Thursday, May 20, 2004

Often, words are bottomless. In this instance, the word 'instrument.'

Inspired by Francis of Assisi, someone wrote a prayer that appeared in the early 1900s. It is about being and becoming an instrument of peace.

make me an instrument
of your peace.
Where there is hatred . . . let me sow love
Where there is injury . . . pardon
Where there is doubt . . . faith
Where there is despair . . .hope
Where there is darkness . . . light
Where there is sadness . . .joy

Divine Master,
grant that I may not
so much seek
To be consoled . . .as to console
To be understood . . .as to understand,
To be loved . . . as to love
For it is in giving . . .that we receive,
It is in pardoning, that we are pardoned,
It is in dying . . .that we are born to eternal life.

'Instrument' -- (from Latin instruo -struere -struxi -structum [to build in or into; to set up , construct; furnish], hence [to train a person]; [to prepare, provide]; milit., [to draw up the order of battle]. Hence partic. instructus -a -um, [equipped, supplied]; of persons, [trained, instructed]).

per prep. with acc.: of space , [through, along, over]; sometimes [before, in the presence of]; of time, [throughout, during; in the course of, in a time of]; of means or instrument, [through, by, by means of, with, by way of]; of cause, [because of, on account of]; 'per me licet', [you may as far as I'm concerned]; in entreaties, oaths, etc., [in the name of]. (from University of Notre Dame website Latin-English,

Instrument is a passing-through place. If we ask to be instruments of sacred peace, we ask to be a place creative peace passes through on its way to where it is needed.

It is a significant thing to ask to be a construct of peace, to be an instruct of peace. It is a formidable request to be a structure of peace.

'Structure,' -- (also from Latin instruo -struere -struxi -structum [to build in or into;)-- is
1. a thing consisting of a number of elements joined together in a certain way.
2. the way in which such a thing is joined together
3. anything, esp. a building, that has been constructed
4. the relationship between and among the parts of a relatively complex process or entity.
As transitive verb -- Inflected Forms: structured, structuring, structures
Definition 1. to give organization to; arrange.

For peace or sanity to flow through us there first must be an open way made for the passage through. For me, and for many of us, this way is clogged with debris and detritus of hoarded gift. If we affirm that all life is gift, we have to come to terms with gift.

Coming to terms with gift means appreciating the creative movement of gift. The artist is one who recognizes that there is only gift and we are each the passageway gift moves into and through the world.

The artist appeals to that part of our being...which is a gift and not an acquisition -- and therefore, more permanently enduring. (Joseph Conrad, quoted in The Gift)

Two additional lovely lines from the same book on gift:
1. "The only essential is this: the gift must always move. There are other forms of property that stand still, that mark a boundary or resist momentum, but the gift keeps going." (p.4)
2. "Another way to describe the motion of the gift is to say that a gift must always be used up, consumed, eaten. The gift is property that perishes." (p.8)
(from The Gift, Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property, by Lewis Hyde, c.1979)

The gift celebrated today in the Christian calendar is that of the Ascension, forty days following Easter. Jesus ascends into heaven. The gift moves into and through the present. Jesus doesn't go anywhere else. Heaven is no other place -- it is the absolute present. He permeates the reality of what is here and now with the gift of what some call grace. At Wednesday Evening Conversation grace was referred to as loving attention and surrender to the open -- which is the passing-through place where one and all meet in truth.

If you cannot find the truth where you are,
Where do you expect to find it?
Truth is not far away; it is ever present.
It is not something to be attained
Since not one of your steps leads away from it.


Where else is there to go?

We pray today for this passing-through.

Bottomless peace?


Monday, May 17, 2004

Old distinctions don't die. They collapse against one another gasping for new breath.

Living a religious life in the world means dwelling in the thin place between politics and prayer. To live a monastic life in the marketplace necessitates occupying the thin place between what is called the sacred and the secular. A hermit's balance between work and worship is the tension of a tightrope walk along the thin place strung between head and heart.

The soul makes its way between distinctions and divisions that no longer stand alone and separate.

The liturgical costume of ecclesiastical celebration and the dress-up and dressing gowns of congressional, executive, and judicial branches must morph into ordinary ethical and moral clothing of common, decent behavior. Hiding is no longer possible. There are no longer any hiding places. We cannot escape the eyes of men and women watching and waiting for the right thing to be done.

Ill, believe me, is power proved by insult; ill can terror command veneration, and far more effectual is affection in obtaining one's purpose than fear. For terror operates no longer than its object is present, but love produces its effects with its object at a distance: and as absence changes the former into hatred, it raises the latter into respect.

Therefore you ought (and I cannot but repeat it too often) you ought to well consider the nature of your office, and to represent to your self how great and important the task is of governing a free state. For what can be better for society than such government, what can be more precious than freedom? How ignominious then must his conduct be who turns good government into anarchy, and liberty into slavery?

(Pliny The Younger, {62-113CE} in "On Government")

Contemporary spirituality can no longer be shunted off behind doors of mosque, temple, church, or cathedral. Nor can governing be arrogated to halls, wings, and benches of power where words are divorced from vibrant truth-telling, and decrees issued are shill and insurance for private power and gain.

