The Time Toggle

Work over a drawing or a poem and all sense of passing time is suspended.   The next day, watch television all evening, and you’re surprised at how fast the evening goes.   These are common observations, common enough to abstract into principle: when the senses are full but inactive,  time speeds up.  When the faculties labor, time slows down.  When we are passive consumers of information or entertainment, irrespective of the quality of what we consume, time flies.   When we are producers, time stops.    The intensity of the creative mind is inverse to the perception of passing time.   (By creating, I mean most any active production, from origami to plumbing, as opposed to passive consumption, from reading novels to sitcom bingeing.)

After each of these experiences we sense how they are opposites.  When a session of creative work is over,  we feel integrated, whole.  Consciousness is fuller.   But when we come to our senses after hours of entertainment and realize the hours we lost, it feels like a loss of something we can’t quite say.  We feel a little less whole; the field of consciousness seems to have shrunk.    We feel alienated.

So we can actually punch the time button if we want, and suspend it.  Or, toggle it the other direction and lose time.

Let’s aggregate this insight:  as a society becomes more and more filled with opportunities to passively consume content,  the sense of passing time  grows more acute, individually, and enters the general air as a pop culture mood.    There are ancillary effects.   Hoarding, for example – here’s a phenomenon that has appeared in recent decades in the affluent West, like some emergent disease.  Hoarders collect objects that have touched their lives in a desperate attempt to resist the sense that life is passing away like a flash.   The piles of junk that fill hoarders’ homes are shored-up bulwarks against the empty present.   Mounds of memory.   Fear of death.   Physical nostalgia.

So, this oddity: nostalgia and entertainment culture go together.   I’d go so far as this:  individuals who spend their time creating do not feel much nostalgia.

There are many needed distinctions at this point, but I can only list them.  Each needs longer treatment.   One:  nostalgia and respect for the past are not the same thing.   Another:   reading can be active or passive, it depends on the larger context and not on the subject matter of the book.  Reading good books is to be praised and encouraged, but can be just as passive a lifetime as one spent staring at a screen.   The reader should do something with her reading – write something, sing something, use the information somehow, or let the poem inspire her to create in her own idiom.   Good writing deserves to be responded, and the healthy reader will be UNABLE not to respond to a good book with active production of some kind.  It’s not a rule, it just happens.   Further, none of this contradicts the common and healthy advice to “read for pleasure”, which is good counsel.   Read for pleasure, and with active engagement (but these are the same thing), then do what you will.

There are ancillary insights.   For example, in the same way that time stops when we make things, God, who is pure creative act, experiences literal eternity.

Speaking of theology….in many religious anthropologies, much is made of efforts to fix some supposed heirarchy of the senses, or other.  This effort is, partly, to make any sense other than the visual the one in charge, so it can slow or organize an increasingly fast and chaotic sensorium centered, typically,  around our sight.   Ellul wrote of “the humiliation of the word”;  Postman writes of the loss of the “typographical mind”; the Desert Fathers were concerned about the cognitive “image” obscuring the theoria (or contemplation) of the adept.

The recurrent impulse to make pyramids of the sense-organs is understandable as a reaction to the panic of speeding time, and has suggestions of biblical warrant, ever since Eve preferred a vivid vision (her own picture of her own future) over a fading verbal proposition (“don’t eat from that tree”).

But this mistakes the symptom for the disease.   There are indeed pathological rebellions of one sense over the others, and each unique person will have an idiosyncratic imbalance.   Pathology has random permutations.  But there is no prescribed heirarchy of the senses, either from God, or in historical experience.  None works.

Another impulse is physical solitude.   We sometimes want to just go apart, sit by the Walden pond or in the monastic cell or walk through Yosemite – just to get away from the kaleidoscope.  Fine, if we’re just shutting out most of the world in order to concentrate on work.  But if we’re just retreating from the distractions in self-defense, solitude isn’t the necessary solution.   Work is.   Work more on your own project, and you’ll find your sense-life has suddenly grown quiet and almost contemplative, in the middle of the traffic noises.

There is no correct hierarchy of sense.  There is no redemption in place.   There is only the active man, and the passive man.  As man acts upon the world, craftsperson acting on the material, artist acting on the medium, all the senses swing into perfect harmony automatically,  pulled into their proper roles and relations by the pressure of the external task.   The glorious external task of keeping the garden, building the city.

