Tag Archives: subjectivity

Misplaced Concreteness Imperils Our Soul

Psychologist Irvin Yalom noted that the fear of death keeps people from living.  By that he meant that the infantile fear of death…a necessary fear at earliest stages of development…can keep people from actually living if it is never addressed.  The ego uses this death fear to tyrannize people into living an unexamined life, to prefer the security of a self-serving, sterile environment where we can plod through our lives, “like kittens given their own tails to tease.” (Goethe)

And here is how Shakespeare addressed the same concern in Sonnet 146:

Poor soul, the centre of my sinful earth,
Thrall to these rebel powers that thee array,
Why dost thou pine within and suffer dearth,
Painting thy outward walls so costly gay?
Why so large cost, having so short a lease,
Dost thou upon thy fading mansion spend?
Shall worms, inheritors of this excess,
Eat up thy charge? Is this thy body’s end?
Then soul, live

 thou upon thy servant’s loss,
And let that pine to aggravate thy store;
Buy terms divine in selling hours of dross;
Within be fed, without be rich no more:
So shall thou feed on Death, that feeds on men,
And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then.

Shakespeare knew the dilemma of misplaced concreteness, taking for real that which is only ephemeral.  Plato explained this with his allegory of the cave.  Jesus understood this also when he declared, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”  Jesus knew that being a slave to the “cave images,” taking them to be real, would lead one to live a life which was merely a caricature of what it is to be human.  He knew that succumbing to the temptation of merely reading our script…even those that include intense versions of spirituality…would be merely to live a life of bondage, bondage to the ephemeral while excluding the soul.

Interiority is a missing dimension of modern life.  This is because we take thoughts to be the “thing-in-itself,” which parallels our tendency to take social, political, and material things on a surface level and fail to look beneath the surface into the machinations of the heart…i.e. the “soul.”  Shakespeare knew that making this mistake was to let our soul, “pine within” from neglect, even as we paint the exterior dimensions of our life a gaudy, “costly gay.”  This is most manifest in my country’s current political situation where political leaders are mired in a horrible morass of ego and greed while we lamely avow, “Well, it will all workout” or “God is in control” rather than recognizing that the “morass of ego and greed” that our government is acting out for us right now is a projection of the hollowness of our entire way of life…including our religion.

 

See following link for commentary on this sonnet—https://www.nosweatshakespeare.com/sonnets/146/

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Marilynne Robinson on Subjectivity, Dissent, Rationality, and Faith

Marilynne Robinson is one of the most astute social critics and feminist writers in our contemporary world.  In the current edition of The New Republic she has an article about Martin Luther and the dissent that he introduced which led to the Protestant Revolution.  She points out that Luther was a very conflicted soul, certainly “haunted” and driven by forces he was not aware of, but appearing at a ripe moment in history and has proving to be a pivotal figure in Western Civilization.  I also can see how one could even argue that the direction he led us was not even in the best interest of mankind, given our present day capacity to allow “dissent” to become such a way of life that even a “rational” body like the U.S. Congress is anything but rational.

Even in her youth Marilynne was a thoughtful sensitive soul, very “aware” of her own subjective experience and the world in which she lived, even that of flora and fauna. The following is from an article in Christianity Today magazine about Robinson’s keen spiritual sensitivity.  The writer pointed out that she developed a keen sense of observation, including the Ineffable, recalling that she could sense God’s presence there long before she had a name for him. “I was aware to the point of alarm of a vast energy of intention, all around me,” she writes, “barely restrained, and I thought everyone else must be aware of it.” Perhaps they were, but in a culture in which “it was characteristic to be silent about things that in any way moved them,” the young Robinson was, in her deepest experiences, alone.”

“There were mentors, though. She remembers her grandfather holding an iris blossom before her, quietly commending its miracle of form, and the “patient old woman who taught me Presbyterianism,” offering Moses’ burning bush and Pharaoh’s dream of famine as wonders to contemplate. In their reticent attention, both mentors gave Robinson a way to stand before mystery and gradually behold it. “It was as if some old relative had walked me down to the lake knowing an imperious whim of heaven had made it a sea of gold and glass, and had said, This is a fine evening, and walked me home again.”

