Tag Archives: words

A bean. A life.

It’s been a long time since my first posting of the poem below. I thought of it this morning when I was sorting my Painted Lady beans. October is the month to clean up all the leftovers of summer plants and visitors. It probably won’t surprise you to know that little boys left dishes in the playhouse sink!

Last week four helpers came for a long session of work, and the youngest of them washed up those dishes; now I can put them where the winter wind won’t drop leaves and dust and rain on them, when it blows through the paneless windows.

They also finished up tasks relating to those runner beans, removing the last of the vines from the trellis, and shelling the beans into a big bowl.

Then it was my turn, to take out the biggest pieces of stem and pod so that the beans could simply be washed when I’m ready to cook them. But no sifter or screen that I could find had the right size holes.

When I was dusting this morning I hit upon the idea of using a microfiber cloth to spread the beans on, thinking it might reach out and grab all of that litter. It worked beautifully. I spread a layer of dirty beans on the cloth, and then moved the beans off, leaving all the detritus behind. The shriveled or undeveloped beans were left with the inedibles.



A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black. A stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a stone, a lentil, a lentil, a word.
Suddenly a word. A lentil.
A lentil, a word, a word next to another word. A sentence.
A word, a word, a word, a nonsense speech.
Then an old song.
Then an old dream.
A life, another life, a hard life. A lentil. A life.
An easy life. A hard life, Why easy? Why hard?
Lives next to each other. A life. A word. A lentil.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black one, pain.
A green song, a green lentil, a black one, a stone.
A lentil, a stone, a stone, a lentil.

— Zahrad

There is a book we’ve had for years in our parish bookstore, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives. I might even have it in my house by now, but I haven’t read much of it. One might think its message is similar to “The Power of Positive Thinking,” but it’s not. It’s more like what the Apostle Paul said:

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

That book is a collection of teachings from Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, such as:

“Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.”

“We need repentance. You see, repentance is not only going to a priest and confessing. We must free ourselves from the obsession of thoughts.”

“Freedom belongs to God. When a person is free from the tyranny of thoughts, that is freedom. When he lives in peace, that is freedom. He is always in prayer, he is always expecting help from the Lord—he listens to his conscience and does his best. We must pray with our whole being, work with our whole being, do everything with our whole being. We must also not be at war with anyone and never take any offense to heart.”

Quietly thinking, letting words come to one’s mind, sorting them out — it sounds like a wholesome and meditative activity. But how many pieces worthy only of the garbage might we find in the bowl of a lifetime — or merely a certain calendar year — stones and shriveled things, and who knows what words and whole tirades and laments that might pop into one’s mind?

When they do, it’s better to grab them, to be like a microfiber cloth. Keep only the beautiful, smooth and thankful legumes on which your soul can feast and grow strong. Every lentil can be like a knot on a prayer rope, bringing the sorter closer to her Lord, Who is her Life.

Pure words and healing.

Current events had got me musing about words, silence, speech, and idle talk, even before my dear friend Myriah came to visit. She and I grant each other the exercise of free speech, even civil discourse, but I found that more than those are required by the law of  love. I hope to write further on these topics soon, though I feel woefully inadequate. Meanwhile…

After Myriah had gone home, she wrote to thank me, and to apologize for what she thought was her own “noise” as she “tried to make sense of everything.” She said, “I came home and planned to curl up and read the Bible.” But family demands prevented her. I realized that I had robbed her of what should have been a respite from confusion, talking as I had as though raging and clanging could be truly rational. Probably we should have spent some part of our two-day visit reading the Gospel together. (The garden did rescue us several times.)

These were my thoughts this Saturday morning, as I prepared to attend Divine Liturgy for the Leavetaking of Pentecost. I was present to receive Communion, but I had read the Gospel for the day at home. It washed over me as a healing balm, not because its subject matter or meaning are any more pertinent than they have ever been, but because I know the Speaker to be Truth and Love incarnate, and His speech is in stark contrast to the loudest human sounds that accost our ears and eyes. I remembered this verse:

The words of the LORD are pure words,
like silver refined in an earthen furnace,
purified seven times.
-Psalm 12:6

The Psalmist does not mean that God has to make seven rough drafts before He speaks, but that even our most refined and precious earthly things are only “something like” the Logos. These words of Christ from what is called “The Sermon on the Mount” were the Gospel reading for the day:

Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you. 

