A new snowfall; a fresh astonishment of branch and twig. This morning also a fresh batch of bread, from dough that was left to rise all night in the dark kitchen. The resilience and resistance of such dough is a marvel to me, accustomed as I am to the one- or two-hour rise. Like the webs of mycelia that feed the forest, the strands of its meshwork have multiplied and thickened a thousand-fold. It is a veritable city, this rhizomatic complex, this apotheosis of yeast that I will kill and eat.
I am beginning to think of this weblog, too, as a muliplicity rather than a unity. Nevertheless, there have been some unifying themes, which I would like to review this morning by way of a short series of quotes, before striking out in any new direction(s).
“But is it true, as modern psychology often claims, that our religious beliefs are nothing but attempts to satisfy subconscious wishes? That the conception of God is merely a projection of self-seeking emotions, an objectification of subjective needs, the self in disguise? Indeed, the tendency to question the genuineness of man’s concern about God is a challenge no less serious than the tendency to question the existence of God. We are in greater need of a proof for the authenticity of faith than of a proof for the existence of God.
“We have not only forfeited faith; we have lost our faith in the meaning of faith. All we have is a sense of horror. We are afraid of man. We are terrified at our own power. Our proud Western civilization has not withstood the stream of cruelty and crime that burst forth out of the undercurrents of evil in the human soul . . . The flood of wretchedness is sweeping away our monstrous conceit. Who is the Lord? We despair of ever regaining an awareness of Him, of ever regaining faith in the meaning of faith. Indeed, out of a system of ideas where knowledge is power, where values are a synonym for needs, where the pyramid of being is turned upside down – it is hard to find a way to an awareness of God. If the world is only power to us and we are all absorbed in a gold rush, then the only god we may come upon is the golden calf. Nature as a tool box is a world that does not point beyond itself. It is when nature is sensed as mystery and grandeur that it calls upon us to look beyond it . . .
“The sublime is not opposed to the beautiful, and must not, therefore, be considered an esthetic category. The sublime may be sensed in things of beauty as well as in acts of goodness and in the search for truth. The perception of beauty may be the beginning of the experience of the sublime. The sublime is that which we see and are unable to convey. It is the silent allusion of things to a meaning greater than themselves. It is that which all things ultimately stand for; ‘the inveterate silence of the world that remains immune to curiosity and inquisitiveness like distant foliage in the dusk.’ It is that which our word, our forms, our categories can never reach. This is why the sense of the sublime must be regarded as the root of man’s creative activities in art, thought, and noble living . . .
“The sublime, furthermore, is not necessarily related to the vast and the overwhelming in size. It may be sensed in every grain of sand, in every drop of water. Every flower in the summer, every snowflake in the winter, may arouse in us a sense of wonder that is our response to the sublime.”
ABRAHAM JOSHUA HESCHEL, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism, Jewish Publication Society, 1955.
“Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life. Whatever the vexations and concerns of their personal lives, their thoughts can find paths that lead to inner contentment and to renewed excitement in living. Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is symbolic as well as actual beauty in the migration of the birds, the ebb and flow of the tides, the folded bud ready for spring. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after the winter.
“I like to remember the distinguished Swedish oceanographer, Otto Pettersson, who died a few years ago at the age of ninety-three, in full possession of his keen mental powers. His son, also world-famous in oceanography, has related in a recent book how intensely his father enjoyed every new experience, every new discovery concerning the world about him.
“‘He was an incurable romantic,’ the son wrote, ‘intensely in love with life and the mysteries of the cosmos.’ When he realized he had not much longer to enjoy the earthly scene, Otto Pettersson said to his son: ‘What will sustain me in my last moments is an infinite curiosity as to what will follow.'”
RACHEL CARSON, The Sense of Wonder, Harper and Row, 1965.
“The stars in the night sky hold no interest for advertisers, for they don’t reflect us. The stars that do reflect us are the kind that appear on talk shows. Since we can’t all appear on TV, our race needs some representatives, and these are the ones sitting on the couch next to Regis and Kathie Lee. If they were of interest because they were actors, Jay Leno would ask them questions about acting – ‘How did you conjure up the mood for that scene?’ Instead, we want to know about their lives, and the lives of other stars they have ‘worked with.’ They are of interest because they are stand-ins for us. By the very act of being important, they redeem the lifetime we have spent watching them . . . Most cultures, historically, have put something else – God or nature or some combination – at the center. But we’ve put these things at the periphery. A consumer society doesn’t need them to function, and it can’t tolerate the limits they might impose; there’s only a need for people.”
BILL MCKIBBEN, The Comforting Whirlwind: God, Job, and the Scale of Creation, Eerdmans, 1994. (Italics in original – from “Most cultures” through end of quote – removed here.)
“Pure religion, religion as distinct from magic and opposed to it, is the exact contrary of an applied science; for it constitutes a realm where the subject is confronted with something over which he can obtain no hold at all. If the word transcendence describes anything whatever, it must be this – the absolute, impassable gulf that opens between the soul and being whenever being refuses us a hold. No gesture is more significant than the joined hands of a believer, mutely witnessing that nothing can be done and nothing changed, and that he comes simply to give himself up. Whether the gesture is one of dedication or of worship, we can still say that the feeling behind it is the realisation of the holy, and that awe, love and fear all enter into it simultaneously. Notice that there is no question here of a passive state; to assert that would be to imply that the activity of the technician, as he takes, modifies and elaborates, is the only activity worthy of the name.”
GABRIEL MARCEL, Being and Having, trans. Katherine Fisher, Harper Torchbooks, 1961.
That is full; this is full. The full comes out of the full. Taking the full from the full the full itself remains. Aum, peace, peace, peace.
ISA UPANISAD, trans. S. Rhadhakrishnan, The Principal Upanisads, Humanities Press, 1992.