Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Human Existence: The Perpetual Mid-Life Crisis

This is truly one of those posts that begins "nowhere" but will hopefully end somewhere.

The only way this can happen is if the post is "guided," so to speak, by its own end, which is to say, its own implicit purpose. Even if I don't understand the point, perhaps the Other with whom I am in dialogue will. It's certainly not something I could ever accomplish on my own.

I always begin in the bewilderness, which, you might say, is a repetition of where everyman and allmen must begin. Every day begins in slavery and ends with the promised land at least in view. And the whole innerprize is founded upon faith, in both its active and passive modes.

In other words -- again, like life -- one must in one sense "give up," but in another sense, actively deliver oneself over to the mysterious Other who shadows us through life, goading and pulling us along by the ear if we still have one.

In God and World, then Cardinal Ratzinger is asked how we can know when this Other is communicating with us:

"God speaks quietly. But he gives us all kinds of signs.... we can see that he has given us a little nudge through a friend, through a book, or through what we see as failure -- even through 'accidents.' Life is actually full of these silent indications. If I remain alert, then slowly they piece together a consistent whole..."

Like the human life of which they are a fractal, the doing and knowing -- the exploration and discovery, the journey and arrival, the alpha and omega -- must occur simultaneously, since they are parts of "one being" or "beingness."

For example, you could show an infant the university degree he will eventually acquire at the age of 22, but he will still have to go through the formality of earning it. Knowing that you will someday know is not the same as knowing. For example, I "knew" I would someday get married. But I never knew it would be like this!

In this regard, we are all beneficiaries of the amosing grace who delivers us from the exterior slavery of Egypt, through the perilous Red Sea, into the bewilderness, and on to the interior freedom of Israel.

For who is Yaweh, aside from Who He Is? For starters, he is the entity responsible for bringing the people of God -- whoever they might be -- out of the house of bondage, or from the matrix to the patrix.

For bondage is the rule in nature, and nature is sufficient in most every way to account for it. We are slaves to our genes, or appetites and desires, or culture, or family, or historical epoch. Man's slacklessness doesn't require much of an explanation, just as man's selfishness and greed would appear to be the factory setting.

Rather, what cries out for explanation is this mysterious irruption of freedom in a closed world where material and efficient causes rule with one fist of iron, the other of steel, if the right one don't gitcha' then the left one will.

Come to thinkin' on it, that song actually provides a vivid account of the slackless man's sorry lot:

Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man's made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood, skin and bone
Got a mind that's a-weak and a back that's strong

You load sixteen tons, and what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store


The "company store" is Egypt in any one of its legion of manifestations. The Judeo-Christian arc of salvation -- i.e., its historical ground -- begins in this movement away from necessity and toward freedom.

However, being liberated from slavery is by no means synonymous with freedom. For example, I could turn my child out the door today and say "congratulations. You're free!"

But until one arrives at the destination, there is no way of knowing what lies ahead, hence the bewilderness adventure in between. If you haven't faced the perils of the bewilderness, then it's likely that your freedom -- i.e., self-determination -- is correspondingly narrow, brittle, or even somewhat illusory.

Now, an important point is that this arc of salvation cannot be thought of in purely linear terms. Rather, it must be regarded vertically, so that each stage of the journey is simultaneously present: bondage --> bewilderness --> freedom (or in another sense, Incarnation --> Death --> Resurrection).

Furthermore, the journey must be reenacted each and every day. Otherwise the path is soon covered over by the fauna and flora of various entities that live within us, so that communication is cut off between the various levels of being.

In other words, there is a lack of integration that prevents us from being the "totality" we were meant to be. Think of the Son, who eternally descends from the zenith to the nadir and back up again. Thanks to him, this benign circle was opened up for man, but we still have to step onto the path and take the first step(s). It is a permanent gift, but we must open to its presence.

Ratzinger expresses it well, speaking of how "the organ of sensitivity to God can atrophy to such an extent that the words of faith become quite meaningless. And whoever no longer possesses a faculty of hearing can no longer speak, because being deaf goes together with being mute. It's as if one had deliberately to learn one's mother tongue."

This reminds me of a patient I saw awhile back, who had suffered a stroke to the parietal lobe of the brain, which is the "language center." She was a Mexican-American woman, and prior to the stroke had been fully bilingual. While Spanish was her native tongue, she later mastered English after emigrating to the U.S.

Interestingly, the stroke caused much more damage to her native tongue than to the acquired one. Thus, while she could still communicate in her "secondary" language, she could no longer do so in her primary one.

This caused a great deal of pain, in that her mother and father (she was a relatively young woman) were not bilingual, and only spoke spanish. Thus, in an interesting metaphor, she was cut of from her source and ground -- her Father, as it were -- because of damage to the "organ of communication" alluded to by Ratzinger.

This reminds me of someone with uncontrolled diabetes, who may not be aware of a problem until the sudden appearance of "end organ damage" in the eyes, feet, kidneys, heart, etc. Just so, spending one's life walking like an Egyptian will end in blindness, amputation, infertility, a damaged heart, and a dangerous accumulation of toxins.

So you always have a choice: crisis or catastrophe.

Abraham, our father,
Was simply told to leave.
Go forth from your land and from your kindred...
to the land I will show you.

This is the setting out.
The leaving everything behind.
Leaving the social milieu. The preconceptions.
The definitions. The language. The narrowed field of vision. The expectations....
To be, in a word: Open.

So it is with setting out on the path of liberation, leaving everything.
He would even have to discover
The way he would discover
While he was on the way.
--Lawrence Kushner, Honey From the Rock

*****

And he was told:
Go forth from the dugout to the position I will show you.
Where he would even have to catch on to
The way to catch
While playing on the field of dreams.


