Tag Archives: T. S. Eliot

“God Talk” and Meaning

I had a provocative discussion with a good friend of mine yesterday, a “local” who often reads one of my blogs who is troubled by my frequent use of the word “god.”  Furthermore, this man is one of the keenest spiritual beings I’ve ever met and he believes in the same “god” that I do…though now I know even more clearly he balks at the use of that word.  And, he’s got a point! First of all, there is the simple problem of “god talk.”  The term “god” is probably the anchor of the verbiage I like to describe as “god talk” in which the Wholly Other is tossed around so loosely and casually it might as well be a discussion of the local sports team.  “God” is a simple coin in the verbal currency of our tribe and will certainly “purchase” a lot of social cache if we adroitly toss it around in the right circumstance. But when I use this term I am not using the vulgarized common coin described above, a coin that is worn bare and devoid of any meaning, I am using a very personal “coin” which refers to the Wholly Other which can never be put into words.  Ahem.  Alas and alack, suddenly I have “talked” my way here into a conundrum as I am using words even as I suggest words have no meaning!  So, just why in the hell bother?  Why in the hell continue to drone on and on????  The only answer I have is, “Cause I want to” as I’m not smart enough to explore neurophysiology or astrophysics.  In other words, the answer lies in the very mystery of life and I’m reduced to a simple, “Cuz I wanta!”

But “I want to” and so I drone on again using this common coin “god” in part just to annoy my dear friend!  This god I believe in…and I’m going to discard the parentheses here and I’m not even going to worry about the gender of the term or the meaning of “believe.”  God is a label that I apply to an incomprehensible mystery that I’ve been drawn to since birth, or even since way before birth.  And I can’t explain that either and intend to try to do so with less frequency.  It is some primordial yearning in the depths of my being, a yearning that I believe is present in all human hearts and even in the very fabric of the universe.  This yearning seeks expression and in our ancient past one expression was some guttural cry before a camp fire which eventually was refined over the centuries into the shiny, pristine new coin in a corner of the African continent into a word which, when Westernized became, “god.”  And, yes, I think that this guttural cry of one human heart eventually did find one expression in the person of a young man named Jesus Christ….but that is a story for another time.

For some reason I’m stubbornly insistent that I continue to use the word “god” though I’m not opposed to whatever term one uses or does not use.  I think words, all words, have value and in the course of human events words tend to lose this value; these “coins” get “worn out” so that the value is hidden beneath the daily grind of common usage.  And thus, “last year’s words are for last year’s season and next years words await another voice.” This T.S. Eliot quip referred to our responsibility is to “find our voice” and use this word…and all words…to express who we are in the depths of our being and in so doing give the language into which we were born renewed meaning.  If we merely occupy the persona that we happen into and merely use the words as they are given to us by our tribe, they will only have the meaning of “sounding brass and tinkling cymbals”; or, as Jerry Seinfield put it, “yada, yada, yada. yada”

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A “God-complex” is Avoidance of God

Trump must be one hell of a Christian!  Yes, anyone that free of guilt must be even more than the “baby Christian” that evangelicals say that he is!  In fact, since Trump has never even needed to ask God for forgiveness is the first place, maybe he has always been a Christian…even before he was born perhaps!  In some uncanny way, since the Christian “work of salvation” done in Christ was completed “even before the foundation of the world,” maybe Trump’s roots go back that far and he is god himself!  He certainly acts like it.

And I’ve thought for a long time that Trump does have some “god like” power over people though he would be according to the teachings of Carl Jung, a “dark” god.  For example, many of Trump’s followers have complete faith in him even to the point they support him regardless of what he does or says.  “God” can make no mistake so whatever comes from his mouth, though blatantly false to “non-believers,” is “true” to his followers/believers.  God declares through the prophet Isaiah, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.  And scriptural literalists interpret this to mean that regardless of what happens, God has dictated it.  This appeared in today’s news when an Oklahoma Republican legislator has declared that abortion should be illegal even in the cases of rape or incest.  “God knows what he is doing, even if we can’t understand it” is the rationale for those believers.