Modern man is becoming more passive as his world fills up with things to do and watch and he gets busier and busier,  and the dis-arrangement of his senses, culminating in actual mental illness, is a symptom of this entropy — not a cause.

Time will continue to speed up as the world fills with distractions.  In the end,  alienation is experienced more like a narcotic, like a not unpleasant buzz, with occasional startles from noticing the number of the year.

Paul Elie, on Thomas Merton, on Conversation

“…Here was a book that achieved the kind of dialogue to which he had aspired ever since reading I and Thou:  not reformulated thought, but the “spontaneous elucidation of what we do not yet know” ; not thought about what is already known, but “what will come to be known in our saying it to someone who will reply”.   “

from “The Life You Save May Be Your Own:  An American Pilgrimage”, by Paul Elie.   Farrar, Straus, Giroux, NY.   2013.  page 357.

This is Paul Elie talking about Merton’s reaction to Walker Percy’s novel “The Moviegoer”….but now that we’ve mapped out all the literary references, the money phrase is “what will come to be known in our saying it to someone who will reply”.   The remote cause of the insight is Martin Buber, “I and Thou”.

 Great description of what happens in what I’m calling, in this blog, Conversation. Capital C.

There Is A Child: 2

He does prefer lost to found, birds to men, and wild to tame but he can’t stay out of towns because that is where the town games are.   This child runs the streets all day, but is seen best right after supper when the sunbeams split up and choose teams.  He joins both sides: the golds and the mauves.

He plays town games and will come to your house.  Town games, unlike country games,  are full of rules, and rules about rules, and hat deep in the rules is where the fun begins.  But I’m getting ahead.  I’ll tell you how his favorite games play, but don’t try too hard to memorize, and forget about taking notes.  The best rules grow too fast to write down.

You were a boy once.  Right after supper, I say, when the light is right, the boys begin to run in packs like labrador retrievers.   Maybe you didn’t play the doorbell game, but I did, and it’s a favorite.   There is a town child; he is somewhere among the pack who rings doorbells and runs away at the porch light hour.

When he selects a house he returns, time after time, until he finds someone to play or gives up.

Answer the door every time. At the beginning, there will be a long time between his visits, so you’ll have forgotten the last prank. Gradually, he’ll ring more often, till you recognize you’re being teased. At this point most people stop leaving supper to answer the door and he stops ringing, since he doesn’t want to bother anyone who doesn’t want to play.
So answer every time, day or night. When you have found an empty porch return gently to your bed or table and think no more of it. Do not try to learn anything or notice patterns. There is nothing in this event which will help you the next time.

Don’t bother to hide near the door. Some try this; when he rings they throw open the door, leap off the porch and run across the lawn to where they think he’s hiding.
He’s never there; he moves like a hummingbird.

Here is the principle: he must find, he cannot be found. If you learn this you’ll not only guide yourself in a hundred uncertain moments, but you’ll also settle your soul to rest.
One day he’ll be standing on your front porch. You cannot, at first, tell him by his appearance. Like many children, he enjoys dressing up so the first countless times he is disguised. You will know it is him because he will ask you a riddle.

You may ask yourself why, it being your front porch, he should ask you a riddle. As you take four seconds to wonder this, he will run away. If you say or think anything at all except the riddle’s answer, he runs away. Anytime he runs away, he is a long time returning.

The only way to respond to the riddle is to say the first thing you think of when you hear it. But, of course, if you answer wrong, he runs away.There is no exact right answer to the riddle, which he formulates especially for you and especially for that day. The right answer is whatever you happen to think — but this doesn’t mean the riddle has a casual answer. Your answer will be wrong if your thoughts are wrong.

How will your thoughts be right? Have a friend who has talked with the child. If, when the doorbell rings, you’ve been talking all evening with your friend about the child and His Father; talking all through supper and after, when the dishes are put back in the cupboard, when the fireplace has been lit and the ardent talk has been moved to the club chairs; if you get up and back up to the door still talking and listening, and then, turning and opening the door while mulling your next reply to your friend — then, he hits you in the face with a disguise and a riddle, let the riddle and the paused conversation mix in your mind — that thought, that new one, will be right.

