Mary Oliver: “…with your one wild and precious life.”

“…I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I don’t know how to pay attention, how to fall down

Into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

How to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

Which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?”

– Mary Oliver, from the poem “The Summer Day”

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Mary Oliver: “When it’s over…”

When it’s over I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

– Mary Oliver, from the poem “When Death Comes”.

Charles Taylor: St. Francis and the Particular

“So it is not altogether surprising that this attempt to bring Christ to the world, the lay world, the previously unhallowed world, should inspire a new focus on this world. On one side, this involved a new vision of nature, as we see in the rich Franciscan spirituality of the life of God in the animate and inanimate things which surround us; on another it brought ordinary people into focus.

And we might add, ordinary people in their individuality. Because another important facet of Franciscan spirituality was its intense focus on the person of Jesus Christ. This devotion, as Louis Dupré argues, ends up opening “a new perspective on the unique particularity of the person.” On the intellectual level, this takes time to work its way out, in the writings of the great Franciscan thinkers, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, Qccam, but it ends up giving a new status to the particular, as something more than a mere instantiation of the universal. Perfect knowledge will mean now grasping the “individual form”, the haecceitas, in Scotus’ language.”

Though it couldn’t be clear at the time, we with hindsight can recognize this as a major turning point in the history of Western civilization, an important step towards that primacy of the individual which defines our culture. But of course, it could only have this significance because it was more than a mere intellectual shift, reflected in the invention of new unpronounceable scholastic terms. It was primarily a revolution in devotion, in the focus of prayer and love: the paradigm human individual, the God-Man, in relation to whom alone the humanity of all the others can be truly known, begins to emerge more into the light.

And so it seems to be no coincidence that one of the First reflections of this focus in painting should have been Giotto’s murals in the church at Assisi. This interest in the variety and detailed features of real contemporary people did not arise alongside and extrinsic to the religious point of the painting; it was intrinsic to the new spiritual stance to the world.”

– A Secular Age, p. 94

And on, to the Bill of Rights?

We look, to see if we are loved.

“I am like you, curious and small. Like you, I pause alertly and open my senses to try to read the air, the clouds, the sun’s slant, the little movements of the animals, all in the hope I will learn the secret of whether I am loved.”

In her book, The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, Louise Erdrich.

David Hart: “A Form Evoking Desire”

Christ is a persuasion, a form evoking desire.

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Christian theology has no stake in the myth of disinterested rationality; the church has no arguments for its faith more convincing than the form of Christ; enjoined by Christ to preach the gospel, Christians must proclaim, exhort, bear witness, persuade — before other forms of reason can be marshalled.

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…its [theology’s] proper idiom: a proclamation of the story of peace posed over against the narrative of violence, a hymnody rising up around the form of Christ offered over against the jubilant dithyrambs of Dionysus…

— The Beauty of the infinite, p. 3, 93

David Hart: “Beauty evokes desire”

Beauty evokes desire….it is genuinely desire, and not some ideally disinterested and dispirited state of contemplation, that beauty both calls for and answers to: though not a course, impoverished desire to consume and dispose, but a desire made full at a distance, dwelling alongside what is loved and possessed in the intimacy of dispossession…

the love God requires of creatures – is eros and agape at once: a desire for the other that delights in the distance of otherness.

– The Beauty of the Infinite, p. 19,20 (bold is mine)

Vladimir Nabakov: “the symbolism racket in schools”

“The notion of symbol…has always been abhorrent to me…The symbolism racket in schools…destroys plain intelligence as well as poetic sense. It bleaches the soul. It numbs all the capacity to enjoy the fun and enchantment of art…In the case of a certain type of writer it often happens that a whole paragraph or sinuous sentence exists as a discrete organism, with its own imagery, its own invocations, its own bloom, and then it is especially precious, and also vulnerable, so that if an outsider, immune to poetry….injects spurious symbols into it…its magic is replaced by maggots.”

Nabakov, Strong Opinions, pgs 304-5, as assembled by Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite, footnote, p. 25, where Hart adds “…God is a ‘certain type of writer’.

see also Charles Williams here