Tag Archives: Dee Pennock

Beautiful life project, with heavy books.

After a brief introduction to Japanese literature and culture for a few months of 2019, when I joined a Japanese Literature Challenge, I decided to leave behind the aesthetic vision of Japan, so to speak, and explore the reality and idea of Beauty in a less specific and encultured way.

My remodeling project and accompanying disorder are the reason, I believe, that I haven’t been able to concentrate on this extended philosophical reading project. It could be also that the topic is just too out-of-sync with the situation in my (indoor) living space. The chaos results from having none of the planned-for storage finished — that’s closets and cabinets in six or seven rooms — and that situation is abetted by the pandemic shutdowns of various sorts. The pandemic itself taxes the mind and emotions, and lately I’ve been reading more children’s books than anything.

But, the planned exploration looms large in the background, and the its bulk has increased in a physical way, by means of big books. (I consider The Book of Tea to be about beauty, and it was by contrast such a slim and elegant item!) I’m not going to tell you about all of my Beauty books yet. Goodness, I haven’t begun anything in earnest. But the last one that came into the house was only recently published, and I may be most excited of all about it.

It’s The Ethics of Beauty by Timothy G. Patitsas, and it “weighs in” at over 700 pages. Professor Patitsas explains in the first sentence of his Preface what he is about: “…to recover a lost way of doing Ethics, one in which love for Beauty played the central and the leading role.” He shows how the definition of contemporary ethics, when seen in terms of Socrates’ three transcendentals of Beauty, Goodness, and Truth (ethics being the study of Goodness), is biased against Beauty. A little more from the Preface:

“The central text about Orthodox Christian prayer life, The Philokalia, itself means ‘the love of the beautiful.’ The Ethics of Beauty is best conceived as a prose companion to that spiritual collection — certainly not on the same level as that classic text, but hopefully recognizably in the same family. Where The Philokalia is an aid to the pursuit of the Beautiful Way in prayer, The Ethics of Beauty is a discussion of why the Beauty-first Way is preferable, and an examination of the Way within as many areas of life as possible.”

“I would never have set out upon the journey that led me to The Ethics of Beauty had I not read Jonathan Shay’s observation in his Achilles in Vietnam that contemporary analytical psychotherapy has been largely unable to heal the suffering of the soldiers afflicted most severely with post-traumatic stress disorder. I have slowly come to see that… the initial focus of soul-healing must be on Beauty rather than on truth, on a living vision of a loving and crucified God, rather than on an autopsy of the broken self.”

Hmmm… I wouldn’t be surprised if Dee Pennock talks about this healing effect of Beauty in her book that I recently mentioned.

But, going back to the beginning of my vague plan, about a year ago I brought a fat book about Beauty and Truth into the house. The priest who lent it to me said he’d been unable to penetrate it. I knew it would likely be as heavy for me intellectually as it was in poundage, but it seemed a work I should at least have at hand when I began my study of Beauty.

This one is The Beauty of the Infinite, by David Bentley Hart; I had never yet opened it to read a line, but it’s been sitting on my mobile bookshelf in the kitchen/family room. When the Patitsas book arrived, I took Hart’s book off the shelf behind me and set it on the table so that the two could meet. And a few days later, avoiding some work, I’m sure, I opened Hart randomly in the middle, and my eyes landed here:

“…theology owes Nietzsche a debt: I intend nothing facetious in saying that Nietzsche has bequeathed Christian thought a most beautiful gift, a needed anamnesis of itself — of its strangeness. His critique is a great camera obscura that brings into vivid and concentrated focus the aesthetic scandal of Christianity’s origins, the great offense this new faith gave the gods of antiquity, and everything about it that pagan wisdom could neither comprehend nor abide: a God who goes about in the dust of exodus for love of a race intransigent in its particularity; who apparels himself in common human nature, in the form of a servant; who brings good news to those who suffer and victory to those who are as nothing; who dies like a slave and outcast without resistance; who penetrates to the very depths of hell in pursuit of those he loves and who persists even after death not as a hero lifted up to Olympian glories, but in the company of peasants, breaking bread with them and offering them the solace of his wounds. In recalling theology to the ungainliness of the gospel, Nietzsche retrieved the gospel from the soporific complacency of modernity….

My own philosophy and theology were settled already on this source of Beauty: the Holy Trinity, the relationship of love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. A few years ago Jonathan Edwards put me in mind of it in his thoughtful way, and maybe I should go back and read the extensive quotes I transcribed on the subject. But if I never get around to reading all these pages of words that are waiting for me in books, it’s okay. My heart knows the story.

