I'm a professional man, living in the Southwestern United States. This blog is a personal blog and is not directly connected with my professional practice (although I may draw upon my professional experiences, as well as my personal experiences, in writing my blog posts) nor any other business in which I'm involved. This is a place for personal, not professional, opinions.
I wish to supplement a post from a couple of years ago, "The Memeing of Love," which discussed what "love" might mean in the context of our insights into the flaws, the "filthy heart," of our beloved. I have been re-reading a book by my long-dead "spiritual adviser," Thomas Merton, entitled "Love and Living." In it, the wisdom of Merton adds insight into the notion of "love" in this respect that's worth repeating.
Love is the revelation of our deepest personal meaning, value, and identity. But this revelation remains impossible as long as we are the prisoner of our own egoism. I cannot find myself in myself, but only in another. My true meaning and worth are shown to me not in my estimate of myself, but in the eyes of the one who loves me; and that one must love me as I am, with my faults and limitations, revealing to me the truth that these faults and limitations cannot destroy my worth in their eyes; and that I am therefore valuable as a person, in spite of my shortcomings, in spite of the imperfections of my exterior ‘package.’ The package is totally unimportant. What matters is this infinitely precious message which I can discover only in my love for another person. And this message, this secret, is not fully revealed to me unless at the same time I am able to see and understand the mysterious and unique worth of the one I love.
This mutual revelation of two persons in their deepest secret is something entirely private. And it cannot be communicated to anyone else until it is embodied in the child who becomes, as it were, a living word, a physical manifestation of their shared secret. Yet in the person of the child the secret remains a mystery known only to the love of the two who participated in the creative surrender which brought the child into being.
Love, then, is a transforming power of almost mystical intensity which endows the lovers with qualities and capacities they never dreamed they could possess. Where do these qualities come from? From the enhancement of life itself, deepened, intensified, elevated, strengthened, and spiritualized by love. Love is not only a special way of being alive, it is the perfection of life. He who loves is more alive and more real than he was when he did not love.
That is perhaps one of the reasons why love seems dangerous: the lover finds in himself too many new powers, too many new insights. Life looks completely different to him, all his values change. What seemed worthwhile before has become trivial; what seemed impossible before has become easy. When a person is undergoing that kind of inner cataclysm, anything might happen. And thank God, it does happen! The world would not be worth much if it didn’t.
Can I, then, love my beloved, and can she love me, as we each are, with our individual faults and limitations, revealing to one another the truth that these faults and limitations cannot destroy the other's worth in our eyes; and that each of us is therefore valuable as a person, in spite of our shortcomings, in spite of the imperfections of our exterior "packages"? If not, then one, or both, of us is not in love with the other.
Coming less than twelve inches from a fatal point of impact tends to encourage you to ask some critical questions about your life, perhaps not immediately, but inevitably. At least, it has encouraged me.
Why do we waste so much time attempting to avoid the risk of emotional pain, when that risk must be taken to achieve a worthwhile emotional connection with another human being? Exposing yourself makes you susceptible to pain. This is pretty basic stuff, yet I see this avoidance constantly exhibited, by myself and others, so I am asking this question of myself, as well as of others. While only a masochist revels in such pain, only a coward deliberately avoids it at all costs. While only a fool deliberately opens himself or herself to likely emotional damage, only a failure at life erects walls to connection rather than bridges. The shame of emotional pain is on the person who inflicts it, not on the person who suffered it for the sake of "love." Shame on me for having inflicted it in the past. Shame on me for ever inflicting it in the future. And shame on me for ever, again, failing to take the risk of connection because of the fear of it being inflicted on me.
Another question (among several) that has popped up in the past eight weeks: Why do so many of us never step outside our comfort zones to try to truly connect with another? We all want others to accommodate themselves to our personal perspective of the way life "ought to be" and, therefore, the way the other "ought to act" with respect to us. Many of us take the position, "This is the way I prefer life to be. This is how I wish you to act toward me. If you can act the way I prefer you to act, then we'll have a relationship; if not, then we won't." A woman could give a man or a man a woman a "trigger" consisting of words or actions that would unlock the giver's heart and mind. The "trigger phrase" might be as simple as three words (for example, "I love you"). There are men (and women, I presume) who are uncomfortable uttering that phrase, even to express their genuine feelings, because "that's just the way I am." Imagination is not used, no steps are taken outside the comfort zone, and the connection, perhaps deep, even life-altering, is not made. Often in failed relationships, I think the failure is due to the fact that neither person wants to take the first step outside their comfort zone. Perhaps they've been burned in the past. Perhaps they simply don't want the relationship badly enough to take the first step. I do not know, but I have seen this reluctance in myself as well as in others.
