Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Swingin' Affair With God

While we're discussing Boris Mouravieff, I should point out for those unfamiliar with the name that he was an Orthodox Christian with a Gurdjieff-Ouspenskian (Fourth Way) slant, somewhat similar to how Unknown Friend is a Catholic with a hermetic slant.

As it so happens, I first bumped into both gentlemen in the same book, Inner Christianity, the latter of which also led to Robin Amis' A Different Christianity: Early Christian Esotericism and Modern Thought. It is fair to say that all of these books were central in helping me to get over my Jesus willies once and for all, being that they present Christianity in terms a Raccoon can sink his mischievous claws into.

Not to say that I agree with everything Mouravieff has to say. To the contrary, much of what he says strikes me as overly occult, gnostic (in the pejorative sense), and frankly unOrthodox. He maintains that he was not copying Ouspensky or Gurdjieff, but that he was dealing with the original sources found in esoteric Christianity, of which Gurdjieff's work was a partial reconstruction and sometimes fabrication.

Either way, when people start talking about "secret knowledge," it's time to hold onto your wallet. Yes, there is secret knowledge, but there is no real need to hide it from others (elementary discretion and propriety notwithstanding), since the secret is quite capable of protecting itself from the unworthy.

It is no more secret than, say, quantum physics, which is available to any intellectually qualified and sincerely motivated individual. You don't have to hide quantum physics to keep it secret. Indeed, promiscuously disseminating it in the manner of a Deepak to people with skulls full of mush involves the grossest distortions imaginable (on both ends of the exchange; in reality, Deepak is just propagating his own mind parasites in a worldwide jerk circle).

Look at me, for example. When I write an over-the-top political hit piece, I get three or four times the traffic. But newcomers almost never return more than once, because the very next post will likely be full of openly secret knowledge which is of no use to them. It is either inaccessible, an affront to their existing faith (or lack thereof), or just too kooky to be of any practical use. In reality, it's just another routine instance of the kosher pearls protecting themselves from the pork people (the porcinners!).

Regarding Mouravieff's unorthodoxy, Schuon once made a very important point about people's spiritual experiences. He of course had had many such experiences, but he did not wish for them to be the source of any doctrine. Rather, he wanted Truth to stand on its own merits, and to be understandable and independently verifiable within the awakened intellect (hence, to be universal). He would never dream of saying, for example, "I had a vision of the Virgin Mary (which he did), therefore she is real."

Rather, he maintained that "if one wants to impart mystical certitude to another, the import or message should be capable of being coherently expressed" (Fitzgerald). Along these lines, Fitzgerald quotes a poem by Schuon (translated from the original German):

You may often keep silent about a certitude, / But if you wish to impart it, you must support it / With clear logic; for those who hear you / Want to see a meaning in what you are saying. / You must not say: I am certain of this -- / And then withdraw in proud obscurity. / Finally: what is of no use to anyone, / You are not obliged to preach in the streets.

Not only that, but all of the traditions agree that it is a breach of spiritual protocol to blab on about one's experiences to any- and everyone. Such experiences (?!) always have an aura of sanctity that makes one circumspect about sharing them with the unwashed bipedal primates.

Rather, Fitzgerald quotes another student who recalled Schuon saying words to the effect that "When a man experiences a spiritual state or favor, or when he has a vision or audition, he must never desire this to happen again; and above all he must not base his spiritual life on such a phenomenon, nor imagine that the happening has conferred on him any kind of eminence. The only important thing is to practice what takes us nearer to God..."

In short, (?!) is, yes, a gift, but even more fundamentally, it is a sacred obligation, for ultimately you are obliged to follow it back up to its source and to conform your life to the conditions that make the grace flow more readily (which primarily include Virtue, Truth, and Beauty).

For this reason, Schuon insisted that his "message" was contained in his books only, not in his peripheral function as a spiritual master for a particular group. The latter function was not unimportant, but it was nevertheless a prolongation of the former, not his central concern or legacy to the world.

But as it so happens -- at least for me -- Schuon's books are jam-packed with his barakah, or spiritual perfume, or transformative grace, or sanctified mojo, or just plain (↓), for which they are the occasion, not the cause. (↓) courses through his words, not from them.

