Monday, June 29, 2009

Or We Travel

Story after story. Stories we travel through that. Well. Take us places we haven’t been. Or perhaps we have. But now. This time. It is different. Or it may be different. Stories that begin with the beginning of the world, some of them. Or begin in the middle of things. In the middle of the action. Stories that are as much about place as character. Or about character as much as place. Or about one character’s view of place. Or one place’s view of character.

But they just keep coming, don’t they? Starting with. Well. I don’t know which of them begins it. In all likelihood there were many stories that preceded what we know of them. The written travel stories that we have passed down to us. Over the millennia. The many years. Unwritten stories that were born with language, maybe, and began as hunting stories. Stories about a hunt that might have lasted days and taken the hunting party far afield, so to say. To places the hunters had never been before.

And herding stories. Stories about herders taking their flocks to places they’d never been, in search of better pasture. Or stories about herds that led their shepherds to places they’d never gone, in search of better pasture.

And trading stories. Stories about men packing trade goods over the mountains or over the lip of the tundra to people they’d heard about and that may wish to barter. May wish to trade what they’ve made for something someone else has made. Wineskins for prayer wheels, for example. Or salt for cloth.

And war stories. Stories about men traveling great distances to kill one another and pillage one another’s tribe or settlement or village or city. Stories that involve heroic deeds. And terror. And death.

Our minds are full of these, aren’t they? Full of the events and the characters and the discoveries and the mishaps and the conflicts and the disappointments and the hope and the faith that drives the traveler to keep going in a strange place. Where there are strange people with strange speech and strange customs. Where even the earth itself seems strange. Hostile. Other.

And so we have the written stories that play themselves out like movies in our heads and hearts. That play against the backdrop of our lives. Or that are like drones. Drone notes. That underlie the melody of our lives.

And so we have the Iliad and the Odyssey, for example. The story of Adam and Eve. The story of Abraham. The story of Moses leading Israel out of Egypt and through the Sinai. The story of Jesus wandering about Israel and Galilee.

And so we have Herodotus’s The Histories. Virgil’s The Aneid. We have Beowulf. We have Boccaccio’s Decameron. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Melville’s Moby Dick. Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Joyce’s Ulysses. Kerouac’s On the Road. Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. William Least Heat-Moon’s Blue Highways.

Thousands of them. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands. And how to think of them? They rattle around in the mind as the stories of the Tanakh must have rattled around in the minds of first century Jews. First century Christians. First century writers of the New Testament. The great traveling stories.

And knowing these stories. Writing about Jesus and having these stories. These travelogues. Rattling around in their heads and in the heads of their readers. Certainly made all the difference. Didn’t it? This shared sense of what has happened. What the possibilities are. What may happen next. How meaning works.

How things go. What life is. What it feels like. The sense that it goes somewhere. That character is bound up with meaning. And movement. And God. How God is bound up with us. As we travel resolutely. Hesitatingly. Haltingly. Quickly. Deliberately. Uncertainly. Incompetently. Certainly. Forward into time and place. Into the great mystery. The enormous unknown of who we are and what we will be. What God may do. What will unfold and what it all may mean.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Or We Dive

Or we dive into the sea of love. The billions of us. We play in the waves. We belly-ride the swells, which we catch at a great distance. At a distance so great that the shore is almost not visible. At a distance where there are maybe sharks, but we don’t care. Where the currents are perhaps swift, but we don’t care. Where the water is many times deeper than we can know. But we belly-ride the swells together until they become waves. Then we laugh and whoop, riding them. Losing them. Catching them. Alternately. It does not matter. This is something, this wave-riding. This sea-speed. This rushing in the wine-dark, sun-lighted, liquid road of love. And the most of us out here. Well, we’re all of us a little scared and a little happy, and no one knows what will happen.

