Thursday, May 28, 2009

God's Little Jazz Trio

One thing about this Adventure in Christianity™ I am on is that it seems very fresh to me. Not only is every day new, but every day is renewed in a most mythterious manner. As I've mentioned before, an outside observer might look at my life and imagine it was boring, but from the inside, it is anything but. I feel as if I live in one of those cartoon houses, in which the walls are expanding outward from all the fun inside. Or maybe it's a cartoon head. Either way, it's quite animated around here.

I got the opposite impression in scanning this article about Bill Clinton, linked at Lucianne. Despite all of the glamourous globetrotting and jetsetting, he still strikes me as pathetic. Slick, shallow, defensive, haunted, hopelessly earthbound, lost. Not only that, but he actually admits to coonibalism. He boasts of attending "an annual 'coon supper' as governor," and suggests that "until you have eaten barbecued ’coon, you have not lived." Oh really? It just goes to show how low some men will sink in order to try to kindle a spurious sense of being alive.

It's difficult to imagine how any secular philosophy could result in this mysterious daily renewal of the cosmos. Rather, I would think that such a philosophy would inevitably lead in the opposite direction: more jadedness, more boredom, and less mystery, along with a lifestyle aimed at trying to reanimate life through the senses or vital emotions. But that is such a dead end. In engaging in it, you have to constantly "give yourself away" and get nothing permanent in return. In other words, there is no growth, only distraction and dispersion.

In thinking about the source of this daily renewed mystery, I believe it results from the careful balancing of vertical and horizontal in Christianity, so that the transitory resonates with the eternal.

I find that I'm coming up against the horizon of the unglishable this morning, but I'll do my best to pull this together...

Much of the mystery has to do with the implications of an intrinsically trinitarian godhead, in which its being is a perpetual becoming, and its becoming a perpetual being. It is always "in motion," and yet, we cannot imagine that it is "changing" or "developing" per se. And yet, I visualize a kind of perpetual novelty taking place within the godhead, or an eternal "surprise" or "delight." It's not as if the Father becomes "bored" giving himself to the Son, or the Son becomes jaded or "entitled" in receiving him. In this regard, it must be the essence of love itself, which is always new. But how can something be "new" if it is eternal?

Ah, there's your mystery! Yesterday there was some discussion of the differences between surrender and submission. I didn't actually follow it closely, but Petey made the provocative comment that "It's like jazz, baby: you can't play it without surrendering to the music."

Now, some wise person or guy once made the observation that jazz itself is the sound of surprise. Not only is it a surprise to the audience, but more importantly, it is a surprise to the person playing it. Thus it is fresh and "ever new." It cannot be predicted ahead of time, and it never comes out the same way twice. Therefore, it is also the sound of freedom. Only in America -- the land of liberty -- could jazz have developed. It is our greatest contribution to world art.

Yes, there are other forms of music that "improvise," but not with the complex vertical structure of jazz. Rather, that is more like horizontal improvisation, unconstrained by the vertical chordal structure of western music. Thus, as in Christianity, there is this balance in jazz between vertical and horizontal, so that it results in what we might call "ordered liberty." Order is a necessary condition for liberty, but is not sufficient in itself to create it.

Let's get back to the Trinity. We can approach this from many different angles, but I don't have time to do so in any systematic manner. Therefore, I'm just going to... improvise, baby.

HvB writes of how the work of creation "flows from the generation of the Logos in God," in which the persons are perpetually "transcending themselves" in a cycle of effulgence, receiving, and giving back. Each person only exists by virtue of giving itself away to the others, while still remaining itself. Furthermore, each "can only be itself insofar as it 'lets' the others 'be' in equal concreteness" and "insofar as it endlessly affirms and gives thanks for its own existence and all that shares existence."

In non-trinitarian theology there is a necessary loss of particularity (that means you), as it dissolves into being-as-such or "beyond being." There can be a "second," but only as a vertical emanation or declension from the one. This "second" can never be an equal of the first.

But within the Trinity, there are three "co-equal branches," so to speak. I am reminded of some eastern sage who said something to the effect that "where there is other (or a second), there is fear." However, the Christian says that where there is other, there is love. There is no possibility of real love in a monistic godhead. But within the Trinity, there is always Lover, Beloved, and the Love that flows between them. For the Trinity, it is always Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Valentine's Day. Or maybe it's like one of those expanding cartoon houses...

You could say that love is the "unity" within the Trinity, or that which unites the persons. In the absence of love, there is no unity, but rather, its denial. There is only a blob of oneness that excludes everything else.

For me, the best jazz combines a sense of "forward movement" within a kind of timeless center. Thus, it is simultaneously dynamic and static. I immediately thought of this when I came across this outstanding quote from Gregory of Nyssa. It is as if God says, "there is so much space in me that no one hurtling through this space will ever come to a stop. From a different angle, however, this headlong flight is rest."

