Tag Archives: Nikos Kazantzakis

Submission is a Risky Business!!!

Being submissive is part of being a human being.  Something as simple as subscribing to the social contract requires a submission to restraint, the failure to do so resulting in the problems our President demonstrates for us daily.  And submission is a fundamental tenet of most religions.  A friend reminded me this morning that Islam means “submission” and Muslim extremists have certainly taken that seriously!  And in the Christian faith we also see obvious examples of “submission” to God that has nothing to do with any “God” that I know of.

The problem with submission in these two religious traditions is that the word is not looked at closely, paralleling an equally grievous problem that the one looking at the word is not looked at closely.  By this I mean, when we approach religious tradition, we approach it with baggage and have the predisposition to interpret this tradition only in accordance with this baggage.  That means we will interpret it in terms of unconscious needs, many of which can be ambivalent at best and many just abysmally ugly.  Therefore, submission is often a “surrender” to an idea of God that is simple and self-serving and therefore subject to the abysmal darkness.

This notion itself puts on the table the essential dimension of spirituality that I’ve spent most of my life oblivious to.  It is complicated.  It is so complicated because it is a matter of the heart, a matter that addresses the inner most depths of our being which are totally beyond the grasp of simple reason, making it even beyond the grasp of this futile effort!!!  Approaching spirituality from this perspective is humbling because it requires realizing at some point…and this is tough to put into words…we aren’t even doing the approaching but it (i.e., It, or He, or She) is approaching us.  We are in the grip of a mystery, the mystery of life, and “submission” to this mystery will involve some daily surrender in which we understand that we don’t have any complete knowledge of what is going on but a firm conviction that there is “some method to the madness” of the life we are living and are witnessing others live, even in the cosmos itself.

Nikos Kazantzakis in his book, “Report to El Greco,” wrote, “We must surrender to a rhythm not our own.”  This mistake that many religious people is that they “surrender” or submit to ideas that are very much just the rhythm they already are and, calling it “God” allows their ego to take this delusion and practice their arrogance. This does not necessarily make them “bad” people.  It just makes them human.

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Two other blogs of mine are listed here which I invited you to check out:

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Language and our Unity with God

I’ve always loved words and early in school discovered I had a facility for them. I had no understanding of it at the time, but in my early development I was experientially discovering that our alphabet is “26 toy soldiers that guard us from the rim of the abyss.” (Nikos Kazantzakis) My memories of those years, especially in the first grade where these “toy soldiers” first befriended me, are kind of murky. But I know that it was a stressful time.

Late in grade school the French language came to this little central Arkansas country school. Now why in the hell it was French I’ll never know. I suppose the legislature appropriated money for the schools to help pull the state out of the stone age and a government bureaucrat told the school board, “Now you’uns need a fur’en language.” The superintendent must have said, “Why hell, Why not French?” So I fumbled with the French language and was fascinated that in another country, far off from my little provincial world, people made different sounds for things that I used English for. I was bewildered. And I guess this was the dawning of some suspicion that reality might not be as rigid as I had been taught, that there was more fluidity in reality than my tribe really wanted me to know about.

So I took French often in high school also though I really didn’t learn much beyond “Paylay vue francay” and “Ooh ay la bibliotech?” And I continued in college as I had to meet a language requirement but still did not become fluent in the language. I found it interesting but could never immerse myself in it, I could never “think” in the foreign tongue, and so fluency never came my way. And since then, I’ve dabbled in Greek and Spanish and have read extensively in the field of linquistics. But when I have traveled abroad, I’ve always had to rely on “the kindness of strangers” or my wife’s greater finesse with other languages.

But instead of my awkwardness and lack of finesse with other languages, over the decades I have come to love words, to love language, and to delight in learning intricacies of other languages. Swimming in the blog-o-sphere has whetted my appetite as many new friends have introduced me to foreign concepts and provided criticism of own “well-worn words and ready phrases that built comfortable walls against the wilderness.” (Conrad Aiken).

