Following Your Bliss

“What about happiness?” Bill Moyers asked Joseph Campbell in a television interview. “If I am a young person, and I want to be happy, what do myths tell me about happiness?”

“The way to find out about happiness,” answered Campbell, “is to keep your mind on those moments when you feel most happy, when you are really happy – not excited, not just thrilled, but deeply happy. This requires a little bit of self-analysis. What is it that makes you happy? Stay with it, no matter what people tell you. This is what is called following your bliss.”  (Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, Random House, 1988, p. 192)

Joseph John Campbell, whose anniversary of death in 1987 is today, October 30th, dedicated himself assiduously to his work in comparative mythology and comparative religion. In 1924 Campbell had traveled to Europe with his family. On the ship back, he encountered Jiddu Krishnamurti. Discussing Asian philosophy with Krishnamurti sparked in him a life-long interest in Hindu thought. It was after this trip that Campbell ceased to be a practicing Catholic. “Every religion is true one way or another,” he would later state. “It is true when understood metaphorically. But when it gets stuck in its own metaphors, interpreting them as facts, then you are in trouble.” As indicated above, his philosophy might be summed up in the phrase “follow your bliss”. In the same book (p. 120) we find this comment:

Now, I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: Sat-Chit-Ananda. The word “Sat” means being. “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means bliss or rapture. I thought, “I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.” I think it worked.

For Campbell, then, following one’s bliss comes first, whether one’s consciousness is proper consciousness or not, whether one’s being is proper being or not. Before anything else, knowledge must be knowledge of where one’s rapture is. Find that, hang on to it, and proper consciousness and proper being will in due course catch up. “Follow your bliss” is therefore the guiding light each person ideally needs in order to follow successfully his or her “hero journey” through life. As we read on page 113:

If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time. . . . I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive.

Judging by book sales and television ratings, the import of Campbell’s philosophy would appear to have struck a cord with millions of readers and viewers. His seemingly astute advice, however, had already been challenged beforehand more than eight centuries earlier by a single comment from the English writer and abbot Aelred of Rievaulx (1110 – 1167). In his Mirror of Charity, we read words still much to the point:

The blind perversity of us miserable humans is lamentable. Although we desire happiness ardently, not only do we not do those things by which we may obtain our desire, but rather, with contrary disaffection, we take steps to add to our misery. In my opinion, we would never do this if a false image of happiness were not deceiving us or a semblance of real misery frightening us off from happiness.

That there can be a false image of happiness deceiving us or a semblance of real misery frightening us off from true happiness is an idea, it seems to me, needing little or no explanation, since the truth of it is continuously affirmed in life. The simple matter-of-factness of Aelred’s remark calls into question the apparent wisdom of Joseph Campbell’s counsel, however much such counsel might liberate those sorely oppressed by sheer duty.

What after all is happiness? What does it really mean to be deeply happy? Consider the words of Saint Paul in II Corinthians (11:16-33, 12:1-10) in light of this question of happiness:

     I repeat, let no one think that I am a fool; but if you do, then accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying in regard to this boastful confidence, I am saying not with the Lord’s authority, but as a fool; since many boast according to human standards, I will also boast. For you gladly put up with fools, being wise yourselves! For you put up with it when someone makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! 
But whatever anyone dares to boast of — I am speaking as a fool — I also dare to boast of that. Are they Hebrews? So am I.  Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. Are they ministers of Christ? I am talking like a madman—I am a better one: with far greater labours, far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I am not indignant?

    If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus (blessed be he forever!) knows that I do not lie. In Damascus, the governor under King Aretas set a guard on the city of Damascus in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.

In reference to Campbell’s advice, can we think of any person in history who had a more pressing need to “follow his bliss” than the apostle Paul?

    It is necessary to boast; nothing is to be gained by it, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows — was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations.

Who can doubt that here we witness true bliss? That here we witness more than true bliss?  So, does Paul anticipate Campbell’s advice and “hang on” to his rapture? Clearly he does no such thing.

    Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

For Paul, what does it mean for him to follow his bliss? It means to be “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ”. It means to be “under daily pressure because of anxiety for all the churches”. For the sake of Christ he gladly endures these things – not, let us note, for the sake of bliss itself, even though in Christ he knows bliss – or rather, truth to tell, as we have already suggested, more than bliss. For illumination on this question of a state beyond bliss we can turn to Letter XI (“Force”) of the anonymously written Meditations on the Tarot – A Journey in Christian Hermeticism:

    What is pleasure? It is the lowest constituent of the scale: pleasure – joy – blissfulness – beatitude. It is only the psycho-physical signal announcing accord between what one desires and what one attains. Being only a signal, it does not have moral value in itself; it is desire, whose satisfaction it signals, which falls under the moral qualification of good or evil. That is why pleasure can be followed by joy or disgust, according to the case. Pleasure is therefore a reaction – at the surface of man’s being – to objective events. In other words, a life dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure alone would be the most superficial that one could imagine for a human being.
    Joy is more profound than pleasure. It is still an index, but what it indicates is deeper than the relationship between a desire and the event of its being satisfied. Joy is the state of soul which participates most intensely in life and experiences it in appreciating its value. Joy is the spreading of the soul beyond the limits of conscious awareness. It signifies an augmentation of the soul’s vital élan.
    Blissfulness is the state of the human being where spirit, soul and body are united in a comprehensive rhythm. It is the rhythm of the spiritual, psychic and bodily life brought into harmony.
    Lastly, beatitude transcends blissfulness in so far as the state which it comprises is higher than that in which the rhythm of the human spirit, soul and body holds sway; it is the state of the actual Presence of the “Fourth” – of God. It is therefore the state of the “beatific vision” (visio beatifica) of Christian tradition.

For Campbell, God is an idea made metaphorical in myth. “God is a metaphor,” said Campbell, “for that which transcends all levels of intellectual thought. It’s as simple as that.” For Paul, however, God is a living reality directly experienced. Transcending bliss, Paul encountered the personhood of God, for him certainly no mere idea or metaphor, but rather the ultimate reality behind all ideas of the divine, the unutterable I-Am to which all metaphors of the divine refer, the holy ground of all the good that, through the power of divine love, we would ever envision or venture to do.

“Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness,” remarked Helen Keller. “It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose. . . .  No one has a right to consume happiness without producing it.”

Worthiness of purpose, as Paul well knew, is not affirmed in the state of pleasure, nor affirmed in the state of joy, nor even affirmed in the state of bliss. It is only to be affirmed, as the author of Meditations on the Tarot would surely put it, in the state of beatific vision, which is the actual Presence of the “Fourth” – of God. 

“God is love,” says John in his first letter, “and whoever abides in love, abides in God, and God in him.”

And if we doubt the truth of what John says, possibly a wise appeal from Paramahansa Yogananda to our own enlightened self-interest will conduce to stir the conscience: “The happiness of one’s own heart alone cannot satisfy the soul; one must try to include, as necessary to one’s own happiness, the happiness of others.”

Today the death of Saint Alphonsus (Alfonso) Rodríguez is commemorated. Born in Segovia in 1532 the son of a wool merchant who was reduced to poverty when Alphonso was still young, at 31 he found himself a widower with one surviving child, the other two having died previously. It was from that time that he began a life of prayer and mortification. Upon the death of his third child, he began to think of a life in some religious order. He was forty when he entered the Society of Jesus as a lay brother. After six months of probation, he was placed as porter at the recently-founded college at Majorca. There he remained in the humble position of porter for 46 years.  As porter, he exercised a sanctifying influence on the great number of people who came to him for advice and direction.  This included St. Peter Clavier, the great missioner to South America, who lived with him for some time at Majorca, before he set out for the New World.

“The difference between adversity suffered for God and prosperity,” advised Saint Alphonso, “is greater than that between gold and a lump of lead.”

These words serve to make all the more evident the moral ground upon which all true happiness must rest, for, as Immanuel Kant has acutely observed, “Morality is not the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness.”

