbles, eating school lunches and trying to stand in line in such a way as to sit across from the right girl, and learning how to do tricks, such as "around the world", with my yo-yo.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Being Serious

I read the following in the short story "A Happy Vacancy" by Stephen Dobyns:

"Seriousness...often exists as something we want to show other people. We want others to think us serious, which suggests a fear of not being sufficiently respected, of not being taken seriously....And what is the opposite of seriousness? Frivolity?....I think the opposite of such a seriousness is love, because love accepts all possibilities, whereas seriousness only accepts what it sees as correct."

Associations sprang out in a multitude of directions upon reading this. First, A. Schmemann, the late Orthodox theologian, who emphasized sobriety, but one that would exclude a seriousness that takes itself too seriously. In this light, what is sobriety?

I thought of fundamentalists that I have known, who seem to share a certain lack of imagination, have little appreciation for humor, or indeed for the liberal arts, for poetry, fiction, literature, and other arbiters of beauty that have the quality of being capable of mirroring and framing in a meaningful way the attributes and character, even the image, of God. Fundamentalism of all stripes -- whether Evangelical, Orthodox, or secular and ideological, seems to have at its core one universal rubric, that is, its quality of being very, very serious, and dealing with serious matters in an intensely serious way, which excludes much of what is real and actual. In this light, what is real and actual?

In my culture, the most common problem isn't one of too much sobriety, or even of taking myself too seriously. I am often possessed by a legion of competing distractions, which lead away from the real and the actual. But an ultimate distraction might be to dismiss the real and the actual in the pursuit of seriousness, to delude and convince myself that my own seriousness is not only virtuous, but that others should take me seriously because of it, therefore making my life purposeful and meaningful. So there is the tension between frivolity and seriousness, two equal errors that lack the quality of sobriety. The antidote is humility, without which one cannot experience authentic love.

Friday, January 2, 2009

The Fear

Years ago, I was bored out of my mind by dull, blank, tripartite sermons which expounded on the elements of fear defined as "holy reverence". Others, who dressed their words in trembling singsong oratory (but who would frown at the chants of high church liturgies), defined it in the same respect, giving God a conceptual makeover, the eyeliner of Zeus, the countenance of Thor, the rogue of Superman, the humility of Clark Kent and the heart of Aphrodite. There was just something about it that was so dry that it rang untrue. How is it that the word "fear" could produce such a stale and abstract notion?

The great revivalist, Jonathan Edwards, syncretist between enlightenment Rationalism and Protestant hysterics, saw fear in considering oneself an inch away from eternal hellfire and destruction as punishment for offending a just, offended, holy and angry God. The human spirit is the shadow of a spider about to be crushed underfoot, and Edwards' audience, besieged with the evils of alcohol and bad language, repented with fervor, some, eventually as "revival" spread, barking like dogs, and others claiming to levitate -- dubious fruits of the Spirit of peace.

So I was taught in my early Protestant experience that the fear of the Lord is mere respect, or dreadfully sensationalistic, depending on the speaker.

Fear God, said Jesus, who can destroy the body and the soul with it, and not merely one's earthly enemies, who can only touch the body. The emphasis to my mind is on the contrast, not the destruction; the capacity of God, not his intent.

The Fear for Kierkegaard exists generally in apprehending one's own freedom, the capacity for creative anguish or despair, and the experiential reality of possibility. This seems more in line with what the prophets had in mind. The fear of the Lord contains an awareness of not only the magnitude and capacities of a transcendent but immanent Creator, coupled with one's own awareness of finitude and the encroaching cockroaches of death, but is essentially rooted in the experience of God, and of understanding the possibility of losing that experience.

The experience of knowing God is a gift, one that can be taken away, or occluded through pride, self-righteousness, sensuality, short-sightedness, or mere lack of ardor. It is the fear of losing contact with the source of Being, losing the grace of his energies, losing an awareness of boundless love. Reverence is a side-effect. One fears this loss, and in the Kierkegaardian sense simultaneously realizes who he is as a person who possesses freedom, including the potential for love or for sin, for life or death, and for communion or hell.

