Thursday, July 30, 2015

Intersect: Now: Faith and Art

It is interesting to me where the water flows in a life. Or decisions, the manner of viewing and deciding. What form of person individuals become, choosing this or that, or having been chosen by nature/nurture, by a force higher/lower than nature.

I am interested in this pattern where one lives, produces this or that, then dies. Such behavior is not exclusive to anyone. We are judged saviors or fools by those we likewise assess according to aspects of their effect.

My method concerning form is, by this time, something other than a means or end. It is the thing I breathe into. Like my belief in God, I was born for this and in this I will die. It has been paintings and poems. It is now more often prayers and service. I am not one to distinguish without discernment.

It never gets old, does it. Watching people and wondering. Hemingway did this, and Proust. The Lord did this, though with the disarming habit of knowing the person before or in the moment of speaking with them. I recall in particular Matthew (the tax collector) and the Samaritan woman at the well. So, we say God knows us like this. As we are. And loves us as we are. I say this with respect to my life and my work. I often know it as I encounter it, or before. And I am not surprised in light of the injunction to love others as myself. I read "love" as "know."

The task is the goal: pure empathy.

Is this factored by age? I guess. It is certainly factored by living. Hard. And by the belief that naught is for aught. Early on I perceived that end results might serve a purpose not one's own. Thank you, Richard Nixon.

God bless you, Dr. Martin Luther King. God bless you, Robert Kennedy.

I tip my hand. Born in 1959 I was witness to the best and brightest shot down by hate. And I wept, a ten-year old in Atlanta, Georgia. That I grew up in a family that eschewed religion will surprise no one of my generation. That I should eventually come to the Catholic Church should surprise even less.

This posting is about art and God, I guess. If asked, I would say I hope I have not abandoned my youthful belief in Great Things - for poetry, art, life. And religion. I think that my friends must wonder sometimes, for I have accomplished nothing "great" in the arts. My life appears to be very conventional, with family and career and church.

I do not routinely rage against the dying of the light. Not in public anyway. In fact, I rather pity the sentiment.

Rage? Me? Why?

As an artist, I look around and am simply delighted at the activity, and exploring, and inclusiveness, and sheer quality and diversity of work. I do not think poetry and art has ever been better served than it is right now. Add music to that portfolio while we are at it.

And, as a Catholic, I know that when I die I will fall into the arms of our Lord, Jesus Christ, to do with me what He will. And I'm okay with that.

So, what would you think about me if I complained? Fighting for the rights of self-hood is the prerogative of the young (and the under-privileged/under-represented), who need to fight to claim the truth of their time! No one profits by a middle-aged white man complaining, either about art, culture, or religion. May my peers take note!

But maybe I am weak. Perhaps I should rage, as Dylan Thomas suggested. I will take that charge to heaven too, along with all the others, both what I have done and what I failed to do. I make that choice though, ultimately, the water may flow one way rather than the other.

Peace to all.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

New to What is Old

I am new to what is old, a kind of intruder, though I have been here before. Under other guises. As student, poet, artist, person, but that was not enough. It is never enough simply to be oneself, to be what has been handed to you, the easy gather of life, without having reached for what is universal to all, to what is true.

So I am new to what is old in living rather than simply being. Living, as knowing, being "in relation to" what is old.

What is old? What is true.

I wonder, I smile, at efforts and actions to recapture what was as being somehow more true than being as is. I wonder how a person can know God while holding opinions of what was as anything more authentic than what is.

What are we if not that person who listens to the heart? We could only be interpreters, or magicians, or performers.

Christ was present. We know this. We are called to be Christ. Be present.

I am new to what is old, for what is old is true. So I am new to Christ, who is present. What is merely passed is not present. But Christ is present.

All things are made new, through Christ. There is nothing old that is new except that is it is Christ.

This is the Mass, where He is real and present.

And so we are compelled to leave opinions and presentiments behind, as the fruit sheds the husk. In Church, mountaintop, or battlefield, in the midnight hour, in the bright light of noon on a summer's day, we are new to what is old when we lay our self aside, that fugitive clothing, and enter into the body of Christ as He enters us.

This is life. The true life. And it occurs now at this very present moment, in you.

There are no preconditions. How could there be? Why would there be? What tests would a father propose to a child who asks only to be understood.

Recall those who encountered the Lord. Say what is in your heart and follow all who are true as they allow what is true in their heart.

  • Listen, who has ears to listen.
  • See, who has eyes to see.
  • Know, who has the heart to allow what only the heart can confess.

Amen

Saturday, July 4, 2015

What, this Day, is Religion?

What is religion? Let’s answer this question in as few words as possible allowing, first ,that God exists. Religion is the means of placing oneself in proportion to all things. By “placing” I mean understanding, comprehending, one’s self as one defines that term. The meaning of “self” can be perfectly flexible in this definition.

In a religion, one has the ambition, the hope, and, with a certain effort, the experience of knowing oneself in relation to the universe. This is a strong claim, but it is the promise of religion, its ultimate allure.

The stipulation that this definition assumes that God exists is established for this reason, that those who do not profess that He exists tend, strongly, to view religion in terms of secondary effects or even those further removed from its ultimate purpose. Religion is not ritual. Ritual prompts awareness and placement. Religion is not this or that social effect. Religion, as I have defined it, has only occasional interest in society.

Religion and society intersect, react, and part. Society, or the political (these are interchangeable terms) offers, like religion, a means of placing oneself, as one is placed in society, in its various modes, but one is not defined by society. One cannot make that choice. But in worship of God, one can make that choice. One can know oneself in proportion to all things.