Of this I am quite certain, but my certainty is of no use to another, except perhaps as a suggestion to try my brand and see for yourself.

Analogously, I am equally certain that Frank Sinatra is the greatest pop singer who ever lived, -- for it would be an absurdity and intrinsic error to believe otherwise -- but here again, this means nothing to the person who's never even listened to A Swingin' Affair and heard the musical truth with his own ears.

I am also quite sure that I am the only person who has ever placed Frank Sinatra and Frithjof Schuon -- and for that matter, Ferrell "Pharoah" Sanders, another favorite F.S. of mine -- in the same paragraph. And that the Shaykh would be none too pleased about it.

Now, back to Mouravieff. Nah, it's too late. Tomorrow.


Blogger debass said...

I got to play with Frank Jr. when I lived in LA. He was as talented as his dad. He wrote his own big band charts and conducted the band plus being a great singer, but it's that being in the right place at the right time that made his dad the superstar that he was. Not to detract from Frank Sr.'s enormous talent, but there is a lot to be said for where you are placed in history.

4/14/2010 09:54:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It's just that with Frank Sr. one is aware -- well, I am, anyway -- that he routinely achieves a kind of perfection (and therefore universal truth) that quite literally cannot be surpassed. The reason, I think, that he stands out, is that there are so few good pop singers, in contrast, say, to great bass players -- for who could choose between Jimmy Blanton, Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro, Paul Chambers, Dave Holland, Charlie Haden, Gary Peacock, Eberhard Weber, et al? You probably can, but I can't.

4/14/2010 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

It's the same with soul singers. A few tower above the rest, e.g., Aretha, Ray Charles, James Brown, Al Green. Others can occasionally reach the pinnacle, but not routinely (and even they only did for a proscribed period of time).

4/14/2010 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Susannah said...

"In short, (?!) is, yes, a gift, but even more fundamentally, it is a sacred obligation, for ultimately you are obliged to follow it back up to its source and to conform your life to the conditions that make the grace flow more readily (which primarily include Virtue, Truth, and Beauty)."


I believe that the testable, confirmed, historic truth of Scripture is the best framework for experiential revelation.

God continues to speak, but he is the same today, yesterday and forever.

Often, we don't fully grasp the import of the gift we've received. Sometimes it's even something one has to "grow into." We need wisdom (not of ourselves) to know what to do with it.

I've seen people go off the rails with a "vision" that may indeed have been the genuine article to begin with.

For me, it needs to jive with the tried and true revelation from the start.

4/14/2010 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger debass said...

One thing that makes Sinatra and the other people you mentioned great, was that they set the style for others to emulate. They didn't try to be like someone else. They were unique innovators in their genre.
What about Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Johnny Hartman, Tony Bennett, etc.?

4/14/2010 10:37:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I would never place Bennett or Hartman in the same category as Sinatra. Nor Ella Fitzgerald, since her delivery was devoid of the irony or sexuality required to draw the full meaning out of those sophisticated lyrics. Clear as a bell, yes, but not funky enough for me.

I much prefer Dinah Washington to Ella.

4/14/2010 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Also, Ella could not sing the blues, but Dinah could sing jazz -- or anything else, for that matter...

4/14/2010 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Well since we all are entitled to our own take on which singers convey Truth and Beauty, for me anyway Roberta Flack has always ranked way up there. I know I'm tuned to a somewhat different frequency than Bob in these matters, as I'm also a big fan of Sam Cooke.

Thanks for mentioning Dinah Washington by the way. One of those artists occasionally realize is missing from my collection. Time to head to Amazon and remedy that today.

As for today's post, there were at least two crack! home run moments in there for me, however as with any of these ultra-nutritious, super-dense nuggets they take a little time to metabolize before I can actually say anything about them...

4/14/2010 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Bumping around You Tube, I just found an interesting looking documentary on Dinah Washington....

4/14/2010 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I love Sam Cooke. It's just that he sang all that teenage stuff between the time he left gospel until shortly before he died. It's extra tragic, because he was just then breaking free and trying to make more artistic statements when he was gunned down.

4/14/2010 11:15:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

Watched a few minutes of that Dinah documentary. Bookmarked for later this evening.