His disguise is as much for you as for him. He likes to distract you with, say, a surprising mask (never ugly) so you will stumble for a second, miss the riddle, and — he runs away. He isn’t cruel, he just enjoys challenging you and watching you cope with the distraction.

There is a Child: 1

There is a Child

There is a child who walks in the treetops at daybreak and at dusk. He prefers the company of birds to that of men. Few men have seen him, though some have heard him chortle as he slides down the back side of the sky on his way home, beyond the sun.

He plays in the gales of the summer storms. He lets his limbs fall limp in the wind and tumbles headfirst across the tops of the greatest oaks, tumbles miles and miles until he’s lost. He prefers being lost to being found. Nobody who’s ever played with him can say where they happened on him. If the map of your hike is still hanging on the back side of your brain he hears it flapping in your thoughts, and he runs away. But if you walk in the woods for hours, chasing a furtive warbler or naming new colors until you think of nothing else — well, he might find you.

You’ll tumble all night along the wind with him. You might venture, at the deepest hours, into a metropolis and help him check on other children as they sleep. A sunbeam will wake you under a forest elm near your home, and the warbler will be singing on your chest.  You’ll not be sure you didn’t dream it. The memories will fade, quicker than most, to a gentle longing for somewhere.

In a few months you’ll return to the woods and get intentionally lost. After days of random walking you’ll despair of ever playing with the mysterious child again. Then you’ll remember he found you not lost in the random but lost, enthralled, in something precious.


On The Summer Urge To Sit Outside

I can’t claim to understand my own urge to sit among the wildflowers.   Beauty?  Sure.  But even before the candied blooms pop, as soon as green shoots break the spring soil, I’m sure I’m missing out on a secret.  Before the beauty,  nature draws.  Why?

The cliches are many:  “the healing power of nature”.  Again, sure.  But what, exactly, is this “power”, and what is this “healing”?   It’s more than rest, more than just that we ‘feel better”.  There’s an existential longing before there’s any tiredness.

I can sit cross legged in the middle of a daisy field and feel vaguely that I’ve come home.   As I listen to the sigh of wind through the field, I don’t hear anything missing.  That moment is not a passage on the way to, for example, people.   People, even beloved ones, are not missing from this, though none are here.   This field is the means to no end.   Even the history of kingdoms and holocausts, here in the daisies and the wind, does not ask for redemption.   Why not?

It’s a feeling that something important is happening right here.   And that this importance somehow outweighs whatever is the chatter on the evening news.  Western culture adds one more brick on its Hell project, yet somehow the hummingbird sipping at the lantana on my porch seems more important.

No, I have no theory to support this.   I’m not sure the Romantic movement ever produced one; did Wordsworth ever do more than say this in a thousand fine but redundant ways?   And the chance universe of the secular modern is just silent about the meaning of everything.  After all, if what we see around us just happened, then both hummingbird and hell are random collisions of particles.  No feeling means anything.  No thoughts will survive the sun.

Even my own Judeo-Christian and designed universe doesn’t fully account for my pre-cognitive intuitions,  intuitions surely common to churched and unchurched alike.   Unless I’m so audacious to say that the love of the Creator for every sparrow, for every blade of grass, is literally what you and I are feeling.   We feel His affections – His bowels, in that old Hebraic sense.  All nations, races, and tongues feel His pleasures but they don’t even know it.

We feel His paternal love for what He makes, and we mistake what moves through our depths for our own self, but He is in fact closer to us than we are to ourselves.  The Spirit within me longs with longings that cannot be articulated?  Longings for the daisy, the hummingbird, and the lantana, as well as for the hymns and the alms?     Is it You?  Is it really You?

Do Better People See More?

Do good people perceive anything at all that evil people do not?  Anything?

Once this line is crossed, we must allow for the existence of persons, castles, dragons, and unicorns that the good can see and the bad cannot. If there is any moral dimension at all to percipience, and if we allow that everyone is morally imperfect, then it follows that we must allow for the existence of things we cannot perceive.  Well, yes, you say:  the very big, very small, or very distant.  No, we aren’t just talking about the things that telescopes or microscopes can’t yet see.  This logic says the Demiurge may be sitting in the next armchair.

A commonplace sentiment?  No, this is more than the romantic wish-dream of the artsy types. It’s hard, cold logic that sitting next to you as you read this can very well be a person who is invisible to you because of the moral nature – not the cognitive power – the moral nature of your eyes.

