In light of unprofundity

2016-04-02 17.04.45

Time speeds differently: everyone experiences this, right? Sometimes things happen all-at-once, amidst various sorts of growing pains and turbulence (my last Kairos post). For me clarity and confusion simultaneously attend hurtling-forward times (when everything seems to be spinning out of control). Other times, moments slow down so that only the present is visible, and in the stillness joy feels beautifully full. Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest turned L’Arche community minister, calls this sort of time “not clock time” but full time, patient time. Blogging is easy at either extremis (at least for me).

But then there’s the middle-ground of time, the day-to-day normalcy of experience, when it feels neither fast nor slow, though is sometimes stressful and other times endlessly long. “The day-to-day trenches of adult life” David Foster Wallace warns against are real, I’m realizing (only after having taught his essay for two years now). It’s not that routines are quite as “dreary, annoying, seemingly meaningless” as Wallace makes them out to be. But I do wonder every now and then if—in the absence of feeling growing edges—there’s anything green that’ll sprout from under sodden ground. I’m tempted to poke at it, try to unearth something, though of course that doesn’t much help. And (meta-complaint): there’s also the matter that it’s decidedly difficult to blog out of such unprofundity.

So I turn to others for glimpses of the divine.

Dorothy Day’s The Long Loneliness (1952), which I’ve recently finished, was sprawling but luminous—somehow through it poverty gleamed as something to be desired. Quick background: Day and Peter Maurin were the founders of the Catholic Worker movement (big ish deal, though I know very little): think Communist-anarchist-minded Christians, concerned with workers’ conditions and wages back in the 1930’s and onward. Maurin contends: to practice poverty—not destitution, he always clarifies—with the poor makes us whole persons once more (p. 280), particularly amid an increasingly industrialized (back then) and consumerist society (the present). For days after reading I felt its truth echo and pull: that there are riches beyond that of this world, infinitely worth my seeking.

I’ve also just re-read C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters (1942), advisement from an older demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood–which I would definitely recommend for anyone who’s flip and witty and (yet?) earnest. Just the premise itself is smart, hey (demon-to-demon)? It’s hard to find someone better than Lewis for evoking such a quality of longing, “so inveterate [an] appetite for heaven” (as he puts it, p. 144). The young are closest to it, he suggests, while the middle-aged and old often, sadly, have lost their capacity for wonder. Screwtape, then, laments the difficulty of getting young’uns to take themselves and their careers too seriously.

While they are young we find them always shooting off at a tangent. Even if we contrive to keep them ignorant of explicit religion, the incalculable winds of fantasy and music and poetry—the mere face of a girl, the song of a bird, or the sight of a horizon—are always blowing our whole structure away. They will not apply themselves steadily to worldly advancement, prudent connections, and the policy of safety first. (p. 144)

It’s a funny lament (purposefully so): one that makes me wonder whether “[a] sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, … a sense of being really at home in earth” (p. 143)—in other words, a complacent, worldly contentment, “just what [Screwtape] want[s]” —grows in me.

Always I am forgetting that I am far too easily pleased, so always I am needing this sort of reminding.

Still, glamor of the saints’ lives aside, I think it all comes down to the day-to-day trenches. I’m not very good at learning habits and patterns, partially evinced by my paltry Duolingo streak. But I am buoyed to attempt big words like generosity, poverty, patience. I’m still mulling over the first two and what they might look like, practically. The latter, though, I’ve had plenty of lessons about, and still stink-as-an-old-fart at. (By patience I mean Nouwen’s definition: choosing a “different experience of time,” “know[ing] that in this moment everything is contained: the beginning, the middle, and the end; the past, the present, and the future,” Compassion, p. 96.)

Here’s my takeaway, which is definitely not original and mayn’t even be inspiring: I’m trying to remember that daily choices and gestures matter. Underneath the ground grow our souls, even when I really can’t tell if anything is there (cf. unprofundity). Someday something gets to sprout up: and whether that’s complacency or social-justice-minded fire or elsewise depends on water and sunlight and tilling now. There’s not much to see here, friends, but I hope someday there shall.

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