As I wrote this blog post, thirty minutes passed in my life and in the lives of people who are (or could be) important to me and me to them. Thirty irretrievable minutes, gone forever.
Why do we waste so much time?
"To burn with desire and keep quiet about it is the greatest punishment we can bring on ourselves."
--Federico Garcia Lorca
Never give all the heart
Never give all the heart, for love
Will hardly seem worth thinking of
To passionate women if it seem
Certain, and they never dream
That it fades out from kiss to kiss;
For everything that’s lovely is
But a brief, dreamy, kind delight.
O never give the heart outright,
For they, for all smooth lips can say,
Have given their hearts up to the play.
And who could play it well enough
If deaf and dumb and blind with love?
He that made this knows all the cost,
For he gave all his heart and lost.
"The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally. A higher paradox confounds the emotion as well as reason and there are long periods in the lives of all of us, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive. Witness the dark night of the soul in individual saints . . ." Flannery O'Connor
The Night In Isla Negra
Ancient night and the unruly salt
beat at the walls of my house.
The shadow is all one, the sky
throbs now along with the ocean,
and sky and shadow erupt
in the crash of their vast conflict.
All night long they struggle;
nobody knows the name
of the harsh light that keeps slowly opening
like a languid fruit.
So on the coast comes to light,
out of seething shadow, the harsh dawn,
gnawed at by the moving salt,
swept clean by the mass of night,
bloodstained in its sea-washed crater.
Canción de la Noche
--Matthew Perryman Jones
I've said enough
The writing's on the wall
A broken cup
Missing pieces from the fall
All the cradled desire
Cold, starved roving eyes
As I wander in silent alibis
Is it your ghost
Keeps hiding under the smoke
It's getting louder
I feel hands around my throat
How do you love someone ?
How do you love someone ?
How do you love someone ?
So restless and torn
You are beautiful and true
Dark and lovely
You stole my heart
Before I could give it away
I've said enough
Wed the lonely
Set the fires alive
Cut the tethers off my body
They said your love was the water
It's deep in the water
Let it all go
I was alone in the water
Deep in the water
Where did you go ?
Oh, the light is in disguise
Pull me close and I will push you away
I've said enough
How long can my heart be cold and hunted ?
I'm pushing away
I keep pushing away, love
I'm pushing away, love
Don't leave me or let me go
I'm begging you to come back
Hold me and I will stay
You love is leaving shadows
I was lost inside of you
You stole my heart
Before I could give it away
My last post included a passage from "Levels of Life," a book by Julian Barnes that I was reading at the time. I've found Barnes to be a gifted novelist with a talent for seeing into human nature and telling us what he sees through storytelling of the highest order. In my most recent post, I discussed his book about the death of his wife and his attempts to deal with the loss. I said at the time that I didn't know what his religious faith might be. I've since finished the book and now know that he has no religious faith. He appears to be an atheist, who believes that God is dead, and that his death is a good thing. Well, maybe not entirely "good," but certainly "correct."
Here are two passages that provide clues to his state of mind.
When we killed--or exiled--God, we also killed ourselves. Did we notice that sufficiently at the time? No God, no afterlife, no us. We were right to kill Him, of course, this long-standing imaginary friend of ours. And we weren't going to get an afterlife anyway. But we sawed off the branch we were sitting on. And the view from there, and from that height--even if it was only the illusion of a view--wasn't so bad.
I told one of the few Christians I know that she was terminally ill. He replied that he would pray for her. I didn't object, but shockingly soon found myself informing him, not without bitterness, that his god didn't seem to have been very effective. He replied, "Have you ever considered that she might have suffered more?" Ah, I thought, so that's the best your pale Galilean and his dad can do.