None of this is a comment on probabilities, of course.  Just because we must allow for the existence of dragons and fairies does not mean that dragons and fairies are probable.   They are not more probable because they are possible, and the probability that a certain thing exists is often confused (by supernaturalists from my camp) with the cold logic that this same thing must be allowed to exist.  These two questions have nothing to do with each other.    The materialists like to argue that nothing can exist that all of us can’t perceive; the religious like to argue that because God must logically be allowed space to exist, He must therefore exist.  Both views are nonsense,  ditches on opposite sides of the rational road where emotional warriors crash and spin their wheels for a lifetime.

Science is that method which seeks to drain the moral dimension from perception.  Before it can be labeled “science” an experimental result must be repeatable by any experimenter, whether morally good or bad.  So, for those who hold that science is the only source of knowledge, any perception that changes with the character of the observer cannot be part of the knowable universe.   The empiricist (a scientist is not necessarily an ontological empiricist) is a cultivator of an impoverished perception.

The universe is either material or mystical. Once you pass this fork in the epistemological road, there are no degrees; each road leads all the way to the Many or the One. The universe is either divided into smaller and smaller particles described in more and more numbers, or language and numbers end in: One. People choose between these approaches to at early ages.   The universe you live in is the one you LIKE.

Conversation is Simple.

Are we just complicating something simple?  When we first talked, it was “I’ll say something, you say something back.”

Exactly. This is all we do, I agree. Inside the moment this is all we experience. To adapt something from C.S. Lewis, looking through the crack in the door we don’t see the sunbeam. The light is what we look through, not at.

Yet when we step outside the sunbeam and look back at where we stood looking through the door, we see the beam and could describe it. Standing outside our talks, we can dissect the experience after the fact, and articulate the principles we see in retrospective vision.

It’s the same in all disciplines: the adept act is simple from the inside, complicated from the outside. The baseball player can analyze his technique by looking back at his swing on film. He might break it down into its parts and work on each movement individually. He might talk about his stance at the plate with a coach, and they probably would together see so much they could talk, then drill, for hours. Yet when he goes back up the plate to hit, he doesn’t try to hold all the complicated detail in his head. He will say to himself as he walks up to the batter’s box “now get out of your head. Just hit the ball.”

As the practitioner advances, his experience from the inside of his craft grows simpler and simpler, yet his description of his skill, for those not yet practicing at his level, grows more and more rich and nuanced.

Simple.   Yes.   I’ll say something, you say something back.

Conversation: No Conceding

You cannot be wrong, you cannot let me be wrong, yet you cannot concede or allow me to concede. When my friend speaks, his words become my thoughts.

Concession is acknowledgment of the friend’s words but without truly internalizing them. It is a false assent. It is a failure of rigor. If I concede my friends’s point, he thinks it more fully than I, and so he remains in the conversation while I drop away. There is only one of us left now, and the Conversation instantly evaporates.

Both of us must fully think each thought, in the same way that two wires must carry a current. If one of us does not think the others’ thought, the gap in the wires might as well be a mile wide. The current of thought stops.

“When my friend speaks, his words become my thoughts.”

This principle expresses the depth of commitment we have to each other. The inexperienced hears these words as if they are describing a passive receptivity. The opposite is true; no passive person can think a deep thought. The critical faculty is heightened, not suppressed, in Conversation. The two friends analyze each other’s words with ruthless disregard for person, held in tension alongside the tenderest respect for the person. Only sociopaths are interested in unthinking acceptance, and neither of the two poles of such sick relationships have ever Conversed.

Conversation: Experienced High, Remembered Low.

I see that look.  What is this pretension, this business of “conversation as high art”?  Don’t people converse all day long, you’re thinking?  No.  Most people pass their lives and never hear a Conversation.  They cannot imagine what they’ve never heard.   Just like they cannot believe in love until they are loved.  Just like faith is reified by spoken words.

I’m not interested in a phenomenology of general human conversation.  Nor am I  interested in those periodic elevations of wit or eloquence that produce transcribable literary chat in salons or at round tables.  And not the high substance and learning such as you’d hear among astrophysicists.   Forget  just making our talk more creative.   Not style, not intellect, not creativity;  what Conversation is about is the discrete moments of transforming love among friends, through talk.   No, not counseling, not therapy, not teaching.   Talk.