Her subjective “aliveness” is best illustrated in her first novel, “Housekeeping” in which an Aunt cares for two young nieces and leads them into her eccentric, “hippy” world of myth and magic.  One of the nieces eventually rejects this life for the “normal” while the other takes off with her aunt for a vagabond life of adventure in an ethereal world of which most of us are oblivious, where distinctions are nebulous.  The most memorable line in this novel for me is, “Emptiness can blossom into all the compensations it requires.”  Robinson knew, and still knows, that the realm of the imagination holds riches untold for humankind if we are but willing to find the courage to venture there, allowing our intellect to be refreshed by the energy that lies there.

Here is the context from, “Housekeeping,” in which the aforementioned quotation occurs, “For need can blossom into all the compensation it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing-the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.”

Marilynne Robinson’s Keen Spiritual Grasp of Life

Marilynne Robinson is one of the most astute social critics and feminist writers in our contemporary world.  In the current edition of The New Republic she has an article about Martin Luther and the dissent that he introduced, leading to the Protestant Revolution.  She points out that Luther was a very conflicted soul, certainly “haunted” and driven by forces he was not aware of, but he appeared at a ripe moment in history and has proven to be a pivotal figure in Western Civilization.  I also can see how one could even argue that the direction he led us was not even in the best interest of mankind, given our present day capacity to allow “dissent” to become such a way of life that even a “rational” body like the U.S. Congress is anything but rational.

Even in her youth Marilynne was a thoughtful sensitive soul, very “aware” of her own subjective experience and the world in which she lived, even that of flora and fauna. The following is from an article in “Christianity Today” magazine about Robinson’s keen spiritual sensitivity.  The writer pointed out that she developed a keen sense of observation, including the Ineffable, recalling that she could sense God’s presence there long before she had a name for him. “I was aware to the point of alarm of a vast energy of intention, all around me,” she writes, “barely restrained, and I thought everyone else must be aware of it.” Perhaps they were, but in a culture in which “it was characteristic to be silent about things that in any way moved them,” the young Robinson was, in her deepest experiences, alone.”

There were mentors, though. She remembers her grandfather holding an iris blossom before her, quietly commending its miracle of form, and the “patient old woman who taught me Presbyterianism,” offering Moses’ burning bush and Pharaoh’s dream of famine as wonders to contemplate. In their reticent attention, both mentors gave Robinson a way to stand before mystery and gradually behold it. “It was as if some old relative had walked me down to the lake knowing an imperious whim of heaven had made it a sea of gold and glass, and had said, This is a fine evening, and walked me home again.

Her subjective “aliveness” is best illustrated in her first novel, “Housekeeping” in which an Aunt cares for two young nieces and leads them into her eccentric, “hippy” world of myth and magic.  One of the nieces eventually rejects this life for the “normal” while the other takes off with her aunt for a vagabond life of adventure in an ethereal world of which most of us are oblivious, where distinctions are nebulous.  The most memorable line in this novel for me is, “Emptiness can blossom into all the compensations it requires.”  Robinson knew, and still knows, that the realm of the imagination holds riches untold for humankind if we are but willing to find the courage to venture there, allowing our intellect to be refreshed by the energy that lies there.

For need can blossom into all the compensation it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing-the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries. (“Housekeeping”)

Metaphor Can Provide Balance to our Life

In another blog of mine I recently explored my literary approach to Holy Writ.  This “literary approach” is a view of life itself, reflecting a late-coming appreciation of the fluidity of life, its ambiguity and complexity, nuance and use of the metaphor in finding meaning in it. Seeing life as a metaphor requires detachment in a sense but with this detachment one is permitted the opportunity for a more meaningful connection with it.  That is because this detachment involves a degree of what Carl Jung called individuation in which the ego is dis-enthroned and one is allowed to see life more clearly with less of an ego-oriented interpretation of life.  The blinders we all live with are not removed but they are not as successful in keeping us in the dark.