Pax et bonum,
Randall Scott

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On the Road to Holy Wisdom

                                                       

 As a used bookseller I am often met with requests from young people for Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. Usually I don’t have it. I would estimate that I hear four or five requests for every copy that I might get in.

[. . .] the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’ What did they call such young people in Goethe’s Germany?

Here is the famous passage telling what still appeals to these young people written sixty years ago in a three-week bout of spontaneous confessional prose, the final draft of which was done in twenty days on a continuous roll of paper 120 feet long fed through a typewriter, constant bowls of pea soup and cups of coffee being supplied by Kerouac’s wife, Joan, to keep him there pounding at the keys. He was 29 when he completed On the Road in April of 1951. The book, in large part autobiographical, relates his road-trip adventures across the United States and Mexico with Neal Cassady in the late-1940s. It describes also his relationships with other Beat writers and friends.

Today, the 21st day of October, is the anniversary of his death. He died in 1969 a forty-seven- year old alcoholic.

“I like too many things and get all confused and hung-up running from one falling star to another till I drop,” writes Kerouac in Part Two, Chapter 4. “This is the night, what it does to you. I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.”

My own confusion. Is this the tie that binds the most famous of Beat writers to so many of our present generation of twenty-somethings? His own confusion? And is this confusion of Kerouac’s in some strange way made clearer by his abhorrence of being even referred to as a Beat writer? Because, according to his biographer, Douglas Brinkley, professor of history at Rice University and editor of Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac, 1947-1954, Kerouac did not see his book as an account of a road trip about two guys looking for one thrill on top of another. Through Brinkley we discover that, according to Kerouac himself, On the Road “was really a story about two Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God. And we found him. I found him in the sky, in Market Street San Francisco (those 2 visions), and Dean (Neal) had God sweating out of his forehead all the way. THERE IS NO OTHER WAY OUT FOR THE HOLY MAN: HE MUST SWEAT FOR GOD. And once he has found Him, the Godhood of God is forever Established and really must not be spoken about.”

Brinkley thinks that the most important thing to understand about Kerouac is that he was an American Catholic author. Just consider, for instance, that virtually every page of his diary bore a sketch of a crucifix, a prayer, or an appeal to Christ to be forgiven.

The nature of his confusion is perhaps best exemplified in this single passage in Part 1, Chapter 12:  “A pain stabbed my heart, as it did every time I saw a girl I loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world.” Really? A fine passage of course, and there will be many a young man (and many maybe not so young) who will identify with this passion no doubt. But those of us who know well the anonymously written Meditations on the Tarot: A Journey into Christian Hermeticism might immediately be reminded of Letter VI, “The Lover”, the central theme of which is the practice of the vow of chastity. The Letter is preceded by three quotes from the Bible:

LETTER VI THE LOVER

She seizes him and kisses him,
And with impudent face she says to him:
I had to offer sacrifices,
And today I have paid my vows.
So now I have come out to meet you,
To seek you eagerly, and I have found you.

(Proverbs vii, 13-15)

 I, Wisdom, dwell in prudence,
      And I possess knowledge and discretion . . .
I love those who love me,
And those who seek me find me.

(Proverbs viii, 12, 17)

 Set me as seal upon your heart,
As a ring upon your arm;
      For love is strong as death . . .
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
A flame of the Eternal.

(Song of Songs viii, 6-7)

Here the whole composition of the sixth card is translated from the visual language of the Tarot into that of the poetry of Solomon. For there is a dark-haired woman with an impudent face clad in a red robe who seizes the shoulder of the young man whilst another, with fair hair and dressed in a blue mantle, makes appeal to his heart with a chaste gesture of her left hand. At the same time, above, a winged infant archer, standing out against a white sphere emitting red, yellow and blue flames, is about to let fly an arrow directed at the other shoulder of the young man. Does one not hear, in contemplating the sixth Card of the Tarot, a voice which says: “I have found you”, and another which says: “Those who seek me find me”? Does one not recognize the voice of sensuality and the voice of the heart, and likewise the flashes of fire from above of which King Solomon speaks?
    The central theme of the sixth Arcanum is therefore that of the practice of the vow of chastity, just as the fifth Arcanum had poverty as its theme and the fourth obedience. The sixth Arcanum is at the same time the summary of the two preceding Arcana – chastity being the fruit of obedience and poverty. It summarizes the three vows or methods of spiritual discipline in contrasting them with the three trials or temptations opposed to these vows. The choice before which the young man finds himself placed is of greater significance than that between vice and virtue. It is a matter here of choice between on the one hand the way of obedience, poverty and chastity and the other hand the way of power, richness and debauchery. The practical teaching of the Arcanum “The Lover” is to do with the three vows and the three corresponding temptations . . .
    The three vows are, in essence, memories of paradise, where man was united with God (obedience), where he possessed everything at once (poverty), and where his companion was at one and the same time his wife, his friend, his sister, and his mother (chastity). For the real presence of God necessarily entails the action of prostrating oneself in the face of Him “who is more myself than I am” – and here lies the root and source of the vow of obedience; the vision of the forces, substances and essences of the world in the guise of the “garden of divine symbols” (garden of Eden) signifies the possession of everything without choosing, without laying hold of, or without appropriating any particular thing isolated from the whole – and here lies the root and source of the vow of poverty; lastly, total communion between two, between one and another, which comprises the entire range of all possible relationships of spirit, soul and body between two polarized beings necessarily constitutes the absolute wholeness of spiritual, psychic and physical being, in love – and here lies the root and source of the vow of chastity.
    One is chaste only when one loves with the totality of one’s being. Chastity is not wholeness of being in indifference, but rather in the love which is “strong as death and whose flashes are flashes of fire, the flame of the Eternal”. It is living unity. . . .

Loving with the totality of one’s being. “My fault, my failure,” Kerouac once said to Neal Cassady, “is not in the passions I have, but in my lack of control of them.”

Ay, there’s the rub. Although the passions I have may be very well not my fault or failure, yet my lack of control of them may be less a fault than the greater fault of my failing to grasp that they must find transformation, i.e., the lower passions must one day transmute into higher passions, not simply be left as they are and kept under control, however important that is.  This, I think, is what John Keats sensed when he wrote “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles”:

My spirit is too weak — mortality
Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
And each imagin’d pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship tells me I must die
Like a sick Eagle looking at the sky.

What is this godlike hardship if not the alchemic work of transmuting the passions? Was Kerouac’s spirit “like a sick eagle looking at the sky”, too weak for “each imagined pinnacle and steep of godlike hardship” rising before him? And if it was like a sick eagle looking at the sky, did Kerouac – like Keats – actually know that it was?

From Kerouac to Keats, we come to this in the Gospel of Luke (12: 49-50):

I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!

Fire from above to bring to the earth, fire from above to be baptized with. What greater stress for the spirit to imagine? There are the passions and then there is the Passion, the fire of sacrificial love that will take the soul to the fartherest reach of sacrifice so that the same fire may come into the hearts of all.

“Our passions are, in truth, like the phoenix,” said Goethe. “When the old one burns away, the new one rises out of its ashes at once.”

And so it may be on the road we travel.

“What’s your road, man?” writes Kerouac in Part 4, Chapter 1. “Holyboy road, madman road, guppy road, any road. It’s an anywhere road for anybody anyhow.”

What’s my road? My road, for me the only road, is a straight and narrow road, a unique road only for me to find and to follow — not, to be sure, “an anywhere road for anybody anyhow”. If there are few that find their road, may I be one of those few, that I would come to my true passion, to that fire I too might one day bring down from heaven. From Prometheus to the living Christ, let that fire come in my heart. Bound to a rock, nailed to a cross, there is a passion that wants farthest reach of sacrifice: love strong as death, its flashes the very flashes of fire in that heart, holy flame of the Eternal.

What was Kerouac’s stab in the heart really, if not a sad yearning for that fire? Every sketch of a crucifix, every prayer, every appeal to Christ to be forgiven on the pages of his diary testifies to that yearning. Each time he saw a girl he “loved who was going the opposite direction in this too-big world”, who was that girl really if not sadly Wisdom Herself slipping away? Yet was it really She who was going in the opposite direction? Was it not rather actually he? “I love those who love me, and those who seek me find me,” Wisdom promises all who would set Her as a seal upon the heart.