Education, for instance, is an element of society. Through education one can know the world (in its own material terms), or parts thereof, in proportion to one’s capacity for knowledge and interest in knowing. One can know oneself to this or that extent, in material terms. But one cannot locate one’s place in proportion. Education is absent on the issue of value, except to neutralize that category by assigning all things equal importance as they inform the assumption that the universe is, principally, a material enterprise.

If religion did not offer what I suggest, why would it exist? We would have knowledge of the world and leave it at that. Some religions, or their adherents, are a bit uncomfortable with the ultimate power of God, or His non-assignability, and try mightily to give Him only a portion of the ultimate perspective that is His. Perhaps this phenomenon, which is recent to the last few hundred years, is an effect of the promises of education being taken too literally. I couldn’t say. I do know that the surgeon who saves a life likely could not fix the instruments he used to repair you, so perhaps that’s all there is to it.

Art is another element of society that offers great promise. Like religion, one can assign proportions to the world. Unlike education per se one cannot know oneself however. Art offers no avenues for self-knowledge except as one is aware of oneself producing art (and assigning those proportions). The random, often poor behavioral choices of artists support this analysis. Self-knowledge in art is an accident just as societal correspondence in religion is occasional.

It is not the business of religion to be important. It need only be true to itself in order for the individual to assume knowledge of him or herself in proportion to all things. The importance of this relationship relies on the values assigned faith. More on that later.

Naturally, one sees religion in societal aspects, and it is there that religion fails time and time again. One cannot be complete in society without being a crushing bore. But then one should not feel compelled to be complete in society if one is true to one’s religion.

Being a Roman Catholic, any illustration of these points would rely on the words and actions of the Lord, Jesus Christ. Panning over the events of the Gospels, the Lord, who we can allow is perfectly proportioned with respect to all things, takes little interest in anything outside the purview of God. To the point, he takes no notice. He appears colossally indifferent to the classes, genders, or jobs that persons embody or occupy. The burning social issues of his days on earth appear largely to have focused on the Roman occupation. In the one instance where he is called to comment on any aspect of this local, temporal social occurrence, he comments thus: Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and unto God what is God’s. This statement we can hold to apply, indeed, to any aspect of the social/political. The statement would not be there unless we were expected to draw exactly that inference.

Again. Unless God were the center of all things, where we are called to know HIm and ourselves in perfect proportion to all things, including each other, then why would he exist?

One can believe oneself to be right, but that is not the same things as knowing oneself.

What I have written here was done so to lead to this point, this question and concern. If religion can offer such a powerful means of knowing oneself, then why is it failing? I mean, why do fewer people call themselves religious, or go to Church? If religion is so great, what about the Catholic clergy pedophilia abuses? If religion is so terrific, why is it so out of touch on human rights, including the rights of women and homosexuals?

I offer a response.

While religion offers the means of placing oneself in proportion to all things, not everyone takes advantage of this truth. Most people who practice religion do so for a variety of reasons, some of them based on society/politics. Their motives, like their lives, are mixed. They follow a religion, and are positioned to know themselves in relation to God, to the infinite, the perfect. To know themselves in relation to the unknowable - that is, in proportion to all things, but they know too much else, or interact with too much that is other, or have difficulty separating what is Caesar’s from what is God’s not to make fools of themselves. That is, to be perfect hypocrites.

Religious hypocrisy is the result of a heart for God and mind for the world. It is the sign of a split, of a very imperfect faith. Our Lord saves his most scathing comments for the hypocrites, the Pharisees who pretend to serve God while advancing their very material, societal/political interests. And we see this kind of behavior in the religious as they worry over society. And when those who do this are leaders (priests, etc.) then others are drawn to feel that they should do the same. They take their eyes off God.

So, here is my point.

If religion is the means of placing oneself in proportion to all things, then religion is the only way to counter the problems of the religious, just as it is the only way to know oneself in proportion to the social/political. The self is ultimately founded on this principle: that we are granted free will. We are each called to exercise our will in obedience to God.

One can choose to know God. I would say that we are born with this knowledge and that even as society/education may suggest alternatives to the religious, that even as we deny God, He hears our denial as a prayer. I believe that any thought or sentence that includes “God” serves as a call to God, who knows all and loves us as a father loves a child.

At this point, I offer another definition, which is that religion is the practice of faith, and that the expression of faith is the practice of religion, however slight or faint. I will also say that an honest sentence or utterance that invokes God in any light - in supplication, fear, anger, or in any attempt at understanding (even a reducible attempt) - is of equal importance than church attendance, etc.

In short, the utterance of one’s heart is the only voice God hears.

I believe that nothing written here is heretical in any way or contradicts principal tenets of any religion. But I am not really writing about religion, am I? Religion is not my concern, because I believe in God. I have no problem with religion, and I have no problem with society. After all, there is nothing wrong with society being, well, social.

So, what do I say, ultimately? I can say nothing that my religion does not say, and my religion says this:

  • Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.
  • Pray constantly.

We do this, who live hard. We who love society and who love God. Who exhaust ourselves at our job, our family, ourselves. Who hope for understanding. We do this. We have nothing to be ashamed of, even as we make mistakes and ask for forgiveness from those we hurt.

We do this, who care, and choose to act on that care.

Is religion in trouble? If you define religion as church attendance, then you are in trouble, because you misapprehend the purpose of religion. Is society in trouble? If you define the social/political as all-encompassing then you are in trouble, because you misunderstand what it is to be human.

I have nothing to say that has not been said. I say, Live well and be humble and in that find the strength to love, forever.

Amen.