Legends grow up around Conversation.  They are always recounted to include a golden glow.   Sometimes the participants remember a golden haze, sometimes distant observers describe a light from inside the grove or cave or cell.   See, for example, the stories from the Egyptian desert, or from Francis and Clare, or the Russian startsy.

Talk begins as talk, and becomes antiphonal chant.   The friends in the talk realize at some point they are as fascinated by the shape and direction and new truths as any listener would be, though the words are theirs.   It’s as if higher powers have taken on the voices.   They’ll remember the night as magic.

You’ve heard this before, you’re thinking, in the 60’s, when counter-cultural drop-outs turned on to LSD.   High on drugs, the trippers saw the profundities of the universe for the first time.   Wow, man.   The next morning, not much seems profound.

All spiritual experience is actually similar; the experience is too delicate to hold.  Manna melts in a day.   The wind blows where it will.   Remembering a conversation which seemed like magic is impossible; you won’t be able to remember it.   (This is true of prayer as well; an inner witness is often forgotten if not written down.)

The difference between the LSD trip and the Talk, though, is great:  the hung-over tripper can remember the content – what he saw or said or heard – he’s just not sure it is profound instead of banal.   On the other hand, the day after a Talk, we can’t actually remember the content.  The mind didn’t fix it into memory.



Notes on Zen

The mistake in zen is to ontologize the experience of integration. It is typically the listener at the feet of the adept – not the master – who ontologizes. The suggestion that the self is an illusion is no less an unsupportable assertion than that the self opens out into the Oversoul.

The opposite of “alienation” is “integration”.  Yet integration has little positive meaning; it is experienced as a cessation of fragmentation, an oblivion.   Everyone notices the self seems less fragmented when attentive to something.  Sitting zen might seem like attentiveness to nothing, and might be described as such by some practitioners, but this is dubious.

By “Adept” we mean a master of almost any human activity.  Zen is a cluster of reports from the adepts about their own perceptions.

To be aware of the self is to be anxious about it. The more we focus the self as object, the more it fragments in the field of perception.  To be aware of the possibility of alienation is to be already fragmented, already anxious about the psyche, and so already self-absorbed.


You are the missing person in my life.   Even the days when I am ashamed of my forgetfulness You are the ghost in my memory.  I feel a hole shaped like You but I can’t be sure if I made it or if You made me this way.  My life’s yearning is to hear You speak.

Jesus.  Not the cartoons, the several and contradictory cartoons of both zealots and skeptics.  Whatever You may be, really and really.

The world is gathering energies into a coming war on You.  They vomit to hear of you.  I doubt You exist when I hear them think but then their wildly irrational bile toward You feeds my faith.  Such an odd reaction,  unlike any other passion in their cluster of passions, this hatred of You, whom they insist does not exist – it feeds my faith.  Why would the nations rage at just a cartoon?

They are mustering their energies toward war on You.   Something about your name bares their fangs, and they suddenly morph into the devils I saw in the fundamentalist cartoons of my youth.   If the devils are real then the angels must be.

Ah, an insight, a particle of logic, a byte.   I have no use for it.    Always back to you.  Like the deer pants for the brook, so my soul pants for thee.  I can string together words here in the dark of midnight, with my family asleep, strings of logic and phrases I like, but then I wake up from the sleep of thought and language to your name, which for 40 years has held me hypnotized.  From thought and language I come back over and over to your simple name and find the midnight thirst is watered, mysteriously.  How your name waters me is hidden from me.  I cannot step far enough away from the flow to see it.  Not seeing it I cannot say anything about it.  So I find the only water my soul knows just slips through my perception and is gone.

I don’t know what I mean to you.  I wish I knew, then I would know my real name.  I’m an orphan; without father, without mother, coming from nowhere and traveling toward nothing.  My name is in your seeing me, but your thoughts are not mine and these things are far above me.  Call me by my name just one time.  Peter, Mary, mother, son; shepherd, preacher, martyr, prisoner.  You call each star by name and not a sparrow falls lest you mark it.  To be a sparrow in the corner of your mind.