Facetiousness and irony are certainly part of my intent here.  But I have recognized in my clinical work, and in my personal experience, a phenomenon I called “the god complex.”  And persons with this affliction certainly to appear to feel and think they are inviolate like god is, but closer scrutiny reveals that their posture reveals profound insecurity and fear and the certainty they cling to comes only from desperation.  These people have no “faith” in God but only a compulsive, desperate clinging to their thoughts about the Bible and God.  I have found that if they could only “get over themselves” they would find that their faith in the Bible and God could take on a new dimension.  But the price tag is humility and as T.S. Eliot noted, “The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is humility.  And humility is endless.”

 

ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running.  Please check the other two out sometime.  The three are: 

https://wordpress.com/posts/anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com

https://wordpress.com/posts/literarylew

Jesus Brought Meaning to the World

The subject of meaning teased me in my youth though it never was allowed to flourish until I started college and began to escape biblical literalism.  This escape was into a gradual appreciation of the metaphor which didn’t fully materialize until a prescient friend gave me a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets and W.H. Auden’s collected poetry in my mid thirties.  My life has not been the same.

Meaning involves intricate and intimate experience with difference.  Until one encounters meaning, he lives in a sterile universe of sameness usually marching lockstep with those of a similar orientation to life.  A quest for meaning inevitably leads one to a face-to-face encounter with meaninglessness for the one cannot exist without the other.  For example, there is no blue without non-blue.  Now I have been blessed as my venture into meaninglessness has been gentle for it can drive one stark raving mad.  I think I am fortunate to have what the poet John Keats described as “negative capability,” the ability to live with pronounced self-doubt, insecurity, and emotional fragility.  It is no accident that since the gift of poetry in my mid-thirties I have been immersed in poetry and literature for there I find metaphor which allows me to find an anchor in what would otherwise be an overwhelming mystery, a mystery that the linear thinking in which I was stuck for 35 years cannot abide.

It just dawned on me that the story of Jesus is a story of meaning being introduced into a sterile and lifeless world and its disruptive impact.  The world grinds relentless onward, mechanically almost. T. S. Eliot described it as moving in a rut, moving,
“In appetency, on its metalled ways
Of time past and time future.”

But the story of Jesus was about bringing authenticity into the mix.  Jesus was an invasion of consciousness and mankind voted with its feet that consciousness was not its first choice.  And I might add that in my lifetime, particularly this present moment, consciousness has not proven a popular option.  For consciousness is not a function of intelligence or technological accomplishment.  Consciousness is a function of reaching into the depths of the heart and wrestling with “the internal difference where the meanings are.”  These words are borrowed from the following Emily Dickinson poem:

There’s a certain Slant of light,

Winter Afternoons –

That oppresses, like the Heft

Of Cathedral Tunes –

 

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –

We can find no scar,

But internal difference –

Where the Meanings, are –

 

None may teach it – Any –

‘Tis the seal Despair –

An imperial affliction

Sent us of the Air –

 

When it comes, the Landscape listens –

Shadows – hold their breath –

When it goes, ’tis like the Distance

On the look of Death –

 

 

 

 

“Cardboard Cutout” Politics and Jesus

,http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/gene-huber-trump-cardboard-cutout_us_58a91337e4b045cd34c2689d?ncid=inblnkushpmg00000009

I don’t think Trump realized what this incident was revealing about himself.  He felt that this hapless young man was making a statement which validated him but his affirmation of Trump only demonstrated his own emptiness and testified to the emptiness that Trump has brought to the table.  Trump is an “empty suit” and so vividly exemplifies the “empty suit” of our capitalistic culture which is always trying to satisfy its inner void with “stuff” in a futile endeavor which can only end with further futility…and possible disaster. Meanwhile, many Christians are aiding and abetting this enterprise and therein demonstrating the meaninglessness of their own “cardboard cut out Jesus.”