On May 17, 1928, when he was six years old and saying the rosary, Kerouac heard words telling him that his soul was good, that though he “would suffer in life and die in pain and horror, he would in the end find salvation”. It was his brother Gerard, dying when he was nine years old, however, who had a vision of the Virgin Mary, convincing the nuns around him that he was a saint.

In Visions of Gerard, published in 1963, Kerouac gives a vivid picture of his dying nine-year old brother as precisely that – a saint: a saint teaching him, a four-year old, to love all creatures on the earth. It was a doctrine Kerouac believed in, a docrine he tried to follow throughout his life, except that other loves constantly interfered and distracted.

“Love is chief among the passions of the soul,” writes Francis de Sales in The Devout Life. “It is king of all the heart’s impulses; it draws all things to itself, and makes us like to what we love.”

It is for the very reason that love “makes us like to what we love” that we need to learn early to seek Wisdom, to set Her as a seal upon our heart, as a ring upon our arm, so that we may wish to take up the vow of chastity. We will otherwise fall all too easily in love with the wrong things — drugs and alcohol for instance — and although error can certainly be an indirect means through its consequences of pain and suffering to our eventually deciding to seek out Wisdom, clearly the shorter way, the way far more helpful to ourselves and far more helpful to others, would be to grow to love Wisdom, to learn to rise early in search of Her.

“Learn where is wisdom,” it says in Baruch (3:14), “where is strength, where is understanding; that thou mayest know also where is length of days, and life, where is the light of the eyes, and peace.”

Pax et bonum,
Randall Scott

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Tissot: Dimensions of a Vision

Belief in God is one thing. The kind of God in whom one believes or does not believe is quite another thing and often more to the point. What is belief in any case? For many, belief is the mental acceptance of something as true, even though absolute certainty may be absent. For others, belief is more a trust or confidence in the nature of God, the actual existence of God being for them a self-evident reality.

“God,” writes Hegel, “is the absolute spirit: In its non-mythical truth, it is the pure dialectical essence of all Being which objectifies itself in its own otherness, by means of which it returns eternally to itself; it maintains its identity in and through its non-absolute and finite manifestations.”

“God,” writes John, “is love, and whoever abides in love, abides in God, and God in him.”

For Hegel as philosopher, God is the Absolute: “Reason is the conscious certainty of being all reality,” he posits. “ . . . This unity is consequently the absolute and all truth, the Idea which thinks itself.”

For John as the beloved disciple, God is a personality, as exemplified in the words of the Christ Jesus in the gospel that he composed: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have ever-lasting life.”

To believe in the Idea that thinks itself, or to believe in the Person who gives of Self so that all other selves may live: surely there are implications as to which belief holds greater reality for the believer, even though one can certainly argue that the one view does not by any means cancel out the other. Having no feeling for the Personality of whom John speaks, however, can I see myself going to the wall for the Absolute, i.e., for “the Idea which thinks itself”?

To find a philosophical basis for the personality of God was the life-aim of Immanuel Hermann Fichte (1796 – 1879), whose anniversary of death, August 8, is today.  Son of the idealist philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte (“God is not the mere dead conception to which we have thus given utterance, but he is in himself pure Life”), he saw in Hegel’s pantheism a devaluing of human personality, leading to an inadequate recognition of the inner demand one can discover in oneself for the development of moral consciousness. To say with Hegel that God is the Absolute, he reasoned, is to say in effect really nothing at all about God. God is no abstraction, he held, but the most concrete reality there can possibly be in anyone’s life. God is an infinite Person who desires to realize himself in finite persons, which persons are objects of his love. If love is, or is to be, a reality in the world, there can be no love apart from the person who loves, the ultimate source of all love being the Person of God himself. 

Between every human person and that being we call God there is the higher being of that human person – the genius – which is the link between the infinite personality that is God and the finite personality that is the earthly human being. It is this genius that allows moral experience – through love – to be realized in interaction with others. For Fichte Christianity is not just about the salvation of the individual. For Fichte Christianity is about the salvation of the human personality in community, true community realized in freedom by human personalities through an experience of divine love.

Thus, for Fichte, it all comes down to the development of moral consciousness within each personality: “If we cannot live so as to be happy,’ he declared, “let us at least live so as to deserve it.”

Concrete theism is the term Fichte proposed for this philosophical approach to God. From a wider perpective, his concrete theism definitely belongs to the school of philosophy called personalism, a current of thinking that sees in the personality the central reality of all existence.

After experiencing a vision while visiting the church of Saint Sulpice, the bon vivant and society painter James Tissot (1836 – 1902), who also died on this date, must have been moved by an idea rather like this.

“A Catholic more by courtesy than by conviction”, he experienced this vision when the priest raised the host during the mass. Renewing his ties to the religion of his youth, he gave up his great success in Paris and London in the 1870s and 1880s, devoting himself henceforth to an ambitious project to illustrate the New Testament. These illustrations he set out to accomplish with utmost exactitude, enhancing his efforts considerably through photographs, notes, and sketches he made on expeditions to the Middle East in order to record the landscape and architecture, the costumes and customs of the Holy Land and its people.

This is from James Tissot: The life of Christ – The Complete Set of 350 Watercolors (Merrell, New York, n.d.) page 21.

“Tissot’s sojourns in Palestine allowed him to match an exacting attention to detail in the service of historical accuracy with a mystical process bordering on revelation, evocative of his Saint-Sulpice epiphany. At least two sources from the period indicate that the artist himself referred to his seeming eyewitness accounts of biblical events a ‘pencil reporting from the life of Christ,’ noting that Tissot viewed himself as ‘the reporter for an illustrated paper in Rome under Tiberius.’ Invoking the example of the German nun and stigmatic Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824) whose rapturous visions were proving immensely popular at the time, Tissot described his research voyages to Palestine in the following terms:

[I]t is in the Holy Land itself . . . that the mind is best attuned alike to receive and grasp the significance of every impression. . . . I felt that a certain receptivity was induced in my mind which so intensified my powers of intuition . . . I meditated on any special incident in its own particular sanctuary, and was thus brought into touch with the actual setting of every scene, the facts I was anxious to evoke were revealed to me. . . .

And we have the following words later on from the same book:

“Given the complex requirements of the undertaking, the cogency of Tissot’s narrative is nothing short of extraordinary, following the plotline of Christ’s life through the harmonized Gospels in a lucidly chronological and compelling fashion. . . .

“In addition to apocryphal literature, Tissot relied upon a wide range of literary sources to piece together The Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ. From the Church Fathers to the visions of the nineteenth-century German mystic Anne Catherine Emmerich, he incorporated voices both ancient and modern. Over the course of the narrative, he named more than seventy-five such sources, including both Christian and Jewish historians from the first several centuries. Although he was not a biblical scholar himself, the sheer bibliographical scope of Tissot’s citations was designed to demonstrate scholarly erudition.” (Ibid. p. 71)

Clearly Tissot was an artist, not a philosopher. Yet we can see in his single-hearted devotion to illustrating as accurately as possible the life of Christ a “concrete theism” of his very own, a personalism that, so to speak, experiences itself perceptually through form and color. The more we look at these pictures, the more we are able to see spirit in the person. The more we contemplate these pictures, the truer the words of Nicolai Berdyaev, the existential personalist, become:

“We cannot think of personality in biological, or psychological, or sociological terms. Personality is spiritual, and presupposes the existence of a spiritual world. The value of personality is a higher hierarchic value, value of the order of spirit. The basic item in a doctrine of personality is the fact that the value of personality predicates the existence of super-personal values. It is just these super-personal values that produce the value of personality. Personality is the bearer and the creator of super-personal values, and only this produces integrity, its unity and eternal significance. This is not to be understood as meaning that personality is not a value in itself, and is only a means to super-personal values. . . . This means that the existence of personality presupposes the existence of God; the value of personality presupposes the supreme value of God. If God does not exist, as the source of super-personality values, the personality is valueless, and there remains only the individual, subject to natural and racial life.