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  

For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they?

So then, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

A child who can learn from the bird.

Mags and I are reading The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air together, and so far it is delightful to be in this mini book club with her. Once her copy of the book arrived she dived in with alacrity and even put the perfect amount of pressure on me, in the form of a meek suggestion, to post our responses as close together as possible.

So here I am, just where I want to be, challenged, but not alone, being in alliance and camaraderie with a friend who welcomes the exercise. I do feel that my engagement is feeble… or perhaps the situation is that Kierkegaard has revealed the feebleness of my soul.

Søren Kierkegaard published the first edition of this work in 1849, but he continued to think about the subject and to write about it in his journals. The translator Bruce H. Krimmse tells us this in the introduction, and quotes from the journals, reflections that I rather wish I hadn’t read, because what’s in the first half of the book itself is quite adequate for stripping away any sentimentality I might have about birds and flowers. As Krimmse says, “[Kierkegaard] never permits the reader to ease up on the oars and drift in an intellectual, ethical, or spiritual sense.” Also, these further explanations were confusing to me, whereas most of the first discourse was more accessible. Maybe this was one of the introductions one should read after.

Kierkegaard begins the first of the three discourses in this little book by telling us what is wrong with “the poet’s” response to Christ’s sermon in Matthew 6. I will put that scripture passage right here so you can review it if you want, or you can skip past easily:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? 28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.34 Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

The poet, our guide tells us, hears this and despairs of learning anything from the bird, having a sort of romantic notion of the ease of the bird’s life, and “wishing” that he could be bird-like, but having excuses. He sounds humble and childlike, but he “lacks the earnestness of eternity.” However, “The gospel is so earnest that all the poet’s sadness fails to change it….”

We are exhorted to be childlike in a different way altogether, and here I find the image or ideal of the child as Kierkegaard describes him to be a striking contrast to what is expected by most people in the last several decades:

“…the child never says, ‘I cannot.’ The child does not dare to do so… precisely because the child does not dare say, ‘I cannot,’ it is not therefore true that it cannot….” There follows the same thought repeated in various ways, and I am grateful for this repetitive aspect of the author’s style, because I need these things drummed into my noggin.

Okay, so once we have got that essential point, that if God tells us to do something, it follows that we can do it — what is it we shall do? I use the word shall because Kierkegaard very clearly uses it as distinct from will, a distinction that I think has been all but lost since sometime in the last century. Now we might say, “I will learn from the bird, even though I don’t want to.” The child of Kierkegaard’s day would say, “I shall learn from the bird, even though I do not will to do so.” But wait – he wouldn’t dare to say that, or even think it!

Our assignment from Christ: to learn from the lily and the bird, and to seek the Kingdom of God first. I need to work harder to write a proper response to the remainder of this discourse, and publish it later, because that part is the meat of it, and the birdsong.

p.s. I used dived instead of dove above when referring to what Mags did because, although Americans use dove twice as much now, Mags is British, and they still prefer the older form. So do I.  🙂

You have to understand vagueness.

The work of the philosopher is a marshalling of remembrances for a specific purpose.
-Ludwig Wittgenstein

Last week someone I know used the phrase, “The marvelous clouds,” and I immediately remembered a book by that name that I bought a couple of years ago and wrote a very short post about, before it had even arrived in my mailbox. Recently I had moved that book from an upstairs shelf to a downstairs one, seemingly at random, so it was close at hand and I looked inside today. How surprising to see that back then I had read the introduction. I can tell because many passages are underlined 🙂 It is comfortingly full of references to the material world and other real things, which of course the title would lead you to believe, but the subtitle, about media theory, sounds… um… scarily theoretical. Here is my first post on the book:

“Ralph Waldo Emerson once declared that language is fossil poetry. Many words that we use carelessly have, embedded within their amber-like exterior, the remnants of long lost perceptions and intuitions. When received thoughtfully and with some delicacy, words have the capacity to allow us to travel back in time, to imagine how and what the world meant to our ancestors. But unlike the insects, or dinosaur DNA fixed in amber, the meanings within words are changing, evolving, as human perceptions change.”