I still think that Barnes is an effective storyteller and observer of the human condition. However, I am sad that he appears to be so steeped in the secular humanist, progressive narrative that is sweeping away the traditions of Western Civilization that his understanding of Christianity is that of a nine year-old school boy. By the end of the book, he seems to find no solace anywhere for the death of his wife. Her death is merely the universe "doing what it does." There is no ultimate purpose, and certainly no eternal purpose, to any human being's life. In fact, he asserts that the only reason he does not commit suicide is the thought that when he dies, the memory of his wife will then die, too, or at least the most precious memories of his wife, as he personally assigns those memories value. My response would be that the only truly free act of a human being who believes that our lives are merely atoms colliding without ultimate purpose is to end his or her meaningless life by his or her own hand. What difference could it possibly make whether your memories of your wife die today or twenty years from now?
That led me to consider the writings of Jennifer Fulwiler, an atheist who converted to Catholicism and who has written about the subject with wit and intelligence. Her conversion, and her public discussions about her reasons for her conversion, have made her a target for some militant atheists who, as best I can determine, refute her primarily via ad hominem attacks, such as calling her an "idiot." Being a similar "idiot," these attacks endear her even more to me.
She wrote about whether, if atheism is true, life could have any meaning. She decided that the answer is "No." Her writing was picked up by conservative intellectuals like Andrew Sullivan and Ross Douthat, and by thoughtful atheists like Will Wilkinson, who engaged in some entertaining back-and-forth on the subject, much of which can be found through links contained in this post of Fulwiler's. You can read as little or as much of the discussion as you wish.
I agree completely with the following thoughts of Fulwiler.
If consciousness is just a mirage produced by chemical reactions in our brains, and if the mirage permanently flickers out on the day those reactions cease, then do any of our conscious thoughts really matter? Sure, you can have an impact on others who will live on after you die, but one day they will disappear into thin air too. To my mind, all this talk of valuable life experiences adding up to something meaningful is like talking about how to make X add up to something meaningful in the above equation. In the end, it’s all for naught.
This, of course, does not necessarily mean that the atheist materialist worldview is false. Whether or not life has any meaning if atheism is true is a separate question from whether or not it is true in the first place. My intent here is simply to point out that you can’t have it both ways: Modern atheism denies that human consciousness is rooted in anything other than the chemicals in our brains, thus rejecting the idea that any of our experiences will last outside of time; yet it also tries to say that our consciousness and experiences are meaningful. I don’t see how both of those assertions can be true.
Interestingly, this is a debate I’ve had with atheists when I was an atheist, and with Christians now that I’m a Christian. It’s not only nonbelievers who argue that you can find meaning within the atheist worldview: I’ve talked to quite a few Christians who say that if there were no eternal life for the soul, they would still find life to be meaningful. Maybe there’s some gene that allows you to sense meaning even if you believe that you’re faced with complete annihilation? If so, I don’t have it, because that mindset is not one I’ve ever understood.
Neither do I, although I guess that Julian Barnes can understand that mindset. Nevertheless, I intend to pray for Barnes to "my imaginary friend." And I intend to continue to read Barnes' novels for his insights, because doing so may help me better understand what meaning there might be to life, other than the universe merely "doing what it does."
They lose the day in expectation of the night, and the night in fear of the dawn.
Today, I read two different passages about love and friendship that struck me as being somehow related. The first was in a recent blog post by essayist, memoirist, and Catholic contemplative Heather King on our human need for friendship.
Our drive for friendship and connection and love is so strong that we'll even go to people who aren't really, can't really, be our friends. I know what that's like. I still struggle with it in certain ways. Maybe in fact that's our central struggle as humans--wanting more from people than they can give us. Wanting other people to fulfill a longing that is really for something greater than ourselves. Thus relationships falter, we turn to shopping, food, drink, drugs, sex, guns. Wars start. The scientists try to engineer imperfection out of the human person.
To be human is to BE imperfect. That's our glory, that we stumble forward anyway, making art, telling stories, composing music, gazing up at the night stars. Trying to connect.
The other was in a book by novelist Julian Barnes, entitled "Levels of Life." It's a difficult book to describe, although the back cover's description of "an elegant triptych of history, fiction, and memoir" comes close. It was written by Barnes as a contemplation of the sudden loss of his wife of 30 years. I'm less than a third of the way through it, but the following paragraphs resonated with me, coming so close on the heels of my reading of Heather's blog post
We live on the flat, on the level, and yet--and so--we aspire. Groundlings, we can sometimes reach as far as the gods. Some soar with art, others with religion; most with love. There are few soft landings. We may find ourselves bouncing across the ground with leg-fracturing force, dragged towards some foreign railway line. Every love story is a potential grief story. If not at first, then later. If not for one, then for the other. Sometimes, for both
So why do we constantly aspire to love? Because love is the meeting point of truth and magic.