I think the whole world is ordered by your word as well and I think it goes to hell when You don’t speak.  Men, the best and brightest, will someday burn each other in ovens if left to themselves.  I hope I am wrong, but the last thing they would want me to doubt is the evidence of my senses.   The Lamb of God is become the King of the Universe; kneel in fealty, worlds, or you will find yourselves armied up and slaughtering each other in the valley of kings.  All the birds of the air will feast on the flesh, says the Apocalypse.  The world has decided this is the vision of a schizophrenic mind.

Yet, the armies grow.


Faith: Hold the ground you have won.

I can’t endorse Mormonism, but this is good stuff,  from a talk given by Elder Jeffrey R Holland at the LDS Conference in April 2013:

In moments of fear or doubt or troubling times, hold the ground you have already won, even if that ground is limited…

When those moments come and issues surface, the resolution of which is not immediately forthcoming, hold fast to what you already know and stand strong until additional knowledge comes…

The size of your faith or the degree of your knowledge is not the issue—it is the integrity you demonstrate toward the faith you do have and the truth you already know. When problems come and questions arise, do not start your quest for faith by saying how much you do not have, leading as it were with your “unbelief.” That is like trying to stuff a turkey through the beak!Let me be clear on this point: I am not asking you to pretend to faith you do not have. I am asking you to be true to the faith you do have.Sometimes we act as if an honest declaration of doubt is a higher manifestation of moral courage than is an honest declaration of faith. It is not!…

Be as candid about your questions as you need to be; life is full of them on one subject or another. But if you and your family want to be healed, don’t let those questions stand in the way of faith working its miracle. Brothers and sisters, this is a divine work in process, with the manifestations and blessings of it abounding in every direction, so please don’t hyperventilate if from time to time issues arise that need to be examined, understood, and resolved. They do and they will. In this Church, what we know will always trump what we do not know. And remember, in this world, everyone is to walk by faith. So be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.  These are vital words to internalize: especially for intellectuals living in a media/ political/ academic/ educational world which purposefully, systematically generates questions and doubts about Christianity. Think about it: they can generate real or apparent doubts and questions much, much faster than you could possibly deal with them…

Almost all of these questions and doubts are utterly bogus; and the position which these questions and doubts are used to defend is ludicrously incoherent and contra-evidential…

– but, even if this were not the case, there will always be questions and doubts. If we are foolish enough to defer until after we have settled our questions and doubts concerning the deliberate and responsible choice of the believing basis of our lives in faith; then we will implicitly have chosen to accept the prevalent incoherent worldview of alienating nihilism; and we will have have implicitly chosen to reject even the possibility of purpose, meaning, and that joyous personal relationship with God which is being offered us conditional merely upon our free acceptance of this gift.Faith never has, and never could be, and neither should it, wait upon the resolution of all questions and doubts: to believe is to live by, and that is something we are doing at every moment. Thus faith is here, it is now: faith is always happening – and we must and do always choose in the absence of resolution of doubts and questions.

via Bruce Charltons Miscellany.

Forms, Interrupted: How Worship Happens

Liturgies are spontaneous formalities.  They can be recorded, but not then re-enacted.  Each occurrence requires the structure of tradition and the violation of that structure, as all action in the presence of God is a formal dance whose rules have been forgotten.

Did you actually think that the moment before St. John saw an uncountable crowd around the Throne that some angelic ushers directed all to their places and passed out hymnals?  You think they cried “Holy!” in unison because they saw some seraphic maestro twitch his baton?

It’s not either-or.  It never is.  It’s not that spontaneous is authentic while planned is fake.  It is simply both, in their sequence.

Consider a man who arranges an elaborate marriage proposal, complete with memorized recitation, and kneeling, and holding of her hand as if it were the jewel of the raj.   He is not less authentic for all his planning; indeed, to the degree he searches precedent to adopt what others have done, he shows her how much she means to him.  And she will love him more for his trouble and formality.

But.  No, and.  And if she leaps across his papers to stop his recitation with a kiss, the man who can’t drop the outline and re-write the rite (I think the rubric now says “kiss”) – well, he’s a fool.  (And if she doesn’t leap, she is a fool.)  If she doesn’t ruin the rite, she wasn’t worth writing it for, and if there is no rite, he does not deserve her.

Planning is a work of love, and planning is regularly interrupted by love, and the dance of Apollo and Dionysis (those servants of Jehovah) goes forever, higher up and deeper in, always more formal, always more wild.