20 Comments:

Blogger Rick said...

"So it is with setting out on the path of liberation, leaving everything.
He would even have to discover
The way he would discover
While he was on the way."

All right. This means War.

6/08/2011 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

and peace.

6/08/2011 09:21:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

Indude.

6/08/2011 09:23:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

To be, in a word: Open.

There it is. Such a simple idea, and yet so very difficult; even if one manages it for a little bit one day, the next is a whole nother story, and so it goes.

6/08/2011 09:34:00 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

"the organ of sensitivity to God can atrophy to such an extent that the words of faith become quite meaningless. And whoever no longer possesses a faculty of hearing can no longer speak, because being deaf goes together with being mute. It's as if one had deliberately to learn one's mother tongue."

That sounds rather MoTT-ish.

6/08/2011 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger John Lien said...

"from the matrix to the patrix."

That is full of meaning. Me like.

6/08/2011 09:39:00 AM  
Blogger robinstarfish said...

Today's soundtrack, courtesy of Eric Burdon and JVTV.

6/08/2011 09:40:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

here is a version I've always liked, by the band that the less talented members of Creedence put together after they broke up. You can easily imagine Fogerty singing it.

6/08/2011 09:59:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Love the pictures - so cute!

I see he has his eyes closed in the second one. There's where the trick of openness comes in: you can't properly catch the ball if you close your eyes and flinch away, even though that's the natural and even perfectly sane response.

6/08/2011 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

That's why I didn't like playing catcher. Too difficult to overcome the natural tendency to flinch when the batter swings. This was Tristan's first time donning the tools of ignorance, and he was totally fearless.

6/08/2011 10:09:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Awesome. He looks like a natural in the uniform, and the gear.

6/08/2011 10:12:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"For bondage is the rule in nature, and nature is sufficient in most every way to account for it. We are slaves to our genes, or appetites and desires, or culture, or family, or historical epoch."

Just as in action/reaction, tip one domino and they all fall down, what goes up must come down, that is the default state which the materialist yearns to 'reveal' as man's 'true' mode, where choices don't exist and neither does fault, stuff just happens and soul doesn't exist.

The horizontal level is the closest approximation open to them, and they toil endlessly to squash everyone so flat that there will be no reminders of what they've hidden from.

"Rather, what cries out for explanation is this mysterious irruption of freedom in a closed world ..."

Explanation... or extermination... depends which side of the death bed you expect to wake up on.

6/08/2011 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"And he was told:
Go forth from the dugout to the position I will show you.
Where he would even have to catch on to
The way to catch
While playing on the field of dreams."

Just a game. Yeah, as if!

6/08/2011 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I always begin in the bewilderness, which, you might say, is a repetition of where everyman and allmen must begin. Every day begins in slavery and ends with the promised land at least in view.

The other day I was disagreeing with Flunky about the fact that, as he claimed, the purpose of religion and of government was to destroy evil. This has to do with that, in a way. By which I mean, and meant, that the purpose of True religion is not to destroy evil, but rather to help move people from bondage and to the promised land. It is the distinction between running away and running Toward.

Running away quite often fails, because unless one has a destination in mind it is all too easy to escape one set of problems only to land squarely in the midst of another, with no proper end in sight.

Running Toward, on the other hand, will still get you away, but there is a purpose in it that transcends mere flight. The purpose of True religion is to bring man closer to O. As a result, evil may be - must be - battled in the process, but that is not the goal.

6/08/2011 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

I have a Bo Diddley version of "16 Tons", and it's good. The Tennessee Ernie Ford version is, however, perfect. Ford's voice, the openness of the spare arrangement, and the woodwinds descending in to punctuate the verses can't be beat.

The hints God gives us as we go day-to-day are something that I think about a lot. It seems like such a twisting path when one is on it. It's only looking back that I see I have often traveled the shortest distance between two points.

6/08/2011 11:37:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

Julie said "By which I mean, and meant, that the purpose of True religion is not to destroy evil, but rather to help move people from bondage and to the promised land. It is the distinction between running away and running Toward."

Also, to assume that it's purpose is to destroy evil would be to presuppose that evil is something, rather than merely an absense of, or a misintegration of, what is.

Evil has no substance beyond the perverting of what is True... like a knotty tangle in your hair, when you untangle and comb it out... poof, it's gone because it never really was to begin with.

In a sense, that's what religion is concerned with - untangling and combing out your knotty hair, leaving you crowned with a freshly washed luxurious sheen.

Rinse and repeat as needed.

Wake up, and do it again.

6/08/2011 11:52:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Van - how funny that you used that metaphor. I was just reading yesterday about Inuit mythology. One of their main goddesses was Sedna, who was totally disturbing in a number of ways, but:

"...to counteract Sedna’s recalcitrant nature ... the breaking of taboos [by the Inuit] ... manifest as knots and filth in Sedna’s hair. When the sea goddess’ hair becomes so poluted [sic] that she can no longer stand it she orders the godling-child Unga to act as a shepherd and round up all the game animals of the sea. This causes a scarcity of game for the coastal Inuit, a problem resolved only by a shaman traveling to Adlivun in their astral body to comb the knots and filth from Sedna’s hair, thus appeasing her. (She cannot comb her hair herself because she has flippers, not hands) "

6/08/2011 11:59:00 AM  
Blogger ge said...

oh, the """sophisticated""" new yorker! able to diffuse, extract some welcome light & humor out of
ugly weinergate mess...
NOT!

6/08/2011 02:03:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

o lord..."HUMA PREGNANT..." -just now on drudge

6/08/2011 05:41:00 PM  
Blogger ge said...

...but the better news is: Hillary's the child's dad

6/09/2011 04:43:00 AM  

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