Friday, July 17, 2009

Quotations from Wendell Berry

• We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong. We must change our lives, so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. . . We must recover the sense of the majesty of the creation and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.
o "A Native Hill"
I AM NOT SUGGESTING, of course, that everybody ought to be a farmer or a forester. Heaven forbid! I am suggesting that most people now are living on the far side of a broken connection, and that this is potentially catastrophic. Most people are now fed, clothed and sheltered from sources toward which they feel no gratitude and exercise no responsibility. There is no significant urban constituency, no formidable consumer lobby, no noticeable political leadership, for good land-use practices, for good farming and good forestry, for restoration of abused land, or for halting the destruction of land by so-called “development”.
We are involved now in a profound failure of imagination. Most of us cannot imagine the wheat beyond the bread, or the farmer beyond the wheat, or the farm beyond the farmer, or the history beyond the farm. Most people cannot imagine the forest and the forest economy that produced their houses and furniture and paper; or the landscapes, the streams and the weather that fill their pitchers and bathtubs and swimming pools with water. Most people appear to assume that when they have paid their money for these things they have entirely met their obligations.
Money does not bring forth food. Neither does the technology of the food system. Food comes from nature and from the work of people. If the supply of food is to be continuous for a long time, then people must work in harmony with nature.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Heraklitean River: Thomas Merton, Henry Sams, & Mary Ellen Chase

At St. Augustine’s House: June 29, 2009

I am sitting under a gazebo at this monastery, having taken shelter here from the intermittent rain. Not far away, two men are speaking in very un-monastic tones about vegetables in the garden. They have big hats, and are interested in everything they see. They walk on under the tall trees with the wind tossing the high branches and unsettling the big hats.
Earlier, among the musty volumes in the monastery’s library, I discovered a book, The Psalms for the Common Reader, by Mary Ellen Chase. That patrician-sounding name rang a bell for me… my father’s collaborator on a college text book? Could it be the same person? I thought Dad’s book was published in the 1950’s, and the one in my hands came out in 1962, so it is plausible she is one and the same. In it she quotes Heraclitus as saying, “God is winter and summer, war and peace, light and darkness, bread and hunger.” This, she writes, could be understood as summarizing the psalms.
Oddly, Heraclitus is also mentioned in the other book I had picked up in the monastic library, this one by Thomas Merton and titled, Raids on the Unspeakable. It is in the form of a daily journal, and the entry for June 26 reads as follows:

“The Heraklitean River
In the Republic of Plato there was already no place for poets and musicians, still less for dervishes and monks. As for the technological Platos who think they now run the world we live in, they imagine they can tempt us with banalities and abstractions. But we can elude them merely by stepping into the Heraklitean river, which is never crossed twice.
When the poet steps into that ever-moving river, poetry itself is born out of the flashing water. In that unique instant, the truth is manifest to all who are able to receive it.
No one can come near the river unless he walks on his own feet. He cannot come there carried in a vehicle.
No one can enter the river wearing the garments of public and collective ideas. He must feel the water on his skin. He must know that immediacy is for naked minds only, and for the innocent.
Come, dervishes: here is the water of life: Dance in it.”

Earlier, Father Richard had related an improbable anecdote concerning some store bought minnows that he had been given to “keep in the refrigerator.” Fearful for their survival, he carried the container of minnows through the woods to a small pond on the edge of the monastery property, and there released them. This was told as prelude to a lament regarding the number of mosquitoes he had encountered along the way.

The Heraklitean river is carried, precariously, by the bug-beset monk through a world of flux and change to its rendezvous with a wetland.
The minnows rejoice at their deliverance.
Dad- I am a minnow, born along by currents barely understood. Have I brushed against your academic colleague with the solemn-sounding name? Would she be interested in these thoughts and written words? You, she, Thomas Merton- are all gone, carried off by the current along with the displaced minnows.
I am seeing it all as one- you, she, Merton- a Heraklitean river sweeping us all along- I, perhaps, no longer a minnow but a momentary point of reference, a semi-solid object under this gazebo, like the twelve stones piled up in the Jordan at Joshua’s command, something for the river to come up against and flow around, a place of encounter, consciousness, and commentary- is this anything significant, noteworthy, intelligible? Or is it just random, flakey, the ringing in the ears of an aging man who misses his dad, his sons, his rivers?

Jonathan: go ahead and lament the lost moments and lost loves, the red sunset on Lake Chaplain with James and David in the boat, the red air and water, the red and black river you are stepping into even now, rowing through, carried forward with the surge of oar-strokes, writing, breathing, with Henry Sams and Mary Ellen Chase- did either of them ever hear of Thomas Merton?

Perhaps not- but they all knew of Heraclitus, and of the Psalms.
And now we have all heard these rumors, spread by minnows, and released by monks.

Ramblings re Holy Week, 2009

MAUNDY THURSDAY…Pastor Manisha’s sermon speaks of the drastic intimacy Jesus seeks with us…she urges us not to shy away as he draws near to us to wash our feet… as I kneel to wash the feet of my two companions I am aware that these are not just random feet here in front of me, they come with stories I know well… the first pair belongs to one of our youth with whom I went to New York on the J2A Pilgrimage last summer… I remember how these feet could not walk by any homeless street person without stopping while a conversation took place and some of their owner’s small amount of money shared… the other feet are attached to a young man who, a few years ago, was suffering from an ominous blood disorder that defied diagnosis or prognosis…I help to wash their feet and the familiar music washes over me…
When we sing to God in heaven/We shall make such harmony/Born of all we’ve known together/Of Christ’s love, and agony.
GOOD FRIDAY- music, once again, with Colin Davis’ group singing Lift me up/ Turn me around/ I was lost/ Now I’m found… our own parishioners speak with humanity and humor about their own experience of Christ’s suffering and death… one speaks of an uncle who lost his wife and two daughters over a very short period of time, yet found the strength to keep his faith and hope alive in spite of it… another speaker talked about his uncles, father, and grandmother, and their self-giving love taken for granted by those on whom it was bestowed… “giants”, he called them… “giants” in gentleness, generosity, and faith…as I look around, I behold a churchful of such giants… yet this awareness does not make me feel small, it makes me feel lifted up, as if invisible uncles were supporting me on either side.
EASTER VIGIL… The Gospel read in darkness, lit only by two small candles…“And very early on the first day of the week…the [three women] went to the tomb…” and what they found there fills us with dread and amazement and an abiding hopefulness that we can barely put into words, so we just whack on bells and gongs until our arms grow tired and lights in the church all come on at once to reveal a dazzling panorama of flowers and candles and gleaming silver… and Chase, three years old, comes forward to present himself for baptism… “Do you renounce Satan,” inquires Pastor Manisha, “and all the powers of wickedness that rebel against God.” “I eenoss them,” Chase replies. “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?” Chase is obviously thinking about something else, and there is a pause as he gazes up at the ceiling before looking Pastor Manisha in the eye and saying, “I do.”
EASTER SUNDAY… Trumpets! Beethoven! Throngs of small children! More trumpets! I move to the pulpit to the tones of a majestic fanfare… What can I possibly say to fulfill such grand expectations? Nothing… it has already been said, and sung, and acted out, and lived.
You and I are the sermon, the promise, and the hope. We are also the roadblock, the detour, and the heavy stone rolled against the tomb. But God’s love perseveres in loving us and teaching us to love. Christ has risen! And so have we.