Gabriel’s Inhalation

Yoga class this evening.  This makes my people nervous.

No, I don’t believe that some crazed Hindu god owns the lotus pose, any more than I believe Darwin owns the bones of the brachiosaur.  It’s a little better if I don’t use the Sanskrit terms, but only a little.  In the end, most Christians in the pew are actually among those who, had they lived in Corinth, would have been sure that meat consecrated to idols actually was imbedded with demons.

On the contrary:  Jesus is lord.  Because He is lord, there are no others, and so there is only one Owner of it all: down-dog and crane and warrior, then, to the end.   “No mind” is just to pause for the next significant event, which, if I’m remembering correctly, will be the trumpet of God, when the Owner serves a search warrant on the world.

I sit.  Listen to the silence of the night sky, silence creeping into my muscles, silence calls to silence:  hold.  Hold.  Hold.  Know the thread of your breath inside the long angel inhalation before  reveille.

(revised, from September 2010)

The Trees of August

I’m not sure the trees ever come to center and live in the present moment. This moment, to be fully this moment, is not a means to any end. It is not used to prepare for the next nor regret the last. It just is. Yahweic. The bush is just a bush, the rock just a rock, but man hardly ever is just here, now. For the eastern mind, man is estranged but nature is inegrated. Zen masters use objects from nature to model simplicity. But I doubt the analogy. (Analogy – so Western, I know.)

The trees do nothing if not look ahead. Each movement of water or sugar up or down their cambrium is a preparation for the next season. Three months away is what is always on their minds. At the zenith of the summer, when the green is equidistant from the warms of spring and the colds of deep winter, in the long pause of August, the trees cannot be said to feel success. There is no sabbath rest for them.

The entire creation shares man’s estrangement, says St. Paul, and we and the trees groan, cursed to survive by sweat about tomorrow. They are not in the garden any more either.

Alienation and the feeling of time

Activity slows the sense of time; passivity speeds it up. Spend a day making anything you love and you enter a state described by artists as a contemplative state. This state is hyper-aware, and the rush of passing time is suspended. It feels good, and afterwards you desire it again, like a longing for home.  But spend a day watching television and you’ll look up at dusk and wonder what happened.

A talk with a new love can last 12 hours, and seem like nothing. It is unfortunate that we use similar language to describe both the active and passive experiences – “it seemed like no time” when they are really very different.

Slowed time is addicting. Writers are literally addicted to writing, and painters are literally addicted to painting. Woodworkers are addicted to the lathe. They discover over time — some discover it earlier than others — than it matters little where you start, or what you are working on, as long as it matters to you. It is the activity of the will to create that suspends time and orders the faculties in a way that feels like a return to some Eden.

The common lament of getting older — that time passes too fast — is from the slow descent into passivity.

“Active” and “passive”, as I’m using them, does not correspond to the traditional distinction between Martha and Mary, the active life of service and the contemplative life of prayer. These two terms were actually unfortunate, since the contemplative life is as active as the active life, just in different ways. Contemplation is another form of activity; the contemplative is quite active at the level of the engagement of mind, emotion, and volition.  No, “active” and “passive”, here, mean something like “work” and “entertainment”.

Earlier generations’ protests about the theatre and novels and recreation are now interpreted as puritan reactions. Some doubtlessly were, but for the most part the modern is simply explaining those old critiques in the superficial terms he can understand.  We err to think those old ones were just horrified by song or skin.  No, they were horrified by how the slack senses of the watchers were deteriorating.  Actually, the ancients were protesting the mode of those pasttimes as much as the content.  They were protesting the passivity.

Work, when at something you love, slows time, and in the slowing makes the moments thicker.  There is more there.  Being simply entertained speeds time up and thins it out.

Conversation: Liturgy as Form, Toward Ecstasy

[Preliminary notes]

To choose the random is the point of the post-modern, and is essence of the demonic.   Chosen un-relation is the world that Adam created when he hid his ass behind the bush, choosing a place un-related to God.   People cannot touch each other without structures, and un-relatedness is death. The mood of the whole world is one of quiet desperation to escape the anoxia of loneliness. So then the storm of one pulse against another, and frantic talk as alternating monologues — these fill the silences, and leave the lovers feeling like they had candy for supper.

