Frontiers of Wisdom

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Part of "Frontiers of Wisdom"

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Box labeled "Master for Duplication". What was the intended purpose?


There's a little poem by K. Ryan at the other side of that page. I have a volunteer to read that one. We had another volunteer back here for the first one. Do you want to read it? That's the title, The Things of the World. The Things of the World. Wherever the eye lingers, it finds a hunger. The things of the world want us for dinner. Inside each pebble or leaf or puddle is a hook. The appetites of the world compete to catch a look. What does this mean and how does it work? Why aren't rocks complete? Why isn't green adequate to green? We aren't gods whose gaze could save.


But that's how things of the world behave. Thank you. So there's a theology in the poem. And she's not a particularly religious poet, or at least hasn't been, K. Ryan. She's a contemporary poet. She was Poet Laureate a couple of years ago. California poet, I believe. Why aren't rocks complete? Why isn't green adequate to green? Somehow everything needs... What does everything need? What is everything waiting for? What's that impulse towards doing something with things in our own hearts, in our own minds? What do we want to do with them? What do they need? Why aren't we gods whose gaze could save? But that's how the things of the world behave. As if we were. Maybe we are. Rana is saying that we are. Yes? I don't really think the things of the world behave that way. I think many times we expect them to. Well, you can see it as all being our projection, yes.


Or you can read it the other way. The way she does, because obviously she believes it. Now, they're not behaving that way consciously, because they don't have consciousness the same way that we do, okay? But suppose they're leaning towards us, even while they're running away from us, as the deer run away from us, you know? So... Anybody want to point me to Wallace Stevens? These poems have been selected because I think they're poems of delight, in one way or another, okay? Some of them really, what would you call it, explicitly focus on that, and Wallace Stevens' poems tend to do that. Whereas the other ones are simply so clever, especially the Dylan Thomas poems. How about that first Stevens poem, Gubenau?


And I don't promise any interpretation, because a lot of the things I don't understand, including the title of that poem. There's a town in a small city in Italy called Gubbio, but I don't know if that has anything to do with it. I would imagine it to be like a mythological, a mythic town in which everybody is insensitive, everybody is a churro, okay? Everybody is completely opposed to the beautiful things of life, and pessimistic, and sort of in love with their own cynicism and pessimism. The Gubbians. Any volunteers? Please. It's okay to read it sitting down. I'm just a little stiff. Gubenau. What does that mean? I don't know. Does anybody else know what it means?


No, I don't either. I think it's probably about an imaginary place where everybody's a jerk. Oh, okay. Gubenau. That strange flower, the sun, is just what you say. Have it your way. The world is ugly, and the people are sad. That tuft of jungle feathers, that animal eye, is just what you say. That savage of fire, that seed, have it your way. The world is ugly, and the people are sad. So, what's going on there? That's Rollheiser's depressed adult, okay, being addressed by the poet. The world is ugly, and the people are sad, and you're a pessimist, and a cynic, and maybe a scientist to boot, so the sun is just that piece of nuclear chemistry, okay?


It's very pessimistic. Well, pessimistic on that side is exactly what he's making fun of, okay? Yeah. And on the other side, you've got this wild imagination, that savage of fire. What are his expressions for the sun there? The savage of fire. Yeah. Strange flower. Strange flower. That tuft of jungle feathers, that animal eye. In other words, all of these varieties of the different... Stephen says at one point, this is dodgy, he says, reality is not what it is. It is... It's just what you say. Yeah. Have it your way. Reality is not what it is. It's the many things it can be made into. That's what Stephen says, okay? So that's what he's doing there. He's taking the raw reality, and with his imagination, creating this fiery variety of different things. Implying that there's an infinite creativity in the human person, which is also a positive force able to overcome pessimism, doubt, and all of that stuff. Everything that kills reality, everything that weighs it down. We have a force inside us,


a flame inside us, that's stronger than that is. Which is very similar to what's said in the New Testament, isn't it? Said by Jesus or by Paul. In other words, what's in you is stronger than what's around you. And if you exercise in a positive way, that which is within you, that which is around you itself is transformed. Or, you might say, brought into its own fullness in some way. But you think about the sun. Think about the incredible thing that the sun is, hanging up there all day. I know we're hanging around it, but... Hanging up there all day, doing that thing that it does, supporting everything that we know in existence, warming it, enlightening it. And from a tremendous reaction that's happening inside it all of the time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It's an incredible thing to think about it. It's a kind of a parable within a parable within a parable. Suggesting levels of meaning, you know, parallels with ourselves, parallels with spiritual life,


