Saturday, October 23, 2004

What is truly creative must create itself.

In prison one Friday, Joe and I were talking about irony. Our context was an Independent Study on “Fantasy, Myth, and Enchantment as Self Discovery.”

“Irony,” from Greek, eironeia, is "feigned ignorance."

i·ro·ny n. pl. i·ro·nies 1. The use of words to express something different from and often opposite to their literal meaning. 2. An expression or utterance marked by a deliberate contrast between apparent and intended meaning. 3. A literary style employing such contrasts for humorous or rhetorical effect. See Synonyms at wit1. 4. Incongruity between what might be expected and what actually occurs: “Hyde noted the irony of Ireland's copying the nation she most hated” (Richard Kain). 5. An occurrence, result, or circumstance notable for such incongruity. See Usage Note at ironic. 6. Dramatic irony. 7. Socratic irony. (From )

It is an ironic time in politics, baseball, and creative life. We pretend we do not know what is happening. Bush and Kerry will face off on November 2nd. The Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals begin a World Series best of 7 on Oct 23rd. And contemplative creators continually have to decide to allow what is pulsing through them for presence in the world to come through and take “place” in the world.

What is our place in the world?

When the mind neither sorrows nor delights, that is supreme attainment of virtue. To succeed without changing is supreme attainment of calm. To be unburdened by habitual desires is supreme attainment of emptiness. To have no likes and dislikes is supreme attainment of equanimity. Not getting mixed up with things is supreme attainment of purity. Those who can accomplish these five things reach spiritual illuminations. Those who reach spiritual illumination are those who attain the inward. (- Huai-nan-tzu)

Perhaps the “inward” is the thin-place between the dualistic notions of inside and outside. Perhaps the inward is our place in the world.

God is the only creator ab initio The creation of works of art would therefore come under the head of the active life, as the enjoyment of works of art would come under that of the contemplative life. But the essential difference, as I have already pointed out, is this – that the writer of a poem or the composer of a symphony has as his end, neither possession nor contemplation, but the bringing of a new sort of thing in the world. The poet or painter may indeed give us recognizable likenesses of the forms of common experience; to this extent they use imitation as a means to their further ends. But the poem or the painting in itself is a thing in itself and not an imitation of anything already in the world. It is sui generis, a new creation, and belongs to a different order of being from anything it imitates. Y.B. Yeats speaks of the poets as people whose work exists not primarily to help or to inform us. When we read them, he says, we “have added to our being, not to our knowledge.” It is the impulse to “add to being” which is the distinctive mark of the creative way of life. (p.117 “The Three Faces of Love” by A.D. Hope, in The Poet’s Work, 29 Masters of 20th Century Poetry on the Origins and Practice of their Art, edited by Reginald Gibbons, c.1979)

How do we add to what is? Is that where the inward takes place? The place of the inward is fully dwelling Being.

The essential thing about education for the creative life as distinct from education for the active or the contemplative life is this: that what is truly autonomous must be self-initiating, or it stops being autonomous. For the active life the ends in view are practical ends which depend for their formulation on the known facts about man and society. The form that education for the active life should take can therefore be determined in advance. Similarly, for the contemplative life of the world as it exists in its object and perhaps God insofar as he is knowable. The conditions of the contemplative life can therefore be set out in advance. But the ends of the creative life can therefore be set out in advance. But the ends of the creative life can only be surmised, and the great difference between its conditions and the other two modes of human existence is that what is truly creative must create itself. This is the axiom on which any view of education for the creative life must be based. (pp.119-120, A.D. Hope)

Creating itself (or, the Creative Itself) is perhaps God insofar as God is knowable.

Irony is feigned ignorance. We cultivate ignorance in the same way we miss facts until someone gathers them in a way and, when shown, we say, “Oh, I see.”

You've always painted the Bush administration as these macho poseurs, phony gunslinger tough guys. Is that the kind of daddy we're looking for?

Yeah. And that's probably why Bush didn't let his own daddy speak at the Republican National Convention -- which was unbelievable that a former president who went to war with Iraq wasn't given a speaking slot. But Bush didn't want the real daddy, because the real daddy has differences with him on the Iraq war. The ironies of that are beyond belief. The father went to war in Iraq to defend the principle that you can't invade another country unilaterally; the son goes to war with Iraq to establish the principle that you can invade another country unilaterally.

(“Ms. Bush-Bash,” Does anyone understand Dubya better than New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd? By John Colapinto, Oct 6, 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine)

I’d not seen Dowd’s observation before.

