Category Archives: philosophy

A Breath of Wings

This poem at albits seems to me to describe the ways of a butterfly better than anything I’ve ever read. I used the word capture instead of describe at first, but that word sounds too violent for what the poet has accomplished, in engaging respectfully with such an otherworldly and mysterious fellow creature.

Recently I listened to Antonio López talk about what it means to have a technological perspective on our world. He self-consciously follows the thought of George P. Grant in noting that just by being inhabitants of this culture we live in, we tend to absorb and display a somewhat fragmented and fragmenting attitude toward the people and things around us, failing to see them as whole beings, seeing everything as “piles of stuff” that we may use or manipulate or control at will. He wants us to see the connectedness of everything, and to respect the interiority of each creature, and “let be.”

Some have said that for a writer, “everything is material,” meaning, everything we see, whatever happens to us throughout our days, appears to us as something to write about, something we long to distill into words so that we can know it better and share it with other humans.

It occurs to me that to have this attitude as my first impulse may be an example of this less than fully human, technological perspective; I immediately impose my thoughts and presuppositions on the thing or person before me. But that habit works against my deeper and purer self. If I want to be fully present with the world, with the people and things in it, I need to restrain my mind’s impulsive and constant forming of sentences, at least long enough to let my heart meet the heart of the “other,” and know communion.

Perhaps that is what this poet was able to do when he met a butterfly. It would explain how he was able to catch, not just the first thoughts that came to mind, but this divine vision to share with us.

A BREATH OF WINGS

Walking out with the trash
I saw a butterfly flash by

In a wink and a bright splash
Of light. It made me wish

The yard were lined in rich
Leafy plants that might catch

Her eye in the search for a place
To settle. How could I guess

That she’d choose a blank wedge
Of sidewalk next to my garage

Where grey concrete met brick
And no perch seemed attractive

To a breath from delicate wings.
That’s how I saw her, as a trick

Of nature: two fans of gauze
Waving crazily in the evening air,

Nothing more, nothing else there
But color that seemed to disappear

As she lit. What remained was a stick
On the ground with a flat brown flag:

The wings had closed up tight.
Was she taking a nap, I thought,

Or holding her breath in fear
Of me standing there, a sag

In my face, the blank mind caught,
Transfixed in a magical nowhere

Between this–and the next–flight.

-Albert Salsich

I like the way the sentences sometimes don’t match the lines of the couplets exactly, so that the rhythm of the poem mimics the way a butterfly swoops and flutters, “waving crazily,” and then surprises you when it comes to an abrupt stop on a flower or a sidewalk. It is a good one to read aloud.

The beholding of a butterfly was a gift of grace to the poet, and through his labor of love I’ve been doubly blessed: Through this vicarious meeting I have an expanded appreciation of butterflies, and also the joy of encountering an uplifting poem. I’m afraid to say much more about all the words — I did once write on words for this insect — and the form of the poem because I will get carried away in enthusiastic speculation and wonder, and never make it outside to look at more butterflies.

I hope you all might see a butterfly today!

butterfly-9-16-16

mythology of floating logic

It’s been a while since I picked up David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God, and I was pleased to see that I’m a third of the way through the book, nearing the end of the first part, on Being. I wasn’t pleased to find myself struggling to follow his train of thought as he picked apart what is known as Anselm’s argument, and was relieved when he moved on after a few pages, saying that he didn’t want to get “entangled in needless complications on this matter.”

Though I am philosophical by nature, I’m woefully unschooled in the discipline and its fundamentals. How many times have I looked up words like phenomenology, ontology,  and epistemology? Whatever I read on the subject is an attempt to correct that lack, and I appreciate Hart’s clarity and organization; he does seem to be writing for someone like me.

When we say that God is Being or “the source and ground of all reality,” following in the tradition of centuries of philosophers and theologians, many contemporary thinkers say it is because we are “mired in sheer nonsense.” Hart tells what he considers an important source of this lack of agreement:

…The analytic tradition is pervaded by the mythology of “pure” philosophical discourse, a propositional logic that somehow floats above the historical and cultural contingency of ideas and words, and that somehow can be applied to every epoch of philosophy without any proper attention to what the language and conceptual schemes of earlier thinkers meant in their own times and places. This is a pernicious error under the best of conditions, but it has worked arguably its greatest mischief in the realm of ontology, often as a result of principles that, truth be told, are almost entirely arbitrary.

I enjoy learning about particular people of the past and of their contributions to the wealth of humanity’s philosophical legacy. Hart mentions Meister Eckhart and his idea of “Is-ness,” and that takes me back to when I was a college freshman and privileged to be in a tutorial course that was an introduction to Meister Eckhart. I certainly had no intellectual grid prepared to fit him into then! How nice to have him come around again when I can appreciate his place in history.

Hart’s book was on the table with my bowl of stew this morning, but now the breakfast philosophy session has come to an end and other tasks are calling; I will go forward with the prayer that the presence of Him Who Is will sustain me. Given my ignorance of that floating kind of logic, I shouldn’t have any trouble keeping my feet on the ground and my self in the flow of history, soon to close out the year twenty-fifteen.

Enjoy it while it lasts! Let’s be here, now.

Web Gleanings from July

Several articles I’ve read lately strike me as worth sharing.

Boredom is a topic that comes up a lot, maybe more so in summertime, when some people have more time to be bored.  In “The Quiet Alarm” Andreas Elpidorou explains why  “Boredom is precious, but there’s nothing particularly good about being bored. Its unpleasantness is no illusion, its subjective character no taste worth acquiring. We should give thanks for it – and avoid it like the plague.” 5161~Girl-Reading-Book-Posters

I’m not sure what I think about all of this; perhaps Boredom is so related to Time that it’s one of those realities that I could muse on for a long time and get more and more confused – but never bored! Read the whole article here.

The threat of boredom comes to mind when I think of cocktail parties, but David Brooks uses them as a metaphor for the exciting “online life” in his article “Building Attention Span”: “Being online is like being a part of the greatest cocktail party ever and it is going on all the time….” He says that “This mode of interaction nurtures mental agility,” or what he calls “fluid intelligence.”

He contrasts that with “crystallized intelligence,” which is what we get more of in offline learning, “…the ability to use experience, knowledge and the products of lifelong education that have been stored in long-term memory.” This kind of learning leads to wisdom, and goodness knows we need that. Read the whole article here.

Fr. Stephen Freeman’s retheotokos Decani monasterycent article “Why the Orthodox Honor Mary” begins a discussion that continues in the resulting comments,  contrasting the humility and submission of Mary as something to recognize and emulate, with the actual veneration of her as an aspect of our worship of God.

A fascinating bit of Bible exposition is in the comments where Fr. Stephen explains Jesus’s words to Mary at the marriage of Cana, and the meaning that becomes clear when you see that they hearken back to the story in I Kings of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath. Read it all here.

https://i2.wp.com/cdn8.openculture.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/28001845/Emily-Dickinson-Coconut-Cake.jpgTo end on a lighter note, how about some coconut cake to have with your iced tea on a summer afternoon? (If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, even better – just make that hot tea.) This picture of Emily Dickinson’s Handwritten Coconut Cake recipe, and the accompanying text, do encourage me that if I get back into the kitchen more, it won’t necessarily mean a lessening of my writing output. I do wonder what the form of the coconut ingredient is intended to be, but it would be fun to experiment with one of my favorite foods.

As I write, the sun has yet to emerge in my cool corner of California, but by mid-afternoon the situation will probably have changed enough that I could sit outdoors with some tea and some more reading material from which to glean. Happy reading to you, too!