Archive for August, 2013

August 31, 2013

hope and history rhyme

From the chorus at the end of “The Cure at Troy,” in Seamus Heaney’s translation of “The Philoctetes” by Sophocles:

Human beings suffer,
They torture one another,
They get hurt and get hard.
No poem or play or song
Can fully right a wrong
Inflicted and endured.

The innocent in gaols
Beat on their bars together.
A hunger-striker’s father
Stands in the graveyard dumb.
The police widow in veils
Faints at the funeral home.

History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells.

Call miracle self-healing:
The utter, self-revealing
Double-take of feeling.
If there’s fire on the mountain
Or lightning and storm
And a god speaks from the sky

That means someone is hearing
The outcry and the birth-cry
Of new life at its term.

August 28, 2013

to love reality

Personally transcribed excerpts from “The Wisdom of Tenderness” where Krista Tippett interviews Jean Vanier in October 2007 for the NPR show On Being:

An ethics of desire is good news for us at a time when we have become allergic to an ethics of law.

Pleasure is not something which is just sort of fooling around. …It is the fulfillment of a desire in an activity that you are doing well. …I come back to the reality of pleasure. …Somewhere the deepest desire for us all is to be appreciated, to be loved, to be seen as somebody of value … not to be admired. When you admire people, you put them on pedestals. When you love somebody, you want to be with them. …The cry of God is also the cry of ‘Do you love me?’ …The cry of people who have been wounded, put aside, who have lost trust in themselves … is ‘Do you love me?’

The way that they can come out of that depression is the way we look at them, the way we speak to them. …Tenderness is never to hurt a wounded person. …Tenderness reveals that ‘you are precious.’ …Do not shock or do not hurt or do not wound people who are already wounded. …We have to reveal to them that ‘you are precious.’

We are very fragile in front of the future. …We are born in extreme weakness and will end our life in extreme weakness. …We are a frightened people.

From the point of view of faith, those who are marginalized and considered failures can restore balance to our world. …If you take time with people at the bottom of the pyramid, there are people who relate. What they want is … love, not power.

It’s a suffering body which brings us together. It’s our attention to the body. …What is important is to see that the body is well. …It’s to communicate to them through the body that they are precious. …As the body can become comfortable, then the spirit can rise up. …What they were crying out for was touch. And also maybe what I was crying out for. What I would call safe touch. A touch which gives security and reveals, …the revelation that you’re special.

It’s a realization of how to create a culture which is no longer a culture just of competition but a culture of welcoming, where tenderness, where touch is important. And it’s neither sexualized nor aggressive. It has become human. And I think that this is what people with disabilities are teaching us. It’s something about what it means to be human and to relate and to celebrate life together.

Clearly for you community is a place of healing, community is a place of joy, but you also stress that communities are a place of pain.

To become human means to enter into a relationship of hearts. …I have no desire to have power over you. I don’t want to create mutual dependency.

People can be generous. Generosity can become power: ‘I am superior, so I can give.’ So generosity must … flow into a meeting. …We often believe that our identity is through power or through competence. But instead it is something else. It is to create an identity which is meeting. And meeting is the way we look at people. It’s not just a meeting. But also it’s about honoring what is weakest in the other. …In a true community, we honor the weakest. But that means that we are also honoring what is weakest in ourselves. And if we come back to what is despicable. It’s about our poverty. Even to honor our own poverty, to admit to our poverty. …Weakness can be despised or weakness can become the cement of our bonding. It’s because I’m weak, I can say I need you, I need your appreciation, I need your help. …Weakness is the recognition of who I am. …To be conscious of the anguish and to be conscious of the pain.

Jesus, …you are the most vulnerable of people. And my experience today is much more the experience of how vulnerable God is. You see, God is so respectful of our freedom. And if as John says, “God is love.” Anyone who has loved in their life, knows that they have become vulnerable. …’I stand at the door, and I knock. If somebody hears me and opens the door, then I will enter, and I will dine with that person, that person close to me and I close to that person.’ What touches me there, is God knocking at the door, not kicking the door down. But waiting, will you open, do you hear me. …We’re in a world where there is so much going on in our heads and our hearts. …We don’t hear God knocking at the door of our hearts. …What touches me the deepest is the realization of the vulnerability of God, who doesn’t oblige.

