“Feed us, or we die”

We sang this during communion today, and although I think I’ve sung it before, I was really struck by it nonetheless.

Food for pilgrim people, manna from on high

Jesus, bread of heaven, feed us, or we die

Feed us with your life, feed us with your life,

come into our longing hearts, feed us with your joy,

come into our longing hearts, feed us with your joy.

 

More quotes.

It’s about time for some Jamie Smith quotes to show up on my blog. I have been a fan of his stuff for awhile. I bumped into his blog about a year ago, thought that Desiring the Kingdom looked good, found myself a copy, and loved it. What did I like so much? Well, although I did actually like the content of the book, I mostly loved its style, method, and presuppositions.

So, one, I think he’s a fantastic example of philosophical rigor integrated with an attention to all things practical, such that his work is fairly accessible to non-philosophers. Two, I think it’s safe to say that his philosophical interests lie primarily in “continental” philosophy. Looking back, I think I was drawn to his work because of the quintessentially continental themes throughout. In other words, he was presupposing all sorts of things (about our conditionedness, primarily) that I’d been trying to articulate for the previous semester. Anyways, since Desiring the Kingdom, I’ve picked up a few of his other texts. Most recently, I read The Fall of Interpretation.

Now, it’s a rare occasion when I read some philosophy that makes me cry. [Clarifying: these are not tears of “Why, Hegel, why are you so impossibly confusing?”] On a day-to-day level, philosophy isn’t emotional, life-changing stuff. But, once in awhile, I’ll happen across a bit of philosophy that speaks directly to something that I’m really anxious about.

You can tell where this is going: I cried over The Fall of Interpretation. (The introduction, actually, not the quotes below.) It’s not the bestest, most brilliant thing I’ve ever read. But it is very good. And it was tremendously pertinent to Abigail of June 2013. It’s a book I want to revisit, especially having just finished Truth and Method. (Speaking of books that I’d like to revisit! Huge swaths of my copy are underlined and starred. It was so good. And yet I just speed walked through the beautiful park that is Truth and Method. I haven’t fully enjoyed it, because I haven’t sat down on a bench to enjoy the view for awhile.)

Well, hey, getting around to the two quotes I’ve selected. They speak to the two most significant lessons I took from Smith: 1) a sense of joy in plurality, rather than a fearful grasping after monolithic truth that denies contingency, and 2) the responsibility of interpretation and the importance of love and charity when interpreting.

“At Pentecost Yahweh’s pneuma affirms the multiplicity of creation […]. A creational-pneumatic hermeneutic opens the door for an understanding of truth divorced from monologism, which in itself opens the door to those who have been shut out of the kingdom, so to speak – excluded because their interpretation was different. The truth, in creation, is plural…”

“Interpretation becomes not so much a matter of ‘correctness’ as responsibility; the interpreter has an obligation to ‘do justice’ to the transcendence of what is interpreted”

Untitled; Melly Wirtes; click to follow link

Butchering Chickens and Resurrection

I’m going to try and remember a blog post I wrote mentally a few months ago, right now. I wrote it while cleaning meat bird carcasses. That’s my preferred task when it comes to butchering chickens, since I’m not too huge on killing birds and I’m even less a fan of the smell that accompanies plucking dirty carcasses that have just been plunged into boiling water to loosen their feathers.  So I spend butchering evenings with my hands in ice cold water, doing the nit-picky cleaning work while the carcasses cool off.

This year I was in a pretty grim mood around butchering time, which probably explains some of this train of thought, but as I pulled the few remaining neck feathers off those chicken carcasses, I thought about the normalcy of death. The Christian tradition – well, especially the piece of that tradition that I grew up in – tended to romanticize Christ’s crucifixion. I’m thinking of all those hymns that reference blood, and crimson, and being washed…

yeah, no, death is just sort of grimy and brown. Those white meat birds die and they get muddy brown feathers. Stringy feathers, with globs of dirt and blood. No crimson romance about it. Brown as in dirt. Brown like plain-old-normal-life. They die. We die. There it is.

I have never “gotten” sermons on John 11 that emphasize Jesus’ anger about death. They don’t resonate. I’m also thinking of my Ash Wednesday post, and the difficulty I had reconciling the liturgy of that day with the coinciding emphasis on immortality in class. Moreover, I don’t like Easter Sunday. Maybe it’s a personality thing – I’d rather be contrite than enthused. But, maybe it’s more serious than that. I think I’m failing to understand – appreciate? (I can’t quite come up with the appropriate verb) the resurrection.

Sometimes I talk myself into liking the resurrection because it affirms embodied existence, or some such schmancy-sounding idea. But those pep talks must be lacking, since they don’t stick.

I guess this is the part of the blog where I wimp out and say, “Yup, don’t know. Just talking to myself.”

