Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Random Thoughts IV

Men: prisoners of the coulds and woulds and shoulds and cans and mights and mays, of the isms and the osophies and the ologies.

The manifestations of charismata have always been troublesome for the church. Paul, whose own experience of God was certainly not ordinary, counseled nonetheless against speaking in tongues and similar displays of excess. The madness of Pentecost was the church's birthday celebration; immediately thereafter the disciples were exhorted to sobriety, and the institutionalization began which has proceeded apace ever since. By the middle ages, the man who burned too brightly in public with a spiritual flame was likely also to burn publicly with a temporal one. The meaning here is clear: like any other living entity (so runs the law of this world) God is better understood neatly classified, neatly contained. But the spirit listeth where it will, and instances of the divine madness are perhaps not so rare even in our own day as is commonly supposed, Many cases, I am sure, escape the scrutiny of the theologians as well as that of their secular counterparts, the psychiatrists.

These things begin innocently enough. Life is full of pitfalls, camouflaged snares strewn throughout the various paths and byways of existence for no particular purpose except perhaps to fulfill some secret design in the unfathomable uncertainty which men style God. The exchange of glances between strangers on a streetcar or a bus, a chance encounter with an old friend, a rose, an apple, a passage in a book: any of these will serve to initiate a chain of events that moves a man out of his accustomed routine, out of the habits with which he disguises his unconsciousness, and into a circumstance inexplicable and devastating that brings him to the moment of recognition at which life begins to work its elusive miracle, for good or ill. What must be stressed above all else is the ordinary character of such events. Rarely does any event, ultimately dramatic, ultimately overwhelming, begin in a dramatic way. There is perhaps a psychological law operative here, some secret protective process of the soul designed to prevent fear from always and inevitably accomplishing its life-destroying work.

Increasingly, our communications become soliloquies: in the annals of intergalactic history that will one day note our passing we will perhaps be referred to as 'the race that talked to itself.' This colloquial identification will aid future students in remembering us for the few hours that intervene between the cram session and the examination. Doubtless we will be the subject of a great many research papers and learned dissertations.  Some poor creature,  attracted perhaps by the quaintness of our mores, will make us his life's study. If his work is of sufficient quality our immortality will be assured; otherwise, we will become the footnote that we seem intent on convincing ourselves we have always been. A study in inconsequence.

Every intuition of energy is an intuition of the human soul, a broken glance backward over the shoulder of time toward the first shock of creation, when god slowed the energic dance that was his thought and began his experiment with matter. (I am able to muster considerable enthusiasm for the theoretical physicist.)

False gods are no rare phenomenon. Indeed, throughout the long history of our uneasy sojourn on this fragile atom they have far outnumbered any gods who could lay even the most remote claim to being  true, to true Being. Witness  the  divinities  of  dim antiquity, a veritable menagerie of godforms --- caprine, bovine, anguine, canine, leonine, ursine, taurine, feline, lupine, ibidine. Nor did the anthropomorphizing Greeks much improve upon their predecessors, bestowing upon posterity a pantheon chiefly characterized by the common humanity of its collective vices, a rogue's gallery of gods the central divinity of which is today remembered chiefly as a prime example of the ravages attendant upon overactive glands. It is a longstanding perversity of our nature to enshrine the worst, to apotheosize the mediocre and the criminal, and if the intellectual development of the race has somewhat diminished our taste for gods of any order, enervating them without distinction, reducing them indiscriminately to the level of the myth and the fairy tale, it has not succeeded thereby in obviating our appetite for the banal and the beastlike. Rare today the cenobite consuming locusts and sanctity in the wilderness, the god-stunned anchorite living a life of intense spiritual selfishness in some monastery deleted by severe discipline from the temporal and the compound: modes of existence rendered obsolete by the wider  monasticism of  vulgar thought imposed by this common age, the service of the new, aseptic gods.

The unexamined life is not worth living. The old adage pops unbidden to  mind. It  seems somehow  tired in this electric age, reared to escape self examination. What tempts me to this enterprise, what prevents it? The times have diffused my thought, shortened my attention span, clipped my capacity for meditation. Tonight I drank wine, ate dinner, had coffee, smoked, did the dishes, helped with the laundry, talked to my wife, talked to my son, watched television. Tomorrow night I will drink wine, eat dinner, have coffee, smoke, do the dishes, talk to my wife, talk to my son, watch television. A lifetime of meals stretches ahead of me, gallons upon great unnumbered gallons of wine beat like ceaseless tides against the shoreline of my future. I will speak myself hoarse, I will break my eyesight on a cathode tube. Earnest in the preservation of this bliss, I will bind my days to the clock, my weeks to the paycheck, my months to the mortgage, my years to strict routines. I will wrap my dreams in oilcloth and store them in the attic beside a pair of boots two decades aged that I could not bear to throw away.

An overwhelming sadness attends this distance from God. I remember fondly the simpler certainties of my youth. God made us to know, love, and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next. No doubt, cankerous and parasitic, attached to these facts. The lost tridentine sonorities, wreathed in incense, buoyed by chant, seemed to my childish understanding as absolute and as mysterious as the laws of physics. Like the laws of physics, they were the unfathomable ciphers of forces beyond comprehension that served despite their impenetrability to keep the world from flying off unglued in all directions. Our first church was  a small, dark, low-ceilinged building across from the school, an old tavern that had been wrested from profanity by the sheer bullying, bellowing will of a fire-and-brimstone Irish priest. It was not impossible to sit there and think of gravity. Indeed, in certain moments of dim solemnity, gravity seemed a natural subject for meditation. Was not ours a God Who walked on water, ascended into the air, and would return riding on the clouds?

On Elites: Without elites there is no meritocracy. Without meritocracy, democracy fails. We have no royalty. Therefore we must promote elites of conscience. We must conscript them.

These are disconsolate meditations, connected by the frailest tendons, their discomfort assuaged only by the fiction of the first person plural. But if we speak as though our voice comes from a great distance it is not because we seek to frame a dispassionate style (it is dis-passion that we seek to escape) but rather because these broken fragments are the stirrings of a mute spirit struggling to congeal into an "I", beginning the pilgrimage of merit whose reward is a voice cohesive, flammable, and immediate.

What is the experience of grace? This instantaneous and certain apprehension and this only: all my sins forgiven, all my loves sanctified.

Not without reason is silence considered one of the hallmarks of sanctity. It is the saint's particular calamity to have seen God. In the face of that one great Assertion, the saint comes to know that assertion is futile, that nothing on this earth speaks meaningfully save perhaps the passage of the seasons, that to speak, to utter, to declare, to assert, to mouth even a single halting syllable is not only to retard the soul's ascent but perhaps to blaspheme as well. Far from being a matter of humility, a discipline imposed by the holy upon themselves, this silence is the inevitable result of the encounter with the Unspeakable.

Ours is an age which has lost the sense of God, the terrible fascination for the Divine which is neither a habit of intelligence nor a surrender to superstition but rather a natural facility for living at certain levels of our being. Whether our anxiety is the result or the cause of our having lost this sense is difficult to determine, and, in either case, it is probable that it does not matter. Like the saint, we too hesitate to make assertions about God, but our hesitance derives not from an intuition of his terrible immediacy but, on the contrary, from the confusion which results from our insistence on the immediacy of the world. Unable to sever the umbilicus which holds us to the womb of matter, we collapse into Reality. Unable to surrender our wills and be reborn, we collapse into the vacuity from which we so lately arose and will ourselves instead unborn into the world.