Nor had Ron Suskind comprehended what he’d been told two years ago:
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.
The aide said that guys like me were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world really works anymore," he continued. "We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
Who besides guys like me are part of the reality-based community? Many of the other elected officials in Washington, it would seem. A group of Democratic and Republican members of Congress were called in to discuss Iraq sometime before the October 2002 vote authorizing Bush to move forward. A Republican senator recently told Time Magazine that the president walked in and said: "Look, I want your vote. I'm not going to debate it with you." When one of the senators began to ask a question, Bush snapped, "Look, I'm not going to debate it with you."

October 17, 2004, IN THE New York Times MAGAZINE, “Without a Doubt" By Ron Suskind

Perhaps the time for debate is over. We’ve listened to each other too long. It is time to allow those who know best to run things, run our lives, run the country and the world. Perhaps, as Aldous Huxley’s Mustapha Mond in Brave New World says:
"The world's stable now. People are happy; they get what they want, and they never want what they can't get. They're well off; they're safe; they're never ill; they're not afraid of death; they're blissfully ignorant of passion and old age they're so conditioned that they practically can't help behaving as they ought to behave. And if anything should go wrong, there's soma."
Mustapha Mond (p.220)

"Call it the fault of civilization. God isn't compatible with machinery and scientific medicine and universal happiness. You must make your choice. Our civilization has chosen machinery and medicine and happiness. That's why I have to keep these books [i.e. the Bible, the Imitation of Christ, Varieties of Religious Experience, Works of John Cardinal Newman] locked up in the safe. They're smut"-Mustapha Mond (p. 234)

Then, another voice is heard:
"But I don't want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin."
"In fact," said Mustapha Mond, "you're claiming the right to be unhappy."
"All right then," said the Savage defiantly, "I'm claiming the right to be unhappy."

-Mustapha Mond and John the Savage (p.240)

I claim the right to be unhappy. Right now Boston has the reality of playing in the World Series and the possibility of winning. Right now the election between Bush and Kerry is still open to a fair and deliberative choice. Right now we each have an opportunity in our lives not to have to feign ignorance in order to have voice in the world.

"Place" is "Creating Itself.”



Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Crisp cool evening.

In autumn
Even though I may
See it again,
How can I sleep
With the moon this evening?

- Dogen (1200-1253)

In the empty silence of the night I recall five years ago my sister's final hours.

I write Lori Ann, Anthony, Frank, and Mark -- companions on that vigil.

Each going on.

With love.

Monday, October 18, 2004

To pretend to know, when there is only unknowing, is an unkind and selfish thing to do.

The human body is a little universe
Its chill tears, so much wind-blown sleet
Beneath our skins, mountains bulge, brooks flow
Within our chests lurk lost cities, hidden tribes

Wisdom quarters itself in our tiny hearts
Liver and gall peer out, scrutinize a thousand miles
Follow a path back to its source, else be
A house vacant save for swallows in the eaves

- Shih-shu (17th century-early 18th)

In the New York Times (Published: October 12, 2004) there was a page one article entitled "Group of Bishops Using Influence to Oppose Kerry" By David D. Kirkpatrick and Laurie Goodstein. It quoted the Archbishop of Denver, Charles J. Chaput, about the upcoming election, the positions of the candidates, matters of abortion, along with moral considerations of conscience. I wrote the Archbishop and was sent a transcript of the complete interview. It was sent as a clarification of the reported conversation.

A section of the transcript reads:
NYT: Archbishop Burke in St. Louis caught my attention again on Friday [October 1]. he issued a statement basically stating that it's a sin if you vote for a pro-choice politician, I believe he was saying even if that wasn't the reason you voted for him, that you voted for a pro-abortion politician that is still something that you ought to confess. Is that...?

AB [Archbishop]: I don't believe that's where you should start. The place to start would be, does our voting for someone make us responsible for what that person does as a legislator or as a judge?...And the answer is yes, because we are in some ways materially -- we use the word "materially" -- cooperating in that person's activity because we've given [him or her] the platform to be elected. Now, if the person does something wrong, our participation is remote, but if we knew they were going to do something wrong and we approved of it, our responsibility would be really be close, even if we knew they were going to do something wrong and we voted for them for another reason, we would still be responsible in some ways.

The standing is if you know someone is going to do evil and you participate in that in some way, you are responsible. So it's not..."if you vote this way, should you go to confession?" The question is, "if you vote this way, are you cooperating in evil?" Now, if you know you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession? The answer is yes. There's a more sophisticated thing's not so crude. The reason I want to stress that is because it is not like bishops are issuing edicts about who should vote for whom. It's issuing statements about how a Catholic forms her conscience, or his conscience...and remote material cooperation or proximate material cooperation is cooperation, and it's important for Catholics to know that, to be sophisticated in their judgments.