Reminds me once again that even an organization as wholly dedicated to evil as the BBC often mysteriously produces content of high quality and noble intent. Same applies to NPR and PBS, although not as strikingly as with the BBC (which hits higher highs, and much lower lows than American counterparts).

Funny seeing Amy Winehouse in there -- one of the very few white chicks with the technical ability to perform at this level in decades.

4/14/2010 11:17:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

I like some of that teenage stuff ;-)

Absolutely agree he was lost before he could fully flower.

4/14/2010 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Well, they adore soul music in the UK, just as the Japanese are crazy about American jazz....

4/14/2010 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Can't really blame Cooke, because he was first and foremost trying to be successful, which meant appealing to a white audience. But at the same time, he never stopped touring the chitlin circuit, where his performances were quite different.

Thank God someone was there with a tape recorder to capture one of those performances, or we'd never know what he was actually like when he cut loose before a black audience.

4/14/2010 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...

The truest connoisseur of the American forms are the French. By far.

Which reminds me, it's April and I should be in Paris about now. With baby 4 weeks away that ain't happening this year.

25 years ago on my first trip I remember standing with my girlfriend on one of the observation platforms of Galerie George Pompidou at dusk and listening as the sounds of a lone dreamy sax wafted up from the street below. Turned out he was a black kid from Mississippi busking his way through Europe. Must have been at least 100 French spectators clustered around, all in rapt appreciation. The francs overflowed his opened sax case.

Not the same these days, but still a heartbreakingly beautiful city nonetheless.

4/14/2010 11:26:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

NB, that reminds me - how are wife & baby doing?

4/14/2010 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger Northern Bandit said...


Amazingly well. She has had an completely trouble-free time so far, and docs have given us nothing but green lights. A big relief to me since 12 years ago in former marriage we had a late-term miscarriage (sorry if TMI), and so I've had more than a normal level of apprehension bordering on fear at times. Prayer has helped me immensely this time.

How about you? We are 4 weeks away, and I forget if you are a few weeks closer or further from that...

4/14/2010 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I'm glad to hear she's doing well. I'll be praying that everything keeps going smoothly; it's tough to allay those fears until after everything comes out alright and you're holding that baby in your hands.

We have roughly 7 weeks left here, and like your wife there's been no trouble at all, aside from the usual issues of trying to work around the belly.

I was startled to discover, a couple of weeks ago, that it is possible to be tickled from the inside :)

4/14/2010 12:13:00 PM  
Blogger debass said...

Dinah has to be my favorite also. There is a recording of her doing "I've got you under my skin" with Maynard Ferguson, Clark Terry and Clifford Brown. We always would joke that I guess they couldn't find anybody for the trumpet section.

4/14/2010 12:45:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Also great versions of I'll Remember April and Lover Come Back to Me on that one.

4/14/2010 12:54:00 PM  
Blogger black hole said...

Regarding a legacy to the world, we must keep in mind that a movement which has great ends to achieve must carefully guard against the danger of losing contact with the masses of the people. Every problem encountered must be examined from this viewpoint first of all and the decision to be made must always be in harmony with this principle.

Therefore, does exclusivity serve the racoon cause well?

4/14/2010 03:25:00 PM  
Blogger black hole said...

In light of this principle, also, the movement must avoid everything which might lessen or weaken its power of influencing the masses; not from demagogical motives but because of the simple fact that no great idea, no matter how sublime and exalted it may appear, can be realized in practice without the effective power which resides in the popular masses.

Agree or disagree?

4/14/2010 03:32:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

1/3 down to read great FS anecdote
Keith & he share sunsign: Sag.

4/14/2010 03:59:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

speaking of ...
Brit love of Soul

4/14/2010 04:08:00 PM  
Blogger Magnus Itland said...

The secret certainly hides itself in plain sight. Conversely, once it decides to reveal itself, it seems to be practically everywhere.

4/14/2010 04:16:00 PM  
Blogger Mizz E said...

The way is hidden by its obviousness - I think a Sensei said that.

Here's a 1934 clip featuring Ethel Waters and the Beale Street Boys singing "I Ain't Gonna Sin No More" Announced by Edmund Lowe. Gus Arnheim and his Orchestra perform in the background.