There is much truth in both of these observations. Love means eventual loss, if you love truly. The ride is sometimes rough and sometimes smooth, but in the end we all die. Yet, because we all yearn for "something greater than ourselves," and because love is, when true, the "meeting point of truth and magic," we all seem to endure the suffering, time after time, in our pursuit of it.
I do not know Barnes' religious beliefs, but I do know Heather's, since I have read her many books, blog posts, and magazine articles, and have corresponded with her for several years. I think that she and I are in agreement that what we seek, what we long for, cannot be found on Earth. It is because, as a Franciscan priest once told me over a beer, none of us was made for this Earth; we are all pilgrims on our way to eternity. Yet, even if God is (as St. Paul professed and I believe) the love that surpasses knowledge and will fill us with fullness, still we must live out our lives and seek such love as best we can here and now. While some contemplatives and mystics may answer that call to love in stillness, away from the world, most of us must find it in the everyday lives that we live. Inasmuch as Christ told us that all of "the Law" boils down to loving God with your entire being and loving others as you love yourself, I'd say most of us will find the intersection of truth and magic in our love of other human beings. In loving them as we love ourselves, we will have a chance of realizing moments, perhaps extended periods, of sensing that which we seek.
As to losing the loved one, I agree that such loss should be ever present in your mind. I agree with Gilbert Chesterton's assertion that "the way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost." Every moment we waste not loving is irretrievably wasted. As Heather urges, we need to realize that we are ALL imperfect. Love us anyway, on our stumbling, leg-fracturing, zig-zaging, journey to whatever awaits all of us at the end of our individual ride.
They had taken to the movement unlike anything he had ever seen, and he thought that should this venture of the Jews prove successful, the new state would be filled with dancers and musicians, but especially dancers, for dancing like nothing else says: I am still alive.
--Mark Helprin, "Refiner's Fire"
Dance, when you're broken open. Dance, if you've torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you're perfectly free.
Faeries, come take me out of this dull world,
For I would ride with you upon the wind,
Run on the top of the dishevelled tide,
And dance upon the mountains like a flame.
--W.B. Yeats, "The Land of Heart's Desire"
Dance is the hidden language of the soul...Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are great because of their passion.
"It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are still alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger for them"
A Drinking Song
A serious traffic accident on Thanksgiving day has left me severely physically and emotionally beaten and bruised, but thankful to be alive. Unlike literary cliches, my life did not flash before my eyes. No epiphanies issued full-blown from my skull as an immediate consequence. On the other hand, since that experience I have developed an absolute aversion to the hate-filled public discourse that dominates main and minor stream media and almost all of social media. Here's a note to the swimmers in that cesspool: Trump or Clinton isn't the issue, and neither, for that matter, is "The Clash of Civilizations." Neither your godless nor god-filled man-made ideologies are the answer to life's ultimate question, which, to me, is "Why?"
I may not have the answer for myself, much less for anyone else, but I know that what I read and hear lately from much of the world has to be as far from the "truth" as a man or a woman can consciously or unconsciously propel themselves. I also believe that whatever answers actually are "out there" are more likely to be discovered embedded in six lines of Yeats or two sentences of Eliot than they are in an eternity of the non-stop bloviations of populist frauds, demagogues, professional cynics, perpetual sneer-wearers, hate-mongers, and the stone cold evil. If any of the so-called "experts" who fill the public airways and cyberspace with their bile have "the answer," then I'll joyfully remain clueless.
No, this ignoramus is opting out of that world, from this moment forward. I'm done, finally, with all of it.
From now on, I'm searching for the truth in increments of approximately one minute, fifty seconds, two versus and no chorus. I'm betting that the words "I'm still in love with you" will take me closer to home than anything any politician or pundit living today could ever concoct.
You've got to take me home
You silly girl
Put your arms around me
You've got to take me home
You silly girl
All the world's not round without you
I'm so sorry
That I broke your heart
Please don't leave my side
Oh take me home
You silly girl
'Cause I'm still in love with you.