Tag Archives: truth

Where the breath condenses.

INSIDE

I am my own
geology, strata on strata
of the imagination, tufa
dreams, the limestone mind
honeycombed by the running away
of too much thought. Examine
me, tap with your words’
hammer, awaken memories
of fire. It is so long
since I cooled. Inside me,
stalactite and stalagmite,
ideas have formed and become
rigid. To the crowd
I am all outside.
To the pot-holing few there is a way
in along passages that become
narrower and narrower,
that lead to the chamber
too low to stand up in,
where the breath condenses
to the cold and locationless
cloud we call truth. It
is where I think.

-R.S. Thomas

I began to read a biography of R.S. Thomas a while back. Its tone was unsympathetic, and as with many biographies of writers, it didn’t facilitate my relationship with the poet. With Thomas, if you want to be any kind of friend, you have to accept his particular “geology,” which is full of rocks and stones and cold clouds, all waiting for that day when the sun will shine fully on the landscape, burn off the fog, and never set again. I am content to wait with him, and not to try to “figure him out” in this life.

Where I grew up our winters frequently featured cold fog. Foggy days such as I actually enjoy on the beach nearest me, when the thermometer stays above 50, are way different from the 27-degree tule fog of my youth, which can hang on and chill the spirit all day.

Thomas seems to be saying that those few people who stumble into his inside, where he thinks, will not find a comfortable  place to rest. It’s a place without location, somehow. Whatever can be felt with the senses, it’s cold and cramped. There is little solace in abstract truth.

Even the request, “Examine me… tap… awaken memories of fire” refers to something of the mind: memories. But if this is a prayer, the real God who is not a memory or an idea, but is the only one who has Being in Himself, might come and be present in the present. Not just to revive memories of past events, but to create actual warmth and spaciousness in the soul. He has been called a consuming fire, and the Sun of Righteousness. He is definitely what the wintry and frozen soul needs.

“But for you who revere my name,
the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.
And you will go out and leap like calves
released from the stall.”

Malachi 4:2

Expect kissing and fruit.

The poetry of this Psalm enlivens my spirit with its many action verbs that evoke the overflowing love and energies of God as we humans experience Him, being turned, quickened, gladdened; hearing our Father speak peace and living in His Kingdom where righteousness and peace kiss, truth springs up, and fruit naturally grows on the trees.

O God, Thou wilt turn and quicken us,
and Thy people shall be glad in Thee.

Show us, O Lord, Thy mercy,
and Thy salvation do Thou give unto us.

I will hear what the Lord God will speak in me;
for He will speak peace to His people and to His saints
and to them that turn their heart unto Him.

Surely nigh unto them that fear Him is His salvation,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Mercy and truth are met together,
righteousness and peace have kissed each other.

Truth is sprung up out of the earth,
and righteousness hath looked down from heaven.

Yea, for the Lord will give goodness,
and our land shall yield her fruit.

Righteousness shall go before Him
and shall set His footsteps in the way.

-From Psalm 84

Rousing us with sharp stings.

Our Lord had no design of constructing a system of truth in intellectual forms. The truth of the moment in its relation to him, The Truth, was what he spoke. He spoke out of a region of realities which he knew could only be suggested — not represented — in the forms of intellect and speech. With vivid flashes of life and truth his words invade our darkness, rousing us with sharp stings of light to will our awaking, to arise from the dead and cry for the light which he can give, not in the lightning of words only, but in indwelling presence and power.

–George MacDonald

The Crystal Palace Unmanned.

I came to the end of Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy, and feel that my engagement with the author and his theses has barely begun. The insights about eternal human longings down through the ages, and even small details about the lives of individual thinkers, will be rattling around in my mind for a long time to come, and I hope to refer to some of them in the future.

In the meantime, I wanted to share here a few paragraphs from the concluding Part 4, “Integral vs. Rational Man.” The goal of the existentialists is here named as integration; not irrationality, as the book’s title might have led us to think. I’m sure the title Integrated Man would not have been nearly as memorable, and unfortunately, at least a couple of existentialists have descended into such irrationality that they were certainly insane.

William Barrett

“Existentialism is the counter—Enlightenment come at last to philosophic expression; and it demonstrates beyond anything else that the ideology of the Enlightenment is thin, abstract, and therefore dangerous. (I say its “ideology,” for the practical task of the Enlightenment is still with us: In everyday life we must continue to be critics of a social order that is still based everywhere on oppression, injustice, and even savagery—such being the peculiar tension of mind that we as responsible human beings have to maintain today.)

Martin Heidegger

“The finitude of man, as established by Heidegger, is perhaps the death blow to the ideology of the Enlightenment, for to recognize this finitude is to acknowledge that man will always exist in untruth as well as truth. Utopians who still look forward to a future when all shadows will be dispersed and mankind will dwell in a resplendent Crystal Palace will find this recognition disheartening. But on second thought, it may not be such a bad thing to free ourselves once and for all from the worship of the idol of progress; for utopianism — whether the brand of Marx or of Nietzsche — by locating the meaning of man in the future leaves human beings here and now, as well as all mankind up to this point, without their own meaning.

“If man is to be given meaning, the Existentialists have shown us, it must be here and now; and to think this insight through is to recast the whole tradition of Western thought. The realization that all human truth must not only shine against an enveloping darkness, but that such truth is even shot through with its own darkness may be depressing, and not only to utopians. But it has the virtue of restoring to man his sense of the primal mystery surrounding all things, a sense of mystery from which the glittering world of his technology estranges him, but without which he is not truly human.”

-William Barrett in Irrational Man, 1958

A good portion of the book can be found: here.