Friday, December 21, 2012

Resonant Thoughts

Tomorrow I will be officiating at the funeral of a lovely woman from my congregation. She died earlier this week at age 82. Three years ago, I officiated at her wedding. It was her third marriage following the loss of two previous spouses. It was an occasion filled with joy. There will be joy as we celebrate her life tomorrow, but joy marked with sadness and grief.

In the wedding reflection I offered three years ago, I included these thoughts: Of course evil and ugliness exists, as much now as ever. These get all the headlines. We all know about the bad news. Plenty of reasons for pessimism. The wrongs of the world are clear. Meanwhile, I remain astonished at the good and lovely that exists. And most of it is free and readily available if I’ll look for it. (Robert Fulgham, What On Earth Have I Done?)

In that wedding reflection, I read a poem which included these words:

We live in a world of motion and distance.
The heart flies from tree to bird,
from bird to distant star,
from star to love; and love grows
in the quiet house, turning and working,
servant of thought and a lamp held in one hand.

(from “Distances” Phillippe Jaccottet)

Somehow as I think about this funeral, as I think about the twenty-three year old making slow progress in her recovery in a local ICU, as I think about the world after Newtown, as I think about holding a candle on Christmas Eve and singing “Silent Night,” these words spoken three years ago still resonate.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Friday, December 7, 2012

Cheerfully Enough

So let us go on cheerfully enough,
this and every crisping day,

though the sun be swinging east,
and the ponds be cold and black,
and the sweets of the year be doomed.

From “Lines Written in the Days of Growing Darkness” Mary Oliver, A Thousand Mornings

Every new book of poetry by Mary Oliver is an occasion for rejoicing, and an occasion for fresh insight and wisdom to break it. In the poem from her newest book quoted above, Oliver is reflecting on the world as autumn moves into winter. The days shorten. The dark periods lengthen. It inevitably happens every year, and we know that the death of winter will open up again into the new life of spring. The poet advises that we “go on cheerfully enough.”
Human lives are like that too. We experience shadows lengthening and receding in our lives. We get hurt. We hurt others and regret it. Life disappoints us. We disappoint ourselves. Relationships get strained. People we care about get sick; they suffer. People we love die. Psychoanalyst Michael Eigen writes, “One never recovers from being human” (Contact With the Depths).
Yet the channels in the soul opened by feeling these dimensions of our experience might also be channels for deepened joy, for new insights, for feelings of wonder and well-being. Suffering is a part of being human. Growth through our experience of suffering is not so inevitable, but it is possible.
As a Christian, I believe God walks with us in the midst of our suffering, and that God is always influencing us toward growth.
Suffering happens. Growth is possible. Therein lies hope, and a reason for going on cheerfully enough.

With Faith and With Feathers,


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Kristeva Again

In May I wrote that my conversation with Julia Kristeva is not over. It is not. Recently I read her essay “Thinking About Liberty in Dark Times” and her thinking again enriches mine. The essay was Kristeva’s presentation on being the first recipient of the Holberg International Prize. The Holberg International Memorial Prize is awarded annually for outstanding scholarly work in the fields of the arts and humanities, social sciences, law and theology.
Kristeva asserts that there are two versions of freedom “economic neo-liberalism and fraternal and poetic freedom, causal and ‘disclosing’ versions of freedom” (Hatred and Forgiveness, 21). Both have value and both are “more multiple, more complex” (22) than we often think.
Kristeva, in thinking about liberty in dark times, is not trying to argue that economic freedom is unimportant. Her concern is that it is in danger of being the only way we think about freedom, especially in places like the United States. “All indications are that we are being carried away by the maelstrom of our calculus thinking and by our consumerism” (17). “America has imposed a financial, economic, and cultural oligarchy that is liberal in its inspiration but risks excluding an important dimension of human destiny” (21). Kristeva is not a reactionary French anti-American. She expresses deep appreciation for our country. Her concern is a certain modern blindness toward another dimension of freedom.
Thinking with Kristeva, religious faith, religious thinking, religious discourse, at its core, contributes something toward poetic freedom, though we are not always immune from being captured by the maelstrom of calculus thinking and consumerism. Sometimes I wonder about the language we use in discussing church growth. Nevertheless, religion, at its best, is important for poetic freedom, as Kristeva seems to suggest.
Now religion is not always at its best. In our modern world, Kristeva notes a “rebirth of religious sects for which the sacred is no longer “a permanent questioning” as the very concept of human dignity would require” (18). Yet at its best religion contributes to poetic freedom. For Kristeva: “I understand the sacred as the desire of human beings to think, not in the sense of calculation, but rather in the sense of a need for fundamental questioning” (12).
O.K. So all this is pretty abstract, pretty heady. What thinking with Kristeva reaffirms for me is the importance of a thoughtful, passionate and compassionate faith. Reading our sacred texts together, we in faith communities are invited to see the world in new ways, to break free of limited views of freedom offered by the wider culture. I believe there is something of the freedom of God’s Spirit in poetic freedom. In that freedom we, at our best, can live differently.

With Faith and With Feathers,