How can God, how can Jesus allow [suffering]? …I just have to honor what I don’t know. There are so many things that I can’t explain. Because explanation is something about headiness and what-have-it in the head. But the whole question is not to understand, but it’s to be attracted to the place of pain [see this song], in order to give support to those who are suffering. …If we try to know to much, it might cut us away from being present. And I believe that the whole mystery of pain, the mystery of people being crucified today, and sometimes being crucified by very good people but who don’t realize it. The whole question is how to be present there. …One thing I know, is that in degree, according to where I am at and how I am, it is vital that I be present to situations.

Conversion is a change of attitude. …In that person who was disfigured and smelt bad there was a presence of God. …If we listen to Francis, he said that when he went and saw these people and stayed with them, he was changed. He discovered a completely new vision of the world. Which was not to become … a knight and to be strong. …He discovered that in those who are the most rejected, there is a presence of God.

The history of L’Arche is the relationship between a vision or a principle and experience. What has experience taught us? …We’re all on the same search. …Sometimes you want to clutch onto principles. Yet experience is saying go further, go further. …The road to peace … can only lie with listening to each other.

Take St. Francis in the Middle Ages. He had a spirit of poverty. And in some ways, one can sense that the institution wounded that spirit. But yet if the institution wasn’t there, we wouldn’t be speaking about Francis today. …It’s very important … to go back and forth. There needs to be structures.

I’m part of humanity. …I’m part of that humanity … of the Hindus who are going to the temples.

If we could come together to hear the cry of the poor, to identify with the poor, we would be unified. …They would lead us to unity and peace.

We are going into a world where the imagination, the virtual, the long-distance, the things far away, appear as close but you can’t touch them so they’re not close. They are close to the imagination, but they are not close to the body. …So I come back to what we were talking about: the body, the incarnation, the bodiness. …So let’s come back to the reality of the small. …With their bodies, their broken bodies. …Yet it seems so small in a world where we are wanting to claim to be big.

The reality of every day is sometimes quit painful in its smallness, in a world where we are being pushed to pretend that they’re big.

We can’t change the world, but I can change.

What I’m learning … at 79 … is that I’m human.

You see, the big thing for me is to love reality. And not live in the imagination, not live in what could have been or should have been or want can be. Reality. And somewhere to … discover that God is present in reality. …That does mean to say that we’re just to be passive to welcome reality. You also have to know how to react in front of reality. …How to live that reality with my own body, my own weaknesses, my own need for greater sleep, …whatever it is, that ultimate reality which is death.

I like you doing it [interviewing], the way you do it.

August 26, 2013

quote the Iliad and die

That the most beautiful woman in the world lived in that one little town sounds like a legend; that the most beautiful poem in the world was written by somebody who knew of nothing larger than such little towns is a historical fact.

…If the world becomes pagan and perishes, the last man left alive would do well to quote the Iliad and die.

From The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton.

August 26, 2013

even if it is almost vulgar

But a tradition is generally a truth; so long as the tradition is sufficiently popular; even if it is almost vulgar.

From The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton.

August 26, 2013

a bad habit of crying for the moon

Well, as you may suppose, the war was over before it was begun, the Old Wise Person being found. When it was discovered that she had taken Knuta away to cure him of a bad habit of crying for the moon, and had merely forgotten to return him before, she was forgiven; and the Next Door King and Erranta’s father became close friends, as well they might when the son of the one married the daughter of the other.

From “The Wandering Princess” in The Magic Book of Fairy Tales published by Bracken Books in London (1986) as a reprint of More New Fairy Tales by Blackie and Son, London.

August 22, 2013

if we brought them garlands or sacrifices

The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton:

If we were at rest in a real paganism, instead of being restless in a rather irrational reaction from Christianity, we might pay some sort of pagan honour to these nameless makers of mankind. We might have veiled statues of the man who first found fire or the man who first made a boat or the man who first tamed a horse. And if we brought them garlands or sacrifices, there would be more sense in it than in disfiguring our cities with cockney statues of stale politicians and philanthropists. But one of the strange marks of the strength of Christianity is that, since it came, no pagan in our civilisation has been able to be really human.

August 18, 2013

two solid and stupendous facts called Egypt and Babylon

G. K. Chesterton speaks about human origins in The Everlasting Man:

There may be a broken trail of stone and bone faintly suggesting the development of the human body. There is nothing even faintly suggesting such a development of this human mind. It was not and it was; we know not in what instant or in what infinity of years. Something happened; and it has all the appearance of a transaction outside time. It has therefore nothing to do with history in the ordinary sense. The historian must take it or something like it for granted; it is not his business as a historian to explain it.