Approaching life in this manner, does not mean that one has to be a book-worm such as myself.  One does not have to even be literate.  It requires a degree of humility in which one realizes that his view of the world is finite, that forces beyond his conscious understand flow through him and contribute to his opinions and viewpoints.  This unconscious dimension of life does not diminish the validity of one’s viewpoint it just means that one has to realize that his certainties might not be as certain as is his first inclination to think.

Following is the text of the blog post about Holy Writ:

The Bible is Holy Writ.  Dismiss it, curse it, scoff at it, take it literally, take it metaphorically, don’t take it at all but it still falls culturally and historically into the category “Holy Writ.”  Therefore, it has value regardless whether or not you think so, though that “value” for you personally is for you to determine.  It might be that you “value” it not at all and if that should be the case you will never find me arguing with you.  I would have at one time but somewhere along the line I managed to “get a life.” In this blog, an evolving enterprise of mine which is gradually taking a different shape, I am exploring what the Bible and the Christian tradition is to me.  This is now a very personal endeavor as I am much less controlled by the “party line” that I was given as a child, this “party line” usually having an important role in the early stages of one’s faith.  But, “When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things.”

“Holy Writ” falls into the general category of literature.  In my youth to consider the Bible as literature would have been tantamount to heresy as it would have appeared to be presenting it as “mere” human endeavor.  But approaching it as literature reflects the evolution of my alter-ego, Literarylew, which materialized when I came to understand and experience life in fluid, metaphorical terms. This means that I now have the liberty…and the courage…to see Holy Writ…and certainly the Bible…as having layers of meaning none of which necessarily have to be excluded.   Some see the Bible, for example, as a literal historical document in which a literal, concretely existing deity dictated it word for word.  I have better things to do than to quarrel with anyone who approaches it that way though I admit that having a close personal relationship with some of them would probably bring me face to face with differences of opinion in which boundaries would have to be set, risking conflict.

A literary approach to the Bible facilitates a personal interpretation and application of the truths being presented.  If one approaches what he reads literally, he sees it only as an “owner’s” manual and the God that I see in the Bible is not an “owner” but one who offers a relationship with Him, a relationship which facilitates more open, honest, intimate relationships with our fellowman.  If God is our “owner” then we are a mere object and we will then be inclined to see and feel ourselves only as an object and to subsequently view our world and our fellowman as an object.

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

Wordsworth’s “Preludes” and Subjectivity

Just after the turn of the century, I had the privilege of living in Cambridge, England for an academic year with my wife who was doing research at Lucy Cavendish College at Cambridge University.  One of my personal highlights was attending a wine tasting at the Cambridge University office of William Wordsworth.  There I was in awe as I soaked up the atmosphere of the room where this great poet had studied and written, my “awe” certainly enhanced by very the very fine wine!  I was taken by handwritten copies of some of his poetry displayed on the walls and original editions of his work on display.  I reveled for a while in the “spirit” of one of my most beloved poets.

This past week the New York Review of Books had a lengthy report of a new book about one of Wordsworth’s most famous lyrical poems, “The Preludes.”  This book review by Helen Vendler delves into some of the personal misfortunates that befell Wordsworth in life, especially in his youth, all of which turned him inward and eventually gave expression to beautiful poetic imagery of a soul that had been denied the comfort of traditional life.  It reminds me of something W. H. Auden said of W.B. Yeats, “Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.”  Wordsworth’s world was often very maddening and it did turn him away from the horror of what he was witnessing toward the subjective comfort of poetic reverie.

I will post a link to the entire book review at the conclusion.  Here I would like to share an excerpt from the preludes which has been offering me reassurance for the past 30 years or so, reassuring me that he too saw as did Shakespeare, “There is a Divinity that doeth shape our ends, rough hew them how we may”:

Dust as we are, the immortal spirit grows
Like harmony in music; there is a dark
Inscrutable workmanship that reconciles
Discordant elements, makes them cling together
In one society. How strange, that all
The terrors, pains, and early miseries,
Regrets, vexations, lassitudes interfused
Within my mind, should e’er have borne a part,
And that a needful part, in making up
The calm existence that is mine when I
Am worthy of myself! Praise to the end!