Trees who are themselves.

This morning my walk took me down by the creek, where after the recent rains the leaves on the trees glowed in their contentment at having been washed and well-watered. Lots of light was coming through the gray atmosphere, though the drizzle was thickening. I thought of the Psalm that speaks of us being like trees, “planted by the rivers of water, whose leaf also shall not wither….”

Most of the time I do not feel like a tree! I’m too wispy and bendy, like grass. I won’t say I’m ever a weed, because that concept doesn’t fit with the reality of us being made in God’s image. But the trees are themselves, without fretting over their self-concept, as long as their roots go down where their nourishment lies.

After I came home I made a nice soup breakfast, but before I sat down at the kitchen table facing the garden and the birds — oh! a crow is visiting…. I looked at the books on my mobile bookshelf for something new to read. This was the first page of the one I opened:

“Every creature has in it the instinct to be as true as possible to what God created it to be. Even plants have this directive in them. All nature stretches toward the nurture it requires for its fulfillment — the daily bread, so to speak, that it needs for its survival.

“One spring, we planted a tuberous begonia upside down. When we dug it up in the fall, we saw that it had started growing downward into the earth, but had soon made a U turn and brought itself up into the daylight and blossomed with the other begonias. We have, every one of us, been planted facing the earthly  darkness of sin and death. This business of making our way upward and into the daylight, to blossom forth as the individuals God made us to be — this is the enlightened life to which our inborn instinct calls us.

“As daylight reached through four inches of dark soil to draw the begonia toward it, so the Lord Jesus Christ is always reaching even into the darkest places on earth and inside our souls to draw us into a blessed life. Holy people understand it. They say, He has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (I Peter 2:9). The Prophet told of it: Upon those who sat in the dark region and shadow of death the light has shined (Matthew 4:16; Isaiah 9:2)”

A few pages further in we read: “When is a soul mentally fit? When it knows a lot about itself (that is, what God made it to be and how to work with God), say holy counselors. When it readily sees and accepts reality. When it is able to prevail against whatever psychological and spiritual obstacles it may face. When it can protect itself from spiritual harm. When it is using its free will for its own greatest benefit…. The greatest benefit we’re capable of achieving is being in harmony with God’s perfect (all-loving and divinely wise) will for us.”

Dee Pennock, the author of this book, God’s Path to Sanity, calls this health of soul, “sanity.” The idea brings to mind what I’ve read elsewhere, how it is truly irrational to sin against our loving Father, not that we don’t often have perfectly good (irrational) reasons for turning away from His love.

I wanted to drink this book in big gulps, but I restrained myself and will take sips of the tonic. God provided the the fittingly beautiful illustrations before I ever saw the text, and those will, I am sure, be part of my ongoing treatment plan.

Ho, every one that thirsteth,
come ye to the waters,
and he that hath no money;
come ye, buy, and eat;
yea, come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.

Wherefore do ye spend money
for that which is not bread?
and your labour
for that which satisfieth not?
hearken diligently unto me,
and eat ye that which is good,
and let your soul delight itself
in fatness.

– from Isaiah 55

All nature stretches…

We have rain, thank the Lord. My newly planted kale starts (sprouted and nurtured igl-kale-p1050630n the greenhouse!) are very happy with the weather. I’ve been busy battening down the hatches, which includes battling with mice and rats who found my garage a cozy place to set up housekeeping for the winter. I’m thankful for them at this point, because they have forced me to clean the garage from top to bottom. Dear little things – and I’m trying not to be sarcastic – I know they are doing what is normal and right for them.

As the earthly light dims, here in the Northern Hemisphere, I feel the reality of God’s never-waning Light. Wherever you live, may you be nurtured by His gifts this moment and every day.

Every creature has in it the instinct to be as true as possible to what God created it to be. Even plants have this directive in them. All nature stretches toward the nurture it requires for its fulfillment – the “daily bread,” so-to-speak, that it needs for its survival… We have, every one of us, been planted facing the earthly darkness of sin and death. This business of making our way upward and into the daylight, to blossom forth as the individuals God made us to be – this is the enlightened life to which our inborn instinct calls us… The Lord Jesus Christ is always reaching even into the darkest places on earth and inside our souls to draw us into a blessed life. As the Apostle Peter wrote, “He has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) Likewise the Prophet Isaiah said, “Upon those who sat in the dark region and shadow of death, the light has shined.” (Matthew 4:16, Isaiah 9:2)

~Dee Pennock, God’s Path to Sanity