Tag Archives: Kierkegaard

Seeing below the surface.

Repentance is not self-flagellation;
it is an opening flower.

-Met. Kallistos Ware

In the last weeks I’ve been more aware than ever of the truth that What We Need is Not More Information  – all the while collecting more books and reading, reading, reading. When I read Neil Postman in Technopoly say (in 1992) that our society’s glut of the stuff makes information into so much garbage, I was primed so that the word and image brought me great clarity.

“From millions of sources all over the globe, through every possible channel and medium—light waves, airwaves, ticker tapes, computer banks, telephone wires, television cables, satellites, printing presses—information pours in…. The milieu in which Technopoly flourishes is one in which the tie between information and human purpose has been severed, i.e., information appears indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, in enormous volume and at high speeds, and disconnected from theory, meaning, or purpose.” -Neil Postman in Technopoly

Even more recently Fr. Stephen Freeman re-posted this little meditation on simplicity, When Belief is Complicated, which, though it wasn’t particularly Lenten in focus, brought to mind Metropolitan Kallistos’s quote at top. Now I have two images in my mind, garbage overwhelming and weighing me down, and my soul as a tender flower struggling to open to God’s love and grace, but nearly crushed by the weight of a myriad of non-essentials. And Fr. Stephen introduces another metaphor:

“Kierkegaard wrote that ‘purity of heart is to will one thing.’ But we don’t will one thing. We will everything, regardless of the contradictions.

“Faith is not a matter of ‘belief,’ an act of intellectual willing. Faith is a perception of things that do not necessarily appear obvious. In the language of Scripture – ‘faith is the evidence of things not seen.’ But the perception of faith is similar to the perception of objects beneath the surface of a lake. If the surface is disturbed, the objects disappear. The objects do not go away – but we can no longer perceive them.

“In a world of manifold complication – the surface of the water is rarely still.

“The journey of faith thus becomes a movement away from complication.”

For those of us who feel that life is too complicated; that we ourselves are difficult to understand; and that trust and faith are impossible, Father Stephen has suggestions. My favorites:

  • Quit caring so much. The world does not depend on you getting the right answer to life’s questions. Answers often come when we learn to wait patiently for them.
  • Quit thinking so much. If thinking would solve the problem and make things less complicated, you’d be through by now.
  • Look for beauty. Beauty doesn’t make us think so much as it makes the heart a better listener.
  • Take some time off – from as much as you can.
  • Get some sleep.
  • Give away money. At least someone will benefit by this discipline.
  • Sing (beautiful things). The part of your brain that sings is much more closely wired to your heart than the part that thinks.

To put my hopes in terms of these evocative images: I am encouraged in the work of throwing off the garbage, opening like a flower, and peering down through the limpid water of a quiet lake, to glimpse the beautiful realities that my heart craves.

Himself at last.

I would like to read more of Søren Kierkegaard’s writings. My intent is on display in the form of four titles by him that I have had sitting on the mobile bookshelf here in my kitchen/family room, for a year at least. I guess if I could decide which to read that would be a good start. A biography of him I am not likely to get to, but who knows…? In the meantime, I am reading this homage by Dana Gioia in the form of a poem. Seems like after this I owe it to Kierkegaard to read at least one more of his own works, though not in hopes of explaining any “riddles.” Only God can do that, and we know that He will — all of them, all of us.

HOMAGE TO SOREN KIERKEGAARD

Work out your own salvation
with fear and trembling.
—St. Paul

I was already an old man when I was born.
Small with a curved back, he dragged his leg when walking
the streets of Copenhagen. “Little Kierkegaard,”
they called him. Some meant it kindly. The more one suffers
the more one acquires a sense of the comic.
His hair rose in waves six inches above his head.
Save me, O God, from ever becoming sure.
What good is faith if it is not irrational?

Christianity requires a conviction of sin.
As a boy tending sheep on the frozen heath,
his starving father cursed God for his cruelty.
His fortunes changed. He grew rich and married well.
His father knew these blessings were God’s punishment.
All would be stripped away. His beautiful wife died,
then five of his children. Crippled Soren survived.
The self-consuming sickness unto death is despair.