-Ken Myers on Mars Hill Audio Journal, introducing his interview of John Durham Peters about his new book, The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media.

I listened to this interview and have ordered the book, though I fear it will be above my head, like clouds. The author was not hard to understand when he was talking, and he spoke of so many things that I would like to “hear” him discuss further, after I get the book and can read the words on paper, and flip back and forth and underline a phrase here and there of his meaningful prose. How can I resist a book that contains all together in its title the words Marvelous, Philosophy, and Clouds?

(Originally “Words have skins like amber.”)

Albert was one of several commenters in 2016 who were inspired to put this book on their To-Read list, and he shared what he found in his research:

‘Wondering if I could benefit from reading The Marvelous Clouds, I looked for information about the author, and found a rather detailed interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books.

‘Here is John Durham Peters talking about why a book on media would use clouds as its chief metaphor: “Clouds illustrate media ontology. [They] exist by disappearing. They exist in time. . .  their dynamic materiality is suggestive for media under volatile digital conditions.” And,

‘“Clouds bear significance, but without any code to clarify what they mean. Their meanings are essentially vague. . . .  [They] are the original white noise.  . . . The ability to represent the indefinite is one of the great achievements of modern mathematics and media, and clouds were at the vanguard here too. If you want to understand how meaning works, you have to understand vagueness, and clouds are a chief example.”

‘At this point I almost gave up — his ideas were too cloudy for me — but I pressed on. Half way through, when the questioner brought up the possible negative effects of limitless storage and quick retrieval of data, a new idea was discussed as “something more insidious, a kind of existential de-orientation, in which presumptions of universal storage alter our relation to loss and death.”

‘Now I was interested.

‘It turns out to be a really good, comprehensive interview. By the end I could see better. My clouds were dispersed, somewhat. For a person whose book budget is limited, Brian Hanrahan’s interview is well worth reading. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/the-anthropoid-condition-an-interview-with-john-durham-peters/’

Speed forward to August of 2019, and I read the Intro again, gleaning the quote at top, and have continued into Chapter 1!! I thought some of you might be interested in the author’s introductory outline of the scope of the book, in this paragraph:

“In the first chapter I outline my intellectual debts and sketch the relevant landscape of media theory. In chapters 2 and 3, I examine sea and fire media, and in 4 and 5, the two main kinds of sky media. At first such realms as ocean, flame, and the heavens would seem to be unpromising realms for human creativity or technical handling, each being hostile to our works in its own way. But in spite of their resistance, or rather because of it, such elements are seedbeds of arts and crafts, many of them so basic that it took eco-crisis and the digital shakeup to make them obvious. Hostile environments breed art. Enmity is the mother of invention. In chapter 6 I explore the earthy media of body and writing, and chapter 7 tackles the would-be ethereal medium of Google, each medium also having its own productive meditations. Finally, I offer a few concluding meditations.”

Chapter 7 is titled “God and Google,” and the last chapter, “A Sabbath of Meaning.” My goodness, but I wonder how the meat of the chapters will satisfy my appetite that has been whetted by so many provocative phrases. But it does sound fun, especially from chapter 2 on, to make a philosophical journey through sea, fire, and sky, going on to explore “earthy” media… God will surely balance out whatever about Google might bore me in Chapter 7, and if I’m exhausted by the end, well, Peters has wisely put a sabbath right there in a helpful place.

A ramble like this doesn’t lend itself to a good ending, so I’ll close with one more quote from The Marvelous Clouds:

Einer Hilfe bedarf der Mensch immer.
(The human being always needs a help.)
-F.W.J. Schelling

But you don’t need to read the book to know that.