“Personality is primarily a moral principle; from it the attitude toward all values is determined. Hence the idea of personality is the basis of ethics. An impersonal ethic is ‘contradictio in adjecto’. . . . The center of moral life is in persons, not in relationships. . . . The unity and value of personality do not exist without a spiritual element. The spirit constitutes the personality, brings illumination and transfiguration of the biological individual, makes personality independent of the order of nature. . . . The spiritual element which constitutes personality does not mean a bloodless spiritualism. Only for personality do such things exist as the collision between good and evil or between differing values. Tragedy is always linked with personality, with the awakening and the wrestling of personality. Personality is created by the idea of God and the freedom of man. And the life of personality is not self-preservation, as is the case with the individual, but self-determination and self-development.” (The Destiny of Man: Harper & Brothers, New York, 1960, pp. 61-2)

Self-determination and self-development. At the heart of Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy is the path of self-development leading to a transformation of the personality. This transformation has for its foundation the development of such inner qualities as clear thinking, inner tranquility, and positivity. His Philosophy of Freedom affirms the human personality in its potential as a spiritual being capable of self-determination through the practice of pure thinking.  “Each of us has it within himself to become a free spirit,’ he writes, “just as a rosebud has in it a rose.” Pure thinking is for Steiner, even as the human personality is in ordinary consciousness asleep to the spirit, the royal road of any personality to becoming illuminated in the spirit, i.e., to becoming a free spirit serving others in love for the ideal.

Martin Luther King Jr., also a personalist, has this to say in his essay “The Measure of a Man”:

“There are three dimensions of any complete life to which we can fitly give the words of this text: length, breadth, and height. The length of life as we shall think of it here is not its duration or its longevity, but it is the push of a life forward to achieve its personal ends and ambitions. It is the inward concern for one’s own welfare. The breadth of life is the outward concern for the welfare of others. The height of life is the upward reach for God.

“These are the three dimensions of life, and without the three being correlated, working harmoniously together, life is incomplete. Life is something of a great triangle. At one angle stands the individual person, at the other angle stands other persons, and at the top stands the Supreme, Infinite Person, God. These three must meet in every individual life if that life is to be complete.”

Or we could say that the three dimensions of the Divine, the three dimensions of the triune God, which dimensions are creator, redeemer, and sustainer, must meet in the consciousness of the personality if the personality is to be complete.

But there is work to be done if these three dimensions are to meet in us. If we cannot live so as to be happy, as Immanuel Fichte said, we can at least live so as to deserve it. The spirit may blow where it wills, but living so as to deserve the spirit, which is the same as to seek the spirit, actually bids the spirit come to us.

Today is the feast day of Saint Dominic (1170 — 1221), founder of the Order of Preachers, otherwise known as the Dominicans.

“A person who governs his passions is the master of the world,” he once said. “We must either rule them, or be ruled by them. It is better to be the hammer than the anvil. ”

Here is the length, the inward concern for one’s welfare. This is the Sustainer — or Holy Spirit.

Legend tells us that he gave away his money, that he sold his clothes, his furniture and even his precious manuscripts, in order that he might relieve the distress of the destitute. When his astonished companions asked why he would sell his books, Dominic replied: “Would you have me study off these dead skins, when people are dying of hunger?”

Here is the breadth, the outward concern for others. This is the Redeemer — or Son.

“Arm yourself with prayer rather than a sword; wear humility rather than fine clothes,” admonished Dominic. “I kept on digging the hole deeper and deeper looking for the treasure chest until I finally lifted my head, looked up and realized that I had dug my own grave,” he said.

Here is the height, the upward reach for God. This is the Creator — or Father.

This, dear Reader, is the human personality as free spirit: the living triune image, the true striving likeness, of God. This is the human personality in whom Holy Sophia, Daughter of God, delights.

Pax et bonum,
Randall Scott

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The Day’s on Fire: The Edge Is What I Have

“A poet can write about a man slaying a dragon,” commented W. H. Auden, “but not about a man pushing a button that releases a bomb.” And likely enough this is why that outstanding American poet Theodore Roethke (1908 – 1963), whose anniversary of death is today, August 1, he who once found himself sitting beside Edward Teller at an award ceremony, acted as he did in front of his class recounting to them this circumstance. To observe that Roethke was bipolar is hardly to say that such a diagnosis exhaustively explains his behavior on that occasion. Regarding said psychological condition, however, we can go to the Poetry Foundation Website and read a couple of paragraphs in Roethke’s biography posted there for some enlightening context.

Though the second of his breakdowns did not occur until 1945, they became increasingly more frequent in the ensuing decade; by 1958, he was attending therapy sessions six times a week. In all probability he was dismissed from Michigan State because his breakdown was viewed as an unacceptable failing (the letter read “we have decided that it will be better both for you and the College if your appointment for the coming year is not renewed”), but in later years his mental problems were recognized as an unfortunate but accepted part of his personality. When a perspiring Roethke entered the first class of the 1957-58 University of Washington school year by flinging “himself against the blackboard in a kind of crucified pose, muttering incoherently,” the plea to the police was a compassionate but urgent “this is a very distinguished man and he is ill. All we want you to do is take him to a sanitarium.”

Despite some suspicions of his worth which followed such incidents, Roethke remained an invaluable and highly esteemed member of the Washington faculty. In 1959, a Washington state legislator concerned about Roethke’s sick leaves approached university vice president Frederick Thieme and asked, “Who’s this professor you’ve got down there that’s some kind of nut?” This prompted English Department chair Robert Heilman’s unequivocal defense of Professor Roethke describing his illness, the university’s obligation to its teachers, his distinguished writing, his teaching success, and his overall service to the university. It read, in part: “Roethke has a nervous ailment of the ‘manic-depressive’ type. Periodically he goes into a ‘high’ or ‘low’ state in which he is incapable of teaching…. His illnesses are well-known throughout the University and the local community. I have always been pleased that they have been accepted as the terribly sad lot of an extraordinarily gifted man…. [In] teaching, developing interest in a great literary form, training writers who themselves go on to become known, and doing his own distinguished writing which has won all kinds of acclaim—Roethke is performing what I call a continuing service to the University, which goes on whether he is sick or well.”

James Knisely, a student of Roethke’s at the time, describes Roethke’s account of sitting beside Edward Teller (cf. Theodore Roethke Remembered: HistoryLink.org Essay 3857):

I do recall an incident that gave me a glimpse, perhaps, of Roethke’s daemon. He had been given an award or honor of some sort. I can’t remember whether it was an award he had just received or whether on this occasion he was recalling the Pulitzer ceremony or something of the sort. But as he was describing this award ceremony to his class one day, he told us he had found himself seated on the dais next to Edward Teller, “the father of the H-bomb.” Roethke told us he had always held Teller to be an evil man, and finding himself seated next to the guy was so unsettling even in memory that as Roethke recounted the event he grew so agitated that he was shouting and flailing his arms, red in the face and (as I recall) sweating profusely, telling us how much he hated the evil that son-of-a-bitch had unleashed into the world.

In the midst of this rant Roethke stopped himself and looked around at us, his students, then somewhat sheepishly shrugged, and laughed in an impish way he had, then simply resumed his teaching.

Unbalanced? Yes, he was unbalanced, clearly so. Mad?  Well, consider. “What is madness”, asks Roethke in his well-known poem, In a Dark Time, “but nobility of soul at odds with circumstance?”

So what then was his circumstance? Simply put, being a poet writing poetry in a dark time. And what was his nobility of soul? Aspiring to be the very poet who would bring light to that dark time.  Wherefore then the madness? Being a poet purely and simply, being a poet moreover in a century stonily inimical to poetry, a poet therefore whose shadow was “pinned against a sweating wall”, a poet whose light was a “dark light”, a poet in fine who knew thoroughly “the purity of pure despair”. Will we lay down judgement? Take care. Sometimes it is possible, in reading a poem, to feel the poem reading us.