Or at the edge of the sky of love, the billions of us run with our aluminum or carbon fiber structures and our nylon hanging limply. Limply over us and around us. Flapping as we run. Until the earth disappears suddenly from under our feet and we are floating. Until we are suspended on the mere air and wind and the blue and white and the clarity of the atmosphere. The buoyancy of nothing but moist clouds out here. Above a cliff of rock and earth that plunges just about straight down. Oh. Maybe a mile or two. Something like that. Down there, beneath our chests and feet, a river carries a silver sun. A dark and blinding river. And it is green all around. The green of Mountain Dogwood, Black Cottonwood, Sugar Pine, Black Oak, Incense Cedar, Ponderosa Pine, and Douglas Fir. And the smell here. It is. Oh. It is a living incense. Something like the smell one imagines exists only in paradise. And the quiet here is like no other sound on earth. A quiet that seems to go on and on. And there is freedom here! Oh, we are infinitely free! The sky is our element. We may go wherever we like.

Or at the edge of the poetry of love, the billions of us suddenly speak! And in our speaking, discover love. Discover words we never knew existed. Discover meanings—extraordinary meanings—that we didn’t know could exist on this particular ontological plane. We discover many ontological planes as we speak. As we discover the possible impossibilities of love. The ways of love. The infinite colors and shapes and curves and rushings and coastings and driftings and strivings and climbings of love. We speak and in our speaking find the holy resonating. We find ourselves saying words that have been said for centuries and have roots that go back millennia, reverberant in the mouths of tens of thousands, millions, tens of millions, hundreds of millions of us extending back in time. Holy words. Reverberant words. Words, some of them, without any meaning but their own low, lost, fundamental sound. Saying our love to one another and to God in as wide and varied and low and high a voice as one may conceive. As one may say. A voice made of multitudes. A voice resonating with the voices of many only wishing love. Proclaiming love. Declaiming love. Projecting love. Creating love. We discover ourselves speaking in iambic pentameter. In alliterative verse. In rhymed couplets. In the form of sonnets and villanelles and sestinas. In the form of ballads. But while much of it is in forms, most of it is free verse. Most of it sounds like ordinary people speaking. But speaking poetry. Naturally. Natural poetry created of our souls and mouths and tongues and lungs and throats and blood and muscle and bone. Created of heaven itself. We are renewed and enlightened by the freshness of the words. The immediacy and honesty and originality of what we say. Or what is said through us. We are poets, we think! My God, we did not know this was possible!

Or at the edge of the wilderness of love, billions of us rush outward. Away from the cities. Our numbers mystically dwindle. Away from the concrete. Let the concrete rot! Let the glass and steel shatter and fall through the centuries of disuse and encroaching life. Life that swallows up the rigidities of man like an elephant swallows a peanut. Or like a gorilla swallows a grape. Or like a blue whale swallows krill. We live simply again. In small groups that care for one another. That fish and gather and make clothing and hold one another. Again. That make do with what they have. That warm one another in winter. That celebrate in summer. That fatten in summer and thin in winter. That inhabit a world of quiet and gentleness and orderliness that most of us and our ancestors hadn’t known for centuries. For millennia. We speak simply to one another, with care. But mostly we are quiet. We make room for the wind and the mountain and the valley and the finch and the sycamore and the river sounding the small pebbles and the pond reflecting the willow and the ocean crashing into the sand.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

I Say Love

At the edge of the sea of love, we walk about, gesticulating to the few in the water. To the few swimming and cavorting and bobbing in the waves. The shore is full of us. The sand is obscured by the billions of us on the beach. The many billions. Some stand, facing away from the sea, looking back toward the land. Ignoring the sea. Others face toward the sea, angrily speaking to it, yelling at it, or at one another, pointing toward the sea.

Or at the edge of the sky of love, here on earth, the many billions of us look up into the blue illusion. The blue medium. Where some small number dive, parachute, glide, and fly around for a time before they come back to earth. Come back to join us here in our less dangerous state. We are shocked. We are amazed. Why would anyone do such a dangerous thing, we wonder.

Or at the edge of the poetry of love, we pace, the many billions, in our prosaic fashion. Our clich├ęd speech. Our unthinking, unfeeling, monochrome idioms and formulas that keep us from ourselves and one another. Our linguistic narcotics. Our semantic alcohol. Our walls of inarticulate locution. While joyously a few speak truly to one another with the full depth and breadth of their meaning. The full color spectrum of their souls. With words and syntax that are strange. That seem opaque. That are merely so many strange sounds.