Here we are getting to the heart of what I mentioned above about the "daily renewal" within the Christian adventure. Gregory continues: "Here, surely, is the zenith of paradox: rest and motion are identical... and the more a man becomes established in the good and becomes immovable, the more speedy his flight will be: rest itself becomes his pinion."

Similarly, Maximus the Confessor talks about the impossibility of arriving at God, because the motion toward him is the arrival. There is a "motionless eternal movement surrounding God," so that it is "rest that is eternally in motion and constant motion that is at rest."

Now, how does this apply to life down here, daddy-O? Well, we could say that the sage "is engaged in a contemplation that is constantly striving to see more... but no ambition is involved: it is forward movement that is not composed of steps." Thus, "no one has ever found God in such a manner that one would not need to keep on looking for him." "Man will always be seeking God, even when he has found him -- and particularly then." Ho!

Revelation reveals more mystery, and mystery discloses more revelation, in an endless cycle: again, God's word is the sound of surprise, and surprise is the essence of love: "if human love is enlivened by the element of surprise, something analogous to it cannot be excluded from divine love. It is as if the Son born of the Father 'surpasses the Father's wildest expectations.'"

Come to think of it, that is exactly how I feel. I couldn't possibly have invented my son, and yet, somehow he came from me. And now I am "coming from him," i.e., becoming someone I wouldn't have otherwise been without him, which is to say, myself.

God himself wishes to be surprised by God, by a fulfillment that overflows expectation.... Although God knows everything, he again and again allows himself to be surprised. --Adrienne von Speyr

30 Comments:

Blogger NoMo said...

Sweet! A jazzy soundtrack for the daily drama, playing pleasantly there in the background.

Thanks, Bob.


The Drama and The Love:

"For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 8:38-39

5/28/2009 08:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Northern Bandit said...

Indeed jazz captures for me that aliveness of the sacred-- inspiring joy, just as St. Matthew Passion captures the sublimity of the Holy, and inspires awe and humility.

5/28/2009 08:28:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

"there is so much space in me that no one hurtling through this space will ever come to a stop. From a different angle, however, this headlong flight is rest."

(See also yesterday's Froth)

5/28/2009 08:38:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

>>"where there is other (or a second), there is fear." <<

There is hell, I think. Exit line in Sartre's No Exit: "Hell is other people". Outside of the Christian/Trinity context, in the Sartrean, "post-Christian" context, this would be true: Hell *would* be other people.

Puer Eternus Bill Clinton, for example, and his vampiric need for adulation and attention (and he really does look exsanguinated when he's not the object of everybody's attention): People are mere props for him; they're his elevator shoes, his path to his little tin heaven.

But when he feels he's not getting his due, people become his demons, his personal hell. For Clinton, hell is truly other people - they just keep getting in his way, they don't behave as he would have them behave.

Thus tyrants of all sorts feel the need for ever-increasing power. Power is how you get people to dance to your tune, get them to behave as you would have them. A political tyrant can tell himself that his power-grab is "for the people", he may even believe it, but it's a result of his trying to stave off hell.

Hell can be staved off for just so long, however.

Of course, in the Christian/Trinity context, other people are heaven, couldn't be anything else.

5/28/2009 09:00:00 AM  
Anonymous Cassandra said...

Today's post made me think of CS Lewis and the connection he often made between Surprise and Joy.

I'm thinking particularly of something he wrote about the notion that we will spend eternity praising God, which for many conjures up the image of an endless, repetitive church service. But in his view "praising God" happens everytime we behold Beauty, Truth, or Goodness with joy and GRATITUDE....i.e., with a sense of surprise and awe that it should exist and that we have been blessed to behold it. We often have the urge to share the experience and express it in words-- ("Isn't this beautiful!" "What a heroic thing he did!")-- but the essential "praise" is the joyful SURPRISE itself.

Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. No gratitude, no surprise.
No surprise, no joy.

But then, to be grateful requires humility.

5/28/2009 09:12:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Will, apropos your observation was this line in the linked article:

"He focuses his considerable charms on seducing the person in the room he finds most resistant."

5/28/2009 09:14:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Bob said:

“One thing about this Adventure in Christianity™ I am on is that it seems very fresh to me. Not only is every day new, but every day is renewed in a most mythterious manner. As I've mentioned before, an outside observer might look at my life and imagine it was boring, but from the inside, it is anything but. I feel as if I live in one of those cartoon houses, in which the walls are expanding outward from all the fun inside.”

“Much of the mystery has to do with the implications of an intrinsically trinitarian godhead, in which its being is a perpetual becoming, and its becoming a perpetual being. It is always "in motion," and yet, we cannot imagine that it is "changing" or "developing" per se. And yet, I visualize a kind of perpetual novelty taking place within the godhead, or an eternal "surprise" or "delight."