In a Dark Time

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood–
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What’s madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day’s on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks–is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is–
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

A fallen man, he climbs out of his fear. Yet we are moved to ask, does the mind really enter itself? Does God really enter the mind? Is one really now One? Is one really free in the tearing wind? Granted all this is really as he says it is, we sense nonetheless that another fall is coming.

It might be tempting to label Roethke a manic-depressive and have done with him, patronizingly to dub him after reading his poetry (even if admiring it to highest heavens) a mad poetic genius, if it were not for Edward Teller in our imagination sitting beside him. What about this sane scientist sitting there beside the mad poet? What about Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb, sitting beside him as sane citizen? Certainly no nobility of soul here at odds with circumstance! No indeed, for here is a dutiful, hard working, tax-paying citizen who, righteously armored in patriotism, and by the sweat of his mathematically prodigious brow, brought into the world hell’s gift of the hydrogen bomb. Here sits the epitome of government-approved sanity who once complacently remarked, “Had we not pursued the hydrogen bomb, there is a very real threat that we would now all be speaking Russian. I have no regrets.”

No regrets. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atom bomb, had regrets – deep regrets – and he voiced them, but not Edward Teller, the father of the hydrogen bomb. Edward Teller, with no regrets, Edward Teller the sane scientist, the scientist who spoke official sanity to sane, tax-paying citizens, feeling none, voiced none. We progress after all. Let sin take care of itself in the one whose darkness is sin, particularly the one whose soul is “like some heat-maddened summer fly”, definitely not the one whose soul becomes the spitting image of your realpolitik cold war scientist. By the way, what is the radiation level these post Chernobyl, post-Fukushima days where you live?

Very well then, what about us? Don’t we at least sometimes experience the madness, the very madness Roethke speaks of?  The madness of a nobility of soul at odds with circumstance, i.e., the circumstance of a world sliding ever more precipitately into unacknowledged darkness?

But, as Roethke has elsewhere said, “deep in their roots, all flowers keep the light.” And if light is what we need, then let light be the better of our natures; let light be as much of God as we can take; and let what we can take of God become a veritable steady storm of correspondences.  Immeasurable goodness is what we need in our hard place among the rocks, whether that place is cave or winding path.  Impossible? No worries, as the phrase goes.  All we need, as Roethke assures us, “is more people who specialize in the impossible.”

An example of just such a one, a specialist in the impossible, would be Saint Seraphim of Sarov, whose commemoration (Opening of Relics – August 1) is today.

Born on July 30, 1759, he began a devout life at a young age. Son of a merchant, Seraphim had little interest in trade. According to Russian Orthodox tradition, as a small boy he was healed by a wonderworking icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Theotokos or God-Bearer), Our Lady of Kursk. It is said that through the course of his life he experienced a number of visions. In 1777, at the age of 19, he joined the Sarov monastery as a novice. In 1786 he took his monastic vows, being given the religious name of Seraphim. Shortly afterwards, he was ordained a hierodeacon. In 1793 he was ordained a hieromonk, becoming the spiritual leader of the Diveyevo Monastery, which has since come to be known as the Seraphim-Diveyevo Monastery. It was soon after this that he retreated to a log hut in the woods outside Sarov monastery to lead a solitary life as a hermit for the next 25 years.

While chopping wood one day, Seraphim was attacked by a gang of thieves. Mercilessly they beat him with the handle of his own axe. Not resisting in the least, he looked to be dead. The thieves searched for money in his hut, but all they found was an icon of the Blessed Virgin. Although this incident left Seraphim with a hunched back for the rest of his life, at the thieves’ trial he pleaded to the judge for mercy on their behalf.

“Acquire a peaceful spirit,” he once said, “and around you thousands will be saved.”

After this incident, in pain from his injuries, in whatever weather, with his arms raised to the sky, Seraphim spent a thousand successive nights on a rock in continuous prayer. The prayer he prayed was the Jesus Prayer – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner – also called the Prayer of the Heart. A tradition of many centuries lies behind this prayer, it being widely esteemed by monks in the Eastern Orthodox tradition as a method of opening up the heart. Prayed in rhythm of breath and heart-beat, this prayer is considered also to be the Unceasing Prayer that the Apostle Paul advocates in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.

In 1815, in obedience to a request from the Holy Virgin in a vision, Seraphim began to admit pilgrims to his hermitage as a confessor. Due to his reputation for healing miracles and for gifts of prophecy, he became ever more popular. He was routinely visited by hundreds of pilgrims a day, having the ability to answer visiters’ questions before they themselves could voice them.

“God is a fire,” Saint Seraphim said, “that warms and kindles the heart and inward parts. And so, if we feel in our hearts coldness, which is from the devil—for the devil is cold—then let us call upon the Lord, and He will come and warm our hearts with perfect love not only for Him, but for our neighbor as well. And from the presence of warmth the coldness of the hater of good will be driven away.”

It’s a cold heart that has no regrets. It’s a cold heart that tells both of a fear of the world speaking Russian and of a pursuit of the hydrogen bomb in less than a heart beat, in no more than one quick breath of a breath-taking sentence.

“Love begets love,” Roethke said. “This torment is my joy.” If we really need more people who specialize in the impossible, then we need more saints like Saint Seraphim – and who would think to fathom the fiery torments of this man’s love, love begetting love, even with God in him, even with God all around him? For, as Saint Jerome had his lion, as Saint Francis had his wolf, so Saint Seraphim had his bear. The edge is what any of us has.

But we need more people like Theodore Roethke, too, wounded soul that he so tragically was. After all, it is Roethke who tellingly affirmed: “Those who are willing to be vulnerable move among mysteries.” Without its martyrs, without those eyes that begin to see, how else will modern poetry learn to become as innocent as the dove, even as it becomes wise as the serpent? How else, nobility of soul at odds with circumstance, will it meet victoriously that shadow in the deepening shade? How else will it set the day on fire?

Pax et bonum,
Randall Scott

 

 

 

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Computers, Carl Jung, and the Darkness of Mere Being

Jung is right. There is no coming to consciousness without pain. Of late, after long neglect, I have returned to walking through the ravine near our house, descending 89 wooden steps of a switchback that comes to a bridge over a creek. Through shadow and sunlight, through bracken, fern and salmonberry on either side, over jumbles of mossy rock, the creek flows under alder and maple, hemlock and fir. There are choices of paths from the bridge, but the one I take leads up 26 wooden steps to a path ascending a trifle steeply for a few minutes to a grassy clearing. From there I take a path leading 62 wooden steps downward to the creek once more, where I cross the creek by bridge again and follow a trail leading steadily upward, recrossing the creek  three times yet again by three bridges, still ascending along the creek, till eventually I emerge into the full sunlight of the street and head for home. From doorstep back again the walk takes at most twenty minutes. Aside from providing a brief form of genial exercise in silence of nature, the walk allows for possibilities of observation and quiet reflection.

But this is hardly the whole story. As I have said, I have neglected walking the ravine almost entirely for some three years at least. So I ask myself now how it happened that I turned away from the ravine, why all that time I stood – or rather sat – aloof from that ravine until only a few days ago. Well, it cannot come as a surprise to most readers that during those three or more years my hands were so fixed on the computer keyboard, my eye so fixed to the computer screen, I had become for all intents and purposes – insofar as walking the ravine was concerned at least – completely immobile. My slippered feet were as securely shackled to the floor under the desk as a galley slave’s bare feet a couple of thousand years ago might have been shackled to the deck of a Roman warship crisscrossing the Mediterranean – never to be freed till the day he gave up the ghost.

All it took was a foolish mistake on my part in trying to fix a stubborn problem, resulting in a massive break-up of the whole cyber-slave-ship scenario, to liberate me from that ceaseless inner drum beat I had been pulling to. Of course that is not how it seemed at first. At first the break-up seemed like a failed circus act from which I wanted like a trapeze artist to flip out from and begin all over again. Nothing doing. Hours passed, then days, with no computer to work with. Painful? Yes, painful.  Feelings of helplessness grew as self-imposed deadlines came unmet and passed by.

Then arrived the moment I let it all go, the moment that I breathed out.