Watch her laugh.
Watch those eyes.

wv: implowma, yes indeedy.

4/14/2010 04:27:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I am reminded of something Einstein said, to the effect that either everything is a miracle or nothing is.

But in my opinion, if nothing were a miracle, that would be pretty miraculous. Therefore, everything is a miracle.

4/14/2010 04:32:00 PM  
Anonymous Cousin Dupree said...

While watching the hockey game just now, I saw a commercial for Progressive Auto Insurance. Does anyone know if they cover pre-existing car wrecks? A friend needs to know. In a hurry.

4/14/2010 05:02:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

Sorry...late on the music discussion:

GB- Have you heard Sam Cooke's "Night Beat"? When I first heard "Lost and Lookin'" come onto a juke box before a gig once I froze in my seat. I hadn't ever heard the song before and it was, dare I say, transcendent. Maybe indicative of where he could have gone had he lived longer.

4/14/2010 06:11:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Absolutely. I linked to it in a comment above. I also like his version of Little Red Rooster from that record.

4/14/2010 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

I agree on Ella...though her her chops were pretty stunning. It's been said was one of the few singers at the time that could keep up with the bop crowd and improvise with the best of them.

I have listened to here American Songbook stuff...I hate to admit it leaves me a little bit cold.

As embarrassing as it is to admit I don't really know Dinah Washington's work that well. I suppose I will have to find out!!

4/14/2010 06:21:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

You're exactly right about her take on the American songbook, which is supposed to be the apex of her career. She just lacks the intellectual sophistication to bring any of the lyrics to life. In contrast, Sinatra has performed the definitive version of virtually every one of those songs. Indeed, he is largely responsible for transforming these songs to a kind of high art.

4/14/2010 06:27:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Ella is truly more like a musical instrument than an interpreter. She obviously had moments of pure musical brilliance, but she reminds me of a child prodigy who can perform a piece perfectly, but can't can't get underneath and express the soul of it.

4/14/2010 06:34:00 PM  
Blogger Jack said...

If asked by a singer how to learn how to phrase I *always* say listen to Sinatra...hell I say it even when I'm not asked! His genius is that he could sing mere millimeters away from where other singers would fall into the abyss of cheesiness (which might be why people love to parody him, but rarely imitate him). He rode that line...and for me *that's* the essence of his genius.

I just gave a listen to some Dinah from the documentary you linked. On first listening I hear the chops of Ella blended with the blues of Billie Holiday (minus the deep-seated tragedy perhaps--almost like hearing a train about to wreck near the end of her life). But Lady Day's phrasing, despite her limited range, is another high point in the art, imho. Her and Lester Young together! Fuggadaboutit!

4/14/2010 06:37:00 PM  
Blogger Van said...

Playing catch up again,

"In short, (?!) is, yes, a gift, but even more fundamentally, it is a sacred obligation, for ultimately you are obliged to follow it back up to its source and to conform your life to the conditions that make the grace flow more readily (which primarily include Virtue, Truth, and Beauty)."

This is one of those Truths that, like the crack of a homerun, never gets old and always bears repeating.

You can't be satisfied with just the sensation which rolls off of the (?!), you've got to apply it, conform to it, allow it to work into all your oft unseen places.

If you don't, how could you ever move any deeper?

As someone who remembers when auto-opening doors first appeared, it's not enough to stand there and gawk at how amazing it is that the doors open for you "Just like on Star Trek!", you've got to pass through them to see what there is to see inside.

4/15/2010 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Coongrats to Julie & NB as the end of the beginning approaches... what a series of (?!) are is store for you!

4/15/2010 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

bh rererestated "...we must keep in mind that a movement which has great ends to achieve must carefully guard against the danger of losing contact with the masses of the people..."

Rule of thumb: Every movement which has great ends to achieve for the masses of the people, has already lost contact with the masses of the people... but there is a good chance it will reconnect with them in the end... probably along the leading edge of a guillotine.

4/15/2010 10:13:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Hey Mizze, Good to see you back... looking rather festive too!

4/15/2010 10:24:00 AM  

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