Relationships without form are not real, and those who try to live within them sense their ghostliness.

Talking in order to give voice to structure is living.

Ecstacy is not an escape from form, but a leap from the top of the previously built form.  Ek, stasis  —  to stand out: there must be a structure on which to stand.  Notice that in the mystical literature the ecstacies tend to come  in the midst of the liturgy, when the formalities are at their most dread.

After you’ve read for twenty years about the ecstacies of the mystics you still might think that ecstacy is just an extreme degree of joy. Not so.

Ecstacy is a distinct spiritual experience of the spirit, and has no necessary relation to joy, which is in the soul.

Ecstacy can begin as a slight imperceptible hum, so subtle the soul does not recognize what it is experiencing. And it can trigger when the emotions are despondent.

Those episodes which make it into the hagiographies are the strong ones which finally overcome the faculties and become obvious to spectators and hangers-on.

Self As Cosmos

Since Freud, the psyche is complicated, to self and others.   It may have been C.S. Lewis who observed that pre-modern man looked out upon a universe peopled with powers and personalities and mysteries, and modernity supposedly erased these forces, only to have them descend into the soul.   The world is disenchanted and finally bare, but the soul is now a kaleidoscope.  And troubled.   A rag and bone yard.

And a quirk of modernity is: the love of troubled.   We have come of age.  Transgression is a thrill, and only the marred is interesting.  Don’t judge me, we say to the heavens; I’m pretty in my own way.  We have passed through despair onto the other side, where the internal world is a freak ride we don’t actually want to understand because what’s outside is charmless and…bare.

This modern love of disease seems to live on the cultural left.   The left seems to like “complex” characters in fiction, “nuanced” politicians, and “sophisticated” verbal wittiness.   Anybody who is not complicated is stupid.

It has never occurred to them that the opposite of “complex” might be healthy, and might really exist.  There are actually integrated personalities who have no neuroses, and those who can’t believe this are just projecting their pathology onto the rest of the population.

The integrated personality is not a mystery to himself.  Looking inward, he sees to the bottom.  He understands why he reacts the way he does.

Those who see all others as Like Me respond from a sub-analytical place in the soul. They are therefore very susceptible to manipulation by symbols and tactics. They are not capable of bringing analytical acumen to bear on language BEFORE they respond to it. This is why it is impossible to argue.   They don’t think; they feel.   Many of these folk have high IQ’s.   The function of their brains is to wrap a pre-analytical response in a protective coating of justification.   First, the feeling, then, the argument to support it. So it isn’t a question of who is smart and who is dumb; no, what matters is the SEQUENCE in which the faculties engage.

The reactor is a person with a subconscious.  The healthier your temperament, the less a subconscious you have. Literally.


We know as much about ourselves as we want to know.  And the word “want”, in that sentence, has no correlation to intelligence or political loyalty.

Conversation: Pericopes Shorten

Of course our talks have gotten shorter.  And even our sentences are shorter.    Your one sentence charms my thoughts for week, and mine, yours.  This is language at home, in the garden of paradise.  Words are food.

Think of the desert, and how the monks were not silent but were succinct. The cenobitic rule of silence is but a poorly-understood memory of conversation in the desert.

Notice how we do sit in silence a long time before we speak.   The sun is going down and outside the voices of evening birds seem from under pillows.

Conversation: Sweetness Moves Toward Liturgy

Conversation in new truth takes on formal voices.   The room feels hushed.
Formality, you see, is not the mode of distance, but of precious.   It is the courtliness of the lord and the lady on the hidden stairs. Formality is real when the gestures are stylized and the eyes are moist.

“Liturgist”. To some, this is a scholar of history and forms of worship. To others, it is the chief musician for a church, or even a charismatic office embracing prayer, song, dance, and other arts on a Christian podium.

But these are ghostly remnants of the office. “Liturgist” is an enactor of conversation with God. It is a term for the person in whom speech easily embodies, in whom the body is no longer asleep but listens and talks as the ears and mouth listen and talk. “Liturgy”, historically, is the word for the entire body of descriptions of these moments, described after the fact, at non-liturgical moments when enough half-lives of glory have died so that the analytical faculty has aroused. THE liturgy – the dance of Trinitarian Lord with created bride – cannot be described.