“Every form of addiction is bad,” writes Carl Jung, whose anniversary of death is today, “no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism.” Or for that matter, the keyboard and the bright screen, early every morning. . . . But what if these hours at the keyboard, granted that they can be a kind of addiction, are even more a matter of religion? “God has fallen out of containment in religion,” writes Jung, “and into human hearts — God is incarnating. Our whole unconscious is in an uproar from the God Who wants to know and to be known.”   What if that uproar from God, as Jung has it, has to do with God actually having a human heart? What if this God Who wants to know and to be known is, in other words, a jealous God?

“Religion,” asserts Alfred North Whitehead, “is what a man does with his solitude.” Ouch. Well, if his definition leaves much out, his point nevertheless sharply finds me out. But I very much like Madame de Staël’s understanding of religion: “Religion is nothing,” she says,  “if it is not everything, if existence is not filled with it, if we do not incessantly maintain in the soul this belief in the invisible, this self-devotion, this elevation of desire” – her ideal being that the whole of life should be “naturally and without effort, an act of worship at every moment.” Or, in other words, as Saint Paul urgently advises, really to practice religion means to “pray without ceasing”, prayer coming of course in many different forms. When it comes to love of God and of neighbor, for example, even thinking can become prayer in a spirit of faith, just as action can become prayer in a spirit of hope.

How then to make one’s time at the computer “an act of worship at every moment”? How, at the computer, to “pray without ceasing”? As Jung comments, “As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.” Jung found his way of doing just that, and by his own account it brought him to the very brink of insanity. This was so even as he helped others out of that darkness of mere being into the light of conscious soul-experience. “Show me a sane man,”  Jung once claimed, “and I will cure him for you.” Well, he should know, shouldn’t he, having gone to the depths and come up again. “Our heart glows,” he writes, “and secret unrest gnaws at the root of our being. Dealing with the unconscious has become a question of life for us.”

And what better way to avoid this question of life, this dealing with the unconscious, than to be fixed at that keyboard and at that brightly lit screen — morning, noon, or night, it hardly matters — for hours at a time? What better way, properly and with due obligation,  to numb so effectively one’s own conscious soul-experience? I have asked, following Whitehead, What if it comes down to a question of religion?  What do I do with my solitude? To Jung as psychotherapist this question of religion should be acknowledged as a matter of central concern by every single person past mid-life: “I have treated many hundreds of patients,” he comments. “Among those in the second half of life – that is to say, over 35 – there has not been one whose problem in the last resort was not that of finding a religious outlook on life.”

Not that I have come to any easy answers. As a good friend of mine once said to me — unoriginally yet unforgettably –regarding the whole question of going online: “You’re damned if you do, and you’re damned if you don’t.”

Yes, Ahriman is having his way with us for sure. The thing is, what am I learning from being so many hours on the computer? And also, what is the way through? We can agree, as Henry Ford might very well say these days were he alive, that information is bunk. Relative to this, Jung has, I think, offered wise words worthy of thoughtful consideration. “Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.” In what way then will these hands, so often busy at the computer keyboard, solve the mystery for me? I cannot see that Jung would disagree with what the Apostle Paul has to say on this score. In 1 Timothy 2:8 we read: “I will therefore that everyone pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” Prayer as thinking, prayer as action . . .

Without wrath and without doubting, to deal with this secret unrest  gnawing at the root of our being, to deal with it forthrightly,  and whether we are working at the computer hours at a time early mornings or whether we are walking through a ravine later in the day along a creek crossing bridges in shadow and sunlight, to learn to pray continually – and remembering always that, without exception, there is no coming into real consciousness without pain.

Pax et bonum,
Randall Scott

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Thoreau’s Pathway in the Mind

“Conscience,” writes Karl Barth, “is the perfect interpreter of life”—which gets right to the point, but only when you consider what conscience ought to be, rather than what it too often seems to be: namely, as H. L. Mencken’s thorny definition has it, the inner voice that warns us somebody may be looking. But if what I call my conscience is that within me which aims beyond the anticipation of the opinions of others, beyond every single opinion even of my own as to what good is or what good might be, but aims only at that which in my heart of hearts I truly love and that which I truly love to do, then I have at last what I would call true conscience and have accordingly “the perfect interpreter of life”. Otherwise would not conscience in the end be simply—inner voice though it is— the last authority I must bow myself down to, having refused this same obeisance to so many outer authorities? Do what you love,” writes Henry David Thoreau, whose anniversary of death, May 3rd, is today, whose ethical individualism is so often asserted in unexpected–sometimes even shocking–figures. “Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.”

“Now here is a sure road to perdition if there ever was one,” warns that inner voice, “let it be ever so much paved with the very best of intentions. What? No acknowledgment of any authority whatsoever? Not even the authority of God?” Well, no, not even the authority of God, for was it not essentially this very authority that Philip was asking for when, on the night of the Last Supper, he said to the Redeemer, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied”?

Satisfied, maybe, but in no way illuminated and free, and therefore not satisfied for long, hence the Redeemer straightaway asking him:

Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.  I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.” (John 14:9-14)

This seeing of the Father in the Redeemer, this asking the Redeemer for anything in his name, is surely the short way to a long tale of wonders belonging to the eternal freedom of any free spirit. For what does it mean to be a free spirit, if not actually to be the conscience one lives? “I am, I let be” is already an ideal to meditate on, yet the love that I would bear, going out as word into the world to become deed, is a still greater I.   “Ignorance and bungling with love are better than wisdom and skill without,” writes Henry David Thoreau, unlikely transcendentalist voice of the Church of John in nineteenth century  antebellum America. (Yes, I know — Thoreau supposedly rejected Christianity –but really all he did was to reject a perversion of it. For the eye that sees and for the ear that hears, Thoreau, along of course with Ralph Waldo Emerson, A. Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller and yet others, were busy helping to clear the way for the Sophianic Christianity still to come.) With the workaday self so pathetically distant from the good that never fails, how can we believe one lifetime would for any soul be enough for the wisdom of love to accomplish its alchemic transmutations? Love knows no shortcuts in the school of joy and suffering. “I have seen how the foundations of the world are laid,” Thoreau assures us, “and I have not the least doubt that it will stand a good while.” A good while indeed, especially since Wisdom delights in humanity, and She is patient, and patience, we can rest assured, is the better part of Wisdom. After all, as Bride of the Lamb, Wisdom’s cosmic aim can be nothing less than universal love of every single being for one another. Without endless patience, what shred of hope for that?

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.” (14:15-17)

And what are his commandments? “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’” (Matt. 22:37b-40). Yet it is the nature of love that love can never be commanded, and the Pharisee that asked, “Which is the great commandment in the law” to test Christ was really only testing himself. Love is the law of the soul, i.e., love is what really the soul is made of. Without love the soul simply withers and is blown into a dusty corner. Not whether we shall love, but what shall be our first love, is the question of questions. “In the long run,” cautions Thoreau, “men hit only what they aim at. Therefore, they had better aim at something high.” And what could be higher than God? And if God be not found in my neighbor, there will certainly be no finding of God any higher.

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” (14:18-21)

There is no duty here to carry out; there are no commandments here to obey. There are only commandments to have and to keep, commandments which are constituent of my deepest being, commandments which are in effect my own which I give to myself. “It is what a man thinks of himself that really determines his fate,” writes Thoreau, the truth of this observation running so deep we can miss it every single day of our life in the narrow cause of every day exingencies. “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone,”  Thoreau further observes and thereby lays bare the first principle of the soul’s salvation: blessed indeed are the poor in spirit, and anathema—as Thoreau might have it—upon all enterprises requiring new clothes, rather than a new wearer of clothes.

Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.” (14:22-24)

The word I hear, the word of the Father, is the creative word of that self I myself fell away from before time was divided into past and future, before such a threadbare reality as the fleeting moment appeared. But, as Thoreau says, “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” And it would be well to remember, as he cautions us, that “alert and healthy natures remember that the sun rose clear. It is never too late to give up our prejudices.” For we are not meant, as he famously says, to lead lives of quiet desperation, we are not meant to go to the grave with the song still in us. Listen then, and be still, distracted Soul. “Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify.” Besides, we should venture far beyond merely staking our claims on how we would be done by, otherwise we will be giving sorry excuse for a life we supposedly lived. Why then would I not have Him live in me, as He from time immemorial all along has had me preciously living in Him? “Only that day dawns to which we are awake,” answers Henry David Thoreau, prophet of the morning’s golden light to the sons and daughters of light.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants [Greek, slaves] any longer, because the servant [slave] does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.” (John 15:12-17)

If the language of friendship is not words but meanings, as Thoreau proposes, I must take in all the meanings and look to the clear goal of those meanings. “Pursue some path,” as Thoreau says, “however narrow and crooked, in which you can walk with love and reverence.”  So be it.  Amen. Accordingly, as the One who is The Way, the Truth and the Life has called me friend, how can there be any other light for me but friendship itself to lighten the path? May every commandment I obey (so help me God!) be a commandment  I make to myself.  How else to live in freedom but to obey myself? As Thoreau says, “The most I can do for my friend is simply to be his friend. I have no wealth to bestow on him. If he knows that I am happy in loving him, he will want no other reward. Is not friendship divine in this?”

Divine because the true friendship that Thoreau points to is a path taken in freedom to an ever deeper freedom.  Thoreau, Yankee saint of Nature’s own moral possibilities, whose future feast is today by the Divine Mother’s own moon-reckoning, gives the how and why of the walking:  “As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.”

To think over and over again the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives: this is assuredly the path of freedom, just as this is the selfsame path to conscience as the perfect interpreter of life, so that I can say,  “Not I, but Conscience–the Spirit of Love whose word in freedom I keep–in me.” So that I can say also, as the Son of Man returns with the clouds to open a gentle path to the lost Walden in all human hearts, “Our Mother, Thou who art in the darkness of the underworld, may the holiness of the Thy name shine anew in our remembering. . . .”

Pax et bonum,
Randall Scott

Note: This post was meant to be sent May 3, but due to computer problems it was actually sent May 27.

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Tears of Infinite Value

“What makes people patient,” asks Saint Catherine of Siena (1347 – 1380), stigmatic, doctor of the Church, patron saint of Europe, counseller to popes and cardinals–whose feast it is today–in one of her numerous letters, “so that they patiently bear hurt, reproach, slander, and abuse from others, and torments and assaults from the devil? Gratitude.”

And what ultimately makes people ungrateful, she might further have asked, but simply the soul’s affections gone in a wrong direction, since the soul cannot live without love? And certainly the love of material things constitutes the outstanding type of misdirected love. For it seems true enough that to the degree we find materialism in the world, to just that degree we will encounter ingratitude.

Yet do we need to limit this type of love actually to things themselves? For it seems entirely possible that a thoroughgoing materialist might love above all the idea of materialism, i.e., the idea that seeks to be inclusive of all material realities, while seeking equally to be exclusive of all (actual) realities that are not material, thoughts for example, or feelings or persons—or the very thinking itself which upholds and ascribes value to thoughts, feelings and persons—by trying to reduce such realities to a mere question of nerves and chemistry. So, paradoxically, we might in this sense become a “non-materialistic materialist”, having no one—this by virtue of the drift of our own reasoning—to turn to in gratitude for the non-material realities of truth, beauty and goodness we experience in the world, spiritual realities that inevitably must constitute the substance of our values. Who, after all, lives without values? Yet where on the periodic table will the materialist place them?  At this time of Easter 2011, on account of its materialism alone, humankind is in deep crisis, a predicament about which Rudolf Steiner, in his lecture “Easter: The Festival of Warning” (The Festivals and their Meaning, Rudolf Steiner Press, 1981), has this to say:

    The only possible way in these days for man to unite a right feeling with Easter is for him to direct his thought in this connection to the world-catastrophe of his own time. For in very deed a world-catastrophe is upon us. I do not mean merely the catastrophe that happened in the recent years of the war, but I refer to that world-catastrophe which consists in the fact that men have lost all idea of the connection of the earthly with that which is beyond the earth. The time has come when man must realize with full and clear consciousness that supersensible knowledge has now to arise out of the grave of the materialistic outlook. For together with supersensible knowledge will arise the knowledge of Christ Jesus. In point of fact, man has no other symbol that fits the Easter festival than this — that mankind has brought upon itself the doom of being crucified upon the cross of its own materialism. But man must do something himself before there arises from the grave of human materialism all that can come from supersensible knowledge.
    The very striving after supersensible knowledge is itself an Easter deed, it is something which gives man the right once more to keep Easter. Look up to the full moon and feel how the full moon is connected with man in its phenomena, and how the reflection of the sun is connected with the moon, and then meditate on the need to-day to go in search of a true self-knowledge which can show forth man as a reflection of the supersensible. If man knows himself to be a reflection of the supersensible, if he recognizes how he is formed and constituted out of the supersensible, then he will also find the way to come to the supersensible. At bottom, it is arrogance and pride that find expression in the materialistic view of the world. It is human pride, manifesting in a strange way! Man does not want to be a reflection of the divine and spiritual, he wants to be merely the highest of the animals. There he is the highest. But the point is, among what sort of beings is he the highest? This pride leads man to recognize nothing beyond himself. If the natural scientific outlook on the world were to be true to itself, it would have the mission of impressing this fact again and again upon man: You are the highest of all the beings of which you can form an idea. The ultimate consequences of the point of view that sets out to be strictly scientific, are such as to make a man turn pale when they show him on what kind of moral groundwork they are based — all unconscious though he may be of it. The truth is, we are to-day living in a time when Christ Jesus is being crucified in a very special sense. He is being put to death in the field of knowledge. And until men come to see how the present way of knowledge, clinging as it does to the senses and to them alone, is nothing but a grave of knowledge out of which a resurrection must take place — until they see this, they will not be able to lift themselves up to experiences in thought and feeling that partake of a true Easter character. 
    This is the thought that we should carry in our hearts and minds to-day. We still have with us the tradition of an Easter festival that is supposed to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon of spring. The tradition we have, but the right to celebrate such a festival — that we have not, who live in present-day civilization.
    How can we acquire this right again? We must take the thought of Christ Jesus lying in the grave, of Christ Jesus Who at Easter time vanquishes the stone that has been rolled over His grave — we must take this thought and unite it with the other thought which I have indicated. For the soul of man should feel the purely external, mechanistic knowledge like a tombstone rolled upon him; and he must exert himself to overcome the pressure of this knowledge, he must find the possibility, not to make confession of his faith in the words: “Not I, but the fully developed animal in me,” but to have the right to say: “Not I, but Christ in me.” 
    It is related of a learned English scientist that he said he would rather believe that he had by his own force worked his way up little by little from the ape stage to his present height as man, than that he had descended from a once ‘divine’ height, as his opponent, who could not give credence to the ideas of natural science, appeared to have done.
    Such things only serve to show how urgent it is to find the way from the confession of faith: “Not I, but the fully developed animal in me,” to that other confession of faith: “Not I, but Christ in me.” We must strive to understand this word of Paul. Not until then will it be possible for the true Easter message to rise up from the depths of our hearts and souls and enter into our consciousness.

“The time has come,” Steiner tells us—this in 1920—“when humanity must realize with full and clear consciousness that supersensible knowledge has now to arise out of the grave of the materialistic outlook.” An urgent warning indeed, and 91 years after these words were spoken who will care to argue that there is no world-catastrophe for us to face? The time clearly is ripe–indeed overripe–for the resurrection of the soul and spirit!

     “Selfish love,” Catherine of Siena comments in another letter, “makes us unappreciative and ungrateful because we attribute all we have to our own shrewdness. And what is the evidence? Our ingratitude, shown in the sins we commit every day. Gratitude, on the other hand, is proof that we are attributing to God alone all that we have.”  Language of another time, the middle ages being in so many ways a time of moral fervor, yet how can we miss the point here–its connection with Steiner’s comments? What gratitude can there be when we have worked our way up little by little from the ape stage to our present height as homo sapiens? When “selfish love” turns out to be at once the driving force and the crowning achievment of evolution a la the Übermensch of Friedrich Nietzsche?