This event brought to my mind a prophetic poem of T. S. Eliot, “The Hollow Man” and here is the first stanza:

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar.

I do think that the prophetic function in today’s world is rarely fulfilled by religion. Religion has become enculturated, “canned” or packaged and therefore not capable of bringing the breath of fresh air that is its responsibility.

 

I go “Zen on Your Ass”!!!

The belief I now have in God does not need intellectual formulation nor is it based on cognitive apprehension. This “belief” is something which lies beyond the pale of mere human understanding and is therefore difficult to even write about. In fact, in attempting to do so, I’m about to get high “up there” in the ether for I am using words to describe that which is beyond words.

For, all of this “stuff” is just nothing at all! It is “nothing” in that it pertains to “no-thing” and the domain of “nothingness” which to speak of immediately poses the risk of giving it “thing-ness” in my imagination. But it has no “thing”-ness” but is the domain from which all “things” emanated and the domain from which these “things” maintain their “thingness” in time and space. This “domain” can best be thought of as an emptiness or a void. This dimension of life is described in the New Testament as “the Spirit” and one verse in particular wrestles with the mystery I am here wrestling with. John 3:8 declares, “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. Being “born of the Spirit” does not mean that some dove-like entity flutters down from “up there” and occupies your body and soul but that your body/soul has opened up to its own emptiness and paradoxically found its fullness.

This insight has been so slow in coming to me. I’ve spent six plus decades of my life trying to “get it” and finally realized that there is nothing “to get,” that “the Center that I cannot find is known to my unconscious mind. There is no need to despair for I am already there.” (W H. Auden} I have been “riding an oxen, looking for an oxen.” This has freed me from the pressure to “be Christian” as I realize the teachings of Jesus was that “the Kingdom has come” and resides within and always has and always will. Becoming a Christian is more than saying the magic words or believing the “right” thing but humbly accepting a gift that has been available since before I was even a gleam in my daddy’s eye! This is also “self” acceptance, realizing that I am “ok” without any qualification, warts and all! T. S. Eliot described it as a “condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything.”

But this passionate spiel can be misleading. I have not “gotten saved” or “been enlightened” or experienced any ecstatic mystical experience. I am way too white-bread dull for anything like that to happen. The only thing I have to show for all of “this” is the disillusionment, which is occasionally gut-wrenching, But I have the satisfaction that at last I am “real” in some sense and am not living in the denial which has drenched my life until recently. I am just stuck with my “am-ness” or “is-ness” and though that is not a piece of cake, I’m pleased to embrace my experience with more honesty that I have thought possible. And a curious development is underway. I find that great joy is found in the mundane beauty of this world, simple delights like my two lovely dachshunds, the budding of an aspen tree which I thought had not survived, tulips breaking the surface of the soil and getting ready to “strut and fret” their two weeks upon this New Mexican stage. I take delight in the beautiful birds that are so grateful for my feeders and fantasize that I’m Fr. St. Francis and have them lighting on my outstretched fingers. Oh, ok. So I’m a bit vain! But most of all I am taking delight in my lovely wife who is flourishing as an artist/musician and am pleased to have a supporting-cast role in the beauty she is bringing into this beautiful community.

To sum it up, all of the sophistry offered above is bringing me to feel more at home in this world and to appreciate all that it has to offer. Oh yes, I still see the abysmal ugliness but I do not let that overcloud the beauty that is present everyday of my life. Yes, the “ugliness” of intense anxiety is difficult but I know that “this too shall pass” just as I will myself at some point in the too near future.

Thirty spokes are made one by holes in a hub,
By vacancies joining them for a wheel’s use;
The use of clay in moulding pitchers
Comes from the hollow of its absence;
Doors, windows, in a house,
Are used for their emptiness:
Thus we are helped by what is not
To use what is.

(Lao Tzu, trans. By Witter Bynner)