parallels with who knows what. So, that's what Stevens is for. Here's another one. Now, Stevens is not a religious man. He's not a Christian. In fact, he writes these things about, well, when we've let go, when we've abandoned religious faith, when we've abandoned religious... the idea of God and so on, okay? And then he goes and slips into religious language all the time. Because he is religious. But his religion is his own religion. It's the religion of a poet. A poet who is not also a Christian believer. If you read his biography, there's a disputed claim that he became a Christian at the end of his life. Specifically a Roman Catholic. There was a priest in the hospital where he was, before his death he died of cancer. And the priest had said that he had asked to be and was received into the church before his death. But his daughter disputes it bitterly. Uncertain. But at any rate, he's got a religion all his own.


And we who have Christian faith, of course, for us, that's not the end of the story, not at all. And yet, a lot of the beauty of poetry, I think, comes out of the desperation of people who don't have religious faith, okay? So because they don't have a religious faith, they somehow find transcendence in things. And it gives them that extra energy. The desperation, I say, gives them that extra energy to penetrate things and to bring out the potentiality that's in them. Whereas we who do have religious faith can easily pass them by, which is maybe all right most of the time, but not all the time. As an actuary, if we had to have faith in the status that we're collected, it'd be more sunny days than stormy days if you're sitting on millions of dollars where it's a betting against property damage, you might understand. I didn't complete... Oh. Oh. Yeah. Well, he was insured, he claims,


in his insurance work, whatever that is. He was a lawyer. Mark, we've got some poems. This is the page we're going after. This is Stephen's. This is the last page. And where's the first page? I'll give it to you later. All right. Thank you. Yeah. Let me read the next one. You're a botanist on an alp number two. There's another poem before this one. The crosses on the convent roofs gleam sharply as the sun comes up. What's down below is in the past like last night's crickets fall below. And what's above is in the past as sure as all the angels are. Why should the future leap the clouds? The bays of heaven blighted blue, bright and blue. Chant, oh ye faithful, in your paths the poem of long celestial death.


For who could tolerate the earth without that poem, or without an earthier one, tum-tum-ti-tum, as of those crosses glittering, and merely of their glittering, a mirror of a mere delight. So that's Stephen's religion. Anybody want to read On the Road Home? That one over on the right. Please. On the Road Home. It was when I said there's no such thing as the people. But the grapes seemed better. The fox ran out of his hole. You. You said there are many truths, but they are not parts of a truth. Then the tree at night began to change, smoking through green and smoking blue. We were two figures in the wood.


We said we stood alone. It was when I said words are not forms of a single word. In the sum of the parts, if there are only the parts, the world must be measured by our. It was when you said the islands have seen lots of poverty, snakes and gold and mice, but not the truth. It was at that time that the silence was largest and longest. The night entwines the fragrance of the autumn warmth, closest and strongest. Thank you. Notice how that builds up to the final sweetness. He's a real, he's a genius in that way. There it's not, it's not poetry versus religion, is it?


It's more like poetry versus philosophy. It's more like a nominalist poet versus the Platonist philosopher or something like that, okay? As if putting concepts on things, as if having a grand philosophy where everything merges at the top, okay? And everything is just a reflection of some absolute good. As if that actually killed the good and the beauty that's in the individual thing. A lot of the positions he takes, you don't have to take them as his philosophy. You can stand there for a moment and then shift to another position. Let's think a little bit about delight in the scriptures. We've already talked about how Roelhuyser finds the beginning of our theology of delight in the creation story. And God saw that it was good and God saw that it was very good. And what about the New Testament? Here's Jesus in Luke 10.


The delight of Jesus himself. At that same hour, he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes. Yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. And then it goes on. All things have been delivered to me by my Father and no one knows who the Son is except the Father or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal. Now we've got the child again, haven't we? The child whom we are to become like if we are to enter the kingdom. And the child here is, of course, his disciples who were these simple fellows, simple fishermen, to whom had been entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the secrets, and yet they don't understand the secrets themselves, but they're being given to them. They'll be revealed to them out of their faith. But he rejoices as if he himself shares somehow


this delightful discovery that is theirs, the gift that is theirs. Often, especially in Luke's Gospel, the delight that we feel is revelation or especially the sudden explosion of mercy, the sudden explosion of grace. I think grace is the best word for it. The surprise of grace. As the ones that I think of, the parables of Jesus, the parable of the prodigal son, where the father's running out and embracing the younger son and putting the robe on him and the ring and killing the fatty cat and the whole deal, which is absolutely incredible, expresses this delight of the sudden breaking of the dam and the pouring forth of this ocean of mercy, ocean of love. And that's what you get in other places in Luke's Gospel. I always remember the thief on the cross, remember? There he is. The three of them are in agony,