…Even in trying to prove that religion grew slowly from rude or irrational sources, they begin their proof with the first men who were men. But their own proof only proves that the men who were already men were already mystics. They used the rude and irrational elements as only men and mystics can use them. We come back once more to the simple truth; that at some time too early for these critics to trace, a transition had occurred to which bones and stones cannot in their nature bear witness; and man became a living soul.

…With tombs like mountains of man set four-square and pointing to the stars; with winged and bearded bulls standing and staring enormous at the gates of temples; standing still eternally as if a stamp would shake the world. The dawn of history reveals a humanity already civilised. Perhaps it reveals a civilisation already old. And among other more important things, it reveals the folly of most of the generalisations about the previous and unknown period when it was really young. The two first human societies of which we have any reliable and detailed record are Babylon and Egypt. It so happens that these two vast and splendid achievements of the genius of the ancients bear witness against two of the commonest and crudest assumptions of the culture of the moderns. If we want to get rid of half the nonsense about nomads and cave-men and the old man of the forest, we need only look steadily at the two solid and stupendous facts called Egypt and Babylon.

…It has appeared to a good many intelligent and well-informed people quite as probable that the experience of the savages has been that of a decline from civilisation. Most of those who criticise this view do not seem to have any very clear notion of what a decline from civilisation would be like. Heaven help them, it is likely enough that they will soon find out.

…If there is one fact we really can prove, from the history that we really do know, it is that despotism can be a development, often a late development and very often indeed the end of societies that have been highly democratic. A despotism may almost be defined as a tired democracy. As fatigue falls on a community, the citizens are less inclined for that eternal vigilance which has truly been called the price of liberty; and they prefer to arm only one single sentinel to watch the city while they sleep.

…Our most ancient records only reach back to a time when humanity had long been human, and even long been civilised. The most ancient records we have not only mention but take for granted things like kings and priests and princes and assemblies of the people; they describe communities that are roughly recognisable as communities in our own sense.

August 18, 2013

child and mother and father

From G. K. Chesterton in The Everlasting Man:

We can say that the family is the unit of the state; that it is the cell that makes up the formation. Round the family do indeed gather the sanctities that separate men from ants and bees. Decency is the curtain of that tent; liberty is the wall of that city; property is but the family farm; honour is but the family flag.

If we are not of those who begin by invoking a divine Trinity, we must none the less invoke a human Trinity; and see that triangle repeated everywhere in the pattern of the world. For the highest event in history, to which all history looks forward and leads up, is only something that is at once the reversal and the renewal of that triangle. …The old Trinity was of father and mother and child and is called the human family. The new is of child and mother and father and has the name of the Holy Family. It is in no way altered except in being entirely reversed; just as the world which is transformed was not in the least different, except in being turned.

August 18, 2013

clothes are very literally vestments

From G. K. Chesterton in The Everlasting Man:

For instance, all we can infer from primitive legend, and all we know of barbaric life, supports a certain moral and even mystical idea of which the commonest symbol is clothes. For clothes are very literally vestments and man wears them because he is a priest. It is true that even as an animal he is here different from the animals. Nakedness is not nature to him; it is not his life but rather his death; even in the vulgar sense of his death of cold. But clothes are worn for dignity or decency or decoration where they are not in any way wanted for warmth. It would sometimes appear that they are valued for ornament before they are valued for use. It would almost always appear that they are felt to have some connection with decorum.

August 15, 2013

seven swords were in her heart but one was in her hand

From “The Ballad of the White Horse” by G.K. Chesterton. In a desperate hour, King Alfred has a vision of Our Blessed Lady and asks her this:

When our last bow is broken, Queen,
And our last javelin cast,
Under some sad, green evening sky,
Holding a ruined cross on high,
Under warm westland grass to lie,
Shall we come home at last?

She answers paradoxically:

I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.

Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?

After many losing fights, King Alfred is granted one more vision:

And when the last arrow,
Was fitted and was flown,
When the broken shield hung on the breast,
And the hopeless lance was laid at rest,
And the hopeless horn was blown,

The King looked up, and what he saw
Was a great light like death,
For our Lady stood on the standards rent
As lonely and as innocent
As When between white walls she went
In the lilies of Nazareth.

One instant in a still light,
He saw Our Lady then,
Her dress was soft as western sky,
And she was queen most womanly–
But she was queen of men.

Over the iron forest
He saw Our Lady stand;
Her eyes were sad withouten art,
And seven swords were in her heart–
But one was in her hand.

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