Just last night, I said to Julie, about Father Lazarus:

“Yes. I am quite taken by him. He is such a small part of the video too – but even so, what he had to say was so profound and moving. I wanted to see what his words might look like written. They are good – but different – however, 90% is in the way he says them. That can’t be captured any other way than the way they were formed. And you can tell, like Bob’s posts “they are freshly created”.
Another thing, I took screen grabs from the video – the man cannot take a bad photo. No, not even a bad frame. Why? Because he is Real. He is here for you. A continuous flow. But the other thing is he seems both old and youthful, youthfully enthusiastic. When he is talking to the minister he speaks as if he just discovered what he is talking about.”

The point isn't merely that this is a sync.

5/28/2009 09:16:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

By the way, lots of surprise in today's post. I'm digging the improvisation, baby.

5/28/2009 09:18:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I like that: he speaks as if he just discovered what he is talking about. That's me. Everything is freshly discovered moments before you read it. It's like having the food cooked right at your table. It's one of the reasons it's difficult to think about writing another book, because that would be like processed food.

5/28/2009 09:23:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Bob,
Put yourself in my seat, watching you cook your book everyday like this.

This isn't a book?

5/28/2009 09:28:00 AM  
Anonymous Cassandra said...

When I was an atheist I was "thankful" in a way. At least I was glad that I had been dealt a better hand than a lot of other people. The dealer? Chance. The goddess Fortuna? The Fates? My lucky stars? Who knows?

I do know there's a whole new dimension that opens up when you actually recognize the One from whom all blessings flow. I can't articulate it well, but it seems to me that gratitude/surprise and joy go together and spiral infinitely,like the loaves and fishes. Pleasure and feeling lucky, on the other hand, are finite and ephemeral.

5/28/2009 09:31:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

BTW, if you watch the Father Lazarus video, you will just come to the same conclusion. He is “climbing his own Mt Sinai”, as you’ve said, Bob.

5/28/2009 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Everything is freshly discovered moments before you read it.

Speaking of surprise...

5/28/2009 09:51:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

>>. . the zenith of paradox: rest and motion are identical... <<

The center is everywhere. Move here, there is the center, move there, there is the center. Where you wish to go, you are already there. This is how we're supposed to move about in heaven.

The divine union of rest and motion is manifested in "effortless effort", something with which most people have some kind of experience, I think, even if they don't mark it as mystical per se. When it is highly attuned, effortless effort becomes the soul of genius.

5/28/2009 09:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Cassandra said...

This blog is a journey.

(I've never understood why occasional commenters seem to think it's a lawsuit.)

5/28/2009 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Probably because they keep trying to apply (or maybe just that they can only see) the lessons learned herein as a straitjacket, and not an endoskeleton.

5/28/2009 09:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Cassandra said...

That's a powerful image, Julie!

5/28/2009 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

And suddenly, it demands to be expanded:

Endo- and exoskeletons brings me back to discussions past, here and there, of butterflies and sleeping beauty, birth and rebirth and again, of containers and contained and the life cycles of insects.

Throw all that into the unknown depths, give it a good shake, and out pops a mystery. Namely this: That as we grow, the rules at first are like a straitjacket or an exoskeleton - they constrain us, contain us and form us in the image of truth (unless, of course we are shaped by falsehood, but I'm talking about the big 3 for now). And while constrained from without, a hidden miracle is underway within. But eventually, lest we stagnate and die, we must shed that outer layer, be born from it, and transform it into an internal structure upon which to build ourselves, improvising on the image that was once impressed from without. But this isn't something that happens only once - as Bob has already said, it is ever ongoing, ever surprising, every joyful (and yes, also often painful; but then, birth usually is, or so I'm told) - so long as we retain those elements of truth, beauty and goodness.

5/28/2009 10:41:00 AM  
Anonymous will said...

Julie -

>>"He focuses his considerable charms on seducing the person in the room he finds most resistant."<<

I think eventually they of the Clinton sort become more and more paranoid until such time they perceive everybody to be resistant to their egotistical fantasies. There's no way they can win. At this point, they turn to self-immolation.

That's what the suiciding Hitler did in the bunker, but not before ordering Speer to destroy all German resources before the Allied Powers invaded. Before Hiroshima, the Imperial Japanese had plans for a gottedamerung of their own when the Americans invaded.

I have to wonder if the Iranian IslamoFascists really do acknowledge in their heart of hearts that they have lost to the Judaic/Christian civilization in every meaningful respect, and that this is why they are planning an Armageddon that will result in not only their own extinction, but the extinction of a good part of the entire world.

I think it would be more accurate to say that the *powers and dominions* that are currently manifesting through the IslamoFascists are sensing the coming Judgment and the coming of a New Heaven/New Earth (definitely staying up for!), and are planning on doing however much damage they can before the curtain closes and a new one rises.