This argument is chewing gum on sole of shoe. It makes responsibility a combination of fortune-telling and pre-emptive challenge.

"Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind." -- George Orwell

I wrote back.

Dear Archbishop Chaput –

I’ve read the complete transcript you sent. Thank you. I re-read the Times article.

I’ll mention one thought while doing this reading, namely: It is a difficult task to delineate public policy and personal morality.

My love for the Church is not diminished over five dozen years. My love for the people in and out of the Church seeks increase.

When the Church seeks to inform the conscience of individuals and general citizenry –she does right. But the difficulty of maintaining the razor’s edge of modeling/informing versus influencing/threatening is surely a sharp edge worth careful contemplation.

It seems to me that my opposition to abortion as a Catholic is and should be readily available for disclosure. The same is true for the issues of war, capital punishment, genocide, abuse of all sorts, and refusal to consider and reflect on the perspectives (in good faith) offered by those with whom I might differ.

And yet, the law of the land must be based on deliberations common to the values and judgment of the general populace as filtered through the good offices of legislative and judicial office holders. Fight, yes, for the candidate of your choice, and the values you choose as sacred – but avoid the dirty stick of ex-communication, non-reception of communion, and public condemnation of character based on legal and public deliberation of moral/religious matters. Pre-emptive elimination or character assassination based on suspected or speculative future wrong is a dangerous heuristic or haruspication – even for a Church so involved with a God we claim to be wise and loving as well as eternal and without limits.

My preference is to encourage individual and community via compassionate, open, and deliberate means – genuine dialogue -- to consider God, grace, forgiveness, and prayer. And to urge change of behavior based on those realities (God, grace, forgiveness, and prayer). Authentic change, as you know, comes from within. External incrimination is a blunt and numbing control – not worthy of Christ-mind seeking to gather safely those who long for the embodied presence of God-with-us.

Of course we are a little stupid. We generally can’t see the wholeness of life. We need examples of wholeness – or at least, mending broken individuals who have felt the pain of flaw and anguish. We are brother and sister in the family of God. Perhaps our only sanity is coming to see that inter-relatedness.

I will not burden you any further. Your task might be different than mine. You are a very visible man in a very big office as part of a very powerful organization.

I will pray for you and your work as part of my daily intention.

May all of us be happy, may all beings be safe, and may all beings come to dwell in our true home!

And may you, my brother, know and experience the peace and sanity you work so hard to convey to others!


p.s. I, too, will be taking my ballot to our chapel/zendo for silent prayer prior to casting my vote. Thank you for the prompt.

These men are trying hard to preserve the form of something whose core is empty. It is emptiness -- the impermanent and ephemeral, the diaphanous and unbounded openness -- that dwells at our core. Yet institutions spring up attempting to control what is not there. It seems to be the curious fate of men with power to try to capture the wind in a wire fence.

Fact is -- we're all just passing through.

Let the contest continue.


And finding one’s way through.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

When religious people think of God, God is usually a dualistic, external, and anthropomorphic construct.

As flowing waters disappear into the mist
We lose all track of their passage
Every heart is its own Buddha
Ease off; become immortal

Wake up: the world’s a mote of dust
Behold heaven’s round mirror
Turn loose: slip past shape and shadow
Sit side by side with nothing save Tao

- Shih-shu (17th century-early 18th)

Christians hardly admit that God became human. Willing to celebrate the birth of Jesus and allow the belief that God became man, there is still a hesitation to give up the notion that God is really above all this creation, humanity, and existence.

But wholeness is wholeness.

It would be useful if Christians actually believed what is one of the core beliefs of Christianity: Verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis; "The Word became flesh, and dwells between (among) us..." (from John 1: 1-14)

Either God became one of us, or Christianity merely has had a good spin for two thousand years.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote:
The days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers the day I took them by the hand to lead them forth from the land of Egypt; for they broke my covenant and I had to show myself their master, says the LORD.
But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD. I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
No longer will they have need to teach their friends and kinsmen how to know the LORD. All, from least to greatest, shall know me, says the LORD, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.

(Jeremiah 31:31-34)

"Sin," division and separation, will be forgiven, gone, and forgotten.

It is wholeness that puts to rest the strain and illusion of a divided reality.

Going beyond, or having gone beyond the numbing sleep of separation and fragmentation of half-knowledge, we vow to live what is here with courage, compassion, and wisdom.

It is not just a one day Christmas celebration, but a vital need, to embody the reality of wholeness. Hodie Christus Natus Est Pro Nobis -- "Today Christ is born with us."(Antiphon to Magnificat – Vespers of the Christmas day)

It is a lot to meditate on.

A contemplation beyond us.

This is where we must go.

Are we willing?