Book review by Helen Vendler of Wordsworth’s “Preludes”:  http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2017/02/23/wordsworth-heard-voices-in-my-head/

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ADDENDUM–I have diversified this literary effort of mine.  In this blog I plan to focus more on poetry and prose.  Below you will see two other blogs of mine relevant to spirituality and politics which have lain dormant for most of the past five years.  I hope some of you will check them out.  However, the boundaries will not be clear as my focus is very broad and my view of life is very eclectic/inclusive/broad-based.  Yes, at times too much so!

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

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

 

 

 

 

Stephen Colbert Comically Looks at Truth

My last post explored the famous question of Pontius Pilate as he presided over the trial of Jesus, “What is truth?”  In this post I brought emphasis to the profundity of the question and the humility and temerity we need to exercise as we ponder the issue.  But in the Stephen Colbert clip provided here, the ephemerality of truth is more clearly…and wittily…explored than I could ever do with mere use of “words.”  Note the self-referentiality that Colbert utilizes in making this epistemological observation and even his awareness of the narcisstic dimension of the enterprise.  Colbert has “self” awareness to a scary degree, the “scariness” mitigated with his ability to laugh at himself in the very enquiry he is making. This quality that Colbert demonstrates nightly…with the help of his talented writers…is the reason we so often find brilliant social commentary with this show which we do not find elsewhere.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxTDIPi_T-g

Being “Quickened” into a Soul

Poet Claire Kelly quotes another poet, Emily Carr, who noted, “Without movement, the subject is dead.” Carr recognized that to be human…and an “alive” one…the subject must be alive, functioning in a dynamic fashion. She recognized that it is possible to be physically alive, and yes to have a “subjective” life, but at the same time be “subjectively” dead. She echoed the illimitable wisdom of Shakespeare whose Hamlet described a heart that could be “full of penetrable stuff” if it were not “bronzed o’er with damned custom.” By use of the term “penetrable” Shakespeare was describing the vulnerability that is present when one is “subjectively” alive And this lovely poem by Ms. Kelley provides a beautiful parallel of the vibrancy of a “subjectivity” that is fully alive.

But, let me utilize my “literary license” and introduce the term “soul” to this notion.  When one’s subjective experience is quickened by what I like to describe as “the Spirit of God,” a soul is born, a soul that is in unity with others and with the whole of God’s creation. This soul not only “knows” things about life but “feels” them in the depths of his/her heart and at times can only “glory, bow, and tremble” as poet Edgar Simmons described it. At this point thought and feeling are working in tandem and some version of the Incarnation has occurred, described by W. H. Auden as “flesh and mind being delivered from mistrust.”

But it is much easier and less painful to live on the surface of life and not bothered with the “intrusiveness” of God’s Spirit. But, that is just another way of saying that it is easier to live oblivious to reality and not allow Reality (i.e. “otherness”) to “mess up” one’s pristine Ozzie and Harriet existence. For, “god” or “God” is jusord we throw around to capture the experience of the Ineffable which is always found on the boundaries of life and if we disallow boundary violation…that is if our heart is not “penetrable”…we cannot experience the Ineffable.  Here is the beautiful poem by Ms. Kelley:

IN THE TORSO OF A GREAT WINDSTORM
(Odds and Ends, 1939)

The wind makes everything alive….
Without movement a subject is dead. Just look!
—Emily Carr

Put your hand over a flashlight,
watch it glow faerie pink. Picture—
lit from inside—a belly torch,

the backdrop—
knot of spruce tree organs: liver, kidneys,
bundle of intestine, stomach—
cool blue and green foliage hiding enzymes,
bacterium, acids.

That exact texture of pulse,
quiver, musculature connected
and contained, skyline and dirt grouted
together, a vista of
inner skin, the underside.
Airstream gale whipping
the pinprick stars into dashes,
molars into canines, evolution
of the Spartan firmaments. A breezy muse,
that gust of inspiration.

Now look at the actors erect at centre stage, see:
skinny veins with plump tops,
or—zooming in—synapses of birch foregrounded.
Holy trifecta, three ideas
announcing skyward:
home, joy, hunger.