And truly does it not come down to this, that on that night in the garden of Gethsemane, on that night in which he was betrayed, Jesus Christ sweated blood, suffering beforehand the full weight of humanity’s ingratitude of ages for the sacrifice he was about to make, a sacrifice intended to restore each and every soul to the likeness of God? How to find the way, as Steiner words it, from the confession of faith: “Not I, but the fully developed animal in me,” to that other confession of faith: “Not I, but Christ in me”?

How to find the way, as Steiner also expresses it, so that it will “be possible for the true Easter message to rise up from the depths of our hearts and souls and enter into our consciousness”?

Regarding this question of finding the way, we can consider what the anonymous author of the Meditations on the Tarot (Letter XIV Temperance) has to say about what he calls “the gift of tears”:

    “Tears” – like “sweat” and “blood” – signify, both as an expression and as a fluidic substance, more than the physical body-fluid secreted by glands in the eyes. They signify also the subtle fluid of a spiritual and psychic nature which emanates from the heart, i.e.,  the “twelve-petalled lotus” of man’s super-physical organization. The expression “to have tears in one’s voice” already points to inner tears, and the expression “to lament one’s weaknesses” goes further in the same direction.
    The fact that there are tears of sorrow, joy, admiration, compassion, tenderness, etc., signifies that tears are produced by the intensity of the inner life. They flow – whether inwardly or outwardly is not important – when the soul, moved by the spirit or by the outer world, experiences a higher degree of intensity in its inner life than is customary. The soul who cries is therefore more living, and therefore fresher and younger than when it does not cry.
    The “gift of tears” is comparatively recent spiritual phenomenon in the history of human spirituality. In the ancient world one wept only ritually, i.e., through verbal lamentations and through prescribed gestures of mourning or grief, and it was amongst the chosen people, Israel, the real weeping began. It was as a manifestation of the share that the chosen people had in the mission of preparing for the coming of Christ – who wept at the time of Lazarus’ resuscitation and who sweated sweat and blood the night in the Garden of Olives—that real weeping came to have its rudimentary origin from the womb of this people. And to the present day the Jews preserve, cultivate and respect the “gift of tears”. In fact, every revelation in the narrative of the Zohar is preceded or accompanied by the weeping of the one who had it and who comes to share it with the others. And, more recently, it was the same with the tsaddikim (righteous ones) of the Hassidim of eastern Europe. And the weeping wall in Jerusalem. . .  .
    Therefore we owe to this people not only the Bible, not only Christ in the flesh, and not only the work of the apostles, but also the gift of tears—warm and sincere—which is the vivifying fluid that emanates from contact between the image and the likeness in us. . . .
    Above I said that the personages of the Zohar cry when they grasp a profound spiritual truth. The following is what there is to say on this subject from the point of view of Christian Hermeticism: There are three principle modes of authentic spiritual experience: vision, inspiration, and intuition—or, perception of spiritual phenomena, spiritual communication and spiritual identification. Vision presents and shows us spiritual things, inspiration infuses us with understanding of them, and intuition reveals to us their essence by way of assimilation with our essence. Thus St. Paul had the vision of Christ on the way to Damascus, from whom he received communications that he obeyed and the carrying out of which constituted his apostolic work—including his journeys—and when he said, “I live, but it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians ii, 20), this was knowledge through identification or intuition.

Tears produced by the intensity of inner life—perception through vision, understanding through inspiration, knowledge through intuition— tears from the heart, yes, and would not simple gratitude and reverence, in the grasping of profound spiritual truths, as with the personages in the Zohar, bring tears to any of us, whether inwardly or outwardly?  And would not this gratitude and reverence enable “the Easter message to rise up from the depths of our hearts and souls and enter into our consciousness”? To find the way from the confession of faith: “Not I, but the fully developed animal in me,” to that other confession of faith: “Not I, but Christ in me”? We can consider what Catherine of Siena in her Dialogues (The Dialogue of the Seraphic Virgin St. Catherine of Siena) has to say about this gift of tears :

     How the four stages of the soul, to which belong the five . . . states of tears, produce tears of infinite value: and how God wishes to be served as the Infinite, and not as anything finite.
    “These five states are like five principal canals which are filled with abundant tears of infinite value, all of which give life if they are disciplined in virtue, as I have said to you. You ask how their value can be infinite. I do not say that in this life your tears can become infinite, but I call them infinite, on account of the infinite desire of your soul from which they proceed. I have already told you how tears come from the heart, and how the heart distributes them to the eye, having gathered them in its own fiery desire. As, when green wood is on the fire, the moisture it contains groans on account of the heat, because the wood is green, so does the heart, made green again by the renovation of grace drawn into itself among its self-love which dries up the soul, so that fiery desire and tears are united. And inasmuch as desire is never ended, it is never satisfied in this life, but the more the soul loves the less she seems to herself to love. Thus is holy desire, which is founded in love, exercised, and with this desire the eye weeps. But when the soul is separated from the body and has reached Me, her End, she does not on that account abandon desire, so as to no longer yearn for Me or love her neighbor, for love has entered into her like a woman bearing the fruits of all other virtues. It is true that suffering is over and ended, as I have said to you, for the soul that desires Me possesses Me in very truth, without any fear of ever losing that which she has so long desired; but, in this way, hunger is kept up, because those who are hungry are satisfied, and as soon as they are satisfied hunger again; in this way their satiety is without disgust, and their hunger without suffering, for, in Me, no perfection is wanting.
    “Thus is your desire infinite, otherwise it would be worth nothing, nor would any virtue of yours have any life if you served Me with anything finite. For I, who am the Infinite God, wish to be served by you with infinite service, and the only infinite thing you possess is the affection and desire of your souls. In this sense I said that there were tears of infinite value, and this is true as regards their mode, of which I have spoken, namely, of the infinite desire which is united to the tears. When the soul leaves the body the tears remain behind, but the affection of love has drawn to itself the fruit of the tears, and consumed it, as happens in the case of the water in your furnace. The water has not really been taken out of the furnace, but the heat of the fire has consumed it and drawn it into itself. Thus the soul, having arrived at tasting the fire of My divine charity, and having passed from this life in a state of love towards Me and her neighbor, having further possessed that unitive love which caused her tears to fall, does not cease to offer Me her blessed desires, tearful indeed, though without pain or physical weeping, for physical tears have evaporated in the furnace, becoming tears of fire of the Holy Spirit. You see then how tears are infinite, how, as regards the tears shed in this life only, no tongue can tell what different sorrows may cause them. I have now told you the difference between four of these states of tears.”

The fifth state of tears—or rather the first, depending on the point of view—the state of “the worldly man’s tears” as Catherine calls them, which state actually betokens the state of materialism’s crippling lack of gratitude, need not occupy us here, since these are by no means, in Catherine’s felicitous phrase, “tears of infinite value”, as philosophically, by materialism’s own self-understanding, they indeed can never be.

“Love follows knowledge,” says Catherine of Siena in The Dialogue (Dialogue 1). “We trust and believe in what we love” (8). “The heart is always drawn by love” (26) “The soul cannot live without love. She always wants to love something because love is the stuff she is made of, and through love I [God] created her” (51). “One who knows more, loves more” (66).

Gratitude, tears, love: these three must come together in us if we would come to real knowledge. Without them how will there be any possibility for “the true Easter message to rise up from the depths of our hearts and souls and enter into our consciousness”?

Without them how will physical tears evaporate in the furnace to become the tears of fire of the Holy Spirit?

“I long to see you,” writes Saint Catherine in a letter, “so totally ablaze with loving fire that you become one with gentle First Truth. Truly the soul’s being united with and transformed into Him is like fire consuming the dampness in logs. Once the logs are heated through and through, the fire burns and changes them into itself, giving them its own color and warmth and power.”

The gentle First Truth—the Truth that is the Risen One who at Easter time vanquishes the stone that has been rolled over His grave, so that I can say, “Not I, but Christ in me.”

Pax et bonum,
Randall Scott

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