Or at the edge of conventionality and respectability we queue up on the prolific concrete in lines to do nothing. We stand in lines for hours. Days. Weeks. Months. Years. We mill about in crowds all our lives in the many cities. In the suburbs. We sit in traffic. While out in the woods and in the fields and in the mountains and valleys, a few live in the wilderness of love. Simply. With few possessions. Joyfully. Without worry. Without a thought of tomorrow.

And we. Well, we do not trust them, do we? These few lovers that we have seen from time to time. Heard from time to time. Heard about by word of mouth. Or read about in books. That we have met. We do not join them because. We hesitate to say it. It simply feels uncomfortable to contemplate. Doesn’t it? But then we examine this feeling. Wondering about it. We’re not sure about this. We do not know.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman

Yesterday, submerged in the ocean of church and then of home fellowship, swimming about in Scripture. Or actually drifting through the deep blue light of the Gospels. The warm wine-dark water of the Gospels. And looking specifically at Luke 7:36-50.

Developing a sense of what may be going on. Listening to others. Listening to one’s mind. One’s heart. Entering the story. Entering into the presence of Jesus. Entering into the first century again. The radiant warmth of his presence again.

Jesus at the dinner party. The sinful woman at his feet weeping, wiping his feet with her tear-wetted hair. Then pouring perfume over them. Rubbing that in. With her hair. Weeping all the while.

The Pharisee—the host—thinking Jesus is grossly imprudent, allowing himself to be touched by a woman like this. A vile woman like this. Jesus discerning his thoughts—divining his thoughts, really. Then telling the Pharisee—Simon—a story of a moneylender and two men to whom he had loaned money. One he loaned 50 dinarii. The other he loaned 500 denarii. But neither could pay him back; so the man forgave their loans.

Who would love the moneylender more? Jesus wants to know. The one who owed the 500 denarii, the one with the larger debt, Simon says. And he’s correct, Jesus says.

Then Jesus turns to the woman but still speaks to Simon, pointing out how Simon has treated him badly over and over since his arrival but how the woman has treated him with gratitude. With love. Extravagant love.

Then Jesus says something very interesting to Simon and to the others: “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

Right in Simon’s face. In the rude host’s face.

This is another example, I think, of Jesus turning the world upside down on us. Of sounding a little like he is conveying conventional wisdom when he’s actually dispensing quite abruptly and finally with conventional wisdom. And proclaiming a new way of thinking about God and love and sin.

At first, I thought. Oh. If you sin a lot—have a large debt like the guy who owed 500 denarii—like the sinful woman, you can be forgiven as long as you love extravagantly. And if you don’t sin very much—have a small debt like the guy who owed 50 denarii—like Simon, you can be forgiven as long as you love a little. Love Jesus a little. Love others a little.

But this analogous way of looking for the meaning here. Well, it just doesn’t work, does it? I mean, who throughout the Gospels does Jesus accuse of not knowing him at all and of oppressing the people, of spiritual arrogance, of cruelty, of callousness? The Pharisees don’t even love him a little, do they? And what about Simon? What about him specifically?

I don’t detect a bit of love there at all, do you? A coldness, certainly. A discomfort. An attitude of let’s get this over with and get this possible prophet and his sinful female hanger-on out of here.

So now that the expected parallelism doesn’t hold up—now that reasoning by analogy isn’t exactly working for us—where do we go? How do we understand what Jesus says?

Well, let me ask you, who is the greater sinner in Jesus’s eyes at this dinner party? Is it the woman, or is it Simon, the Pharisee? This question is left hanging there, isn’t it? Unasked and therefore unanswered.

I recall what Jesus makes plain elsewhere. All the Law and the Prophets can be reduced to two commandments: love God, and love one another. Has Simon given evidence of being at all faithful to either? How about the woman?

Isn’t Jesus suggesting that much the greatest sin of all is not to love?

What Jesus doesn’t say hangs there in the silence, doesn’t it? And one of the things he doesn’t say is that he who is not forgiven at all loves not at all.