Jesus and the two thieves on the cross. One of them turns to Jesus and says, Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Remember what Jesus says to him? I tell you today you will be with me in paradise. Now this guy is probably a murderer. He's a real criminal and he's being crucified alongside Jesus. And by the mere act of, that mere turning to Jesus, that mere movement of faith in the middle of his agony, it's all poured out. The dam is broken. The love rushes forth and he's saved. He's still got to die. He's still got to have his legs broken. But that's what you get in Luke's Gospel. One of the major revelations, I think, of Jesus, manifestations of Jesus in Luke. He hits on that theme several times. You get it also, the workmen that were hired at different times of the day all paid the same sum at the end of the day.


But you can understand that unlike response of the brother to the fatherless son when he sees the rings and fancy robes and a great reception being afforded to the younger son who had spent his... He squandered your money with harlots. Yeah. Wasted your whole fortune. And here you are, spoiling him that way. And I've worked for you and you never even gave me a goat. Yeah. That's the contrast between the two points of view. And the very logical, the very reasonable argument of the elder brother, but that doesn't win the day. That's not it. It's that dam bursting and the love rushing forth, springing forth. And that's delight, okay? And it's a delight which is somehow intentional. It's been polished. It's been shaped to penetrate the heart perfectly. I make it sound very kind of technical and calculating, but something else is operating there.


And I think that's the way we're meant to approach the gospel. That's where we're supposed to find the gospel through delight. And simply delight in Jesus. When people are arguing with Jesus and trying to catch him in some way, you know, he responds and goes zoom, right to the core of the thing with an answer that simply can't be answered any further. And that's that delight operating once again. That's the way that we get inside the scripture. Yes? In the prodigal son, too, you have the contrast between material things and eternal things. Yes. Where the prodigal son himself is created eternal, whereas the things that the father gave him at the first, and then again, are just material things. So that the second son was valuing material things over his brother,


who was an eternal thing. Excellent, yes. In other words, the person, the person is eternal, and so the person makes everything else negligible in a sense. Yes, right. You can throw it all away. Because it's only material and it's just temporal. Yes. Temporal or eternal or impersonal, material and personal. Okay? That younger son is a human being, is a person. He's my son. He's my child. It's that thing. Yes. Jesus, Jesus seems to delight too when other people act like God. Yes. He just lets that prisoner come into the kingdom just like that. Think of the woman who comes and picks out a pestilence and pours it all over his feet. That's right. Many apostles are having it. Zacchaeus just climbs the tree and says, listen, I'll give half of my money to the lawyers. I'm dying with you, and I feel such joy Yeah, because they caught it, they got it, they got the point and he rejoices, yeah.


And he responds with the same generosity, you know. It's like breaking through limits, it has a big attraction for us, doesn't it? Breaking through the limit. Breaking through the limit of our own stinginess, our own fear, all of those things that make us small. When we know that we're really much bigger than that, and yet we stay small, you know. We keep guarding our, whatever it is, our little territory, our assets. Yeah. You know, I was trying to quickly go through and find those characters in the Gospels where their initial response was to light. And the first few that came to mind were women. You know, Mary, Mary Martha, Magdalene. Mary, Jesus' mother. You know, there's a chaos, but it's interesting that the first ones that surfaced to me were all women. Yeah, yeah. They seem to be more the model of all the characters who reacted, responded initially.


Yeah, yeah. One exception is Peter, because he's right there in the beginning. But the women seem to be able to respond with the whole of themselves better than the men can. Setting aside, just forgetting the other considerations. They have the capacity to fall in love, you know, and they've done that. They're able to give themselves in a fuller way, I think, as soon as they recognize what they're facing. Zacchaeus did, and then even Luke, he's sitting at his table, or Matthew, and just gets up and goes. That's right, that's right. There had to be a huge amount of response, awareness, and delight to allow them to do that. Yeah, they've got to be gripped entirely. And sometimes when Jesus says, follow me, as he did with Zacchaeus there, and as he did with the first apostles, you know, and then they got the nets and leave the boats and their fathers, and they're off, and they're his disciples. You don't know where it went before that, but at any rate, that's the way we're supposed to get it. It's the delight that catches them. Jesus goes fishing.