I’ll close with these “possibilities” –

perhaps it’s as simple as “Jesus is alive.”

perhaps I should return to the line from the John’s gospel that I love so much, “having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”

perhaps, thinking in Girardian terms, the resurrection is essential because it affirms that the sacrifice of a scapegoat is not the final word

or perhaps, per Robert Jenson, the resurrection is part and parcel of the “sheerly promissory reality” that is God – we must have an alive Christ to have a God of hope.

Meh. I’m slowly working on it.

On Prayer

“Prayer is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable toward God … Not only does the love of God have attention for its substance, the love of our neighbor, which we know to be the same love, is made of this same substance … The way of looking is first of all attentive. The soul empties itself of all its own contents in order to receive into itself the being it is looking at, just as he [/she] is, in all his [/her] truth. Only he [/she] who is capable of attention can do this”

– “Reflections of the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God” from Simone Weil’s Waiting for God

You may have realized by now that I’ve been reading some Simone Weil as of late, which is a first for me. Thus far I’ve found her fascinating and insightful and vexing all at once. But, I don’t want to write any book reviews or pseudo book reviews. Rather: prayer. And how this quote construes prayer as attention.

Prayer is hard for pretty much everyone, I would guess. My own difficulty with it can be broken into two parts, roughly: 1) For most of my life, when it came to prayer, the most obvious option was petitionary prayer, since it’s fairly easy to “list off problems.” However, this option ceased to be viable as my primary prayer practice when I started realizing how hard it is to make sense of petitionary prayer. 2) This left me with the option of more meditational forms of prayer, but I could never muster up the discipline to be even moderately consistent about such prayer. (Maybe discipline could be listed as a problem of its own, actually.)

In other words: assuming Weil is right about the link between prayer and attention, I haven’t been motivated to consistently engage in this kind of attention-demanding practice. I haven’t known how to give prayer attention, I suppose. The kind of soul-emptying attention that Weil speaks of doesn’t come easily to my chatty mind. But I’m working on this. I’ve been grasping after the ability to attend to God, attempting to attend to God through prayer.

About three weeks ago, I noticed an off-hand reference to prayer beads in this blog post. So I made myself some prayer beads. And then I started praying. Every morning, every evening. It’s been a pretty successful practice, thus far. One, it’s helped me to focus and be contemplative. I have something to “say”, which keeps my chatty tendencies happy… yet what I’m “saying” is rhythmically repetitive, so it doesn’t feel like my usual speech in which I’m full of, well, me.

Two: at the same time, my prayer hasn’t been entirely devoid of petitions and my own words. (Which is a good thing, I mean.) The prayers I pray using my prayer beads are sort of like templates – or foundations. They create space for God’s presence, but there’s also room in that space petitions and requests that are rather more sincere than my prior “shopping-list” approach.

Three (and finally): I love that the phrases of my prayers become stuck in my head. For instance, the prayer for the “weeks” that I pray in the evening is “Jesus, redeemer of the world, give us your peace.” So I fall asleep praying this. And in the morning, as I walk to work, “Lord, show me your love and mercy, for I put my trust in you” bobs to the surface of my consciousness.

That’s all. Hopefully this wasn’t too self-righteous a set of comments; I intended to write this as an overflow of my astonishment over the fact that I’ve actually been praying for three whole weeks. (Such a long time!… or not.)

Immortal Dust

Yesterday in MMM Prof. F closed up the Phaedo: “The soul is immortal.”

“Say it to yourselves like an incantation.” And so he recommended that his students do something just like that.

He allowed one of his oh-so-characteristic pregnant pauses, before half-whispering (I doubt he can whisper any better than I can):

“The soul is immortal.

The soul is immortal.

The soul is immortal.”

Yesterday was also Ash Wednesday. After MMM I went to chapel with Prof. L. (Reminiscent of Oxford days, especially given the liturgy of the service.)

I thought about (and heard) this other, contrasting incantation:

“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

After chapel I walked back 3rd L. in silence, along salt-dusty sidewalks, hiding an ash cross under my bangs. Grimy, fragile and finite.

To my left, K.S. cut across the quad alone. She stalked heron-like across it, her jacket buoyantly red but hardly visible given the overwhelming light reflected from the white snow-mirror of the quad. Bright and immortal.

Immortal dust. It’s a Pascalian sort of conclusion.

More Merton

Because he is just that good.

(These quotes are from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.)

“I do have questions, and, as a matter of fact, I think a man is known better by his questions than by his answers. To make known one’s questions is, no doubt, to come out in the open oneself.”

“[…] unconsciously seeking to awaken, perhaps, the hidden sophianic Mozart in himself, the central wisdom that comes in tune with the divine and cosmic music and is saved by love, yes, even by eros. While the other, theological self, seemingly more concerned with love, grasps at a more stern, more cerebral agape: a love that, after all, is not in our own heart but only in God and revealed only to our head.”