What the age needs is not a genius but a martyr.
Soren fell in love, proposed, then broke the engagement.
No one, he thought, could bear his presence daily.
My sorrow is my castle. His books were read
but ridiculed. Cartoons mocked his deformities.
His private journals fill seven thousand pages.
You could read them all, he claimed, and still not know him.
He who explains this riddle explains my life.

When everyone is Christian, Christianity
does not exist. The crowd is untruth. Remember
we stand alone before God in fear and trembling.
At forty-two he collapsed on his daily walk.
Dying he seemed radiant. His skin had become
almost transparent. He refused communion
from the established church. His grave has no headstone.
Now with God’s help I shall at last become myself.

-Dana Gioia, 99 Poems

Picking peas without complaint.

Mr. Kierkegaard was very hard to take in the last two discourses of The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air. I was happy for the non-hearers of his non-sermons — you may remember, he was not ordained so he didn’t consider it appropriate to call them sermons — that they did not have to listen to him audibly, on and on repeating himself, and stretching the bird and lily metaphor into nonsense.

Or so it seemed to my small brain. I finished the book last evening, when my patience was already tried by my eyes that had been burning for two days, and for what reason? No one knows. By the late afternoon on Sunday I’d followed a doctor’s advice and used some very expensive eye drops that changed the burning to a sticky-scratchy feeling. The burning had made me want to keep my eyes shut, but with the latter condition open or shut didn’t matter, so I was able to distract myself with reading. (Today they are fine!)

I sat in the garden, because it is so delicious, I want to be there as much as possible, with the bees humming and sparrows singing and flying back and forth, eating the sunflower seeds I give them. It is true, what Kierkegaard says, echoing our Savior, that we must learn from nature. And in some way we need to be like the birds and the lilies if we are going to fulfill our humanity. But we can’t learn about thinking from them. Thinking is something we humans specialize in, to such a degree that our minds dominate our fragmented selves. And that mind tells us, among other irrational things, to worry.

Our mind is what we use to accomplish our daily lives, to plan and execute our work. But it’s also where swirl the same unproductive thoughts over and over again, thoughts of regret over the past, or anxiety over the future. Complaining and blaming and angry thoughts. How can we plan without worrying at the same time? How can we bring every thought captive to Christ? Lord, have mercy!

Kierkegaard says in the second discourse that the bird and the lily are unconditionally compliant with God’s will: “In nature everything is obedience, unconditional obedience.” Maybe he is trying to get at what I have heard from fathers of the Church, about how creatures other than humans act according to their God-given natures. Humans were made in the image of God, which means that our nature is to be of love, and unity. But we are typically at odds with ourselves, and with our Creator.

I haven’t been too successful myself of late, in thanking God for everything. For ten years now, I’ve found it helpful to use my writing to steer my mind in the right direction, but lately the load is too heavy to steer. Writing does not accomplish the task of “bringing the mind into the heart,” which is what Saint Theophan tells us we need to do. When my mind is burdened I can’t make sentences that would substitute for prayer, or other more receptive activities, say, watching a bee.

C.S. Lewis’s feeling, “Actually it seems to me that one can hardly say anything either bad enough or good enough about life,” comes to mind, but only weakly applies to my difficulty conveying a simple experience like picking peas this evening.

That Big Friendly Giant pea patch I’ve got is a wonder of my garden world. It just keeps growing and being green and lush, producing new baby pea pods every day. I wander around the edges of its kingdom and peer into the jungle of vines, trying not to miss any of the ripe ones, wondering if I should let this or that one grow one more day. I’m pretty sure that one day this week there are going to be about a hundred of the sugar snap peas all ready at once. Each pea pod is lovely and tender-crisp, and begs to be eaten the moment after being picked.