And what is love in this story? Is it repayment in any sense? Does it balance the scales, so to speak? Oh, no. No, this isn’t the woman’s motivation, is it? Balancing the scales? Seeking forgiveness? Something has come welling up out of her in response to Jesus. To his person. A something Simon doesn’t seem to have. Or won’t allow. Or doesn’t recognize for what it is. Or worse yet, he doesn’t recognize Jesus as the One to love.

And this welling up. There’s nothing calculated about this is there? Isn’t it reflexive? Isn’t it straight from the heart? And so the woman is not thinking that she’ll love Jesus and therefore be forgiven. She seems to have only. Only what? Only love for Jesus in her. Working powerfully in her. Through her. Out of her. Nothing calculating. Nothing Machiavellian. The opposite.

And Simon? Well as I say. I think he’d rather Jesus put an end to his embarrassment and leave. The last thing Simon wants is to be associated with a man who consorts with sinners. Even though he might be a prophet.

And so this dinner party. What is this? I mean, why would this Pharisee invite Jesus? An insurance policy, perhaps? This man might be a prophet, and if he is, wouldn’t it be wise to be on his good side? Maybe a chance to take a good look at him. A good look at him with both eyes and the eyes of all his friends. And if he isn’t, well. It’s only one evening wasted.

So for Jesus. This love business. Isn’t this everything? For him, isn’t love of God and love of one another the full meaning of this enterprise? This adventure? Is there anything else? Well maybe. There’s spreading the Gospel. There’s paying attention to the Holy Spirit. But these are redundant, aren’t they? Or intensives? Well maybe not. Maybe the Holy Spirit is the means of making real meaning possible. Real love possible. Real possible love. Now that Jesus is. Well. Sort of gone.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The World Itself and Time

The sun shines on all equally. Indiscriminately. Promiscuously. Polymorphously. Perversely. Matter itself converted to energy and then in its streaming converting itself through life back into matter. Back into some solid seeming stuff that is more like a gas with particles suspended in it. Really. Than we’d like to think. The spaces between the denser bits much much greater than the bits themselves.

And the world! The actual substance that’s revealed! It’s all presentation and no discourse. It’s all object and event. Objects morphing into other objects, animate and inanimate. Bubbles of gas and suspended bits and color and texture and shape and movement and vigor in various degrees. Existing at various speeds. And then morphing into something else.

And I say objects, but what I mean is the semblance of objects, because as I say. There are no physical objects here. None to speak of, really. All only made of gas and energy and a few scattered bits that when you pare them down. When you get out your electron microscopes and other apparatuses. Other accoutrements. Appear to be more like. Oh. Bubbles. Or balls blown up. With nothing inside but. Well. Spin, for example. Or charge. Or wobble. Or even more metaphorically: tone. Or tonal sequence. Or tonal duration. Or tonal periodicity.

Presentation? You ask. Presentation? What can this possibly mean? And I think of the red wheelbarrow, for example. A bird in a palm tree, singing. A man wiping mud from his eyes, seeing for the first time. An empty tomb, with the grave clothes empty on the stone. The Buddha holding up a flower. Oh. For example a passion flower. A purple one. Twirling it gently. Endlessly. In the sun.

I say bubbles of gas. I mean bubbles of spirit. Bubbles of soul. Bubbles of being. Of animate being. The denser bits enlivened by something not strictly speaking of this world. Of the world of objects moving ceaselessly through fields of energy. Fields of light and gravity. Fields of gamma rays and x-rays and. Well. You get the idea.

I say idea. And what I mean is this imported stuff that makes discourse possible. And metametaphorical object making possible. Probable. Necessary. These abstracted objects. These objects that are even less objectifiable than the bits of bubbly matter that float about and that we call the world. That we call the material world. But isn’t.

And then of course there’s time. Time itself. A construct through which all this moves. All this drifts. All this sequences itself. All this arrives and does not arrive. All this is always arriving and is never arriving. All this is morphing always. Into something else. Driven to morph. Driven to be. And in its being changes. Changes ontologies. Changes states. Changes beings. Matter and spirit. Spirit and matter. Changing places and changing the nature of their beings. But not really.

Because what drives this. What inhabits this. What enlivens and lights and embodies and stands and moves and makes and in its making discovers itself is God. God at work in us. God at work in the world. Everywhere we look. God informing. God redeeming. God creating. Everything. All at once.