“Life is, or should be, nothing but a struggle to seek truth: yet what we seek is really the truth that we already possess. Truth is mine in the reality of life as it is given to me to live: yet to take life thoughtlessly, passively as it comes, is to renounce the struggle and purification which are necessary. One cannot simply open his eyes and see. The work of understanding involves not only dialectic, but a long labor of acceptance, obedience, liberty, and love.”

“[Christian Socratism?] This means respect for persons, to the point where the person of the adversary demands a hearing even when the authority of one’s own ecclesial institution might appear to be temporarily questioned. Actually, the Socratic confidence in dialogue implies a deeper faith in the Church than you find in a merely rigid, defensive, and negative attitude which refuses all dialogue.”

“Technology can elevate and improve man’s life only on one condition: that it remains subservient to his real interests; that it respects his true being; that ti remembers the origin and goal of all beings is in God.”

The Seven Storey Mountain

“The beginning of love is truth, and before He will give us His love, God must cleanse our souls of the lies that are in them.”

“You have called me here not to wear a label by which I can recognize myself and place myself in some kind of a category. You do not want me to be thinking about what I am, but about what you are.”

“We cannot arrive at the perfect possession of God in this life, and that is why we are traveling and in darkness. But we already possess Him by grace, and therefore in that sense we have arrived and are dwelling in the light. But oh! How far have I to go to find You in Whom I have already arrived!”

“The life of the soul is not knowledge , it is love, since love is the act of the supreme faculty, the will, by which man is formally united to the final end of all his strivings – by which man becomes one with God.”

“I needed a high ideal, a difficult aim[…]”

“[This awareness] ignored all sense experience in order to strike directly at the heart of truth, as if a sudden an immediate contact had been established between my intellect and the Truth Who was now physically really and substantially before me on the altar. But this contact was not something speculative and abstract: it was concrete and experimental and belonged to the order of knowledge, yes, but more still to the order of love. […] It was love as clean and direct as vision: and it flew straight to the possession of the Truth it loved.”

“The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy: the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men! A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real!”

“Reason”

Set on the soul's acropolis the reason stands
A virgin, arm'd, commercing with celestial light,
And he who sins against her has defiled his own
Virginity: no cleansing makes his garments white;
So clear is reason. But how dark imagining, 
Warm, dark, obscure and infinite, daughter of Night:
Dark is her brow, the beauty of her eyes with sleep
Is loaded, and her pains are long, and her delight.
Tempt not Athene. Wound not in her fertile pains
Demeter, nor rebel against her mother-right.
Oh who will reconcile in me both maid and mother, 
Who make in me a concord of the depth and height?
Who make imagination's dim exploring touch
Ever report the same as intellectual sight?
Then could I truly say, and not deceive, 
Then wholly say, that I BELIEVE.

-C.S. Lewis

Suffering Love

Nicholas Wolterstorff is a lovely man. I wish that I could study under him. I’d love to think with the clarity and frankness he does.

I’ve not read much of his stuff, but what I have read, I’ve enjoyed. Even when I haven’t agreed, Wolterstorff’s writing has a way of worming into me and returning, again and again. His thoughts are not easily forgotten.

Thankfully, one such thought has been freeing for me. It’s about suffering love.

I’m referring here to an essay titled “Suffering Love”, which deals primarily with the topic of God’s passibility (as Wolterstorff sees it). (Read it here.)

Wolterstorff writes, “To some of the things of this world one can pay the tribute of recognizing in them sufficient to merit a love which plunges into suffering upon their destruction… One can pay to persons and things the existential triumph of suffering love… Suffering is an essential element in that mode of life which says not only “No” to the misery of our world but “Yes” to its glories.”

In a way, this is simple. But it’s key. It gives me permission to suffer over destruction of those I love – whether small destruction, expressed in loneliness for company, or the ultimate destruction of death. I need not control my love in an effort to control my suffering, I need not take Augustine’s advice to hold at arm’s length human love, because suffering is a sign of love.

The world is fallen, and if I am to have love, I am to have suffering.

 

Faithful Father.

Today I’m writing a paper about my concept of God. 3-4 pages. (Of course mine will be 4 pages crammed with as much print as possible.)

I’ve been doing some poking around, in my memories and among my books and notes, to help remind me of what my concept of God has been.

I’ve also turned to the Heidelberg Catechism, which I haven’t ever studied completely, but it’s the catechism I’m most familiar with. It’s also beautiful stuff – misery, deliverance, and gratitude. Here’s a Q&A from it that I’d like to share.

Lord’s Day 9: Q & A 26

Q. What do you believe when you say,
“I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth”?

A.That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        who out of nothing created heaven and earth                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               and everything in them,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        who still upholds and rules them                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        by his eternal counsel and providence,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                is my God and Father                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         because of Christ the Son.

I trust God so much that I do not doubt he will provide whatever I need
for body and soul, and will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends upon me
in this sad world.

God is able to do this because he is almighty God
and desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.