This country, as collapses virulent division and ignorant tripe, is readying itself for what is coming. Not apocalypse hoped for by fundamentalists, nor revolution wanted by anarchists. What is coming is a new heart and new mind. This heart and mind listens to and sees the profound. The profound is emerging with and through the ordinary in our midst. It is showing through as a creative thin place. It is not devious nor cunning, neither product of strong-arm policy, nor default of wilting pride. What is showing through in the thin place is contemplative action and mindful engagement of each fact in the open.

Even a casual reader of Nietzsche will be struck by his repeated arguments that our beliefs about the world are false: "The world with which we are concerned is false, i.e. it is not a fact but a fable and approximation on the basis of a meager sum of observations; it is 'in flux,' as something in a state of becoming, as a falsehood always changing but never getting near the truth: for — there is no truth" (WP 616). Our truths are "merely ... irrefutable errors" (GS 265) "without which a certain species of life could not live" (WP 493). Nietzsche's error theory is one of the most unusual positions in the history of epistemology, and making sense of it is an important test of the adequacy of an interpretation of his epistemology.
(p.17, in Nietzsche and the Transcendental Tradition, by Michael Steven Green)

Richard Hugo's first line of his poem "Villager" says, "What's wrong will always be wrong." I wondered, upon hearing the line twenty five years ago, whether what's right is created each time new. There's nothing set and permanent to fall back on. Each act and each thought is about bringing something new into existence -- not about retrieving something from attic or antiquity to overlay current reality. What's right is created new -- even if it is reminiscent of what once was, or it is brought down from storage. It is the infusion of vital emerging presence leaping from the undivided (the individual) that helps what is becoming true be what is in fact true.

Nietzsche's rejection of a real world of "being" in favor of a contingent world of "becoming" is less a claim about what the world is like than a claim about our cognitive relation to the world. It means questioning our ability to make objectively valid judgments about the world at all, despite Nietzsche's tendency to put the point in ways that suggest that it is itself an objectively valid judgment that the world becomes:

“[Philosophers] will not learn that man has become, that the faculty of cognition has become.... The philosopher here sees "instincts" in man as he now is and assumes that these belong to the unalterable facts of mankind and to that extent could provide a key to the understanding of the world in general: the whole teleology is constructed by speaking of the man of the last four millennia as of an eternal man towards whom all things in the world have had a natural relationship from the time he began. But everything has become: there are no eternal facts, just as there are no absolute truths. (HA 2)”

Nietzsche's denial of "eternal facts" or "absolute truths" suggests that his main point is the rather trivial one that nothing in the world is permanent, as if he could make objectively valid judgments about change. But his real point is that the reasons we come to our judgments are not permanent. Since they are merely contingent, our judgments lose their objective validity and so their ability to be true: "Knowledge is possible only on the basis of belief in being" (WP 518). In contrast, "a world in a state of becoming could not, in a strict sense, be 'comprehended' or 'known'" (WP 520).

(in, Green, “Spir and Nietzsche,” from Chapter 2, “Nietzsche's Neo-Kantian Roots,”)

Texts reminiscent of mystical spirituality are here recalled: the incomprehensibility of the vast universe; the unknowing of ungraspable God; the dark nights and clouds veiling our ability to see, claim, or attain certainty.

Just because we are not real substances, and do not possess a real self or a content really proper to us, our individuality could not subsist without the natural delusion by virtue of which we appear as substances in our self-consciousness and by which we apparently have a proper, persistent and independent essence, without this delusion we would not be ourselves, and there would be no question of our ego. Our existence is therefore inseparable from our self-consciousness, or rather our existence consists of it. We only exist because we are understanding ourselves.
(from "On Individual Immortality," Thought and Reality c.1873, by Afrikan Spir, included in p.1140 Treasure of Philosophy, edited by Dagobert D. Runes, c.1955)

Are we a different "substance?" Is our substance "to-be-revealed?" Are we, as the intricate thin place between being/becoming, no-other to what-is? If we are unceasingly "to-be-revealed," without fixed abode, without separate self, and without division from true interdependent co-origination -- then, who are we? Do we share that substance, that consubstantial, transubstantial fluidity with what we call God?

Is "reality" the coming to be of what is true? Is God "what is true"? Is God not the destination, not the path already there, but the path revealed now, and here, and this again as we let fall our foot on the way? Is this unknowable God and our unknowable self the very constitutive substance of existence?

It is as though our "substance" is referred to in the final three lines of the poem --
What does what it should do needs nothing more.
The body moves, though slowly, towards desire.
We come to something without knowing why.

(from poem "The Manifestation" by Theodore Roethke)

This is our substance, form, and energy: We come to something -- without knowing why.

The Original Self
Even those who have set aside all judgments of right and wrong and do not view people in terms of self and other cannot be said to be truly on the Way as long as they have not seen the original state before personal history.

- Muso Kokushi (1275-1351)

It is a riddle for us. His story, her story, our story is in the telling. It is before and beyond personal. What is before and beyond the personal? Go ahead, open eyes and ears, but not mouth, not yet. For a moment do not say anything. Rest in silence awhile.

In the collapse of old distinctions we are urged along a way that breathes new life into a middle place. That middle way, centering prayer, and thin place is how we go on, step by step, moving through what is encountered there, as we find the revelation of this moment, this place, and this sweet face -- the original one, the one we had before our parents were born.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Afternoon sun through new green waving leaves.


The silent loving play of life within itself.