He goes fishing for fishermen, and he goes fishing with delight. That's the bait. You can say that it's himself, simply. But whenever we really find him, whenever we really see him, it's delight. And that's what the New Testament gives us time after time as that breakthrough of delight, that discovery. Calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, Truly I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name, receives me. Paul gives you a different kind of music, a different kind of music of delight. And in Paul, what you get is very often got something like, in spite of, or notwithstanding, or, in other words, it's got the sense of breaking through obstacles into infinity,


of a force which is powerful enough to overcome any resistance. So, like this, this is in Romans 8. What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all. Will he not also give us all things with him? That sort of thing. Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? What opposition can be raised? What resistance can be raised against God? This is his canticle, this is his song. And he does it again and again. It is God who justifies, who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus who died, yes, who raised again, rose from the dead? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Always that opposition. Paul's life seems to have that shape, doesn't it? It seems to have a double shape. There's always a movement from one thing to another, a confrontation of one thing to another, resistance of one thing against another. Remember, he lived two lives, really, the first one and the second one. Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine


or nakedness or peril or the sword separate us from this love of Christ? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor things present or things to come nor powers nor height or depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. So that's kind of poetry. It's a kind of rhetorical poetry. Sometimes it's more beautiful than other times. But always powerful in some way and always against the resistance. As if he's talking to us and we still have to confront that resistance. He seemed to be a man of tremendous enthusiasm before he was struck blind on that road to Damascus. I'm assuming he was as enthusiastic in his pursuit of tax collection as he later became in establishing churches rather than training them. He was chasing the Christians down before and locking them up and having them beaten and so on. Remember, he was a great persecutor.


So he went with this creative enthusiasm for something that was 180 out from where he started originally. In Benedict's Rule you have this chapter on good zeal and there's a bitter zeal which leads to hell and there's a good zeal which leads to heaven but they're both zeal. So Paul was a champion of bitter zeal first, a persecutor who enjoyed running people down for having the wrong religion and tormenting them. And then he became full of the apostle of good zeal. The same energy has turned into an expansive love it seems. A baptismal experience. When we talk about ascent or expansion we have sooner or later to get to the baptismal experience which is the beginning of that course initiation experience. It's almost 11 so I'll quit in a minute. We don't find in the New Testament any clear expressions that I know of of the interior experience of baptism but that was fundamental


for the first Christians. Somehow it was fundamental in that context they really felt what was happening they really felt the new birth, the awakening they really felt the life surging into them with the gift of the Holy Spirit and it summed up usually in that notion of the gift of the Holy Spirit that being the event of baptism. Here's Paul and this comes about as close to the personal experience of it as I found in him. It is the God who said let light shine out of darkness who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. Now remember he talks to the Galatians and he's arguing with them because they tend to go back to the Jewish law and he says Galatians, how can you go back from the spirit to the flesh? After you receive the spirit, the experience to all that you experienced and the wonders that God worked among you how can you go back to the little things of the law? To that kind of compulsive religion of Judaism at that time. Let's have one more poem before we quit.


I think we better quit because we're going to have mass in half an hour. Anybody want to pick one? Here's a big one and a big contemporary one. I Like the Wind. It's a pure joy poem by a guy named Robert Wrigley This poem came from the New Yorker just a few weeks ago. First time I've ever seen it anyway. Wonderful thing. Well, I'll try reading it because I've read it before so let's see. We are at or near that approximate time where a stiff breeze becomes or lapses from a considerable wind and I like it here. The chimney smokes right angled from west to east but still for brief intact stretches the plush animal tails of their fires. I like how the stiffness


rouses the birds right up until what's considerable sends them to shelter. I like how the morning's rain having wakened the soil's raw materials sends a root smell into the air around us which the pine trees sway stately within. I like how the sun strains not to go down how the horizon tugs gently at it and how the distant grain elevator's shadow ripples over the stubble of the fields. I like the bird feeder's slant and the dribble of its seat. I like the cat's sleepiness as the breeze, then the wind, then the breeze keeps combing her fur. I like the body of the mouse at her feet. I like the way the apple core I tossed away has browned so quickly there's much to be admired as is the way the doe extends her elegant neck in its direction and the workings of her black nostrils, too. I like the sound of the southbound truck blowing by headed east. I like the fact that the dog is not parking. I like the arc of the house


afloat on the sea of March and the swells of the crop hills bedizen with savillas of old snow. I like the old snow. I like my lungs and their conversions to the gospel of spring. I like the wing of the magpie, outheld as he probes beneath it for fleas or lice. That's especially nice. The last sun pinkering his underfeathers as it also pinks the dark when I close my eyes, which I like to do in the face of it. This stiff breeze that was when I closed them, a considerable wind. So, this afternoon we move on to that horizontal revolution, the historical, whatever's going on in history. Trying to look at it in the light of the present.