So it turns out that the Fear thrives positively in possession, a zealous fear not of death, but of the loss of an interior relationship with an uncreated and undivided Trinity of persons, who exists in a co-eternal relationship of mutual love, always inviting one to share in transcendent love, and to participate in divine modalities that move in the direction of eternal life. One is oriented through such fear away from temporal things, the lusts of the flesh, the darkness of the eye, the folly which speaks in the heart of the fool who proclaims with profound short-sighted indignity, "there is no God!" Such a possession, the invitation of Christ to dwell in the heart of a human person, thereby eventually fulfilling one as a person, the personality of the incarnate God in Christ made manifest therein through the Holy Spirit, may be called Grace, and the romance of his humanifying presence is so sweet and pure that the loss of it cannot compare with any temporal loss -- the loss of a spouse, or of a child, of a job or of a passion (sins to which we are addicted and treasure). For those who know it and nurture it, the thought of its loss, the potential of it that exists in the freedom to sin as well as in the reality of our own sinfulness (an awareness that results in humility), provokes the Fear.

The fear of the Lord in its pure form is thus finally the realization of authentic personality in all its potentialities in the presence of the Holy Trinity. This,a fear which is rooted in love, and not mere sorrow for sin, or fear of punishment, or reverence for things holy (though all these attend to it), the Kings and the prophets tell us, is the beginning of Wisdom.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Day

My six year old son has lost four teeth in the last two weeks. When he grinned at me this evening, I asked him how he can chew! "Everyone asks that!" I was told.

The boys are happy, chattering, and in my four year old's case, constantly tumbling, climbing, jumping and moving...except when asleep or watching something stimulating on television, such as Scooby Doo.

The end of the year passed without much notice by me. I do not believe I have ever been to a New Year's Eve party. If so, I do not remember it. No waiting for the ball to drop. No saturnalia, music and booze. No midnight kiss. As a kid, we would stay up past midnight and listen to the Top 100 Countdown of the songs of the year, hosted by Casey Casem (who does the voice of Shaggy, incidentally, on Scooby Doo). My parents would usually go out, and we would get hyped up on caffeine and candy, blow up balloons, dance around. At some point, probably when I was twelve or thirteen, we turned to ritual (as humans do) and burned the previous year's calendar, month by month, reliving the appointments, holidays and birthday dates in a highly symbolic act. I speechified on the passing of time, emotion clogged in my throat.

Last night I was alone, watched a quirky movie (You and Me and Everybody Else), felt slightly annoyed at the guy in some other apartment who kept yelling profanities in a deep bellowing voice, then went to bed. I awoke long after midnight when I heard men talking outside my bedroom window, but thought little of it, thinking them denizens of the neighbor's party. Then, insistent knocking and pounding on the neighbor's back door. I went into the kitchen and saw a cop in the back yard stretching out yellow crime scene tape. Then heard another say, "we got her...Sarge, Sarge, we got her..." In front were about four police cars, one with flashing lights. The neighbor didn't seem to actually be there. The police were still there when I went back to bed and fell back to sleep. I have no idea what happened, but I haven't seen my neighbor all day. What a way to greet 2009.

I woke late and it still felt like 2008, but it didn't feel like Thursday. It felt like Saturday, except that I was alone, no kids. After the sun set I drove to Lawrence, worrying over the car, bills, my job, various relations. I put in a CD of Abbot Meletios Webber that I downloaded from the net in which he started to describe the nature of addiction, but forgot to continue listening to it after pumping gas, drove in silence.

My kids met me at the door. They never say hello. They always begin with whatever the big news is. Dylan rode his new bike today, and Jonah rode his (Dylan's old bike). Dylan lost two more teeth. Jonah created an outline of his hand, he "drawed it", of which he was proud.