The day is filled with this kind of incomprehensibly good thing, which I would like to share. I think those are joys flowing out of my heart, so they are easier to express than sad things,  though of course I can’t say anything “good enough.” I’ve tried taking pictures of the pea mass, but this is a case where you have to have your nose following your arm into the dim and cool interior, all the while the sun warms your hair. Pictures are worthless.

As to the other side of Lewis’s quote, saying anything “bad enough” about life — that’s not my calling. I think that line might have been from a personal letter that he wrote, expressing empathy with someone who was suffering. I know I have had experiences that seemed very bad. And my cry amounted to, “This is not what I want!” But at this time in my life, if I ever manage to “take them captive,” I try to put those thoughts in quarantine.

Kierkegaard finally admits that we do have difficulties that the bird and the lily escape, when he writes of an “…enormous danger — a danger in which a human being is indeed situated by virtue of being a human being, a danger that the lily and the bird are spared in their unconditional obedience, which is happy innocence, for neither God and the world nor good and evil are fighting over them…”

That makes me think that if the author were writing blog posts today, he might remind us that we do not war against flesh and blood, viruses, stupid humans, wicked empires, etc, but against “principalities and powers” in the spiritual realm. Every time I get distracted it’s a waste of time and a missed opportunity to use my mind to better purposes. The pandemic is showing me how prone I am to this.

I did have three more friends in my garden last week after my godmother’s visit. Everyone wore masks. They were on two different errands. My goddaughter Sophia had found some plum wood for my wood stove, which she and her new husband delivered. And my goddaughter Mary’s father and brother came to finish my garden icon project that I began five years ago. But you know what? — it’s past my bedtime, and this post is too long already. I’ll explain tomorrow about the elegant completion of my garden. ❤

(The cactuses are not mine.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Everything depends upon that moment.

Today is the beginning of our salvation;
the revelation of the eternal Mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
as Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
“Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”

I had wanted to continue my ruminations on The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air by further considering The Moment that Søren Kierkegaard refers to when, after waiting in silence, “…the silent lily understands that now is the moment, and makes use of it.”

I don’t know what that moment consists of for you, for me, for us as a world community, or in our cities or church communities or families. No doubt there are overlapping times and seasons containing infinite instants, and only by quiet listening can we make any sense of them. But this passage in particular I wanted to pass on, in which the writer discusses what is missed when we fail to make the proper, standing-before-God kind of preparation:

“Even though it is pregnant with rich significance, the moment does not send forth any herald in advance to announce its arrival; it comes too swiftly for that; indeed, there is not a moment’s time beforehand…. But of course everything depends upon “the moment.” And this is surely the misfortune in the lives of many, of far the greater part of humanity: that they never perceived ‘the moment,’ that in their lives the eternal and the temporal were exclusively separated.”

So many thoughts swirl in my own noisy mind and heart that I could not imagine how I might find a way to share even these few gleanings with you. Then, in God’s providence and the church calendar, appeared someone who is the supreme example for us of being ready for the moment, that time in history and that time in her life, in a particular moment of a day, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. Today we remember that event, when Mary listened, and responded, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

The Word became flesh and came to live with us, taking on all our human experience, its weakness and suffering and  death. He defeated death, and opened the gates of Paradise. The Incarnation, the beginning of our salvation, is The Moment of history; our own “Yes” to God, echoing Mary’s willingness, can be the essence of our every prayer as well, as we wait on Him.

Kierkegaard exhorts us, in words that seem especially fitting for this time of uncertainty and change: “Would that in the silence you might forget yourself, forget what you yourself are called, your own name, the famous name, the lowly name, the insignificant name, in order in silence to pray to God, ‘Hallowed be your name!’ Would that in silence you might forget yourself, your plans, the great, all-encompassing plans, or the limited plans concerning your life and its future, in order in silence to pray to God, ‘Your kingdom come!’ Would that you might in silence forget your will, your willfulness, in order in silence to pray to God, ‘Your will be done.'”

We know that God’s will for us is good, now as ever. Our inability to see or understand that is due to our weakness or sin, or His hiding of His works. May He give us grace to wait and to pray, and eventually we will see the full salvation of the LORD.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11