5/28/2009 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger robinstarfish said...

Up on the high prairie last weekend, we stopped in the center of a marsh to listen to the vast silence. Instead we heard sounds free of civilization - birds and insects - music I remembered as a kid. Several different species, all with their own rhythms and melodic phrases; beautiful alone, but together - jazz on another level. Hypnotic, never repeating, and with intricate free interplay.

We walked a hundred yards and stood under a lone tree in the center of the plain. It was humming. As we stepped under the canopy, it changed pitch by several degrees, like a string orchestra, then resolved back to the original tonic several seconds later. They were mosquitoes, by the millions, and we had interrupted their rehearsal. Who even knew they were musicians?

We were attacked en masse shortly thereafter and raced back to the car. This was a band of aggressive man-eating Wagnerian musicians. In helicopters, loudly playing the Forbidden Symphony.

Music has drawn from nature since it began, of course. But it struck me that since the fauna of each continent, even of a single valley, is unique, it follows that the music created from that region could not spring up anywhere else. The tonal roots of American jazz could not have been learned anywhere but in our bayous and humid wetlands, and perhaps we have our endemic bugs and birds to thank for that.

5/28/2009 12:11:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

So the state bird of Alaska can also be found in Idaho? Makes sense ;)

But it struck me that since the fauna of each continent, even of a single valley, is unique, it follows that the music created from that region could not spring up anywhere else. The tonal roots of American jazz could not have been learned anywhere but in our bayous and humid wetlands, and perhaps we have our endemic bugs and birds to thank for that.

That's a brilliant observation, Robin.

5/28/2009 12:26:00 PM  
Anonymous bob f. said...

"I couldn't possibly have invented my son, and yet, somehow he came from me. And now I am "coming from him," i.e., becoming someone I wouldn't have otherwise been without him, which is to say, myself."

I have two sons, 19 and 21 years old. I almost didn't, and the thought of how empty my life would have been without their existence (they don't have to be around, they just have to be) is sort of terrifying.

My main concern now that I am a "revert" to Christianity and the Catholic Church is how to introduce my sons to Christ and share what I have found with them. (They attended Catholic school as I did; somehow it didn't "take" for any of us.) I don't know that I am completely up to the task, so I have been praying to His mother that my sons should get to know her Son.

Bob, your son is blessed to have the parents he does, and, of course, those blessings will be returned to you over and over.

5/28/2009 01:01:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

"Rather, I would think that such a philosophy would inevitably lead in the opposite direction: more jadedness, more boredom, and less mystery, along with a lifestyle aimed at trying to reanimate life through the senses or vital emotions. But that is such a dead end."

Oh, no kidding. Seen a celeb lately? 9 out of 10... no 19 out of 20, the pose they strike for the cameras and the fans, the air they purposely seek to embody is jaded, bored, and completely uninterested in life... and will probably have the slouch, ragged clothes, tat's and piercings to prove it.

Ugh.

Nothing more boring than the inability to appreciate the simple surprise of a smile.

5/28/2009 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Will said "...People are mere props for him; they're his elevator shoes..."

O that nails it to the t.

5/28/2009 01:49:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Cassandra said "This blog is a journey. (I've never understood why occasional commenters seem to think it's a lawsuit.)"

Beats me. Maybe because it reminds them that they haven't already arrived?

5/28/2009 01:53:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I would have never believed I'd feel sorry for Bill Clinton, but I really do sometimes. He is so pathetic. And I agree, the same is true of many politicians and celebrities who are where they are -- not because they love what they do -- but because they think themselves only real when someone sees them. They are only visible under limelight. Otherwise they are less than ghosts. Nothing but waxmen and specters.

5/28/2009 02:28:00 PM  
Blogger NoMo said...

Mushroom - You know what they say..."Zombies will be zombies"...until they're not.

5/28/2009 03:13:00 PM  
Anonymous dloye said...

Bob.f, I daily face the dilemma you mention, or similar. My daughters ages 35, 31 and 27 are as anti religion as any liberally educated empty shell you could hope to run into. I love them dearly and tread w/ great trepidation trying to slide some undoing of the anti Christian training I participated in. Constant reminders that in Christ all things are possible... love them and let the Spirit move in His own time and manner. God, forgive me my impatience!

5/28/2009 07:22:00 PM  
Anonymous lurker uncloakinq said...

>>. . the zenith of paradox: rest and motion are identical... <<

At long last...the answer for that eternal question; "How can you be in two places at once, when you're not anywhere at all?"

5/29/2009 07:52:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I don't know what I think about the music (30 second clips don't seem adequate in this case), but the Crimson King album cover is deeply creepy. If it were in my house, I think I would probably always make sure that it wasn't facing outward.

5/29/2009 08:08:00 AM  

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