I’ve said all of that to get to this: Twenty-five years ago I had the first real glimpse into the heart of language, seeing for the first time how it is not merely something we use but is something we breath, something we live in, and something that shapes us. I was reading about an oriental philosopher…or perhaps Alan Watt (as those were my “Alan Watts years) and the author pointed that in a particular Eastern language one who observes a book will say, “The book is seen,” whereas in the West we will say, “I see the book.” This anecdote so vividly illustrated how English reflects the Western detachment from the world and the tendency to, therefore, see the world as something to deal with objectively. This facilitates seeing the world as something to possess, something to exploit, something to “develop.”

And it also explains why Western Christianity has this view of God as someone who is “far off”, so removed from human life, and so inaccessible. Yes, Christians teach that in Jesus God was “made nigh by the blood of the cross” but their belief system reflects the insidious belief that he is still “far off” and needing to be appeased by believing and behaving the right way. They don’t understand that “the kingdom is within.” They don’t understand their unity with God.

More about Getting Un-stuck

So, precisely how do we get “unstuck”?  How do we extricate ourselves from that morass of unconsciousness, that residue of poor decisions that has left our life unmanageable?

There are easy maneuvers such as psychotropic medications.  Sometimes simply being tweaked biochemically can create enough personal space for us to get out of ourselves and get beyond our impasse.  And simple psychotherapy can be very effective.  On that note, it is very important that the therapist must avoid the temptation to “fix” the client, allowing  that client to stew in his/her own juices for a while, to “work out his own salvation with fear and trembling.”  Karl Jung contended that the therapeutic frame was a crucible and if the process worked correctly, the client would “heat-up” to a boiling point and a break through could be achieved.

But, as noted yesterday with the Shakespeare quotation, ultimately we are all alone with our spiritual battles and must wrestle in solitude with our demons.  However, I feel very strongly that therapists, counselors, pastors, and certainly friends must be present to facilitate the catharsis.  I think the most important step in alleviating the “stuck-ness” is for the individual to have the humility to admit that he/she is “stuck”;  and, I don’t mean some glib conciliation to the concept of being stuck.  I mean, for example, the old-fashioned fundamentalist paradigm, “I am a lost sinner” or the 12-step “I am powerless before my addiction” or “out of control” schemata.  It is necessary to realize and feel that one is out of control and that all of the rational, ego-based perambulations one can muster up will not suffice.  It is not a matter of “figuring out” anything.  It is a matter of trusting someone…and ultimately trusting a Source, or a Higher Power, or God or, in the words of Nikos Kazantzakis, “Surrendering to a rhythm not our own.”  It is a matter of humility.  And humility comes hard to the ego.   I think “stuck-ness” like all other human spiritual maladies is an issue of the ego.

A caveat is necessary.  I don’t think getting un-stuck is a simple one-time and your done phenomena.  I think we get through one episode of “stuck-ness” and later run into another one, and another one, and another one.  That has certainly been the case with me. I think there is a sense in which we always find ourselves “stuck”…in reality, with all its limitations.  The issue is discerning which of these limitations we can live with and which ones we must wrestle with and get beyond to some degree.

I have one very readable book to recommend on the subject, How People Change by Allen Wheelis.

Nikos Kazantzakis

Nikos Kazantzakis was the author of The Last Temptation of Christ, Zorba the Greek, and (my favorite) the autobiographical Report to Greco.  There are so many literary treasures in Greco that I do not know where to start.  But my favorite theme of his is the role of language in quelling the beasts in the human heart.  For example, he describes the alphabet as, “26 toy soldiers that guard the rim of the abyss”.  (That is my paraphrasing.)  Here he is noting that the advent of language, individually and as a species, is a huge step in developing an identity which then separates us from the beasts of the field.

I’d like to share a note of his from the preface of Report to Greco:

THREE KINDS OF SOULS, THREE PRAYERS:

1. I am a bow in your hands, Lord.  Draw me, lest I rot.

2. Do not overdraw me, Lord.  I shall break.

3. Overdraw me, Lord, and who cares if I break?